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Archive for November, 2006

The Garden-Kingdom
W. H. Chellis

The origin of civil power

As we continue to discuss the claims of Christ over the nations, let us spend a month considering the origins of civil government. Within the evangelical and reformed community it has become increasingly popular to view state authority as a product of the fall. This perspective is far from new but reflects the historic teaching of the Anabaptist movement. Since the Anabaptists considered civil authority to be an institution established in response to man’s sin, therefore they rejected Christian involvement in politics as worldly and sinful. The 1527 Schleitheim Confession declares:
Sixth. We are agreed as follows concerning the sword: The sword is ordained of God outside the perfection of Christ… In the Law the sword was ordained for the punishment of the wicked and for their death, and the same [sword] is [now] ordained to be used by the worldly magistrates.

Although less critical of Christian civil government, Pennsylvania’s “Quaking” founder William Penn (1644-1718) wrote in his Preface to the 1682 Charter of Liberties and Frame of Government of Pennsylvania in America:
When the great and wise God had made the world, of all his creatures, it pleased him to choose man his Deputy to rule it: and to fit him for so great a charge and trust… But lust prevailing against duty, made a lamentable breach upon it; and the law, that before had no power over him, took place over him, and his disobedient posterity, that such as would not live conformable to the holy law within should fall under the reproof and correction of the just law without, in a judicial administration.

Again, Penn points to mankind’s sinful rebellion as the origin of civil government. Hence, we inquire, is civil government a product of sin? Is the sword a necessary evil and therefore a vocation to be avoided by the godly? Should we wear rubber gloves into the voting booth and the jurors box?
According to the Anabaptist position, the sine qua non of civil power is the lawful use of the sword to impose order. If civil authority is defined by its relationship to sin, no civil authority could exist before the fall. It is precisely this assumption that this column intends to challenge, presenting and defending the biblical basis for recognizing civil authority as a Divinely instituted creation ordinance. As the German Reformed political theorist Johannes Althusius (1557-1638) wrote:
For all government is held together by imperium and subjection; in fact, the human race started straightway from the beginning with imperium and subjection. God made Adam master and monarch of his wife, and of all creatures born or descendent from her. Therefore all power is said to be from God.”[i]

The cultural mandate

Undeniably, since the fall, God has ordained that order be preserved through the limited and lawful violence of the civil magistrates’ sword (Gen. 9:5,6; Rom. 13:4). According to Scripture, the power to rightly order society preceded the rebellion.
In Genesis 1:28 God commands, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Theologians often call this commandment the cultural mandate. Later we read that although Adam was to exercise dominion over the whole creation, God had separated a portion of that creation to be the special arena of His glory. “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” (Genesis 2:8). Here man was to go about the work of building God’s kingdom, transforming the raw materials of the garden into a glorious garden-city (compare Gen. 3 and Rev. 22). Eden was a holy kingdom.

A priest over a garden-temple

Since God’s covenantal presence dwelt with man in the midst of Eden, the Garden was not only a holy kingdom but also a holy temple where God and men communed in covenant fellowship. As God dwells in holiness and cannot suffer the presence of sin, so Adam was charged with the priestly and kingly service of defending the garden from rebellion and evil.
When thinking of priestly duties, we envision the alter of bloody sacrifice where the old covenant priesthood meditated between God and Israel by typologically presenting the divine drama of substitutionary atonement. Interestingly, when the tribe of Levi was chosen to serve the Lord, it was because of their proficiency at shedding blood rather than their zeal for godly worship that was central. The tribe of Levi had a history of violence (Gen. 34:30,31). Their bloodshed brought a curse from the Patriarch Israel, but curse was ultimately turned to blessing at the foot of Mount Sinai (Gen. 49:5-7). It was the sword of Levi that heeded Moses call to slay the idolaters gathered around the golden calf (Ex. 32:26). The LORD God, who is a jealous God, had a need of such men. God was seeking men who would be violent in their defense of His holiness, men who would preserve the holy character of His true worship. Thus, God made Levi the priests of Israel (Deut. 33:8-11). Likewise in Eden, Adam served as a priest defending the holiness of God in the midst of the primeval garden-temple.[ii]
A king over a garden-kingdom
A priest over a garden-temple, Adam was also a king over a garden-kingdom preserving godly order within society. We might imagine that order sounds a bit confining for our sinless parents. Did they not enjoy perfect freedom? Our minds betray a modernist tendency to divorce law and liberty. Rather, in Christian thought, true liberty is freedom to be conformed to the law of God. This was true in the state of innocence, is true today, and will be true in glory. Our freedom in Christ is always an ordered liberty.
As Adam fulfilled God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, his immediate family would have developed into a tribe, his tribe into a nation, and his nation into a confederation of nations united in their exercise of godly dominion. Thus, the need for organizational, cultural, and political order would have multiplied. While there would have been no need to exercise civil authority to punish sin, there would have been a need to preserve order among competing forms of good. Covenanter theologian Samuel Rutherford (1660-1661) notes:
though man had never sinned there should have been a sort of dominion of the more gifted and wiser above the less wise and weaker; not antecedent from nature properly, but consequent, for the utility and good of the weaker, in so far as it is good for the weaker to be guided by the stronger, which cannot be denied to have some ground in nature. [iii]

