Friday, February 15, 2008

Following up on "The Church, State, and Politics"

I'm not satisfied with either theonomy or Klineanism. There are glaring problems with the theonomic model, but a Klinean perspective raises the questions Ben expressed in a reply to my post on "The Church, the State, and Politics." Those questions, I think, can be summarized in this way: What do we do when the conscience of a culture will not agree that the violation of God's social moral laws is wrong? I'm not sure what Kline would say. Lee Irons seems to think that we should just preach the gospel and never try to force the issue with unbelievers when they have "dug in" on an issue. If all our loving arguments and attempts to persuade the culture fail, we should not try to get laws that will force the culture to submit to God's social standards. This is evidenced by Irons' apparent approval of, or refusal to fight against, the same-sex marriage law.

So, Klineanism doesn't seem to be an adequate alternative to theonomy. The historic view of politics among Baptists was that the state should never legislate the consciences of men and that speech is a function of conscience. An early forerunner of the Baptists, Thomas Helwys, wrote, "For mens religion to God is betwixt God and themselves; the King shall not answere for it, neither may the King be iudg betweene God and man. Let them be heretikes, Turcks, Jewes or whatsoever, it apperteynes not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure" (A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity 69). I agree with that sentiment (see John 18:36). Therefore, all men should have the right to free speech and the free exercise of religion. This means that public blasphemy should never be a punishable offense. The state should uphold the right of all men to worship as they please and the right of men to try to convert others to their faith. Connected to this, I would argue that the state should protect the right of Christians to worship on one day out of every seven.

However, the state should directly enforce the *outward aspect* of God's social moral laws *within its sphere* of authority. Magistrates are responsible before God for this. God's laws are revealed in the Bible and summarily contained in the Decalogue. The state should punish those who physically murder or harm other human beings. It should punish rapists, child molesters, homosexuals, adulterers, and thieves of every stripe (embezzlers, robbers, swindlers, unjust merchants, identity thieves, etc.). Governments should punish businesses for harmfully polluting the environment, since that is tantamount to murder and causing harm through disease, etc. It should regulate businesses in ways that prevent them from harming their employees, and it should punish those who perform and have abortions. The state should also have laws that penalize those who sign contracts and then break them.

That said, it is not within the sphere of the government's authority to punish rebellious children, unless the children rebel in ways that violate laws that are in the state's sphere of sovereignty. Children are under the authority of their parents. If parents refuse to do their jobs and their children end up being social deviants, murderers, etc., then the state's role kicks in. It is not the state's job to educate children; the Bible gives that responsibility to parents first and churches under them. It is the state's job to protect children from physical harm; so, the state should prevent children from abuse and neglect (do not murder).

This is neither an Anabaptist nor a classically Calvinist view of politics. It's a classic Baptist view.


1 comment:

  1. i agree with Lee Irons.

    I'm becoming more libertarian as the days press on.