Looking to the State to Enforce Morality
Many Americans, who profess to be Christians, look to the government for the answer to life's problems, instead of the influence and persuasion of holy Christians and churches. The Bible tells us to “seek first the Kingdom of God” and to keep ourselves from becoming entangled in the affairs of this life. This does not mean that Christians cannot seek to have an impact on the governing policies of their respective nation or state, but it does tell us that our focus is always to be on the Kingdom of God, not worldly interests. Great things have happened through the witness of Christians in places where state actors have sought to curtail or even stamp out Christian practices, so it is obvious that Christianity does not need government approval to accomplish its purposes. There is something to be said for the impact that Christianity has on others when they see people preaching and following Christ when it is dangerous for them to do so. I believe Christianity has been and will be impactful regardless of the actions of state officials. With that said, I believe the governing policies of a nation or state can help or hinder the furtherance of the gospel, therefore Christians can maintain a Kingdom of God focus by seeking to influence government policies that can protect Christians from earthly persecution.
There are two pathways for this endeavor, with one being the implementation of Christian practices as the law of the land, and the other being the support of legislation that gives liberty to all people to believe and do as they please without state intrusion, even if people choose to do things we disagree with. It goes without saying that liberty for all does not imply that people can kill, steal, and abuse with impunity. Safeguards that protect people from violence should be present in any society, though not necessarily implemented and enforced by bureaucrats. Some people believe we should make the doctrines and practices of Christianity the law of the land, and as soon as we do, the better things will be for the nation. Certainly, having a society based on Christian values seems like it would be beneficial, but enforcing beliefs and behaviors upon others through the power of the state would cause more harm than good.
Whose “Christianity” should become the law of the land? There are many denominations and unaffiliated Christian churches across the country, and they differ in their doctrines, practices, and world views. Would we want a Catholic nation? A Baptist nation? A Methodist nation? A Presbyterian nation? A Calvinist or Arminian nation? A nation that believes in the enforcement of the Mosaic Law? I prefer to live in obedience to God according to my own understanding of scripture rather than having someone tell me and my family what we have to do and what we have to believe.
Theonomists claim that the civil law of a nation should follow the example of Israel’s civil and judicial laws under the Mosaic covenant. Some Christians may think this is a good idea. I look at this idea and see the danger of the church-state relationship and how it jeopardizes the freedom to oppose official religious decrees being enforced by the government. God’s theocratic purposes through Israel are no longer in effect. The civil laws that God enforced in Israel were meant to protect the special relationship between himself and Israel, as well as his purposes through Israel as a nation, and we have no indication from the scriptures that other nations should incorporate the Mosaic Law into their legislation.
There are some professing Christians who think that a nation should enforce the death penalty for sins such as homosexuality, blasphemy, and adultery, but this leaves no room for repentance, and I believe this is a self-righteous perception of justice, for we all have sinned. Throughout the scriptures we see God calling on people to repent of these kinds of sins without the death penalty being enforced by a civil body. In Israel, King David committed adultery, yet he repented, and God forgave him of his sin without putting him to death. When the religious hypocrites dragged the woman caught in the act of adultery to the Lord Jesus to place him at odds either with the directives of the Mosaic Law or the civil magistrates of Rome, the Lord put his finger on their hypocrisy, and they dropped the matter and left the scene. The Lord had a conversation with the woman and asked her: “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” She said: “No man, Lord.” The Lord Jesus then said: “Neither do I condemn thee; now go and sin no more (italics are mine).” We see that God’s morals are ever the same, for he did not say it was permissible for her to continue in adultery, but the idea that strict civil retribution for sin is God’s purpose for the nations of the world is refuted in this example and others.
It is good when a government enables the churches to proclaim the gospel, but it is not good when a government uses religion to control the minds and behaviors of people, even if it claims to be “Christian.” People may claim they want to see moral and religious uniformity but pursuing this model of governance is much more dangerous to individual Christians themselves than the political model of religious liberty, because the largest and most powerful religious group will set the standards for everyone else, and I am not in favor of that in any way. In the history of the church, rather than having one group dictate to everyone else what it means to follow Christ, Christians have worked through theological inconsistencies via conflicts, disagreements, and freedom of thought and expression. This would be impossible in a static and institutionally imposed religious system.
Many "Christians" throughout history have violated the principles of the Kingdom of God while pursuing goals related to the kingdoms of men. It appears acceptable to me for a Christian to assume a governmental role as long as he exerts his influence for keeping churches and individuals free, and he does not seek to accomplish “good” by means of control. Christians should not look to government compulsion as the answer for the moral ills of society. For the good of humanity, the Church’s influence must increase, and the state must decrease.