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Archive for December, 2012

fruit-of-the-spiritWith the help of an analysis of the relevance of modern “two kingdom theology” to the issue of guns (available here), we are given further opportunity for reflecting on implications for whole life Christian obedience in the world.

As one of the essay’s conclusions, we are told that more artists and chefs, and fewer police officers and soldiers, are not necessarily indications of Christ’s kingdom having arrived.

Agreed!

Rather, it is claimed, “the signs of Christ’s kingdom are more ministers, more church members, more congregations . . ., and more fruit of the Spirit.”

Doubly agreed!

So then, let’s take a moment to review those “fruit of the Spirit.”

Set in opposition

The fruit of the Spirit are mentioned in Galatians 5.22-23, and set in direct opposition to the works of the flesh identified immediately before, in Galatians 5.19-21:

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (ESV).

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (ESV).

Notice:

1. In the original, each of the two phrases, “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit,” involves a kind of (Greek, grammatical) genitival relationship. Daniel Wallace opts for a Genitive of Production/Producer (in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 106), which means that the flesh produces these works, whereas the Spirit produces this fruit.

2. The “works” (plural) of the flesh are set over against the “fruit” (singular) of the Spirit. The fact that the flesh produces a disparate plurality of something, whereas the Spirit produces an integrated unity of something, is instructive regarding the nature of sin and of grace. Sin disperses and dissolves, whereas grace integrates and unifies.

3. The Spirit-as-source of this fruit guarantees the uniqueness of these characteristic Christian moral responses. Precisely what constitutes that uniqueness need not occupy us here, since it can be argued that several of these “fruit” are identified with words common to moral discourse in the ancient world. Suffice to say, for the moment, that part of that Christian uniqueness can be described helpfully with the use of an analogy: as a magnet organizes and arranges iron filings in a certain way, so too the gospel organizes and arranges the “fruit”-responses of Christian living in a way uniquely suited to the gospel.

4. Those responses identified as “the fruit of the Spirit” are essentially and inherently public and social responses. In other words, there is no such thing as private, individualistic love, joy, peace, etc. No one denies this, I think.

The necessary implication

Now, it is true that (1) “the fruit of the Spirit” are among the signs of Christ’s kingdom. It is also true that (2) these fruit of the Spirit are characteristically Christian public and social responses to the gospel, responses belonging to Christian living in the world. It is also true that (3) such characteristically Christian responses bear witness in the world to the reality and power of Christ’s kingdom. Therefore, although the kingdom of Christ can be associated with and rooted in the institutional church, the reality and power of Christ’s kingdom cannot be restricted or limited to that expression known as the institutional church. This claim is the legitimate conclusion from the preceding argument involving the public and social nature of the fruit of the Spirit, which are among the signs of Christ’s kingdom.

So then, given both Galatians 5 and the rest of New Testament teaching about these “fruit of the Spirit,” it seems both impossible and implausible to restrict this sign of the kingdom to the institutional church and its activities of administering the means of grace.

More agreement and analysis

Perhaps these implications and their valid conclusion are so self-evident and agreeable that they need not have been explained. Perhaps.

That would be great, were that the case. Nonetheless, the essay linked above concludes with some sentences, quoted below, that provide a good opportunity for still more pointed reflection. We’ve added a number to each sentence for ease of reference:

[1] The church doesn’t need guns. [2] It enforces God’s law and proclaims the good news through spiritual means. [3] But until Christ’s return and the ultimate sorting out of the wheat and the tares, society will need guns. [4] Rules for owning, manufacturing, and selling guns will come not from God’s word (which is silent about such matters) but the shifting sands of human reflection.

To each of these sentences, given the preceding context and discussion of the entire essay, we’d have to reply with a “yes, but.”

Regarding [1]: yes, guns are not the church’s instrument of persuasion, but might be the church’s instrument of protection. For example, if today’s circumstances of endangered public gatherings might warrant guns as a precautionary safety measure, perhaps the elders may wish to ask someone patrolling the narthex or the parking lot to be unobtrusively armed.

