Thursday, December 25, 2008

Greater Love

Bill Hale, missionary to Cambodia and member of FBC, Parker, submitted the following blog. Bill articulates a unique argument for unconditional election.
hb

For a few months I have been helping a friend via email work through the theology of God’s sovereign grace in election. He was in the same place I was in about ten years ago, having never really studied the doctrine and just following what I’d heard others say. He had all the normal freewill arguments: “God wants all men to be saved,” “Jesus died for the sins of all people without exception,” If the doctrine is true there is no reason to evangelize,” “Predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge,” etc. You know, God votes for you, the devil votes against you, but you cast the deciding vote. Having seen the folly of these objections myself those ten years ago, I was equipped to help him.

You may think that this is just another lesson about the sovereignty of God in election, and that you have heard it plenty of times before by much better swordsmen. I readily concede the second point. As for the first, it is true that we Calvinists have heard this doctrine explained many times, yet the more I explain the doctrine to others, the more I study it afresh, and the more it stays at the forefront of my thoughts, the more beautiful it becomes. I realize what a worm I was (am), how deeply I hated Him, and what great love He had for me, which brings me to the point:

If it is true that God’s election is based on his looking into the future (the freewill definition of foreknowledge) and then afterwards choosing those whom he “foresaw” would love and trust him, then His electing love would be a lesser, imperfect kind of love.

In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus teaches us about that greater, perfect kind of love. He teaches that we should love even our enemies. He argues, “If we only love those who first love us, what reward is there in that? Even the wicked have this kind of love.”

You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


Jesus taught us that the greater love is to love our enemies. Herein lies the beauty of the doctrine of Election. With what kind of love did the Father elect us? With the lesser, imperfect love of the wicked tax collectors and gentiles? Certainly not! This is not the kind of love scripture assigns to God Almighty. It attests to a God who loved us with the perfect love that loves one’s enemies.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

To say He elected us based on His foreknowledge of our love for Him is unbiblical nonsense. We love because He first loved us. We did not choose Him but rather He chose us. Behold the marvelous love of God! May He be forever praised by the objects of this greater, perfect love.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Down and Out

Today . . .

I could barely read their tag . . . Minnesota . . . far north . . . they must have brought the cold with them . . . now they were down here, out where they didn't belong . . . down and out . . . "down on their luck" and definitely "out" in terms of my "up and in" neighborhood . . . down and out . . . I knew it by the car they were driving (they were parked in the middle of the driveway at an angle that looked as if the car had broken down) . . . I knew it by the shoes they wore, by their dirty, ragged clothes, by the woman's stringy hair hanging down; they looked like they were living out of their car . . . I could see only the man's feet down beneath the jalopy on the opposite side . . . I caught a glimpse of a sleepy child's head hanging down in the back seat . . . poor kid . . . down and out alright . . . my first thought was "they're probably migrant criminals" . . . poor kid . . . my suspicions intensified as the woman got up and came inside to ask the clerk for change . . . "I need change to make a call" . . . her voice was hoarse and harsh, further confirmation of a rough life . . . "You need change alright . . . can't even afford a cell phone" . . . Most certainly they were down and out . . . poor kid . . .

I have that problem, you see: a propensity to judge before love, a propensity to condescend, a propensity to distrust those who look down and out, to judge their motives, their history, the reasons for their beggarly appearance and coarse demeanor and to ask, "What are those down-and-outers doing here?" . . . poor kid . .

Yesterday . . .

three down-and-outers . . . husband, wife, and sleeping child . . . dirty from travel . . . no place to go, no place to stay . . . just that old barn . . . definitely not from around here . . . don't belong here . . . must be something wrong with them . . . must've brought the cold with them . . . what are they doing here, just down and out no doubt . . . poor kid . . . poor kid . . . "

Forever . . .

Down and Out . . . Down from Heaven, and Out in the Flesh, Down and Out to this down-and-out world so that real down-and-outers like me could be Up and In. . . . Poor Child . . . .

Poor Child of Unsearchable Riches . . .

"Unto you is born, this day, in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. . . For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that, though He was rich, for your sakes He became poor that you, through His poverty, might be made rich."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Prominent Preachers and Plexiglass Pulpits

The old axiom is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Poppycock! Such a phrase is a damning comment on the collective ability of those people who create book covers, if you ask me.

While it may be occasionally so that a cover doesn’t accurately portray the contents of a book, as a general rule one need look no farther than the cover to judge the merit of its contents. For instance, I propose the following hypothesis with regard to books written by putative preachers: the more prominent the face of the preacher on the book, the less theologically sound.

I offer Exhibit A:



I can assure you (without oathing!) that only the softest most maleable clay is used in the Potter's House.

Exhibit B:



Osteen may be having his best life now with the dollars of sheep, but he leads them all astray.

Exhibit C:



Speaking of Joyce Meyer. My grandfather used to quip about women preachers, "They sound like a hen trying to crow." And if he ever heard Joyce Meyer get up to preach, he would have fled "faster than a minnow can swim a dipper."

Compare that to Dr. Sproul:



And to John Piper:



Yes, books can be judged by their covers, usually. Are there any caveats to the aforementioned rule? Yes, of course. First, all bets are off if the preacher is dead. Someone may put Calvin's picture on the cover if "The Institutes," but I assure you Calvin wouldn't have. Same for Luther, and Jonathan Edwards. Also, biographies can be an exception. You get the idea. If a book purports to be about theology or "Christian living," let it lie, pun intended, and leave it alone if the cover is dominated by a preacher's face.

And speaking of instant judging, let me give you all another tip. If you ever walk into a church and the pulpit is made of plexiglass, leave. Just walk out. Nothing good ever came from behind a plexiglass pulpit. If you can see through the pulpit, you should see through the preaching.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Modern Way

Rhetoric is a powerful tool. Yea, possibly the strongest, most influential weapon man has in his arsenal. Aristotle defined rhetoric as “The faculty of using all the available means of persuasion in a given message.” Others have offered their definitions as well, ranging from, “The art of communicating effectively,”…”The art of enchanting the soul,”…”Communicative deception,”…and so on. For purposes of this essay, we shall regard rhetoric as being the habitual dilemma of man(sic), in which verbal communication strives for the one goal of persuasion. Let us apply our objective epistemologies and critical wit to the field of rhetoric, more specifically, the rhetoric used by the modern evangelical churches, which I will collectively refer to as “The Modern Way,” out of sheer respect for Martin Luther, and his battles against this sense of “New Thinking,” in Erfurt.

The Modern Way uses rhetoric to establish a new look on the Gospel that is neither biblical, nor historical. The story goes like this: “You know you are a sinner, right?…Do you want to go to Heaven?…Repeat these words after me…were you sincere?…then you are SAVED!” Since when is the redemption process dependent upon the sincerity of man’s heart? The bible says the heart is deceitfully wicked. As a Calvinist, and writing this with fellow Reformed Aficionados blowing smoke around the table, I’m sure we are all ready to draw our pistols at Synergistic ideology, but let’s stay on task…Rhetoric is the issue at hand.

Although I side with the Aristotelians that rhetoric does qualify itself as an art—or Tekne—I side with the Platons on the uses, as well as the dangers of rhetoric. The rhetorical style of The Modern Way promises you a better life, with a more submissive wife, a more gentle husband, bigger bank accounts, better friends, and, oh yeah, Eternal Life. The Modern Way encourages, rather, builds, mega-churches and boasts of the numbers who prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer” last service. Please note I do not entirely—“entirely” mind you— question the salvation of those who have prayed such a prayer. However, I stand firm that such a prayer is neither biblical nor representative of true faith with repentance and a turning away from sin. If you yourself experienced conversion in this manner, please note that you were not redeemed because of this prayer and manner but rather in spite of this prayer and manner.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).” The Modern Way, in almost every instance, though not exclusively, has steered clear of pluralism in their rhetoric. There is still one God; and there is still a Narrow Gate. However, the “seeker-friendly” attitude of The Modern Way has distorted, molested, and compromised the holiness of the gospel of Jesus Christ by falling upon the social sciences of Anthropology and Sociology to determine what their church environment, ideology, and appearance should resemble. When did the bible become insufficient in such matters? Paul Washer states, “It is fine for a church to be seeker-friendly when the one they seek is God.” The Modern Way has, and will, do everything in its power to become relevant to the surrounding worldly culture by molding itself to resemble that culture entirely. The promotion of the “Sinner’s Prayer” creates an army of un-redeemed “Christians.” The Modern Way will continue to value the advice given by carnal men on what to transform their church into. Then, they will be forced to continue their carnal nature and appearance to keep an attendance of carnal men, which they have prepared with golden bells for reprobation, and the fire that awaits them.

