Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lawless Christianity is Christless

Here is a question about California's Prop 8 initiative put to Michael Horton, professor of apologetics at Westminster west, in a discussion of his new book, Christless Christianity:

San Francisco, Calif.: Last week at my Catholic church in northern California, numerous people got up and walked out when the pastor urged the congregation to vote for Proposition 8 during his sermon.

If you think there should be one, where should the line be drawn today between church and state on issues like Prop 8 and others?

Rev. Dr. Michael S. Horton: There is a big difference between preaching, teaching, and applying God's Word to God's people and enforcing that Word through specific policy prescriptions. As a minister, I can say that's it's a strange and terrifying thing to step into a pulpit and speak in God's name. It's downright dangerous, not because of the people's judgment but because of God's. Am I really saying what he has told me today, right here in this passage today? Or am I full of hot air? Am I respecting the limited authority he has given me by his Word or am I using it as my own bully-pulpit to vent my opinions?

I am obliged by this Word to teach that marriage is a divine ordinance established between one man and one woman, but I do not believe that I have any divine warrant for binding the consciences of God's people to vote for or against a particular policy regarding the state's proper ordering of the common life of my neighbors. I've discussed this proposition with a number of friends and colleagues and even though we hold the same view of marriage as divinely instituted, there are differences over specific public policies.

Wow, unbelievable. Horton would countenance the wholesale redefinition of marriage in the public square. Horton's distaste for ethics devoid of the law Old Testament leads to a complete disregard for the 7th Commandment.

Horton's thoughts are a long way from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon:

"I long for the day when the precepts of the Christian religion shall be the rule among all classes of men, in all transactions. I often hear it said, ‘Do not bring religion into politics.’ This is precisely where it ought to be brought, and set there in the face of all men as on a candlestick."

The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 27 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1882), 225

Seems as though Christianity may be Christless if it ignores His Word: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one title shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."

HT: Thanks to Bret McAtee, who I shamelessly ripped off.


Blogger Shamgar said...

Wow - and here all this time I thought you were a baptist, not a presbyterian.


Where in Scripture do you find the right to bind my conscience on something of this nature? It's not hard to prove that homosexuality is a sin by any means. Nor is it difficult to prove that God ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman. However, where I think you'll have a hard time is finding where we as Christians have a mandate to exercise the power of the state to enforce that.

Further, I think you'll find it a nearly impossible task to find the authority of a pastor to bind the conscience of a believer to that end.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Horton is correct insofar as he has prudential concerns about how such preaching/interventions will be delivered, perceived, and so on-- a set of important points that are oft-overlooked.

But I can't imagine a warrant for rejecting such efforts out-of-hand.

1:27 AM  
Blogger Darrell said...

All law is an expression of morality and is therefore inherently religious. What you are counseling is that only Christians ignore that truth and allow the public square to be overrun by those applying other faiths.

The role of the state is to enforce justice while punishing crime. The apostle Paul says that the law is used lawfully when used to restrain public evil and immorality (I Tim 1) which includes homosexuality. Therefore extending the benefits of marriage, or “civil rights” more generally, is a problem according to Scripture.

When defined in this way (biblically), the Christian has a right, indeed a duty to see that the magistrate does not redefine marriage beyond its natural and biblical definition. The magistrate is God’s servant ordained by Him for the purpose of enforcing justice. Justice must be grounded in a transcendent source and it is the duty of God’s prophets and ministers to see that the Word of God is applied to all areas of life and that necessarily means influencing the laws of the state.

I agree that disputes of this sort ought not to consume the church. And Horton could have made that point without tossing out the baby with the bath water.

I do agree that my positions sound more Presbyterian but I think if you read the London Baptist Confession or even the Faith and Message you will see that I'm not off the reservation. I also quoted Spurgeon for support.

7:21 AM  
Blogger Shamgar said...

Yes, I am aware that all law is an expression of morality. I have not in any way advocated that Biblical principles should not be employed in determining what is just.

I also agree that the role of the state is to enforce justice and to restrain/punish evil/evildoers. I disagree with your assertion that it exists to punish immorality. I see no basis in the text of 1 Tim 1 for applying it to the civil law of a nation. That is clearly not the point of Paul's comments there.

Do you further believe that "civil rights" should not be extended to anyone who practices what Paul lists as being immorality, or which is prohibited by God's moral law? Shall the state punish our children for dishonoring their parents? For adultery? For lust? For divisions and factions? For heresy?

