The Spirituality of Social Justice

Here’s what it feels like to be pro-social justice without actually risking anything:

Christians cannot pretend they can transcend politics and simply “preach the Gospel.” Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo. American churches in the early 19th century that did not speak out against slavery because that was what we would now call “getting political” were actually supporting slavery by doing so. To not be political is to be political.

The Bible shows believers as holding important posts in pagan governments — think of Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament. Christians should be involved politically as a way of loving our neighbors, whether they believe as we do or not. To work for better public schools or for a justice system not weighted against the poor or to end racial segregation requires political engagement. Christians have done these things in the past and should continue to do so.

Nevertheless, while believers can register under a party affiliation and be active in politics, they should not identify the Christian church or faith with a political party as the only Christian one. There are a number of reasons to insist on this.

One is that it gives those considering the Christian faith the strong impression that to be converted, they need not only to believe in Jesus but also to become members of the (fill in the blank) Party. It confirms what many skeptics want to believe about religion — that it is merely one more voting bloc aiming for power.

Another reason not to align the Christian faith with one party is that most political positions are not matters of biblical command but of practical wisdom. This does not mean that the church can never speak on social, economic and political realities, because the Bible often does. Racism is a sin, violating the second of the two great commandments of Jesus, to “love your neighbor.” The biblical commands to lift up the poor and to defend the rights of the oppressed are moral imperatives for believers. For individual Christians to speak out against egregious violations of these moral requirements is not optional.

However, there are many possible ways to help the poor. Should we shrink government and let private capital markets allocate resources, or should we expand the government and give the state more of the power to redistribute wealth? Or is the right path one of the many possibilities in between? The Bible does not give exact answers to these questions for every time, place and culture.

Christians should be involved in government, but most preachers telling you that won’t be involved. Why? It violates the spirituality of the church and confuses the two kingdoms, if church officers to serve in government or testify before legislative bodies.

Churches should encourage political engagement but they won’t take a side between the parties because that would be partisan. And which policies and legislation allow for bi-partisan moderation? If you want police or prison reform you are going to have to work with real politicians who belong to real political parties.

And Christians, including ministers, should speak to matters of injustice even though the Bible doesn’t address social or political realities. “Lift up the poor” and “defend the rights of the oppressed” but don’t ask me how to do it (or also ask why I’m stressing this right now when I wasn’t preaching about this twenty-five years ago).

“Christians cannot pretend.”

Keller’s editorial is part of a pose. He can present himself as one on the side of social justice without ever having to dirty his hands with support for a specific policy or legislator. At least the PCUSA actually passed resolutions in favor of the Eighteenth Amendment and Volstead Act. They didn’t do what J. Gresham Machen recommended, which was saying, “yes, drunkenness is a sin, but the church doesn’t have the biblical warrant for declaring federal or state policy.” Keller apparently agrees with Machen about that. He doesn’t agree with Machen’s reluctance to line up behind the crowd.

And speaking of policy, while many are sizing up (some in installments!!!) the MacArthur inspired statement on social justice, practically all the #woke evangelicals have forgotten about the Justice Declaration. That was a 2017 statement about prison reform, co-sponsored by Prison Fellowship and the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. (By the way, the Justice Declaration attracted about 3,300 signatures, MacArthur’s about 9,500.)

If you want to pursue social justice, maybe you identify one issue, like prison reform, promote it, stick with it, and keep at it.

Or if you want to look like you are on the right side of social justice, you affirm it but leave the details to practically everyone else who already knows, thanks to the media, politicians, news networks, ESPN, that social justice is a problem.

What value have you added?

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263 thoughts on “The Spirituality of Social Justice

  1. DGH – “And Christians, including ministers, should speak to matters of injustice even though the Bible doesn’t address social or political realities. “Lift up the poor” and “defend the rights of the oppressed” but don’t ask me how to do it (or also ask why I’m stressing this right now when I wasn’t preaching about this twenty-five years ago).”

    First of all, Keller published Ministries of Mercy: the Call of the Jericho Road in 1989, which was 29 years ago. So I’d say he has been consistent on this theme for 25+ years. Second, what do you mean the Bible doesn’t address “social or political realities? Have you not read a single Psalm? Justice – even “social justice” – is a constant theme throughout the Psalms. Just this morning I was reading Palm 113: “He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” (vv 7-8) This hits political AND social realities.

    Keller’s point – and I think we both agree – is that the Church should not dictate to the state the exact policies to remedy social ills and many forms of injustice. However, that doesn’t mean that Christians should not be involved in raising up the poor or caring for “orphans and widows.” This goes back to Kuyper’s brilliant concept of sphere sovereignty: the states passes laws, and independent of those laws the Church strives for justice. Those spheres may overlap to a degree, but they are still separate spheres.

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  2. vv, that’s a long time to hold a pose. I need to rethink TKNY.

    But you make my point. You say Bible addresses political “realities.” And then the Bible doesn’t address the “realities” of actual politics — actual polities and politicians.

    So you think you have your cake and eat it too. But your chewing on air.

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  3. DGH – the Bible addresses the general political realities, but not the particular. The biblical idea that rulers should not oppress the poor is a reality. The Bible doesn’t give specific political mandates in 21st century America, but the mandate against oppression is still a reality. Jim Crow laws and segregation were clearly oppressive and unjust, and the Church should have spoken out against them. Less clear are issues like the minimum wage, and the Church should not speak prophetically on such issues.

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  4. I noticed the guy holding the sign listed Leviticus 19:18. Could he also tack on there Leviticus 18:22? Or does that not apply to this particular agenda?

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  5. vv, “the Bible addresses the general political realities, but not the particular.”

    Rinse. Repeat.

    So you think that oppression and segregation will go away simply by the church speaking? You need policy and law?

    BTW, Keller is saying nothing different than Pete Enns. Church should oppose oppression. Church should be non-partisan. And so when the church looks for politicians to implement church’s teaching, it’s going to look for the Non-Partisan Non-Party.

    Yeah, right.

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  6. DGH – “So you think that oppression and segregation will go away simply by the church speaking? You need policy and law?”

    Speaking out against injustice is all the Church can do. We can pray for and seek to influence the state, but at the end of the day ending unjust laws is under the purview of the state, not the Church. Also, injustice can go away through the Church’s influence. The best example is the abolition of slavery in the US, where the Church played a huge role in influencing culture and ultimately laws.

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  7. VV, how about an NT example? If the best example is simply one that makes American Christians feel righteous, it’s not very compelling.

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  8. VV, ah yes, losing 700k lives to end slavery when every other nation ended it without a war — gotta love the church intervening.

    You know, if I were in government and someone was telling me I was evil but gave me no clue to eliminate evil, I might start a war against the church.

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  9. Maybe I’m wrong but I thought Daniel was more a captive than an elected official?

    Maybe Keller would rather the President (or king) just hand-select all government positions rather than a democratic election?

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  10. Here’s one for you, children in “cages” at the border is not only charitable but likely the best thing that has happened to them in their entire life in terms of safety, nourishment and health care AND has been going on long before the 2016 election. Sort out your outrage now, SJWs

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  11. Sean, sort of like how slaves had enduring familial ties and relations to their owners (so who cares that they were split up from flesh and blood relations). Don’t go Doug Wilson on us.

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  12. USA! USA! USA! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall! We are sheep! We are gullible! We are know-nothings!

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  13. Come to South Texas, I’ll give you a tour of the facilities. Might be just the thing for your Trump Derangement Syndrome. Either way, you stay diverse up in GR, don’t let whitey grind you down.

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  14. VV: the Bible addresses the general political realities, but not the particular. The biblical idea that rulers should not oppress the poor is a reality. The Bible doesn’t give specific political mandates in 21st century America, but the mandate against oppression is still a reality. Jim Crow laws and segregation were clearly oppressive and unjust, and the Church should have spoken out against them.

    Your first and third sentences here are in seeming conflict with your fourth. I’m not disagreeing with any one of them; just observing that if the Bible addresses general but not particular realities, and Jim Crow laws are particular realities, then the Bible doesn’t address them (by your reckoning).

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  15. The reality on the ground is where you deter(including building a wall) and enforce you improve the conditions on both sides of the border, where you don’t you encourage lawlessness. It’s not born of a hatred of Mexicans it’s born of a desire to not become like Juarez or Reynosa or Nuevo Laredo or Matamoras. What’s happening is with mass immigration and lack of dispersion and assimilation you’re seeing a growth of the culture of those border towns on the U.S. side of the border. The Rio Grande Valley is lit up with cartel violence and corruption and almost all of it is Mexican on Mexican or Mexican on Central American crime, “slavery” and exploitation. Controlling the border improves the lives on the U.S. side and the Mexican side. Walls do in fact work.

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  16. Sean, but you still don’t have your wall, and from the looks of things it ain’t coming anytime soon–too much batshiite crazy stuff to tweet. Isn’t this is the way the Shyster in Chief pushed condos in Manhattan? So how can you be so sober when it comes to transformationalistizers transformationalizing the city but so gullible when it comes to politainers promising walls on the border? Don’t your serious problems down south require serious solutions instead of red meat sloganeering at thug rallies?

    #StableGenius2020andBEYOND!

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  17. Zrim, for your all your 2k championing you really do struggle differentiating politics from the church. But I understand TDS is intoxicating particularly when it’s the tie that binds so many. You and Mohler are sitting with the cool kids now, i’m sure the exhilaration is off the hook(that’s what the cool kids say, right?). But don’t you worry your privileged little head about me, I have no delusions about politics and politicians. But you keep your head on a swivel up there in the great white north, I hear Trudeau’s maple syrup cartels are nobody to take lightly.

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  18. Sean, I’ve said nothing about the church, only politics. My opinion of the Dear Leader is dismal. So what are you suggesting, anyone with a critical opinion is a Kool Aid drinking SJW? Careful pulling up those tares.

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  19. Zrim, you went after my discernment about the transformationalists(neo-cals) and the seeming incongruence with my political sensibilities and were struggling to put the two together. We’ve had this discussion before and your TDS tends to flatten out your considerations. We all have our neurosis I suppose, mine just isn’t yours. Ironically enough, now you’re political sensibilities are screaming at you, “just not THAT guy”. Maybe you’ll feel better if “your guy/gal” gets in and they can impeach “THAT guy”. I happen to think they’re all cut from the same cloth but with the left listing toward white, upper middle class anarchists(bunch of suburbanites itching for a fight hoping nobody takes them up on it). Anyway, you ignore the hillbillies and their sensibilities at your own loss and peril. I’m not about civility at all costs in politics, that’s how you lose and fail to represent your constituents and concerns but console yourself with your overrealized(think religious conscience) principledness while the other side laughs at your ignorance at not realizing that this is politics not church.

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  20. Sean, no struggle, just marvel at not seeing how Trump is to statecraft what Hinn is to religion. I don’t have a guy/gal. Agreed that civility can be overrated which is why I can say I see no relevance from the hillbillies. That’s why they’re called hillbillies. Every free society has outcasts, so sue me if I frown on their becoming yet another subculture feeling entitled to inclusion and justified in their outrage to get behind a race-baiting scoundrel and charlatan. But let your heart bleed if you must.

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  21. I took up my political position with the deplorables this time around, I prefer them to the aristocracy and crooks. But you and Moore and Maher and the rest of the marxists knock yourself out #resisting.

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  22. Darryl, Zrim has a fair point on the wall. We don’t have one yet along the Texas border and we need one. I propose a moat filled with oil and set on fire. The new eternal flame.

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  23. Zrim – the entire New Testament calls for worship of Christ alone, which was at odds with Roman law. Three centuries later the Roman Empire not only allowed Christianity, but the emperor was also a Christian, at least nominally. So there’s that. Also, calling the President “Shyster in Chief” doesn’t exactly jibe with Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17, or WCF 23.4.

    Jeff – Jim Crow laws are facially oppressive, and one could make a strong case segregation is also; Christians should speak out against laws that are fundamentally unjust. Something like the minimum wage is debatable (at least at current levels), and the Church should not speak prophetically on these issues.

    Sean – “I took up my political position with the deplorables this time around, I prefer them to the aristocracy and crooks. But you and Moore and Maher and the rest of the marxists knock yourself out #resisting.”

    This mentality probably explains a lot of your theology as well. At least as you articulate it on OL.

    DGH – all the Church can do is speak and act in accordance with Scripture. If the state responds wrongly, then they are accountable, not the Church.

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  24. Sean, if you don’t prefer aristocrats and crooks then how can you go for Trump when he’s both? #DrainTheSwamp(and fill it with your own brand of swill)

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  25. VV, you sound like a mom, but I don’t take the Pollyanna interpretation of those texts. There is nothing in them that forbids a critical or snarky political opinion. Sorry, I don’t follow the first part of your comment.

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  26. Meh, he’s much more Queens Mook than WASPY elitist. It’s the why of why he doesn’t resonate with you. As for the rest of it, be careful of the ‘race-baiting’ and attempts to impugn others with imagined comfortability with “slavery”. It doesn’t reflect on any prejudice of mine but rather your ignorance of the situation and willingness to go for a cheap shot. Who’s the cur now? I know you hate Trump but tread more carefully with your brother.

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  27. Sean – as much as I dislike Cruz, I do hope he beats Beto. You know what they say about assuming things.

    Zrim – personally insulting the President is in no way honoring him, as we are duty-bound to do. I’m all for criticism and snark as well (and Trump deserves plenty of it), but personal insults cross the line.

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  28. Sean, a mook who had the chauffeur drive him on his paper routes and was given millions by pops to get going. And give me a break with the cheap shot stuff. If what he says about plenty of ethnic groups isn’t race-baiting then what is? On the brighter side, maybe his victories will tamp down the eeeevangelical whining about being persecuted in America.

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  29. Zrim, I won’t give you any breaks. But since you are claiming to be a political agnostic, I’ll not waste my energy in discussing which side engages in race baiting. You stay snug as a bug in your bubble.

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  30. Zrim – right on about Trump, race-baiting, and the eeeevangelicals. I became Never Trump, so to speak, after he refused to categorically denounce the KKK during the primaries. I don’t think it’s even debatable that he panders to a white supremacist/nationalist crowd. Not saying all of his supporters are racists – far from it. But he definitely courts that segment of the far right.

    Sean – so, New Yorkers live in a bubble and now Zrim from the Midwest (I think) lives in a bubble. Is there anyone you disagree with who does not live in a bubble? Have you ever considered that maybe you are the one in the so-called bubble?

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  31. Sean, I’m not talking about sides, I’m talking about a person, one who race baits at large. This seems obvious but you want to deflect to something wider about sides. He’s a friggin’ disaster in every way, the kind HRC would have been if she’d waltzed into Manhattan seeking to be a tycoon and fell backasswards into it the way he did. Neither has a clue about the other’s craft. Duh.

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  32. Zrim, I want to compare which is what we all are forced to do in choosing between a little number of candidates and parties, in this case, two. You call it deflection, I call it making a choice between two less than ideal opportunities. You used to speak a lot about proximate opportunities but now you slip in and out of absolutists rage based assessments and critiques. You don’t live at 30k feet, so, you’re influenced by your immediate interactions as am I, it’s a free country, get your outrage on.

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  33. Sean, “absolutist rage based assessments and critiques”? Zoinks. If VV has sounded like a mom, now you sound like the friend of a petulant teenager defending him from the meanie-head adult telling him he’s behaving like a three-year-old. Yeah, that’s me, Johnny, when your pal is running around blowing stuff up and poking everyone in the eye along the way it’s “absolutist rage” for calling him out on it. Take a damn breath, not every critic of bad players is an hysterical SJW.

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  34. “Take a damn breath, not every critic of bad players is an hysterical SJW.” He says hysterically and out of breath. Don’t worry about Zrim, blind spots are just that. I would just encourage you not to demonize(“…like how slaves, ….don’t go Doug Wilson on us”) those of us who don’t share your political sensibilities. But if you do, I’ll be happy to load you up with pinko commie, marxist, liberation theology pandering, insults to keep it fair.

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  35. Zrim: “not every critic of bad players is an hysterical SJW.”

    I like how when Zrim gets mad, he gets more grammatical.

    Y’all are friends (or what passes for on the Interwebs). Any chance of a stand-down?

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  36. @VV: Jim Crow laws are facially oppressive, and one could make a strong case segregation is also; Christians should speak out against laws that are fundamentally unjust.

    “Christians should speak out” is different from “the Church should speak out.” It is important not to slip into metonymy with those two ideas.

    On Sept 27, Robert Carlson, president of the ABA, sent a letter to the Judicial Committee urging a hold on Bret Kavenaugh’s nomination. CNN, WaPo, and other publications spun it as “The American Bar Association urges delay”

    Except that the ABA had not requested a delay. It put out a statement on Friday 9/29 clarifying that Mr. Carlson was speaking as an individual, and that the organization as a whole still stood by its rating.

    The point is that we are speaking here of whether the Church as an institution should speak to laws. Your observations about Jim Crow and segregation are accurate (IMO), but also not relevant.

    It seems to me that if it is true since Jim Crow laws are facially oppressive, the Church’s job is to teach the imago dei and let Christians who are lawmakers draw their own obvious conclusions.

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  37. Jeff, i had a generous, self-deprecating, humble, magnanimous response but the god of the internet has banished it to the abyss of the intellectual dark web. In short, I’m not a hater but I don’t dare speak for those intensely animated by the current state of national politics.

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  38. Sean, they seemed like friendly jabs but if those are instances of demonizing then I’ll lay off. Pass the turkey and pumpkin pie, how about those Wolverines?

    Jeff, following you about the grammatical comment I do not.

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  39. Darryl, but Alec Baldwin is funnier. Politics may be comedy but governance isn’t which makes Trump a clown (sorry, not sorry, VV) but in bad way. Who’s talking about Hilary? Not me, so perhaps big difference but so what? So if Sean is right and we should lay off Trump then also lay off Osteen and Sunday, of whom Trump is an admixture, but I’ll maintain my protestations. (There’s only cannabis if we’re in Canada.)

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  40. Zrim, I never said you have to lay off Trump. In fact, go for it. It still becomes a choice between two devils(ultimately) and I decided to side against the Clinton dynasty and now almost two years in, I’m good with that choice though I certainly don’t enjoy everything Trump says and does. You like to set up the scenario that it’s the adults vs. the children and I’m here to remind you that while that may help you sleep better that isn’t the case and all I have to do is point to your adults in the streets abusing city trash cans and taking their lead from Michael Moore and Sean Penn and Native American Warren, Chardonnay Hillary, Huffpo and always believe her-Milano and the list goes on and on and on. After school special Sasse and the rest of the RINOS were content to put up minimal fight and go along so long as they kept their seat and the hillbillies(to their credit) knew it and threw a curveball(I know how you love the sports analogies) at the whole mess of entitled politicians. Hierarchy and the inherent elitism is inevitable in a meritocratic set up but you do have to check the hierarchy as it tends to corruption and ossification.

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  41. Zrim: “Trump is a race baiter!”

    Zrim: “Trump holds ‘Thug’ rallies!”

    McWhorter: “Thug is the new ‘N-Word.”

    Zrim: “Trump is the CHIEF of race baiters!”

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  42. Sean, “my adults”? I’ve tried to make the point that there are serious critics who aren’t throwing fits, just as there are serious advocates who aren’t thugs. There is a way to maintain criticism without joining the self-righteous.

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  43. Jeff – ““Christians should speak out” is different from “the Church should speak out.” It is important not to slip into metonymy with those two ideas.”

    That may be true in a general sense (institutional vs. organic Church), but not in cases where a law is inherently sinful. If Jim Crows are ipso facto sinful, then it’s not a matter of Christian liberty and the institutional Church and individual Christians should condemn them. To use an extreme example, let’s say a law was passed that demanded the murder of Hindus: if you saw a Hindu you had to kill them on sight. In that case I doubt you would argue that we should simply “teach the imago dei.” The Church should come out strongly against such a law, as it should against any inherently sinful law. Now, the vast majority of laws or statues are not by nature sinful, and in those cases I agree that the Church should be silent on those issues, while individual Christians have the freedom to support or condemn them.

    Sean – you missed the point of the SNL skit: it was making fun of a progressive utopia, not New York City. I live in Manhattan, and my precinct has more registered Republicans than Democrats. Hardly a liberal bubble.

