Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Don’t know who to vote for yet?

Dear Reader,

Since I have been venting about political things, I wanted to share with you about Evan McMullin. He is a Republican running for president as an independent. You can read the principles behind his campaign here. I was not planning to vote for anyone this election since I could not do so in good conscience. McMullin has me rethinking that (though I do have one big reservation about him). Just sharing so you can make your own informed decision.

Nebby

More Political Ranting

Dear Reader,

Okay, I guess I can’t stop with the political ranting. So far I have restrained myself from responding to the million and two Facebook posts which irritate me, but you, dear reader, get to benefit from that restraint.

From an article on Franklin Graham:

“The Rev. Franklin Graham on Friday sought to remind Americans that the presidential election is about a lot more than bad behavior, and that evangelical Christians must keep their eyes on the true prize — the Supreme Court.” (“Franklin Graham Reminds Christian Voters: Next President’s Court Picks Will Shape The Future” by Jack Davis at Western Journalism)

This is the first sentence. That’s as far as I needed to go (I did actually read the whole article though); I already disagree. The argument — not just from Rev. Graham but from many evangelical Christians — seems to be that, despite his personal faults, we need to vote for Donald Trump for the sake of the larger issue, the greater good if you will, which is the next Supreme Court justice.

I am reminded of the nations of Israel and Judah in the days before their exiles. They too put their hope in political solutions. They trusted in foreign alliances with Assyria and Egypt to save them. God rebuked them soundly for this and they did not manage to avoid the coming destruction.

Saving the unborn is a noble goal. It is hard to argue with that one (though I wonder sometimes if we elevate even that too far at the expense of other goods). But God does not tell us to hope in legislation or in judicial rulings. They are the horses and chariots of our day and we are not to trust in them, nor in the strength or wisdom of man, but only in the Lord our God.

How do we do that? We obey Him. We elect godly leaders, and if there are none available maybe we don’t consent to the election of any. We condemn sin where we see it, both in our political candidates and in our culture. We preach the gospel and call for repentance.

Would you rather have no abortions in this country because the law forbids them or because people in their hearts value life? Our goal is not to outlaw something but to save souls. We may win a political battle and get a Supreme Court justice we approve of, but if we, the church,  have lost the moral authority we should have, if we are seen to condone sin when it suits our purposes, we are losing the greater battle for hearts and souls.

Nebby

How Should the Church Address the Current Political Battle?

Dear Reader,

A little follow-up to my last post on how we as evangelicals are responding to this election cycle. But first I want to commend to you this article from Christianity Today. It says a lot of what I was trying to say but much more coherently.

What I am trying to say is that we have a golden opportunity here to do what the church is called to do — to address the sins of our age and to call people and our nation to repentance. And as I think on the latest scandal — that is, some words of Donald Trump’s from 10+ years ago that demean women — I think we have been handed a perfect opportunity to address what is really one of the big issues of our day apart from the election, namely the importance of gender. Our society as a whole seems to be saying that gender is an artificial construct. The Bible tells is God created gender and that He did so for a reason. So rather than arguing about whether the Donald did or didn’t and how bad it is that he said he did, let’s seize the opportunity to say that yes, protecting women matters. It matters because men and women are different. They are different because God made them so.

The saddest part of this whole election season is that we have squandered what should have been great opportunities to speak the truth and that we have allowed ourselves to be pulled down to a base, worldly level. We need to return to addressing people’s hearts more than their ballots.

Nebby

Evangelicals and Elections

Dear Reader,

I am trying really, really hard not to respond to friends’ Facebook posts this week. Politics is everywhere. Like, I suspect, most Americans, I am very frustrated with everything about this election. I am frustrated with the choices available. I am even more frustrated with the things I see my fellow evangelical Christians saying. Whatever the positions of individual Christians, the perception of society at large seems to be that we have sold our souls for the sake of {pick one: a conservative supreme court justice, the right to discriminate against homosexuals, the abortion thing, free access to guns, anything by Hillary}.