The rhetoric of The Modern Way’s pulpit promises salvation to all by making a few quick and simple decisions, like jumping through a few evangelical hoops to achieve eternal salvation. We will then march them off to Baptism the next Sunday, and rarely see them again in Church. Many years will pass and they will return, at which point a bold one may witness to this man, to which he will reply, “Oh, I have been there n’ done that. I’m a born-again believer. I have been most of my life.” Mind you that not only the Gate is Narrow, but the Way is Narrow as well, and true conversion is marked by the constant repentance of His children. Jesus’ sheep hear his voice, and they know Him and follow Him (John 10).

My friend, we as Christians are not relevant to our culture by establishing identical views and appearances; we are relevant to our culture because we are absolutely nothing of the sort. Likewise, evangelism does not depend upon a band that resembles MTV; it does not depend upon drawn-out altar calls, or a preacher who believes wearing blue jeans will make people more comfortable in church. Evangelism lies solely and utterly upon the Irresistible Grace of God, and for someone to move and become a child of God, it is not because of any other reason other than the Spirit of God moved in that place, as was ordained before the foundation of the world.
Let us not forget that the Way is Narrow, not only the Gate. Sharpen your brothers and sisters trapped in The Modern Way. Declare war against mindless preaching and worldly values molesting their way into that which is holy. Though it may seem as a mite beating his head against a world of granite; declare war against such things.

The Modern Way’s rhetoric is convenient, appealing, painless. Dear reader, declare war.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

To Atlas: Shrug

Is anyone else who regularly reads this blog troubled by the flippant use of the term “bailout” by our government and media? Perhaps your hackles are raised because of the proposal itself, and the language is of no concern. But politicians and auto-executives carefully chose “bailout” to describe what is being asked of the taxpayer. I don’t mean to pick nits here, but let’s examine this word and see whether it’s applicable.

According to the good people at dictionary.com, bailout has the following meanings:
– noun
1. the act of parachuting from an aircraft, esp. to escape a crash, fire, etc.
2. an instance of coming to the rescue, esp. financially
3. an alternative, additional choice, or the like, such as, “If the highway is jammed, you have two side roads as bailouts.”
– adjective
4. of, pertaining to, or consisting of means for relieving an emergency situation.

What strikes me is that the above-listed definitions imply an act of finality. The guy who escapes a plane crash ends up safely on the ground, for instance. “Bailout” is synonymous here with “rescue” or “save.” To a Calvinist, and even week-kneed Arminobaptists, to be saved is to be saved permanently, without need for continual saving. Is that what Congress is asking of the people? Hardly.

Instead of a bailout, what is truly being asked of the American people, strike that, taxpayer is to issue a binding guarantee to the wee three automakers. The 15 billion dollars figure currently being tossed about by Congress is a mere down payment, less than half of what the automakers are even asking for. And let’s be candid, people requesting “bailouts” never ask for what they actually need up front, rather they ask for a less taxing number.

As I understand it, what our esteemed representatives are wanting to do is essentially a three-part plan:

1. Give the automakers 15 billion dollars;

2. Appoint a Car Czar to oversee how that money is spent; and

3. Recommend to Congress what to do after that money is flushed down the toilet.

In essence, then, we have an institution, Congress, that has put its constituents in debt to the tune of trillions of dollars, wanting to appoint a “czar” over three companies that are only billions of dollars in debt, with the charge of getting them out of debt. And they’re serious about this.

I don’t mean to seem curmudgeonly, but “car czar”? Really? Currently, we have a drug czar to oversee the war on drugs, a war czar to oversee the Middle East wars, a cybersecurity czar (nobody’s sure what he does), and even a terrorism czar. Technically, the last czar that ever lived was gunned down by the Bolsheviks, who in turn installed Communism for decades in Eastern Europe. Besides, “czar” seems like too regal a name for a fella in charge of bureaucratic pettifoggery.

Our politicians smother us in encomiums biannually only to heap opprobrious resolutions on us while in D.C. One need not be a sycophantic follower of Rand to repine that if only one piece of advice could be dispensed to Atlas right now, it would be to shrug.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

An Impromptu Look at the Hierarchy of Coffee

Care for a little light reading? Permit me to publish the below essay on coffee that I penned during the weeks I was studying for the Bar Exam as part of an inchoate series I titled The Bar Missives.

“This is the good stuff,” Joe said as I entered class this morning. He was holding a 24 ounce cup of java. “Is that gas-station coffee,” I asked. “Ha, better: truck-stop coffee.”

We all know that’s true, don’t we—if you want a jolt of energy you can’t go wrong with truck-stop coffee? Of course we do. Truck-stop coffee sits atop the coffee hierarchy, looking down on boutique brands of coffee and regular ol’ gas-station coffee. Here’s why. Truck-stop coffee exists for only one purpose: to keep truckers awake. Truckers: that indomitable group of men who mount their steel horses to deliver, inter alia, our potato chips, beer, FISH (as so identified on all trucks hauling fish, check it out for yourself), and gasoline. They’re a rugged bunch, truckers—wearing caps that sit up a bit too high, ever using some form of tobacco, working in the word “niner” whenever possible, and constantly asking that most perplexing question, “you got your ears on?” Yes, my friends, the coffee designed for truckers isn’t that watered down drivel from Whataburger, nor is it labeled with some fancy moniker like Sumatra, Yukan, French Roast, or the like. No, trucker coffee needs no label.

Gas-station coffee is next. It’s no accident that the coffee pot at the gas station is immediately across from the Pennzoil display; when ordering gas-station coffee, it’s important to keep that in mind. 10W-30, 10W-40, etc. is how a real man orders coffee at the gas station. Interestingly, like Pennzoil, the strength of the coffee someone orders at the gas station will be directly related to the type of engine in the driver’s car. So for a person driving a Matrix, he’ll want to get his coffee from the cappuccino machine (probably 1-E-4 for large cappuccino with sugar). Whereas the Ford pickup driver will poor his coffee from the black-rimmed pitcher, and will most likely ensure that he gets some grains.

The next rung on the ladder of coffee is that of the standard coffee shop, this includes Starbucks and the like. One might be tempted to place this coffee further down on the list. But that would be the product of a bias against coffee-shop coffee, and not the result of careful scholarship. Many people are scared of coffee shops, some find them emasculating. Indeed, they can be. Why must the barista always be some androgynous twenty-something with spiky hair and skin that’s a little too supple for a boy, but hair that’s a little too dirty for a girl? They’re always donning the requisite brow-ring and those discs in their ears, you know the ones we used to make fun of the African tribesmen for wearing while we watched those National Geographic specials on PBS. There’s a chance he’s wearing makeup. He’s never wearing any D.O. for his B.O. Nevertheless, the coffee’s good—dang good. And the true coffee-shop connoisseur knows that one does not have grains in one’s coffee (silly gas station people), one has dregs. The baristas look down on truckers and gas-station coffee drinkers. But they do make a pretty good cup of joe.

I should add here, that coffee ordered from a sit-down restaurant will fall into one of the above categories, depending on the establishment. Are you at a Denny’s or an Oxford Street? If you’re like me, and wary of ordering coffee in a restaurant because you don’t know what kind they serve, there is a way to quell your anxiety. Before you enter the restaurant, look at the cars outside. If you see anything you might describe as a rig, you’ll get truck-stop coffee. If you see more than four cars that are in any of the following categories, you’ll get gas-station coffee: 1) Volkswagen Super Beetles (original models), 2) 1980’s model Oldsmobile or Buick that looks like the owner’s dentist and car-detail shop might be owned by the same person (that’s a genteel way of saying that both the car and the driver have bling in the grill), and 3) cars without catalytic converters (with the exception of old Jeeps, as in the original).

Lastly, you have fast-food coffee. Fast-food coffee is bad, real bad. It’s not even coffee, really. No, it’s some sort of laboratory-created concoction reminiscent more of Dr. Jekyl’s brew, thereby bringing out the cad in all who drink it, than of anything worthy of the title “Java.” They brew it too quickly, like the coffee grounds (if that is really what they are) are being castigated for some evil tortious conduct of which only coffee can be guilty. Furthermore, because fast-food chains operate on economies of scale, they often skimp out on the grounds, thereby making weak coffee to boot.

Fin.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Three Rooms and a Path

Off the main highway and in the green, fertile woods of Arkansas beneath the shadow of Petit Jean Mountain, sits a little wooden country church, immaculately white without, pulpit and pews of varnished and knotted pine within, three rooms and a path. For those unfamiliar with the common rustic phrase, "three rooms and a path," it refers not only to a small house or, in this case, a small church, but also to the absence of modern plumbing and thus "a path" to the outdoor facilities; in this case, those too were immaculately white.

Every Sunday morning Judy and I would drive the seventy miles from Little Rock, take the exit to Blackwell (for some reason the railroad post called it "Blackville"), then turn again down a gravel road to the Rockwellesque church building. We were usually first to arrive. In fall and spring, the mountain's shade insured an almost perfect temperature inside; in summer I would turn on the noisy window-unit air conditioner; in winter I would light the single gas stove (I liked winter best; there's just something wonderful about chilly pine warming to an open flame). Judy would go immediately to the piano and begin to play and sing, and I would retreat to a back room to finalize my sermon; my common habit then was always to kneel and pray in preparation for worship. The wooden floor hurt my knees; the humble prayer helped my soul.