    DGH – “Letme and Zrim, I do think Sean has this one. Trump is outer borough NYC. Hillary is Southampton. Big difference.”

    Exactly right. Only I would say Hillary is more Upper West Side than Southampton – she loves Broadway, after all.

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  44. @VV
    “The Church should come out strongly against such a law, as it should against any inherently sinful law.”
    And yet we see no examples in the NT of “the church” coming out against inherently sinful laws in Rome. Teaching church members that they should disobey inherently sinful laws and calling on the state to change their laws are not the same thing. Most people who support churchly political action note that Paul’s refusal to speak out against the injustices imposed by Rome was prudential. I agree. But given that the NT writers did not come out strongly against inherently sinful laws as a matter of prudence, it suggests that there is no “should” in scripture. If God doesn’t command the church to do something, then it doesn’t have the authority to act. But the fact that particular behavior does not belong to the institution does not mean that individual Christians are exempt in their secular life.

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  45. Zrim, if that’s ALL you were trying to say, then I guess it’s all good. That sure seemed like the long route to that insight. Why polemics in politics has a direct correlation to polemics in religion still befuddles my 2k brain but that’s probably just my immaturity.
    VV, so the SNL skit wasn’t intending to lampoon liberals in NYC? Ok. You just keep doing you, VV.

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  46. Sean, it’s not just that. Your original remark was that these immigrants should consider themselves lucky because now they have the best in terms of safety, nourishment and health care. My point was that many of them don’t have their families and sitting in a jail cell with all those basic amenities with or without their families isn’t really what they striving after and to expect gratefulness on their part is an attitude more aligned with empire than republic. But I know, they’re stealing all the jobs, you know, the ones none of gringos would ever do. Oh and raping, thieving, smuggling, and killing. Hide the woman and children.

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  47. VV and SDB,

    SDB said: And yet we see no examples in the NT of “the church” coming out against inherently sinful laws in Rome. Teaching church members that they should disobey inherently sinful laws and calling on the state to change their laws are not the same thing.

    The difficulty I still have with full-on 2K thought is that I don’t know how this is fully workable in practice. VV brought up a law calling for killing Hindus as an illustration. Seriously, if a church member comes to the pastor and says, “Does the church regard it sinful for the state to call for the murder of an otherwise law-abiding Hindu?” The church is supposed to say, “The church has no opinion on it.” That just sounds wrong, but I don’t know how you can say otherwise if you adopt a certain view of 2K theology.

    I guess the retort could be “The church says the law is sinful, but we have no opinion on how to remedy that law and the church takes no position on what to do about it.” But that still sounds very strange. I get that some matters are very complicated, but that’s not what VV is talking about.

    And we don’t have examples of the Apostles doing lots of things, so it’s difficult to draw too much from a negative. I get that the church shouldn’t be a PAC, but you also have an Apostle such as John condemning the killing of Christians (Revelation). Something still strikes me as not quite right when we say “The church has no opinion on anything political.”

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  48. Robert: The difficulty I still have with full-on 2K thought is that I don’t know how this is fully workable in practice…Something still strikes me as not quite right when we say “The church has no opinion on anything political.”

    Sure. And because Christians as individuals in America are called on to vote on laws and lawmakers, it follows that there will be bleed-over from doctrine into the voting booth. That cannot be helped — but it can also not be predicted because laws almost always reflect compromise between competing norms.

    I don’t know whether I would qualify as “full-on 2k”, but I would start here:

    Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance. — WCF 22

    Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate. — WCF 31

    We can all agree that a law requiring citizens to kill Hindus would be an element of “cases extraordinary.”

    So let’s say that “Westminsterian 2k”

    * Raises a fundamental wall between the offices of magistrate and churchman
    * Allows for a small degree of exception
    * Which exception nevertheless does not undermine the wall.

    By way of contrast, “2nd GA evangelicalism”

    * Raises no more than a speed-bump between the offices of magistrate and churchman (see: Dobson, James and Sharpton, Al)
    * Believes that transgressing that speed bump is morally obligatory on a regular basis
    * That in fact, Scripture is given to us in part to tell nations how to govern.

    Observing you and VV, I would say that you are much closer to Westminsterian 2k than to 2nd GA evangelicalism.

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  49. sdb – inherently sinful laws are those that either compel you to commit sinful acts or participate in an inherently unjust social system (eg Jim Crow). Both were true of the Church in in the Roman Empire. Their disobedience to these laws was an implicit rebuke. Why disobey a law you believe should be on the books?

    Sean – the SNL skit was not intended to depict New York per se, but liberals everywhere. If you think New York is a progressive bubble then you don’t know anything about New York.

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  50. Zrim, you do realize that many of these immigrants WANT to be caught. Maybe you don’t. You do realize they read the papers down in Latin America and drug runners and coyotes are abducting kids to take advantage of the family policy at the border? Maybe you don’t. You do realize that many of those children are being saved by border patrol from sex abuse, slavery, sickness and disease? Maybe you don’t. You do realize they’ve been separating children(juve facilities) down at the border for at least a decade? Maybe you don’t. There may be many things you don’t understand about how it works down at the border if you’re relying on The View and Huffpo and Washpo and NYT for your information.

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  51. VV, they actually say, “It’s Brooklyn with a bubble on it”. Now, you’re all things particular about NYC, so, you can tell me all about how Brooklyn isn’t part of NYC. Now, if you want to insist it’s inclusive of all coastal elites, I won’t take issue with that. BTW, Clinton won Manhattan 579k to 65k for Trump. You keep rocking on, VV.

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  52. We can all agree that a law requiring citizens to kill Hindus would be an element of “cases extraordinary.”

    Sure but it’s also one of those absurd examples that aren’t helpful for living in the real world. Cases extraordinary are better understood as the the state compelling the church to violate her conscience (stop worshiping, evangelizing, etc.) in which case the church is to obey God rather than men. The exception clause is often used to ride big hobby horses through, i.e. stuff I really don’t like gets religious cover.

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  53. Sean, yes I do understand all that. And if, as you concede, whole rafts of people are being motivated by abuse, slavery, sickness, disease, chaos, and poverty then what you have is a humanitarian crisis ad some of us think there is some degree of burden to help, not turn them back into those things.

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  54. “sdb – inherently sinful laws are those that either compel you to commit sinful acts or participate in an inherently unjust social system (eg Jim Crow).”
    Yep

    “Both were true of the Church in in the Roman Empire. Their disobedience to these laws was an implicit rebuke. Why disobey a law you believe should be on the books?”
    It is not that the church thinks the law should or shouldn’t be on the books. If a law requires you to sin in order to obey it, you should break the law. The church should even say that you should break the law. What the church should not do is demand congregants protest the law, vote out proponents of the law, issue statements condemning the law, make reparations for benefits accrued from the law, etc…

    I think the rub is that contemporary Christains underemphasize the church’s authority. We are told to submit to our elders. It is sinful to tune them out or disobey them (unless their commands exceed their authority). I would think that someone with such authority would be circumspect in welding it.

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  55. Zrim, so as a taxpayer I’m OBLIGATED to accept as many as come over seeking asylum? And you have a way to guarantee the legitimacy of their claim? And I should feel compelled, as a taxpayer, to add them to the estimated 22 million who are already here illegally? I dunno, I look at the agitations down in the Valley and the lack of assimilation and the importing of the drug violence and all the brown on brown crime we’re “guaranteeing” and then I look at Juarez and Matamoras and Reynosa and I got my concerns. You talk to old timers around here and they all tell you, Mexico is a shethole, always been a shethole and will always be a shethole. Tough sledding with a government who is often in the pocket of the Cartels and that’s before we get to the full scale ownership of local gov by the same. Obama deported 3 mil, how about we deport another 10 mil of known illegals and look at ratcheting down the border, federalizing E-Verify and work with the farmers and migrant workers on a work visa program that meets the needs of both sides while minimizing the muleing and terrorizing of families on both sides of the borders from drug cartels.

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  56. Zrim, IOW, if we tighten up our security and laws you’ll get less attempts of criminals abusing innocents to try and work the system. And you’ll tamp down the violence both on our side of the border and the towns on the other side. Now, it doesn’t fix Mexico, but that’s on Mexico. Nobody has figured that one out yet. Not sure the US can or should become a refuge to escape all the crap in Latin America.

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  57. sdb – “What the church should not do is demand congregants protest the law, vote out proponents of the law, issue statements condemning the law, make reparations for benefits accrued from the law, etc…”

    The only one of these I disagree with is that the Church should not condemn a law. I believe they should condemn inherently sinful laws, and as I noted earlier, those are very rare. But I agree that the Church should not do all the other things you mention; the Church does not have the authority to compel its members to engage in certain secular political acts.

    Sean – sure, Brooklyn is a very liberal place, especially the hipster enclaves like Williamsburg (except for the Hasidic community) and Bed-Stuy. But even Brooklyn had strong Trump neighborhoods in 2016, and it is 1 of 5 boroughs in NYC; Staten Island is another borough, and they voted for Trump. New York is too big and too diverse to classify it as a progressive bubble town. Here is a precinct-by precinct breakdown, nationwide. I don’t know where you live, but it would be interesting to see how skewed your area is politically.

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  58. VV, I don’t know, I mean I’ll always just take your word for it, but it sure does feel like NYC is awfully bubbly,

    “Hillary Clinton’s landslide statewide win was powered by an overwhelmingly lopsided victory in the massively populated five boroughs of New York City, the largest city in the United States, despite Donald Trump’s longtime popular cultural association with the city. In New York City, Hillary Clinton received 2,164,575 votes (79.0% of the vote) compared with only 494,549 votes (18.0% of the vote) for Donald Trump. This represented a slight fall from Barack Obama’s historic 81.2% in the city in 2012, and the borough of Staten Island flipped from Obama to Trump, however Trump’s percentage was virtually unchanged from Romney’s 17.8%, and with huge victories in four boroughs Clinton’s 60.9% victory margin over Trump was a slight decrease from Obama’s record 63.4% margin over Romney, making Clinton’s win the second-widest victory margin for a presidential candidate in New York City history.

    Trump’s birthplace borough of Queens gave Clinton over 75% of the vote and less than 22% to Trump. In Manhattan, home to Trump Tower, Trump’s famous landmark residence, Clinton received nearly 87% while Trump received less than 10% of the vote, the worst performance ever for a major party presidential candidate in Manhattan. This made Trump’s home borough one of only 3 counties in the state where Trump did worse than Mitt Romney had in 2012.”

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  59. In FY 2016, Obama gave the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) $750,000,000.00. Perhaps the Northern Triangle needs a PMI certified “gringo” project manager to administer their funding? I’ll buy the Kevlar vest.

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  60. ” I believe they should condemn inherently sinful laws, and as I noted earlier, those are very rare.”
    Did Paul sin when he wrote Philemon?

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  61. sdb – “Did Paul sin when he wrote Philemon?”

    I’m not sure I understand your point. If your point is that he sinned by not condemning slavery, then my response is three-fold. 1. Slavery is not inherently sinful, though it usually is. 2. Slavery itself is not the point of the epistle. 3. Not every epistle/sermon must condemn every sinful law. If I’m missing the point please help me understand…

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  62. Sean – what you miss is the fact that while Brooklyn has plenty of “bubbly” progressives, it also a highly diverse population, including, for example, a very conservative Arab-Muslim population (mostly in Bay Ridge). They get progressive points for being immigrants, but major progressive deductions for being anti-gay and outright misogynistic. Bay Ridge was pro-Hillary in 2016, but they are hardly “progressive” in mentality.

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  63. Sean, I get it, it’s complicated. All I’m saying is that we do have lots of neighbors across the border who are in legitimate need and could use assistance. I guess one option is be lazy about it and emphasize all the less savory aspects of the problem and say it’s all too much, everyone go back home.

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  64. SDB,

    I think I have to agree with VV here and say that of the things you list that churches should not do, condemning a law is not necessarily one of them. The church should be careful, but if the church can’t say a law calling for the execution of Christians, for example, is wrong, then something just isn’t quite right with our exegesis. I recognize that’s an extraordinary case, but it at least means that we can’t make a blanket statement that the church should never condemn a law.

    VV is also right about slavery. Paul very clearly does not think it is a sin for Christians to own slaves under the Roman system at least. And the Old Testament doesn’t think all forms of slavery are wrong either. Unless we want to say Scripture is wrong, we have to say that some forms of slavery are compatible with the biblical ethic even if slavery may not be the ideal. Each system would have to be examined on a case by case basis. Paul doesn’t seem to think it is possible to be a Christian and involved in gross sexual immorality, thievery, and other things, but he does think it is possible to be a Christian and a slaveowner. However, the wider NT teaching does lay a foundation for making slavery finally unworkable.

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  65. “…if the church can’t say a law calling for the execution of Christians, for example, is wrong, then something just isn’t quite right with our exegesis.”

    Robert, what is the exegesis of the NT or even church history that would help make a compelling case for Christians to condemn and resist their own persecution? But have you noticed that when we learn of the persecuted churches even now the only thing most Christians seem to do is pray for those churches and provide whatever necessary to relieve their suffering? I can’t recall the last time any church instead rallied the members to get political in order to pass judgment on any regime or circumvent persecution.

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  66. Zrim, so, we’ve helped out 22 million illegals(doesn’t include legals). I’m willing to bet that more than half of those are of dubious need(criminal, fraud, et al), so, let’s send half back and lock it down except for verifiable need. Just to give you a heads up of the real “need” back home, the immigration flow reverses at the holidays. We’ve basically become Mexico’s welfare safety net. I’m all for taxing Mexico for the benefit they derive from me, Joe citizen.

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  67. Sean, what can I tell you. We have a sizable hispanic population around here in the bubble and I’m at a school that draws a lot. It’s not uncommon to hear about those who’ve been here for many years raising families and making honest livings have a head of household picked up and deported. Maybe you see hoards of frauds and criminals and yards of welfare safety nets but if we’re just going anecdotally, I witness a majority of hard working and family oriented people doing what they can for each other and their neighbors.

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  68. Zrim,

    Robert, what is the exegesis of the NT or even church history that would help make a compelling case for Christians to condemn and resist their own persecution? But have you noticed that when we learn of the persecuted churches even now the only thing most Christians seem to do is pray for those churches and provide whatever necessary to relieve their suffering? I can’t recall the last time any church instead rallied the members to get political in order to pass judgment on any regime or circumvent persecution.

    I don’t know, “Love your neighbor as yourself” seems to qualify. And Paul was quite willing to appeal to his own Roman citizenship as an avenue of escape from unjust persecution. That sounds kinda political to me.

    Quit overreacting to the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority…

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  69. Zrim, not sure how honest and deported work out but I’ve lived as a minority among the hispanics for most of my life at this point. I can tell you the honest ones aren’t big fans of the illegals and they ABHOR the border culture(who wouldn’t). Btw, you think gringo is racist, have you watched how Mexican Nationals treat and regard their “Indians” ? Hoo boy, that’s some real step and fetch action going on. Still, I’m willing to support a path to citizenship for the groups that are keeping their head down and contributing-assimilating. (I am no believer in the idea that all cultures are equal and have little interest in Mexican or Latin American political process that have long lived out a caste system sold as liberation theologian politics(marxist in the street) to say nothing of the extensive organized crime and graft system from the federal to the local level). I’m also not for doing it at the expense of those who’ve done it right and submitted themselves to the legal process. The illegals are gonna have to get in line. It sends the wrong message and disincentivizes those who are law abiding to do otherwise and rewards lawlessness. E-Verify would eliminate much of the fraud and punish the gringos and hispanics who are doing end-runs around the law and pretty much just leaves you with a work visa opportunity and grabbing up the drug runners and criminals. This would eliminate all the histrionics around politically motivated and funded caravans of “asylum seekers” and put the onus back on Latin American governments to start governing for the sake of their people.

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  70. Robert, with all the exhortations to and examples of resisting persecution, you’re going to have to connect the dots from the second greatest commandment and Paul’s appeal to resistance and condemnation of persecution. Stretch first, don’t wanting you pulling a muscle.

    Quit hanging on to residual Constantianism.

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  71. Sean, but do you really think it makes sense to go after an illegal who has been here over 20 years, nurtured a family, built a thriving business and made himself a contributing member of his local patch of earth, deport him and leave a ripped up and gaping piece of earth? Dotting i’s and crossing t’s is fine, but come on. And you understand that in Mexico to go get your papers takes years (if ever) and costs the kind of money nobody can hope to pay? It’s funny how otherwise conservative folks all of a sudden become fans of the bureaucratic process when we’re talking about populations that don’t have the resources it takes to do so. Yes, legal is better than illegal but your admin doesn’t want to do anything to streamline legality, just pop up a wall, which is more to whip up his base than anything else.

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  72. Zrim, I thought it was our admin and there’s already attempts to streamline the process but you have to control the chaos at the border first or at a minimum simultaneously. Actually, walls work and so does enforcement. I can’t help that Mexico is as corrupt as the day is long, trust me we all suffer as a result. Take it up with the elites in Mexico. But what about your fellow citizens who are getting displaced by the immigrants? What about their plight? What about the honest businessmen, paying taxes and employing legals but who are at a competitive disadvantage to their competitors? What about the lack of dispersion and assimilation and growing lawlessness in our border communities because we can’t handle this much migration, this fast and without appropriate infrastructure and assimilation? None of that is on Trump, he inherited all that crap. I won’t even go into the growing political belligerence and the importing of marxist politics from Latin America. If I never get yelled at by another illegal latina lesbian at a council meeting it’ll be too soon. I’m a white colonialist don’t ya know. When you get hold of all your 20 years vested model illegals, tell em to get a hold of their illegal, crazy arse, caterwauling, finger snapping sorority sister daughters. Holy smokes.

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  73. Zrim,

    Robert, with all the exhortations to and examples of resisting persecution, you’re going to have to connect the dots from the second greatest commandment and Paul’s appeal to resistance and condemnation of persecution. Stretch first, don’t wanting you pulling a muscle.

    Quit hanging on to residual Constantianism.

    Translation: “Your example of Paul resisting persecution by appealing to his citizenship blows up my view, so I’ll ignore it.”

    The entire book of Revelation is a condemnation of persecution.

    Seems to me I never see Jesus or Paul or Peter saying, “Go, look for persecution.” But if persecution isn’t to be condemned, one might think that it is something we should look for and bring on intentionally. But what do I know, I’m just hanging on to my residual Constantinianism.

    Maybe its better than overreacting to fundamentalism. Your feeling of the heebie-jeebies around eeeeevangelicals is driving your political theory. It’s coming out in your discussion with Sean also.

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  74. Sean,

    Evangelicals voted for Trump in large numbers. Don’t you know that for Zrim, that makes everything he does evil?

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  75. Robert, I’m aware and since he and I are deciding policy, I’ll make a deal with him, he can keep his “noble savages” complete with adoption of a new mother tongue and whole hearted fidelity to and gratitude toward american citizens and their charity and I’ll deport the ignoble ones. I kind of feel bad for Mexico and Central America, seems like they could use more of the noble ones and less of the ignoble, but ,hey, MAGA and all.

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  76. “I don’t know, “Love your neighbor as yourself” seems to qualify. And Paul was quite willing to appeal to his own Roman citizenship as an avenue of escape from unjust persecution. That sounds kinda political to me.”

    I don’t see that 2k says Christains can’t be political. Paul’s example is not calling out the state for passing unjust laws. What is curious is that Paul had ample opportunity to call out political leaders for passing inherently sinful laws, yet he didn’t. We have no NT examples of that. Revelations was written to the church, not to Nero.

    2k doesn’t restrict what believers may do. It is about the proper activity of the church. I’m sure we agree that there are lots of things that are fine for you to do that the church should not do. It has the ministry of word and sacrament, and her authority only extends as far as scripture gives that authority. She cannot bind your conscience on Prudential matters, and she ought not engage in extracurriculars. That means no position papers on immigration, Iraq War, or abortion policy. The church should tell Trump to repent of his sins and trust Christ. She should not tell him he should stop family separations. You can do that if you want, but you aren’t obligated.

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  77. Robert, what sdb said.

    “But if persecution isn’t to be condemned, one might think that it is something we should look for and bring on intentionally.”