In Christian circles the phrase on hears again and again is “the lesser of two evils.” I actually take some comfort in the use of this phrase. At least it means we still believe in evil, and presumably in good. At least we are trying on some level to make moral judgments. The problem is that those judgments are so hard to make this year. First we have to decide what we are judging: Do we care more about the individual candidate’s character or his/her position on the issues? Because no one really seems to be saying “Donald Trump is a great guy. I admire his morality.” But then we look at Hillary and say, “But how can we vote for someone who is pro-choice and pro-gay rights?” These are important moral issues and (from an evangelical perspective) she is on the wrong side of them. So do we vote based on character or political position? But wait — it’s more complicated than that. Because Hillary’s character is debatable as well. Her (alleged) crimes are in the political more than the personal arena but there is a good case to be made that she is dishonest and self-serving. And Donald’s positions — while they may be on the right side of certain litmus-test issues — are not exactly compassionate. Yes, we care about the unborn, but what about the born? God says (I paraphrase), “You were strangers and aliens. Therefore care for those people.” If we are trying to decide who is the lesser of two evils, there are no easy answers here. There’s plenty of evil to go around.

I’d like to ask this instead — Whoever wins the election, what are we going to come out of this season with? I know not everything one reads online is true, but out non-Christian friends and neighbors are reading what is out there, and their perception right now is that the church has sold out. That for all our pious talk, we are willing to get into bed with some downright nasty people. We may choose our candidate based on some decent principles (not killing unborn babies, for instance) but in the process we swallow a whole lot of other evil things. We’re losing our credibility, our moral authority. It may already be too long gone.

A president is important. The future of our country is important. But both pale in comparison to the witness of the church. Our perspective has not been long enough or broad enough. We have allowed ourselves to be caught up in what is ultimately temporary and worldly. We need to ask not “Who is less evil?” but “How do we glorify God in this time and place? How do we advance His kingdom?” The answer is not to get bogged down in parsing the levels of evil but to stand up and proclaim what true goodness is.

Nebby

 

How Should Christians Decide Who to Vote for?

Dear Reader,

Have you had any political arguments this year? Have you had someone tell you you are not a true Christian because of who you may or may not vote for? I am not going to tell you if you should vote or for whom you should vote. What I want to talk about today is how we decide.

For too long Christians have been able to muddle along without too much thought on this issue. We have compromised our values. We have learned to separate a candidate’s personal life and character from his public office. We have voted on issues without carefully considering the people for whom we are voting. This election cycle it all seems to be coming to a head. Because we have not considered the principles behind how we vote, we find ourselves faced with choices that appall us and we, as a community, don’t know how to navigate these waters.

A lot of what I am going to say comes from a book I have been reading, Messiah the Prince: The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ by William Symington. This book was originally published in 1879. There is a more modern and easier to read follow-up, Messiah the Prince Revisited by J.K. Wall. I have both. Wall does a good job of boiling down what Symington has to say, but if you really want to understand the arguments I think you need to read Symington. If you find his language inaccessible, read Wall first but then go back to Symington for the fleshed-out version. Symginton’s books discusses Christ’s kingship over the church and over the nations and the relationship between them. For our purposes today, we are just interested in chapter 7, “The Mediatorial Dominion over the Nations.”

In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul tells us, “ And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17; ESV). We are not Christians only on Sundays. We are not Christians only at church. We are to act and speak in a way that brings glory to God every day of the week; at home and at work; with family, and friends, and neighbors. If every part of our lives if subject to Christ, then when we enter the ballot box we must also consider what Christ would have us do. Honestly, I think most of us still get this. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t beat each other up for doing the “un-Christian” thing. Here is how Symington puts it:

“But the choice od representative, it should be borne in mind, is a civil right, the exercise of which involves, to a great extent, the welfare of the nation. It is not the individual himself alone that suffers from an improper use of this privilege, but the community at large. It is, consequently, of immense moment, that he exercise it, not from passion, fancy, or prejudice, but under the guidance of sound Christian principle . . . Never can the circumstance occur which will warrant him to say, Now I mat drop the Christian and act the civilian or the man. It is not in matters of an ecclesiastical nature merely that he is to act as a Christian. He must conduct himself as a Christian at all times . . .” (Messiah the Prince, pp. 167-68)

The Bible actually has quite a lot to say on what makes a good ruler. These instructions, both the explicit and the implicit, are for both the rulers and for their people. “God,” Symington says, “has given [the people] in his Word a supreme rule of direction, in which the character of civil rules is described, and only such as seem to them to be possessed of this character are they at liberty to appoint” (Messiah the Prince, p. 164). In other words, if God says “appoint wise rulers” (see, for instance, Exod. 18:21; Deut. 1:13), we are disobeying Him when we appoint unwise ones.  Indeed to have a foolish ruler is a curse upon a nation (Eccl. 10:16).