Within a short time, a small congregation of about twenty, composed almost entirely of retired farmers and their wives, would assemble to worship within the hallowed walls of that three-room house of God. In those three humble rooms dwelt Love, Joy, and Peace, and no matter what path we took, even the path out back, those graces traveled with us.

Dear Friend, what of the Architecture of your Soul? Is it off the busy highway and down the gravel road of grace, nestled within the fertile green, under the mountain's pleasant shadow, immaculately white, unpretentiously humble, and has it three rooms of Love, Joy, and Peace? And, no matter what path you take, do those graces travel with you?

If not, just light the fire, and kneel; you will surely find "three rooms and a path."

The Bible is a living document, you see

Where did it begin, this notion that the Bible is a living document, specifically designed to be maleable with the times? I speculate that it began with the decline of Bible literacy among the populace. The Bible has been inching further and further from its former-central role in American life.

Just last night I was reading 1776, and I was struck that in one paragraph I read the names of generals with the following given names: Israel, Israel, and Jabez. Of course, these men may or may not have been Christian. But their names indicate a society where Biblical literacy and knowledge existed in far greater degree than now.

Who knows what twists and turns Biblical literacy took along the course of the last 200 years. But at some point people, even non-Christians, moved from having a pretty good grasp of the Bible, and began treating every verse as though it came from Proverbs. Who hasn't heard someone cite Jer. 29:11 as proof that God has a specific plan for them, or been slapped in the face with, "judge not, lest ye also be judged"? (Is there a class secularists take on when to cite that verse?)

If we moved from the state of general Biblical literacy to the proverbalization of the Bible on a gradual arc, then we as a society when straight of the cliff to get to the point where "serious people" describe the Bible as a "living document."

I read this poppycock this morning here. The author of the article seeks to prove that gay marriage is perfectly acceptable in the Bible, and besides, Christians are drooling idiots for looking to such an unreliable text as the Bible to ascertain answers to 21st century questions anyway.

From the Newsweek article, "Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history." Ugggh. First, what is a "Biblical literalist"? Is that one who takes each passage literally, and thinks that Christ is really a door, a vine, water, or bread? I consider myself a Biblical literalist because I believe the Bible is literally true. And what on earth is a "living document"? In constitutional law, a living document is whatever a majority of Supreme Court justices say it is. Who are the robed men who sit in judgment on the meaning of Scripture? And does a document have to be "living" to speak to people over the course of 2,000 years? If that was the case, then the Pharisees would have been prancing around Jerusalem saying, "Genesis, you know, is a living document. One mustn't take things written therein too seriously, you see."

The article goes on to cite old-liberal standbys in Leviticus, without any effort to explain to the reader why Christians believe the dietary laws of the Old Testament are no longer applicable.

Although the author admits that the Bible condemns gay sex, he explains those texts away, writing in part that two Leviticus references "are throwaway lines." Perhaps they'll be revived as the document evolves. The author enlightens this Christian by explaining that a condemnation by Paul of men who "'were inflamed with lust for one another'" . . . is really a critiqu of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delustion, violence, promiscuity and debautchery" and is ultimately a reference "to the depravity of Roman emperors, the craven habits of Nero and Caligula, a reference his audience would hav grasped instantly." Apparently, that verse has not evolved to apply to others besides Nero and Caligula.

The author even questions the heterosexuality of King David, who had a great love for Jonathan. No word on whether David eyed Jonathan taking a bathe, however.

Reasonable people can disagree about the meaning and import of particular texts in the Bible. But there is no doubt about whether the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin. One can argue that the Bible is irrelevant, or that public policy should not be influenced by its contents. However, no serious person, who really wants to know the truth, can deny that the Bible roundly denounces homosexuality in both the Old and New Testaments.

I don't mind secularists, really. But I'd rather them not tell me what my religion teaches. By the same token, I won't tell them what secular-atheists should believe.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Moving on to Baptism

*This is very rough, and is still incomplete (I'm about a third of the way finished), but I thought I'd post what I have so far here and invite comments. I've found myself thinking a great deal about baptism lately, and have been jotting down some thoughts and observations as I go. Hope you enjoy.

In which I seek to determine the meaning and
manner of baptism in the Christian church


Questions Presented

1. What is the purpose of baptism?
2. What is the meaning of the word “baptize”? Mode
3. Who are the proper subjects of baptism? Subject

I.
Introduction


Words have meaning. When interpreting a text, any text, the interpreter must engage in making determinations as to the meaning of the particular words chosen by the author. Reformed Christians are especially aware of the necessity of carefully examining Scripture in order to ascertain proper meaning. What budding-Calvinist hasn’t struggled with the words “elect,” “predestined,” and “chosen,” utilized by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 1 and Romans chapter 9, while carefully studying the petals of free grace? And what Calvinist hasn’t studied the relationship between the subject, verb, and direct-object in the statement “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart”?

Perhaps my own training as an attorney amplifies my fascination with language and boosts my desire to “know the hope,” as it were. It was as a law student, prompted most likely by my class in the law of contracts, that I first began dissecting the language of the Bible in order to discover its meaning, as opposed to reading the Bible in such as a way as to do little more than confirm the presuppositions of a spiritual neophyte, focusing more on the editor’s notes at the bottom of the page, than the Author’s words at the top.

A commitment to the text is the means by which God brought me to the truths that He is sovereign and grace is free. Once a Christian comes to those conclusions, his ears are ruined to preaching, as my uncle says, and he is often forced to look for a new church home. Such was the case with me. The journey begun, the Calvinist finds two options, generally: the Baptist, and the Presbyterian. In fact, one has to be a bit lucky (providentially blessed?) to find a Baptist/Calvinist church—Presbyterian Calvinists, though easier to find, aren’t just plentiful themselves, at least not in Lubbock, Texas. Regardless, most newly Reformed Christians are quickly faced with choosing whether to attend a church that accepts or rejects paedobaptism.

Which font should the Christian choose: the child’s font or the believer’s? While one is small in size, it is broad in application, and although the other is physically broader it is applied more restrictively. This paper is my effort to examine the purpose of baptism as well as its proper mode and subject.

Generally, I will do my level best to offer “both” sides of the various debates concerning baptism. I will pit the paedobaptist against the credobaptist, the sprinkler against the immerser, Covenantalist against the Baptist. My hope is that the iron of both sides will sharpen me, and that I will come to a proper understanding of how to carry out Christ’s command.

II.
The Purpose of Baptism


Before diving into the debate on the proper mode of baptism and the proper subjects of baptism, it may be fruitful to see what the two sides of the debate say about baptism. I will use the Westminster Confession of Faith as being representative of the paedobaptist view, and the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith as being representative of the baptistic point of view.

A. The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 28

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, or remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.

II. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.

IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.

V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered to any person.

B. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith

Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be to the person who is baptised - a sign of his fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into Christ; of remission of sins; and of that person's giving up of himself to God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.
1. Those who actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects for this ordinance.
2. The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, in which the person is to be baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
3. Immersion - the dipping of the person in water - is necessary for the due administration of this ordinance.

C. A Brief Comparison

a. Baptism — A Command


It’s no accident that the former is longer and more complicated than the latter. At the base of both confessions, we see that each side agrees that the central purpose of baptism is that it is an ordinance or sacrament of the New Testament, issued by Christ in the Great Commission.

b. Baptism — A Seal and Sign

The Baptist asserts that baptism is a sign of the baptized’s “fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection.” The paedobaptist avers that it is a sign and seal “of the covenant of grace” with the baptized, and that the baptized is “ingraft[ed] into Christ,” it is a sign for the baptized “of regeneration, or remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.”

D. A Brief Contrast

To say that when one receives baptism he is part of the “covenant of grace,” indicates that any recipient of baptism is saved. However, the paedobaptist knows this is not the case. The Westminster Confession is contradictory here. For while baptism is a sign and seal for the Christian, it does nothing for a spiritually dead baby other than admit him into the so-called “visible Church,” although it seems the paedobaptist believes that the adult’s infant baptism serves as some kind of lingering encouragement. I’ll leave the discussions to visible versus invisible church to another time, and probably another author.

III.
THE MEANING OF THE WORD “BAPTIZE”


Now to the meat of my study. To my mind, the question, “what does the word ‘baptize’ mean in the original Greek” is the most important issue to be answered if I am to gain a proper understanding of the mode of baptism.

The first question, then, is what word or words should I be looking up. One would think this wasn’t a debatable issue. But I quickly found that Baptists want me to study the word baptizo, while paedobaptists want me to study the word bapto in addition to baptizo. Why? Before the research, I wasn’t sure. But after the research, the answer is plain. If one only studies baptizo, he will come to the necessary conclusion that immersion is the proper mode of baptism. If one studies bapto and baptizo one may come to the conclusion that immersion is the proper mode of baptism, but will likely come to the conclusion that it is uncertain what the proper mode of baptism is, or that mode is altogether irrelevant.