    Then one would seem to be almost willfully ignorant. Your example of Paul doesn’t blow anything up. It’s good for making the case that persecution may be avoided if at all possible. Nobody is entreated to go looking for it. Yours is a false dichotomy. But when persecution comes and is unavoidable it’s actually a mark of God’s favor in the NT. If you think the church should condemn it then maybe you’re informed more by modern jurisprudence than the Bible?

    “Your feeling of the heebie-jeebies around eeeeevangelicals is driving your political theory. It’s coming out in your discussion with Sean also…Evangelicals voted for Trump in large numbers. Don’t you know that for Zrim, that makes everything he does evil.”

    What are you talking about, I’ve made no mention of evangelicals in my exchange with Sean (except to say that one upshot of his victories is that they might help in tamping down their constant complaint that they are being persecuted in America). What makes most of what Trump does stupid is Trump himself. It’s true that evangelicals are by and large a gullible lot and that Trump’s strength is to capture the gullible, but evangelicals also voted in large numbers for Bush but he wasn’t nearly the uniquely hot mess Trump is. Evangelicals have been useful idiots for certain political figures down through contemporary politics ever since making themselves much more political than religious . Is that mean, Robert? Boo hoo, Zrim is so mean to them, boo hoo.

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  78. SDB,

    I don’t see that 2k says Christains can’t be political. Paul’s example is not calling out the state for passing unjust laws. What is curious is that Paul had ample opportunity to call out political leaders for passing inherently sinful laws, yet he didn’t. We have no NT examples of that. Revelations was written to the church, not to Nero.

    Where do you expect Paul or any of the NT authors to call out the state? In the epistles? But how many political leaders were in the NT church? Not many. At Paul’s audience to the emperor? Do you really think that Paul’s message to the emperor or any political official would be, “Repent and trust Christ, and by the way, it doesn’t matter if your imperial policy continues to persecute Christians. God has nothing to say about that.” There isn’t even a Roman policy to persecute Christians in the time period for which the Apostles give us letters and for which speeches are recorded in Acts. You don’t have anything resembling an imperial persecution really until Domitian—hence the book of Revelation—and the Neronic persecution was too locally focused and not so well codified to make a mention. Paul may have been executed under Nero, but it’s not clear that his arrest was due to some codified legal stipulations against Christians.

    I completely get the hesitation for the church not to speak to political matters. But this argument from silence only goes so far. The ministry of the church is Word and sacrament, not political. But it’s one thing to say that and another to say that the church can never as the church speak to politics. The WCF expressly allows for it at least in extraordinary circumstances. The persecution of Christians would seem to be an extraordinary circumstance.

    2k doesn’t restrict what believers may do. It is about the proper activity of the church. I’m sure we agree that there are lots of things that are fine for you to do that the church should not do. It has the ministry of word and sacrament, and her authority only extends as far as scripture gives that authority. She cannot bind your conscience on Prudential matters, and she ought not engage in extracurriculars. That means no position papers on immigration, Iraq War, or abortion policy. The church should tell Trump to repent of his sins and trust Christ. She should not tell him he should stop family separations. You can do that if you want, but you aren’t obligated.

    But the church has authority to speak where God has spoken, does it not? If God has spoken on such matters, the church can have a position. I’m not saying that God necessarily has spoken on all those matters; I’m just pointing out that if he has, it isn’t wrong to do so. On most if not all of those matters, God really doesn’t have much specific to say besides the state’s responsibility to punish evil and protect life. But sorting out what that means in individual circumstances is difficult. I agree.

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  79. sdb and Zrim – Robert and I are in complete agreement, at least so far as I can tell from his comments. I will add that most of the New Testament – Revelation excluded – was written before state-sponsored Christian persecution in the Roman Empire. In Acts, the persecution comes from Jews and local business people (Ephesus), not the Roman emperors or even governors. Remember, the Romans were generally inclined to tolerate Jesus and the Apostles. That changed with Nero after the book of Acts – and most of the NT – was completed. Revelation is an exception, of course, and as Robert said, the entire book is a rebuke of Christian persecution, and by extension inherently unjust laws in general.

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  80. “Where do you expect Paul or any of the NT authors to call out the state? In the epistles? But how many political leaders were in the NT church? Not many. At Paul’s audience to the emperor?”
    We have the examples of Herod, Pilate, and Felix. We also have instructions for believers. The question is whether the church has the responsibility to speak out against “inherently sinful laws”. Jim Crow is the US example from VV. Rome had its own version of such laws in addition to the persecution of Christains.

    ” But it’s one thing to say that and another to say that the church can never as the church speak to politics. The WCF expressly allows for it at least in extraordinary circumstances. The persecution of Christians would seem to be an extraordinary circumstance.”
    I always assumed that referenced state interference of the Church’s ministry.

    ” But the church has authority to speak where God has spoken, does it not? If God has spoken on such matters, the church can have a position. I’m not saying that God necessarily has spoken on all those matters; I’m just pointing out that if he has, it isn’t wrong to do so.”
    Exactly.

    “On most if not all of those matters, God really doesn’t have much specific to say besides the state’s responsibility to punish evil and protect life. But sorting out what that means in individual circumstances is difficult. I agree.”
    Right. The scriptures say very little about the responsibility of the secular state. Remember that the claim is that the church has the responsibility to speak out against inherently sinful laws (ie those that require sin such as emporer worship and those that require participation in an inherently unjust system such as Jim Crow).

    As far as over reacting to the moral majority, the problem of contemporary US churches engaging in legalism, political entanglements, and distraction in temporal issues is more pressing than how to respond to laws that ok the persecution of Christains.

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  81. Robert, right, so either way there is no NT precedent for the church to condemn a political effort to persecute Christians, whether we say the apostles had no political effort in their time to condemn or that they did but didn’t condemn it.

    And I’d reiterate sdb’s point about the exception clause in WCF having to do with the state interfering with the church’s own mission as being grounds for extraordinary circumstances. Otherwise it gets opened up to every political hobby horse imaginable.

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  82. Zrim,

    There’s lots of things that there is no explicit NT precedent for. There’s no explicit NT precedent for explaining how to help men addicted to pornography or women addicted to opioid pain medication. There’s no explicit NT precedent for what to do with young single mothers who join our churches. But there are certainly principles that can be applied.

    But when persecution comes and is unavoidable it’s actually a mark of God’s favor in the NT. If you think the church should condemn it then maybe you’re informed more by modern jurisprudence than the Bible?

    Persecution is sometimes a mark of God’s disfavor in the NT, being used to discipline the church. And the mere fact that persecution can be a mark of God’s favor doesn’t mean God actually approves of the persecution itself.

    Otherwise it gets opened up to every political hobby horse imaginable.

    Sure, which is why caution is in order. But it’s one thing to say that caution is in order and another to say “The church should do nothing through political means to address persecution because persecution is proof that God really loves you.”

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  83. @Robert
    No one is arguing for a wooden literalism here. I think we all agree that inferences can be drawn from the example of scripture. Jesus does give guidance about the seriousness of lust (cut out your eyes if you have to), we have calls for sobriety, and we are told about the status of the sexually immoral and the children of a believer and unbeliever.

    What we aren’t told about is what the church’s responsibility is to speak prophetically to a secular state. We are told to honor the emperor, submit to civil authorities, and render to Caesar. We aren’t told to work to change inherently sinful laws (those that either compel you to commit sinful acts or participate in an inherently unjust social system). That doesn’t mean that individual Christians in the right place to love their neighbors by effecting change shouldn’t do so – if one’s conscience requires it, one should. Of course, the ministry of the word will result in church speaking out on issues that may also be contested in the political sphere. But noting that lust is sinful and that we should avoid pornography is no the same thing as the denomination issuing a position paper and calling on the state to tighten up obscenity laws. Jim Crow (the issue brought up by VV above) is another example – a pastor preaching about the parable of the good samaritan should call on his congregants to love one’s neighbor, treat one’s fellow man with dignity, and not discriminate on the basis of race. The denomination should not issue a position paper on the poll tax. Individual believers, whose conscience is so moved, should work against it. 2K is not about the relative merits of various political issues – it is about the rightful scope of churchly activity and authority. The church has nothing to say about the morality of those outside of the church (cf. Paul on not associating with the sexually immoral) – the church’s stance relative to those outside the church is evangelism not moral reform.

    At the mainline and RC churches around here, I see lots of banners about supporting immigrants, stopping war, health care, gay rights, women’s rights, etc… The local Church of Christ looks like a political headquarters. At a PCA church here, there are voting guides available to congregants that address issues like school vouchers, abortion, gun rights, gay marriage, and religious freedom. This strikes me all as wholly inappropriate for churches to do. Had evangelical churches expended as much energy on evangelism and formation of their congregants as they did on extolling Israel, the Christian Coalition, etc… I suspect that we would have a much healthier church (and by extension, ironically enough, more just laws).

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  84. “Participate in an unjust system” is such a vague phrase.

    It seems self-evident to y’all that we shouldn’t “participate in an unjust system.”

    What does that even mean? If I pay taxes, am I wrongly participating in the evils of the US government by finding it? What if I watch a G-rated movie from Miramax? (Is there one? Where is Greg tT?)

    I’m struggling here to map “participating in an unjust system” to some Biblical norm.

    Help a brother out.

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  85. Hi Jeff,
    I’m not so sure about that. I understand the claim to be that the church has an obligation to speak out against participation in an unjust system. Taking the example of Jim Crow… as a citizen, you can’t help the fact that you have access to better accommodations, healthcare, dining facilities, or that your vote counts more. The system makes your whiteness unjustly beneficial. So, the thinking goes, the Church has the responsibility to engage politically to end Jim Crow. I don’t see NT warrant for such activism. That doesn’t mean that individual believers shouldn’t, indeed, as their conscience is formed by the call to love one’s neighbor, the may be compelled to action.

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  86. Jeff – I’m only for the Church condemning a law if it is sinful or unjust in its very nature. Jim Crow laws – at their worst – expressly made public life worse for black people than for white people. For example, some states passed laws mandating segregation of public places, or made voting standards different for blacks and whites. This is inherently unjust and anti-Scriptural. So by participating in society Christians were inevitably participating in an inherently unjust system. I’m not saying we as Christians shouldn’t continue to function in society, but we as individuals and the Church as an institution should condemn such injustice. I want to stress that inherently sinful/unjust laws are very rare. I doubt there are any in America today that are fundamentally sinful and that should draw any sort of comment from the Church, much less condemnation.

    sdb – I agree entirely with the last paragraph in your comment to Robert. The institutional Church should almost always stay out of politics. But there are extraordinary cases, and that’s where we disagree. While I agree that the NT does not record the Church directly condemning state laws, if we look at the OT God has plenty to say about injustice and oppression, including direct criticism of pagan government, laws, and practices.

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  87. Robert, since when do we evaluate civil laws as sinful? What happened to just or unjust?

    Remember, the state does tell people to kill — it’s called the military.

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  88. vv, we also participate in an inherently blasphemous system — lots of idolaters and blasphemers go free. So if you want laws to conform to God’s law, go back to Geneva.

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  89. Robert, if you want the church to be political then it needs white papers with policies and it needs to identify politicians with whom to work. How’s that work for you?

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  90. Darryl,

    Fine: just or unjust. That’s what I meant. So, is it wrong for the church to declare that a law calling for the arrest of Christians simply for being Christians unjust? Because I get the sense that for many of you, the church can’t or shouldn’t do that. But that strikes me as an absurd position.

    Surely there’s a nuanced position somewhere between the church can’t call even laws persecuting Christians unjust and saying that laws increasing the minimum wage are just.

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  91. Somehow, Hart believes that he has provided a litmus test for what is legitimate involvement in social justice while giving the Church as an institution a free pass from having to comment on any social injustice. I struggle with that along with his compulsive criticisms of Keller and social justice. Like everyone, Keller merits criticisms. But it seems like Hart enjoys riding the coattails of all the criticisms he can make of Keller.

    I agree that the Church should not side with a political party, but that doesn’t rule out the Church shunning a political party. The Church should not side with a political party because, in terms of social morals, all parties are mixed bags. In addition, the Church, as an institution, should focus more on pointing out the failures of our government and the political parties involved. To do so does not require the Church to present “Christian policies” or create its own party, nor should it do so. It simply says that the Church can take stands on social justice issues where those issues involve sin.

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  92. @ Robert:

    I was a little unclear what your thoughts are concnerning the “Westminsterian 2k” position above?

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  93. “So, is it wrong for the church to declare that a law calling for the arrest of Christians simply for being Christians unjust?”

    @Robert Maybe I was unclear above. I understand that the WCF reference to “extraordinary circumstances” to refer to state interference of her ministry of word and sacrament. Presumably the case you’ve imagined would qualify. But again, this isn’t the hard case VV has brought up. What is the church’s responsibility to speak prophetically to the secular state when they pass unjust laws? We have concrete examples to think about – Rome’s compulsory emperor veneration, Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews, Jim Crow, China’s one child policy, etc… Does the church have the authority to speak prophetically to the state on these issues? I don’t see that scripture gives the church this authority, therefore, it should not do this. That doesn’t mean Christians acting in their private capacity shouldn’t do so, and it doesn’t mean that a pastor shouldn’t admonish his flock to venerate God alone (and by extension not the emperor), love one’s neighbor (and thereby resist the Nazis and Jim Crow), not kill one’s child (and thus potentially run afoul of a one child policy), and so forth.

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  94. Darryl, I think it’s pronounced “Cooba.”

    Robert, if Jesus stood silent at the greatest injustice then why is it different for his church in the face of lesser injustices? You seem always gobsmacked at the idea but is the lesson from Jesus’ silence at that unfathomable injustice really that his church should pipe up when she’s in a similar position?

    Curt, if the church should rattle her collective finger at lawmakers that doesn’t sound pharisaical to you? And if the church should “take stands on social justice issues where those issues involve sin,” you don’t see how those squishy terms won’t result in vastly different interpretations where you’re on one side and someone else is on another? And what makes you think government cares one whit what any church says about any policy? Also, how does someone ride his own coattails?

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  95. Zrim,

    Robert, if Jesus stood silent at the greatest injustice then why is it different for his church in the face of lesser injustices?

    Jesus was purchasing our salvation. We’re not him. Besides, in the book of Acts the church very clearly understands his death to be the result of unjust forces.

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  96. SDB,

    But again, this isn’t the hard case VV has brought up. What is the church’s responsibility to speak prophetically to the secular state when they pass unjust laws? We have concrete examples to think about – Rome’s compulsory emperor veneration, Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews, Jim Crow, China’s one child policy, etc… Does the church have the authority to speak prophetically to the state on these issues? I don’t see that scripture gives the church this authority, therefore, it should not do this.

    I suppose it depends on what it means to speak prophetically.

    Let’s look at those hard examples. If Nazi Germany asks the church whether its treatment of Jews is just or unjust, what does the church say? “It is not within our power to comment on this. Thank you.”?

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  97. Jeff,

    We can all agree that a law requiring citizens to kill Hindus would be an element of “cases extraordinary.”

    So let’s say that “Westminsterian 2k”

    * Raises a fundamental wall between the offices of magistrate and churchman
    * Allows for a small degree of exception
    * Which exception nevertheless does not undermine the wall.

    By way of contrast, “2nd GA evangelicalism”

    * Raises no more than a speed-bump between the offices of magistrate and churchman (see: Dobson, James and Sharpton, Al)
    * Believes that transgressing that speed bump is morally obligatory on a regular basis
    * That in fact, Scripture is given to us in part to tell nations how to govern.

    Observing you and VV, I would say that you are much closer to Westminsterian 2k than to 2nd GA evangelicalism.

    Sorry I didn’t respond earlier.

    I agree with your assessment here of me. I’m far closer to Westminsterian 2K than to 2nd GA evangelicalism. The difficulty I have with the whole discussion is mainly twofold:

    1) It seems that for many of the posters here, their views on the relation of church and state is driven almost entirely by not wanting to look like those icky evangelicals. I can’t discern hearts, but that’s what seems to come out in some of the comments.

    2) I don’t see how this works in practice at the end of the day. How does a preacher in America, for example, adequately preach the whole counsel of God, including the many admonitions to protect the defenseless, and help people draw application without ever speaking against current US abortion policy?

    3) WCF allows for the church to speak to the state when the state petitions the church, does it not? How is a “no position paper on the Iraq War” or pick your example consistent with that?

    4) WCF 19 says that the civil law does not oblige the state except where the “general equity” we can glean from those laws applies. If R. Scott Clark is right, “general equity” basically means natural law. So it seems that there is a place for applying the OT civil law to modern politics at least insofar as it gives us insight into the natural law. I don’t see anybody here except maybe VV and I as willing to do that. Am I reading WCF 19 wrong?

    I want to maintain a wall between the state’s job and the church’s job. I don’t want a Presbyterian ERLC or ministers making demands of parishioners that “opposing abortion (or pick your issue) means you have to do x, y, and z.” But there’s a difference between that and “the church has no opinion on any political matter and if it does you’re in danger of following the social gospel and quit following Jerry Falwell while you’re at it.”

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  98. Robert, so because the church is not Messiah there is nothing in his silence and claim that his kingdom is not of this world (not to mention all the admonitions to take up his cross and follow him, not to resist an evil man, etc.) that church has to emulate in it?

    “If Nazi Germany asks the church whether its treatment of Jews is just or unjust, what does the church say? ‘It is not within our power to comment on this. Thank you.’?”

    Wait, are you being serious? The Nazis genuinely want the church’s opinion on whether holocaust is just or unjust? The American government doesn’t even care what the church has to say on any policy. That’s quite a big IF in order to make the case for political involvement. But the wild assumption notwithstanding, even if the state entreats the church on some given matter, do you imagine ever a time when taking a pass might be wise, i.e. as a private person have you ever been asked to weigh in on something about which your opinion is irrelevant and you know you’re just being used to help prop someone’s up? Or are you flattered every time someone asks your opinion about whatever? You seem like a wise fellow so I’m betting the former, that you know when your opinion matters and when it doesn’t. Why not the same for the church? So it’s more than simply falling into the same silliness of the religious right (and left). They’re helpful object lessons, but despite what you may think some of us really do think through these things honestly and see it from an angle that seems compelling.

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  99. Zrim,

    Robert, so because the church is not Messiah there is nothing in his silence and claim that his kingdom is not of this world (not to mention all the admonitions to take up his cross and follow him, not to resist an evil man, etc.) that church has to emulate in it?

    Not nothing, but your example was Christ on trial not decrying unjust laws. It’s a totally different situation than any of us will ever endure.

    The American government doesn’t even care what the church has to say on any policy.

    That hasn’t always been the case.

    That’s quite a big IF in order to make the case for political involvement. But the wild assumption notwithstanding, even if the state entreats the church on some given matter, do you imagine ever a time when taking a pass might be wise, i.e. as a private person have you ever been asked to weigh in on something about which your opinion is irrelevant and you know you’re just being used to help prop someone’s up? Or are you flattered every time someone asks your opinion about whatever? You seem like a wise fellow so I’m betting the former, that you know when your opinion matters and when it doesn’t. Why not the same for the church?

    Of course there are times when taking a pass might be wise. Those times are when Scripture doesn’t speak to an issue. For example: Whether there should be a minimum wage and if so, how much it should be.

    Sometimes Scripture speaks to an issue only partly. For example, ommigration—Scripture tells us to treat people humanely. It doesn’t tell us that every country has to accept immigrants, how many immigrants, what the basis for accepting some and not others, etc.

    So it’s more than simply falling into the same silliness of the religious right (and left). They’re helpful object lessons, but despite what you may think some of us really do think through these things honestly and see it from an angle that seems compelling.

    I don’t deny that people have thought things through. But when a standard response is “You’re sounding like an Eeeeeeeevangelical now,” it makes me suspicious how much of the thinking is driven by opposition to looking like Dobson or Falwell.

    I guess the fundamental issue for me is this: I don’t see how any political theory that does not allow the church to condemn as evil something that Scripture calls evil is workable for the Christian. Now, how to best combat that evil may not be under the realm of Christian ministry. I can see the church condemning U.S. abortion on demand policy without prescribing a way to solve it for each and every Christian. But if your theory doesn’t allow the church to say a system or law is evil when it is clearly evil according to Scripture, then something seems to be very wrong.

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  100. “I suppose it depends on what it means to speak prophetically. Let’s look at those hard examples. If Nazi Germany asks the church whether its treatment of Jews is just or unjust, what does the church say? “It is not within our power to comment on this. Thank you.”?”