Regarding [2]: yes, this is absolutely true. BUT God’s law-enforced-by-spiritual-means addresses issues like peace, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control with regard to activities done by Christians beyond the institutional church. Here is the repeated, simple, clear challenge to contemporary “two kingdom theology”: Is the preceding sentence true or false? Yes or no? Granting that Christians have messed up in enforcing God’s law, perhaps in a hundred different ways, the question remains: Does God’s law-enforced-by-spiritual-means address activities done by Christians beyond the institutional church?

Regarding [3]: yes, the claim is absolutely true that “until Christ returns, society will need guns.” BUT: even if you remove the name “Christ,” this is not merely a descriptive claim, but is a specifically biblical eschatological and moral claim. You cannot know this statement to be true apart from special revelation. The truthfulness of this claim cannot be argued validly from natural law. Of course, there are plenty of non-Christian philosophers and political theorists who make a similar claim. But that fact does not contradict the biblical origin or quality of the claim. Therefore, there exists a “biblical viewpoint” regarding “gun control.” See below.

Regarding [4]: yes, this is absolutely true. BUT: the claim that “until Christ returns, society will need guns” is necessarily a faith claim, available only via Scripture, and is therefore part of a Christian biblically-derived analysis of and response to arguments pertaining to “gun control.” How that gets implemented in terms of rules for owning, manufacturing, and selling guns will come from “the shifting sands” of historical development as well as human reflection.

Simply stated, the Bible teaches that (in one sense) the church doesn’t need guns, and that until Christ returns, society will need guns. And the Bible does not teach that the Glock 30SF ought to be outlawed. This example illustrates precisely how Scripture can “speak to all of life” without determining every precise detail of life.

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And the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings consisting of great joy which shall be to all the people. Because born to you this day is a savior who is the anointed Lord in the city of David. And this is the sign for you: You shall find a baby snugly wrapped and lying in an animal’s feed box” (Luke 2:10-12; translation ours).

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It is the redeeming contrast of Christmas that people find difficult to handle, if they see it. The contrast between who Jesus is and how He appeared in Bethlehem of Judea.

Heralded to watching shepherds by heaven’s angelic host, this baby is a savior who, finally, will deliver Israel from her sin and guilt. This savior has been anointed (christos) as Lord in David’s city, whereby God is fulfilling the promises He had made long ago to David’s house. This is who He is.

But how does He appear in Bethlehem?

To the shepherds was given the sign of Israel’s coming salvation from sin and guilt through this savior and this Lord in David’s line. “You shall find a baby snugly wrapped and lying in an animal’s feed box.” Put simply, His appearance clashes severely with His identity.

And that is both the redemption and the offense of Christmas.

For, you see, it is a sign of ordinariness and impoverishment. Like every baby, this Jesus is wrapped tightly, for warmth and security, in strips of cloth that serve as His receiving blanket. Likely because the place where Joseph and Mary had been living for some time now was overcrowded, the only place to lay this royal child was a feed box. That’s all they could afford, so poor they were.

Precisely in this contrast between the glory of this savior’s birth-announcement and the cold indigence of His birth lies the secret of Israel’s joy and ours. Because the fact that a baby thus heralded by angels lay in such impoverished circumstances is presented as the sign of His work as redeemer. Born a King, without a crown. Anointed a Lord, without subjects. Who ever heard of a savior from sin having a feed box as his crib? For His life’s work, He would earn His crown and gather His subjects, as He grew up, moving from His feed box to His cross. That work is our redemption!

Again, here is both the redemption and the offense: His feed box and His cross were, so to speak, made of the same wood!

During Jesus’ life, the Jewish leaders simply couldn’t put it together, His identity and His appearance. Among their favorite weapons was the genetic fallacy: “We know where this fellow grew up, his background and family pedigree. He cannot be the Son of God.” Their escalating unbelief drove them, finally, to remodel His crib into a cross, fit just for Him. The same wood, mind you, because it was the same redeeming, offensive contrast that joined Good Friday to Christmas! Jesus’ appearance and “background” simply didn’t match His claims.

So the meaning of the Christmas sign, given to the shepherds, proclaimed to us, is this: to understand our Savior’s crown, you must know His cross, following Him believingly along His costly route from Bethlehem to Calvary.

Are you satisfied with the redeeming contrast of Christmas between Jesus’ appearance and His identity? Are you satisfied enough not to soften the edges, not to air-brush the portrait of “baby Jesus” so He looks cute and cuddly enough for people without faith to like Him? Do you believe that your salvation rests squarely upon the fact that His ordinary birth in circumstances of stark poverty was truly and exactly like any other human birth?

