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  • « A Man of Two Questions | Main | The Temple: A Sonnet Crown »

    A Theocratic or a Secularist State? Or Neither?

    Until the Lord Jesus Christ returns and establishes justice (Rev 6:16, 17; 11:18) by trampling down his enemies in the great winepress of His wrath (Rev 14:19, 20), Christians are to advance the kingdom of God through proclaiming his word with love and persuasion. Aside from the secularist hysteria about the dangers of Christian theocracy, the vast majority of Christians actually have no more interest in establishing a theocratic Christian state, than in establishing a purely secularist state. Both are equally loathsome to us. Here is why. The secularist mullahs are just as dangerous as the Christian ones. Too much power in the hands of anyone, including certain denominations of Christians, is dangerous because man is corruptible. That is why limited government and a balance of power is a reasonable idea, because it understands the sinful limitations of human beings, whether they be secularist, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist.

    Even though Christians know the only truth, they also know themselves too well as sinners to be without the restraint of law or a balance of power. So when Christians speak of separation of church and state we include all ideas under this umbrella, including secularism. One thing many secularists fail to realize though, is that neither they nor their ideas are religiously neutral. Yet they seem to have convinced themselves that they are neutral....even though (ironically) the secularists want to vigorously impose their own moral code on society, ideas which have both affirmations and denials about the nature of good and evil. Even in the face of this obvious truth, the secularists amazingly still want to exempt themselves from the separation of church and state clause. It is amazing to me that they do not see how very exclusionary of all other ideas this is and leaves power in the hands of secularists alone. They think, "others are forbidden to speak in the public square because they are religious but WE CAN because we are not religious." But if, on the other hand, we understand the separation clause more broadly, wherein all views are included under the separation of church and state (that is NO religion can be established, including secularism) then ALL religions and worldviews can speak freely in the public square and compete in the free market of ideas... That is closer to true liberty. Remember, we live in a secular country, not a secularist country.

    So because of the sin nature a good Christian should never be anti-government (because all government is established by God) but he should believe in a limited government and rule of law so as to promote the most good by avoiding the tyranny of any one group, including his own. Let's say Christians did get power. Which Christian denomination will you trust to impose laws on the USA? If you know yourself and the nature of man well, you will answer that none should have such power. The Lord alone has the omniscience to judge right and wrong and do it with absolute justice and equity when He comes. For now we are to win people's hearts and minds through the gospel, which God uses to change hearts, and which ALONE will make people eager to follow God's laws. He can gather people for his kingdom under any type of government. Some of the biggest revivals in world history have taken place under the most inhospitable of regimes. So we fear no man or law for what can he do beyond kill our body? Nothing.

    Posted by John on August 17, 2011 07:07 PM


    Nice, succinct, accurate, and helpful. Thanks. I'll pass this along.

    I translated this good article into Italian and posted it in my blog. See: I left out the reference to the USA because these questions are relevant also in Europe.

    Well thought out and well put. Thanks!

    "Well, as Christians, we should recognize that we are children of the King and are under His sovereign authority, but that we are still called to obey the laws of human government in most instances (see Matthew 17:24-27; Romans 13:1-7). Nowh...ere in the New Covenant economy are we called to try to set up a theocracy in the world, yet we particpate, by His glorious grace, in Christ's theocracy as regenerated believers (consider John 18:33-40; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). Now don't mistake this to mean that I think Christian lawmakers, executives, and judges should abandon their principles while serving in government. In fact, we should, if we are to be consistent with our worldview, work WITHIN the system to glorify God and His Law. Consider Paul appealing his case to Ceasar (working within the system) so that he could proclaim Gospel (Acts 25:1-28:30), and the fruit that work bore by God's grace (Romans 1:7-15; Phillipians 4:22)."

    - John Mathis

    I'd be interested in reading your reaction to Joe Carter's article called "The New Birthers"

    It's an interesting topic. One would argue, from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, that secularism might be the result of Protestant questioning of any sort of authority taken to its logical ends.

