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A Christian Questions Imposing Biblical Law on Society for Government or Economics

The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about politics or how to govern a country.  The only example of a government chosen by God is His theocracy, which, strictly speaking, failed because of the wickedness of the human heart.  And while no one rises to power without God’s allowing it, evil power exists because to wipe it out would mean the end of the world as we know it, ending all chances for people to choose Him.  He is patient with the short, selfish lives of the mass of humanity so that as many people as possible will come to know Him.

So what should be the Christian perspective of government until we get that perfect ruler for eternity?  I don’t claim to have worked it out, but I have noticed these things:

  • The only example of God-instituted government and outwardly imposed law in the Bible is actually an anti-example.  That is, it is showing that such laws cannot be kept by human power, and the laws do nothing to better the human condition. We need help from the inside-out.
  • It is impossible to honestly choose which laws to impose; or who should throw the first stone.
  • Enforcing such laws necessitates creating a power structure that is contrary to freedom, as well as easily turned to impose other ungodly laws.

For reasons only fully understood by God Himself, He has given us a choice about whether or not to love Him.  When we, by His grace, are able to choose and accept His love, He is able to write His law on our hearts.  Ever since Adam and Eve opted for knowledge instead of obedience, God has provided this dearly bought alternative.

But this law on our hearts is not a list of do’s and don’t’s, unless you limit it to “I DO love God and my neighbor” and “I DON’T need to worry about meeting His standards anymore, because He has given His powerful Spirit to guide me.”  Either a person is saved and free from the power of wrong doing (sin), that is, growing toward perfection.  Or he is not and is a slave to his own selfishness and deceptions (sin).  Many people say they do not like this guilt-ridden word “sin,” but I haven’t met anyone that can legitimately claim to be perfect by their own effort.  No matter what label they give it, people know they need help.

Trying to control desperate people, and the society they create by the process of living, through outwardly enforced laws is trickier than you might think.  People seem to rally around certain laws or regulations, being convinced these are the most important and necessary for order.  They become a religious mob (whether they call it religious or not), driven by a particular brand of propaganda.  I would ask them:  Why is a law against homosexuality more important than a law against lying or gossip?  Does the man-made government need to step into our lives in cases of murder more than it needs to interfere when we decide how many children to give birth to?  Is food regulation more sacrosanct than what music we are permitted listen to?

Obviously, some people think there should be a collective borg-like control over all aspects of our lives, but that is partly the point.  Who gets to decide what is best for everyone else?  How can any group of people know what is best for another?  Even if you have a solid grasp of basic principles and have been a good example with your own life, each person’s set of circumstances is unique.  The letter of the law destroys possibilities that might otherwise be the best and godly option because of a specific situation.

Ideally, we would all have the freedom to live the way we want to.  In reality, there will always be some people with more worldly power than others.  That doesn’t mean that it is right or good to try to gain some of that power, even if we think it is for a “good sort of control.”  Chances are, that as we mature, we will see our priorities about rules change.

Rules are generally for young children, because they have limited reasoning ability and self-control.  With maturity comes both the responsibility and opportunity to make decisions that rules don’t help with.  If this learning experience is denied, the child doesn’t develop an adult understanding of life.  The mutual respect upon which relationships are built is not possible.  And while some might argue that various adults are acting like children, the question must again be asked, “Who gets to decide that?”  God, in His wisdom, has placed children under authority in families for a limited amount of time.  After that, as adults, they get to make their own choices.

All of this discussion can also be applied to the idea of who how we participate in the economic sphere of life.  Do we impose moral standards on those we might do business with?  Do we want our imperfections (arguments with spouses or friends, mistakes in disciplining our children, unhealthy eating habits, laziness, careless speech) tallied against us as someone measures whether or not to hire us?  Wouldn’t we rather be free to have our opinions and habits?  Wouldn’t we rather everyone be patient with our own personal journey in life?  If we try, supposedly as Christians, to limit our business transactions to those with pure thoughts and lives, we might as well go live in a cave!  We might even have to avoid ourselves.

I am all for discerning good and evil.  Some things are plain bad and I’m not afraid to speak up about that.  What I won’t do is be surprised that sinners sin. I also won’t be deceived into thinking that a certain set of laws will make that better, or that the effect of such laws on our freedom is worth the price for the illusion of a “good” society.