If the Christian has a responsibility to see that the magistrate enforces biblical morality why do we not see such efforts in the early Christian church, living in rabidly immoral Rome?

I have read, and studied, the LBCF, and if you are asserting that there is support there for what you are suggesting I would have to respectfully disagree.

As for the BF&M as long as you don't stray into damnable heresy you can pretty much say you're in compliance with that. ;-) The only more generic document I'm aware of is the 'Apostle's Creed'.

I also do not believe that Spurgeon would support the sacralism you are here endorsing. I would agree with Spurgeon's statement. I think our leaders, like everyone else, should be regularly confronted with the truth of the Gospel. That doesn't mean that the church should decree the laws it implements, or that the government should necessarily punish all forms of immorality.

And to get back to specifically what Horton was saying, it doesn't mean that the individual pastor has the authority to bind the consciences of the believer to vote one way or another on issues such as this one when it comes to public policy.

I really don't think that you have a foundation for making the kind of criticism of him that you do -- that he is somehow "countenancing the wholesale redefinition of marriage int he public square." Rather, all he has said is that individual pastors should not abuse the authority of the pulpit to bind the consciences of believers to something that God has not himself bound them to (to wit - voting for prop 8).

LBCF 21:2 would definitely have something to say about that.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Darrell said...

Shamgar, you eloquently state a point of view that I'm sympathetic toward but don't entirely by. I've tried to answer a few points below.

ou’ve conceded that law is an expression of morality and thus intrinsically religious and therefore that biblical “principles” (why not laws?) should guide our determination of justice. In short I think you are conceding that the law has political purposes. Since you’re accusing me of a departure from the Baptist tradition (which is probably true in some respects), here is Baptist theologian Carl Henry on the subject: "Even where there is no saving faith, the Law serves to restrain sin and to preserve the order of creation by proclaiming the will of God .... By its judgments and its threats of condemnation and punishment, the written law along with the law of conscience hinders sin among the unregenerate. It has the role of a magistrate who is a terror to evildoers .... It fulfills a political function, therefore, by its constraining influence in the unregenerate world"

One more from Spurgeon, too:

As Jesus is King of kings and Judge of judges, so the gospel is the teacher of the greatest and wisest. If any are so great as to spurn its admonitions, God will make little of them; and if they are so wise as to despise its teachings, their fancied wisdom shall make fools of them. The gospel takes a high tone before the rulers of the earth, and they who preach it should, like Knox and Melville, magnify their office by bold rebukes and manly utterances even in the royal presence. A clerical sycophant is only fit to be a scullion in the devil’s kitchen."

Did I say the state should “punish” homosexuals? Prop 8 had to do with the definition of marriage. It didn’t have anything to with, for example, the criminalization of homosexual sodomy.

All of this depends on how we define rights. Are we speaking of non-discrimination rights, freedom rights, etc.? I’ve addressed this previously.. and

The “disobedient children” canard is another ploy thrown into the mix when this question comes up. I’m not entirely sure how to interpret the passage in Deuteronomy but I understand it to mean a man (not a young child) that has consistently challenged and sought to undermine family authority, this isn’t some kiddo who disobeyed once when dad told him to pick up his room. We’re talking about habitual criminality. I discussed this in connection with the Jena 6 fiasco…

So here is a question for you. If there was a ballot initiative urging that marriage between siblings be allowed, would that be fine? Should a pastor remain silent in the face of such perversion? Likewise in South Dakota there was a ballot initiative to limit abortion and again I ask should pastors be silent in the face of an assault on human life? Would that constitute an unbiblical binding of the conscience?

The laws of Rome had already been largely established. Moreover, Christianity in its early stages was largely made up of the poor, a religion for outcasts in some respects. There were lots of internal issues to take over as well and it wasn’t until settling matters at Nicea and Chalcedon that there could be much thought given to many other fundamental concerns. Besides Christians clearly had an effect on laws relating to marriage, slavery, property and other matters in the statutes of barbarian tribes in the period after Rome’s fall—which again wasn’t that long after Chalcedon.

I don’t know that much about the history of the LBCF. I’ve always noted the similarities between it and the Westminster confession. I’m not real sure if the section on the civil magistrate is similar or not.
As for Horton, the entirety of Prop 8 read as follows: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." The ballot initiative was a response to activist judges who simply decided on a whim to re-define marriage in such a way as to include homosexual unions. Taking a “hands-off” approach leads Horton to “countenance the wholesale redefinition of marriage in the public square”, as I said.
As for that subject of Christian liberty, there is no great threat to it than the move to redefine marriage and to protect homosexuals from “discrimination”. In the name of "non-discrimination" activists are attempting to use the state as a means of silencing pastors and making it impossible for Christians to shun moral perversion. For Christians not to stand up say “enough” amounts to initialing our own death certificate.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Shamgar said...

