As we look at the world around us, especially the world in America where I live, become more and more perverse and openly pagan, there’s a natural temptation to feel the growing tension and look for an immediate solution. In many cases, it leads Christians to embrace a “muscular version” of Christianity that stands against drag queen story hour and the latest LGBTQA+ pronoun madness.
For this reason, many Christians are attracted to the ideology of Christian Nationalism without the first thought of where it arises from, much like people who after the death of George Floyd began posting black squares on Instagram as a sign that Black Lives Matter. Soon enough, those same people were publishing the language of BLM on social media without the slightest clue where BLM originated and the baggage that it brought with it.
In a recent article titled, “The Different Shades of Christian Nationalism” I attempted to point out that there are various different shades of Christian Nationalism. The largest base of Christian Nationalists do not live in Moscow, ID. In fact, they’re not even Reformed in their theology. The largest base of Christian Nationalists are followers of General Mike Flynn and operate in the political sphere. For instance, in 2021, Mike Flynn led a prayer at one of his rallies where he repeated the same prayer that the false prophetess Elizabeth Clare popularized in 1984 as he asked for attendees to commit themselves to the ideologies of Christian Nationalism.
I have problems with the Christian Nationalism movement on the basis of several ideological and theological points. First of all, the Christian Nationalism movement is language that is weaponized against the church by progressives as a pejorative label that conflates “white nationalists” with “Christian Nationalists” and it suddenly becomes White Christian Nationalists. Christianity is a big enough hurdle to our pagan world, so why would we need to embrace another pejorative label such as “Christian Nationalist” to hinder the work of Christ? Even if you could convince me of the teachings of Christian Nationalism, I would not be willing to accept the name badge.
Within the sphere of theology, I have some concerns with the Christian Nationalist movement on the basis of theological distinctions. One such concern is centered on historic Baptist theology. For instance, the 1689 London Baptist Confession on the civil magistrate only contains three paragraphs whereas the Westminster Confession of Faith contains four paragraphs. It would be good to examine the reasons for this difference in light of the current discussions on Christian Nationalism.
Three Rather than Four Paragraphs
When a person examines the 1689 LBC and the WCF, they can see the obvious differences with regard to paragraphs. However, the real question is why did the Baptists determine to omit that paragraph? It doesn’t seem like it’s at odds with much of Baptist distinctives. However, the history of that paragraph matters.
In 1788 when the American Presbyterians revised the WCF, they changed the paragraph to align with true biblical theology and Christian liberty that the Baptists had already embraced. The original reading of the third paragraph in the WCF reads:
The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.
The third paragraph of the original WCF denies the civil magistrate the power to administer the Word and sacrament, but it crosses a line by extending to the civil magistrate the power to punish heretics and blasphemers in order to correct “corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline.” The Baptists rightly viewed this as a violation of the civil magistrates sphere of duty and operation. If this paragraph stands, the civil magistrate places his hand on both the sword and keys, or at bare minimum is given the responsibility of using the sword to correct the human heart—which would not be possible.
The Christians who were leaving England for the new world had witnessed Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary) use the sword to enforce the doctrine of Transubstantiation resulting in the burning of Protestants in the streets and within a few generations—entire families sailed across the ocean to pursue religious freedom. As Sam Waldron points out in his commentary on the 1689 LBC, “The Baptists were the earliest reformed Christians to uphold religious liberty.”1Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Leyland, United Kingdom, 5th ed. 2016), 346 Soon enough, the American Presbyterians followed in the footsteps of the Baptists who rightly applied the teachings of Christian liberty creating a necessary distinction between church and state.
Second Table Rather than Both Tables of the Law
When we study God’s Word, we must not embrace the error of the Anabaptists who resisted Christian engagement within the civil government. The Baptists, when drafting the 1689 LBC expressed clear distinction from this incorrect view by writing the following in the first paragraph of chapter 22:
God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good; and to this end has armed them with the power of the sword, for defence and encouragement of them that do good, and for the punishment of evil doers.
The biblical basis for this paragraph is clearly Romans 13. The Christian should come to see that governmental authority and leadership is a good thing since the authorities are literally referenced as the deacons (servants) of God. A land that does not have civil magistrates established for the good purpose of upholding justice, establishing peace, and rewarding those who do good will be filled with anarchy and the vileness of human depravity. In short, the Christian should see government as a good thing—so long as the government (civil magistrate) remains true to his job and refuses to blur the lines between the two spheres of the state and the church. Robert Haldane comments:
The institution of civil government is a dispensation of mercy, and its existence is so indispensable, that the moment it ceases under one form, it re-establishes itself in another. The world, ever since the fall…has been in such a state of corruption and depravity, that without the powerful obstacle presented by civil government to the selfish and malignant passions of men, it would be better to live among the beasts of the forest than in human society. As soon as its restraints are removed, man shows himself in his real character. When there was no king, in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes, we see in the last three chapters of the Book of Judges what were the dreadful consequences.2Robert Haldane, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1992), 589.