    Yet secularism in America, the worship of materialism, may have had puritan roots. Where work and success became all important, the poor were marginalized as lazy or stupid, spirituality was a private experience and any sort communal spirituality was frowned upon, morality pertained merely to sexuality and nothing else (certainly not justice and mercy) and so on and so forth.

    The comments above seem to suggest that justice is only something God will do at his return and not something that is a Christian responsibility in the present. And so the repulsion of any sort of social concern by the hyper Calvinists. (perhaps a dose of St John Chrysostom on the topic of wealth might be in order) But we find in the gospels that doing mercy and seeking justice are imperatives commanded by our Lord God and Savior Jesus. These are sign posts pointing to the final justification of God at his return.

    So what should the Christian attitude towards government be? Well until Christians, particularly in America, take ecclesiology seriously they won't be able to answer this question. NT Wright's notion that the church's mission is to inaugurate God's Kingdom in the present is correct. Whatever form of government we may find, it is the church's mission to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. "Colonizing", to use Wright's term, the world - creating citizens of God's Kingdom in the here and now. Speaking truth in love to leaders, whether they be secular or theocratic or whatever else, as St Paul did when he addressed Caeser in Acts. Seeking justice for the poor and indigent and those who don't have a voice. Yes that includes, but is not limited to the unborn. But until fundamentalist Protestants realize that abortion is part of a much larger problem - the dehumanization that worship of wealth has foist upon society, treating humans as no more than commodities or inputs into production which can be discarded at will - then their efforts will come to nought, with others realizing the hypocracy of their position.

    And finally, one can not help but notice the political slant of the above comment. "Limited government" is what we are told is what Christians should desire. Just what "limited government" means is not defined. But you can read between the lines that it means some sort of harsh capitalism, where the poor are blamed and not helped and the cycle of dehumanization continues.


    You said, "The comments above seem to suggest that justice is only something God will do at his return and not something that is a Christian responsibility in the present."

    This is wholly inaccurate. No one even suggested what you are saying. In fact we outright reject the idea as you do. Christians are to be good citizens by being actively involved in government and social justice and go out of their way to help the helpless. But this is irrelevant to the CONTEXT of the post. The post is talking about whether Christians are to set up Theocracy or NOT? It is saying that all people, including Christians are corruptible so we also need to under law and limit the powers of the government so ONE GROUP (including ours) does not tyrannize over the others. It has nothing to do with the "progressive" reading glasses you are reading into it with.

    And if you knew what Reformed believers affirmed you would know that amillennialists believe the same thing about the Kingdom as NT Wright on this issue. We believed it way before he did. The Kingdom is both already and not yet. It is already inaugurated and we are to advance it through the gospel ... and AS A RESULT OF THE GOSPEL social justice will be done. True conversion always results in a heart which loves to help to poor.

    And your comments about "limited government" are simply political fighting words for some other political news story and have nothing to do with the what was written here, only your imagination. "Limited Government" in the context of this post simply means the opposite of tyranny, (theocracy and secularism)... both totalitarian, while "limited" means a balance of power and rule of law because of the sinfulness human nature --- not the divine right of kings, not some mullah ruling over us, not rule of priests or church, or dictator. It is saying due to the corruption of man, he needs to be under law, and that includes the king or president. The US was historically established as with a limited government in response to the totalitarian government of the King of England and Europes' Divine right of Kings. The US was an experiment in LIMITED government as opposed to tyranny and to somehow connect this with some perverted idea about oppressing the poor is just sad. You need to get out more.

    Please do not add words or thoughts to peoples post, because you got mine completely wrong.

    Until the secularists place themselves under the separation clause like everyone else, progressive Dominionists will continue to have a monopoly on power. Secularists and statists use the power of the State to implement their worldview and make everyone to live under their draconian laws.... True liberty allows all views to speak in the public square but the best, most persuasive ideas will prevail in policy.



    There are small pockets of postmillenial Christians called theonomists or dominionists who believe that today the civil magistrate has the duty to execute (put to death) those positively promoting a false religion publicly, OR one who tried to seduce someone away from worshiping the God of Abraham.