What then are the qualifications for a ruler? Symington puts them in three categories: natural, moral, and religious (pp. 164-65). We seem to have jettisoned them in reverse order. First we said it doesn’t matter if a candidate is Christian. Then we overlooked his personal moral failings, and perhaps even his public ones. Now some even disregard natural qualifications (or the lack thereof).

Does a candidate need to be a Christian in order for us to vote for him? Symington would say yes, that is the first but not the only qualification. This election cycle has me wanting to agree with him. Perhaps it is an overreaction to want to push the line back that far. But my point here is that we have let the line slip. We have said that it doesn’t matter if a man cheats on his wife; that is personal and doesn’t affect his political role. Then what if he cheats on his personal income taxes? What if he is deceitful in his public role? Even this we as a society seem ready to overlook.

King David was one of the best Israel ever had. He was a man after God’s own heart. But his personal sin (adultery with Bathsheba) became a professional sin (sending his own general, Uriah, to his death) and ultimately led to a plague upon his people.

Nebby

On Voting for Stupid People

Dear Reader,

I’ve been on vacation and haven’t had time to write a lot so I thought I’d just share a quote from one of the books I’ve been reading. Draw your own conclusions.

“Both the Bible and common sense discourage us from choosing people who are not smart to rule over us.” (J.K. Wall Messiah the Prince Revisited, p. 121)

Nebby

Law and Government: A Review of Whatever Happened to Justice?

Dear Reader,

I have been guilty of not prereading everything I give to my kids. With four of them all reading a number of different books, this is often impossible. But in this case, it appears I really should have. I noticed earlier in the school year that my older son was getting some odd ideas as he worked through Richard J. Maybury’s Whatever Happened to Justice?, but I still had him persevere and finish the book. Along the way we did discuss the bits he was repeating that I disagreed with, but, honestly, it took a while for me to convince me son of my position, so strong was the effect of what he had read. The subject was dropped for  a while when he finished the book, but now as I plan for the coming year, I have to decide if I will have my daughter read this book or if I need to find something else. So I figured it was time for me to finally read it myself.

Whatever Happened to Justice? is the second book in a series known as the Uncle Eric books which seem to be quite popular with homeschoolers, particularly conservative Christian ones. My two older children have both read the first one in the series, Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?, which deals with economics. Though I only skimmed that volume, it had seemed quite good and they appeared to learn quite a bit from it. Which is part of the reason, other than laziness and time constraints, that I did not bother to preread the Justice book. I viewed it as being from a well-respected series that we had used before and I wasn’t concerned about its contents.

Mayhew’s Argument

Mayhew defines his political philosophy as  juris naturalis and is in favor of very limited government, ideally even of no government. There is quite a lot of what he says that I would either agree with or have no reason to disagree with. But I do think that his overall outlook, his world view, if you like, is different from mine. And, more importantly, his outlook  is not biblical. His view of law and government is not in line with that found in the Word of God and his view of humanity is also off.

Let me begin by summarizing as best I can what Mayhew has to say about law and government. Mayhew believes in a Higher Power (though, as we will see, this is not the Christian God not does it seem to be the God of Judaism or Islam either) who has created what he terms Natural Law and placed it in the minds of men so that they are able through reason and scientific thought to discern its principles. The laws which people thus discern he calls Common Law. Common Law, Mayhew says, is founded upon two basic principles from which all the others derive. They are:

  • “Do all you have agreed to do.”
  • “Do not encroach on other persons or their property.”

(Justice, p. 40 and elsewhere)

These two, he says, are agreed upon by peoples from “all major religions and philosophies” (p. 35).