If so, then move beyond the satisfaction born of faith, to rejoicing with the angels and the shepherds, with Mary and the wise men. For this savior is truly Israel’s only Savior from sin and guilt, and David’s Lord of glory and triumph. This Jesus is our Savior and Lord!

(This meditation appeared originally in the Mid-America Messenger, newsletter of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, Indiana)

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H.H. Meeter ImageWe continue our discussion of the relevance of H. Henry Meeter’s classic work, The Basics of Calvinism, to contemporary discussions within the Reformed and Presbyterian world concerning the Bible, the church, and the world.

In chapter 10, “The Best Form of the State,” Meeter discusses the important matter of how Calvinism understands Christianity to relate to the state.

Can there be a Christian state?

This question, Meeter argues, cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” In fact, there are three ways in which the term “Christian” can be seen as relating to the state.

1. The first is what I would call the descriptive sense. In this sense, the state is not a Christian institution at all, Meeter argues, since it is “an institution of God’s common grace in this world by means of which God in his providence checks sin and promotes a moral world order” (pp. 85-86). As instituted by God around the world and in various cultures, the state as an institution is not a distinctly Christian formation. A state can function in Muslim countries, Buddhist countries, etc. In a descriptive sense, then, the state as an institution is not Christian.

2. The second sense I would call the normative sense. The state may be called Christian, “whenever a state is permeated with a Christian spirit and applies Christian principles in the administration of civic affairs” (p. 86). In this use, Meeter claims, “all states should be Christian, according to the conscience of the Calvinist, even though many states are not Christian. If God is the one great Sovereign of the world, then his Word should be law to the ends of the earth. . . . The Calvinist, whose fundamental principle maintains that God shall be Sovereign in all domains of life, is very insistent on having God recognized in the political realm also” (p. 86). Concretely, for the state to be guided by God’s Word, just as much as the church and the individual, means the following:

A state is Christian in this [normative] sense when, with God’s Word as its guide, its government maintains respect for authority, punishes evil according to divine ordinances, does not seek to disregard the guilt and responsibility of government officials or of its citizens, maintains the sanctity of marriage and the human family, guards the Sabbath, promotes philanthropy, honors the church and its mission in this world, and in similar ways reveals that it is permeated with the Christian spirit insofar as this relates to its own sphere of government (p. 86).

3. The third sense is what I would term the Christological sense, namely, “that Christ is recognized as the Ruler of the state just as he is of the church, so that all government officials are adjudged to be subject to his command” (p. 87). Among those who have maintained this view are the Arminians (this was an issue at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19), the Erastians, and occasionally, Roman Catholics. In this view, Christ is the Head of the state as well as Head of the church.

The “two kingdoms” theology of H. Henry Meeter

In response to the third sense, Meeter formulated a clear understanding of the rule of Jesus Christ in the world, which formulation is essentially an expression of a two kindgoms theology. Although the following citations are lengthy, careful reading of them will pay dividends for clear discussion and analysis.

Meeter explained several errors associated with claims made by Arminians, Erastians, and Roman Catholics. He concluded his analysis by explaining how Christ can have authority over all things, and yet be limited in the exercise of his Mediatorial, redemptive authority.

You will want to read this slowly:

The Bible indeed does state that Christ the Mediator has been given authority over all flesh, and all power in heaven and on earth. However, it does not thereby mean to suggest that Christ has authority over the state as its Ruler, as he is of the church. Christ is directly appointed Ruler over the church and over the kingdom of God. This rulership is given him as a reward for his mediatorial work. But this rulership lies in the sphere of special grace. As far as his redemptive work spreads its wings, he is Ruler and governs by his Word and by his Spirit. As Christ stated: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

