Why I Love the Modern State

It helps me keep straight the difference between the city of God and the city of man, at a time when so many Christians want Christianity to define “ALL of me.”

Mark Oppenheimer thinks it possible to distinguish Christian as a noun and adjective:

And Jews and Christians alike have internalized these different connotations. Most Jews, if asked about their religion, say not, “I’m a Jew” but the softer, more acceptable, “I’m Jewish.” With Christians, the answer will vary depending on the kind of Christian you’re talking to. Liberal Protestants may say, “I’m Christian,” using the adjective, but many evangelicals, born-again Christians, and other passionate believers will say, “I’m a Christian.” It sounds a little jarring to more secular or liberal types, but not in a bad way. It just sounds hard-core, like the person is planting a flag and standing by it.

For Christians, the difference between “Christian” the adjective and “Christian” the noun is one of both degree and kind. We are all described by many adjectives, but we select very few nouns to sum up who we are. The nouns require a bit more commitment. It’s the difference between “I’m liberal” and “I’m a liberal”—the man or woman willing to own the noun is more committed, for sure. The adjective is what you are like; the noun is who you are.

And what about James Bratt’s suggestion that politicized evangelicals should own the moniker, “Christianist“?

Whatever the label, believers have trouble (without the help of modern politics) sorting out their Christian and non-Christian aspects. Just consider the confusion in this response to yesterday’s bombings in Belgium:

I’ll leave it to people who know what they’re talking about to expound further on the radical nature of what Christ is demanding of us when he says this. Suffice it to say for now that it’s clear and direct and we don’t have any choice if we call ourselves Christians: we have to forgive our enemies.

And that includes the terrorists who killed 34 people in Brussels on Tuesday. We have to forgive them.

BUT…But…but it is also written, “thou shalt not kill.” And that means that we need to kill all the other terrorists who are still out there.

Why? Because justice and reason and the teaching of the Church. The Fifth Commandment (don’t kill) imparts on Christians a duty to protect and defend innocent human life. Sooooo…it is morally just to use lethal force to prevent the killing of innocent people. Self-defense, just war, etc. etc. etc.

So kill ISIS.

First, I thought God through the ministry of the church forgives sins. It’s not up to me to forgive people who have not wronged me. Do I even have authority as an elder to forgive sins that are crimes against humanity? The Book of Church Order doesn’t say so.

Second, I don’t have the power to kill anyone legally unless I become part of the executive branch of our constitutional order. As a policeman, executioner, or soldier I could legitimately kill someone. As a policeman, executioner, or soldier I am also carrying out orders of someone else. As a Christian policeman, executioner, or solder I am carrying out the duties of my vocation. But I am not acting “merely” as a Christian since non-Christian police and soldiers carry out similar orders.

So as a 2k Christian I don’t have to forgive or kill. I defer to those with higher pay grades, which includes — piety alert! — praying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

19 thoughts on “Why I Love the Modern State

  1. Q. But why are you called a Christian?
    A. Because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing. I am anointed to confess his name, to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive with a free conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for eternity.

    But do you draw the line somewhere on carrying out the duties of vocation? Like when the duty is sinning?


  2. DG, your word play with sinful/lawful is spot on. But it may still be sinful for you to kill as a soldier (I’m not exactly settled on the issue) and in some countries, it may be lawful for you to kill as a person.

    And self-defense is THE question. Some self-defense is lawful (intruders, wars declared by Congress) but some is not. Some people want to find a biblical warrant for defending the innocent with lethal force (by killing ISIS), but they don’t want to kill abortionists. Is any of that sinful? Is all of that sinful? If I have to choose between 2 extremes–condemning all forms self-defense has taken, and defending them, I choose condemning them, but that’s not to say I’m entirely settled on the issue.


  3. DG: many Christians want Christianity to define “ALL of me.”

    Yep. one is either a spiritual man or a natural man (1 Cor 2:15+);
    ‘course one can choose to be a divided mind/heart/alliance man; in that case, one ought pray: Unite my heart to fear Your name.(Ps 86:11);
    ‘course again unless one has decided to eliminate the word surrender from one’s vocabulary,and then, in that case, just admit the devil’s foothold

    DG: piety alert! — praying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

    piety alert! wow! but, you mean, including fully to one’s own heart, too,right?


  4. And? … and Paul, being a spiritual man, a son of God, living by the Spirit, led by the Spirit, serving in the newness of the Spirit ,having one Master and Lord, obeyed God rather than man, and rendered to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s, here, there, and everywhere.


  5. DGH: many Christians want Christianity to define “ALL of me.”

    Ali: Yep. one is either a spiritual man or a natural man (1 Cor 2:15+)

    Are one’s toenails spiritual or natural? I thought we got new bodies in the eschaton.

    But if my toenails are natural, does that mean (using your dictum) that all of me is natural, and that I’m not spiritual? Can I become spiritual by cutting off my toenails?

    The point is that Paul’s spiritual / natural divide (lit: “of the spirit” / “of the flesh”) needs to be understood with some nuance. Sometimes Paul uses “natural” or “fleshly” to mean our physical bodies; sometimes, to mean “of the sin nature.”