    I hope you never again conclude that one's eschatology does not matter. look closely to see that there is a similarity between liberation theology on the left and theonomy or these kinds of dominion theologies on the right. Both are over-realized postmillenial eschatologies. They seem to overlook the fact that Jesus underwent the death penalty for all who would believe and that unbelievers benefit second hand because of his death for the time being. We are never told in the NT to execute people for their dishonoring of God. On the contrary, this is the time of God's patience where he is in-gathering people for himself while we proclaim the gospel to every creature under heaven. This takes time and patience and the grace of God to persuade people off of false beliefs. What people did in Israel is a picture of what will happen when Christ returns and tramples down His enemies in the winepress of his wrath. To think this is our duty at the present moment is a critical error and misapprehension of the nature of Christianity.

    Amen! Thank you for that excellent response. God bless your work.

    As Christians we are all theonomists of sorts. Countries must be ruled by law and since justice can only really be defined in terms of God's special revelation we must start from that revelation. The argument is actually which laws are relevant for today.
    No matter the form of government, whether king, oligarchy, or democracy, it is only as good as the man or men who run it. Even today we see that our beloved democracy is itself vulnerable to an ungodly majority. Only by going to the Bible can we ever hope to have the best government this side of the Second Coming.


    Thanks for your cogent post - I enjoyed your interaction with Simon - very helpful.

    May I recommend to you & him the volume "Lex Rex" by Rev. Samuel Rutherford - the better to help flesh out & define the boundaries of civil power.

    In our day, statism has become runaway, with the western deomocracies of Christendom falling to humanist notions of the 'state being God walking on earth'.

    We lack definitive statements & visions of what are the duties of the different spheres of authority, over against the civil realm.

    Simons concerns are well founded, but misplaced, and could be answered by recognizing that most duties of mercy belong to self, family or church goverment, never the state.

    Were this point observed & revalized in our day, Statism could be reversed.

    I think this error originated in the church, but has infected the political sphere.

    In the civil (political) sphere, for example, Statist tyranny is assumed by both major parties, just varying versions of it - they fight for controls over the levers of the same misbegotten machine.

    To over simplyfy, the Democrats prefer the welfare state, the GOP prefers the warfare state.

    And neither major party questions the (pagan) idea that the State owns & controls the lives of the citizens.

    (If you think this hyperbolic, ask why you are numbered, tracked, controlled & taxed by an almighty central State.)

    This is very different than the "Lex Rex" vision of the Founding Fathers, that held that the only function of civil government was to 'secure the rights of the governed', their 'lives & liberty', as discovered in the 'the Laws of Nature & of Nature's God'.

    These foundational Principles are being articulated in the public arena for the first time in decades by Dr. Ron Paul, who is making this case in a convincing fashion, for a truly limited State.

    His book, "Liberty Defined" lays out the case for a a limited civil govt with self, family, church & private associations doing their duty - reigning in the tyranny of Statism by default.

    Of course, Dr. Ron Paul is a reformer in the civil / political sphere, and it is apropos that churchmen grasp that the LORD may be Providentially preparing the moment to provide the matching puzzle piece from within the church.

    It will be no easy task to revitalize this crucial understanding that animated the founders of America from 1620 to the present day, but has been erased by postmodern conditioning.

    I think we're seeing a new Reformation rising.....just in time.

    Soli Deo Gloria !

    David Alan
    East Texas

    Sometimes I love those Anabaptist views of complete separation, but part of me knows better. Great article.

    @David Alan

    Thanks for your thoughts. I love Samuel Rutherford and I believe it was some of the concepts in Lex Rex that influenced this article.

    You mention the problem of Statism in our day and I believe my solution (at least partially) resolves the problem. If all views, including secularism, were included in the separation of church and state then our world would be transformed into place where all views would compete in the public square and the best ideas would prevail and become public policy. Since the Christians ideas best fit (most closely match) the world that we live in I believe Many Christian ideas would prevail in such a world and policy would be implemented under law and with the consent of the people. Statism can exist now because secularism is now defined as "not religious" ...but since we all know that, in truth, it is not religiously neutral, this is easily proven false. If no one's view is allowed a monopoly (without consent)as secularism has today, then there would be much more healthy debate about ideas in our country. The schools would no longer be a training ground headed by the secularist imams but would allow competing ideas in the textbooks so as to let the children have the capacity to decide for themselves which one is most reasonable. Currently our lower education system is really no better than the ones under the tyrannies around the world.