Mayhew idealizes Europe under Roman rule when the government was far away and there was little local control. During this time, he says, there were judges who would settle disputes, using their reason to discover the principles of Common Law. A key point for him is that they would discover these principles which were part of the Natural Law, much as scientists discovered the Law of Gravity and other scientific laws.

In contrast, today, Mayhew says, we have only political law. When our country was founded, our forefathers still believed in Common Law, but over time our government has grown to such an extent that what we have now are politicians who make up political laws. That is, they create rather than discern laws and they do so to further their own political power. Another key point for Mayhew is that political power corrupts. And he seems to believe that it always corrupts; that no one is immune from its effects.

The best government for Mayhew governs least. His desire for America would be a return to a time like was had under British Common Law (at least as he sees that time; I am skeptical that it was as good as he says). He says we need intelligent people to return to the principles of Common Law and to use their reason to discern principles that affect us today so that we can resolve the many undecided issues we face today including abortion, capital punishment, drugs, and many others. Even wars, he believes, could be avoided if nations, like people, obeyed the principles of Common Law. And this is another major point for him — that nations should be held to the same principles as individuals. Taxation he sees as encroachment by the government and therefore contrary to Common Law. A couple of final points: he eschews democracy which he says allows the majority to oppress the minority and he bolsters his claims with evidence that the countries which have the least government interference have the strongest economies.

To sum up, then, these are Mayhew’s main points:

  • There is a Higher Power — though Mayhew rarely refers to Him (her? it?) as God and does not define him/it at all.
  • There is a Natural Law, given by this Higher Power, which we can discover.
  • Human reason and scientific thought can derive the right principles — these principles are Common Law.
  • All peoples agree on the two basic principles (do what you say; don’t encroach) — he speaks of all major religions and philosophies agreeing but also says that, in the many, many talks he has given worldwide, he has never met an individual who disagrees with either of them.
  • Governments should be held to the same standards as individuals. Therefore governments also should not encroach.
  • Political power corrupts everyone.
  • Those societies which have the least government interference are best, meaning most economically prosperous, which shows that Mayhew’s philosophy is correct.

My Response

The first two points above I agree with – though I would word them differently. There is a God and He has a Law which He has placed to some extent in the hearts of men. Certainly, He holds all men up to its standards whether they have overt knowledge of it or not. It is when we come to the third point that my disagreement with Mayhew begins. Human nature is fallen in all its aspects. Though we have some sort of innate knowledge of the Law of God, it is corrupted. Our reason is also fallen and cannot be completely trusted by us. Indeed, people are quite adept at reasoning themselves into all sorts of sinful behavior. Thus, human reason in its current state is not sufficient to guide us infallibly to correct principles.

The two principles which Mayhew cites as the most basic ones are good principles, and as he states, they are biblical. The Old Testament and the New both sum up the Law of God in two principles; but these are not identical to Mayhew’s. In the New Testament book of Matthew, we read:

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:35-40)

Notice that the second commandment cited by Jesus is essentially identical to Mayhew’s principle of not encroaching. However, in both the Old and New testaments, the first and foremost commandment regards our behavior not towards our fellow man but towards God Himself. The second flows out of the first and in biblical terms has little meaning without the first as it is our love for God, and His for us, that allows us to love our fellow man. Nonetheless, I myself would not want to legislate religion or love for God so I would concede to Mayhew that the second commandment is a better basis for human law.

I am very skeptical of Mayhew’s assertion that all people agree to his two basic principles. They may be found in most major religions as he says and it may be also that most people would agree with them when they are put to them. But I suspect that in practical matters there is not such wide agreement. There is a lot that may or may not be included in encroachment and there is a lot as well in the word “persons.” For example, many Islamic countries even today are well-known for restricting the rights of females, even of allowing their most basic rights to be violated with impunity. While a rulers from such a country might stand before us and say that, yes, he agrees witsh te two basic principles, he may mean very different things by them.

We turn then to Mayhew’s statements about government and political power. I am a little surprised, I have to say, by how fervently he maintains that political power corrupts. Indeed, it can. The Bible acknowledges this when Israel asks for a king — God warns them how the king will multiply horses and wives for himself at the expense of his people. But this is a far cry from saying that political power always corrupts everyone so that all politicians are always working for their own benefit.