 

 

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  • You really can’t judge morality by saying that if someone is Christian then they are a good person. The morality of many of our “Christian” leaders really sucks, morality can’t be judged by what I say but it has to do with what I do. Hitler claimed to be doing God’s work by killing the Jews (a holdover from the crusades many scholars say), Bush claimed God told him to invade Iraq, killing and mutilating 100s of thousands of innocent people (so sad to see the children), 9-11 was in the name of God they say, Most convicts in prison are christian. (atheists are a tiny minority)

    The Dalai Lama says it best, We need a secular view of ethics. If we use a religious version of ethics, whose religion shall we use? The Westboro Baptist Church version? They all have a different idea of ethics and no one has a corner on it.

    We have a separation of church and state in the constitution for good reasons, one of them being the abuses by the church of their power. If you weren’t of the proper religion in Virginia and other areas you couldn’t hold office or perhaps vote. Some were executed for heresy and there was the burning at the stake thing.

    Religion is still trying to force bigotry on people to this day. As an Atheist I can’t run for office according to the (illegal) constitution of 7 states or testify in court but I consider my morals to be far superior to most so what the hell.

    Don’t mind me Laura, I’m just ranting. :) I do study religion and the bible, it is a favorite subject of mine and I find the history fascinating.

    “Developing love and compassion and reducing anger and spite is a
    universal activity which requires no faith in any religion whatsoever.”
    —Dalai Lama

    • lauraimprovises

      Thanks for the comment, Bruce. I think I understand your frustration. Part of the problem comes from people using terms to define themselves because of what they can get from claiming titles and authority. It can be easily proven, however, that claiming a label does not mean a person or an institution represents the truth that is the real kernel of the (misused) words. I have often told my kids to be wary that the term Christian is used 3 different ways: socially, politically, and in truth. Possibly you will let me explain.

      “Social Christians” are those who think that all they need to do is join a group that is labeled Christian. Such “groups” are usually based on a man-made hierarchy, so some join as “authority figures,” while others join as “lay people.” I am not saying that all who join such groups are not real Christians, but many think they are and are not. They might as well join a country club or a local theater production.

      “Political Christians” are often those who want to affect the world for good, as they see it, by making laws to control society. They feel it is their duty, and they may do it with the best of intentions. They may have been wrongly convinced that this is necessary and helpful. Sometimes, it is just a matter of aligning with a political party that using the word “Christian” in their name. Voila! You are a Christian.

      When people who do not understand the true nature of Christianity see what I have described above, it is no wonder that they are confused about what it really means to be a Christian. To be a Christian is simply to know and accept who Jesus Christ is as the Son of God; He died, then overcame that death in order to make a way for us to be freed from death and our sinful hearts. This is the beginning of a life of growing in the ways of God, but it is not a way of rules.

      When people have been taught to look at Christianity through the lenses of man-made institutions and contrived “wisdom” they unfortunately miss the simple beauty of what is being offered. Their religion becomes like all other ways of thinking based on the “wisdom” of men, that is: built on attempting to be good (as they see it).

      And that leads me to another part of your comment that I would like to mention. This designation of “religious” and “secular” is misleading. Everyone has what could rightly be called their own belief system. The idea that people make decisions apart from that belief system is, well, unbelievable. So, in this sense, everyone has some sort of thing that could be identified, in general social terms, as a “religion.”

      I do agree with you that religious institutions or organizations should not have power of people’s lives. But just because someone tries to call their belief system scientific or of non-Christian origin doesn’t make it any less a man-made religion. So someone “believes” that all children should be educated a certain way, or that everyone has a “right” to certain services. What is this based on, if not a belief system or personal choice of “religion?” What makes it acceptable to force others to live by their beliefs?

      If anything is going to be claimed as morally right or best, there has to be some foundation for that claim. If you try to say that morality just exists out of thin air, then you have no basis for saying that anything is right or wrong. If nothing is inherently right or wrong, why are people upset when they get lied to or stolen from? Why do they care if others get killed?

      To get back to the gist of my original article, there is no Christian mandate to force people to live by certain laws. When (immature?) Christians, or, more likely, those who merely adopt that label, try to do so, they are doing so on their own whim and human philosophy. They do not represent what true Christianity is supposed to look like in this world.

