Saturday, February 26, 2005

Don't trust government to keep the faith

Brooke Allen has an article this week in The Nation arguing persuasively that the United States was not founded as a "Christian nation":
Our nation was founded not on Christian principles but on Enlightenment ones. God only entered the picture as a very minor player, and Jesus Christ was conspicuously absent. . . Our Constitution makes no mention whatever of God. The omission was too obvious to have been anything but deliberate . . .
Although I don't endorse Allen's political slant, the article's historical concepts are valid. While the United States has always been a nation of Christians, the philosophical and political underpinnings of our government itself have never been. It is a distinction worth making.

What are the consequences of this distinction? For Christians it does not matter politically whether the United States is a "Christian" nation or not. Either way we are equally bound to be salt and light to the world, to encourage justice and peace, and to obey the government.

In terms of building Christian character, however, the distinction is significant. Christians must not look to the world as a "prop" for the church. Christian formation is the mission of the church, not of Caesar. Government is ordained by God, but so is hell. Both are consequences of a fallen world, and neither, of themselves, build Christian character.

When the church depends on the benevolence of government or society to form Christians, we not only shirk our own responsibility; we risk diluting and polluting the hard message of repentance and transformation in Christ. Will Willimon addressed this very issue in "Making Christians in a Secular World." Willimon describes the end of the culture's serving as a "prop" for the church in his hometown more than forty years ago. Says Willimon:
I believe that the day is coming, has already come, when the church must again take seriously the task of making Christians -- of intentionally forming a peculiar people.
Even today many Christians look to society to help build Christian character. It won't happen. The world may encourage us to be good Americans, but only the church--equipped with the Word of God--can train us to be citizens of the Kingdom.


Blogger John Schroeder said...

It is natural for people that reject Christianity to turn to government for the authority that Christians invest in the church. We in the Church should not make the same mistake.Great post Milt! I linked to it here

9:50 AM, February 27, 2005  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for the reference, John, and for the encouragement. Peace.

2:14 PM, February 27, 2005  

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