Galatians 5:1 exhorts the saints of God to stand fast! That is, to stand resolute and undaunted in the redemptive liberty wrought in Christ, and to not again be entangled in the yoke of religious, legalistic, will-worshiping bondage. In some ways, it may seem odd that saints, having once known the release of the forgiveness of sins, of faith toward God, and of the righteousness of Christ being imputed to their bankrupt account, would then seek to perfect themselves with always sincere, yet, nonetheless, self-righteous legalism. But, due to the sin nature, the inherent difficulty of obedience, the attacks of the enemy, and the blinding poison of bitterness, many a saint has fallen prey to the trap of legalistic separatism.
Reformed Christians have traditionally advanced a high regard for God’s law. Manifestly, we look to the counsel of God’s Law-Word in both the Old and New Testaments as our source of ethics. In “Sola Scriptura” we find our solace, our code of conduct, and the promise of grace, mercy, and provision. Yet, applying the Word is not always clear or easy. We can be, and often are, blinded by our own sin, our lack of knowledge or inexperience, or the real temptation of a pharisaical, litigious mind that can never quite understand the inter-workings of grace and law. The results? A tragic separatism evolves that is steeped in extrabiblical morality, and accented by unskilled, childish, and graceless usage of the Word which brings death, rather than life (2 Cor. 3:1-12).
To best illustrate the difference between a Reformed view of “law-keeping” or the way of righteousness, and the way of separatism, I will delineate a point-counter point comparison of the two positions as they relate to the main spheres of governance.
The Reformed view of man, sin, redemption, the church, and culture places its hope in the eventual triumph of the kingdom of God. The Reformed view holds Christ as “the transformer of culture” and, hence, is not fearful of the power of sin, nor its manifestation in individuals or institutions. Faith is placed in the power of Christ to redeem sinners, reform men, and change nations. The law of God is seen as a beacon of hope, a standard of renovation and blessing, that will attract the elect, and even reform the unrepentant to a more peaceful existence.
The separatist is, fundamentally, afraid of sin. While there may be an acknowledgment of victory in time and history, the separatist tends by his actions, to be inward and perfectionistic in his understanding. Sin, along with its seductive power, is perceived as invincible. Hence, the inclination is toward withdrawal. The separatist views the law of God as an exclusionary tool, rather than an evangelistic light of hope.
The Reformed man is confident in the mission of the church as the embassy of God to sinners. Law-keepers are not afraid to dine with sinners, for they look to their eventual salvation and reformation. The Reformed man sees God’s law as “power projection” to attract, convert, and restrain sinful men. The church is the trumpet of the gospel. Sinners are called from the highways and byways to hear the Word of God preached. Granted, the unbelievers are not allowed church membership, nor participation in com- munion. However, they should be welcomed to hear and observe the function of the people of God as they worship and administer the sacraments. Only if the unbeliever become seditious or seek to destroy the church, would he be barred from services. This view sees the church as an embassy. She actively proclaims the crown and covenant of Christ in every sphere of life.
Separatists are very uncomfortable with what they deem “mixture.” The church for them is exclusive to those already redeemed. This is certainly true regarding formal membership, but the separatist extends this exclusivity to church attendance as well. Hence, the separatist is frightened by sinners defiling the sanctuary. In this sense, separatists are less like the church and more like John Wesley’s “Holy Club.” This model regards the church as a monastery endeavoring to evade evil rather than confronting and vanquishing it.
Reformed Christians understand that both the church and the state are established by God as separate institutions that are not to undermine nor interfere with each other’s jurisdictional duties. They are separate from each other but are not separate from God. The church is given the “power of the keys” to bind into fellowship and instruct its members, and, when necessary, sanction and excommunicate the unrepentant. The state is given the “power of the sword” to promote and reward righteousness, and to punish and restrain wickedness. Therefore, the church and the state held in juxtaposition are to be viewed as augmentations one to the other, in the honoring of Christ and His crown.
It is also important to note that the Reformation era and Calvinism in particular led to a revival of both the prophetic (contemporaneous application of biblical law) and the Levitical (instructional) role of the church. The prophetic role is especially important to the notion of political activism. Scottish firebrand John Knox, the father of Presbyterianism, insisted that if the circumstances were right, Christians had both the right and the obligation to revolt against an evil and tyrannical monarch. Previously, with the entrenched insidious doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings,” the idea of revolt was considered sin. Knox’s notion of political resistance related to his belief in corporate resistance to sin. Knox, with firm understanding of God’s sovereignty, argued that a nation, because of the covenant obligation to live according to God’s law, incurred corporate guilt for tolerating evil in the civil realm.
The prophetic lessons of Knox and Scottish Presbyterianism were not lost on future generations. In fact, such was the force and vitality of this fiery brand of Calvinism on the American colonies, that their fight for independence was viewed in England as “The Presbyterian Revolt.”
Separatists and legalists reject the lessons of the Reformation and instead withdraw from politics because it is characterized as “dirty and sinful.” There is little confidence in the power of God to restrain the wicked, and thus, they strive to sequester themselves and retire. In the course of their disengagement, they cede the ground to the very thing they feared, chiefly, wickedness! At the same time, very little grace is given by legalists to their own brothers and sisters who are activistic in the political realm. They avoid practical debate in favor of destructive criticism. They cynically work sedition behind the scenes, or prey on weaker brethren ensnaring them with their closed-loop thinking that holds retreat in esteem and mocks the vision of victory in the civil realm as naive.
As we approach election 2000, I call upon our readers to reenter the civil fray! Not with the failed message of the Moral Majority or The Christian Coalition upon their lips, but instead with the trumpet of our Covenanter forebears! Christ’s crown and covenant is the supreme mandate that cannot and will not fail. It is our responsibility to both work and fight to raise this ensign again. Raise it in your town councils and newspapers. Organize around it at the precinct level. Shout it loud in your county government. Stand for it at your state capitol, and with it lifted high upon the battle-scarred standard, storm the ramparts of Federal power. This is the clarion call of the reformer! Separatists need not apply.
Rev. Jeffrey A. Ziegler, the president of the National Reform Association, is also founder and president of Christian Endeavors and Reformation Bible Institute, and co-founder and moderator of The Association of Free Reformed Churches. He has lectured in over 600 churches and ministerial conferences in North America, Great Britain, and Germany. Jeff is also president of The Continental Group, a think tank for political activism. His articles have appeared in the Chalcedon Report, and The Christian Statesman. He can be reached at 35155 Beachpark Drive, Eastlake, Ohio 44095. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.