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A Model for Reformation

By P. Andrew Sandlin
Published February 1, 1994

Today we have a situation where the civil magistrates will not uphold the law of God. At some point it may become necessary for Christians to institute a competitive government to bring lasting reformation. This would be similar to what happened in the time of John Knox, Oliver Cromwell or at the time of the American Revolution when the colonists broke away from England by electing a Continental Congress.

But to have reformation in society first there needs to be reformation in the Church. We can’t undo 150 years of antinomianism (anti-Biblical Law position) in the Church in two or three years. It has to be done incrementally. Ultimately, the Church believes not in revolution but in regeneration and reformation. That is not to say that revolution in all circumstances is wrong. We certainly need to take the intermediate steps first. Any idea of violence or revolution should be the last resort. But it is something that we cannot rule out.

Instituting a competitive or shadow government, something similar to the British model under Oliver Cromwell, is an excellent idea. If there ever came a time of a great monumental national disaster, it would be wise to be prepared for that. But most Christians are not adequately prepared for that because of a faulty theology. Even so, it is something that we need to be thinking about. The shadow government could begin to issue various statements in opposition to the ruling power. For instance, if a president of the United States signs executive orders supporting fetal tissue research, the Christian commonwealth could issue a proclamation stating disagreement.

The steps toward declaring an alternate shadow government are enormous tasks. First, there has to be greater unity in the Church. We would do that not by getting rid of distinctives but by establishing the bare minimum distinctives which would be based on orthodoxy found in the councils and creeds of the early Church. Councils or presbyteries could be formed on the basis of Church covenants between local churches in specific regions. All churches could work together from Baptist, to Reformed, to Methodist, to whoever affirmed the core elements of Christianity.

Second, a national synod could be called. A number of representatives from each group could be sent. The idea would be to get together and discuss the platform, the goals of the new Christian republic and then elect representatives. But first there is the strong necessity of unity on the basis of orthodoxy. Unity is necessary before we can have this kind of shadow government.

Holding ecclesiastical courts could be a prerequisite to instituting a shadow government. We could begin by issuing proclamations to the leaders of the country and to people who are involved in the abortion industry. The proclamations would state that they are in violation of the moral Law of God by promoting child killing. They would be called upon to repent or suffer the wrath of God.

The filing of these “covenantal lawsuits” presupposes that the Church has specifically endowed power from the Lord according to Matthew 16:19 that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” The Church is an earthly extension of the heavenly throne room. When we are operating according to the word of God and we make declarations, they mean something – not just here but in heaven. We are saying that we are the Church of God and authority is given to us here on earth because authority has also been given to us in heaven. John the Baptist shook his finger in the face of the king and said, “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4). The Church needs to do that as well.

John Knox, in his book The Reformation of Scotland, outlined model without which the British model of government under Oliver Cromwell never would have been possible. Knox discovered the biblical process by which a monarch might be deposed; Cromwell implemented it. They were so covenantal in their thinking that they recognized that civil government is based on a covenant between the magistrate (or the representative or king) and the populace. The view was that when the magistrate defects from the covenant, it is the duty of the people to overthrow him. There is definitely an association between Knox and Cromwell. When Charles I was beheaded, the understanding was that he had broken faith with the people. Their view was that when the magistrate breaks faith, then he may legitimately be deposed.

The Puritan view of the relationship between the Church and the State was the foundation for the American colonial view of government. This was true of Massachusetts and Connecticut and to a lesser extent in the Southern colonies. When the Mayflower Compact was written, the Pilgrims had a covenantal idea of the nature of civil government. This was a foundation for later colonies established throughout the 1600s. These covenants were influenced by what Knox had done in Scotland and what the Puritans had done in England.

We can also look at Puritan America and the colonists as laying the foundation for issuing the Declaration of Independence to King George III in 1776. Although it is true that there was a strong deistic influence at the time of the signing of the Declaration, there is no question that there were the residual effects of strong Puritan influence. The American Revolution could not have occurred without the 150-year-old Puritan foundation in America.

Then we need to understand the Jeffersonian distinction between Church and State. The idea of “separation of Church and State” is very misleading. It is not a constitutional phrase but it came afterward in the writings of Jefferson. The Church and the State are separate spheres of government. Separation of Church and State does not mean separation of the State from God. The issue is not whether the Church should intrude on the State’s affairs. The Church should not. Neither should the State intrude on the Church’s affairs. But God has a right to interfere in the affairs of both. Civil government is not secular; it still stands under the law of God.

With this whole groundswell of political conservatism in the Church, we also need to have a revival of the Puritan idea of the authority of the law of God. Of course, that needs to begin in the churches. But our age is an antinomian age. When Paul says, “For you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), for so long that has been interpreted to mean that the law does not have any effect on our lives. But Paul was saying that the law was not over us in a sentence of death because we have been justified. We do not adhere to the law as a basis for justification. But after we are saved, the law is the standard of individual sanctification, ecclesiastical sanctification, social sanctification and political sanctification. The Church has to understand and preach the law of God as the only standard.

What we are seeing today in the groundswell of Christian conservative activism is an instinctive flailing of the arms back and forth. We know that abortion on demand is prominent and then falsely believe that our society is under satanic rulership. But we need to have a long term, principled, theological response to the situation. The Puritan covenantal understanding of the law of God can provide that.

In the meantime, we need to keep pressing our advantage. The Church should begin by making public declarations against sin in our society. We must declare the areas in which the civil government has violated the moral Law of God. And we must do this fearlessly. The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.

Based in part on an interview with Andrew Sandlin, editor of Chalcedon Report


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