The state as savior

brush.jpgJohn Edwards is taking great care to make sure his presidential resume’ has all the appropriate items checked. In a recent interview with beliefnet.com he said, “I am a Christian…”

  • Christian? Check.

Edwards also said he does not believe America is a Christian nation. “America is a nation of faith,” he said.

  • Tolerant and respectful of other faiths? Check.

He then proceeded to speak on behalf of Jesus and explain how Jesus would be upset with the “selfishness of Americans,” and the “country’s willingness to go to war when it’s not necessary.”

Continuing to speak in reference to the United States he said, “I think Jesus would be disappointed in our ignoring the plight of those around us who are suffering and our focus on our own selfish short-term needs. I think he would be appalled, actually.”

  • Pay just enough lip service to God while investing real faith in government as the true savior? Check.

John Edwards may very well be a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. But if he is then it seems he is making the same mistake that far too many of us have made and are still making — mistaking God’s covenant people with the entire citizenry of the United States. This is called “civil religion” and is explained very well in a Modern Reformation magazine article entitled, “One Cheer for Civil Religion.” Here’s an excerpt:

What is civil religion? According to historian (and Christian) Wilfred McClay, civil religion is “that strain of American piety that bestows many of the elements of religious sentiment and faith upon the political and social institutions of the United States.” More problematically, civil religion is the misidentification of the nation of the United States with the covenant people of God. It is the casual assumption that America enjoys a special role in redemptive history. It is the confusion of the office of the political leader with the office of the spiritual leader. It is the frequent presumption of divine blessings without submission to divine judgment. It is the sublimation of Christian distinctives to a generic amalgam that conflates many faiths into a common national identity. It is as old as America itself. And it is not biblical Christianity.

God has established no covenant with the government of the United States or with the American people as a whole. He HAS ordained a specific role for civil governments (according to Romans 13), and that is the restraint of evil, period. Civil government is, for the time being, God’s instrument of justice in the world. But it is NOT his instrument of grace. That role belongs to the Church.

John Edwards mentioned several social ills with which he thinks Jesus would be “appalled.” So, what does he intend to do about them?

Think a minute.

eightballsm.jpgHe’s running for president. Obviously he intends to use the power of the office to correct these social ills — to use the government to dispense grace. He is preaching the gospel of the state as savior and spouting the state worship I pray Christians everywhere will recognize and reject as the idolatry it is.

You may be thinking the word “idolatry” is a bit harsh, here. I think it’s right on the money and here’s why…

In Matthew Chapter 5 Jesus is teaching his disciples and says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men…”

Now, who is Jesus talking about?

Believers. Christians. The Church — NOT civil governments.

And why are Christians to let their lights shine before men? (This is key)

“…that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

The Church is to dispense grace so that the world may praise God. If we turn over our responsibility as God’s instruments of grace to civil government what happens?

  1. God does not get the praise.
  2. People no longer see the grace they receive as grace and come to view it as an “entitlement” — something they are owed.

Anytime we give to another the glory that rightfully belongs to God alone we are engaged in idolatry. Christians should reject the notion of allowing the state to take charge of the task God has intended for us. And we should be wise enough to not be fooled by any smooth talking politician who simply wants to placate us with “God talk” in exchange for our vote.

May God prevent us from allowing His church to be manipulated in this manner.

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About Chip
Chip is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. He served more than five years on the staff of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as Director of Communications and Public Relations, editor of the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, and regular contributor to the Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. He currently earns his living as a writer. He serves his local church as a teacher and deacon and his local Baptist Association as a Seminary Extension instructor and supply preacher.

2 Responses to The state as savior

  1. Scott says:

    I stand in agreement with this. I had a similar thought about politicians using religion for gain…

    http://throughtheveil.wordpress.com/2007/01/10/a-new-baptist-covenant%e2%80%99/

  2. Pingback: Charity or Robbery? « Thideology

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