There’s a line in Wodehouse’s Joy in the Morning in which Bertie says to Jeeves, “It was one of those cases where you approve the broad, general principle of an idea but can’t help being in a bit of a twitter at the prospect of putting it into practical effect.”
I think there are a few parallels there to this whole Christian Nationalism / Mere Christendom debate. Maybe several.
I’m thankful for some continued discussion related to Doug Wilson’s new book, Mere Christendom, not because we will succeed in changing each other’s minds—our disagreements on a number of fundamental theological presuppositions are simply too deep, but because these kinds of discussions do allow for more clarity. And if the present kerfuffle over Christian Nationalism needs anything right now, it’s more clarity.
And so, for the sake of clarity, I’d like to just briefly respond to three points Doug made in his recent response to my review of his book. If you haven’t read my review or Wilson’s response, I’d encourage you to do so first.
The Cart Before the Horse
As I have been stressing since the initial tweet that sparked the recent debate, the bottom line comes down to which comes first: (a) public and formal acknowledgment of Christ’s Lordship or (b) internal acknowledgement of Christ’s Lordship.
I’ll summarize the key theological difference again: paedobaptists want children of believing parents to formally and publicly acknowledge Christ’s Lordship before they personally and internally acknowledge his Lordship; credobaptists do not believe anyone should formally and publicly acknowledge Christ’s Lordship until after they believe it. The Christian Nationalism/Mere Christendom project fits within the former framework, but not the latter. This is why I continue to insist that Baptist theology isn’t compatible with the project.
This does not mean Baptists could not find doctrinal consensus with other Christians or unbelievers for the purpose of supporting and defending justice and freedom in a shared nation. If you had a legal team seeking to challenge Obergefell made up of a Roman Catholic, a dispensational Baptist, and an elder in a PCA church, you’d call that a legal team. Even if they win.
This does not mean Baptists can’t admonish magistrates that God requires them to acknowledge him as Lord. God wants all people to repent, and magistrates are people, too. I will boldly stand with Doug Wilson or any other person who believes the gospel, and proclaim to kings and princes, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled!” And I will pray that they will repent.
This does not mean Baptists don’t believe in making disciples of all nations. I’m pretty sure Baptists have sent more missionaries around the world than just about anyone. We preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation without distinction. We ignore ethnic differences because Christ is forming one new “holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9) united by faith in Christ, not united ultimately by ethnic pedigree.
This does not mean Baptists can’t have a robust public theology, standing for abolition of abortion, the biblical definition of marriage, and the self-evident truth of only two genders. Come visit Pray’s Mill Baptist Church, where Josh Buice’s father-in-law is the chaplain of the local jail, and men from our church regularly preach the gospel there; where our church supports and often joins our faithful member Bobby McCreery in his ministry of preaching at abortion mills and college campuses; where Josh Buice led the way in Georgia to support a bill abolishing abortion. I could go on.
This does not mean Baptists can’t affirm the God-ordained value of nations that seek the interests of their people and protect their borders. Each of us in leadership at G3 Ministries have regularly gone on public record over many years supporting American patriotism, protected borders, and voting for morality and against debauchery in this country.
What this simply means is that, as a Baptist, I don’t want anyone—a magistrate, a dog catcher, an accountant, or a teacher—to formally and publicly acknowledge Christ’s Lordship until they actually bow the knee in repentant faith. Baptist theology expects individuals to believe in their heart that Jesus is Lord before they formally and publicly profess it.
So let’s be clear: my understanding of the Christian Nationalist/Mere Christendom project is that they want a magistrate—whether or not that magistrate has personally repented and believed in Christ—to formally and publicly acknowledge Christ’s Lordship, and then by extension whole nations to do so, nations filled with many who believe, and many who do not. Sort of like King Charles recently did at his coronation. It is this that Baptist theology simply won’t support.
Again, if all we’re after is Bible-believing Christians working together to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and seek to make the nation better by supporting good laws that are consistent with biblical morality, I’m all for it. No conflict with Baptist theology there.
The conflict with Baptist theology comes when you expect unbelieving people to (ironically) break the Third Commandment by formally and publicly acknowledging Christ’s Lordship before they actually believe it.
Not the Slightest Hint
This leads to my claim that the New Testament doesn’t contain the slightest hint of building Christian nations or Christendom. I appreciate that Doug quoted some New Testament texts he believes support the mere Christendom vision. But do they?
Wilson quotes three texts (Romans 16:25–27, Galatians 3:8, Romans 15:12), each of which proclaim that Jesus came to rule the nations and promise that this will, indeed, come to pass.
