The Church, the State, and Proposition 8

One of the great questions for the Church in our day is how we are to handle questions of Christianity and politics.  Last Sunday morning we sought to apply God's wisdom to the political discussion surrounding Proposition 8 and the debate over same-sex marriage.  We saw, of course, that God's wisdom stands opposed to the world's wisdom, and we recognized that even our own wisdom on this issue can stand against God's wisdom if we are not seeking to thoroughly submit our minds to God's Word.  Thus, we must have a prophetic voice in our culture, speaking God's Word boldly and openly, but we must be humble prophets, careful to reject all hints of our own wisdom that stand in contrast to God's Word.  So, in the case of Proposition 8, we acknowledge the sinful nature of same-sex marriage (per 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10), but we also acknowledge God's hand in giving men and women over to their sin.  As Paul writes,  "Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done" (Rom. 1:28).  Perhaps here it is best for our own "prophetic" voice to stand in silent awe of God's unsearchable wisdom as he removes barriers and gives sinners over to their sin. Of course, the greater political question remains, how does Christ's Church relate to the everyday political activities of our world?  What does it look like for the Church generally to live by God's wisdom, and reject the world's wisdom, when it comes to the political sphere?  On these questions we benefit greatly from Edmund Clowney's powerful exposition on the nature and role of the church in this world.  Applying God's wisdom from biblical passages such as Mark 12:13-17; Titus 3:1; Romans 13:1-6, Clowney writes:

Since democracy gives its citizens a voice in government, Christians have the responsibility of their privilege to participate.  There is every reason for the general office of the church ('laity') to consult together on political issues.  So, too, the special officers of the church must provide biblical guidance and wisdom to assist in Christian analysis of political questions.  The church has a prophetic role to perceive and expose ethical questions that underlie political issues.  Where God has spoken in condemning sin... the church cannot be silent....
Yet Christian involvement in political life does not cancel out the spiritual form of Christ's kingdom.  Calling the state to righteousness does not mean calling it to promote the gospel with political power or to usher in the last judgment with the sword.  Christians are not free to form an exclusively Christian political party that seeks to exercise power in the name of Christ.  That would identify Christ's cause with one of the kingdoms of this world.  Political action on the part of Christians must always be undertaken in concert with others who seek the same immediate objectives.  Such objectives, promoting life, liberty and the restraint of violence, are the proper goals of civil government.  They are not the goals of faith and holiness that Christ appointed for his kingdom....

The patriotism is misguided that sees the United States or the United Kingdom as a Christian nation composed of God's elect and entitled to his favor and blessing.  Such a claim is patently false, and illegitimate even as an ideal.  Christ's kingdom is not typical and preparatory, like the kingdom of Israel; it is realized and ultimate.  All that is less than loving God with heart, soul, strength and mind, and one's neighbor as one's self, is totally excluded by the new law of love.  That is why the ultimate enforcement of Christ's law must be brought about, not by political power, but by his own judgment at his appearing, and by the total transformation that will make his bride spotless for the wedding feast of glory....

We not only may, but must co-operate with other citizens when we seek to use the levers of political power.  We do so, not as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, but of an earthly nation.  Christians may not band together in the name of Christ to use the political weapons of the world to fight the spiritual battle of the kingdom.  There is a love of divine benevolence that sends rain on the just and unjust, and there is a duty for Christians citizens to show that love to others.  Yet the line must be drawn between the ministry of mercy that is part of the mission of the church, and the reach for political power that would destroy the church by politicizing it (selected passages from  The Church, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995, pp. 192-197).

If there are blessings to be had through the judicial ruling on Proposition 8, it may be that the chief blessing for Christ's Church is the profound reminder that Christ's kingdom is most definitely not "of this world" (John 18:36).  Through this ruling a more clear line between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world has been drawn, and although we lament any judicial ruling or political action in support of same-sex marriage, we do not despair.  We belong ultimately to a greater kingdom, a kingdom that will one day triumph over all others.  If today we feel a little less at home in this world we should at least thank God for the reminder that this world is not our home.

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,  who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3:18-21).

Waiting with you for Jesus,

Pastor Aaron