A classmate's critique This correspondence followed my attendance at the 50th. anniversary gathering of my high school graduation class on July 5, 2008.
It was disappointing to me and others that you chose to use the class
reunion as your forum to give a discourse on your cultic-like
thinking. You were not only inconsiderate to take up so much time, but
it was also inappropriate for you to assume everyone in attendance
would be interested in listening to a review of how you arrived at
your mantra, "Jesus is King. Here. Now." The biographical information
you provided for the booklet was forth-telling enough. Your
unfortunate spiel came across as self-serving and arrogant. If you
wanted to call undue attention to yourself, you certainly succeeded.
It's good to know, John, that you consider yourself a "Steward of
Jesus." But contrary to the impression you gave that you alone have
uniquely "discovered" the outworking of kingdom of God concepts, many
others at the class reunion are also stewards of Jesus who faithfully
carry out their daily responsibilities in a variety of ways. And they
don't have to sound and appear to others as abnormal to do it.
In Christian love,
July 10, 2008
I appreciate and thank you for your willingness to express to me your
reaction to the comments I made at the class reunion. You know from
your own experience speaking to groups that it is sometime difficult to
know what the reaction is. Prior to your letter I received only one
other reaction. At the reunion a classmate made a point of telling me
that his pastor often emphasizes that "Jesus is King. Here. Now." I
got the impression that he appreciated that, and what I had said.
I regret that you and others were disappointed in what I said. If I
took up too much time, I apologize. If I was self-serving and arrogant,
I apologize. I did not want or intend to call undue attention to
myself. If I did, I apologize.
If I gave the impression that I have uniquely "discovered" the
outworking of kingdom of God concepts, I failed in communication. I
intended to imply that the very existence of Western is an outworking of
kingdom of God concepts, and that the hundreds of supporters of Western
are engaged in the outworking of those concepts. I spoke in the section
of the program listed as "TIME OF SHARING LIFE'S JOURNEY Testimonial
time as to how family, church and Western were influential in dealing
with our life experiences." My intention was to speak appreciatively
and thankfully regarding the foundation which had been laid in my life
at Western, and what it has meant to me in my journey. I regard myself
as united with all those pilgrims and those at the reunion as stewards
of Jesus. I spoke only after nobody responded to the general invitation
to give testimonies regarding life experiences. I had hoped there would
be many more.
It would be helpful to me to know why you describe my thinking as
I am thankful that we can have such dialog in Christian love.
Your brother in Jesus,
August 24, 2008
I started this reply more than a month ago and then let it slide while other things were going on. What follows are some thoughts put together, relying on Williamson, Bruce, Spykman and Sproul for help with some of the commentary. There is very likely some “overkill” here, but nevertheless I enjoyed reviewing the subjects discussed below. More free time is one of the benefits of semi-retirement.
In response to your last e-mail, my use of the term “cultic-like” is perhaps a bit harsh, but I used it only after reading a number of entries on your web site. I find your conclusions regarding the institutional church and civil government to be too non-conformist and reactionary. Not unlike certain religious extremist groups that deviate in one or more respects as to belief or practice from religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our culture. You are obviously more of an independent thinker than I, but I find contentment and solace knowing my faith tradition and world view is consistent with the historical and orthodox beliefs and practices of evangelical Christianity.
You mentioned at the class reunion that your conviction, “Jesus is King. Here. Now,” is a reaction to those who look upon the kingdom of God as an exclusively future reality (which is true of many Christians with a pre-millennial view of eschatology). In my experience, I’ve not detected any overexposure to the teaching that the kingdom of God will come, to be sure, but only after the return of Christ. As you know, this view was not shared by any of the great Reformers. The Reformers saw the kingdom of God as a present reality. They also believed that it would “come” more and more in history as the church went forward in its task of carrying out the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20).