    I think most Christians would agree that Paul does not believe that the physical body is itself wicked (even though he says “no good thing dwells in my flesh”), nor yet does he believe that it is eternal and of the Spirit.

    One needs wisdom to keep one’s toenails trimmed so that one does not receive a swift kick from one’s wife in one’s bed. This wisdom is not wicked (since Christians may do it, by faith even), nor yet of the Spirit (since non-Christians can do it equally well).

    That’s the point: Christianity does not encompass toenail trimming, even though Christians may trim their toenails to the glory of God and the peace of their marriages.

    Another way to put the same point: When Paul divides men into spiritual and fleshly in 1 Cor 3, his division is between those enslaved to the sin nature and those who are indwelt by the Spirit (cf Rom 8). It is not between those who lack bodies and those who have them.

    And what Christians and non-Christians share between them is wisdom about how — not necessarily why or to what end — to think about and care for the physical stuff of this world.


  6. Yes, we know that there is a difference between “gnostic” and “spiritual”. “Spiritual” very often means “controlled by the Holy Spirit”, and when Jesus “poured out His soul”, what He really poured out was His blood.

    In the two kingdom idolatry (love of) the “modern state”, the assumption seems to be that things keep getting (more and more)better because the “modern state” is no longer Constantinian. But I have some questions about the piety of “following orders”.

    DGH—- I don’t have to forgive or kill. I defer to those with higher pay grades, which includes — piety alert! — praying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

    Why do you “love the modern state”? Is it because you don’t have to kill, or is it because you don’t have to forgive? Does this mean that you can forgive if you want to, or does it mean that you couldn’t forgive even if you wanted to? Does this mean that you can OFFER to forgive, but without ever really forgiving, since the ball is in the court of your enemies (or some other court)?

    When you forgive as a person but not as a magistrate, does that mean that Christians are not persons? Or does it mean that magistrates are not Christians? When you kill as a magistrate but not as a person, does that mean that “the creation kingdom” is not the kind of thing which can be redeemed in this age?

    As a person, must you not only abstain from violence in reaction but also defer and postpone any proactive (preventative) violence? Since you are not a church, you cannot forgive and there’s no need for those following orders to ask (or answer) any questions. But why is voting for the magistrate not “above your pray grade”?


    Piety alert— My kingdom in this world is not from this world. If it were, my servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over. As it is, My kingdom is coming here and now (I am among you) but my kingdom does not have its origin here.


  7. Martin was the son of a Lutheran pastor and a submarine commander in World War I. By the time World War II came, Martin had become a pastor like his father. Martin spoke positively of his country—“When this great nation was formed, God gave it Christianity for its soul, and from these Christian roots it has grown.” Martin joined the army with his two sons. Martin’s allegiance should have to be Christ’s kingdom, not to the earthly nation where he lived. Martin Niemoller was a German citizen. He volunteered to serve in the Nazi army in submission to his earthly nation.

    “We could see Paul’s invoking of his Roman citizenship as a model for indirect power, transferring the responsibility for his own safety away to the Roman legions while increasing his protection from mobs. Jesus’s pulling tax money out of a fish’s mouth is, to me, the ultimate political use of indirect power, an absurd rebuke of those whose hope is in a political system instead of The Messiah. And yet, Paul and Jesus are still executed by the political class, an example of why this line of thought can’t be ended with the suggestion to “use more indirect power.” Or at least, should we choose to use more indirect power, we can prepare ourselves beforehand to end up like pennies on a railroad track.”



  8. So now we are not only loving the “modern state”? Any state will do? Would that include the Hitler regime supported by “apolitical” two kingdom ideology? If law really does restrain sin, why not “use” more law to restrain more sin? And why vote to “limit the state”?

    Pastor Martin Luther–“When Christians went to war, they struck right and left and killed, and there was no difference between Christians and the heathen. But they did nothing contrary to Matthew 5;38-39 because they did it not as Christians. but as obedient subjects, under obligation to a secular authority.”

    Click to access Secular-Authority-To-What-Extent-It-Should-Be-Obeyed.pdf

    I am often told that the apostle Paul “used his Roman citizenship” and that this means that I have a duty to vote in the “democracy”. Back during the situation of Romans 13, I am told, most Christians were not citizens of Rome, but now things have changed and we Christians are now ourselves the magistrate, and so now we really submit to ourselves. And then I am told that submission to the powers permits Christians to vote or even kill for the American empire.

    What is being left out of this story is the fact that the Roman empire was an occupation force within Israel. Did only Roman citizens have a duty to support or kill for Rome? Or does the command to submit to the powers mean that even Christians who are not Roman citizens also have a duty to obey all the order of Rome?

    Is it true that those with German or American ‘citizenship” are in a better position to live in Christ’s kingdom in the world?

    My kingdom in this world is not from this world. If it were, my servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over. to Rome. As it is, My kingdom is coming here and now (repent) but my kingdom does not have its origin here.

