Do Christians Want a Theocratic or a Secularist State? Or Neither?

by John Hendryx

Until the Lord Jesus Christ returns and establishes justice (Rev 6:16, 17; 11:18) by trampling down his enemies in the great winepress of His wrath (Rev 14:19, 20), Christians are to advance the kingdom of God through proclaiming his word with love and persuasion. Aside from the secularist hysteria about the dangers of Christian theocracy, the vast majority of Christians actually have no more interest in establishing a theocratic Christian state, than in establishing a purely secularist state. Both are equally loathsome to us. Here is why. The secularist mullahs are just as dangerous as the Christian ones. Too much power in the hands of anyone, including certain denominations of Christians, is dangerous because man is corruptible. That is why limited government and a balance of power is a reasonable idea, because it understands the sinful limitations of human beings, whether they be secularist, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist.

Even though Christians know the only truth, they also know themselves too well as sinners to be without the restraint of law or a balance of power. So when Christians speak of separation of church and state we include all ideas under this umbrella, including secularism. One thing many secularists fail to realize though, is that neither they nor their ideas are religiously neutral. Yet they seem to have convinced themselves that they are neutral....even though (ironically) the secularists want to vigorously impose their own moral code on society, ideas which have both affirmations and denials about the nature of good and evil. Even in the face of this obvious truth, the secularists amazingly still want to exempt themselves from the separation of church and state clause. It is amazing to me that they do not see how very exclusionary of all other ideas this is and leaves power in the hands of secularists alone. They think, "others are forbidden to speak in the public square because they are religious but WE CAN because we are not religious." But if, on the other hand, we understand the separation clause more broadly, wherein all views are included under the separation of church and state (that is NO religion can be established, including secularism) then ALL religions and worldviews can speak freely in the public square and compete in the free market of ideas... That is closer to true liberty. Remember, we live in a secular country, not a secularist country.

To establish the most just form of government, because of our sin nature, Christians should seek laws which glorify God and His Law, but should promote this in a context of limited government with checks and balances and a rule of law so as to promote the most good by avoiding the tyranny of any one group, including his own. Let's say Christians did get power. Which Christian denomination will you trust to impose laws on the USA? If you know yourself and the nature of man well, you will answer that none should have such power. Consider: there are probably many Christian groups out there who believe your brand of Christianity is heretical. As such, where under a theocracy, the civil magistrate has the duty to execute (put to death) those positively promoting a false religion publicly --- it is quite possible you would be executed as a Calvinist or whatever brand of Christianity you embrace. Which group of Christians, then, do you think are good enough to transcend this kind of abuse of power? Given the sinfulness of man, including Christians, who can implement biblical laws in a perfectly just way. What restraints in law would you allow under such a theocracy? It is much more complicated that many think. Yes I am in full agreement with most of you that we need to actively promote laws that are more biblical, but my point is that due to our sin, there must also be restraint of power (whoever it is) through checks and balances. "Limited Government" in context here simply means the opposite of tyranny, (i.e. theocracy and secularism)... both totalitarian, while "limited" positively means we use laws to constrain the dehumanizing capacity of human nature to exert power by establishing checks and balances. Not the divine right of kings, not some mullah ruling over us, not the rule of priests or church, or dictator, oligarchy, left or right winged dominionists or secularist mobocracy or any other dehumanizing system of government. It is saying that due to the corruption of man, our rulers all need to be under the laws limitations, checks and balances. The U.S. was historically established as with a limited government in response to the totalitarian government of the King of England and Europe's Divine right of Kings. It was an experiment in LIMITED government as opposed to tyranny.

To be clear I believe checks and balances are not, in themselves, sufficient to guard a just form of government. They are not. I agree with the Bible, the founding fathers and Greek and Roman philosophers as well, that virtuous laws are the first requirement for freedom and  a virtuous people a prerequisite for checks and balances to be effective. Public policy must be guided by God's Law. My point is not to exclude God's law from public policy, for religious neutrality does not exist -- someone's religious ideas will obviously be instituted. Currently we live under many of the the dehumanizing laws of secularism. My point was, rather, to say that the establishing of God's laws in the public sphere must be done with GREAT care given the limitations of man, under an environment of checks and balances ... not that checks and balances had some kind of virtue in themselves. And that, when thwarted, this is not the end of the world so we should not spend too much time fretting over it.