    I’m borrowing from Niebuhr there. To boil it down, should the church hire lobbyists to affect changes in laws? Should the church issue position statements on hot-button political issues? Should the pastor encourage political action by his parishioners?

    As far as your example about Nazi Germany, that just isn’t realistic. Is it OK to remind his congregants that Jews are their neighbors while preaching on the good samaritan? Of course. Should the session discipline members who don’t repent of killing a Jew? Absolutely. Should the pastor tell his congregants that they have the responsibility to campaign against the state? No. Should the session issue a position statement on the legitimacy of the Nazi government? No.

    The church’s job is to make disciples using the means appointed by God. The church’s was not given the authority to work to improve the temporal situation on earth. That is a happy side effect of growing the church perhaps, but not the principle function of the church.

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  101. SDB,

    I’m borrowing from Niebuhr there. To boil it down, should the church hire lobbyists to affect changes in laws? Should the church issue position statements on hot-button political issues? Should the pastor encourage political action by his parishioners?

    You have to hire lobbyists to say, “That law is unjust.” Surely the church can say, “That policy is evil/unjust/wrong” without prescribing what exactly every person should do it. The response is going to be individually variable. The Christian politician would do things the Christian homemaker couldn’t.

    As far as your example about Nazi Germany, that just isn’t realistic.

    Other than the fact that the Nazis don’t exist anymore, I’m not sure how this isn’t realistic. Are you really saying that the church would have overstepped its bounds to tell its members that the Holocaust was unjust?

    Is it OK to remind his congregants that Jews are their neighbors while preaching on the good samaritan? Of course. Should the session discipline members who don’t repent of killing a Jew? Absolutely.

    Sure.

    Should the pastor tell his congregants that they have the responsibility to campaign against the state? No.

    Let me ask the question this way: Should the pastor tell his congregants that they have the responsibility to do what they can in their own station in life to protect Jews from the Nazis?

    Should the session issue a position statement on the legitimacy of the Nazi government? No.

    Probably not, since I don’t know if there is such a thing as an illegitimate government in Scripture. I’m just asking whether the church would overstep its bounds to say, “We the First Lutheran Church of Germany declare that the Nazi Policy of moving Jews to Concentration Camps and Killing them is unjust and the Nazis should stop it.”

    Or, something more realistic: “The PCA declares that the U.S. policy of abortion on demand for whatever reason the mother deems fit is unjust and contrary to God’s law.”

    The church’s job is to make disciples using the means appointed by God. The church’s was not given the authority to work to improve the temporal situation on earth. That is a happy side effect of growing the church perhaps, but not the principle function of the church.

    More or less I agree. The problem is that it is traditional in Reformed Theology to confess that the State is bound to the 10 Commandments, at least the second table of the law. That would seem to be a sound interpretation of the Scriptures. WCF certainly seems to assume that—though granted, it is working with a Christian magistrate.

    The problem I see with some of the arguments here is that they basically devolve to: “Scripture gives us no clue as to the job of the state, and the church certainly can’t call any policy of the state unjust even when said policies enact things that the whole Bible condemns.”

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  102. Robert, in what USA could you have laws that designates one group of people as illegal because of their faith or that abolishes religious institutions? You’d have to abolish the first amendment.

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  103. Darryl,

    Robert, in what USA could you have laws that designates one group of people as illegal because of their faith or that abolishes religious institutions? You’d have to abolish the first amendment.

    Or interpret it in such a way that it doesn’t apply to a certain religion, just as we have interpreted the first amendment to not apply to certain speech.

    But are you pointing out that it’s a lot easier to be 2K in America in such a way that you can’t have the church declaring a certain law unjust than it is to be in other countries? I hear that governments in other countries write laws in such a way as to prevent churches from being built or to keep Christians out of certain occupations. Is the church allowed to have opinions on those matters in the 2K theology that you follow?

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  104. “I guess the fundamental issue for me is this: I don’t see how any political theory that does not allow the church to condemn as evil something that Scripture calls evil is workable for the Christian. Now, how to best combat that evil may not be under the realm of Christian ministry. I can see the church condemning U.S. abortion on demand policy without prescribing a way to solve it for each and every Christian. But if your theory doesn’t allow the church to say a system or law is evil when it is clearly evil according to Scripture, then something seems to be very wrong.”

    Robert, while the church may have a moral and spiritual mandate, she doesn’t have a legal or political one. That seems to be the distinction you’re getting muddled. And the church only has a moral and spiritual mandate to her own members, not the rest of the world (1 Cor 5). So it’s not clear what good it would even do to condemn any policy, be it questions surrounding immigration, minimum wage, or abortion legislation. There are moral dimensions to these things but the church is only responsible to her own members regarding them, e.g. they mayn’t have elective abortions in their own persons per the second greatest and the fifth commandments. Anything more is overstepping.

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  105. Curt, and which legislature are you going to work with on justice policies? The one where to be a member legislators need to be in one of the two parties?

    Do you understand that I want to maintain the spirituality of the church. You seem to want the spirituality of the legislature.

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  106. Robert, “I don’t see how any political theory that does not allow the church to condemn as evil something that Scripture calls evil is workable for the Christian.”

    For the millionth time. U.S. political system allows the church to condemn something as evil that the Bible calls evil. The government is not inspecting what pastors say (unless pastors go way out in public and try to yell “fire” in public situations.). What you seem to want is for a political theory to care about what the church says.

    Isn’t America great?

    Or do you want a return to established churches where govt. and church cooperate and coordinate?

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  107. Robert, to borrow a line from Machen. The Church may condemn drunkenness as sin and should. The Church has no clue about endorsing Prohibition. One is a moral imperative. The other is a policy. Big diff.

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  108. DGH – “The Church may condemn drunkenness as sin and should. The Church has no clue about endorsing Prohibition. One is a moral imperative. The other is a policy. Big diff.

    That’s not what Robert or I are arguing. Making alcohol consumption legal is not inherently sinful or unjust, because it does not compel drunkenness. The fact that adultery is legal is not unjust because it does not compel adultery. The fact that abortion is legal is not unjust because it does not compel abortion. Robert and I are talking about laws that by their very nature compel injustice or sinfulness. Jim Crow laws are an example, because as a Christian in the Jim Crow South I would be compelled to participate in an unjust social/public life. Mandatory killing of Christians (or anyone, for that matter) compels a violation of the 6th commandment. We’re not talking about the Church condemning laws that ALLOW sinfulness or injustice, we’re talking about condemning laws that MANDATE sin or injustice.

    Zrim – “there are moral dimensions to these things but the church is only responsible to her own members regarding them, e.g. they mayn’t have elective abortions in their own persons per the second greatest and the fifth commandments. Anything more is overstepping.”

    Exactly! Which is why the Church should only condemn laws that compel her members to participate in an unjust system or commit sinful acts. If a laws requires that a Christian commit sin, the Church should condemn it as sinful and refuse to obey. Wouldn’t you agree?

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  109. VV, we’re getting closer. Agreed that if a law compels one to disobey God then believers are compelled to obey God instead. But it still isn’t clear why the church confronts politics by condemning the law that compels believers to sin. Instead, the church compels her members to obey God without any need to wade out into political waters.

    But you and Robert may not be on the same page. Robert wants the church to condemn US policy on abortion, but you say, “The fact that abortion is legal is not unjust because it does not compel abortion. Robert and I are talking about laws that by their very nature compel injustice or sinfulness.”

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  110. “ Exactly! Which is why the Church should only condemn laws that compel her members to participate in an unjust system or commit sinful acts. If a laws requires that a Christian commit sin, the Church should condemn it as sinful and refuse to obey. Wouldn’t you agree?“

    Declare to whom? If the government says you must worship the president, then of course pastors should tell their flocks that they should worship God alone and thus disobey the state. I don’t see that this entails political action by the church or preclude political action by believers.

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  111. Zrim and sdb – we agree that Christians should obey the law unless the law compels us to sin or participate in an unjust system. So refusal to obey a sinful/unjust law is a rebuke of that law; disobedience to that law is itself a condemnation of that law. I think you’re trying to parse disobedience to a law from vocal condemnation of the law, when in reality they are part and parcel of the same thing: outward, explicit rejection of the law.

    Robert and I *might* have a slightly different nuanced belief when it comes to abortion. I believe that the Church should call abortion evil and sinful without telling the government exactly what laws to pass. Even so, calling an act “evil” is an implied call to make it illegal.

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  112. VV: “Even so, calling an act “evil” is an implied call to make it illegal.”

    Is adultery evil? Idolatry?

    Should both be illegal?

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  113. VV, I’m parsing the spiritual from the political and the church from the world. And I’m not sure what the distinction is between you and Robert is since you both seem to have an eye toward the church influencing the world by implying something about legality through moral pronouncements. Add Curt to that team. That’s the sort of thing that animates Protestant liberalism.

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  114. “ I think you’re trying to parse disobedience to a law from vocal condemnation of the law, when in reality they are part and parcel of the same thing.”

    Almost… what an individual does whether it is civil disobedience or active campaigning is different from the ministry of word and sacrament by the institution. That is the distinction I want to draw. What your session tells you to do (and you are obligated to submit to) is different from what your session tells those outside the church. The session’s authority to bind your conscience is limited to what scripture teaches. The session has no authority over those outside of the church. Their stance there is one of invitation and peacekeeping.

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  115. vv, Not sure you have this one figured. Legalized abortion and adultery means that you have to treat abortion providers and adulterers like they haven’t broken the law.

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  116. VV, what about a Christian who refuses to overthrow a society which practices systemic injustice? That’s where we are. You’re aiding the radicals even as you benefit from the system. No peace no justice in Kellerurb.

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  117. Jeff – adultery and idolatry are “evil” in the sense that they violate God’s law – they are certainly sinful, but I’m not sure I would describe them as evil. They don’t cause direct harm to anyone, and aren’t evil in the way that electively killing humans for mere convenience is evil.

    Zrim & sdb – you’re trying to have it both ways. You want the Church to condemn laws that mandate sin yet do it in a way so that only Church members are aware of it. If the session/presbytery orders Church members to disobey a law that mandates sin, then they are effectively proclaiming that the law should not be in place. This is the same as publicly condemning the law, even if they don’t explicitly call on the state to repeal it.

    DGH – overthrowing a society and working for change through legal means are two different things. And I don’t consider modern American society to be fundamentally unjust. There may be injustices – as there are in any society – but the current legal/social system is not inherently unjust.

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  118. @ VV:

    I’m surprised you went there. Here was Jesus’ opinion.

    “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

    You’ve just made an argument for 2k.

    With 2k, one can honestly say that adultery is evil (because Jesus said so!). But the job of the magistrate is not necessarily to criminalize all evil.

    Without 2k, the magistrate is obligated to criminalize evil. But since that’s uncomfortable for us, we start disagreeing with Jesus about what counts as evil. “Yeah, idolatry is an abomination to the Lord, but it’s not Evil-evil.” Kinda like Goldberg’s “not Rape-rape” defense of Polanski.

    Let me repeat this louder for the 1k folk in back (Ali, Mark McC, Greg):

    2k “feels” like a denial of God’s word because it does not bind the magistrate. In point of fact, it upholds God’s word by maintaining it’s proper audience (God’s people) and purpose (salvation).

    1k by contrast ends up denying the Word of God by attempting to fit Scripture into a Procrustean bed of civil governance.

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  119. VV, we want it both ways but you want to distinguish between sinful and evil?

    But I don’t see my view in your last remark. To counsel church members to disobey a law that mandates sin is to counsel them to obey God rather than men, not to proclaim that the law should not be in place or publicly condemn the law.

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  120. Jeff – you have to know where I’m going next: WLC 150-151. Not all sins are equally heinous. Though not the point of Mark 7 or Matthew 15, if you want to make the case that every single sin is basically evil, that’s fine – I agreed with that in my last point. But as WLC 151 says, sins are more evil if they offend the “common good of all or many,” are contrary to the light of nature, and “admit of no reparation.” I’d say abortion falls into all of those categories, while adultery and idolatry fall into none of them.

    But we agree that the job of the state is not to outlaw every sinful behavior. The NT is clear that God gives the state the authority to ensure the “public good” (WCF 23) of a society. Thus I think that the Church can rightly call abortion a societal evil that should be outlawed, while calling other sins like idolatry and adultery personal/relational evils that are outside the purview of the state.

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  121. D.G.,
    How can we maintain the spirituality of the Church when we push the Church to say nothing about corporate sin? Was saying nothing about slavery in America or the Nazi agenda in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s a viable option for the Church?

    You know history. And thus you know that when the dominant branch of the Church supports wealth and power, as it did in the pre-revolutionary times of France, Russia, and Spain, both the reputation of the Church and the Gospel eventually suffered. Through a number of ways from active support to silent complicity, the dominant branch of the Church in America is doing the same. Don’t you think history can repeat itself?

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  122. “They don’t cause direct harm to anyone”
    Tell that to the cuckold or the children whose lives are ripped apart because of a parent’s infidelity.

    “and aren’t evil in the way that electively killing humans for mere convenience is evil.”
    Paul sets sexual sin apart from all others. God seems far more concerned about idolatry than other sins. Loving God >> loving neighbors.

    “ you’re trying to have it both ways. You want the Church to condemn laws that mandate sin yet do it in a way so that only Church members are aware of it. “
    No. I only want them to do so in the context of word and sacrament.

    “If the session/presbytery orders Church members to disobey a law that mandates sin, then they are effectively proclaiming that the law should not be in place. This is the same as publicly condemning the law, even if they don’t explicitly call on the state to repeal it.”
    “Effectively” is doing a lot of work for you here. The church is ordained to preach the gospel, not issue position statements.

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  123. Curt, you mean history repeating itself the way Jesus and Paul didn’t speak out against the evils of Rome’s oppressive and unjust policies? You mean that history?

    BTW, how can you say slavery is sinful if Paul calls himself a slave of Christ, bought with a price no less?

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  124. VV, sorry, I have to push.

    VV: calling an act “evil” is an implied call to make it illegal.

    Also VV: adultery and idolatry are “evil” in the sense that they violate God’s law – they are certainly sinful, but I’m not sure I would describe them as evil. They don’t cause direct harm to anyone, and aren’t evil in the way that electively killing humans for mere convenience is evil.

    Also Also VV: if you want to make the case that every single sin is basically evil, that’s fine – I agreed with that in my last point. But as WLC 151 says, sins are more evil if they offend the “common good of all or many,”

    And VV: But we agree that the job of the state is not to outlaw every sinful behavior. … Thus I think that the Church can rightly call abortion a societal evil that should be outlawed, while calling other sins like idolatry and adultery personal/relational evils that are outside the purview of the state.

    There’s a lot of “A and not A” in there. What are you really saying?

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  125. Jeff – our disagreement is largely over semantics, specifically how we define “evil.” You want to use Jesus’ use of evil in Mark 7 and Matthew 15 to define evil as every sin. I tend to view evil as a particularly egregious or heinous sin. The OT calls disease and death evil, but that’s not how we commonly use the word today. For the sake of this discussion, I’m fine with using your definition of evil: every sin of the heart, even if not expressed in outward words and deeds.

    So we can agree on a definition of evil. Fine. But that still doesn’t change the underlying point: the state can and should act as God’s agent to constrain social and public evil, but not evil that doesn’t significantly affect society as a whole. It’s the role of the Church – not the state – to tell husbands and wives to remain faithful to their marriage vows. It’s the role of the Church – not the state – to forbid idolatry. It is the role of the state – not the Church – to pass that laws to constrain public evil and ensure justice. The Church can condemn an evil like abortion, which is an implicit call for the state to make it illegal. The Church can and should condemn unjust laws like the Jim Crow laws and call on that state to repeal them.

    The bottom line: the Church should condemn all evil, but only the state has the authority to actively constrain public/social evil.

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  126. D.G.,
    And why did neither Jesus nor Paul speak out against the evils of the Roman Empire?

    See, their examples would be the rule for us if the conditions that determined their silence are the same conditions for us today. And yes, I can say slavery is sinful. But when I say that, I am not referring to the same slavery Paul referred to when he said he was a slave to Christ. And isn’t that my point?

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  127. Darryl,

    For the millionth time. U.S. political system allows the church to condemn something as evil that the Bible calls evil.The government is not inspecting what pastors say (unless pastors go way out in public and try to yell “fire” in public situations.).

    Well, that’s true for now. But that’s not really the point I want an answer to.

    What you seem to want is for a political theory to care about what the church says.

    Not necessarily. I’m wanting to know what you all think the church can say to its members. Can the church ever say to its members that a specific law is unjust?

    Is the church overstepping its bounds when it says to its members that laws that allow for unrestricted abortion are unjust, for example.

    Or do you want a return to established churches where govt. and church cooperate and coordinate?

    No.

    To borrow a line from Machen. The Church may condemn drunkenness as sin and should. The Church has no clue about endorsing Prohibition. One is a moral imperative. The other is a policy. Big diff.

    And I agree with Machen.

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  128. Zrim,

    Robert, while the church may have a moral and spiritual mandate, she doesn’t have a legal or political one. That seems to be the distinction you’re getting muddled.

    I think I get the distinction you are trying to make, and I agree with it insofar as I understand it. I don’t think the church should tell people exactly how to work against abortion on demand, partly because what we are able to do varies greatly from person to person.

    What I want to know is whether the church can say, for example, “Laws permitting abortion on demand are fundmentally unjust”? Or “Laws allowing you to kill your Christian neighbor are fundamentally unjust.”

    And the church only has a moral and spiritual mandate to her own members, not the rest of the world (1 Cor 5).

    I think you have to nuance this. Does not the church have a moral and spiritual mandate to make disciples of all nations? Does not that not include identifying sin and proclaiming the gospel?

    If the church is identifying sin and proclaiming the gospel to a radically pro-choice member of Congress who would never have an abortion herself but wants unrestricted access to abortion for everyone and does whatever she can to make abortion easily accessible and even to make it funded by taxpayers, does the church have the right to tell that member of Congress that in turning to Christ she has to turn from this radical promotion of abortion? Or is it just: Look, Congresswoman, as long as you don’t have an abortion yourself, it doesn’t matter whatsoever what you do in the legal realm regarding the issue? Heck, feel free to sponsor laws that require taxpayer funding of abortion and even laws that might allow for full-on infanticide as long as you, personally don’t do it.

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  129. “What I want to know is whether the church can say, for example, ‘Laws permitting abortion on demand are fundmentally unjust’? Or ‘Laws allowing you to kill your Christian neighbor are fundamentally unjust.'”

    Robert, what I want to know is why the church would even want to say that? Because the church is the supposed conscience of the world, one that gets the luxury passing judgment without the burden of having to get into the weeds of how to correct it? Seems awfully convenient.

    “Does not the church have a moral and spiritual mandate to make disciples of all nations? Does not that not include identifying sin and proclaiming the gospel?”

    Yes and yes. But here’s another distinction for you, the one between persons and institutions. The law and gospel are proclaimed to human beings, not governments and their policies. Jesus lived and died not for America but for his people.

    Re your last question, my own view is that it’s one thing what church member Jane does with her own unwanted pregnancy but another what she does in the voting booth (whether as a private or public citizen). Political liberty in the latter, personal liberty restricted in the former. That won’t wash well for those who make more of politics than is warranted, particularly this long simmered issue. I say that as one with anti-abortion views. I’m willing to wield political weapons in the political arena but not spiritual ones, i.e. if you want fellowship in my church then you have to trade your political views for mine.

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  130. Zrim,

    Robert, what I want to know is why the church would even want to say that? Because the church is the supposed conscience of the world, one that gets the luxury passing judgment without the burden of having to get into the weeds of how to correct it? Seems awfully convenient.

    You correct it by changing the law. The specific ways that is done are going to vary from person to person, from society to society, and even from person to person within society. If you are a lawmaker, you have a set of responsibilities as a Christian with respect to this. If you are an engineer, you have another set. And on and on and on.

    It’s not as simple as telling people how to vote, which I don’t advocate for anyway.

    Yes and yes. But here’s another distinction for you, the one between persons and institutions. The law and gospel are proclaimed to human beings, not governments and their policies. Jesus lived and died not for America but for his people.

    Of course.

    Re your last question, my own view is that it’s one thing what church member Jane does with her own unwanted pregnancy but another what she does in the voting booth (whether as a private or public citizen).