The kingdom of God, which is now under the authority of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians. 15:24-25), comes by the power of the Spirit of God in connection with gospel preaching. This is one of the keys of the kingdom. The other is the faithful exercise of church discipline. We know this because Jesus said that he was giving the keys that lock and unlock the kingdom to the officers of his church. And we know from the book of Acts, where we see these men in action, that it was by means of these two things that the early church began the conquest of the world. When we look at a world map showing the areas where there are faithful Christian churches today, compared with times past, it is readily apparent that God’s kingdom is coming, more and more. And it is coming because God is ruling his people, more and more, by his Spirit and Word.
This is precisely why I appreciate being affiliated with a church congregation and denomination where I can exercise my gifts and talents, and contribute my resources to assist in advancing the life-saving message of the gospel to those that need it. The church, as the people of God, is the population of the kingdom, and far more can be done corporately to bring the whole world to the obedience of faith than can be done individually. I’m grateful God can work through the agencies of the institutional church to carry out his kingdom work locally, nationally, and internationally.
Besides the fact that the kingdom of God is here in principle (a finished work of redemption), we must also say it is moving forward to its consummation (the kingdom perfected). We not only live in a kingdom that is coming but is not yet here completely. There are biblical prophecies which are yet unfulfilled. Such prophecies as those that refer to the end of the world, the final tribulation, the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth, the coming of the Messiah in power and glory, the final establishment of the kingdom of God, the new heavens and the new earth, the final punishment of the wicked, and possibly others. The Gospels record predictive prophecy as well as apocalyptic parables in the teachings of Jesus at the close of his public ministry, some of which most likely refer to the end of the present world order. With certainty, the beginnings of Jesus’ work in the world guarantee the kingdom’s full arrival later on. “Amen, come, Lord Jesus.” As Sypkman puts it, “Still, the best is yet to come. Here and now, our present duty must be defined within the biblical tension of the kingdom-come and the kingdom-to-come.”
I imagine your convictions go deeper than overreactions to obvious failures on the part of the institutional church and civil government to be faithful to the God who ordained them for the benefit of the people they serve. But it’s my contention that I’m in a better position to correct what I’m a part of, rather than separating myself from them and abdicate my responsibility toward redeeming them. Furthermore, my participation in these institutions is consistent with how Christians have acted on their dual-citizenship throughout the centuries.
There is a lot in the Bible about politics. Politics is our faith and ethics in action. Jesus was very involved in politics, constantly confronting the political systems. Jesus was asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” The question really means “Is it in accordance with God’s law?” Jesus answer makes it clear that there are duties owed to God, but also duties owed to the state (that man’s relationship to God is established in it’s own right, and that this relationship does not justify a repudiation of “Caesar” in his own sphere). Jesus takes the occasion to affirm Rome’s political power as legitimate, and at His trial He declared it is from God (John 19:11). Evidence that the early church followed this teaching of Jesus is seen from the following references: Romans 13: 1-7; Colossians 1:16; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; Titus 3:1, 2; 1 Peter 2:13-17.
And again, the great Reformers consistently applied the biblical principle to their world and life view that civil government is ordained by God. Civil government is a means ordained by God for ruling and maintaining order in communities. It is one of a number of such means, including office bearers in the church and parents in the home. Each such means has its own sphere of authority under Christ, who now rules and sustains creation, and the limits of each sphere are set by reference to the others. In our fallen world these authorities are institutions for God’s common grace, standing as a guard against anarchy and the break-down of ordered society.
Referring to Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17, the Westminster Confession explains the sphere of government as follows: “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good; and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and of the punishment of evil doers….”
The Confession further explains that because civil government exists for the welfare of the whole society, God gives it the “power of the sword” the lawful use of force to administer just laws (Romans 13:4). Christians must acknowledge this as part of God’s order (Romans 13:1, 2). And government may collect taxes for the services it renders (Matthew 22:15-21; Romans 13:6, 7). In God’s providence, “Caesar” rules and provides law and order. Thus, we are to pay “Caesar” taxes. But it can also be said that if government forbids what God requires or requires what God forbids, Christians cannot submit, and some form of civil disobedience becomes inescapable (Acts 4:8-12, 5:17-29).
