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).