    Okay, I actually agree with that, at least essentially.

    Political liberty in the latter, personal liberty restricted in the former. That won’t wash well for those who make more of politics than is warranted, particularly this long simmered issue. I say that as one with anti-abortion views. I’m willing to wield political weapons in the political arena but not spiritual ones, i.e. if you want fellowship in my church then you have to trade your political views for mine.

    That’s fine, but what is the responsibility of the Christian politician in your church? If the politician introduces a law permitting abortion, runs on a pro-abortion platform, is working to make abortion funded by taxpayers—are any of those actions something for which the church may rightly discipline that person?

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  131. Robert, a local church may choose to do so but I don’t happen to think it right. If a member of my church were such a politician, I’d rather use political weapons to fight him politically.

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  132. Robert,

    It is interesting that in both cases, you chose laws that permitted an unjust action, as opposed to mandating an unjust action.

    That makes a big difference. If there were a law mandating killing one’s Hindu neighbor, the church would actually have a clear road to saying “To obey God requires disobeying man.”

    But in your examples, there’s no law to be disobeyed. Roe and the subsequent cases *removed* laws forbidding abortion. So what then is the church to say? “Killing your child is almost always wrong” — certainly.

    But the only remedy to a lack of illegality is to advocate passing a particular law, which puts the church back in the legislating business. Which now brings us into the messy, compromise-filled world of politics: What exceptions will you allow, and why? Why abortion and not guns? What about America’s war machine? Will sanctions reduce abortion numbers? Etc.

    When we look at how the Catholic church pr the PCUSA has gotten itself dragged deeper and deeper into policy positions, we see the future for that kind of activism.

    So to my mind, the line is easy: The church speaks when its members are required by law to sin. Otherwise, the church teaches the Word and lets its members do their Word-informed thing at the voting booth or in the legislature.

    If the Scripture is really clear, then our members will know it when they vote.

    If it isn’t, why would we want to speak?

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  133. Jeff,

    But the only remedy to a lack of illegality is to advocate passing a particular law, which puts the church back in the legislating business. Which now brings us into the messy, compromise-filled world of politics: What exceptions will you allow, and why? Why abortion and not guns? What about America’s war machine? Will sanctions reduce abortion numbers? Etc.

    Perhaps, but not necessarily. You work out the various details by Scripture. For my part, with the abortion question, the answer involves stating the inherent injustice of abortion on demand from the pulpit and perhaps calling for a change in law, but how that works out in practice is going to vary. Abortion is one of many considerations when voting, so you don’t discipline individual voters. You do discipline the member of congress in your church who wants to legalize partial-birth abortion.

    Wasn’t this an issue recently when a PCA ruling elder, I think, decided to run for governor of Texas on a radically pro-choice position? There were rumblings of discipline and then I think he left the church. Would the church have been wrong to discipline him?

    When we look at how the Catholic church pr the PCUSA has gotten itself dragged deeper and deeper into policy positions, we see the future for that kind of activism.

    It’s a risk that I acknowledge. Which is why we should be careful to speak only to issues that Scripture speaks to. Scripture speaks rather loudly to the protection of innocent life. It gives some good principles for just war theory. It assumes private property. It doesn’t tell us how much of the GDP should be spent on the military, what America’s role should be in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or what level of taxation crosses the line from legitimacy into outright theft.

    So to my mind, the line is easy: The church speaks when its members are required by law to sin.

    So what do you say, here? Does thechurch say, “I have no opinion on the inherent justice of the law mandating the killing of Hindus, but you Christians better not kill anyone.” That seems to be required by the position you are taking, unless I am misreading you, but that seems to be incoherent.

    Or in the other scenario, does the church say “I have no opinion on the inherent justice of the law allowing for the killing Hindus with impunity even though it puts them perpetually at risk, but you Christians better not kill any Hindus”? I don’t see how that is any more coherent.

    Otherwise, the church teaches the Word and lets its members do their Word-informed thing at the voting booth or in the legislature.

    But part of teaching the Word involves making application.

    If the Scripture is really clear, then our members will know it when they vote.

    If it isn’t, why would we want to speak?

    The problem is that you can say this about just about anything. Why teach at all if the Scripture is “really clear”?

    I’m not trying to be snarky; I’m just really trying to understand how one can be a “whole-Bible Christian” and think that the church has virtually nothing at all to say to matters of public policy.

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  134. “So to my mind, the line is easy: The church speaks when its members are required by law to sin.”

    So what do you say, here? Does thechurch say, “I have no opinion on the inherent justice of the law mandating the killing of Hindus, but you Christians better not kill anyone.” That seems to be required by the position you are taking, unless I am misreading you, but that seems to be incoherent.

    Or in the other scenario, does the church say “I have no opinion on the inherent justice of the law allowing for the killing Hindus with impunity even though it puts them perpetually at risk, but you Christians better not kill any Hindus”? I don’t see how that is any more coherent.

    No. The church not saying anything is the church not saying anything. It is not saying, “we have no opinion”. It is saying exactly what Paul said about the legality of infanticide, genocide in Gaul, and emperor worship which as far as I can tell is absolutely nothing. The reason the church can do that is that it limits itself to the practice of word and sacrament. Once the church starts meddling in political matters, it gets sucked into temporal matters that distract it from her mission.

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  135. Or to put it another way, what text of scripture are you exegeting (so to speak) to arrive at the admonition that your congregants work to outlaw abortion? In what context does a pastor speak to his representative? Does the general assembly issue a position paper? Write an editorial? Take out an ad in the NYT? How does a pastor in the course of his duties shepherding his flock speak to the state?

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  136. sdb – I don’t know about Robert, but I’m not calling for pastors to tell the state to outlaw abortion. However, when a pastor preaches that elective abortion is a great sin tantamount to murder, he is making an implicit call for the state to outlaw abortion. I basically agree with Jeff that the Church should condemn all sin, but only call for the state repeal a law when it requires sinful behavior. Making abortion legal does not require sin the same way that Jim Crow laws required sin. This seems completely in line with Roman 13:1-7.

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  137. So, VV, would you say that if such preaching would imply such a thing that a pastor should be cautious when broaching the subject of elective abortion in 2018 America since it’s so closely tied to what even Bork called “explosive politics”?

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  138. VV, that’s too bad. So, you’re not for pastors telling the state to outlaw abortion but good with them making implicit calls for the state to outlaw abortion. So semi-theocratic?

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  139. SDB,

    No. The church not saying anything is the church not saying anything. It is not saying, “we have no opinion”.

    Sure it is saying the church has no opinion. Otherwise you would give it. Maybe it would be more proper to say, “According to our understanding of the division of the two kingdoms, the church is not allowed to have an opinion on this.”

    It is saying exactly what Paul said about the legality of infanticide, genocide in Gaul, and emperor worship which as far as I can tell is absolutely nothing.

    We have no other models in Scripture for how to live and preach besides Paul? Seems like Jesus didn’t get that message about the OT prophets…

    The reason the church can do that is that it limits itself to the practice of word and sacrament.

    But the ministry of the Word involves helping people apply the Word.

    Once the church starts meddling in political matters, it gets sucked into temporal matters that distract it from her mission.

    That is the danger, but I’m actually not advocating much for meddling in political matters if that means telling people how they must vote. Is it meddling in political matters to tell people that abortion on demand is unjust and legalized murder?

    If I have a congress person in my congregation who takes money from Planned Parenthood and introduces legislation to advance the accessibility of abortion, you better believe he or she is coming under disciplinary charges.

    Or to put it another way, what text of scripture are you exegeting (so to speak) to arrive at the admonition that your congregants work to outlaw abortion?

    I’m not sure I would quite put it that way. If I did I don’t remember. What I would do is exegete Romans 13, Deut. 5, Ex. 20 and several other passages on the role of the state to punish evil and what the definition of evil actually is—which includes not protecting the defenseless. I would essentially leave it that, though I would not be afraid to say from the pulpit that the abortion on demand laws that we have in this country are an offense against God and His image bearers. I would not tell individual voters how to vote because the government does lots of things that are an offense against God and His image bearers, and abortion is one consideration among many when we vote.

    Where I agree with you is that politics involves a lot of prudential judgments given that Christians aren’t permitted to overthrow the state. So you as an individual weigh issues and vote the best you know how. Where I disagree with you is in this belief that God’s Word, properly exegeted from the pulpit, stopped speaking to the state altogether with the coming of Christ. And I’m not sure how the position many of you are advocating does not ultimately boil down to that.

    In what context does a pastor speak to his representative?

    Not sure of what you are asking. He speaks as an individual Christian unless the church has told him to make a statement on behalf of his church.

    Does the general assembly issue a position paper? Write an editorial? Take out an ad in the NYT?

    I would say the second two are not advisable, but also that they are not sins. On the first, it would depend on the issue and the clarity with which Scripture addresses it.

    How does a pastor in the course of his duties shepherding his flock speak to the state?

    The pastor doesn’t ordinarily speak to the state. He speaks to his parishioners and helps them learn to apply God’s Word in all of life. The church with the guidance of the elders may speak to the state, but ordinarily the pastor won’t do that individually.

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  140. Zrim,

    It’s not hard to connect the dots. If you tell your congregation that abortion is murder and the congregation believes the state’s task is to punish murderers and protect life, which virtually all Christians everywhere and for all time have believed, then to tell people abortion is murder is an implicit call for them to do what they can to make sure that the state punishes murders and protects life with respect to abortion.

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  141. Robert, the implicit call VV is talking about is to convey to the state that it should outlaw abortion. You’re now suggesting that the sly message a congregation should pick up on is that they as members should do something about outlawing it. My larger point is that pastors should be able to read the times and balance these things in a discerning manner, including not implying anything to the state about what it should do on a specific question (meddling) especially one of a high political voltage or implying to hearers what they’re specific cultural and political efforts should be (political liberty, unless you believe that liberty doesn’t apply to politics).

    But speaking of connecting dots, if you want pastors to be less than discerning among hearers and make “an implicit call for them to do what they can to make sure that the state punishes murders and protects life with respect to abortion” then it may not matter to you that some have the dot of young girls and women connected to the dot of first degree murderers liable for capital punishment, a rather unsophisticated and fundamentalist conclusion that appeals more to cause Christians than confessional ones. I’d prefer the fruits of prudence, wisdom, and caution with respect to these things that comes from being able to discern the times.

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  142. Zrim – you’re being pedantic. If a pastor/session tells the congregation that abortion is a societal sin, it is both an admonishment to members of the congregation not to have an abortion and not to condone abortion. It is also suggests that abortion should be outlawed: if the biblical role of the state is to ensure the “public good,” then the state should outlaw abortion, which is decidedly against the public good. I’m not sure why this is such a bugaboo for you.

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  143. Robert: Sure it is saying the church has no opinion. Otherwise you would give it.

    I have many opinions I do not share!

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  144. VV: If a pastor/session tells the congregation that abortion is a societal sin, it is both an admonishment to members of the congregation not to have an abortion and not to condone abortion. It is also suggests that abortion should be outlawed:

    Does not follow. For one thing, this “societal sin” category is ill-defined. None of its champions here, including Curt, has ever been able to produce a clear definition of what it means for a society to sin. Nor is it clear why abortion would be a societal sin. I call “emperor” on that one. I think we’re throwing a term around without any clear understanding of what it means.

    For another, even if we all understood exactly what “societal sin” is, it would not follow that criminalization is the remedy. The whole notion that “it it’s bad, we must pass a law” is not Biblical.

    Now: as a matter of public policy, I happen to believe abortion-on-demand is bad policy.

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  145. VV, and you’re being dodgy (and, sorry, a tad lazy). You want the church and her officers to make comment on political questions surrounding issues of life and death. That’s more or less theocratic. But the church is only commissioned to speak on the moral dimension.

    “…if the biblical role of the state is to ensure the ‘public good,’ then the state should outlaw abortion…”

    Says you. The public good (like societal sin) is a squishy term. Some would theorize that making it legal serves the public good. Gambling is arguably bad for the public good, so where is the breathless Christian championing of it being outlawed? The list of could go on. I happen to think abortion is a blight on society, too, but I’m not as convinced as some that its outlawing solves as much as they seem to assume for society at large. And that’s why it’s a bugaboo for me, because I don’t think Christians including even conservative Calvinists have shown as much careful thinking through the issue as they’ve been more or less taken in by the bandwagon group think of the pro-life movement.

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  146. SDB,
    No. The church not saying anything is the church not saying anything. It is not saying, “we have no opinion”.

    Sure it is saying the church has no opinion. Otherwise you would give it. Maybe it would be more proper to say, “According to our understanding of the division of the two kingdoms, the church is not allowed to have an opinion on this.”

    What Jeff said. I don’t speak every opinion I have. Discretion is a virtue.

    It is saying exactly what Paul said about the legality of infanticide, genocide in Gaul, and emperor worship which as far as I can tell is absolutely nothing.

    We have no other models in Scripture for how to live and preach besides Paul? Seems like Jesus didn’t get that message about the OT prophets…

    OK, throw in James, Peter, the author of Hebrews, Luke… Nowhere in the NT do we have instances of the church speaking out against the awful sins committed by Rome. Infanticide? Check. Chattel slavery? check. Genocide? check. Discrimination on the basis of race? Check. Yet when we have accounts of Jesus, Paul, or Peter engaging with Roman rulers, we don’t see a single example of them speaking out against the societal sins of the government. Why? It is my thesis that the church may only due what she has been explicitly commissioned to do. There are lots of good and important things we want to see done in society that the church has no business engaging in because she has not been commissioned to do so. Perhaps I am wrong on inferring this regulative principle. That would be an interesting conversation to have. But insofar as the church is limited to do what she has been commissioned to do, an argument from silence is relevant.

    “The reason the church can do that is that it limits itself to the practice of word and sacrament.”
    But the ministry of the Word involves helping people apply the Word.

    Agreed, but we have to be careful here. The Word does not tell us how a secular state should act. It describes how states do generally act as a justification for why we owe honor to the rulers. But it does not provide a blueprint for the scope of government responsibility.

    “Once the church starts meddling in political matters, it gets sucked into temporal matters that distract it from her mission.”

    That is the danger, but I’m actually not advocating much for meddling in political matters if that means telling people how they must vote. Is it meddling in political matters to tell people that abortion on demand is unjust and legalized murder?

    Nope. It is perfectly appropriate to instruct one’s congregation that the fact that something is legal does not mean that it is not sinful.

    If I have a congress person in my congregation who takes money from Planned Parenthood and introduces legislation to advance the accessibility of abortion, you better believe he or she is coming under disciplinary charges.

    That is a mistaken wholesale principle. Politics is messy, and more details would be necessary — a believer who believed that abortion is not sinful would be a problem. A believer who was also a politician who found that the greater good would be served by supporting planned parenthood and maintaining less restrictive abortion laws is not necessarily sinning.

    Or to put it another way, what text of scripture are you exegeting (so to speak) to arrive at the admonition that your congregants work to outlaw abortion?

    I’m not sure I would quite put it that way. If I did I don’t remember. What I would do is exegete Romans 13, Deut. 5, Ex. 20 and several other passages on the role of the state to punish evil and what the definition of evil actually is—which includes not protecting the defenseless. I would essentially leave it that, though I would not be afraid to say from the pulpit that the abortion on demand laws that we have in this country are an offense against God and His image bearers. I would not tell individual voters how to vote because the government does lots of things that are an offense against God and His image bearers, and abortion is one consideration among many when we vote.

    I agree with that more or less.

    Where I agree with you is that politics involves a lot of prudential judgments given that Christians aren’t permitted to overthrow the state. So you as an individual weigh issues and vote the best you know how. Where I disagree with you is in this belief that God’s Word, properly exegeted from the pulpit, stopped speaking to the state altogether with the coming of Christ. And I’m not sure how the position many of you are advocating does not ultimately boil down to that.

    I think we are pretty close here. What I am looking for is NT justification for the church to engage in with the state. I don’t see it. Maybe I am just being dense, but I would like to see a biblical case that the church has been commissioned to address temporal political matters.

    In what context does a pastor speak to his representative?

    Not sure of what you are asking. He speaks as an individual Christian unless the church has told him to make a statement on behalf of his church.

    What an individual Christian does is different from what “the church” does. A pastor may help his daughter with her calculus homework. The church is not commissioned to solve differential equations. A sermon on how to find the roots of a polynomial equation using synthetic division would be inappropriate. Not because there is anything wrong with finding roots to polynomial equations, but because the church hasn’t been commissioned to do so. The church should not be issuing statements to the state.

    Does the general assembly issue a position paper? Write an editorial? Take out an ad in the NYT?
    I would say the second two are not advisable, but also that they are not sins. On the first, it would depend on the issue and the clarity with which Scripture addresses it.

    I think this is the crux of the matter here. I agree that it is not sinful for an individual to do any of these things. But that doesn’t mean that the church has been commissioned to do these things.

    How does a pastor in the course of his duties shepherding his flock speak to the state?

    The pastor doesn’t ordinarily speak to the state. He speaks to his parishioners and helps them learn to apply God’s Word in all of life. The church with the guidance of the elders may speak to the state, but ordinarily the pastor won’t do that individually.

    OK. How do the elders speak to the state? What basis is there in scripture for them to do so?

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  147. Jeff – fair point on the definition of “societal sin.” I’m NOT arguing – a la Curt – that abortion is a collective sin. Rather, I’m arguing that abortion has a direct, significant impact on society, or the public in general, and thus falls under the purview of the state. Idolatry is a sin, but it doesn’t directly harm the general public. Adultery may harm a spouse or even family, but not the general public. Jim Crow laws do harm the general public. Abortion harms the general public. Murder harms the general public. Theft harms the general public. Etc.

    The difference between abortion and Jim Crow laws is that Jim Crow laws require Christians to participate in injustice, whereas abortion does not. Thus I believe the Church should call for the state to repeal Jim Crow laws, but not abortion, even though its practice should be condemned.

    Zrim – “public good” is the exact term used in WLC 150-151 to describe the role of the magistrate. Were the divines being “squishy?” The difference between gambling and abortion is that abortion is a sin, whereas gambling is not. And again, I’m not calling for the institutional Church to demand that abortion be outlawed. But a condemnation of a public sin like abortion is an implicit call for its ban.

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  148. VV, but you have been making this revolve around public good, a category lots of things could fall under even if not sins as the Bible defines them. Now you want to differentiate between what is sin and what is not. Lying is a sin and not conducive to the public good, should it also be outlawed?

    “Thus I believe the Church should call for the state to repeal Jim Crow laws, but not abortion, even though its practice should be condemned… I’m not calling for the institutional Church to demand that abortion be outlawed. But a condemnation of a public sin like abortion is an implicit call for its ban.” So an implicit call for its ban is still a call for it. In fact implicit calls can be more powerful than explicit calls, Not sure how you think an implicit call doesn’t count as calling.

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  149. Zrim,

    Robert, the implicit call VV is talking about is to convey to the state that it should outlaw abortion. You’re now suggesting that the sly message a congregation should pick up on is that they as members should do something about outlawing it. My larger point is that pastors should be able to read the times and balance these things in a discerning manner, including not implying anything to the state about what it should do on a specific question (meddling) especially one of a high political voltage or implying to hearers what they’re specific cultural and political efforts should be (political liberty, unless you believe that liberty doesn’t apply to politics).

    But you can’t talk about abortion and a host of other issues without necessarily implying that individual Christians, at least, should do whatever is in their power to do in order to make it stop. You a preacher to not imply anything to the congregation on this issue? First convince them that the state’s job is not to punish murderers and protect innocent life. Good luck with that.

    But speaking of connecting dots, if you want pastors to be less than discerning among hearers and make “an implicit call for them to do what they can to make sure that the state punishes murders and protects life with respect to abortion” then it may not matter to you that some have the dot of young girls and women connected to the dot of first degree murderers liable for capital punishment, a rather unsophisticated and fundamentalist conclusion that appeals more to cause Christians than confessional ones.

    The fact that some people wrongly apply and exegete Scripture doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. Abortion is rarely in the category of what we would call first-degree murder.

    I’d prefer the fruits of prudence, wisdom, and caution with respect to these things that comes from being able to discern the times.

    I’m trying to figure out how this works in practice. Abortion is a good test case. Seems to me for your position to work, the preacher would have to say:

    1. Abortion is a sin because it is the taking of human life, so anyone who has an abortion is killing a baby and sinning.

