Our discipleship class met this past Sunday evening and discussed chapter 1 in Wayne Grudem’s book, Politics According to the Bible. The chapter is titled, “5 Wrong Views about Christians and Government”, and is a precursor to chapter 2, “A Better Solution: Significant Christian Influence on Government” (which we’ll discuss this coming Sunday).
The views that Grudem presents run the gamut and cover a multiplicity of issues regarding the relationship between Christianity and government. To reiterate, Grudem presents these views as wrong (and, based on response, the class agrees). I’ll present the views here with major talking points.
GOVERNMENT SHOULD COMPEL RELIGION
This is the idea that government should compel people to support or follow one particular religion. Historically, we have seen this view played out in numerous example: Constantine and the Holy Roman Empire, the Church of England, and the multitude of 16th c. German states (the result of which was the Thirty Years War). We’ve seen it, too, in colonial America, where the Congregational church was the official church of Massachusetts. Currently, we see examples of state-sponsored religion in Saudi Arabia and a variety of African nations, all of which are Muslim.
The Bible is clear that this view is wrong. (1) Jesus taught that there are two different spheres of influence, one for the government and one for the religious life of the people (Matthew 22). (2) The disciples of Jesus wanted fire to rain down on the village that rejected Jesus. Their reasoning would be that news of this event would “compel” people in the neighboring towns to come hear Jesus (Luke 9). (3) True faith in God must be voluntary – a matter of the heart. Grudem gives several examples where Jesus and the disciples taught and reasoned with the people throughout their ministry. (4) Jesus did not seek to establish a worldly kingdom, but rather a kingdom that transforms the world by changing the hearts of people. (John 18:36)
The implications of government-compelled religion are numerous. Simply put, Christians and non-Christians alike should work to guarantee freedom of religion. The problem comes, though, when some misconstrue the “freedom of religion” into “freedom from religion.” The 1st Amendment, and Thomas Jefferson would agree, guarantees that no law shall be created whereby a religion is established by the government, yet, we are free to exercise our religious convictions upon government and our society.
GOVERNMENT SHOULD EXCLUDE RELIGION
Proponents of this view misinterpret the 1st Amendment and, mistakenly, promote the exclusion of religion from society and public policy to the extreme. This view states that religion should be completely excluded from government and politics and, instead, be confined quietly to our homes.
Historically, we see examples of this view in post-Reformation thought, most notably the Anabaptists. This group, which has descendents in the Hutterites, Amish and Quaker sects, rejected all association with civil society, i.e. the swearing of civil oaths, pacifism, and the rejection of military service. This group viewed themselves as members of God’s kingdom, not the worldly kingdom.
Currently, the view that government should exclude religion can be seen in groups such as the ACLU, and American United for Separation of Church and State. Their goal is to eliminate prayer in schools, student-led Bible studies on public school campuses, and all references to religion as expressed on public buildings or emblems.
Much legislation has been passed, or ruled unconstitutional, due to this view. The problems are numerous, as well. (1) It fails to distinguish the reasons for a law from the content of the law. Gary Gutting, in his New York Times Opinion piece titled “Should Religion Play a Role in Politics?” states, “The goal should be to reach consensus about conclusions, but not necessarily consensus about the reasons for the conclusions.” A religious morality in the voting booth is not establishing religion. (2) This view supersedes the will of the people, specifically when a voting majority is reversed based upon a court-perceived religious bias. (3) It changes “freedom of religion” into “freedom of religion.” This was never intended by the writers of the Constitution. (4) It wrongly restricts freedom of religion and speech. Speaking a religious view in public, or voting it, does not compel anyone to accept that view.
The intent with this view is to make government secular and, thus, society secular. Even more, it removes from our nation any sense of absolute moral standards. If religious input is not allowed, in the public forum, in the voting booth or in jury deliberations, the 1st Amendment right to “exercise religion” has been severely violated.
ALL GOVERNMENT IS EVIL AND DEMONIC
Grudem focuses on the views of Minnesota pastor, Greg Boyd, and his influential book, The Myth of a Christian Nation. In the book, Boyd bases his claims on Satan’s temptation of Jesus in Luke 4 where Satan claims to have all authority over the kingdoms of the world because “it has been given to him.”
Grudem responds by quoting the words of Jesus in John 8, stating that “there is no truth in him.” Jesus refers to Satan as a liar and the father of lies. So, who do you choose to believe?
There is clear scriptural commentary regarding the Christian in his relationship with the government. In Romans 13, Paul states that government has been established by God, for “there is no authority except from God” and this authority “has been instituted by God.” Paul says that, as Christians, we are to respect civil authority.
DO EVANGELISM, NOT POLITICS
This view is promoted by Christians who say that we should “just preach the Gospel, and that is the only way Christians can hope to change people’s hearts and change our society.” In other words, in the words of Cal Thomas, politicians “can’t redeem themselves from the temptations of Washington. What makes anyone think they can redeem the rest of us.”
Grudem thinks this approach is too narrow. He says that the Gospel is God’s good news about all of life. We are to be concerned about not only the spiritual condition of our neighbors, but their physical needs as well. Influencing public policy can have that effect.
DO POLITICS, NOT EVANGELISM
This view says that the church should try to change laws and the culture and should not emphasize evangelism. Grudem gives example of this view in the Social Gospel promoted in the late 19th c. and e. 20th c. The work to overcome poverty, crime, racial discrimination, and many other social ills was an effort to correct social and civil issues.
This view is criticized as putting our trust in the government to save us, or that voting conservative will get the right laws passed. Yet, few evangelical groups will take this approach or believe that meeting physical needs apart from the Gospel is what we are called to do.
Grudem makes his case against these 5 views, and in his next chapter, presents a view where Christians seek to influence government according to God’s moral standards and God’s purposes for government as revealed in the Bible.
Yet, before he closes the book on chapter 1, he presents a warning:
If we (and I include myself here) ever begin to think that good laws alone will solve a nations problems or bring about a righteous and just society, we will have made a huge mistake.