Our duty as Christian pilgrims in "Babylonian Exile" should be to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” - Jeremiah 29:5-7

Do I believe Christians should withdraw themselves from government? No. Please so not mistake my intent to mean that I think Christian's should abandon their principles while serving in government or at the ballot box. On the contrary, we should work within the system God places us to glorify God and His Law. Consider Paul when he appealed to to Caesar (working within the oppressive system of the time) so that he could proclaim Gospel (Acts 25:1-28:30). Christians are to be good citizens by being actively involved in government and social justice and should go out of their way to help the helpless. Since Christ's Kingdom is already inaugurated, we are to advance it through the gospel and, AS A RESULT OF THE GOSPEL, social justice will be done. True conversion always results in a heart which loves to help to poor. We are ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. Through the gospel we are planting the seeds which God uses to create citizens of his Kingdom in the here and now. But the main question we are wresting with in this essay is not whether Christians should be involved in government or service or in helping the poor (all important things) but whether it is appropriate to set up a theocracy or not?

The Lord alone has the omniscience to judge right and wrong and do it with absolute justice and equity when He comes. For now, while serving as good citizens in the countries God has placed us in (Jeremiah 29:5-7), we are to win people's hearts and minds through the gospel, which God uses to change hearts, and which ALONE will make people eager to follow God's laws.

We conclude that all people, including Christians, are corruptible so we need to always work toward laws that limit the powers of the government so NO ONE GROUP (including ours) tyrannizes over the others. Currently secular dominionists have a relative monopoly on power. Secularists and statists use the power of the State to implement their worldview and make everyone to live under their draconian laws. They define religion in a way that excludes all views but their own and, as such, allow only their own views to be taught in K-12 education without challenge. True liberty allows all views to speak in the public square, and the best, most persuasive and reasonable ideas will prevail in policy. But we must remember. God can gather people for his kingdom under any type of government. Some of the biggest revivals in world history have taken place under the most inhospitable of regimes. Knowing God's sovereignty over all, we can therefore, bare up under unjust laws with patience if and when we have to. So we fear no man or law, for what can he do beyond kill our body? Nothing.

Note: while most Christians believe something akin to what I have written here, with sleight modifications perhaps, I do acknowledge that there are tiny pockets of postmillenial Christians called theonomists or dominionists who believe that even today the civil magistrate has the duty to execute (put to death) those positively promoting a false religion publicly, OR those who try to seduce someone away from worshiping the God of Abraham. I hope you never again conclude that one's eschatology does not matter. Look closely to see that there is a similarity between liberation theology on the left and theonomy or dominion theology on the right. Both are over-realized postmillenial eschatologies. They seem to overlook the most basic element in Christianity, the fact that Jesus underwent the death penalty for all who would believe; and because of this, unbelievers benefit second hand because of His death for the time being. We are never told in the NT to execute people for their dishonoring of God. On the contrary, this is the time of God's patience where he is in-gathering people for himself while we proclaim the gospel to every creature under heaven. This takes time and patience and the grace of God to persuade people off of false beliefs. It certainly took many years for the grace of God to work in me (while spreading false religion) before yielding to Christ. What people did in Israel's theocracy (where God was directly present and often directing their day to day affairs) is a picture of what will happen when Christ returns and justly tramples down His enemies in the winepress of his wrath. To think this is our duty at the present moment is a critical error and misapprehension of the nature of true Christianity.

Just as the Israeleocentric nature of Dispensationalism is a distraction, so is the Politico-centric nature of theonomy a distraction from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Both are over emphasized. Theonomists eschatology have given them an over-emphasis on the politics of this world, where Jesus had no such emphasis. I frequently receive some of their newsletters and in the vast majority of their articles are about politics (not the Bible or theology) and articles showing the inconsistencies or problems with political liberals. Nothing wrong with talking about politics but it seems to have been over-emphasized to the point of having replaced the the gospel from what I have seen. And by the focus of the writing, you would think that liberal policies were the end of the world - as if God's kingdom were hurt one iota by the form of government we live under. Yes I agree we are to promote the most godly government we can... but does this really make a difference in God's eternal plan when it we are not successful? I beleive Theocracy can only exist if God chooses to directly impose and administer it. The word is meaningless otherwise. No theocracy without Theo.