H. Henry Meeter on the Bible and politics in the Calvinist worldview (2)
December 7, 2012 by Nelson D. Kloosterman
From 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?