Consider the Westminster Confession above. In it we read that you don’t have to immerse, and that you may pour or sprinkle. Well, if you take that to mean that you may immerse, pour, or sprinkle, then you’ve effectively said that when baptism is in view in the New Testament the writer could be referring just as likely to one of the three proposed modes as the other. That, however, is not the case, as I’ve found.

When the ordinance of baptism is in view, the word baptizo is invariably used. The word bapto is used to describe certain Old Covenant ceremonial-washings, such as sprinkling the blood of the bull, etc. But when we’re talking about people’s baptisms, we’re looking at the word baptizo and not the word bapto. Although the words are related, it turns out Greek writers knew the difference between them, and they are distinct words with distinctly different meanings.

So I operate under three assumptions: (1) the Holy Spirit intended the word bapto where it is used and baptizo where it is used; (2) the Holy Spirit did not intend ambiguity; and (3) I will be able to ascertain the meaning of the mode of baptism by limiting my study to the word the Holy Spirit chose to use for baptisms.

A. Use of the word “baptize” in the New Testament

The following contains each instance where “baptize” is used in the New Testament as a translation of the Greek word baptizo.

• “And were baptized of him in Jordan, confession their sins.” Matt. 3:6 (referring to John the Baptist).

• “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” Matt. 3:11 (John the Baptist speaking contrasting his baptism with Holy Spirit baptism.)

• “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.” Matt. 3:13.

• “But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” Matt. 3:14.

• “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:” Matt. 3:16.

• “But Jesus answered and said, Ye known not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.” Matt. 20:22.

• “And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.” Matt. 20:23.

• “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Matt. 28:19.

• “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mark 1:4 (Mark describing John’s baptism.)

• “And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” Mark 1:5.

• “I indeed have baptized you with water: be he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” Mark 1:8; see Matt. 3:11.

• “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.” Mark 1:9.

• “And king Herod heard of him; for his name was spread abroad: and he said, that John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.” Mark 6:14.

• “And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables.” Mark 7:4.

• “John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Luke 3:16; see Matt. 3:11.

• “John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;” John 1:26.

• “And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” John 1:33.

• “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” 1 Cor. 1:17.

B. Use of the word “baptize” in the Septuagint and ancient-Greek literature

Merely citing all the verses where baptizo appears settles nothing among English speaking Christians. After all, it is the definition of the word that is at issue, and context alone can be wriggled to explain any definition of baptism one likes, regardless of its real meaning.

But there must be a real meaning to the word. Otherwise, we accuse the Holy Spirit of intentional ambiguity. This is a most damning charge given the command of Christ to go and make disciples, baptizing them. If Christ commands us to do something, and then He and the Holy Spirit intentionally choose an ambiguous word to embody that command, then Christ’s church can never be certain that it is abiding by His command.

Lexicons

Dr. Strong, whose lexicon is commonly regarded as the best among people who know such things, tells us that the above-listed verses are those in which the Greek word baptizo is used. Strong defines the term thusly: to immerse, submerge; to make whelmed (i.e., fully wet); used only (in the New Testament) of ceremonial ablution, especially (technically) of the ordinance of Christian baptism. See http://www.eliyah.com/cgi-bin/strongs.cgi?file=greeklexicon&isindex=907.

Dr. Thayer defines the word baptizo thusly: (1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk); (2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe; (3) to overwhelm. See http://cf.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm? strongs=907&t=KJV.

A perusal of other Greek lexicons will yield similar, if not identical results.

Greek Literature

What about Greek literature? Glad you asked. Pindar wrote in 522 BC: “For as when the rest of the tackle is toiling deep in the sea, I as a cork, above the net, am undipped (abaptistos) in water.”

Plato (heard of him?) wrote in 429 BC: “I perceiving that the youth was overwhelmed (baptizomenon), wishing to give him respite . . . . I was one of those who yesterday were overwhelmed in wine.”

Homer, 400 BC: “The mass of iron, drawn red hot from the furnace, is dipped (baptizetai) in water.”

Alcibiades wrote in 400 BC: “You dipped (baptes) me in plays: but I in the waves of the sea dipping (baptizon), will destroy thee with streams more bitter.”

Demosthenes wrote in 385 BC: “Not the speakers, for these know how to play the dipping (diabaptizes-thai) match with him, but the inexperienced.”

Eubulus, 380 BC: “Who now the fourth day is immersed (baptizetai), leading the famished life of a miserable mullet.”

Evenus of Paros 250 BC: “Bacchus (the use of wine) plunges (baptizei) in sleep.”

Polybius in 205 BC: The enemy “made continued assaults and submerged (ebaptizon) many of the vessels.” The vessel “being submerged (baptizo-mena) became filled with sea-water and confusion.” “Even if the spear falls into the sea, it is not lost; for it is compacted of oak and pine, so that when the oaken part is immersed (baptizomenon) by the weight, the rest is buoyed up, and it is easily recovered.” “Themselves by themselves immersed (baptizomenoi) and sinking in the pools.”

Strabo wrote in 60 BC: “To one who hurls down a dart, from above into the channel, the force of the water makes so much resistance, that it is hardly dipped (baptizesthai).” “And he who enters into it is not immersed (baptizesthai), but is lifted out.” “The water solidifies so rapidly around every thing that is dipped into it (Lake Tatta) that they draw up salt crowns when they let down a circle of rushes.”

Josephus wrote in 37 AD: “And stretching out the right hand, so as to be unseen by any, he plunged the whole sword into his body.” “There are thirteen other examples in Josephus, all in the sense of dipping.” John. T. Christian, Immersion, the Act of Christian Baptism 25 (Baptist Book Concern 1891).

Each time a classical Greek writer used the word baptizo, that I’ve been able to find. he used it to describe a dipping or immersion. The only exception to this rule that I have seen is when the writer uses the word to describe one as being whelmed or overwhelmed by wine or the like. Those expressions, however, bolster the primary meaning of baptizo meaning immerse. To say one is immersed in wine certainly conveys the idea that one has overly-partaken of the fruit of the vine better than saying that one was sprinkled by the wine. The exception, therefore, proves the rule, in the traditional meaning of that tired phrase.

Septuagint

The word baptizo occurs precisely twice in the Septuagint. John. T. Christian, Immersion, the Act of Christian Baptism 36 (Baptist Book Concern 1891). “Namaan went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan.” 2 Kings 5:14. “My iniquity overwhelms me.” Is. 21:4. “The root word bapto is frequently used in the sense of to dip, and is so used seventeen times in the Old Testament.” John. T. Christian, Immersion, the Act of Christian Baptism 36 (Baptist Book Concern 1891). Each of those seventeen instances is a translation of the Hebrew word tabhal, which unsurprisingly means to dip. Id.

The Namaan example provides powerful linguistic and theological evidence in favor of immersion. Namaan is told by the prophet to go all the way down into the Jordan, and dip himself seven times, in order to make himself clean. The Isaiah example of “overwhelm” also supports the idea of a complete covering, which only immersion accomplishes.

I’ll leave tedious expositions of the other texts to more capable authors, dedicated to linguistics. I do not accept the premise laid by many that one need interpret related to baptizo in order apprehend the command by Christ to baptize.

C. Examining the sprinkler’s interpretation of baptizo

Oftentimes arguments are won or lost based on how one frames the question at issue. While a Baptist commentator may capitulate to a meaning of baptizo that encompasses both the idea of simple immersion and the more ambiguous “washing,” sprinklers begin with the idea that baptism is itself a washing rather than a burial. In so stating, the sprinkler reasons that if baptism is a washing, typifying the washing away of sins, then the way in which one washes is really irrelevant, so long as a washing occurs. So a sprinkler would phrase the question this way, “What modes of baptism are acceptable for washing?” While a Baptist address the issue more narrowly, without first presuming the definition of the word “baptism” by asking, “What does the word ‘baptize’ mean?”

In this vein, the eminent Charles Hodge begins his discussion of Baptism in his Systematic Theology by citing the Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 94, which begins, “Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water . . . .” Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 94. After citing the catechism, Hodge wrote, “According to the definition given above, baptism is a washing with water.” Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology Vol. III 526. Since baptism is a washing, Hodge reasoned, then it “may be done by immersion, affusion, or sprinkling.” Id. 526. Hodge went on, writing that to baptize is “to wash with water. It is not specifically commanded to immerse, to affuse, or to sprinkle. The mode of applying water . . . is unessential.” Id.

Hodge wrote with great clarity, so much so that his deft pen can fool readers. Christ commanded people to baptize. The primary definition of baptizo is to immerse or dip (which carries with it the idea of full coverage of that which is dipped), and the secondary definition allows for the idea of washing. Hodge, by initially citing the Westminster Confession bypassed any linguistic complications or obstacles to his illation.