    2. I have no idea what the job of the state is with respect to the protection of innocent life, so I can’t say anything about whether we should have laws. The Bible doesn’t tell us one way or the other, and natural law isn’t any help either.

    That seems incoherent because as far as I can tell, the confessional position has been that the state, among its other responsibilities, is to punish murderers. And the vast majority of Christians of all stripes have confessed that. It’s a position that can be supported by natural law. How many societies have no laws regarding the taking of innocent life?

    Teach people who believe the state’s job is to punish murderers—ie, just about every Christian who has ever lived, as well as almost every other person on the planet—that abortion is murder, and you can’t help but get people—and the church—to do what is in their power in order to work toward the outlawing of abortion.

    When it gets down to the nitty-gritty of political action, things get more hairy. Christians shouldn’t rebel against authorities, so insurrection is essentially out. You live in a democracy where the best you can currently hope for is some kind of compromise that restricts legal abortions, then you work for that where you can but always with the eye on eventually outlawing it altogether. You take things as they come, but you don’t ever get to the point where you can say, “It is just for the state to allow abortion on demand.”

    But from the comments here, I get the impression that some of you would be fine to say, “The state is doing justice when it allows abortion for any reason the parents of the child want.”

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  150. @VV How does abortion harm the general public? Might it be beneficial to the general public by lowering future crime? That doesn’t make it moral (ends, means, and all that), but I don’t see the harm to the general public.

    Divorce on the other hand does harm the general public – the children of divorce are more likely to use drugs, commit crimes, and drop out of school. More relevant to your concern, it appears that living in a community where single parenthood is common (i.e., extramarital sex -ahem- and/or divorce are common) even if in.an intact household contributes to negative life outcomes. Indeed, there is much stronger evidence that divorce harms the general public than abortion.

    This is not to say that abortion on demand should be kept and divorce outlawed. Rather, the distinction you wish to draw isn’t as clean cut as you suggest.

    It seems to me that for a law to justified, it needs to be enforceable, accepted by the public, and not make things worse. But this gets into political/legal theory – a fun conversation perhaps, but not one that scripture has much to say. Therefore, the church should stay out of it. If a legislator assess a restriction on abortion and decides that supporting it invites a backlash that will result in more abortions in the end, it seems to me that the legislator could oppose the restriction. Perhaps he decides that safe and legal is the best route to rare. Disciplining the legislator because he is insufficiently pro-life would be wrong in my estimation.

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  151. Dear 2K adherents, sdb et al have made the argument “Nowhere in the NT do we have instances of the church speaking out against the awful sins committed by Rome.” Fair enough, and no disagreement there. Sincere question: is it possible that we all, living in our free democracy with a 1st Amendment and a preponderance of “Christians” in society at large, haven’t anachronistically made too much of the NT’s relative silence on the matter? That is, given the utterly powerless position as a tiny minority that the early church held in Roman society, and the myriad of other theological and practical issues the church faced, how much should we really expect NT authors to be providing instruction on the intersection of church and state matters? Your thoughts?

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  152. Robert, no, what I’d be fine with is for states to be allowed to govern themselves and let them decide whether it’s legal or not such that America was a patchwork quilt of policies. I can live with it being legal in some paces and not others even if I’m morally opposed to it because that’s just how our system is supposed to work. All without an eye toward a version of Utopia where it’s illegal in every nook and cranny of the Union. People die all the time for a host of reasons, one of which being bad policy. Do I as a Christian really have to have the high octane pro-life posture about those who die because of bad policy? I don’t think so and I’d appreciate both my church and pastor leaving me alone to my disposition and conscience.

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  153. Petros, whatever the reason, the silence still remains and you have to deal with it; if one plays by Reformed hermeneutical rules then silence is a formidable factor. And it’s not as if Jews like the Apostles coming out of the old covenant didn’t think about church state intersectionality. They expected a Messiah to overthrow the political powers that were. And the NT does comment of church and state relations, e.g. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 where there is nothing about confrontation but only submission. So your question works better if the subject were, say, space exploration or whatever would be far removed in time and place from the writers, but questions about the interaction between religious and state institutions were quite relevant, and yet it’s pretty hard to find the necessary pieces the culturalists want to make the case for modern engagement.

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  154. Zrim,

    Whatever the reason, the silence still remains and you have to deal with it

    Agreed

    if one plays by Reformed hermeneutical rules then silence is a formidable factor.

    But I though Reformed hermeneutical rules were against writing off large sections of the Old Testament, including those prophets who addressed other nations? Or Daniel, who was unafraid to tell the king what God said. Or Esther, who worked within the system to advance the welfare of her people.

    And it’s not as if Jews like the Apostles coming out of the old covenant didn’t think about church state intersectionality. They expected a Messiah to overthrow the political powers that were.

    True.

    And the NT does comment of church and state relations, e.g. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 where there is nothing about confrontation but only submission.

    That is an issue. On the other hand, what are you going to say to a minority audience who had virtually no hope of being a political force of any kind. What would Paul have said to a congregation full of senators? We can’t say for sure, but we have to take the context into account.

    So your question works better if the subject were, say, space exploration or whatever would be far removed in time and place from the writers, but questions about the interaction between religious and state institutions were quite relevant, and yet it’s pretty hard to find the necessary pieces the culturalists want to make the case for modern engagement.

    It’s not quite so hard if you use the Old Testament…

    I’m not saying its easy. What I don’t understand is Reformed people writing off entire swaths of the Old Testament as entirely irrelevant to the church’s role or non-role in politics.

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  155. Zrim,

    But there is a difference between working for and expecting utopia and working to protect life where and how you can. I’m certainly no utopian. I’d love to be a postmillennialist, but I just can’t see it happening.

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  156. Petros,

    I actually lean 2K in some important ways, though I can’t get to the point where I could say that the church has no opinion on whether or not murder should be legal. As you might be able to tell from my response to Zrim, I think the major weakness of some of the arguments here is the almost utter failure to consider the OT when thinking through political theory. That certainly wasn’t the approach of the Westminster divines, and it borders on an odd kind of dispensationalism.

    The question is, “What does the church do in the event that a majority of people in a society convert to the Christian faith or at least embrace a basic ethic that prizes the fundamental principles of the second table of the law?” It’s a question that I don’t think the Apostles answer directly or even could answer directly given that such was not the reality on the ground in their day. And if it were the reality, I suspect they would have turned to the Old Testament.

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  157. “…what are you going to say to a minority audience who had virtually no hope of being a political force of any kind. What would Paul have said to a congregation full of senators? We can’t say for sure, but we have to take the context into account.”

    Robert, it’s pure speculation and it’s the kind of question you seem wont to cast out in these discussions. Why not deal with what you actually have in front of you, namely no apostle addressing any sort of congregation like that. It certainly could have been a part of NT enscripturation but it just isn’t. Maybe the point is that the church simply has to mandate to engage worldly powers the way you’d like? This primitive church argument for culturalism (maybe Paul would’ve said something more confrontive than submissive had he been post-Constantinian) sometimes seems like that for feminism (probably Paul would’ve said something different about female ordination had he been post feminism).

    And I don’t think there is the wholesale writing off of the OT going on. That sounds like something the circumcision group might have said. But the new covenant does change things to a considerable extent. If circumcision is being replaced with baptism, it’s not hard to imagine that the ethic in relation to the magistrate is more about submission than confrontation.

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  158. @Petros This is the same kind of argument people make about women in ministry, gay marriage, divorce, etc… things are different now and the NT writers could not have foreseen what life in 21st century America is like. I think the problem with this is that it takes a human-centric view of scriptural authorship. The classic reformed understanding of scripture is that the Holy Spirit is the author of scripture, and he did foresee our cultural context. The ability for scripture to reach across the millennia and tell us (for example) the proper scope of churchly authority is not limited by the cultural context of the human authors. None of this is to say that individual Christians cannot be politically engaged or even work together to effect change. Only that it is not required for Christians to do so, and the church should not meddle in civic affairs except insofar as it must to perform what it was ordained to do. I think where it gets dicey is how far a pastor should go in condemning a law in a sermon (say). Preaching through the 10 commandments and dealing with the implications of “Thou shall not kill”, he will probably want to talk about why we should seek to preserve life – an appropriate application of the text to be sure. It is one thing to say that abortion is a violation, but something else to say that Christians are obligated to work against it legally.

    @Robert I do think that the OT is relevant, but it has to be understood in the context of the replacement of the old covenant with the new covenant. The theocracy has ended and a new king is in charge, and his kingdom is the church. The church was explicitly not given the sword or the authority to punish evil doers (unlike the covenantal states).

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  159. @ Robert, Petros, VV:

    I would like to take a minute to reflect back your best points, then explain why they haven’t yet moved the needle for me.

    Robert: Scripture speaks rather loudly to the protection of innocent life.

    This is absolutely correct. If our societal theology simply becomes a cover for failure to protect as we ought to, then our theology has become a license to sin by omission.

    Petros: is it possible that we all, living in our free democracy with a 1st Amendment and a preponderance of “Christians” in society at large, haven’t anachronistically made too much of the NT’s relative silence on the matter?

    It’s a good question. Hermeneutically, what do we do with silences?

    VV: The difference between abortion and Jim Crow laws is that Jim Crow laws require Christians to participate in injustice, whereas abortion does not.

    It’s taken me a while to understand what you mean. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the Jim Crow laws required Christians who were officers of the law to actively sin against blacks by, for example, turning them away at schools, or by imposing literacy tests that prevented their vote?

    Gotta run, more later. Meanwhile: Are those accurate summaries?

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  160. @Jeff, wrt “what do we do with silences?”….I think the answer is not to make TOO much of them. In saying that, I’m not making an anti-2K case, but just noting that the silence argument is not the strongest card in the 2K apologetic. I’m actually largely sympathetic to the 2K views around here.

    The (few) 2K concerns I have are around wondering how the church should best engage the world around it to avoid a repeat in the future of its losing its testimony like it did during the 1930’s and 40’s in Germany, or for decades in the pro-slavery segregationist South in the U.S. There is a solid Biblical principal that to the extent it’s within one’s means to remedy an ill, that there’s a greater responsibility to do so. To the extent the church at large in the U.S. has more financial and political influence than the early church did, just might entail a diff level of responsibility, I’m not sure. I get that the 2K response may be simply that it’s up to individual believers to do something, and not the church at large. There’s merit to that, but, it’s also not completely satisfying.

    Please understand these are mere thoughts/questions, far more than they represent a case I’m putting forward or prepared to defend.

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  161. Robert, why would the church have to say this to people who already thing abortion is not only unjust but sinful. If you are saying things people already think you’re signalling more than informing — think social justice warriors of faith mirroring what the Times and Post already say.

    Add some value, like, here is how Christians are to honor government and serve God when a regime is unjust. Sort of sounds like what Paul and Peter did.

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  162. VV, if a pastor preaches about abortion it also means he’s only reading headlines. What about planning and zoning commissions? What is just or sinful about letting Walmart not pay taxes?

    Speaking about specific issues is so itching earsish.

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  163. Peter, you now want to overturn the silence of Scripture when you invoke such silence all the time on infant baptism?

    The implication of your question is that the Word of God, which is supposed to give us timeless truths, is now conditioned by its times.

    You may want to re-think.

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  164. “There is a solid Biblical principal that to the extent it’s within one’s means to remedy an ill, that there’s a greater responsibility to do so. To the extent the church at large in the U.S. has more financial and political influence than the early church did, just might entail a diff level of responsibility…”

    Petros, would that principal be when Jesus was on the cross and had access to thousands of angels and means to fix the ultimate wrong but refused? But if his mission wasn’t to maintain cosmic justice but to effect cosmic grace and mercy, and if the church’s mission is to reflect his, then how would it follow that there is any burden on the church to dabble in justice instead of setting her face like flint for grace and mercy?

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  165. Zrim, unfortunately, the historical legacies of the German church and the church in the U.S. south is not that it set “her face like flint for grace and mercy”. Guessing that most would assess their legacies as being missing in action in the midst of atrocity. Now, I guess your argument is that it’s better to be purposefully MIA than to get involved in muddy earthly matters of justice.

    DGH, THINK! The Text is not conditioned by its times. But glad you concede it’s silent on infant baptism!

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  166. Zrim – “So an implicit call for its ban is still a call for it. In fact implicit calls can be more powerful than explicit calls, Not sure how you think an implicit call doesn’t count as calling.”

    Not sure what you’re getting at here. Are you saying the Church shouldn’t say that abortion is sinful?

    DGH – see my response to Zrim. Are you saying pastors shouldn’t call abortion sin if, say, they are preaching on the 6th Commandment? Just because an issue is political or in the headlines doesn’t mean it should be avoided.

    Zrim, sdb and Petros – Robert nails it in his comment about using the whole counsel of Scripture. The OT prophets clearly condemn political injustices. The NT never provides a specific example of the Church rebuking or condemning a specific Roman (or local) law, but the OT does. And not laws only within the theocracy of Israel, but even pagan kings and rulers as well. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, the Medes and Persians all come to mind. What is the book of Esther but a woman using political means to stop the unjust treatment of the Jews by a magistrate? There are plenty of things the NT does not specifically address, such as rape or pederasty, but I think we all agree those are heinous sins. If we use a hermeneutic that we cannot make any conclusions when the NT is silent on an issue, it would take us down many paths we don’t want to take.

    If we use basic wisdom and discernment it is clear that persecuting Christians is sinful and should not be done, and therefore should not be caused or condoned by the state. I don’t see how you can come to the conclusion that state persecution of Christians is acceptable. If it is not acceptable, then what are Christians to do about it? The NT gives us pretty clear guidelines, which include honoring those in authority, obeying the laws as long as they don’t conflict with Scripture, and remembering that our ultimate allegiance is to Christ’s Kingdom, not an earthly kingdom. This does not preclude working to abolish laws that persecute Christians (e.g. Esther and Mordecai), or direct condemnation of those laws by the Church (e.g. OT prophets). Some of you are hypersensitive about the Church’s sphere interacting with the State’s sphere, but they will inevitably overlap to some degree. How and when is a matter of discernment. I’m not anti-2K, by the way, far from it. But I also think some of you are taking 2K principles to an illogical conclusion.

    Jeff – Christians should condemn Jim Crow laws because they require participation in a fundamentally unjust society. If a Christian goes to a public building under Jim Crow laws, or rides a bus under Jim Crow laws, they are participating in a system that is inherently unjust towards their fellow man. Even if Christians don’t discriminate or oppress directly, they inevitably participate in a system that does. In other words, Christians would have no choice but to participate in the oppression of others simply by functioning in the public sphere.

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  167. Petros, and maybe it depends on whom one asks. If one asks those who assume the church is something akin to social justice organizations and institutions then “MIA in the midst of atrocity” would probably seem about right. A different answer if one assumes the church is an otherworldly institution. You might also bear in mind that silence in authoritarian regimes is a risk for such churches since the powers that be typically interpret silence in reverse from social social justice warriors. The latter say it’s compliance to the regime’s actions, the former say it’s opposition which can earn a cracked skull. Confessional churches that are principled about the spirituality of the church can’t win with either the regime or its opponents.

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  168. VV: The difference between abortion and Jim Crow laws is that Jim Crow laws require Christians to participate in injustice, whereas abortion does not.

    Didn’t Congress give Planned Parenthood $500 million of our tax dollars last year? As a matter of conscience, we can disagree how active our participation is but I’d say I’m being forced to participate against my will.

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  169. Zrim, can you elaborate on exactly who/when has ever interpreted the church’s silence as “opposition which can earn a cracked skull”? Exactly how many believers received cracked skulls in Germany for their silence? ZERO! Exactly how many believers got cracked skulls (or worse) for protesting the regime’s policies? 100%! John the Baptist apparently didn’t get the 2K submission memo, went rogue, and lost his head as a result.

    The church IS an otherworldly institution, but it’s not ONLY that. It’s also the physicalized body of Christ here on earth. 1 Jn 3:16-18 is a very earthy, non-otherwordly, example.

    @Robert and VV, yes I’m with you on the whole counsel of Scripture point, which the hard-core 2K guys typically avoid engaging with.

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  170. VV, no abortion is sinful. I’m saying the church shouldn’t be making calls for it’s outlawing whether explicitly or implicitly.

    Re the OT, again, the point is that the new covenant era is a significant departure from the old. That doesn’t mean raping and pillaging aren’t raping and pillaging anymore. It means that the Israel of God has gone from a theocratic state to pilgrimming people. The former may have interests in litigating with the world, but that’s not in the purview of pilgrims. And that has been the pattern of redemptive history even in the OT, times when the people of God were a theocratic nation and times when they were wandering pilgrims. The NT era until current is the final pilgrim era until Jesus’ return when something more akin to the final theocratic era will be ushered in.

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  171. Petros, sounds like you’re already convinced that nobody receives a cracked skull for silence. But it’s not unusual for certain regimes to require some degree of approval from religious organizations, so when 2k minded churches refuse to either disapprove or approve it can earn said skulls. The point is to anticipate an accusation of cowardice, as if 2k is being used to hide from persecution.

    Your citation of 1 John shows a misunderstanding of what’s meant about being otherworldly. It’s not being used in some ascetic way in 2k, as if physical or temporal needs are dismissed. The point is to distinguish this world and the next, provisional life and eternal.

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  172. Zrim, I’m sincerely eager to learn when churches/believers have ever received cracked skulls for their silence, particularly since you assert that’s “not unusual”. Please advise.

    If you don’t dismiss physical/temporal needs, great!

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  173. Btw, it’s really too bad that John the Baptist didn’t get the 2K pilgrim memo, either. So sad….he’d been demonstrating such potential in ministry, too.

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  174. Walt – paying taxes is different from participating in an unjust public system. We pay taxes as Jesus commanded us to do, and then what the state does with those taxes is on the state, not on us. And besides, Planned Parenthood technically doesn’t use that funding for abortions. At least in theory.

    Zrim – again, God doesn’t confine his condemnation of state governments to the theocracy of Israel only. Indeed, God uses Israel to punish the Philistines and Canaanites at least in part because their violence and oppression; clearly God cares about state injustice beyond the theocracy of Israel. In terms of our being a pilgrim people under the New Covenant, the examples of God’s condemnation of Haman and the anti-Jew Persians in Esther provides the perfect pilgrim parallel: God’s people were oppressed by a foreign state, and through the actions of his people were rebuked and punished because of it. That is almost the exact situation of the New Covenant people today.

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  175. VV: Christians should condemn Jim Crow laws because they require participation in a fundamentally unjust society. If a Christian goes to a public building under Jim Crow laws, or rides a bus under Jim Crow laws, they are participating in a system that is inherently unjust towards their fellow man.

    Marx thinks this is wicked. But does Scripture? You hold that riding a bus can be sinful. Why stop there? You live on a planet where people sin. You engage in economic and biological activity that, somewhere down the line, facilitates their sin. Ergo, you “participate” in the unjust system just by virtue of living. Will you stop living to avoid participation? Absurd.

    Jesus “participated” in the synagogue, paid the temple tax, obeyed the laws of Israel and Rome. Did He sin?

    Eating meat sacrificed to idols is “participating” in the pagan system. Did Paul think it was sin?

    Until you define terms and show Scriptural support, you should suspect yourself of importing a non-Scriptural category into your thought.

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  176. Zrim,

    Robert, it’s pure speculation and it’s the kind of question you seem wont to cast out in these discussions. Why not deal with what you actually have in front of you, namely no apostle addressing any sort of congregation like that. It certainly could have been a part of NT enscripturation but it just isn’t. Maybe the point is that the church simply has to mandate to engage worldly powers the way you’d like? This primitive church argument for culturalism (maybe Paul would’ve said something more confrontive than submissive had he been post-Constantinian) sometimes seems like that for feminism (probably Paul would’ve said something different about female ordination had he been post feminism).

    The problem is that we have the Old Testament and that as Reformed Christians we take our guidance from that as well. Of course the OT has to be read in light of the coming of Christ. Of course one must be careful of speculation. But we also don’t see the Apostles saying “People of God, stop confronting the state.” We don’t see that civil governments no longer have the responsibility to at least live up to the basics of natural law. But the OT, especially the prophets, say otherwise.

    This business of leaning on the OT for a strict RPW but ignoring it almost altogether when it comes to politics just strikes me as very odd among many 2K proponents.