There must be this clear distinction between the sword and the keys. The civil magistrate is given the sword, but the church is entrusted with the keys. To further this point, a clear reading of Romans 13 drives that point home. In the text, Paul is referencing the Second Table of the Ten Commandments with regard to the civil magistrate. As Sam Waldron observes, “Why is the civil magistrate not to enforce the ‘first table of the law?’ Because he is somehow not subject to the Word of God? No! Because it is not his job!”3 Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 349
The original framers of the United States Constitution understood what would inevitably happen if the civil magistrate had access to the sword and the keys and there was no clear separation between the sphere of the church and the sphere of the state. That’s why they penned the following in the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Therefore, when Stephen Wolfe makes the case that the civil magistrate has a responsibility to enforce both the First and Second Table, it causes concern. Wolfe writes:
The civil magistrate may restrain outward expressions of false religion that, in his judgment, (1) can injure souls, (2) are subversive to Christian civil government, Christian culture, and sacred ministry, or (3) threaten civil disruption and unrest; and he restrains in order to establish or maintain the best outward conditions for his people to live “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:2).4Stephen Wolfe, A Case for Christian Nationalism, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2022), 6241 of 8002 Electronic Kindle Version.
In his concluding words of his chapter on “Liberty of Conscience,” Wolfe argues against what he calls “Second Table-Onlyism.” According to Wolfe’s stated position above, the civil magistrate, which he refers to as the Christian Prince, has the duty to enforce both Tables which overlaps the spheres of authority and diminishes necessary separation between these two distinct spheres established by God. Not only do I find this troubling, I find it to be in contradiction to Romans 13 where no mention of the First Table appears in Paul’s words to the church in the city of Rome.
This idea of enforcing both the First and Second Table has become a common thread within the conversation about Christian Nationalism. It appears in the work of Stephen Wolfe and men like Timon Cline, who has argued that the civil magistrate was given the responsibility to “lead his people to the gates of eternal salvation.”5The London Lyceum, “A Protestant Political Party Roundtable” – In the discussion, Timon Cline quotes Franciscus Junius, a Reformed scholar who studied under John Calvin and became a … Continue reading
As a pastor and Christian who is committed to the authority of God’s Word and one who lives in America (with the current First Amendment of the United States Constitution), I find these positions to be in contradiction to God’s Word and the United States Constitution. Therefore, in order to reach this goal of this new Protestant project—the Constitution will need to be altered to align with something that the Bible does not explicitly teach.
To remain consistent with historic 1689 LBC beliefs is not effeminate or fearful. Historic Baptists were not winsome pietists who embraced “loser theology” in their view of the civil sphere. The historic Reformed Baptists held to a robust theology and were faithful, measured, wise, courageous, and understood the clear distinction between the spheres of life that are clearly established by God. Historic Baptists have stood upon the authority and sufficiency of Scripture unlike many modern evangelicals who have embraced cultural ideologies as analytical tools. We don’t need more analytical tools or in this case—submission tools.
Finally, as a Christian who knows a little about church history, I find this new Protestant project concerning when I consider the role the civil magistrate played in the burning of John Rogers, the Oxford martyrs, and hundreds more under the reign of Queen Mary I—especially since she acted in judgment against the Protestants to enforce the doctrines contained in the sphere of the church. Mary I, as Queen, led a reactionary movement against the Protestants. We must be cautious of reactionary movements. Overcorrection is always a danger. If the Christian community in America reacts to the woke movement by embracing another reactionary movement without considering the underlying ideologies—it could be disastrous. We would be foolish to believe that history couldn’t repeat itself again.
|1||Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Leyland, United Kingdom, 5th ed. 2016), 346|
|2||Robert Haldane, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1992), 589.|
|3||Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 349|
|4||Stephen Wolfe, A Case for Christian Nationalism, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2022), 6241 of 8002 Electronic Kindle Version.|
|5||The London Lyceum, “A Protestant Political Party Roundtable” – In the discussion, Timon Cline quotes Franciscus Junius, a Reformed scholar who studied under John Calvin and became a minister in Antwerp and died in 1602.|