Note: What follows was published earlier on the LTI blog. However, because the blog was accidently deleted on December 22, we are reposting important entries that are foundational for future posts.
I enjoyed your piece regarding the proper role for Christians in the public square. I wonder if you can imagine a foreign preacher coming to a city known for its carnal and libertine atmosphere. Suppose the preacher became involved in politics. He lobbied to make the city more moral. Surprisingly, in addition, he became involved in foreign affairs, establishing businesses, developing a welfare system, developing a sanitation system and reforming the political process. Such an intrusion into public affairs would today seem, at best, unseemly. Yet such a preacher did exist.
His name was John Calvin.
I find it ironic that preachers like John MacArthur honor Calvin’s theology but disparage his life’s work. Calvin spent the greater part of his life engaging in the hurly burly of the political process of Geneva. As the City’s chief pastor, he was an influential voice but held no official position. In fact, he was not even a citizen of Geneva until shortly before he died. Instead, he advocated to the City Council, directly and through the laity of the church for all sorts of reforms. These included rewriting the entire criminal code of Geneva to make it more humane, government reorganization, developing a sanitation system, corporal works of mercy for those less fortunate, and even negotiating treaties and trade agreements. Calvin did not think he should simply preach the gospel while society went to hell. To the contrary, he thought it the duty of every Christian to bring Christ’s dominion to every area of endeavor.
Calvin understood that the Bible, and particularly, the New Testament, was not directed at kings but at ordinary people. Ordinary people at the time had little influence over public policy. On the other hand, Old Testament kings and New Testament rulers were always judged on the way in which they ruled: Were they honest? Were the reforms good? Did they encourage moral societies?
As Calvin recognized, once Christians actually had the power to be kings, even in some little way, they took on the responsibility that goes with kingship. Christian responsibility towards government is discussed in but a few places in the New Testament. The most notable example is in Romans 13. Romans 13 begins with the instruction to submit to governing authorities (13:1). The purpose of such authorities is to punish evil from verse 4 and to promote social order and good. (verse 3.) It follows, then, that if Christians are part of the governing authorities—as indeed every Christian in the United States is—they must fulfill God’s will for government by punishing evil and promoting good. Calvin saw no basis for the view that the Christian who is in a position to change society and laws can shirk that responsibility.
Christians are called to be ambassadors to the world (that is what the word “apostle” means, those who are “sent out”). It seems to me we can’t be very good ambassadors if all we do is yell at people from the second floor of the embassy window.
Keep up the good work.
Mark C. Allen III is on the Board of Directors of the National Lawyers Association--a pro life national organization for lawyers. He's with the law firm of Laquer, Urban, Clifford & Hodge.