In fact, when Hodge did discuss the meaning of the word baptizo as used in the classics, the Septuagint, and the New Testament, he puzzlingly undermines his premise. For instance, Hodge wrote that the accepted definition of baptizo was the following: “(1) To immerse, or submerge. . . . (2) To overflow or to cover with water. . . . (3) To wet thoroughly, to moisten. (4) To pour upon or drench. (5) In any way to be overwhelmed or overpowered.” Id. at 527. Each of the proffered definitions conveys the idea of a complete covering with water. Somehow, however, Hodge and other sprinklers want a sui generis meaning of baptizo as it relates to the rite of baptism.

Even in the face of that, ahem, overwhelming definition, Hodge argued that baptizo “belongs to that class of words which indicate an effect to be produced without expressing the kind of action by which the effect is to be brought about.” Id. at 528. Given the above-listed alternative definitions, the effect to be produced is being immersed, submerged, covered, thoroughly wet, drenched, or overwhelmed. Presented with the option to immerse or sprinkle, absent initial bias due to the practice of one’s particular church, any clear minded person would aver that immersion more plainly produces the effect of being drenched or overwhelmed than does sprinkling.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More on the Christian's Relationship with the State

Please allow me to clarify some of my points (comments on the earlier blog posting entitled “On the Christian's Relationship with the State”) and to decline (at present) your invitation for a word-for-word exposition of Romans 13. I would like to see such an exposition myself, and may write one in the future. Currently, my thoughts on this text are far from “congealed.”

I am, however, resolutely convinced that the powers have benefited greatly by encouraging an exposition which leads Christians (liberated souls) to bow and scrape before principalities and powers with which they should be wrestling. A dominant function of religion in the history of states and cultures has been to maintain an oppressive status quo.

If anything useful can be gained from Michel Foucault’s “queer Marxist” (this is my characterization) analysis of history, it may be (in my opinion) that “Christendom” (and this would include 90%+ of “Calvinists”) has sought “power” over people – by the sword – just like every other major world religion.

This is NOT the teaching of Jesus. If Jesus truly inaugurated a new kingdom –then (with Jesus) we are dealing with a radically new phenomenon – a phenomenon which often does not seem to accord with Aristotelian logic. My point here is that the teachings of Jesus often seem to be at odds with what seems “reasonable,” “practical,” and “expedient.”

Clearly, a man would be a fool to slander Calvin. However, as a convinced baptist, I disdain to quote Calvin as an “authority” on anything [read whichever biography you please – but Calvin either presided over, or stood by for the torture and execution of a professing Christian who had a different opinion than he (Calvin) did]. I am convinced of the soundness of “Calvinist” soteriology (i.e., TULIP), not because of Calvin, but because of Paul (i.e., by the NT scriptures). Hence, I will ever (only) use the title “Calvinist” for convenience – though it pains me.

All of this to say – forget Calvin, forget Luther, forget Zwingli (and realize that their writings – which we possess today – were always published with a glittering sword in the ‘background’). And remember – all of these men sought the protection of state power (understandably), and none of these men died as martyrs at the hands of a wicked state (as did James, Paul and Jesus).

The point is (from my perspective) when it comes to the relationship between the Christian and the state – these men (the magisterial reformers) have little to tell us. If you want to read what the Presbyterian power brokers (intoxicated by the possibility of having the state “sword” on “their side”) thought about this – read Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter XXIII. They were supporters of the state power status quo.

The Baptist Confession of 1644’s language (see chapter LI) is more tentative than Westminster’s. I wish it were even more tentative – but in 1644 the Brits were still struggling under the “Divine Right of Kings” deception.

Historically (at least until the flag-wrapped crosses of the 20th century), baptists and anabaptists have not been big state supporters. Maybe this is because states and state-churches have imprisoned, tortured and killed a lot more baptists and anabaptists than other “Protestants.”

You are correct in understanding that it is my position that Paul would never teach Christians to submit to evil powers. My position (which I believe is also Paul’s) is that Christians should always resist evil, but that their resistance should be non-violent (i.e., not physically violent).

This position has historically been characterized by some as “non-resistance,” but I believe this characterization to be an inappropriate denigration of the spiritual weaponry with which Christ has equipped His brethren.

Since I hold the aforementioned presupposition (i.e., that Paul would never teach submission to evil powers), I must seek some intelligible interpretation of the Romans 13 language that upholds my presupposition – or (I believe) I should abandon it.

I do believe that Jesus Christ (God) ordains all things (though when I state this, I must confess that faith has surpassed understanding). Since I believe that God ordains all things - I believe that this “all things” must include evil governments.

So, if Paul’s language appears to say that Christians should submit to evil powers, (with my presupposition in place) I cannot grant this. Since this is my position – I am forced to seek an alternate explanation, exposition or qualification, for the meaning of his words.

Hence, my earlier note (comment to an earlier post in this blog) that while Rome could not have existed had not God ordained it – He must have disapproved of it, because it (Rome) was an evil power.

You say, “If Paul was telling the Romans to only submit to good governments, and all earthly governments are evil governments, then Christians must be disobedient to all earthly government.”

I think you have clearly understood my point. If you have the presupposition that I hold, then it is inevitable that Paul is forcing all Christians to (at some point) be disobedient to earthly government(s) – because they are all evil.

If this seems paradoxical, then just imagine that your name is Abram – and the God whom you serve (a God who prohibits murder) has just told you (you think) to make a human sacrifice out of your only son.

What do you do? Well, I think that you (humbly) do the best that you can.

In your last response, you wondered (because of my musings), “what [do] you do if you're simply a subject.” Honestly, I don’t have this all “worked out” yet, but I do think about it a lot and I do read about it a lot.

I can say that I’m confident that as a “subject” and a Christian, you should “live like Jesus” to the best of your ability.

The Lord Jesus Christ embodied a countercultural existence in almost every one of His acts and words. We know that the early Christians saw Jesus as the antithesis of Caesar and as victorious over Caesar - not through physical violence, but by “making peace through the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:20).”

They understood Christ to have “spoiled [the] principalities and powers, [and that] he [had] made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them (Colossians 2:15).” Roman converts to Christianity could no longer participate in the emperor worship cult – they had bowed to a new master; their relationship to the old master became, of necessity, “tentative.”

In very practical terms, what does this mean (i.e., what do I do?)

Maybe it means: just be at peace, and “ignore” the state as much as possible.

As I said, I don’t have this all “worked out” yet.

I do want to quibble with what I perceive to be an unexamined presupposition of yours. In part II of your argument/essay you list four government employees mentioned in the New Testament (a centurion, Zaccheus, Cornelius, and Sergius Paulus) and then you argue that their professions were acceptable because scripture does not mention that their professions were unacceptable.

I believe that this is an argumentum ex silentio, which does not warrant the deductive leap to the conclusion that Christ or the Apostles approved of these professions.

Your contention that a Christian may righteously serve as a soldier is not by any means a “given.” This notion may be uncomfortable for some who have either served in the military, or had beloved relatives whom they have considered heroic because they served in the military. Be that as it may - let truth reign.

Of course there is the matter of unchristian oath taking, which would forbid some (of sensitive conscience) from swearing to defend the constitution (in today’s American political climate this has denigrated into a promise to invade whatever country the current administration has a beef with).

I have commented on oaths and pledges here, but I believe there is a stronger reason why the notion that a Christian may righteously serve as a soldier is not a “given.”

You have intimated that Jesus (i.e., God) did not forbid service in the killer corps, but the analysis may be shortsighted.

There was a prophet (John, the baptizer) of whom God (Jesus Christ) said “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).” Apparently, the Lord Jesus Christ had a very high regard for John.

One day some soldiers came to John and asked him, “what shall we do? (Luke 13:14).”

John’s answer is instructive. He answers them, “do violence to no man.”

Violence is the soldier’s business, so what he (John) is really saying to them is “find another job.”

Major Premise: Christians should not be violent
Minor Premise: The ultimate job of a soldier is to do violence
Conclusion: A Christian should not be a soldier

This was the consensus of the Church fathers and the practice of Christians until the Constantinian creation of “Christendom” (for more on this, see here).

As I stated in a comment to an earlier post on this blog, I believe you may be neglecting a significant wing of Christian thought (a wing I believe is much more attuned to the ethic of Jesus) when you focus on the majority protestant corpus to the neglect of the anabaptists (generally, their older works were not in large circulation because they were being persecuted by the “protestants” [God will judge them]).

A note to younger readers – if I stop voting, it will not be because of “intellectually void regurgitations.” If I stop voting, it will be because that is where my rational contemplation has led me.

Friday, November 28, 2008

On the Christian's Relationship with the State

The question presented is whether it is a sin for Christians to vote. The way in which the issue was originally stated was that “Christians should not vote.” “Should” indicates duty or responsibility, meaning that Christians have a duty to abstain from voting in political elections. If the Christian has a duty to refrain from voting, then to cast a ballot is a violation of that responsibility, and therefore a sin. Thus the question, “is it a sin for Christians to vote?”

