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Friday, October 2, 2015

Finding Places Between God And Caesar For The Sake Of The Gospel

One of the things that most hinders evangelism today is the Church's credibility. And on the thorns in the side of that credibility is how the Church, especially the Conservative Church,  reacts to the world in what it insists on and what it lets go.

Kim Davis' refusal to issue marriage licenses in the light of the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriag serves as an example of when the Conservative Church's demands on society gives reasons for others not to listen to the preaching of the Gospel. For what Davis did was to use her religious convictions, as sincere as they are, as a reason for denying legal rights to a group of people. And the issue of the denial of legal rights is sexual freedom.


But as Joe Paterno once asked how did Nixon know enough to vote Texas #1 in football in 1969 over his undefeated Nittany Lions while he knew nothing about Watergate, unbelievers are asking conservative Christians how come they know so much about dangers of sex while knowing so little about the precarious situation that an exploitive economic system, destruction to the internet, and war and militarism puts most of the world's people in.

See, according to many unbelievers, the Conservative Church in America doesn't know when to talk and when to shut up. For it wishes to speak to those who sin by individuals practicing sexual immorality, but it is complicit in its silence when our economic system sins or when we rely too much on war and militarism. And that doesn't mention our apathy to how our way of life is destroying the environment.

So how is the Christian suppose to intervene here so that he/she both brings honor to the Gospel in the eyes of others while keeping God's Word? The Heidelcast interview conducted by R. Scott Clark on Daryl Hart (click here for page containing Hart's bio) is meant to give some general guidelines that would teach us how (click here for the Heidelblog page containing the link to the interview). But here, we should note that such isn't the setup for the interview. 

How should Evangelicals participate in the political system? On the one hand, Hart rightfully notes that we are different from Israel where God gave specific laws for the people of Israel to follow as His own. Today, no nations have replaced Israel which would call for the Church to not identify with the state in a sense. In addition, we want to follow Jesus' teaching on how to give Caesar what is his and  God what is His--there is a difference between God and Caesar which would come as a great surprise to some world leaders. Neither do we want to attempt to create any New Testament version of Israel as was at least partially done in Constantinianism when Christianity became the state religion which occurred some time after the death of Constantine. Such was a mistake according to Hart. An equal mistake was for the government to claim the right to oversee the Church and pick an official denomination.

According to Hart, America has done a good job at avoiding the mistakes of the past when it comes to practices that violate the separation of Church and state. Hart correctly notes about America that though its population was predominantly Christian, it did not become a Christian nation. It allowed for pluralism though the degree of that pluralism is certainly greater today than ever anticipated by our Founding Fathers.


The distinction in what we owe Caesar and what we owe God constitutes a dualism according to Hart. A dualism that exists between the things eternal and the things temporal, the things unseen and the things seen. the concerns of God and the concerns of man. And thus, Caesar and God give us different sets of rules by which we should live, that is for the most part. And for Christians to expect Caesar to, in any sense, enforce Church laws and regulations would be a mistake. Hart correctly points out that there is no 'blueprint' for a Christian nation in the New Testament. So what Hart does adequately in the interview is to tell the Conservative Church how it should let go of a lot of things it wants to force on society  even though those things are condemned by the Scriptures.

But what is not mentioned in the interview is some of the context for Hart's views here. Hart is a Reformed Theologian who is both an adherent of Two Kingdom Theology (2KT), the Reformed version that is, and a believer in small government--the latter becomes apparent when he briefly mentions how immigration had been handled in the past. What is important about this context is the fact that 2KT basically prohibits the Church to speak as the Church against sins committed by groups, in particular, groups like the state because, at least with Hart, it doesn't acknowledge that groups, like nations or society, commit sins. So while Hart does an adequate job in giving a framework that could help us religiously conservative Christians from imposing our religious views on society so as to make people too mad to listen to us, he does not help us to avoid the problem of Church's complicity with sin by remaining silent in the face of certain sins. And a large part of the reasoning that allows for that comes from Hart's, and Clark's too, notion of an acceptable dualism.


There must be a dualism to accommodate pluralism in society seeing that society is not meant to be the Church. But there is an inconsistency when examining Hart's version of dualism. For when he and others talk about the eternal vs the temporal and the seen vs the unseen, certain temporal states of affairs as they relate to individuals can prevent individuals from enjoying the eternal. Sexual sins or other violations of the Ten Commandments such as theft and murder can affect our eternal state. Now if that is the case for individuals and their sin, how is it any different for individuals  if the are either silent or even participating in what Caesar does as Caesar robs from and kills both our fellow citizens and foreigners through government policies? Aren't killing and robbing when performed by individuals sin? Then how is it any different when the groups we belong to do the same even when the groups we belong include our own nation?

Yes, Hart is more than right in saying that there is no New Testament blueprint that defines a Christian nation or society. But if we leave it at that, we fail to avoid our other problem of the Church when it fails to preach against certain sins. For example, during the time when our nation embraced slavery, several denominations failed to preach and act against it. Likewise, not many Protestant denominations opposed Jim Crow. And not many denominations, especially conservative ones, preached against the Vietnam War.

So today, though there is a growing awareness of the horrors of racism in the Conservative Church, it remains silent about economic classism, the destruction of our environment, and war and militarism. That silence translates into what Jesus called 'stumbling blocks' for unbelievers which prevents them from listening to the Gospel when we preach it. Though not in the interview, Hart has, in his blog (click here) equated calling for the Church to speak out on today's issues as the OT prophets did with wanting to return to Israel's previous covenant status. But here, Hart fails to notice that the Old Testament prophets sometimes preached repentance to other nations besides Israel. This contradicts his reasoning.

Yes, Clark's interview with Hart is helpful and informative. It could help many of us to decide how we can avoid unnecessarily offending unbelievers by trying to create a Christian society or seek a privileged status for Christians in society. But our troubles with protecting the honor of the Gospel has two sides. One side is addressed by what Hart says here and elsewhere, while the other side of remaining silent in the face of corporate sin as the Church did in the past over slavery and Jim Crow remains untouched.






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