I also do not agree that governments must be held to the same standards as individuals. It is beyond the scope of this post to look at all the Bible has to say about governments (another post perhaps?), but suffice it to say that the Bible does recognize that governments have powers (like imposing capital punishment) that individuals do not. It also implies that taxation is acceptable.

Finally, there is Mayhew’s evidence to support his view — that the most limited governments produce the most prosperous societies. This may be true; I would venture to say that it is likely true. But I am not sure that the most economically prosperous societies are inherently the best ones. We must ask first what the measure of success for a society is. I have always heard that some very socialistic nations in Europe report the highest levels of happiness among their citizens nor would their citizens willing trade what they have in goverment services for the freedoms we have here. I don’t think happiness would be my measure of what is best either but it is at least as valid as economic prosperity as a measure of success.

Conclusions

My biggest conclusion from all this is that Mayhew’s philosophy is not biblical. He never claims that it is, of course, though he does claim that his two basic principles are in line with the Bible and he does tend to assume that members of all major religions and philosophies would agree with his arguments. But I think the real key here is that Mayhew has underlying ideas, wrong ideas, which inform his philosophy. He criticizes modern-day Americans who look to the government to solve all their problems. I agree that we as a people have a tendency to do so and that it is wrong of us; it is a kind of idolatry that arises from our lack of reliance on God. But Mayhew himself does rather the opposite — he blames all our problems on the government. On the one hand, his view of human nature is too high — he seems to think that if we only could return to Common Law and to a time without government that all would be good and that people would regulate themselves well. On the other hand, he has too low a view of politicians, saying that all those who enter politics are utterly corrupt. We all need in our philosophies to account for the evil in the world, and particularly in ourselves and our fellow man. Mayhew’s solution is to say that while most people are capable of being good and doing good in the right circumstances that political power is the repository of all evil. When I looked at various homeschooling philosophies, I found that for many of them, what they believe comes down to their view of human nature — Are we basically good or evil? If good, where does the evil we see around us come from? So too I find for Mayhew that the point where he goes wrong seems to be at the very foundation of his thinking in his view of human nature.

I do not completely regret having my son read this book; it has provided us with some useful discussions — and of course, at least one very long blog post for me :), but I do not think my daughter will be reading it nor could I in good conscience recommend it to other homeschooling parents. As an adult, I am learning to read books critically and to discern the author’s’ assumptions, but it would be a lot to ask a high schooler to read this book that critically and to pick out the good ideas in it from the bad.

Now if anyone has other book recommendations for government, I am all ears . . .

Nebby

 

 

 

Thoughts on Legal Protections for Biblical Marriage

Dear Reader,

I recently reviewed Frank Boreham’s book The Whisper of God. There is one more thought I had while reading it that I wanted to share. At one point, Boreham says:

“Now it has been often remarked that the amplification of marriage legislation weakens that sense of the awful sanctity of marriage which it derives from its divine institution and commandment. Men and women become more careful to observe the letter of the human law than the spirit of the divine ordinance.” (Kindle loc. 376)

Now Boreham wrote some time ago and in New Zealand so I don’t know what legislation he is thinking of, but his point is still a good one — when we have a written law before us, we tend to forget the spirit which was originally motivating it. We can see this is Jesus’ day as he rebukes the Pharisees for enforcing he jots and tittles of the law while neglecting the spirit behind it.

In our own day, conservative Christians are up in arms about gay marriage. The solution to this perceived threat is to pass legislation, whether laws or constitutional amendments, which define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. I am not at all sure that this is the way to go. I do think the other side has a good point when they say that we would thus be imposing our morality on them. And I can understand how it would seem unfair for us to say one loving couple can get married and another can’t. Christians of course will argue that this is a country founded on Christian values which we must uphold (I am not at all convinced of this since many of our founding fathers were deists) or that the government has no right to redefine marriage which is an institution established by God. In this latter argument I think we begin to get to the crux of the issue.

The truth is we began to lose this argument long, long ago when we first allowed the civil government to make laws concerning  marriage and to require marriage licenses of us. The government already has its hand in marriage. We have allowed them to say whether our marriages are valid or not. That is not something we can take back all of a sudden now that they are saying other marriages are valid too.

