2005-12-15

Will Candy Canes and Lawyers Bring God's Kingdom on Earth?

Well, I am watching the morning news, waiting for my darling daughter to wake up from her slumber, and I see story number 8,376 in the "Christmas Wars" between good evangelical Christians and the evil world system.

It seems that another elementary school child in a Texas school district is being used as a puppet by his parents, who are being used as puppets by their pastor(s), to push the Moral Majority Christian platform at school.  Supposedly the kid wants to distribute Candy Canes with the "Story" of the Candy Cane attached, which is actually a Gospel presentation.  The "Gospel Story" of the Candy Cane is actually pretty good.  I share it IN CHURCH about once every other year.

But, the school district didn't want the kid passing out religious propaganda, because conceivably, they don't want lawsuits from atheists and non-Christians, nor do they want to grant similar rights to other religions to pass out their religious propaganda as well.  I mean, Texas schools are in enough trouble just trying to teach academic subjects right now.  We don't need to make them a religious battle ground as well!  They might not know reading or math... but they will know the true meaning of the Candy Cane!

But, the parents and pastors got some Christian legal defense team to write some nasty letters about potential lawsuits and lots of [taxpayer] money lost in the legal battle, and guess what?  The school district crumbled.  Now the Christians have successfully used legal COERCION to demand their RIGHTS.  My question is this:  Is this type of coercion a Christ-like attitude, and does this type of coercion help establish God's Kingdom on Earth?

First of all, I would say that demanding "our rights" is not a Christian attitude at all.  Jesus emptied Himself of all of His rights, even His place in Heaven, to become our servant- our slave (Phil 2:1-11).  Jesus tells us to give up all rights to ourselves and give everything self-sacrificially to serve Him (cf. Mat 10; 16.24-28).  Paul tells us that we are not our own, we were bought at a price (1Co 6). Paul does not even try to "grasp" his own rights by force (cf. 1Co 9), but instead gives up his own rights so that he could "become all things to all people, that [he] might by all means save some" (1Co 9.22).

We do not spread God's Kingdom by demanding our rights as citizens in a supposedly "Christian Nation" (is there such a thing?).  Rather, we spread God's Kingdom by sacrificially emptying ourselves in Love and serving others.  They will know we are Christians by our love, not by our legal threats or political platform (cf. John 13:34-35).  Jesus Himself says that if we want to be "first" (first in the Church, first in society), we must become "slave of all" (Mark 10:44).  Conversion of culture come by spreading the Gospel through Love (genuine caring for all people), Service (self-emptying self-giving to help others), and Truth (well reasoned discourse on the reality of Jesus Christ).  It does not come, it cannot come, by "demanding our rights".  That is to use the weapons of the world, and we are called to NOT use the weapons of the world (2Co 10.4).

Secondly, does the impersonal sharing of the Gospel through mass distribution of tracts really spread God's Kingdom?  Don't get me wrong.  Tracts can be of great use if they are written well and they are shared in a personal relationship.  But not if they are given out en masse without personal contact, and certainly if they are given out through coercion and legal power.  If tracts are given out non-relationally and under coercion, then that will just make people bitter and not want to read it or care about this "God of Love" who is being imposed on them. For a great modern "parable" about the foibles of mass evangelism techniques, check out the "Gospel Blimp" at Amazon.

Third, this gives me an excuse to write about something I have wanted to post on my blog for a while: How do Church and State function together to bring about God's Kingdom and establish the "good society"?

The goal of communal life is the "good society".  Peter Kreeft has a very simple, commonsense definition of the "good society": it is a society that makes it easy to be a good person.  Making a good society requires two complementary elements: restraining evil and releasing good.  Thus, the State is God's primary instrument to restrain evil on Earth, and the Church as God's primary instrument to release good.  It is a basic dichotomy in the roles of Church and State that are complementary, but also separate.