As neither republics nor democracies are contemplated in Scripture as ongoing forms of government, one must look to underlying Biblical principles to answer the query. I thus begin with the foundation and work my way up. Please read what follows with a forgiving eye. I spent about five hours today reading and writing on this issue, and below is the result. Although the writing is porous, I am sure the theological footings are sound.

I.
All things are lawful for the Christian unless the Bible either explicitly or implicitly prohibits it.


The default position for the Christian on matters of conscience is that all things are lawful unless prohibited by the Word of God. Paul wrote in Galatians, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. . . . [I]f you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Gal. 5:13a, 18. However, Christian freedom does not negate those things prohibited by God, thus we read further in Galatians 5: “[D]o not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. . . . Now the deeds of the flesh are evidence, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you . . . .” Gal. 5:13b, 19 – 21. Christian freedom, therefore, has certain limitations, which can be characterized as moral, rather than ceremonial, law. Therefore, we can now partake of catfish, but we are not allowed to steal a rod and reel to catch it.

The idea espoused by Paul in Galatians is applied by Paul in Romans: with regard to a kerfuffle involving permissible foods and the meaning of certain days, Paul wrote, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. . . . Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Rom. 14:14, 16 – 17. Christ having fulfilled the law, dietary restrictions had been annulled. However, some people in the church still felt it wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols, among other issues addressed by Paul in Romans 14. Paul stated that he knew it was lawful to eat all things, but if his brother’s conscience impelled him to abstain, then that brother should not offend his conscience. Perhaps Luther had this passage in mind when, at the Diet of Worms, he exclaimed, “acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound.” (If you’ll recall, the vast majority of Luther’s 95 theses pertained to the selling of indulgences, and the representations made by Tetzel were not found in Scripture.)

Nevertheless, some things are certainly forbidden by the Scriptures. Prohibition can be, and often is, explicit: “thou shalt not murder.” However, sometimes Biblical principles must be applied to a given situation to make a determination as to its moral implications. One such example could be whether a husband should take a job with marginally higher pay, but much more recognition, that will require him to be gone from his wife and child four days and three nights a week. While no verse of Scripture is plum on point, myriad verses regarding the manner in which a husband should treat his wife, and love her as Christ loves the church, should inform that decision. See Eph. 5:22 – 33.

The lodestar for calibrating freedom and prohibition is “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Lev. 19:18; Matt. 19:19; Rom. 13:9b. The clearest elucidation of this is, again, found in Galatians 5: “[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Gal. 5:22 – 23. (See also, 1 Peter 2:16, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves to God.”) Whereas, those things characterized by “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealously, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” are sinful and therefore forbidden. (As an attorney, I especially like the Mother Hubbard Claus, “and things like these.”)

Christians are free to do what they will so long as their acts are not immoral or evil. Against the fruit of the Spirit “there is no law.” However, some Christians are permitted a law unto themselves insofar as their consciences do not permit them to engage in certain freedoms they would otherwise have as Christians. (One might here say that some people are forbidden by their consciences to vote, and those weaker vessels should not be forced to breach their consciences by those with a less opaque view of law and freedom.)

II.
The Bible plainly permits God’s people to work in pagan governments, so long as they do all things for His glory.


It is plain enough that no specific prohibition exists against voting. Therefore, we now move to examine whether God permits His people to actively participate in civil government. Joseph, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Zaccheus, the centurion who had the sick servant, the centurion who met Cornelius, and Sergius Paulus: All people of God working for pagan governments.

Moses recorded that Joseph was elevated to penultimate leader of Egypt when he was thirty. Gen. 41. His power was sweeping in this role: “without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” Gen. 41:44. His duties were cumbersome, causing him to go over Egypt overseeing the process of storing up grain during the seven years of plenty. Gen. 41:44 – 49. Then, once famine came, it was to Joseph’s discretion how the bread was meted out (pun intended). Gen. 41:55 – 57. These were tedious tasks, but the Bible records that Joseph did them, and accomplished good for God’s glory.

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (that’s, Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for those keeping score at home) entered “the king’s personal service” following their education. Dan. 1:5 – 7. Daniel’s fortitude in the face of idolatrous government is an example for us all. But note that he didn’t quit the king’s service, but showed civil disobedience, first with regard to diet under King Cyrus, then ultimately in the lion’s den under King Darius. See Dan. 1:8 – 21; 6. Even though these men had to engage in disobedience to the State to act in conformity with God’s law, God did neither punished nor chastised them for their employment with the State. They were never required to run away from the pagan government.

The centurion who met Christ in Matthew chapter 8 was likewise not told by Jesus to quit his military service to Caesar. The centurion, if you’ll recall, had a sick servant at home who was “paralyzed” and “fearfully tormented.” Matt. 8:6. Jesus offered to go to the man’s house to heal his servant. Matt. 8:7. The centurion demurred, saying he wasn’t worth and telling Jesus, “[J]ust say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Matt. 8:8 – 9. Jesus “marveled” and told His listeners, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.” Matt. 8:10. Jesus immediately healed the centurion’s servant and never told the centurion to forsake his role as soldier. Matt. 8:13.

Wee little Zaccheus was a tax collector, in charge of obtaining the lifeblood of the government from its people. Luke 19:2. When Jesus went to Zaccheus’s house, for which He had opprobrium heaped upon him by the crowds, Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.” Luke 19:9. The Lord required only repentance from Zaccheus and not retirement from his cushy government job.

That Italian cohort, Cornelius, was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household.” Acts 10:2. This man was used by God to display how Christ had fulfilled the Law, tearing down the wall between Jew and Gentile. While Cornelius was corrected by Peter, it was for falling down at Peter’s feet, and not for serving in Caesar’s army. Acts. 10:25 – 26. In fact, from reading Acts 10, one gets the view that serving as a centurion was an honorable rather than dishonorable profession.

Lastly, “the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence” was converted after summoning Barnabas and Saul to preach to him the word of God. Acts 13:7. Luke does not record any effort by the evangelists to convince the proconsul to renounce his position in government.

Plainly, God permits His people to make a career of working for the government, whether in the highest seat of government or as a soldier. If making a career, whereby the majority of the waking day is spent in service to government, in a pagan, not merely secular, government is permissible, to the degree that such men can be accurately described as “devout,” then it stands to reason that biannually taking thirty minutes to vote is permissible as well.

III.
Scripture calls for Christians to do good to all people and love our neighbors and enemies alike, which can in part be accomplished by voting blameless men into office.


Above, we have discussed the general freedom afforded in Christianity, and God’s permission to His people to work in government as civil servants or soldiers. We now move from that which is permissible to that which is required.

There exists in Scripture a positive command to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Gal. 6:10. Additionally, Christ iterated the Law when He stated, “you shall love your neighbor,” and went a step further in stating, “love your enemies.” Matt. 5:44 – 45. In our republic, we are both the governed and those who elect the magistrates who govern: we are the government. It is our duty, therefore, in our capacity as the government, to “do good to all people,” and to love neighbor and enemy alike. Certainly, myriad ways exist to accomplish this. But one way in which we can love our neighbor is to do what we can to elect leaders who will do rightly by our neighbor, to elect judges who will judge our neighbor in accordance with law and equity, and to elect men who will protect us properly (though without imprudent use of force). In a simple moment of voting we can aid our neighbor by electing sober minded people to office. In electing people who can effectively govern well, we are in effect doing “good to all people,” and abiding by the command to “love your neighbor.”

Perhaps this is why Calvin wrote, “And ye, O peoples, to whom God gave the liberty to choose your own magistrates, see to it, that ye do not forfeit this favor, by electing to the positions of highest honor, rascals and enemies of God.” Kuyper, Abraham, The Stone Lectures, available at http://www.kuyper.org/main/publish/books_essays/article_17.shtml?page=4.

Therefore, in our republic, whereby the people send representatives to govern the nation, we have a manifest duty to “do good to all people,” and to love neighbor and enemy alike, by electing wise and judicious men to govern us and the country. For if we choose to be ruled by wicked men, then we risk the national fate of Israel after the crucifixion and the judgment of our Lord for not actively doing good to all.

Within a republican democracy, it is just and right to take part in choosing leaders. Even that wrecker of the old order, Roger Williams, acknowledged that Christians may take part in the selection of leaders by “election and appointment of civil officers to see execution of [civil] laws.” Williams, Roger, The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, available at http://classicliberal.tripod.com/misc/bloody.html. He went on, “the sovereign, original, and foundation of civil power lies in the people (whom they must needs mean by the civil power distinct from the government set up). [A] people may erect and establish what form of government seems to them most meet for their civil condition; it is evident that such governments as are by them erected and established have no more power, nor for no longer time, than the civil power or people consenting and agreeing shall betrust with them.” Id.