    And I don’t think there is the wholesale writing off of the OT going on. That sounds like something the circumcision group might have said. But the new covenant does change things to a considerable extent. If circumcision is being replaced with baptism, it’s not hard to imagine that the ethic in relation to the magistrate is more about submission than confrontation.

    Who is saying that relation to the magistrate is more about confrontation than about submission? Not me. Confrontation by the church as the church should be rare, as it was in the days of Daniel and Esther. But note that Esther confronted a law that merely gave the Persians permission to kill Jews without mandating that they all do so.

    You see confrontation and submission under both Testaments. And baptism is not that radical a replacement of circumcision if you are Reformed, so I guess than neither should submission be that radical of a replacement either.

    For my part, I’m trying to figure out if the church as the church ever has the right to say to its members “Law x is fundamentally unjust.” I get a lot of dancing around the issue here. The only people that seem to have come close to giving an answer are Jeff and SDB.

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  177. SDB,

    I do think that the OT is relevant, but it has to be understood in the context of the replacement of the old covenant with the new covenant. The theocracy has ended and a new king is in charge, and his kingdom is the church. The church was explicitly not given the sword or the authority to punish evil doers (unlike the covenantal states).

    Agreed 100%. Which is why I’m not a theonomist.

    Jeremiah and others, however, were also not given the authority to punish evildoers and yet they preached against non-Israelite nations for their failures to adhere to what some today might call the natural law.

    As I’m having these discussions here, I see almost no reference to the Old Testament in considering the role of the church and the individual in politics. That’s seems strikingly problematic from a Reformed perspective. “But Peter says submit” only goes so far when we’ve got 69 books of the Bible.

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  178. Jeff – you’re way off the mark here. There’s a different between a fundamentally just system corrupted (partially or completely) by sinful humans, and a fundamentally unjust system. The synagogues and the Torah are not fundamentally unjust. The planet is not fundamentally unjust. Drug laws in the U.S. are not fundamentally unjust, but their application often is. All of these things are corrupted by sinful people, but in their essence they are not unjust. Jim Crow laws are by their nature unjust. They are not just laws corrupted, but thoroughly unjust in their very nature. That’s a big difference.

    Riding on a bus isn’t sinful, but riding on a bus under Jim Crow laws requires a Christian to participate in a fundamentally unjust system. I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t have ridden buses under Jim Crow laws, but neither should they through their hands up and say “c’est la vie.” If they are forced to participate in a fundamentally unjust system, the very least they can do is denounce that system as inherently out of accord with Scripture.

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  179. Zrim,

    Petros, would that principal be when Jesus was on the cross and had access to thousands of angels and means to fix the ultimate wrong but refused?

    This is not a compelling response because Jesus is the Savior and thus has a very different mission than the rest of us.

    But if his mission wasn’t to maintain cosmic justice but to effect cosmic grace and mercy, and if the church’s mission is to reflect his, then how would it follow that there is any burden on the church to dabble in justice instead of setting her face like flint for grace and mercy?

    But his mission was to maintain cosmic justice, it just awaits the consummation. Have you read the promises of all wrongs being righted at the end? That’s not necessarily a call for overt political action, but it also makes it hard to think that the church has no responsibility to speak about injustices on this side of glory, especially since the kingdom has been inaugurated.

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  180. VV,

    I’m not anti-2K, by the way, far from it. But I also think some of you are taking 2K principles to an illogical conclusion.

    This is basically where I stand. Any political theory that says the church, as the church, is so restricted that it cannot even or ever, as the church, complain about the injustice of Christians being persecuted—even in a democracy—makes no logical sense to me whatsoever. I don’t know if that is quite as far as some here might go, but it doesn’t seem far off from some of the comments.

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  181. I’ll even go beyond “the injustice of Christians being persecuted” to say, for theological and prudential reasons, the church might speak about “the injustice of *any persons* being persecuted”, and thus not limit the confrontation to the parochial case of persecuting believers. Genocide is genocide.

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  182. @ VV:

    First, the agreement: Jim Crow laws were deliberately enacted to oppress blacks, and so are different in some kind from, say, tax laws that have bad side effects.

    The disagreement: It’s perfectly on point to ask you to define your terms and to provide Scriptural support.

    What is a “system”, as opposed to an individual “law”? What is the scope of said system? What does it mean to “participate in a system”?

    These aren’t merely nitpicky questions. You are telling Christians they are sinning to “participate in an unjust system”, including such actions as riding buses. If I am to take you seriously, that potentially means I should evaluate every purchase, every journey, every URL visited to determine whether I am “participating in an unjust system.” Uber, Walmart, coffee. A hybrid car that’s good for the environment might have a battery made from slave labor in unsafe conditions in the Congo. Every little life decision is the occasion for “participating in an unjust system”, and so could be an occasion for sin.

    Obviously, I can’t live like that. Ergo, I should not take you seriously.

    What’s the problem here? Despite what you may think, the problem is not my intransigence. The problem is that “system” and “unjust system” and “participating in an unjust system” are jargon in the sense of Mirriam 3a: Confused, unintelligible language.

    Hence, we need clear definitions, please.

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  183. “This business of leaning on the OT for a strict RPW but ignoring it almost altogether when it comes to politics just strikes me as very odd among many 2K proponents.”

    Robert, not sure what you mean here but it has struck me as odd to affirm a prescriptive principle in worship but not 2k, i.e. if we only do in worship what is prescribed by the NT then why not in politics?

    “Who is saying that relation to the magistrate is more about confrontation than about submission? Not me. Confrontation by the church as the church should be rare, as it was in the days of Daniel and Esther. But note that Esther confronted a law that merely gave the Persians permission to kill Jews without mandating that they all do so.”

    So by what principle can you say it should be rare? As you have stipulated things in this discussion, you’ve spoken in such wide categories about what is unlawful that one could confront the state over just about anything. Now you say it should be rare. Why? How?

    “You see confrontation and submission under both Testaments. And baptism is not that radical a replacement of circumcision if you are Reformed, so I guess than neither should submission be that radical of a replacement either.”

    There may be both on the OT, but where is there confrontation in the NT? And baptism is indeed a radical replacement of circumcision—it goes from bloody ordeal to watery rite and is expanded to both male and female children. Sorry, but I’m not sure you’re really appreciating the significant changes involved between old and new covenants.

    “This is not a compelling response because Jesus is the Savior and thus has a very different mission than the rest of us.”

    You’ve made this point before and it isn’t persuasive. Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world and if it were his disciplines would have fought. The clear implication is that the disciples are following his lead. It’s fairly absurd to say they’re doing so because they think they can somehow do his messianic work; is turning the other cheek out also because we aren’t little messiahs? This line of reasoning is so strange, almost sounds like an excuse not to have to imitate Jesus in things that bother and only in things that feel comfortable. Jesus had means and opportunity to bring justice to bear on the injustice of his demise and he refused. How then can his disciples who also have means and opportunity pick up worldly weapons and fight against injustices toward themselves? It’s not that some of us aren’t moved by fellow believers coming under persecution and wish it weren’t so and even pray for their relief, and it’s not that some of us hope we never have to experience it, rather it’s to wonder where is the biblical warrant for using worldly weapons to fight against it when the NT is so clear and rife with believers willingly enduring it and even Jesus doing so? Are we better than them? Are we entitled to peace and comfort somehow because we live after the Enlightenment?

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  184. Jeff – the entire context of this thread is politics and government: we’re clearly talking about a system of LAWS that REQUIRE direct participation in oppression of fellow man, not buying products from an unscrupulous company. Going back to the bus example: if a law requires black people to have inferior seating to white people, it is not a sin (I don’t believe) to ride the bus, but it does require participation in injustice. A white Christian who rides a Jim Crow era bus is directly participating in injustice. Put another way, a white Christian cannot avoid being a part of injustice under these laws. Thus Christians are obligated to participate in injustice by law, and the Church should condemn such laws.

    This is very different from, say, learning that Delta systematically underpays its employees while Southwest always pays its employees their just wages, and deciding to fly Southwest as a matter of principle. There you have a choice to fly an airline, and are not compelled to patronize an unjust company (not saying Delta is unjust, just giving a hypothetical example). This is different from a legal system – or series of laws – that requires injustice simply to participate in society. This notion of patronizing or not patronizing a company is a different discussion entirely from how the Church should respond to fundamentally unjust laws. And by the way, I’m not saying individual Christians and especially the Church should meticulously research a company’s business practices before patronizing them. Again, that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

    DGH – Keller has called abortion sin plenty of times. And why should pastors not call abortion (or any sin) a sin? I don’t follow. Should we not call murder a sin? Rape? Homosexuality? Pride? Sure you don’t advocate avoiding a topic simply because it is a political hot button issue, do you?

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  185. DGH, I thought you were being cynical and exaggerating about the paucity of TKNY statements on abortion, but a quick Google search confirms that he has had precious little to say about it. #context #market #TheCity

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  186. Zrim,

    Robert, not sure what you mean here but it has struck me as odd to affirm a prescriptive principle in worship but not 2k, i.e. if we only do in worship what is prescribed by the NT then why not in politics?

    The RPW depends on the OT as well, Zrim.

    So by what principle can you say it should be rare? As you have stipulated things in this discussion, you’ve spoken in such wide categories about what is unlawful that one could confront the state over just about anything. Now you say it should be rare. Why? How?

    The principle that it should be rare comes from the fact that although confrontation is in Scripture, it is rarely practiced and seems to be only/mainly in cases of severely grave evils or forced religious practice. Esther with the Jews prevented genocide. Daniel was protesting forced idolatry.

    There may be both on the OT, but where is there confrontation in the NT?

    The entire book of Revelation calls down curses on the Roman Empire. You call that submissive?

    And baptism is indeed a radical replacement of circumcision—it goes from bloody ordeal to watery rite and is expanded to both male and female children. Sorry, but I’m not sure you’re really appreciating the significant changes involved between old and new covenants.

    Baptism has the same essential meaning as circumcision. All that has changed is the outward administration. It’s not a radical replacement. It is a change in its outward character.

    “This is not a compelling response because Jesus is the Savior and thus has a very different mission than the rest of us.”

    You’ve made this point before and it isn’t persuasive. Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world and if it were his disciplines would have fought. The clear implication is that the disciples are following his lead.

    They are following his lead in not using violence. Jesus also told Pilate that what he was doing was sinful, although the Jewish leaders were guilty of greater sin. Are you willing to imitate that as well?

    And, of course, Jesus later told his disciples to take swords with them (for self-defense?). But the idea that Jesus not wanting to bring in the kingdom through a violent Messianic uprising means the church may never speak to the powers that be is quite a stretch.

    It’s fairly absurd to say they’re doing so because they think they can somehow do his messianic work; is turning the other cheek out also because we aren’t little messiahs?

    Well since neither one of us is an Anabaptist, I’m not sure how turning the other cheek applies when we are talking about the state. Especially when the text isn’t referring to grave evils such as genocide but to insults.

    This line of reasoning is so strange, almost sounds like an excuse not to have to imitate Jesus in things that bother and only in things that feel comfortable.

    This doesn’t follow.

    Jesus had means and opportunity to bring justice to bear on the injustice of his demise and he refused. How then can his disciples who also have means and opportunity pick up worldly weapons and fight against injustices toward themselves?

    I’m not advocating for the use of the sword. And how is it a worldly weapon to preach against a law of the state based on the Word of God? You could perhaps make the argument that telling people to vote in a particular way is a worldly weapon, but that’s not the argument I’m making. The question I am asking is, “Does the church, as the church, have the right to declare to the state that persecution of God’s people is contrary to the law of God, and that based on the Word of God?”

    It’s not that some of us aren’t moved by fellow believers coming under persecution and wish it weren’t so and even pray for their relief, and it’s not that some of us hope we never have to experience it, rather it’s to wonder where is the biblical warrant for using worldly weapons to fight against it when the NT is so clear and rife with believers willingly enduring it and even Jesus doing so? Are we better than them? Are we entitled to peace and comfort somehow because we live after the Enlightenment?

    Did Esther sin when she was not willing for her people to endure persecution but worked to stop it?

    Was Paul sinning when he told slaves to avail themselves of freedom from their suffering if they were able? Seems to me that buying your freedom is “worldly means.”

    Was John sinning when he referred to the Roman government as a whore of Babylon?

    Was the psalmist sinning when he said “happy are those who dash your little ones against rocks”?

    I’m not arguing that we are entitled to peace and comfort. I’m not arguing that the church should take up violence. I’m wondering what possible world we are living in when Reformed Christians start arguing more like Anabaptists with respect to political matters than they do based on traditional Reformed approaches to Scripture and even the wider Reformed theological tradition.

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  187. Esther is irrelevant. No one is saying that you as an individual can’t act politically. We’re saying that the church (as church) hasn’t been ordained to do so.

    Not sure I buy your read of Revelation. I find Peter Wallace’s understanding of Revelation as a template for worship compelling. Here is a link to a brief overview of his thesis. If you google around, you can find more extensive things he has written about it.

    Under the old covenant Israel occupied a unique role among the nations and was theocratic institution that served as the instrument of God’s justice. Repentance for the nations meant becoming like Israel and following the law (including the theocracy bits). This radically changed under the new covenant, and the church was not given the sword. The church was given the task of word and sacrament. This doesn’t mean that individual Christians can’t group together to accomplish works that assuage their conscience. But the church hasn’t been tasked with lots of good temporal activities that Christians may engage in.

    Now in the ministry of word and sacrament, a pastor should preach through all of scripture. Preaching on loving one’s neighbor may include an application that calls on the congregation to resist the requirement that one discriminate (Jim Crow). That would be appropriate as it is in keeping with what the church is called to do. Organizing a letter writing campaign, a protest, or demanding that congregants vote a certain way or be barred from the table would be inappropriate.

    If the state criminalized Sunday worship, then under this kind of extraordinary situation, the church should do what she must to continue her ministry of word and sacrament. I think this is what the WCF has in mind with extraordinary circumstances.

    Of course, this isn’t the situation in the US. The hot button issues are over immigration – should you punished for helping illegal border crossers? Does loving one’s neighbor mean disobeying immigration law to provide humanitarian aid? Along the border a lot of churches have pretty strong opinions about all this. That strikes me as unwise. The real issues we face such as the role of groups like the moral majority/christian coalition, the place for statements like the Manhattan Declaration, the church’s connection to parachurch ministries would benefit from restraining the church to what scripture has ordained for it.

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  188. SDB,

    Esther is irrelevant. No one is saying that you as an individual can’t act politically. We’re saying that the church (as church) hasn’t been ordained to do so.

    Esther wasn’t representing the entire nation/church when confronting the state?

    Not sure I buy your read of Revelation. I find Peter Wallace’s understanding of Revelation as a template for worship compelling. Here is a link to a brief overview of his thesis. If you google around, you can find more extensive things he has written about it.

    Wallace would be in the minority here, I think. Doesn’t mean he’s wrong, but it makes me skeptical.

    Under the old covenant Israel occupied a unique role among the nations and was theocratic institution that served as the instrument of God’s justice. Repentance for the nations meant becoming like Israel and following the law (including the theocracy bits).

    I’m not sure this is quite right in every case. Naaman repented without joining Israel. And the prophets look forward to a day when the Gentiles will join Israel and yet still be identifiably Gentile. That is a prophecy of the new covenant, obviously. In any case, it’s not clear to me why Israel’s role as a theocratic state that enforces justice would be incompatible with saying that the church has the right to address the state on some matters. Jeremiah didn’t administer justice in Judah, but he preached against the pagan nations. Was Jeremiah only acting as an individual?

    This radically changed under the new covenant, and the church was not given the sword. The church was given the task of word and sacrament. This doesn’t mean that individual Christians can’t group together to accomplish works that assuage their conscience. But the church hasn’t been tasked with lots of good temporal activities that Christians may engage in.

    I agree. But I’m not sure why that means the church as the church may not speak to the state.

    Now in the ministry of word and sacrament, a pastor should preach through all of scripture. Preaching on loving one’s neighbor may include an application that calls on the congregation to resist the requirement that one discriminate (Jim Crow). That would be appropriate as it is in keeping with what the church is called to do. Organizing a letter writing campaign, a protest, or demanding that congregants vote a certain way or be barred from the table would be inappropriate.

    But see this is where things get hairy. If you make that application, you are telling the church that it has a duty to disobey the state. You are preaching against the state, perhaps indirectly, but you are preaching against its practices just the same. It seems to me that the kind of 2K position many of you advocate would require that the preacher never make applications as specific as calling on the congregation to resist the requirement that one discriminate. Would be too political.

    If the state criminalized Sunday worship, then under this kind of extraordinary situation, the church should do what she must to continue her ministry of word and sacrament. I think this is what the WCF has in mind with extraordinary circumstances.

    But would the church be right to talk to the state about this as the church?

    Of course, this isn’t the situation in the US. The hot button issues are over immigration – should you punished for helping illegal border crossers? Does loving one’s neighbor mean disobeying immigration law to provide humanitarian aid? Along the border a lot of churches have pretty strong opinions about all this. That strikes me as unwise. The real issues we face such as the role of groups like the moral majority/christian coalition, the place for statements like the Manhattan Declaration, the church’s connection to parachurch ministries would benefit from restraining the church to what scripture has ordained for it.

    And this is why I would say that if the church as the church is to take a position on policy x, it will be in exceptionally rare cases where Scripture is clear. Scripture doesn’t tell us specifically how many immigrants to admit or how best to help people in other impoverished nations. It does enthusiastically say that we should not take life unjustly. A policy that gives cover to those who take life unjustly would seem to be off limits.

    You can apply that to the immigration issue as well as to abortion. The US border patrol shouldn’t be just shooting every immigrant who tries to cross the border. How many immigrants to admit, under what conditions, and so on is more nebulous. The US shouldn’t approve of the unjust taking of human life, which is what abortion on demand is. Which public policies reduce the “demand” for abortion and other related issues are a separate matter, and Scripture has far less to say about such things, if any at all. How to eliminate laws permitting abortion on demand in a Republican form of government isn’t addressed either. That is where the prudential judgments come in. The only things that would be totally off limits is outright revolt. But maybe the Christian works with the pro-abortion guy on the other side to put in place a law restricting abortion that keeps it legal because that is the most he can accomplish, but he never abandons the goal of one day outlawing abortion on demand altogether. That’s far different from saying, “Well, the church can’t apply Scripture’s teaching on human life to the political question at all.” That’s different than saying, “I’m going to stop my efforts to ban the practice.”

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  189. “Repentance for the nations meant becoming like Israel”. Hmmm….in what way did Nineveh (cf Jonah 3) become like Israel?

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  190. “baptism is indeed a radical replacement of circumcision….the significant changes involved between old and new covenants.” Quite interesting, if not conflicting sentiments there. The presby idea of baptism replacing circumcision rests far more on the notion of the continuity of the old and new covenants more than their discontinuity.

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  191. ” I agree. But I’m not sure why that means the church as the church may not speak to the state.”

    Because she has not been commissioned to do so.

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  192. ” But see this is where things get hairy. If you make that application, you are telling the church that it has a duty to disobey the state. You are preaching against the state, perhaps indirectly, but you are preaching against its practices just the same. It seems to me that the kind of 2K position many of you advocate would require that the preacher never make applications as specific as calling on the congregation to resist the requirement that one discriminate. Would be too political.”
    I don’t think so. If the requires you to sin, you must disobey man rather than God. I thought Jeff was clear on this distinction. That is not the same as the church putting out voter guides.

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  193. Robert: Esther wasn’t representing the entire nation/church when confronting the state?

    Not as an official of Israel. In fact, she was drawing on her position as queen of the Medes and Persians. Which hat you are wearing makes a big difference.

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  194. VV: Jeff – the entire context of this thread is politics and government: we’re clearly talking about a system of LAWS that REQUIRE direct participation in oppression of fellow man, not buying products from an unscrupulous company. Going back to the bus example: if a law requires black people to have inferior seating to white people, it is not a sin (I don’t believe) to ride the bus, but it does require participation in injustice. A white Christian who rides a Jim Crow era bus is directly participating in injustice. Put another way, a white Christian cannot avoid being a part of injustice under these laws.

    Repeating the words “system” and “participate” a number of times with CAPS THROWN IN doesn’t bring us one inch closer to a definition.