My proposal would be that we separate out these two forms of marriage which are now quite mixed and muddied in this country (I am told that In other countries like Germany civil marriage is really held quite separate from church ceremonies). Let us call what the state authorizes civil union and let it be available to everyone. The purpose of this contract, for that is what it is, a legal contract between two parties, is to convey certain legal rights like sharing health insurance and the ability to file taxes jointly.  But let us in our churches also have something quite different. I would prefer to call the one civil union and keep the name marriage for what happens in the churches but if this is not possible, let’s come up with a new word. And then when we do marry people in church let’s make sure it looks different too. For the truth is we began to lose this fight decades ago when we went the way of the world and started divorcing each other left and right for often very petty reasons. But a good marriage is more than just not getting divorced too. If we really made our marriages look the way the Bible says they should be, this would be quite a witness to the rest of the country that we really do have something different going on. This is the way to win hearts and minds — to act and live differently, to publicly live more godly lives, not by trying to pass yet another law which enforces our morality on others.

Nebby

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Thought about Global Warming

Dear Reader,

There is something I just don’t get about the whole global warming debate. I can’t really say myself if the earth is getting warmer and if it is if that is due to human influence. I am not sure the latter matters. And it also seem to me that the earth has constantly been changing in temperature and other ways, going in and out of ice ages for instance. But the real thing I don’t get is why we are always talking about how to stop the warming. It really doesn’t seem that there is much we can do, especially in a world with so many different countries with different agendas. Why not turn the discussion instead to how to live in a warmer world? I have seen projections of how th seas will rise if global warming continues on the track it is on. My house will be on the shore 🙂 But instead of trying to stop this runaway train, why not institute policies which encourage people to move more inland or to higher ground? Why not think about farming more in the north and what crops we might be able to grow in an overheated south? I have yet to hear anyone talking about how we might live in a  warmer world and I just don’t understand why. Planning for the future seems a lot wiser than arguing.

Nebby

The Principle Approach: Follow-Up (Part 3)

Dear Reader,

Okay, we are up to part 3 here. I first covered the Principle Approach (or Biblical Principle Approach, BPA) as a part of my series on different homeschooling methods, but it has also generated a lot more posts. I would recommend reading parts 1 and 2 for a little background before going further with this one.

In part 2, I was going through the 7 principles of BPA. I have 3 more to go, all of which address the governmental views of BPA. They last 3 principles are:

“5. Our Christian Form of Government
6. How the Seed of Local Self-Government is Planted
7. The Christian Principle of American Political Union”

[from the Principled Mom]

I am not going to look at every aspect of these. Principle #5 really gets to the heart of the political side of this philosophy. It says that the American form of government is the biblical form. The specific aspects of the US government which I have seen them point to are representative government, separation of powers, and the dual form of government (i.e. state and federal government) [“Principle 5,” The Principled Mom]. Principle Approach.org says, “The form of government proven to best protect life and property is a Christian constitutional federal republic.”

As with each of their principles, there is an internal as well as an external aspect. As we saw in principle #2, self-government is important to BPA. Regarding the internal, Principle Approach.org says, “As I learn to think governmentally, I can balance the three powers of government to avert the tyranny of self in my
personal conduct.” I am in favor of self-government, and I also think (as Charlotte Mason states in detail in her fourth volume, Ourselves) that there are competing forces within us that we must learn to balance. If one aspect is allowed to reign supreme, then we go astray. An example would be letting our sense of compassion blunt our sense of justice or vice-versa. I am not sure, however, how BPA sees the specifics of “a Christian constitutional federal republic” working out in one’s own heart.

I would like to spend more time, however, on the external side of this principle. The question before us is: Is the American form of government uniquely biblical? We could also ask: if not, what form of government would be biblical? But I am not sure that is a topic I want to tackle right now.

The first issue is that of representative government. BPA says that this goes back to the Old Testament when the ancient Israelites chose their own representatives. There certainly seem to be times when they did so (Deut. 1:13). The early church also chose their own deacons. But there are also many leaders who were not chosen by the people. Moses was not. Neither were the kings. God very directly chose Saul and David, and after them the kingship in Judah was hereditary. Priests were not chosen by the people neither were prophets or judges. Overall, I would say that most leaders, especially those with a lot of power, were chosen by God Himself.

