I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4)
Bernie Sanders recently caused a national commotion by challenging the fitness of a nominee for a position in the Office of Management and Budget. Why did he believe the nominee was unfit? Because the nominee had written that Muslims are condemned because they reject Christ. Sanders called this articulation of the “narrow way” hateful. The gospel has always caused offense (2 Cor 2:15-16), but believing the gospel has usually helped qualify candidates for public service, rather than disqualify them. How did we come to this point in our nation—where a prominent leader, and former presidential candidate, considers a Christian unfit to serve the country?
In order to answer this question, it is necessary to distinguish between the right and the left. First, we must understand and define progressives on the left and traditionalists on the right. Then we must address the question, what is God’s heart for the role of government in our lives? To reiterate, what is the essential difference between the right and the left and what is God’s desire for government? Two simple questions.
Terms like far right, leftist, socialist, moderate, etc. suggest stereotypes that may or may not be correct. I will simply use two terms: on the left, progressive; and on the right, traditionalist. First, the progressive movement believes that man can be perfected. Progressives are not satisfied with the status quo and believe that man and society have the ability to evolve and improve based upon experience, knowledge, and science. Progressives believe, just like the evolution of a species, human society can change for the better if individuals are given the right opportunities. Most progressives view government as the only force large enough to move a society toward perfection.
Because of this belief in the potential of man and society to be perfected, progressives value opportunity, education, science, equality, etc. As a result, they favor wealth redistribution – including executive pay – as an important way to provide equal opportunity. Similarly, a nationalized education curriculum and free college for all would be embraced by progressives as a means of improving the citizenry. Progressives view freedom as something that is granted by the state. Progressives believe that laws should evolve over time as society becomes more sophisticated and enlightened through knowledge and improvement. Progress is key, thus the term, “progressive.”
On the other hand, traditionalists take a more bleak view of mankind; this view of mankind results in a different view of government. The first traditionalists in American government were the founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson summarized core traditionalist beliefs: “A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.” Identifying and addressing this need, to protect people from injuring each other, is based upon a biblical understanding of life.
Most of our founding fathers grew up around or right after the first Great Awakening, when a significant percentage of the populace was swept into the kingdom. An understanding for repentance, inspired by the Spirit of God, resulted from a profound awe and fear of the Lord. Most of our founding fathers embraced a biblical world view and had a practical understanding of the depravity of man in the context of civil government. The flawed state of mankind was a very personal belief for our founding fathers:
Samuel Adams said, “I . . . rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins.”
Roger Sherman, signer of the Declaration of Independence wrote, “I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. God . . . has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, so as thereby he is not the author or approver of sin.”
Thomas Jefferson said, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. . . ”
Benjamin Rush said, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ prescribes the wisest rules for just conduct in every situation of life. Happy they who are enabled to obey them in all situations! . . . My only hope of salvation is in the infinite transcendent love of God manifested to the world by the death of His Son upon the Cross. Nothing but His blood will wash away my sins. (Acts 22:16)”
Because of our founding fathers’ view of the corruption of man, they understood the need for virtue as outlined in Scripture. It was said that our republic would not last without virtue—serving others, rather than allowing selfish ambition to rule. The founders understood the need for accountability at the personal level and the balance of powers at the governmental level. They envisioned and formed a government whose greatest role is to protect the God-given individual freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Our founders knew that God defines all laws and civil governments legislate them. Believing wisdom has already been given by God, they embraced God’s laws and did not see any need to create laws for themselves.
The most fundamental division between progressives and traditionalists is the view of man. Is man evolving and perfecting himself or is man depraved and fallen? This fundamental question is at the root of much of our public debate and discourse.
As Christians, we know that the correct answer to these questions is found in Scripture. Our Creator has told us whether man is evolving or depraved in nature. “. . . [F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . .” (Rom 3:23) “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Is 64:6) Outside of divine influence, human nature is on a collision course with destruction. Man’s selfishness, greed, and unquenchable desire for power leads to destruction.
Christians don’t need to question whether or not man is essentially good. Scripture is clear—man is sinful. This is the story of the Gospel. This is the story of the Bible – our need to be justified before a holy God. The question becomes, how do we as Christians, understanding the sinful nature of man, interpret and fulfill God’s intent for government?
Government was one of three institutions created by God: government cares for our civil lives, the Church cares for our spiritual lives, and marriage cares for our personal lives. Scripture indicates that God has a design and desire for how nations will operate. In Micah, the prophet shares the word of the Lord: I will take vengeance in anger and wrath on the nations that have not obeyed me. (Mic 5:15) Proverbs tells us, In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. (Pv 21:1) Finally, Jeremiah warned, “. . . if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. (Jer 18:8)
Our founding fathers debated about how much government to put into place. In fact, some did not want a federal government at all. James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. . . . In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger.” (Federalist No. 51) In the end, republican government was chosen as a necessity for the security of liberty. Because of the founding father’s world view, their understanding of the fallen nature of man, and that nature’s God grants inalienable rights, they believed that their role was to legislate the laws of God. This needs to be spoken loud and clear to our generation. Progressives will tell you that law is always progressing and improving because we are becoming a more just and dignified society and that freedom is granted by government. Our founding fathers, on the other hand, believed they were to legislate the laws of God. God creates laws, Congress legislates them, the President executes them, and the judiciary protects them.
To correctly understand the role of government, we must understand the role of the Church. Because of the secular nature of our government today, the role of the Church in public life is not a typical topic of discussion. When the institutions God designed to care for his creation become distorted, government tries to do what the family was created to do or government attempts what the church was created to do. Then we find our society entering dangerous waters, outside of the will of God. None of us should expect a blessing from God if we are contradicting his will.
Our founding fathers believed that government was never to provide the higher things in life. They believed that each person found his highest potential in following nature’s God. Government, then, protects God-given freedoms, rather than the state creating individuals who are aiming to reach their fullest potential.
One of the best examples of American governing from a biblical understanding of man happened during the presidency of Grover Cleveland. It was 1887 and Texas was suffering a terrible drought; cattle were dying, crops were withering. President Cleveland vetoed a small relief bill to purchase grain to feed those who were hit by a prolonged drought. This is how he explained his veto:
“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution; and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadily resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.
The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.
It is within my personal knowledge that individual aid has, to some extent, already been extended to the sufferers mentioned in this bill. The failure of the proposed appropriation of $10,000 additional, to meet their remaining wants, will not necessarily result in continued distress if the emergency is fully made known to the people of the country.” (emphasis added)
President Cleveland clearly understood what happens when government steps out of its God-ordained role.
In general, government should not replace our faith in, and duty to, God. God’s intention is for us to rely upon him, providing to, and receiving from, the community of believers the support and the care we need through life. God never intended the government to fulfill this role. Relying upon the government to care for us opens the door to idolatry; society replaces the eternal God with the god of government.
In summary, God’s heart for the role of government in our lives is to legislate his laws and to not replace him. On this Fourth of July weekend, I want to remind you of the critical need to pray for our government and our leaders. Why? That we might have peaceful and quiet lives and that the gospel might go forth. Some leaders in our government sincerely believe that man is good, simply needing the right opportunities to learn and grow. Moreover, they believe that only the government can provide these opportunities. I believe that we need to pray that we, the people of the United States, first realize the corruptibility of man. Second, may we seek and support a government that will legislate, execute, and protect the laws of God without replacing God. And we need to pray that we, the Church, will fulfill our role to care for one another in the ways that God describes in Scripture.
(by David Kubal, President/CEO of Intercessors for America.)