    I know I’m getting you riled up by asking you to define terms, but that’s a basic part of thinking clearly. Every discipline lives and dies by its vocabulary. And, it is very common for people to get flustered when asked to supply definitions — but the effort is valuable for clarifying thought.

    What is a “system”? What is “participating in injustice”? Why is “participating in injustice” not necessarily a sin?

    And if “participation in injustice” is not a sin, why are we worried about it? And why should the church speak to it?

    At this point, you have argued that

    * The church should speak to Jim Crow laws …
    * … because those laws require Christians to participate in injustice, such as riding a bus …
    * … which is not a sin.

    I’m really lost as to how these thoughts fit together.

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  195. Sdb,

    But speaking to the state doesn’t require putting out voter guides. It’s not a choice between never proclaiming that any policy is unjust/immoral and the Christian coalition or sojourner.

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  196. Jeff,

    Esther is representing her people AND she’s the queen. That’s presupposed in her discussion with Mordecai and she appeals to her solidarity with the Jews. She is appealing on behalf of the nation for its survival. She IS the nation in the presence of the secular king.

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  197. Robert – Let’s make sure we are clear on where things stand.

    The state passes a law that would require a Christian to sin – the pastor in the course of preaching on a text relevant to this law would be right to call on his congregation to resist the law.

    The state interferes with the church’s ministry of word and sacrament. This is the extraordinary circumstance referred to in the WCF. Petitioning the government in this circumstance would be appropriate.

    No one is saying that the church can never proclaim any policy as unjust/immoral. Rather in most instances, what the state allows/requires is irrelevant to the call for Christians to resist sinful behavior. It is wrong for the believer to worship the emperor regardless of what the state says about it.

    Where I think the disagreement lies when the state does not outlaw something that is sinful – say not doing anything about infanticide (as Rome did). Your claim as I understand it is that since:
    1. OT prophets condemned other nations for various injustices (e.g., not taking care of the poor, idolatry, etc…)
    2. the description of the state preserving life is prescriptive rather than descriptive

    then 3 – when the state does not act against injustice (particularly murder) then the church is obligated (allowed?) to call on the state to act against the injustice.

    Is this a fair construal of your stance?

    If so my criticism of this argument is that the OT prophets were speaking wiithin the context of a theocratic state. That has shifted in the new covenant and the sword has been explicitly taken away from the church (I take this to be a symbol of political influence). Second, I don’t see that murder is a special sin. I find the justification (namely the reference to the Noahic covenant) overdrawn. Christ states that hatred of one’s neighbor is a species of murder. The description in Romans is just that – a description of what the state does and why Christians should submit to the state. It is not prescriptive.

    Now none of this should be construed as a call for Christians to avoid the political sphere altogether. Like Esther – if a believer finds herself in a position of influence and the ability to benefit her neighbor by acting politically, she should follow her conscience. Believers may join together to influence the state. But the church has not been ordained to do this so she should stay out of the political sphere.

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  198. @Robert: Point heard about solidarity, and agreed that she represents the nation to the king as “my people”. Do you hear mine about Esther not acting as an official of Israel?

    On a 2k reading, Esther

    * is an individual
    * who trusts God and acts in faith
    * to bring an end to an unjust law
    * by appealing to the king

    All of that fits very well with the 2k framework. In addition, Esther does not

    * Organize rabbis to speak from the pulpit against the law
    * Use the Bible to argue to Xerxes that Israel is God’s chosen nation
    * Or even use the Bible to argue to Xerxes that killing innocents is wrong.

    In other words, she does not try to exert moral authority over him, either as an officer of the church or as a prophet speaking the Word of the Lord.

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  199. One of the things that is clear is that there will not be a perfectly sharp line between the jurisdictions of state and church. Everyone here believes that there is a distinction between the two; everyone here believes there will be difficult edge cases. In recent times, marriage has emerged as one such case, for a really simple reason: in the US, the state deputizes ministers to perform marriages.

    So we’re really arguing about a question of degree. I’m arguing that our degree of distinction should play out at the institutional level: the Church as an institution should respect the authority of the magistrate by not telling the magistrate what to do, except in highly exceptional cases, and vice-versa. VV thinks the exceptional category is much broader than I do. History shows that if we broaden the line to allow the church to influence the state, that same highway will carry state influence back into the church.

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  200. Jeff – no one is getting riled up or flustered – the CAPS are there for emphasis. I’m not sure what is unclear to you at this point. The discussion is clearly about a system of laws that require participation in an inherently unjust aspect of society. System = system of laws. Participate = to take part in, to be a part of, to be party to, etc. The dictionary.com definition is “to take or have a part or share, as with others.” Really not sure what else you want as far as definitions go. If laws require injustice in a public place, and Christians utilize those public places, they are participating in an unjust system of laws. I really don’t know how to be any clearer.

    Now to your point about Christians participating in an unjust system not being sin. A system of laws that is inherently unjust is sinful and contrary to Scripture. Again, we’re not talking about laws that allow injustice, but rather laws that are by their nature unjust or require injustice. In the case of Jim Crow laws, Christians would not be able to ride a bus, utilize public parks, public buildings, etc. without being party to – and the beneficiary of (in the case of white Christians) – injustice. It is not a sin to go to a park or ride a bus, but it does require active participation in an unjust system of laws to function in society. If Christians are required to participate in an unjust system of laws, the Church should condemn such laws, and ask for their repeal.

    Your point about Esther not being a formal representative is a good one, but don’t forget Mordecai. While he was not a priest or rabbi, he was a representative of sorts, was “popular” among the Jews, and is even described as “savior” in the Apocryphal section of Esther, where he and Haman are depicted as two great dragons in a kind of cosmic battle for God’s people. Even if we don’t accept this part of the book as canonical, the point is that the Jews of that day or shortly after certainly viewed Mordecai as the representative for God’s people in this crisis. In terms of not appealing to the Jews as being God’s chosen people or to the immorality of genocide, Esther was hardly in a position to do so. Her best bet was to use her beauty and allure to appeal to the Persian emperor. She was successful not only in her selection as Queen, but also when she pleaded to the emperor on behalf of Mordecai and the Jews.

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  201. @ VV:

    Thanks. It may take some time to untease this. When you say “system” of laws, how is that different from a mere “set” of laws? For example, in physics, a system of objects is a set of objects that interact via forces. There is a specific law (Newton’s 3rd) that governs their interactions.

    I don’t expect that we could be as precise with a “system” of laws, but it would help to explain how a system is not merely a set.

    With regard to “participate”, I’m still very fuzzy as to how riding a bus would be “taking part in a system.” I had to go to the doctor. I got on the bus. End of story. Was riding the bus an unjust act on my part? If not, then how did I partake in injustice? If so, then haven’t I sinned?

    So specifically, I don’t get how one “partakes” in injustice without committing an unjust act; nor how committing injustice towards another would not be a sin.

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  202. VV
    Is your claim that if it is impossible to avoid benefiting from an unjust law, then one has an obligation to work to overturn the unjust law? In the case of Jim Crow, the law required (among other things) discrimination against blacks. By being white, one benefited from these Jim Crow laws, therefore, one had the responsibility to work towards overturning them. Is that what you have in mind?

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  203. Jeff, I’d add that VV (and some SJW’s) are channeling notions about sinfulness from the headlines. What’s so great about the opioid crisis that no one seems to talk about the systemic injustices and intersectionality involved. Or what about the federal government’s debt? Or what about clean water in Flint? Or what about my wife not doing what I’ve asked her to do?

    In other words, this looks to me like a case of “showing” you’re on the “right” side of the news cycle.

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  204. Jeff – system or set works. If a system is “an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole” or “any assemblage or set of correlated members” I think system works as well set. The unifying theme of bus laws, segregation of public facilities, discriminatory voting practices, etc. is – in intent and effect – unjust oppression of fellow man.

    In terms of participation, if a Christian rides a bus under Jim Crow laws, they are either the “victim” or “beneficiary” of unjust laws: there is no neutral position. It’s not as simple as they need to go to the doctor so they ride a bus – by riding said bus they are a party to injustice. They may not intend to discriminate or be a victim, but either way they are involved in injustice.

    sdb – I haven’t thought of it that way, but it makes sense. How can a Christian in good conscience knowingly be on the “benefiting” side of injustice (materially, at least) and not denounce it? Even if they disapprove of unjust laws, they still benefit from it. Seems hard to affirm passively accepting that injustice.

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  205. DGH – I actually agree about “channeling notions about sinfulness from the headlines.” There is real danger in going that, but Jesus himself spoke to issues of the day (paying taxes to Caesar, armed resistance to Rome, etc). I actually have an office in AOC’s district – she seems to be opposed to Amazon’s proposed headquarters in Queens, which is mind-boggling. So I wouldn’t pay much attention to what she says about economics. I certainly don’t.

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  206. “How can a Christian in good conscience knowingly be on the “benefiting” side of injustice (materially, at least) and not denounce it? Even if they disapprove of unjust laws, they still benefit from it. Seems hard to affirm passively accepting that injustice.”

    So I think I get where you are coming from. The problem I see is that this stance necessarily leads to theonomy. You benefit from American imperialism which is necessarily unjust (we enjoy lower prices because the negative externslities are exported to poorer countries). Of course we have NT examples of this too. Paul took advantage of the special treatment he received on account of his citizenship. Nowhere does he (or other NT writers) suggest that this unearned privilige be forsaken because it is unjust. While citizens may have had minimal influence in Imperial Rome, they maintained significant influence lically where injustices were the norm. The church is not ordained to address tgese local injustices. That doesnt imply that individual believers shouldnt engage in the political sphere (cf Esther), but the church should not. If there is an exegetical case to be made for the ordination of the church to engage in politics, I am open to it. I just dont see it.

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  207. VV, it’s theocratic which is different from theonomic, but both are in contrast to 2k. My guess is that in your theocratic impulses you really haven’t thought through how such impulses comport with the American arrangement. Theocrats seem to sound a lot like the Roman converts who want to make the case for pope as settler of all doctrinal controversies. You all have a theory in your heads that never works in practice.

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  208. VV: The unifying theme of bus laws, segregation of public facilities, discriminatory voting practices, etc. is – in intent and effect – unjust oppression of fellow man.

    This makes sense. Those laws had two clear intents: to reduce the power and honor of “colored people”, and to keep “whites” (yellow-pink, really) from having close personal contact with “colored people.”

    So we are in agreement: The laws were unjust.

    Now you say, In terms of participation, if a Christian rides a bus under Jim Crow laws, they are either the “victim” or “beneficiary” of unjust laws: there is no neutral position. It’s not as simple as they need to go to the doctor so they ride a bus – by riding said bus they are a party to injustice. They may not intend to discriminate or be a victim, but either way they are involved in injustice.

    The premise “they are either the “victim” or “beneficiary” of unjust laws: there is no neutral position” is doing the heavy lifting for you, and I don’t see its justification. On what ground would you claim that everyone is either beneficiary or victim? Have you checked all possible cases?

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  209. @vv Presumably you take your definition of justice from scripture if the church is bound by it. I don’t know of any universally self evident standards of justice. What is just is contested. You think the Christian notion of justice should be imposed on society… that’s a species of theonomy. If you adopt a Rawlsian notion of public reason, and I don’t see any alternative in a pluralistic society like ours, then you have to set aside sectarian arguments. You as a private individual can do that, but the church cannot.

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  210. Jeff – I just can’t see how a law that intentionally, by design, favors one race over another doesn’t necessarily create “victims” and “beneficiaries.” Can you provide an example where that *isn’t* the case?

    sdb – “You think the Christian notion of justice should be imposed on society…”

    This is a straw man – I’m not arguing anything like this broad and general statement. My contention in this thread is twofold: 1. The Church should *only* appeal to the state to repeal laws that are inherently unjust or require Christians to sin. This constitutes a very small minority of laws (there are none in the US currently) 2. The Church should condemn societal evils like abortion, but should not necessarily appeal to the state to ban abortion.

    I don’t think you would disagree with the second point. The first is where we disagree, but as Robert, Petros and I have argued, this concept is on safe theological ground when considering the whole counsel of Scripture. And by “appeal to the state” I don’t mean Church-organized activism, protests, etc. I mean simply petitioning government officials to repeal sinful/unjust laws, and disobeying them if necessary.

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  211. Sorry I haven’t been able to participate in the discussion this week. I hope to this weekend. But I had to agree with this statement by VV:

    And by “appeal to the state” I don’t mean Church-organized activism, protests, etc. I mean simply petitioning government officials to repeal sinful/unjust laws, and disobeying them if necessary.

    Where I might quibble is “petitioning officials.” I’d more likely say, preach on the injustice of Jim Crow and exhort the congregation to resist it. “Petitioning officials” seems too political or to blur the lines of the church and state vocations too much, but I don’t know what VV means by that.

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  212. I want to respond to the very good comments by Jeff and SDB to me, and I will. In the meantime, here’s a question:

    “What does it look like for the church to call Caesar to repentance?”

    Let’s take Paul as an example. We know he very likely did preach to Caesar, though we don’t know exactly what he said. But I think it would be fairly obvious that a representative of the church preaching to Caesar would have to at least include a call to Caesar to stop accepting worship of his subjects. But stopping that will not be as simple as just saying no. Laws will have to be changed to, at the very least, make it legal for people not to worship Caesar. That seems to be what Constantine did, though eventually he went further.

    In such a case, when Caesar repents, does the church have the right/obligation to tell Caesar that said law MUST be changed?

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  213. @VV Some might say that it is inherently unjust to allow employers to pay workers a wage too low to live off of. Some might even appeal to Amos to say that our minimum wage law is unjust. Further you benefit from this law through lower prices for goods and services you enjoy.

    Others might say that allowing companies to offshore jobs where poverty and lack of legal protections essentially amount to slave labor is unjust – yet you benefit from this arrangement.

    Still others might suggest that a criminal justice system where prosecutors can extort pleas by stacking charges based on vague laws is unjust (see Bill Stuntz). Others might refer to our criminal justice system as the new Jim Crow – clearly unjust right? Clearly though you benefit from this arrangement in the form of lower crime.

    Then there are our immigration laws that appear to result in the separation of families and turning away of the desperately needy at the border. Many claim that this is unjust too.

    Others might argue that our liberal divorce laws are inherently unjust based on what they do communities. Still others may claim that our expansive free expression understanding of the first amendment is inherently unjust because it stops the people from restricting hate speech, obscenity, and the dissemination of dangerous information.

    Now each of these are contested – some claim that they are not unjust while others claim that the proposed remedies impose injustices as well, so we have to balance inherently unjust decisions. Here’s the problem though… we have to define justice. What does it mean for a law to just or unjust. Does the biblical notion of justice entail all that Rawls has in mind? I don’t think so, but simply asserting “justice” as your standard doesn’t get you anywhere. You are essentially saying that the state should intervene on things that I really, really don’t like. One way out is to appeal to a purely secular definition of justice such as Rawls – in this case, the church should remain silent as she is not ordained to speak on such secular matters. Alternatively, you may think that our notion of social justice should be informed by scripture – in particular the minor prophets. This leads to theonomy: the church calls on the state to craft laws aligned with a biblical notion of justice. You seem to want the church to be obligated to speak out on secular notions of justice. Whatever the case, I haven’t see any argument that the church has been ordained to do so. Some evidence that taking the sword from her includes an exception in the case of inherently unjust laws.

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  214. @Robert

    I don’t think anyone disagrees with the idea that if the state passes a law that says you must commit sin X, then it is proper for the church to say we must obey God rather than man as we resist committing sin X. It seems to me that the debate is the extent to which the church should enter the political arena.

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  215. “In such a case, when Caesar repents, does the church have the right/obligation to tell Caesar that said law MUST be changed?”

    If memory serves, Caesar was an autocrat. If he were to “repent” of requiring people to worship him, then the law changed. Preaching the gospel to Caesar is proper for the church to do, and of course that includes a call to repentance for the sins he commits (such as setting himself up as a god). Simply appealing to Caesar to stop forcing people to do bad things is different.

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  216. VV: “I just can’t see how a law that intentionally, by design, favors one race over another doesn’t necessarily create “victims” and “beneficiaries.” Can you provide an example where that *isn’t* the case?”

    Careful on the logic. Such laws did create victims and beneficiaries. But there were a number of people who were neither. And a number of people who were both, in different ways.

    Consider again. It is 1955. I am white. I have to go to the doctor. I ride the bus. I couldn’t care less whether I ride next to a white or a black.

    I am not a beneficiary of the law; it gives me nothing of value. I am not a victim of the law; it takes nothing away from me.

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  217. @ VV: Here’s a modern day example. The mall in question has a “no-hoodie” policy that is enforced selectively against young black men.

    In other words, it is racist.

    There are clear victims and beneficiaries. There are also clearly many who are neither.

    And there are some who are both: who get a pass under the policy (because white), but whose friends are thrown out (because black).

    https://www.yahoo.com/news/black-teens-allegedly-kicked-mall-no-hoodie-policy-4-white-women-wore-sweatshirts-just-see-happen-144909940.html

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  218. sdb – as I discussed earlier in the thread, the Church should only condemn a law if it is facially unjust. None of the examples in your comment above are facially unjust. The application of those laws/policies may be unjust, but the laws themselves are not unjust. Oppression of fellow man is unjust, and that is the behavior that Jim Crow laws expressly codified.

    Jeff – the location on the bus for each race was chosen for a reason: the front of the bus in generally far more desirable than the back, especially in 1950’s American South where buses typically did not have air conditioning. If you were a white person sitting on a bus, your intent may not be to discriminate, but you still benefited tangibly from the laws requiring blacks to sit in the back of the bus.

    As for the hoodie example, the policy itself is not facially unjust, but the application seems to be (though their “experiment” could have been much more effective if conducted differently). I fully agree that just laws can be applied unjustly, but that is not really the discussion here.

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  219. What does facially unjust mean? What is your standard of justice? What is the biblical basis for distinguishing between “facially unjust” laws (like presumably the segregation of Samaritans and Jews) and merely “unjust” laws (like those that Amos denounced that oppressed the poor)?

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  220. sdb – facially unjust – or inherently unjust, or ipso facto unjust – means that the law directly codifies injustice. This is different from, say, the hoodie policy in Jeff’s comment, which is facially neutral (rule applies exactly the same to everyone) but it’s application and implementation is unjust. My understanding of the injustice in Amos – and I am far from an expert on it – is that it was a tax exclusively on the poor and vulnerable, and was implemented through bribes and intimidation in the courts. In my view these are facially unjust, because they oppose a tax only on those who cannot afford to pay it rather than equitably. The point is that Church should not condemn laws that are not inherently unjust, even if their implementation is unjust.

    The Bible is replete with examples of condemning application of the law without condemning the law itself. The extra-Scriptural Sabbath rules imposed by the Pharisees, the corruption of Eli’s sons, the selling of animals on temple grounds, etc, just to name a few off the top of my head. These are all corruptions of just laws, and each case the behavior is condemned, not the laws themselves. In the example of Zaccheus, Jesus implicitly condemns the corruption and theft of the tax collectors, but not the Roman tax laws, which he explicitly tells them to obey. So there is clear Scriptural distinction between unjust laws and unjust application of otherwise just laws.

    My standard of justice is Scriptural, which basically means to render to each person what they are due, both positively and negatively. The WLC deals with this indirectly in 136-137, specifically in avoiding oppression and defending the innocent.

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  221. “The point is that Church should not condemn laws that are not inherently unjust, even if their implementation is unjust.”
    I don’t get the basis for your distinction. Jim Crow is a good example of why this is problematic. The laws were facially just (separate but equal), but were obviously not implemented in a fair way. The poll tax and literacy exam for voting were ostensibly neutral, but they had an obvious disparate impact. A law may be facially neutral (neither muslims nor non-muslims may wear veils), but obviously be biased.

    The biblical examples you give are all non-sequiturs. Of course, if you pervert the law by misapplying it, that is a problem even if the underlying law is good. But you give examples of criticisms of unjust application. Why isn’t the church to criticize these in your view?

    Note that Rome did practice apartheid and did unjustly treat citizens and non-citizens differently. Paul even took advantage of this unfair benefit. So I think the case for a requirement that Church speak out against unjust laws is on very shaky ground. If the church is ordained to do so, I don’t get why there must be a distinction between laws that are written unjustly and laws that implemented unjustly.

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