The separation of powers refers to the three branches of our government: legislative, executive, and judicial. Personally, I am a fan of the separation of powers. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as they say. So dividing up power is good. In the OT, the three main seats of power were prophet, priest and king. Jesus, of course, was all three. Sometimes others also served in more than one role. But these categories do not correspond directly to those of the US government.

Now BPA may have a lot more to say on this. I have read a small fraction of their materials. But the verse I find cited to defend the 3-branch structure of our government is Isaiah 33:22:

“For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver;
the Lord is our king; he will save us.” [ESV]

Admittedly, it would seem that all three functions, judicial (judge), legislative (lawgiver), and executive (king), are present here. However, to understand this verse as legitimizing dividing up these three functions misunderstands how Hebrew parallelism works. The whole point of this verse is that the Lord is all three; there is no division of power. Parallel word pairs in Hebrew poetry can be arranged in a number of ways. The words may be synonymous. They may be complementary (for example men and women or heaven and earth). They may be opposites (the good and the wicked, for example). They may be a larger set and a smaller subset (perhaps the nations and Moab). How are the parallel terms judge, lawgiver and king being used here? I don’t know. But there could be many ways to understand them. First, I would point out that there are four things the Lord does here, not three. He also “saves.” Why not take this as another branch of power, the military? Or if it is spiritual salvation, this could refer to religious power. Even looking at the first three clauses, it is not clear that there is just one way to understand this verse. If all three terms are synonymous, then all three are contained within the one source of power and we need not distinguish them. BPA seems to be taking them as complementary, that is, as three parts of a whole like heaven, earth and seas. But I could also say that king sums up the previous two. A king (in ancient Israel) both judges and gives laws. My point is that there is no reason so assume that these are three complementary terms which are all on equal footing. I would certainly not build a government upon this verse alone.

The third aspect of this principle is the dual form of government found in the balance of federal and state power in the US. The tension between the two has been a continual subject of controversy in our country. We fought a war over it after all. And the debate still remains. We have, for instance, state governments trying to enforce immigration law when they feel the federal government has dropped the ball. At other times, we have the federal government interfering in areas like education that some believe should be handled at a more local level.

When the two come into conflict, BPA seems to prefer the federal:

“Determining what area of government is the supreme law of the land, we consider the State and the Nation which operate over the same territory. If we consider the two commandments of our Lord, we shall recognize that the supreme law of the land is the nation first, then the state. Thus when we travel outside our country, we are not protected as citizens because we are Virginians, Californians, Arizonians, but because we are Americans.” [“Principle Approach Education,” p.7]

I am not really sure how to evaluate this dual nature of our government. What does it mean “if we consider the two commandments of our Lord, we shall recognize that the supreme law of the land is the nation first, then the state”? I assume the reference is to when Christ is asked which is the greatest commandment and He answers first love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, etc. and then love your neighbor as yourself. Are they taking this to mean that the higher power always comes before the lower? Of course, God deserves our allegiance above all else and He is the highest power. But they also elevate the role of the individual which would seem to contradict such a principle. And personally, I would say the government has no right to violate the family which is a much smaller unit. In general, in human relations I would say the principle is to be most loyal to the narrowest circle and to ever widen to more distant relations and acquaintances. I guess I should reiterate here that I have only read a small fraction of what there is to read about the Principle Approach so I think I just don’t have all the facts here.

There is, apparently, also some connection of the dual form of government to law and grace (“The Christian Form of Our Government“). I also find this statement:

“dual form of government: dual levels of responsibility and authority (children over one another, parents over children, God over parents, etc.) There are ‘two sovereign spheres within one sovereign body of law.'” [“The Christian Form of Our Government,” PrincipledMom.com]

My first thought is that children don’t have authority over each other. My second is that “dual” doesn’t fit here. Aren’t there instead many levels of authority? And some of these authorities such as parents over children are temporary.

Though I haven’t really touched in principles 6 and 7, I feel I am reaching the end of my understanding here. Unless someone wants to give me a free copy of the Principle Approach book, I am probably not going to have much more to say 🙂

Nebby

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