On one hand, it is the role of the State to maintain a safe society where persons, property, and contracts are protected from violence.  It is the job of the state to stop those guilty of such violence (whether they be individuals, groups, or rogue nations) and keep them out of society until they no longer constitute a threat. It is their job to protect the innocent, and reward those who do good (cf. Rom 13; 1Pe 2; 1Ti 2:1-2).  The main tool of the State to do this is Top-Down Coercion: Force that is great enough to stop the violent with the least amount of collateral damage.

On the other hand, it is the role of the Church to release God's grace and healing into a lost world through Prayer, Word, and Deed.  Through evangelism, formation, worship, sacraments, and other means the Church acts to encourage and enable goodness in the world around her.  Her main tool is Bottom-Up Conscience: working prophetically in the lives of individuals and families to bring about consciousness of God's Kingdom, to convict where we have fallen short of that Kingdom, and enable us to live Kingdom lives.

Kreeft, in his book "How to Win the Culture War" speaks of the square of culture.  Culture is about moving a group of people from chaos to community.  To do this, two complementary forces work in society.  From the bottom up, the conscience of individuals and groups moves them to live the "good life".  From the top down, the force of coercion stops individuals and groups who would hinder others from pursuing the "good life".

The less conscience a society has, the more it must rely on coercion to stave off the forces of chaos.  When a society goes "terminal", it either must have something like a religious and cultural revival to impart vision and conscience back to the society, or it will simply implode on itself, or be destroyed from without, or both.  

The Square of Civilization:
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Top Down: Coercion

Chaos - - - - - | - - - - - Community

Bottom Up: Conscience
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One of the consequences here is that illegal and immoral are two separate but overlapping categories.  For instance, murder is immoral (6th command), AND it should be illegal.  Coveting / lust is immoral (10th command), BUT it should not be illegal... and frankly even if it was illegal it would be impossible to enforce.  Not stopping at an intersection is illegal, but it is not immoral.  So, illegality refers to actions which, if done, do violence to non-consenting persons (or their property or contracts). Yet, immorality refers to some type of action that creates an unhealthy life for those who practice it.

Thus, an action may be immoral and illegal if it is both unhealthy and harms those who do not choose to participate.  It may be illegal, yet not immoral, if doing it unknowingly endangers non-consenting people.  It may be immoral, yet not illegal, if it harms those who practice it, but no one else.

In my view, it is only the job of government to legislate actions which are strictly illegal, regardless of whether or not they are immoral.  Yet, it is not the job of the state to legislate that which is only immoral.  This is trying to establish the Kingdom of God by coercion and not by conscience, and this will simply not work.  History is ripe with the failures of Church and State combining to legislate (or even worse, fight) to establish God's Kingdom on Earth. At best, the State becomes the secret police of the Church (which rarely happens).  At worst, the Church becomes the religious puppet arm of the State (which is what normally happens).

While I agree that almost every law passed by the State is a law dealing with morality (except things like traffic laws).  Yet, they should only be passed regarding a specific type of moral issues: those issues that causally affect more than those who choose to practice them. If Christians are involved in the State (as I believe they should be), they should not be there to push the Christian moral agenda or to legislate the Kingdom of God into existence.  They should solely be there as servants of the State for the restraining of evil.

The Church, on the other hand, is called to be the "bottom up" force which brings the Kingdom of God through people's imaginations and consciences.  In Jesus' words, we are to be like "yeast" working through the dough, bubbling up from the "micro" level to the "macro" level. In the image of CS Lewis, we are to be the "good infection" which infects society at the cellular level, immunizing them from the infection of sin, and replicating Christ in the lives of individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

The tools of the world to bring about controlled society has always been top-down coercion and raw power-politics.  While I do not reject this in its limited use to restrain evil, as Christians we must totally reject it as a force for releasing good.  The tools of the world are of no use to establish the Kingdom of God, and must be utterly denied by those who are seeking to establish the Kingdom.

In my view, it is only by limiting the roles of Church and State, and refusing to confuse the ends and means of each, that we will be able to establish the "good society".  The soldier, the policeman, the politician, and the judge have legitimate callings from God: to restrain evil.  The missionary, the pastor, the bishop, and the teacher have a legitimate calling from God: to release good.

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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.