      • I think there are several other fascinating aspects of this conversation worth considering.

        Firstly, when Jesus spoke to crowds in the Bible, he did specifically give his disciples guidelines on how to act. I think it’s important to note that again, this was before he died and was resurrected and before the Holy Spirit was given to his followers. These rules include things such as if you are asked to walk a mile with someone, walk two miles (a Roman rule – a soldier could require a Jew or other person to carry their belongings for a mile, if I recall correctly); if someone asks for the coat off your back, give them your shirt also; and the oft-quoted turn the other cheek. But are these requirements for salvation? I don’t believe so, based on Paul’s teachings later in the New Testament.

        Secondly, James speaks in the New Testament of the power of works. He urges Christians to work out their salvation in Christ. Again, to me, this passage refers to the fact that if you are saved by Jesus Christ, you ill endeavor to show your appreciation through your words and deeds. You are not ‘earning’ your salvation!

        Thirdly, when Jesus and Paul spoke to people, whether the Pharisees or runaway slaves, they consistently promoted respect for the government. This echoes David’s respect for King Saul even after God had removed his blessing from Saul for his disobedience. David trusted that God would remove Saul from the throne in His good time, and knew it would be wrong for David to try to hurry the process along with an assassination. Jesus said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Paul told Onesimus to go back to his master and serve him. I read this as an instruction to serve with a joyful heart, waiting for the day when God’s Kingdom comes and God reclaims His children.

        At no time were we instructed to rebel against governments. Many times Paul and the other disciples and early Christians were unable to follow human laws because they conflicted with God’s Spirit, but they never put together a rebellion against the Romans or protested other than peacefully, according to the recorded history in the New Testament. All of that ended when it began – with Peter striking the ear from the servant of the High Priest when Jesus was arrested. (Which Jesus promptly healed, rebuking Peter for his actions with the again oft-quoted saying about those who live by the sword will die by the sword.) There are even recorded instances of apologies for disrespectful words towards authority figures, even when those people were trying to kill the Christians apologizing!

        I glean from all of this that God knew that there would not be any perfect established government on earth – He did not ask us to make one! Instead, he asks us to patiently and joyfully live our lives in accordance with His will, waiting for the time in which we will join His perfect Kingdom, where He has already prepared a place for us.

        • lauraimprovises

          Hey, Anemone – Thank you for adding to the discussion. True,these ideas all connect, in that they are about government. I think, however, that I will respond by writing a separate blog article rather than another long comment. I’ll try to remember to put a link in this section.

  • lauraimprovises
  • Terry

    There is a saying by Steven Weinberg:

    “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil
    people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    I greatly appreciate the message you are trying to communicate in your blog. However, as a non-Christian that was raised as a pastor’s daughter, I do have some concerns as there is still the undercurrent that unless one is a Christian, they are incapable of living a life of positive growth and meaning. It simply is not the truth. As I said, I appreciate your insight to not try and control “us” but it would really be lovely to have it acknowledged that there are some really great ppl out there that are not Christian and there are some really vicious ppl out there that are Christian. Common ground must be found outside religion. I am convinced that, with a lot of dialogue, most of us want the same thing. We want a govt we can trust. We want an opportunity to work and feed our families. We want to the freedom to pursue knowledge and education. And much more.

    • lauraimprovises

      Hi, Terry – I am glad you took time to comment. Believe me, I understand your perspective about people who claim to be Christians. I have had some hurtful personal experiences. I think that my first comment (below) addressed some of that. I also say some things about religious versus supposedly non-religious approaches to life.

      I want to point out that I do not think Christians are perfect, but neither do I have much patience with slogans like “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” I also know that many (so-called?) Christian institutions clutter the simple life giving freedom of Jesus Christ with legalistic and self-righteous baggage, so I hope that you can hear my words as intended and not through that distortion.