    Michael Todd

    There are probably many Christian groups out there who believe your brand of Christianity is heretical. As such, where under a theocracy, the civil magistrate has the duty to execute (put to death) those positively promoting a false religion publicly --- it is quite possible you would be executed as a Calvinist or whatever brand of Christianity you embrace. Which group of Christians, then, do you think are good enough to transcend this kind of abuse of power? Given the sinfulness of man, including Christians, who can implement biblical laws in a perfectly just way. What restraints in law would you allow under such a theocracy? It is much more complicated that you make it sound. Yes I agree that we need laws that are more biblical, but due to sin, there must be restraint of power through checks and balances.

    John, thanks for hosting this discussion.

    One element of living peacefully under God, in a Christian society, is to 'give God his glory' and recognize 'the government is upon His (Christ's) shoulder', and not our own.

    I notice a disturbing undertone in our political rhetoric, and it seems to take this form:

    "If me & my party get control of the civil government, we're planning to do X, Y & Z to our opponents..."

    I even hear it (maybe even especially) from some evangelicals, certainly from those who subscribe to Neoconservative beliefs, and it smacks of us Christians being so conditioned by the Humanists, who mis-use or attempt to mis-use civil power in an unjust or tyrannical way, that we adopt their ungodly tactics.

    For example, prior generations of American Christians would have expected the truth of the Scriptures & the advance of the Kingdom of Christ (Church authority) to meet & overcome the challenge posed by Islam, but today's Neoconservatives have changed that agenda from the Bible to bullets, from Missionary activity to unmanned drones (State authority)

    Who needs Jesus Christ commanding all nations, (Matt 28:18) when you can send another division of Marines & Army ?

    Now that's a pretty obvious example, (albeit one I'm sure challenges many yet), but consider how domestically, a secularist left already uses national centralized power to force their will on the nation, via Roe v Wade, or other Federal powers.

    Many on 'our side' counter by proposing the Federal Marriage Amendment defining marriage as only a 'man and a woman' - an ostensibly good goal, right ?

    I grasp the temptation, but it's very unwise, as we end up arguing from our enemies premise - by giving up the authority over marriage from the Church to the Central State, all in the expediency to win the battle, not realizing it just loses us the war.

    Isaiah 9:6: "The Government is upon His shoulders...."

    The Authority is His, not mine, not yours and certainly not the state or federal government's.

    BTW, Ron Paul is the only one convincingly articulating the case, as I am, for a limited state, and for a revitalization of self, family & church government.

    He knows the limits of political authority & has stood upon these Principles for 30 years now...if you don't mind, I'll try to provide a URL for a great articulations he made on this precise's of great relevance to us as Christians & citizens.

    Your comments are succinct and I agree with most of the ideas. But you are grossly wrong when you say we should not be "anti-government." This conclusion does not follow from your premise, nor your argument. It is BECAUSE all men are sinners that we SHOULD be anti-government. The STATE is your enemy not your friend. It is ordained of God maximally to control anarchy, but in an age of overreaching tyranny where everything is regulated, this is the wrong message to send. Did German Christians during the Nazi era need to hear, "they are ordained of God so submit" or was the message of the hour resist--in a godly manner. Was Deitrich Bonhoffer true to Scripture, in his participation of the attempted assassination of Hitler--or did he betray it. The history of Reformed thought, and 500 years of Calvinistic analysis teaches us that the State is a necessary evil. With the emphasis on EVIL. I suggest that a more thoughful, fruitful and provocative approach is to ask whether ANY nation-states today are legitimate. Not because they are de facto rather than dejure, but because ALL nation-states today, even the most benign, such as Canada or Switzerland, violate ALL the TEN commandments, systematically, instituionally, and pervasively. To argue that we are not supposed to be "anti-government", even though we should not be authoritarian, is over simplifying the situation. It is nonetheless a pervasive approach because we all have a vested interest in the status quo. Governmental violation of God's moral law, brings security and tranquility. As Jonah Goldberg in "Liberal Fascism" states today, "we are all fascists."

