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Applying Models for Reformation: The United States in the 21st Century

By Jay Rogers
Published March 31, 2008

It has been said that drastic times call for drastic measures. Today, we have a situation in our nation in which civil authorities will not uphold the moral law of God. Together with covenant-breaking policies of the current presidential administration, we have new federal laws, foreign to the philosophy of the Puritans and our founding fathers, directed against Christians who would champion the moral law of God. Ultimately, the Church believes not in revolution, but in regeneration and reformation. That is not to say that revolution in all circumstances is wrong. Someday we may have to defend ourselves from an oppressive government.

Any idea of violence or revolution should be the last resort, but it is something that we cannot rule out. At some point, it may become necessary for Christians to institute a competitive government to bring lasting reformation. This competitive or “shadow” government 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.

There have been many instances of societal reformation led by the Church which we may view as models for our present situation. What we are seeing today in the reemergence of Christian conservative activism is an instinctive gut reaction. We know that lawlessness in our society is prominent and we sense a need for godly leadership. But we need to have a long term, principled, theological response to the situation. With the recent groundswell of political conservatism in the Church, we must also have a revival of neo-Puritanism, an understanding of the authority of the Law of God, and a covenantal model of government.

Of course, this model 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 moral law of God 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 justified, the Law is the standard for sanctification. The Church has to understand and preach the law of God as the only standard. We can’t undo over 150 years of antinomianism in the Church in two or three years. It has to be done incrementally.

If we are to have reformation in society, first there must be a neo-Puritan revival in the Church. We say that this revival must be “neo-Puritan” because only the revivals of this strain have brought lasting societal transformation in past centuries. The “renewal” movements of the 20th century have been sadly pietistic and mystical, lacking the transforming power of the Great Awakenings. What passes for “revival” in modern times is merely a tickling of the fancies of our whimsical, man-centered 20th century evangelicalism.

A crucial step in promoting a neo-Puritan awakening in our society would be the institution of a “shadow” civil government. This would be an excellent place to start, but the steps toward declaring an alternate 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. Unity would be based on historic orthodoxy found in the councils and creeds of the early Church. Councils or presbyteries could be formed on the basis of a Church covenant between local churches of specific regions. All churches could work together – from Reformed to Baptist, Methodist, Independent, Charismatic – to whoever affirmed the core elements of Christianity.

Second, a national synod (or council of churches) could be called several times a year. A number of representatives from each local presbytery could be sent. These could include pastors, church members, and also representatives who currently hold elected and appointed civil offices. The first step would be to get together and hold a national conference to discuss the platform and goals of the new Christian Commonwealth. Then representatives could be elected with consent of their local church bodies.

But first, there is the strong necessity of catholicity. Unity is necessary before we can have this kind of shadow government. Theological dialogue and education on all levels is a prerequisite. Holding ecclesiastical courts, as did John Knox and the Church of Scotland, could lead to instituting a shadow government, as did Oliver Cromwell and the English Puritans. We could begin by issuing proclamations to the leaders of the country and to people who are involved in the abortion industry. These proclamations would state that they are in violation of the moral law of God by promoting abortion and other ungodly injunctions. Our civil legislators 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 in heaven but on earth. We are saying that authority is given to us in heaven and also here on earth because we are the Church of God. 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.

The national synod could be called several times a year for the purpose of issuing 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. If there ever came a time of a great monumental national disaster, which happens all-too-frequently in history, the Church would then be wise to be prepared to assume leadership. 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 Church needs to be prepared to directly confront the federal government through elected representatives who are born-again and hold to a covenantal theology. This presupposes that the Church is responsible for training civil leaders who will not only take a stand for righteousness, but who also have a covenantal theology undergirding their legislative activism. Once again, we need to throw off the crippling notion of the “Divine Right of Kings.” Many modern evangelicals falsely believe that all powers which exist are ordained by God. Scripture clearly indicates that only those powers which are covenantal are ordained of God. The Church must reform, resist and, if necessary, overthrow powers which are lawless. This is what the Presbyterians and Puritans did in Scotland, England and America.

We also need modern day Oliver Cromwells who can correctly discern the weaknesses of the current “army” of street activists. There is a biblical basis for the Church to personify Wisdom “crying out in the gates of the city.” But we need to have responsible Christian “generals” who will maintain a correct spirit and doctrine in prophetic social activism. These leaders would serve as representatives of the Christian Commonwealth on the level of the local presbyteries.

We may even come to a place where church leaders, such as Cromwell, will become responsible to form armed militias that may defend our families and communities from a tyrannical federal government, as did also the pastors of many Congregational, Baptist and Presbyterian churches at the time of the American Revolution. The Christian Commonwealth should state emphatically from the outset that we would take every conceivable step to avoid every violent conflict with a hostile government. However, we ought to throw off the Ghandist pacifistic notion that armed conflict is wrong in all circumstances. We need to be prepared to defend ourselves if wrongfully attacked.

Another important strategy is to have both church and civil leaders understand that there is a covenantal basis for the separation of Church and State spheres of government, as did the American Puritans. In this way, we would be able to fully articulate our views in the “public square” when those who enforce power unlawfully would attempt to intimidate United States citizens and rob them of their God-given rights and duties in the civil arena. Even civil leaders who are not Christians would be constrained to legislate according to the moral law of God. John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Thomas Jefferson were civil leaders who were educated by the church as to the civil leader’s obligation to defend the rights of the people against tyranny.

In the meantime, we need to keep pressing our advantage. The Church should begin by making public prayer proclamations against sin in our society. We must declare the areas in which the civil government has violated the moral Law of God. And this we must do fearlessly.

“They that forsake the law praise the wicked, but they that keep the law shall resist them” (Proverbs 28:4).


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