For further reading, may I suggest Boettner’s essay called Calvinism and Representative Government, available at http://reformed-theology.org/html/issue07/8.htm.

IV.
The Bible, Calvinists, and other right thinking Christians have always maintained that Christians owe certain duties to the State.


Governments exist because of sin. But for sin, there would be no need to police the streets, enact civil and criminal laws, or have a judiciary. Puritan Samuel Bolton wrote, “Blessed be God that there is this fear upon the spirits of wicked men; otherwise we could not well live in the world. One man would be a devil to another. Every man would be a Cain to his brother, an Amon to his sister, an Absolom to his father, a Saul to himself, a Judas to his master, for what one does, all men would do, were it not for a restraint upon their spirits.” Bolton, Samuel, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, quote available at http://www.founders.org/journal/fj28/article1.html. In this vein Peter explained, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” 1 Pet. 2:13 – 14 (written by a man later crucified). Similarly, Paul wrote that “rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.” Rom. 13:3 (written to the seat of government for Nero and Caligula). Governments, therefore, are placed by God to keep order and punish certain evils.

The indefatigable Luther endorsed this view when he stated, “Since the devil reigns in the whole world, God has ordained magistrates, parents, teachers, laws, as shackles, and all civil ordinances, so that, if they cannot do any more they will at least bind the hands of the devil and keep him from raging at will.” Grabill, Stephen J., Ph.D., Natural Law and the Protestant Moral Tradition, available at http://www.acton.org/commentary/commentary_351.php?view=print. I rather like this rather punchy quote from Calvin regarding law as enforced by the magistrate, “The law is to the flesh like a whip to an idle and balky ass, to arouse it to work.” Id.

God has required of His people that they be obedient to the State: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Rom. 13:1 – 2. Paul wrote to Titus to “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed.” Titus 3:1. Peter wrote to the church scattered abroad to “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” 1 Pet. 2:13 – 14. Although our only allegiance is to Christ, we are nevertheless saddled with the command to submit to civil authority. See Col. 3:22 – 24.

God has said that we should not only submit to authority, but we should pray for our government as well. “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” 1 Tim. 2:1 – 2. As important as the directive here is the reasoning behind it: “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” The reason we are commanded to pray for those in power is so that we will be enabled to live pacific lives, exemplifying godliness, and maintaining dignity. The reason provided by Paul is vital to a proper understanding of the Christian’s role in a republic. For “entreaties and prayers” were all Roman citizens had at their disposal to sway Caesar. While we are still armed with entreaties and prayers, we’re also girded with the privilege of voting, and may and should do so in order that “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” We control not only whether we pray for our leaders, but the object of those prayers.

I suggest Theodore Beza’s On the Rights of Magistrates for some foundational reading on this subject, available at http://www.constitution.org/cmt/beza/magistrates.htm.

V.
By ignoring State-supported immorality, the Christian facilitates calamity and brings at least temporal judgment on himself and his nation.


In response to my argument that a government should not permit the slaughter of innocent babies (by “innocent” I meant before the laws of man, and was not making a theological point about original sin), it has been proffered that the only true innocent to die at the hands of government was Christ, “yet he made no answer for himself.” By that statement, it is supposed that since the Roman government, at the behest of Israel, killed Christ, then those who could vote to effect change in American policy vis a vis abortion or some like immoral policy not only need not do so, but should not do so (as again, the original point made was Christians should not vote).

Let us deal what Christ’s death tells us about human responsibility. The crucifixion of Christ brought about both individual judgment for the men who committed the act, and national judgment to Israel. Regarding Christ’s death, Peter said, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Acts 2:22 – 23. Even though the crucifixion was the “predetermined plan” of God, the men were still held responsible for this act. In order to be absolved from guilt, the listeners were told in response to their query of “what shall we do” to “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts. 2:37 – 38.

Not only were the individuals liable for their sin, but the whole nation of Israel was judged for the rejection and ultimate execution of Christ. Matthew records that the people ardently plead to Pilate to crucify Christ. Pilate, seeing no wrong in Christ, went through the charade of washing his hands to show that he was innocent of Christ’s blood. The ribald crowd shouted, “His blood shall be on us and on our children.” Matt. 27:25. Indeed it was. Terror ruled in Palestine, and in 70 A.D. the Second Temple was destroyed, and with it the spiritual economy of a people. Jesus described in chilling clarity in the Olivet Discourse how perilous that pending judgment would be.

All Christians must agree that our chief duty is to God, but if we are to carry out His law, we are to abide by the principles of Scripture. And if we abide by the principles of Scripture, we are to do that which is practicable to choose for ourselves as magistrates those people who will exhibit good to all people, and enable God’s people to “lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” 1 Tim. 2:1 – 2. Bonhoeffer wrote, “The church must confess that she has not proclaimed often or clearly enough her message of the one God who has revealed Himself for all time in Jesus Christ and who will tolerate no other gods beside Himself. She must confess her timidity, her evasiveness, her dangerous concessions. . . . She was silent when she should have cried out because the blood of the innocent was crying to heaven. . . . She has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims and has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenseless brothers of the lord Jesus Christ. . . . The church must confess that she has desired security, peace and quiet, possessions and honor. . . . She has not borne witness to the truth of God. . . . By her own silence she has rendered herself guilty of a failure to accept responsibility and to bravely defend a just cause. She has been unwilling to suffer for what she knows to be right. Thus the church is guilty of becoming a traitor to the Lordship of Christ.” Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Ethics, p. 117.

Indeed, “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Prov. 14:34. Bonhoeffer witnessed a church sit idly by while jingoistic antichrists took over a country, whipped it up into nationalistic fervor, and slaughtered Jew and Gentile alike. The people said, “‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace.” Jer. 6:14; 8:11; see also Ezek. 13.

VI.
CONCLUSION


Christians are at the very least permitted to vote, and may be required to minimally participate in this basic aspect of our political system. Nothing licentious or immoral is associated with the act of voting, and it is therefore allowable and unobjectionable. Bolstering this view, is the evidence that God has permitted fine and godly men in Scripture to work for pagan governments. Some people may feel especially convicted to not take part in the electoral process, and their consciences may force them to abstain from voting.

Although Christians enjoy great freedoms, they are called to do good unto all and to love their neighbors and enemies. Such a command compels the Christian to engage in activities to effectuate positive results for his countrymen.

In fact, Christians owe certain unalienable duties to the State, including the duty to submit to its authority and to pray for its leaders “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” 1 Tim. 2:1 – 2. Encouraging and acquiescing to rank sinful acts by government can lead to both national and personal judgment.

Years ago William F. Buckley wrote that it was the duty of conservatives to stand athwart history yelling “Stop!” As history continues to move forward, Winthrop’s beacon will dim, and our dominance will fade. But like the conservative yelling stop at the march of liberalism, the Christian should not accept the downfall of America as a fait accompli, and instead should do his level best to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Gal. 6:10.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

another "brief" response

Okay cuz, let me begin with a disclaimer: the jabs are in good fun. Other than that, feel free to take what I say personally.

I do appreciate you posting your veritable cornucopia of words which, if nothing else, certainly serve to prove the point that knowledge is often eternally distant from wisdom (<-note the playful jab). By the standards of the political principles you say it is a Christian's duty and responsibility to act upon, well, Christ was a failure. He was a fool for not setting up an earthly kingdom and establishing a government which would produce the moral trickle-down effect you claim earthly government can achieve (if you don't claim it, you certainly hint at it). And Cuz, I know where you stand theologically, so I can't believe for a second that you think man has been endowed by his Creator with any "right" other than to go to Hell...I know that's the only right I've ever earned or deserved. So, as far as supporting that governmental ideal, well, I don't.

As for our responsibility to stand up to a government who would propogate the slaughter of the innocents, I point you to the only case where this has truly happened: Christ...the only innocent, delivered up by his own people, and slaughtered by the government, yet he made no answer for himself.

I'm sure you have experienced the urge to blurt out, "you just don't get it!", when you are conversing with someone whose calvinistic coffers of theological understanding are not quite full when they say (as they often indeed do....to quote your example here), "well, it's God who changes men's hearts, so I don't have to go evengelize". You used that as an example of what you see being the logical end of my point of view. So my response to you is, YOU JUST DON'T GET IT!

You began your diatribe by saying, "Let us begin where all questions of Christian duty should begin, the Bible"; if you began there, you certainly didn't linger long. You did provide some interesting historical perspective and praise of the governments of men (yes, God appointed those governments and leaders and purposed them to affect the lives of all, just as He did Pharoah and Ceasar and Hitler and the local governing authorities in the darkest jungles of Africa, who, according to scripture, have all been used to work together for good for those who love Him are are called according to His purpose...so I hold George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and Adolph Hitler and Albert Phish all in equal places of honor). As to your assertion that I quoted no scripture, well, I did.

Render unto Ceasar the things which are Ceasar's, and unto God's the things that are God's.