The sword of the priest-king

Finally, against all theories which refuse to recognize civil authority as a holy, just, and good ordinance of creation, I wish to insist that Adam, even in the state of innocence, was given responsibility to exercises the sword in defense of godly order. Under Adam’s watchful care, a rebellious enemy attacked God’s holy garden-kingdom. By Satanic design, the lowly serpent rose up against the woman, and the woman, seduced by the serpent, rose up against her husband. The divinely established hierarchy of order was subverted. God’s holiness was impugned. What was Adam’s duty when he heard the lying words of the subversive serpent? Adam’s duty as the priest-king of Eden was to exercise the sword entrusted to him by God and to crush the head or the odious rebel.

[i] Johannes Althusius, Politica, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995), 20.
[ii] Priests also function as teachers of God’s law and leaders of public worship. In the state of innocence, Adam exercised these priestly duties as well.
[iii] Samuel Rutherford, Lex Rex or the Law and the Prince, (Harrison, Vg: Sprinkle Publications, 1982), 51

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An Antidote for Trueman’s Naustalgia
W.H. Chellis

Over at Reformation21, Carl Truman has written an interesting article about the problem of nostalgia the church. Trueman writes:

“And then we come to the church. Religious people, especially orthodox religious people, are almost invariably nostalgic: whether it is Eastern Orthodox looking back to the Fathers, or Catholics looking to the Middle Ages, or Reformed looking to the Puritans, such can so often look back on history and find there the ideal world that they are looking for today. The past provides them with an idiom to express their disgruntlement with the present, and yet, like those who sought for the historical Jesus, they so often stare down the well of time and see their own reflections gazing back up at them. For me, by contrast, it is very hard to be nostalgic about a world with no anti-biotics, no electric lighting, and no flush toilets; but then I always try to see the big picture and take into account material factors, and not just the theological textbooks that are being written at any given moment. Given that my ancestors were social nobodies, it would also have been a world where I would probably never have learned to read or write and have been worked to death by the time I was forty.”

Trueman’s insights are valuable if read along with Richard Weaver’s chapter Status and Function in his book Visions of Order. Weaver reminds us that every organic reality has both status (the feature of permanence) and function (feature of change). Organic entities (like the church and like the culture in which she dwells) always face the tension between being (status) and becoming (function). This paradox between being and becoming is part of the eschatological drama of church life and must be embraced with confidence in the Kingship of Christ.

The weakness of Trueman’s argument is that it come close to damning the idea of nostalgia altogether. He suggests its only useful service to be as a crutch that comforts the aged. This is problematic. Confidence in the future (a product of a healthy sense of function) unchecked by an proper sense of historical continuity leads to a cult of progress. In this battle, nostalgia (that common sense of historical awareness rooted in prejudice and prescription) provides a defense against innovation.

If there is a sense of nostalgia in our midst it is because of the very real problem that the west has lost its “metaphysical dream.” Such a threat to the being (status) of our communities cannot be overcome by more comfortable toilets or more effective medicines (matters of function).

Nor shall we damn all change (that is to deny the role of function). Rather, let us agree with Edmund Burke who noted, “We must all obey the great law of change… All we can do, and that human wisdom can do, is to provide that the changes shall proceed by insensible degrees… This gradual course… will prevent men… from being intoxicated with a large draught of new power, which they always abuse with a licentious insolence.” (Quoted in Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind)

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Election Eve
W.H. Chellis

It is election eve and what is a paleo-protestant theoconservative to do? The Testimony of the RPC notes that it is the duty of Christians to vote for candidates committed to Christian principles of civil government.

What does this mean? First of all, it does not mean that we can only vote for candidates who are committed to the five points of calvinism and the regulative principle of worship. We are electing politicians (oh that they might be statesmen) not Pastors and Ruling Elders.

Second, it does not mean that we must withhold our votes from any candidate who does not publicly declare his support for a constitutional amendment honoring the name of Jesus Christ. Advocating such an amendment has a mostly symbolic advantage anyway.

Rather, we must vote for candidates who understand the following things. First, that God exists and that His moral will is a standard for personal as well as public behavior. Second, that our inheritance as a branch of Western Christendom is not to be squandered through neglect or ideological fancy. Third, that mankind is fallen and cannot be perfected through a political process. Finally, that Christ’s Church is to be protected and that our Churches must continue to be free from the intervention of the State.

Some might object that I have outlined rather broad categories. Will it not be possible that Christians will end up voting for the lesser or two evils? I boldly answer that this is entirely possible. Our intrepid interrogators might continue to object, “but the lesser or two evils is still evil!” In response it is necessary to remember that we are pilgrims dealing with fallen (but still legitimate) creation institutions. In this age we must expect that justice will always be seen through a mirror dimly. In fact, I suspect few of us who govern our homes do not mix a great deal of foolishness and tyranny with our better moments of grace leavened justice. We who are saints remain sinners. Let us not expect more from those who exercise the sword than we expect from ourselves.

With that in mind… happy voting!

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