But the state, which is, as we know it today, a creation of God’s common grace, does not come under the rulership of Christ as redeeming Mediator. A clue as to how he nevertheless can be said to have authority over all flesh is given us in Ephesians 1:22, where it is stated that God hath put all things under Christ’s feet, “and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” This prhase, “to the church,” suggests a very definite limitation of Christ’s authority over all things as Redeemer. As Ruler over the church and the kingdom of God, Christ must protect it and direct its destiny through a hostile world. To enable him to do this, he as the Redeemer must be given authority to control all things so that, no matter what these forces may choose to do, Christ has the authority and power from God to control their actions, restrain any possible evil, and direct all things for the benefit of his church and kingdom. . . . This authority, manifestly, is something very distinct from that asserted in the claim that Christ as Redeemer is administrative Ruler over the state as he is over the church. The state, which is a creation of God’s common grace, not of special grace, is, to be sure, subject to the Word of God as a rule of life. But it is not subject to Christ as the Mediator of redemption. In this last sense, therefore, the state cannot properly be designated as Christian (pp. 88-89).

Note the following:

1. Christ as Mediator possesses authority over all flesh.

2. Christ as redeeming Mediator is Ruler over the state in a way different than he is Ruler over the church.

3. The state is (to be) subject to the Word of God as a rule of life.

4. The state is not subject to Christ as the Mediator of redemption.

There are, indeed, remarkable similarities between Meeter’s formulations and distinctions, on the one hand, and some formulations and distinctions promoted by some of today’s “two kingdoms” advocates.  This is why we may speak of widespread agreement among these respective “sides” of the debate.

But there is one crucial and pivotal claim around which the entire discussion revolves. It is this: “The state is (to be) subject to the Word of God as a rule of life.” To put it another way: in Meeter’s view, the Bible is normative not only for the church and not only for Christians, but for the state as well.

By way of advance notice, next time we will hear Dr. Meeter unfold and develop this claim:

But since conscience itself is warped because of sin, and therefore no infallible guide, the state cannot progress properly unless the consciences of its governing officials in the administration of matters of state are guided by the principles of the Word of God. The Word of God, therefore, becomes the ultimate God-ordained standard whereby the will of God must be known, and by which the consciences of state officials, and of citizens as well, must be directed (p. 99).

Until next time.

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New word for the day: quiddity. It’s first and primary meaning is useful for this post: quiddity refers to “the quality that makes a thing what it is; the essential nature of a thing.”

The other word in our title—quibble—comes from the title of this post, written by Mr. T.,  which makes some very helpful comments and seems to reveal a growing fissure among “two kingdoms” advocates. Earlier, Mr. T. had written an explanation of “two kingdoms” theology (here), with which his critic (Dr. H.) has a quibble.

Dr. H. is himself an advocate of “two kingdoms” theology, and expresses his quibble with Mr. T.’s explanation of “two kingdoms” theology this way. He complains that in his original post, Mr. T., whom he considers a fellow “two kingdoms” advocate, “still believes that Christians will look or be different and noticeable when they apply the Bible to their daily lives . . . .” In criticizing this position, Dr. H. uses the argument that’s been repeated again and again. And again. Unbelievers do many things that are outwardly identical to what believers do. Motives may differ, but such motives are invisible. Therefore, in terms of Christian cultural obedience, there is simply no observable difference, and Christians should quit pretending that any uniquely Christian cultural activity is possible—except in church on Sunday, which is the only place we see Christianity at work.

Dr. H.’s quibble has generated a response from Mr. T., to which we now turn.

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First, please notice this important and timely observation from Mr. T.’s response:

To be sure, a prominent strand of neo-Calvinism has evolved in a highly problematic, radical direction, in part due to its abandonment of biblical two kingdoms distinctions, and it therefore easily devolves into the worst forms of the social gospel and liberation theology. In between Kuyper, Bavinck, and this radical form of neo-Calvinism there are a plethora of variants and distinctions among self-conscious and unconscious neo-Calvinists, all of which suggest that we should not dismiss the movement as if it is some sort of monolithic beast.

Why is this observation important? Because, though it makes some debatable claims, it recognizes and acknowledges something that sympathetic-critics of North American neo-Calvinism have been saying for decades, in efforts to rescue the good elements within neo-Calvinism from their abuse. Neo-Calvinism is not monolithic.

Why is this observation timely? Because at least one academic advocate of NL2K has painted a target on the back of neo-Calvinism, as though it were monolithic, and has announced his desire that we be liberated from, in his words, “the Kuyperian captivity of the church.” All of this is in print, going at least as far back as the November/December 2002 issue of Modern Reformation (pages 48-49; the concluding appeal of a book review: “The book that we still need is one that critically challenges rather than promotes the Kuyperian captivity of the church.”).