I say biblical principles and not laws, because I think that if we follow biblical principles we'll have the laws that we need -- specifically those that restrain the evil that usually shows itself in Man's inhumanity to Man.

The problem comes in when we begin to try to police those things that are internal or self-directed. At that point we have crossed over to offering a subset of the population (the state) the opportunity to legally commit evil against others on the basis of some perceived or actual sin.

I agree that the law (God's moral law) serves to restrain sin. My problem is that you keep taking "the Law" which is written on our hearts as part of general revelation, and then equating it with the civil law of the state. The two are not the same thing. There is a difference between the law at work in our hearts, and the law as enforced by the power of the state.

Spurgeon likewise is correct to say that we as Christians should preach God's law openly, regardless of the supposed earthly stature of our hearers. Our leaders ought to follow the principles of the Gospel as much if not more-so than others.

You did not, in fact, call for punishing homosexuals. However, you were speaking of crime and punishment, and the role of the civil servant. In retrospect I believe I blended those together with the issue under discussion more than you intended in your writing.

On that same point, I had no intent to refer to the "disobedient children" canard. I was referring to the command in the 10 commandments that children were to honor/obey their parents. If you believe that the state should enact laws on the basis of God's moral law, then how far do you take it. I was in no way suggesting that you held that we should re-instate the entire code of Israel's civil law.

Also, it was in no way my intent to say that a pastor should remain silent on the issue of homosexual marriage, or in your example of incestuous marriage. In fact, even Horton did not say that. Quite the contrary in fact. He stated he has a clear directive to preach the truth of what God has stated in His Word as pertains to marriage. What he does not have freedom to do is to then bind the consciences of Christians in whether they support a particular public policy.

Consider it this way. The Partial Birth Abortion ban. It was a complete lie on its face in terms of what it was titled verses what it actually did. Pastors hailed it. The national right to life group hailed it, and that in the face of smaller and more sensible groups who were all decrying the actual contents of the document.

A pastor has a responsibility to preach against the evils of the murder of unborn children. What they do not have is the prerogative and power to bind my conscience to support that particular law or change as a means of dealing with it.

Now, in this case, the content of prop 8 was not similar. However, the problem remains. The truth is what the preacher may proclaim, and it is for the individual members of his congregation to apply that truth in their lives and then deal with the consequences, and even repent if they err in those choices.

The issue of the civil magistrate and Christian liberty are some of the key differences between WCF and LBCF actually. LBCF does not include the section stating that "they who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinace of God. And for their publishing of such opinions or maintaining of such practices...they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against, by the censures of the church and by the power of the civil magistrate."

It also drops the idea that "it is [the civil magistrate's] duty to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed."

I understand what you are saying, however, I have to disagree and again assert that you have misrepresented what Horton has said.

As I noted he clearly stated that as ministers we have a duty to preach the truth. That God has ordained marriage as between one man and one woman, and that homosexuality is a sin. That means, in the public square, where it really matters, he is unashamedly preaching the truth. What he is not doing is attempting to preach with equal authority that his people must support any particular public policy. He is openly opposing homosexual marriage in the public square, not countenancing it.

I'll also say that's hardly a hands off approach. I wish more pastors had the courage to speak that truth to their congregations.

Note that I said "Christian Liberty" not "Liberty for Christians". Those are two very very different things. I agree that the state redefining marriage and discrimination is a great threat to liberty. However, my answer to that is what in the world is the government doing messing with marriage anyway? They only care because of our stupid tax laws. Reform the tax laws, and get the state out of marriage entirely.

I'll note that this is hardly the first time that the state has redefined marriage. I don't see a lot of Christians standing up and screaming about the ease with which remarriage can be accomplished for example.

Marriage is what it is, and it doesn't matter how the state redefines it. It will always be between one man and one woman. Period. That doesn't mean we shouldn't oppose bad decisions, but it is not for the pastor to determine what good and bad public policy is in that regard.

Honestly, do you really want the average SBC pastor determining what is and isn't good public policy? I just have two words on that point - Mike Huckabee.

5:04 PM  

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