At last! I’ve managed my way through the site technology to post! (My incompetence with “logging on” to this site has heretofore hindered my input, but I’ve been enjoying the discussion even if inept at posting!)
I have a rather basic question for which I’d be interested in a “Hartian response”. But first, let me underscore the sincerity of my lone, previous posting where I expressed my gratitude for this book. Even though I am among those differing with you, Darryl, in some admittedly important conclusions, I also am truly rejoicing at the excellent resource you have provided us in this book, critiquing the fundamental errors of the so-called “Religious Right.” We have more points of agreement than disagreement, I believe; and I want to assert my genuine appreciation for this book. Thank you.
One of our points of agreement is your recent affirmations of the WCF’s teaching that “the church is the kingdom”. I agree that it is wrong to suppose that the state is part of Christ’s kingdom. And actually, William Symington affirmed that same “narrow definition of the kingdom” in his Messiah the Prince. But indeed, as Symington so eloquently articulates in that same work, the Scriptures also remind us that “[the Father] put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Eph 1.22). That is, the church alone is the kingdom Christ is building in the world, yet he nonetheless also exercises dominion over all other institutions (including the state) for the purposes of sovereignly furthering his church (the kingdom).
Now, I think we are agreed on that much. And indeed, I would also concur (as I think would also be your position, Darryl) that the great implication of Jesus’ dominion over all things (including the state) for the purposes of his church, is that the church is free to get on with her calling to kingdom ministry irregardless of what the state is doing. Jesus’ dominion over the state means that the church is free to do her role and know that Jesus governs over the king, even when the king is “causing trouble.” As Symington writes, “The church of Christ is strictly independent…. The church has existed without the countenance and support of the civil power, [and] these are by no means necessary to its being.” To say it yet one more time: the church is Christ’s kingdom, and Christ governs over all things for the sake of the church; therefore, the church is free to get on with her business whether or not the state is cooperative. I think we are agreed on that much.
But I think where we differ is simply on this question: whether the state must always be ignorant of Christ’s purposes for her existence.
If Jesus intends to sovereignly govern over even the state for his church-building purposes (Eph 1.22; cf., Mt 28.18; 1Tim 2.2-3; etc.), what would happen if a king came to recognize this fact? It is, indeed, a fact that Jesus rules over the states of men whether they acknowledge it or not. Human states are not the kingdom of Christ, but they are under his sovereign authority all the same. But, if a human state were to recognize this fact of Jesus’ authority over them, and even to recognize that Jesus’ reason for ruling over that state is for the benefit of his church, are there ways a human government can willingly cooperate with Christ’s purposes for that government? Yes, the state would still have to restrain herself to the strictly distinct and social jurisdictions of the state — she cannot undertake forced conversions or other ecclesiastical meddling. But is it possible for a state, which in fact is under Christ’s sovereignty for the purposes of the church, to recognize and cooperate with that fact within her proper jurisdiction?
It seems to me that the Hartian position always assumes that the state, while under Jesus’ dominion, can never acknowledge it. Much less have we any grounds to call the state to acknowledge the facts. The Covenanter position simply accepts that it is, indeed, possible (and desirable) that kings qua kings would acknowledge their divine Overlord (Ps 2).
I just seems that Darryl’s position necessitates that governments remain ignorant of Jesus’ sovereignty. In most instances, this is the case: human governments often (usually!) do ignore Jesus’ sovereignty. But how would the Hartian view counsel, say, a monarch if that monarch were to recognize the fact that Jesus is sovereign over his government for the purposes of the church?
I’m not trying to be testy, but am wondering whether you allow any opportunity for the state to acknowledge the facts under which she exists.