    Pastor Martin Luther —I will not oppose a ruler who, EVEN THOUGH HE DOES NOT TOLERATE THE GOSPEL, will smite and punish these peasants without offering to submit the case to judgement


  9. Jeff: using your dictum

    Morning Jeff. My dictum Jeff? It’s God’s dictum; and of course the ‘nuance’ you describe in your comment is described in my referenced text. I’m really not sure of your point. You r2kers are puzzling, because, though I think you are trying to say what scripture says, you’re always trying to ‘nuance’ it in a way that somehow leaves out or diminishes God (uncharitable Jeff?), however subtlety, and THAT wisdom IS wicked and NOT of THE Spirit. There is the new creation man and there is the non-new creation man. Period and that distinction changes everything though …

    Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1:17


  10. So we have gone from “the modern state” to the idea of “plural modern states”, but NOT back to the Idea of church as a congregation? So it’s the OPC against the sects? We generously accept their water but not that they are any part of ‘the church”?

    Perhaps when the Bible says “the church”, it does not always refer to the church which will gather when Jesus comes, but means rather to speak of individual churches. Perhaps when the Bible says “baptism” it does not always mean what churches do…

    http://ironink.org/?p=4202 “Hart suggests that we should go with the Jeremiah option suggesting that Jeremiah was a pluralist…. the pluralist option is merely anabaptist political theory (Long live Roger Williams) and only survived as long as it did because it was living off the capital of a Biblical worldview. Pluralism can approximate success in a Christian social order where Christianity is the reigning worldview, even if it is subdivided into protestant denominations….”

    Scott Clark—“Baptist rejection of the status of Christian children as such introduced (and continues to perpetuate) a principle of radical discontinuity between Abraham and the Christian. This denial of the fundamental unity of the covenant of grace as symbolized in the administration of the sign and seal of the covenant of grace to covenant children is serious enough to warrant saying that any congregation that will not practice infant baptism into the administration of the covenant of grace is not a church. ..Denial of infant initiation is a denial of the catholicity of the church stretching back to Abraham.”


  11. Water is not the baptism that saves.

    Romans 6: 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too would walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

    Acts 2:38 is a favorite proof text for those who believe that water baptism is literally “in order to” the legal remission of sins, and that water baptism was a “means of grace” .In what sense can water baptism remit sins? I Peter 3:20 In the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

    Water Baptism is like the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, which did not really atone for sin but were symbols of Jesus Christ coming into the world and expiating the sins of the elect by His propitiatory death. Hebrews 10: 19 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

    It is not possible for what we do with our hands being that which God does , because what we do is neither God’s internal work or God’s legal declaration (imputation) nor satisfaction (atonement) to God’s broken Law. Sinners can say to other sinners that those who believe the gospel will be justified, but sinners cannot say to other sinners before they believe the gospel that God has loved them or promised them salvation. It’s not faith that brings grace, and it’s not water baptism that brings grace, because grace brings faith and the baptism which saves is not water.


    Paul used his Roman citizenship twice:
    Acts 16:37 In Philippi Paul announced his citizenship after his beating and humiliation. The effect was to put the public authorities on the spot. Paul got a severe beating-and then an apology. He didn’t get, or try to get, an audience with the powers. They wanted him to leave town, and he did.

    Acts 22:25-27.The second time Paul used his Roman citizenship was after the Jews had tried to kill him, but BEFORE he was flogged. The consequences of this dragged on for the rest of Paul’s life. It did not keep Paul from being killed. Most likely Paul spent the rest of his life in the Roman legal system/under arrest..

    Paul did not use his Roman citizenship as a means to spread the gospel, because there was nothing about his being Roman that could create an “apologetic” for the gospel. For Paul the crucial issue was being joined to Christ’s death (and resurrection), not the various options on how one can be in the world. Being Roman didn’t make being in Christ more significant or effective. Being Roman didn’t create opportunities for the gospel. God’s effectual calling does not depend on what liberal political theory about “religious liberty” or “the order of the modern state” .


  12. mcmark, do you think I’m saying citizenship makes effectual calling effective? I’m saying citizenship helps us live quiet and peaceful lives. That’s not everything but it’s something.


  13. Who can criticize Pilate or Herod for doing what they were told to do?

    Lutheran Kilcrease– “of the whole human race, only a very small number was actually present at the crucifixion. To say to a sinner that, hypothetically, he would have killed Jesus may very well be true, but it does not solve the problem of how this sinful attitude is manifest in the sinner’s own life….Such a hypothetical makes one’s sin into an abstraction….

    Click to access KilcreaseFordesDoctrineOfTheLaw.pdf

    To blame “all of humanity” for Jesus’s death is actually to blame nobody for the actual act. This failure to hold the political and religious powers responsible lets the Powers off the hook, and promotes the idolatry of Christendom’s ritual attempts to avoid particular identities (divisions) by unifying everyone around the death of “our soldiers”

    If a Reformed church over time ceases to produce Christian individuals with divided loyalties who also become Christian police and soldiers, has that church ceased to be Reformed? If all the persons in that church give unbalanced priority to the kingdom of heaven, without ever feeling called to kill people for the sake of other people, do these persons by their nonviolence set aside the possibility of their church still being Reformed (except on paper)?


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