    No one knows what freedom is anymore. Do a piece on that. Or are "life, liberty and the pursuit of freedom" as well as "give me liberty or give me death" anti-Scriptural.

    If your implicitly repudiate the rationale for the American Revolution why not assist Obama in the socialization of America? Anyways, thanks.

    Dr. Gus Gianello

    John H

    I was not advocating the medieval notion of executing "heretics" and don't consider myself a theonomist in the modern sense of the word but I do believe that laws must be based on the Bible. I'm not sure what our other choices would be.
    I am for limited government too. But that is only possible in a nation of laws. Yet even a limited government is subject to its own abuses just as under kings, oligarchies,democracies, and republics.
    You are right in that there will be no perfect implementation of biblical law (much less any law) by sinful man. As to restraints and other such implementations I would take is something I have not fully considered. In principle all I could say now is that some penalties may well have been given not so much because they deserved death (though all do) but because they were tantamount to sedition.
    I must emphasize that I believe that the Gospel is not spread by the sword but is by grace through faith.


    Thank you for your response. My post was inspired by Calvinist ideas, Samuel Rutherford's in particular. As for just war, I do believe there is a difference between rebellion and revolution, but that is not what this post was about. Its purpose is to examine the concept of power, and how we should exercise it if we had it.

    The sentence you critiqued about not being anti-government was simply to explain that the phrase limited government does not mean that we are ANARCHISTS but ideally It means that to establish the most just form of government, because of our sin nature, Christians should seek laws which glorify God and His Law, but should promote this in a context of limited government with checks and balances and a rule of law so as to promote the most good by avoiding the tyranny of any one group, including his own. The emphasis is here.

    Now, I see you understandably had an emotional response. That's okay since I think you misunderstood my intent ... but with regard to questions about living under injustice (another question entirely) consider this...The early Christians, including the apostles and the Christians up through the time of Constantine spread the gospel while living in the most brutal and inhospitable conditions under the most repressive governments in history. Many of the Roman emperors including Nero put Christians to death simply for what they believed. Their first concern was the advance of the gospel even if it meant the loss of their lives. But when Nero dipped Christians in wax and burned them like candles, God frustrated his plans because the gospel spread as a result.

    Likewise I personally witnessed God working in this way when I lived in a communist country for over 10 years. The greatest revival in world history occurred while under communism there over the last 50 years. I.e. so we can see... the gospel is not chained by what system of government one lives under.

    While I wholeheartedly agree we are to promote justice and biblical ethics with all our might in the countries and governments God has placed us, but that is not our first order of business, the gospel and suffering is. No one here believes that there are any righteous people on the earth and as such no government is righteous. But God has called us to obey the governing authorities nontheless and suffer for it unjustly if this is what He calls us to do ...just as our Lord Jesus Christ did (Rom 13:1)

    1 Peter 2:13-14 Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

    1 Peter 3:14-18 states:
    "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit."

    This appears to be the emphasis in the Scriptures. If you can show me where taking up arms or being actively anti-government is also emphasized I would be glad to look at it. If the government tells us to disobey God then we simply disobey but the result may be suffering.


    I believe that Christians should NOT be involved in the Government or in the society in which we live in anyway shape or form, we are pilgrims passing through, remember?

    If you study the bible and see how Christians are to interact with the society around us we are not involved.

    Our purpose is to be Salt and Light to the world not be part of it in a way that tries to moralize it for our own vain purposes.

    Salt adds taste and is a preservative, Light means we are seen as examples.

    In this way we should be like John the Baptist when he told Herod that he was sinning for having his brother wife, all he did was confront Herod's sin.

    We like John should tell the non-believers about their sins and then the gospel and then leave it at that.

    Remember God is sovereign and He does not need us in the rising and falling of the nations.

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