Princes & Paupers: Cult Affects Culture, Part Two

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One of the chief means for the church to affect culture, according to transformationalists, is for the pulpit to address the leaders of state; to teach them God’s law for statecraft, as well as rebuke them for disobedience to God’s law for statecraft. John the Baptist is often cited as an example of this, as he rebuked Herod. The problem with this thinking is that it fails to understand the discontinuity between the old and new covenants.  

One only needs to compare how John the Baptist spoke with Herod with how Paul spoke with political leaders in the Book of Acts. Paul has no rebuke for Agrippa, for example, only respect (Acts 26), though Agrippa was as immoral and corrupt as Herod. But Herod was a king in the theocracy of Israel, the nation that was set apart by God in the old covenant to belong to him. Thus Herod, an old covenant ruler in Israel, was rebuked by John, who was called to speak judgment against the covenant nation. Agrippa was a leader in the common grace state in the new covenant, and thus not treated the same.

Transformationalists fail to understand the prophetic idiom of the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament, nations and kings of nations were representative. In other words, as Israel typified the elect, Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, etc. were nations singled out by God for special purposes and types.  And of course in the Old Testament, kings represented the nation they ruled. So when the prophet Isaiah speaks of the glories of the new covenant with the words; Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn (Isaiah 60:3,4) we are to understand that in prophetic idiom, nations and kings represent people in general from those nations, not political leaders of nations and nations as a whole.

This is confirmed in the New Testament, first in the Great Commission (Matt 28:19), where we are commanded to baptize “nations.” Here clearly “nations” refers to people from all nations who believe the gospel we preach, not to political entities as a whole. And when we are given a picture of the eternal state, the fulfillment of that Isaiah passage, nations are then walking before God and kings are  bringing God glory (Rev 21:24) . This does not mean there will be a United States or Brazil in heaven, and that their political leaders will necessarily be there, but nations and kings again refers to the elect from every nation. It is actually the dispensationalists who fail to recognize this use of prophetic idiom concerning nations, causing them to wrongly interpret Matt. 25:32 as referring to God judging political nations depending on how they treated Israel (some might remember M. Kline’s critique of theonomy; that it borrows from a dispensational hermeneutic).  

Why is this important to the spirituality and message of the church? Well, the church does not distinguish the political nations or political power brokers of this world as having any special significance before God.  Our message is the same to all people; all are sinners that need to repent and believe in Christ. And when we explain how that sinfulness is expressed, we do what the Apostles do; we express those sins common to all mankind (Gal. 5:19&20 and I Tim. 1:8-10). To single out certain individuals based upon their positions of power is to accept the world’s definition of power and importance.

In the New Testament, the apostles never single out political leaders outside the old theocracy for any special rebuke or instruction. We are only told to submit to the government and honor the emperor (I Pet 2:13-17). To go beyond this and speak specifically to political rulers of the laws they should enforce is to go beyond Scripture and meddle in affairs we have no right to meddle in.  We have no more right in our preaching to call out certain leaders than we do calling out certain neighbors of ours.  There are some sinful ways Steinbrenner runs the Yankees, some sinful ways my local grocery store manager treats her employees, and some sinful ways my neighbor five doors down raised his kids, but it is not proper to single them out by name in my sermons, as well as the mayor of my city for how he makes laws.

So the transformationalist desire to single out politicians and political rulers for their perceived sinful statecraft fails to do justice to the new covenant age, where rulers and political nations have no more value or importance in God’s eyes than your local grocery store clerk or next door neighbor, and thus reveals a potential double-mindedness which still harbors a desire to have a say specifically among the power brokers that this world considers important. A political ruler who murders is as guilty before God as a neighbor who murders by hating in his heart. All murderers, immoral, rebellious, thankless,  liars, etc… who do not repent and believe are all to be told they must believe or be judged. Our message does not go beyond that to those we think have more power or influence as the world deems power and influence. All unbelievers are in the same condition; For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all (Rom. 11:32).

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5 Responses to Princes & Paupers: Cult Affects Culture, Part Two

  1. joe branca says:

    This is good, you’ve made me realize all over again how deliberate and single minded the apostles and NT authors were in how they addressed sin in context of their ministry.

    A question. You wrote:

    “There are some sinful ways Steinbrenner runs the Yankees, some sinful ways my local grocery store manager treats her employees, and some sinful ways my neighbor five doors down raised his kids, but it is not proper to single them out by name in my sermons, as well as the mayor of my city for how he makes laws.”

    Would you make a distinction between what a pastor says about such things from behind a pulpit vs. private conversation vs. posting on a public blog? IOW do we specially identify speech from a pulpit as having only to do with the kingdom of God while a man though a pastor may speak freely on all sorts of issues and the shortcomings of public policy makers in other venues as just another opinionated member of society? (I suppose that depends on the explicit grounds one state’s one complaints). Or is being a pastor a 24/7 vocation such that speaking in all venues is ministerially oriented to some degree?

    j

  2. Todd says:

    Joe,

    Thanks for the question. A minister is free outside the pulpit to give his opinion on any matter related to the kingdom of man, from his thoughts on the best ways to grow roses, to which fast foods to avoid for dieting purposes, to political views, to whether steroids in baseball should be illegal, etc…As C.S. Lewis said, rarely can human conversation occur without some kind of opinion, or “ought” being offered.

    But the driving principle, especially for a minister, is that all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable or edify, as well as becoming all things to all people that I may save some.

    That means if I was getting to know a neighbor who works at McDonalds, I would withhold my opinion on fast food.

    Now when it comes to politics, ministers need to be especially careful. For one, very few people hold political views without passion. Politics divides people and defines them. So we can too easily alienate people by declaring our political views which may disagree with them. That is hardly becoming a Jew to win the Jews as Paul wrote.

    Also, when I give my views on steroids in baseball, people usually understand that I am not speaking as a theologian but a sports fan.
    But when it comes to politics in America, both conservatives and liberals have so manipulated religion in support of their side that it is almost always assumed then when a minister expresses his political viewpoints, he is speaking from the Word, thus giving the impression that to be a Bible -believer one would be expected to agree.

    Because of this reality it is wise for ministers to simply refrain from speaking politics all together, so people with different political views can feel welcome in your church, and even more importantly, welcome in the kingdom of God through faith alone.

    So while it would be legalistic to forbid pastors from expressing their political views to others, I believe a cross-centered ethic of voluntarily giving up those rights to not unnecessarily offend and alienate people is called for.

  3. Zrim says:

    Joe,

    That’s an insightful and important question, and I think Todd answers it very well.

    One of the misconceptions of a 2K view seems to be that the sort of due caution Todd suggests is really a masked legalism. I suppose that comes with the territory of being conservative.

  4. Javier says:

    Hey guys,
    Thanks for the post, I’m a normal reader and was especially edified. Can you offer some reading material for this position, I know this ties in to the two-kingdom model. I’ve googled some but I can’t find much. Thanks.

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