      Regarding each individual’s behavior: I have been in the position of wondering about various people’s claims of being Christian. I do not presume to judge a person’s inner being, but sometimes there is reason to strongly suspect that a person who practices selfish or harmful behavior probably has the wrong idea about who God is and what He is offering. The Biblical teaching (and evidence that I see in people that I know are believers in the real Christ) is that there is a maturity (of perspective, joy, trust, peace, right action) that occurs in a follower of Christ by Him working in us. And, yes, I think this happens on levels unattainable to a non-Christian. Since I am convinced of the uniqueness of this Jesus Christ, you must allow that it would be irrational for me to think otherwise. I hope, however, that you can accept that true Christians take no self-righteous credit for this, nor do they use it to lord it over others in a pretentious way.

      On the flip side – as you allude to – each person has a (God given) conscience, or sense of morality, whether or not they follow this Christ. Many people desire to “do good” and put great effort into combatting their selfish and prideful nature. In spite of that, somehow, we live in a pretty miserable world and I don’t think it can be mostly attributed to wrong thinking about Christianity. Rather, it seems to attest to the fact that, throughout history, there is more selfishness, and actions resulting from it, than good. If it could be blamed solely on the Hilters and sundry high ranking power mongers, I think it would be easier to set the world straight. There seems to be a lot of evidence that there has been discord, fighting, and horrible abuses just because people try to take advantage of others on a regular basis.

      So, while I do think a number of people “want the same thing,” dialogue has been going on for centuries with very limited results. You and I can decide to be friendly, but there are a lot of people who will try to get away with what they can- with a smile or with a condescending sneer. Our freedom is at best an inconvenience to them and their desires.

      Based on history, I’m not sure we should ever think we can have a government we can trust. At least not for very long. That was kind of implied in my original article. It’s not just so-called or misdirected Christians who want to control other people as much as they can. Most people have some strong ideas about what laws there should be, that fit with their own choices; but individual freedom is the only honest way to let others live. Unfortunately, there will always be a conflict of ideas, and usually a use of force attempted by those who feel that can get away with it. For my part, I am glad there is another world to look forward to.

      • Adelaide Delight

        I am struck by people’s misconception that there is religion vs. non religion. There is no such thing as non-religion. Everyone believes in something or has faith in something; essentially religion. Even if that religion is their belief that there is no God. It’s a nice disguise for people who actually just believe that their ways and thinking and beliefs (religion) are superior to yours. Thus, all good and evil is done under the premise of some sort of religion. There is no common ground outside of religion. Religion engulfs everything.

        On another note, I would say that humanity is the recipient of common grace and everyone enjoys that common grace in their lives, regardless of their belief in Christ. Positive growth and life are really there for anyone who wants them. Yes, there are people that honestly believe that you can only enjoy life and growth by being a Christian, and we know that is not true. An example of this would be even in marriages. Non Christians can enjoy fabulous marriages even while some Christians have terrible marital relationships. However, positive growth and life are not the real issues. The real crux is the issue of life after death and how that is going to affect you personally. For eternity. Everyone knows deep down that they will live on and on, but how will that be played out according to one’s belief system is the sticky question.

        The nice thing is that I’m only responsible for my own choices in regards to all my beliefs – even if I am fully convinced that they are good and true and right – it is not within my scope or ability to reach into the corners of another human heart. That’s why freedom is so important. Government is people trying to set up parameters so that the state is ‘responsible’ for my/your choices in regards to our beliefs. No bueno.

        • lauraimprovises

          Greetings, Adelaide – Thank you for input on this topic. It sounds like we have a lot of common ground. There is part of what you say that I would like to explore. That is, the idea of “positive growth and life (not being) the real issues.” While non-Christians can enjoy life and have good relationships, I think when Jesus is speaking of giving us life, He is speaking of it beginning here in this world that we currently live in. Hence, the term “born again” being used. Also, in John 10, His examples seem to imply activity in life “now.” There is something here and now given to true Christians by His Spirit that is unavailable to those who refuse Him.

          The example of marital relationships seems to reintroduce the problem of evaluating who really IS a Christian AND how do we measure such relationships? When two people are involved, the outcome is not up to one person. A individual can be experiencing all kinds of growth in their life even if their spouse isn’t, if their spouse is struggling with an area of life, or if they married someone who turns out not to be a Christian.

          In the final analysis, anyone can be happy or satisfied with life at any given moment, but any sense of overall fulfillment based on the wrong foundations (beliefs) is like feeling good about driving on the wrong side of the road because it has worked out so far.

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