Covenantal Confession of Christ
W. H. Chellis
Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). This is a fact clearly revealed in the Bible, yet widely ignored even within the conservative evangelical and reformed churches. Last month we introduced the outlines of the National Confessional application of Christâ€™s social kingship. We now begin a closer examination of the four pillars of the National Confessional position. This month we focus on the covenantal confession of Christ. The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church affirms the duty of nations to make a covenantal confession of Jesus Christ:
“Every nation ought to recognize the Divine institution of civil government, the sovereignty of God exercised by Jesus Christ, and its duty to rule the civil affairs of men in accordance with the will of God. It should enter into covenant with Christ and serve to advance His Kingdom on earth (Testimony Chapter 23:4).”
As Christâ€™s Kingship is universal (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:17-23), so recognition of His reign should also be universal. All men, in their individual capacity as well as is their social relationships, must confess the name of Jesus and submit to His gracious reign.
Disciple the Nations
At His ascension, Jesus Christ declared:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all
that I have commanded you.”
By this Great Commission, Jesus Christ sent forth His Church to offer Jesus Christ and His gospel of grace to all men from all nations. The ethnic monopoly of physical Israel was broken (Gal. 3:28). The Church of Christ would be an international and catholic body encompassing a multitude from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Yet, the Churchâ€™s evangelistic and discipleship goals must not end with the conversion of isolated individuals. Man is a social creator, a political animal. Indeed, close exegetical inspection of the Great Commission informs us of the churchâ€™s duty to make disciples of the nations themselves.
In the context of twenty-first century Western political thought, the idea of turning nations into disciples of Jesus Christ sounds implausible. Modern thought, rooted in enlightenment liberalism, looks upon the individual as the basic unit of social and political life. Our political discourse is saturated with catchphrases like â€œindividual rightsâ€ and â€œindividual choice.â€ Families, communities, and nations are considered as nothing more than the aggregate of all the individuals who consent to belong to the larger unit. In the context of modernist liberalism, the whole is definitely less than the sum of all its parts. Thus, we hear of individual Christians, of Christian radio, of Christian music, but rarely of a Christian community or nation. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the modern church has allowed its cultural and political prejudices to interpret Jesusâ€™ Great Commission. The social Kingship of Christ has been replaced by the quest for a â€œpersonal relationship with Jesus.â€
Unlike modernist liberalism, biblical ethics does not define the individual as the basic unit of social and political life. Rather, along with the broader pre-modern political tradition, biblical ethics establishes the foundation of social and political life upon the family. Accordingly, the family in its corporate capacity is the â€œlittle platoonâ€ of society in both Church and State. Here the whole is greater then the sum of its parts.
Although American evangelicals feel comfortable encouraging others to â€œfocus on the familyâ€, I suspect that readers of a Baptist persuasion are feeling a bit uncomfortable. While Baptist, Methodist, and neo-evangelical theology tends to borrow its working assumptions from enlightenment liberalism, biblical Christianity roots its assumptions in the Scriptures. As a matter of biblical command, Christ has commissioned His Church to make disciples of the nations (not from the nations). Yet, it is at this point that even Reformed Christians may become visibly uncomfortable. Christ did not commission His Church to make disciples of all families but all nations. What could this mean?
From Family to Nation
To answer the question we must begin with the Greek word ethnos which our English versions translate nations. The Greek word ethnos refers to a people defined by blood, land, history, and language. Its horizon is larger than the modern concept of the [nuclear] family but not exactly the same as the equally modern concept of the nation-state. Of course, by way of application to our present situation neither the family nor the nation-state is excluded. For the Hebrews, the gentile and pagan peoples are referred to as the goy, while in Classical Greek thought â€œnationsâ€ outside ones own city-state are defined as ethnos or barbaros (barbarians). Both the Hebrew goy and the Greek ethnos suggest â€œotherness.â€ Here we find no universal brotherhood of men, no citizenship of the world, but rather the love of localism, peculiarity, and a delight in ones self-identification with an organic reality marked by location, heritage and faith (three concepts damned by modernist orthodoxy). It is this threefold unity that provides the foundational premise of a nation.
The idea of ethnos builds upon the foundation of family. The progression moves organically forward from family to tribe to ethnos (nation). Thus, to understand the Great Commission we must understand that far from being a collection of atomistic individuals randomly bouncing off each other in the daily hubbub of life, a nation has an organic and corporate unity. It is a people who share a commonality of location, heritage, and faith. This unity, although rooted in blood and soil, transcends tribal patriarchy as peoples bind themselves together in greater covenantal unity. The great English Statesman and political thinker Edmund Burke refers to this mysterious bond suggesting:
“As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and the invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed places.[i]“
Our older theologians, such as William Symington and David Scott, are less poetic but make the same point by referring to nations as â€œmoral persons.â€ By â€œmoral personâ€ we mean that the nation as a whole bears the corporate responsibility for its moral judgments and is capable of entering into a covenantal relationships. Such relationships might be expressed in relationship to its citizens (as in a written Constitution or a Bill of Rights) or in relationship to other nations (as in peace treaty or declaration of war) or in relationship to God (as in the submission of the nations of Christendom to Christ).
A nationâ€™s organic law is its constitution. Constitutions may be either written (as is the case of the United States) or unwritten (as is the case of England). No nation is without a constitution, for organic law flows from historical experience. The voice of the nation speaks through its constitutional and legal establishments and documents. Therefore, it is the testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church that all nations must be organically conformed to the revealed will of Jesus Christ in submission to His Kingly authority.
Practical politics destroys individualistic notions of citizenship. Contrary to the assertions of President Bush with regard to Iraq, wars are not only waged against ruling regimes but against the people of a nation. This is the horrible truth of war, especially in the modern world. Yet, we must note a sense of biblical justice to this reality. If a nation has an organic unity, then there exists solidarity of responsibility between a nation and its citizens. Indeed, the citizen bears the guilt of the nations and the nation shares the guilt of its citizens. Thus, Israel suffered for the sins of Achen (Joshua 7) and even faithful Israelites like Daniel suffered the burden of captivity. Men are individuals, but not only individuals. They are social beings with covenantal obligations to family, community, and nation. Christianity does not destroy these obligations but perfects them.
The Reformed Presbyterian Church attempted to separate the organic unity between corporate sin and individual responsibility through their practice of political dissent. The attempt was unfruitful. One is not exempt from national guilt by simply renouncing the privileges of citizenship. Covenantal solidarity cannot be broken while enjoying the blessings of citizenship. Rather, we must accept the awful reality of our guilt, as Americans, for national sins such as murder (abortion), greed (consumerism and materialism) and lust (do I need to give examples). We must own these sins, confess them, and like Abraham contending for the city of Sodom, seek the peace and prosperity of the land in which we live and thrive.
Therefore, the national confessional position of the Reformed Presbyterian Church stands upon both the classical and biblical idea of â€œnations,â€ demanding not only the conversion of individuals within the nations, but also the corporate conversion of the nations themselves.
[i] Burke, Edmund, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Select Works of Edmund Burke: Vol. 2, Liberty Fund: Indianapolis, 1999, pg. 193.