Then follows Mr. T.’s pointed response to Dr. H.’s “precise quibble”:

Yes, I believe that Christians should look different from the world when they work out Christ’s lordship in their daily lives. At the same time, yes, I believe that the same moral law that binds Christians is written on the hearts of nonbelievers as natural law. As Calvin clarified time and again, outwardly nonbelievers often keep the moral law just as well as, if not better, than those who profess the Christian faith.

We need not agree with everything in this paragraph to identify that the quibble is really a quiddity: “Christians should look different from the world when they work out Christ’s lordship in their daily lives.” As you read further, you will be able to realize that this is the essential issue at stake in this entire discussion.

But what, then, about the apparent identity between the cultural activities of unbelievers and Christians? Here is Mr. T.’s very helpful answer, one that I would identify as the first of two money quotes of his entire response:

Taken as isolated, individual actions, therefore, what Christians do often looks identical to what is done by nonbelievers, but viewed in the context of a life of Christian witness (expressed most directly in worship, . . . but also present in the readiness of Christians to testify to the gospel), the same actions look different.

If that sentence means anything, I would assert that the above statement applies to the Christian’s actions in education, art, politics, and yes, plumbing.

The second money quote appears in the conclusion of the response:

Christianity makes a difference in the life of anyone who is regenerate. When Christians rightly apply the Bible to their lives, following Christ, their actions will look different than they would have if they had not become Christians, a reality the New Testament explicitly associates with the calling of Christian witness.

Once you digest the arguments and claims being made—those of Dr. H. (who speaks of a mere quibble) and those of Mr. T. (whose response captures the real quiddity of the disagreement being expressed by critics of NL2K)—you will begin to see that any defense of “two kingdoms” theology is deficient that denies the possibility of and need for a distinctive Christian witness in every sphere of cultural activity.

By now, alert and knowledgeable readers will have two immediately obvious questions:

1. If the last quoted paragraph is true for individual Christians, then why is it not equally true of communal organized Christian cultural witness and obedience?

2. Since a number of essential features of neo-Calvinism are actually helpful to “two kingdom” advocates, when will the target, announced by at least one seminary professor advocating NL2K, be removed from the backs of neo-Calvinists? To ask it in his own words: When will those seeking to liberate us from an alleged “Kuyperian captivity of the church” stop with their “friendly fire”?

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Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 3.00.35 PMIf you hurry, you can get this wonderful primer on classic Calvinism before Christmas. In fact, get a copy for each of your children . . . or elders . . . or pastor!

Chapter 2, “The Place of the Bible” (pages 24-28), features an important section on the relationship between the book of nature and the Bible.

A number of adjectives come to mind to describe this material: sober . . . clear . . . confessional . . . motivational.

See for yourself!

But God also has another book, the Bible. Originally there was only one book, one revelation of God, namely, nature. And in the next world there will again be only one book, the new nature, in which man will see God and his revealed will. Adam saw, and redeemed man in eternity will see, God’s will clearly revealed in his heart and in nature round about him, and will, therefore, have no need of a special revelation in a Bible.
That fact accounts for the existence of the second book, the Bible, or the special revelation as we have it today. This book became necessary because of sin. When man fell, both he and nature changed. Man’s mind became darkened so that he could not see things as they are; and nature was distorted, as the statement in Genesis about “thorns and thistles” suggests. Nature today still is a mirror in which the virtues of God are reflected, but because of sin it has become a decidedly curved mirror. Manifestly, a curved mirror makes things look grotesque, very different from what they actually are. How now is man with his beclouded mind and distorted nature to know God and the universe aright, or to know his true nature and the purpose of his existence? These are three fundamental questions at the basis of his whole outlook upon the world.
How is man to obtain the proper insight into ultimate issues under such conditions? The only solution is that God give him another book, the Bible, in which he clearly and unerringly reveals the truth about these matters to man, and then enlighten man’s darkened mind by his Holy Spirit, so that he will be able to understand this biblical truth.
Thus we see the relation in which the Bible stands to the book of nature. The Bible is not on a level with nature as a revelation of God, but it is rather a corrective of false impressions made by nature in its distorted condition. It presents to us views about God and the universe which nature today does not teach properly. As Calvin states, we must look at nature through the spectacles of the Bible. So then, while God has indeed two revelations which he calls upon his creature to study, the Bible after all becomes the ultimate basis for the whole view of life for the Christian, since he needs the biblical outlook to properly interpret nature and life round about him.