Let me try to simplify this. My Rabbi would not spend His time changing the world from the top down, as governments intend to do. My Rabbi went to the sinners, straight to them, and changed their lives personally so that they were able to govern themselves. Show me a Christian who does that AS they are marking their initials next to a candidate, and I'll pat them on the back. Let me ask you (and whoever else is reading this) a question: how many girls have YOU stopped from getting an abortion? Not by picketing and screaming hate, and not by voting for someone who you hope will do the job for you, but by engaging them and loving them for who they are, regardless of what they will decide, and showing them that life and love are the most blessed gifts from God? How many have you invited to church after you found out they had an abortion? I have never voted in any election; I have stopped several girls from getting abortions, and I have done so by following the example of my Rabbi. Would my time have been better spent watching CNN? Would my time have been better spent waiting in line to cast a vote?

You say there's no empirical evidence for my claim that a state making abortion illegal would not decrease the abortions. In a very real sense, you are correct: the evidence was thrown out with the trash. I will not soften my rhetoric on this point, I will not abort my argument just because it seems harsh or pointed or bold. Oh so many Christians think I don't care about abortion because I don't vote, but the truth is that I care too much about it to waste time putting my hope in this wretched American government that is nothing close to what it began as or was intended to be. Sin is predictable, and so are the behaviors of those who practice it. People always find a way to sin, especially if you tell them not to do something (See Genesis 3). You state that my philosophy, or your understanding of it, means that we should legalize heroine or murder...don't you see the flaw in your logic, the flaw that affirms what I have been saying? Heroine and murder are already illegal, and it is still widely used and abused. These actions are evidences of what is in the heart, and what is in the heart is not controlled or stifled by ANY government of men. I know your counter argument, so no need to raise it here for my sake.

The real heart of the matter is this: Murder....don't murder; use heroine....don't use heroine; abort your fetus....don't abort your fetus. None of these courses of action will keep you out of Heaven, but all will get you into Hell. A well maintained government will only provide Hades with souls that may burn a little cleaner.

Again, if Christians would take the time they waste on supporting polititions and instead spend it actually doing what we are commanded to do, which is caring for the orphan and the widow, following the example of our Rabbi and engaging sinners and saved alike one-on-one and pouring our lives into them (paying our taxes along the way, for this is what belongs to Ceasar) then the state of the government wouldn't matter because you would have a people so engulfed in spreading the selfless love of Christ that they wouldn't have time to WORRY about economic growth, mortgages, tax increases or whether the person they voted for is effectively making people live lives that, according to the letter of the law, appear "Christian".

So, Old Glory and those who fly her high can have my taxes. But I will spend my time governing myself by the grace and guidance of God almighty, and hopefully people won't ask me how I voted, but will instead ask me to give an answer for the hope that I have. I put no confidence in princes, but wholly trust in God, and Him alone.

He gets my vote.

By the way.....it's good to hear from you Cuz!!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

A brief polemical reply to Treybur

Originally I was going to scribble a comment in response to Trey’s post on voting, but I fear it would be too long.

Let us begin where all questions of Christian duty should begin, the Bible.

I think we can agree up front that our life decisions should be based on Biblical principles, so we must first look to Scripture to see whether voting is either prohibited or endorsed.

Republics were not an option in the days of Israel, which was an amalgamation of a theocracy and monarchy, or in the days of the Roman Empire. Our system of government is not really contemplated in the Bible. Therefore, neither of us can point to decisive verses. We can, however, appeal to principles such as "do unto others," and "love thy neighbor as thyself." While I believe a close examination of such principles would reveal that a Christian should vote, I doubt you would agree that such verses and their like are applicable. Therefore, I will take a different tack.

Representative government, though experimented with by Greece and Rome, was made palatable to the West due to none other than Calvinist influence. Starting with congregational authority at the local church and moving toward voting on local magistrates, representative government is the product of ardent Protestants pushing back against tyranny. Loraine Boettner addresses this briefly in his The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. The thoughtful Abraham Kuyper has a wonderful lecture that touches on this as well, which can be found at the following link: http://www.kuyper.org/main/publish/books_essays/article_17.shtml?page=4.

Government, of course, is both good and bad. It is bad in the sense that the power it offers attracts ambitious men, who will necessarily look after themselves. In a representative democracy this is often a good thing because the ambitious man rises and falls based on the prosperity of the country or his State. However, it also opens the door wide for corruption and looting of the public till.

Yet government is a blessing from God, by which God tempers the anarchical tendencies of man, and prevents men from ruling over one another by brute force and intimidation. But for government, and the respect the public affords it, no man could feel secure in his property interests as he would constantly fear some brigand may take his car, his money, or boot him from his home. A world without government would destroy commerce by making it too risky to invest capital in any project for fear of mobs, stunt the arts, as people would not have time to devote to writing, painting, or composing, and fighting would be a staple of daily life. We must never forget, God Himself instituted governments.

Now, I’m certain that as a Calvinist you agree that God institutes government, but yet you say you should not vote.

In a representative democracy the people elect representatives to reflect their values, whether economic or moral (I would argue economic issues are all moral). In our representative democracy, the people elect a bicameral legislature and an executive, who in turn appoints judges. No allegiance is required on the voter’s part to any of the men and women of these offices. However, the Bible commands that we respect them and submit to their authority.

I want to briefly address your abortion reasoning, but the responsibility of a Christian to vote goes well beyond the so-called morality issues.

We have the options as Americans to influence those we put in office. By judicial fiat, our country has presided over a holocaust—a mass murder not only sanctioned by the state, but funded by its citizens.

Does the Bible teach that citizens should not attempt to stifle the state funded slaughter of innocents?

You argue, in response, that only the sale of wire hangers would increase: a morose claim. However, that is a dogmatic assertion and not a defensible argument. The state-sanctioning of any act gives it a color of rightness. That which is constitutional is felt by Americans to be moral as well, whether that’s burning a flag or creating “art” by draping the Virgin Mary in a gown of feces.

Through judicial imperialism we as a nation have said that the right to kill a fetus is one bestowed on us by our Creator, and a right which must be defended to the death. And how can we change the courts but that we vote?

Your argument concerning abortion is specious at best. You rightly note that only God changes men’s hearts, but ignore the fact that men are morally culpable for lives they take, and countries are judged by the collective morals of their people.

Further, the argument that says, essentially, we can’t change men’s hearts so don’t make abortion illegal, could be applied to any crime where life or property is taken. We can’t change men’s hearts so why punish a murderer? We can’t change men’s hearts, so why make heroine illegal? And so on. Appointing judges who fail to see in the penumbras and emanations of the Bill of Rights a right to have an abortion is not the same as asserting that governments can change hearts and minds; rather, it is an argument that this government has not secured a right to stop beating hearts and suck out the brains of the unborn.

Essentially, your argument about voting is the same as the hyper-Calvinist's argument about evangelism---"well, it's God who changes men's hearts, so I don't have to go evangelize."

There is no empirical evidence to suggest you’re correct in your assertion that if certain states make abortion illegal, then abortions would not decline. Unless you find some, then it would be prudent of you to soften your rhetoric on this point.

Next, voting at the local level affects how grievances will be heard by local judges. Do you want your fellow citizens to be judged by good, honest men, or conniving politicians? By voting and getting involved in local judicial elections you palpably influence how lives and property will be affected in coming years.

By voting for your local city council members you affect how zoning variances will be handled, how your local taxes will be spent, etc. This materially affects local business owners, and all local property owners.

By voting for your Representative in the House and your Senators you affect the defense of this country, which affects the lives of people. You affect the finances of this country, which affects commerce, the viability of businesses, etc.
You ignore by your stance the vital role the Church has played in this nation’s history. From ending slavery to the civil rights movement, the Church was instrumental in ensuring that all men are treated as though they have been created in God’s image. If religious people had stood on the sidelines, and permitted the irreligious to make all decisions how much longer would people own men in this country? The principled stand of Rhode Island at the ratification of the Constitution and the inclusion of the Bill of Rights is also worth noting, as this was a State of religious men seeking protection from a potentially tyrannical federal regime. And while the signers of the Declaration of Independence were by and large not orthodox, they knew they had to answer to people who were.

By the same token you ignore the history of nations whose freedom was secured by the irreligious and by those not respecting the religious beliefs of others. It was not the Huguenots who won independence in France, but enlightened secularists. That made all the difference in the history of our two countries.

In short, there is no clear verse in the Bible that says vote or don’t vote. But the evidence weighs in favor of taking an active role in our body politic to ensure that our laws enable a just society to flourish both commercially and religiously. And your dogmatic assertion that Christians should not vote has zero Biblical authority, which is presumably why you quoted none.

I close with the words of Calvin in his commentary on Samuel: “And ye, O peoples, to whom God gave the liberty to choose your own magistrates, see to it, that ye do not forfeit this favor, by electing to the positions of highest honor, rascals and enemies of God.”