Amen. I believe Jesus is presently ruling the nations, whether they recognize it or not. He is sovereign King over all, “crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death” (Heb 2:9). And he is presently ruling those who have submitted to his Lordship as they fulfill their commission to make disciples of all the nations. When the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, the King will return, and all the nations will acknowledge his Lordship.
Remember, I believe Christendom will happen, and these texts predict it; the issue is timing. None of these text imply that Christendom will take place before Jesus comes again.
None of these texts even come close to implying that this happens as unbelieving magistrates and nations filled with unbelieving people formally and publicly acknowledge Christ’s Lordship before they actually believe it in their hearts. Nothing in the New Testament does. Romans 13 calls magistrates “deacons of God,” but it says this of pagan Roman governors who certainly did not acknowledge the fact, because they did not believe it. They were deacons of God when they carried out God’s wrath, similar to how the Lord called King Cyrus his “anointed” (Is 45:1), though the king never acknowledged Yahweh’s Lordship.
But again, so I’m not misunderstood (because people seem to love misunderstanding in this debate), this does not mean that we cannot be active in the public square. The New Testament commands us to be holy (1 Pet 1:15), commands us to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s (Mark 12:17), and commands us to pray for magistrates (1 Tim 2:1–2). The New Testament commands us “do good unto all men” (Gal 6:10). It commands us to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Pet 3:8–9). It commands us to strive to “live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18) and “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” And it commands us:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Pe 2:13–17)
It gives us very clear direction for how we are supposed to live and engage with magistrates; if Christ wanted unbelieving magistrates and whole nations to formally and publicly acknowledge Christ’s Lordship in a civic way, wouldn’t the New Testament have said so? So no, not even a hint.
Of course we want magistrates to acknowledge Christ’s Lordship, and we pray that they will. So what happens when a magistrate hears our message of the gospel, repents of his sin, and believes in his heart that Jesus is Lord? This leads to my final point.
Being a Baptist Pastor
While I very much appreciated Doug’s collegial engagement in his response to me, his ending was a bit cheeky. Does he really believe that, if a magistrate to whom I preached the gospel repented and believed in Christ asked for my pastoral advice concerning various civic matters, that I would really reply, “Don’t know. This world is not my home”?
Of course I wouldn’t.
And to others in a bit of a Twitter in defense of Christian Nationalism: the “pietism” and “Anabaptist” caricatures do nothing to advance the conversation either.
I would give pastoral council to that man just like I would for any other human vocation: “The profession God has called you to is service to Christ, so do it heartily for him and not with mediocrity. Do it for the Lord, and not for men. Work ultimately for the inheritance of Christ, not for earthly gain.”
I would help him understand God’s intent for human government to be a common grace institution for the purpose of preserving peace, order, and freedom to worship in a sin-cursed world.
I would show him that his authority has been given to him by God, and that when he punishes evil that harms others, he is an avenger who is carrying out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. He is a deacon of God for the good of all people, not just the people of God.
I would urge him to publicly acknowledge that he believes Jesus is Lord, seeking to boldly proclaim the gospel whenever he can.
When it came to very specific issues of problems in the prison system or other policy specifics, I would try to help him understand general universal moral principles from Scripture like justice and mercy, but I would also recognize my limitations in areas of policy as a pastor and encourage him to carefully study and dialog with other policy experts to determine the best way forward. Surely Wilson recognizes that when it comes to specific policy there is not always simple biblical clarity, as he has dealt with this very problem with the matter of slavery.
And I would suggest the magistrate read the second half of Wilson’s book for an excellent biblical argument for limited government and why he should not attempt to punish blasphemy.
What I would urge him not to do is to assume or attempt to assert that the nation under his rule is Christian just because he is Christian.
What More Do You Want?
A closing question I have asked thenomists/Christian Nationalists and never received a reply:
What is it you want us to be doing right now?
If you want Christians to be faithful, to rear godly children, to be good churchmen, to preach the gospel, to call sinners (including magistrates) to repentance, and to actively pursue morality, justice, and peace in society, then great.
But let’s say I grant that “winning” is “Christian nations”—What do you want me to be doing right now? I who am a churchman, who advocates for pure worship, who preaches the gospel faithfully, who practices daily family worship and rears my children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, who promotes the abolition of abortion, who publicly defends marriage and gender sanity … I could go on and on. What more do you want?
Because at the end of the day, what are we really debating? A lot of this honestly sounds a whole lot like branding and beating the air with very little, if any, articulation of what we’re supposed to be doing now that can’t be simply defined as Christian Faithfulness. It seems like many are all in a bit of a twitter at the prospect of putting it into practical effect.
Doug might say, “You don’t want to win.” Yes I do. I want to accomplish exactly what the New Testament has commanded me to do. I want to see people from every nation on earth evangelized and discipled to live holy lives for the glory of God.
And I believe we will win, “when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thess 1:10).
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