Dr. Meeter next reminds us that the Bible does more than interpret the book of nature, since it also discloses the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. “Yet,” he hastens to add, “the salvation of man is in fact the central theme of the Bible and is inseparably bound up with the view which it presents of the universe and of human life.”
And then comes this significant and relevant paragraph:

Do not mistake the purpose of the Bible as if it were intended to be a textbook for the various sciences. It is not intended as such. One gathers the facts for the various sciences from the fields which he is investigating—nature, history, psychology, and related studies. However, when the student proceeds to interpret and correlate these facts, relating the truths of any particular science to the whole body of knowledge, then he needs the unifying interpretation of Scripture. We cannot have a proper view of God, the universe, man, or history without the Bible.

Okay, since it’s Christmas season, let’s unwrap the present that Dr. Meeter himself has crafted for us. Here it is:

This book [of Scripture], therefore, besides teaching us the way of salvation, provides us with the principles which must govern the whole of our life, including our thinking as well as our moral conduct. Not only science and art, but our homelife, our business, and our social and political problems must be viewed and solved in the light of scriptural truth and fall under its direction.

This, dear reader, is classic Calvinism. Its claim is very clear, and comprehensive: The Bible’s principles must govern the whole of Christian living in the world.

And this hermeneutic (method of reading and using the Bible), dear reader, constitutes the fundamental problem within current radical “two kingdom theology” and its associated religious secularism that has raised its head among Reformed and Presbyterian folk today.

Next up: H. Henry Meeter gives three answers to the question: Must or can the state be a Christian state? No . . . yes . . . and no. Stay tuned to learn how Meeter managed to merge a Calvinian two kingdom theology with whole life Bible-normed cultural obedience.

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H.H. Meeter ImageBy now, those following carefully our presentation of material from Dr. H. Henry Meeter on “The Bible and Politics” will realize that, given the “sides” often portrayed in contemporary discussions of “natural law” and “two kingdoms,” Dr. Meeter was not what some call a “theonomist” or a “Christian Reconstructionist.” Neither was he a “religious secularist,” like those who insist that the Bible belongs in the church, while unaided reason and natural law govern everything else. But as a classic Calvinist, he firmly believed the Bible is related to politics . . . and education, and more.

How the Bible relates to these areas of Christian cultural activity can initially be expressed this way: the Bible supplies principles that guide and govern Christian cultural activity in the world.

So that’s where we pick up his discussion.

Where in the Bible are these principles to be found? Some think these principles are only to be found in isolated texts of the Bible. And if they are not very successful in finding suitable texts, they soon come to the conclusion that the Bible must not have much to say about politics. The Calvinist believes that the biblical basis for his political or his theological or his social views is not to be found in mere isolated texts. He rather discovers these principles in the rule of faith that runs through the whole of Scripture and manifests itself in a variety of ways, also at times in special texts, such as, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,” or “By me kings reign” (Rom. 13:1; Prov. 8:15). But these principles are not at all confined to such special texts.
These principles deal not only with such very general matters like the sovereignty of God and the duty of obedience to governments, but also with many other political problems, such as the relation of the individual to the group, the relation of churches and other ogranizations in society to the state, the limits of governmental power, and the rights of individuals. Calvin in developing his political views made much of such biblical principles as justice, equity, and the well being of the people.
The Calvinist insists that the principles of God’s Word are valid not only for himself but for all citizens. Since God is to be owned as Sovereign by everyone, whether he so wishes or not, so also the Bible should be the determining rule for all. But especially for himself, the Christian, according to the Calvinist, must in politics live by these principles. He declares that not only with his soul for eternity, but as well in matters that concern his body in time, he belongs to his faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Him, therefore, he must obey in all walks of life.
The great value of adopting the Bible as his unconditional positive rule of faith and life, also for political matters, will become increasingly clear as we study the various aspects of Calvinistic political theory.

This ends our extensive citation of Dr. Meeter’s thoughts on this matter of “The Bible and Politics.”

Notice carefully what Meeter has not said. Several who defend modern religious secularism (religion, the Bible, and Christianity belong in the church) mistakenly allege that their critics must surely hold to the underlined words in bold in the following statement: “The Bible alone is the source of every principle for Christian political activity.” Neither Dr. Meeter, nor Abraham Kuyper, nor John Calvin, nor modern defenders of whole life Calvinism have defended that position.

Rather, one of the most fundamental disagreements lies in the two claims being defended by some modern religious secularists, that: (1) the principles of the Bible are authoritative only for Christians, and (2) the Bible says nothing authoritative for Christian communal cultural obedience in the world today.

One feature of this disagreement involves the following binary thinking: either the Bible alone is the guide for Christian communal obedience beyond the church, or the Bible says nothing for Christian communal obedience beyond the church. The error of this binary thinking is this: if we disagree with the second clause, it is alleged that we must agree with the first clause. If we disagree with the first clause, we must necessarily agree with the second clause. The truth, however, is this: as Dr. Meeter has explained it, neither the first clause nor the second clause is valid. Classic whole life Calvinism has always championed a third way!

But there’s more meat in Meeter! Next time we’ll look at the relationship between the Bible and “the book of nature.”

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Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 3.00.35 PMFrom the previous blog post, you will learn that we are reproducing here a significant orientation penned by Dr. H. Henry Meeter back in 1939 on the matter of “The Bible and Politics,” a section comprising pages 74-76 in his renowned work, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism (6th edition; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990).

It must be kept in mind that before setting forth his ideas about “The Bible and Politics,” Meeter had already presented, in Part 1 of his book, the cardinal tenets of Calvinism regarding its fundamental principle, the place of the Bible in Calvinism, the role of faith, common grace, and human culture. These preceding seven chapters, then, contain his concise presentation of the integrated system known as Calvinism.

Part 2 contains eighteen chapters (three of them added by reviser Paul Marshall) that discuss the “Political Ideas of Calvinism.” The first of these is Chapter 8, from which these citations are drawn.

Again, listen to Dr. Meeter, and see what you think.

In adopting the Bible as his foundation in political science, the Calvinist takes a position which is rather unique. Most other systems do not attempt to base their views on the Bible. As their authority in affairs of state they will appeal, not to the Bible, but to some such ground as the will of the masses, or the individual sentiment of justice, or natural rights; or they will make of the state an autonomous body, which can decide what it will—always some human ground. This does not imply that adherents of such political systems will always object to your having religious views. Some who are atheists will object to it as the Soviet government is doing. Others are quite willing to allow religious opinions, but they maintain that these religious views should be private matters and should not be injected into politics. Others will go even further and allow religion to color certain political activities, such as the opening of political gatherings with prayer or occasional reference to God in speeches. But when it comes to the drafting of political views, they maintain that the Bible may not be the criterion. In politics, human opinions and human theories must decide. The Calvinist goes back to God. The will of God is determinative for the views which he must hold concerning the state.
How are we to understand the statement that the Bible is the Calvinist’s foundation in politics? Does the Calvinist expect the Bible to provide him with a political platform? It would be folly to expect such a thing. A political party in the United States changes its platform every four years. Despite such frequent changes it is a difficult matter to draft a platform which will satisfy all sections of the country. How then could anyone reasonably expect the Bible to supply a platform which would hold good for all ages and all classes? In fact, the Bible does not even offer us any organized political system which we can use. It does not even offer us a unified theological system. There is a more or less developed political plan presented in the Bible, the so-called Mosaic theocracy, that civil-ceremonial system found in the first five books of the Bible. But that system, according to the very words of Calvin, was made for other times and other conditions and does not hold good for today. In fact, the Calvinist does not believe that there is one hard and fast system of government which the Bible advocates. The Bible does not declare that the government must be a monarchy, or an aristocracy, or a demoncracy. The Bible offers eternal principles which should underlie and control all political systems. These principles never grow old, but like all principles they are eternal, changeless, and pertinent for all times and all conditions. When once one has mastered these principles, then one can build systems and construct platforms to meet existing conditions, and can critically analyze them to judge whether or not they are sound.

Next time: Where are these principles to be found? and Are these principles valid only for Christians?

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