As part of the “living sacrifices” which the Christian is to offer (Romans 12:1) Paul, in Romans 13:1-7 lays down what his general attitude should be toward the state. The Old Testament had taught Paul that it is God who sets up civil rulers and that their authority is delegated from Him (e.g. Jeremiah 27:5; Daniel 2:21, 37f; 4:17). Paul appealed to the political system as a Roman citizen for a fair trial. He chose the political system over the religious structure to assure receiving a fair trial. In fact the civil power is God’s servant, doing God’s work positively and negatively by encouraging virtue and discouraging vice. From this truth of divine sovereignty follows the individual Christian’s obligation of civil obedience. Generally speaking, to subject oneself to the civil authorities is but an indirect way of obeying God, Himself. Over every man hangs the sobering prospect that he will be answerable to God for his civil behavior and punished by Him for civil misdemeanors. A second reason for civil obedience is the general truth that the state upholds moral standards (to a certain level at least) for its citizens. In that respect the Christian should instinctively view the government not as an enemy but as an ally and helper towards his own moral conduct. How can we be salt and light to a culture if we don’t engage the one area that affects everyone in the culture?
The church’s sphere of authority relates to the civil government at the level of morality. The church has the responsibility to comment on the morality of governments and their policies on the basis of God’s Word, and Christians have a responsibility to urge governments to fulfill their proper role. They are to pray for, obey, and yet watch over civil governments (1 Timothy 2:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13, 14) reminding them that God ordained them to rule, protect, and keep order. Acting in their capacity as citizens, Christians may then foster political action in response to concerns. In this way the gospel works through moral persuasion and the working of God’s grace among citizens. As a matter of fact, our taxes are high today, in part, because the civil government is doing what the church should be doing. The church has allowed “Caesar” to usurp the opportunities and responsibilities to serve the needs of society. If Christians would tithe faithfully, what things might change?
One final point on how the Christian view is conditioned by the relationship between God and the state. God is no merely “religious” God: in His providential care are included the control of nations and the maintenance of civil order within them. From the consciousness the Christian has of the subordination of the state to God, follows the consciousness that justifies the Christian’s subordination to the civil authorities, including the paying of taxes. The Christian is under obligation to pay his dues to the state because, as a beneficiary of it, he owes it some payment in return for the protection and amenities it provides. John, even as a “non-participant” you certainly recognize some of the direct or indirect benefits of living in a well-ordered society, for example, where basic police and fire protection is provided, and where you have the freedom to travel on the streets and highways constructed and maintained with public finds.
Thanks for “listening.”
September 12, 2008
This time it is my reply which has been delayed, primarily for these
reasons: (1) About 65 hours after you sent your reply we left to spend
five days in Iowa to spend time with my eight siblings and to celebrate
my mother's 90th birthday. (2) Shortly before we left a lightning bolt
fried the motherboard of our computer, which meant we were out of
communication more than twelve days. (3) On our return trip my wife
Mary suffered a back injury which immobilized her for days. Care giving
and housekeeping were added to my agenda.
Thank you for the time and energy which you put into your reply. It is
well written and summarizes well the teachings of Reformed churches on
We agree that the kingdom of God is now under the authority of Jesus
Christ and is coming, more and more, by the power of the Spirit of God
in connection with the preaching of the gospel. God is ruling his
people, more and more. Current evidence of this is the committed
believers in China, who probably outnumber those in the United States.
We also agree that far more can be done corporately to further the work
of Christ than can be done individually. It has never been my goal or
intention to function as an isolated individual. We are members of
Christ's body and function as an organism. I rejoice in the present
experience I have of that reality, where I am able to use my gifts,
talents, and resources to advance the gospel.
We may differ on how important "institutional" churches are in the work
of Christ. Most "institutional" churches today trace their origin to
legal incorporation under the laws of a civil state. In the last such
"institution" of which I was a "member", church officers were on record
as swearing under oath that their "church" was a legal corporation,
created and existing "under and by virtue of" the laws of the state of
Kansas. Most institutional churches are created through acts of
"legislative grace" by state legislatures. It is an old principle of
law that institutions are under the authority of those who create them.
I choose to identify myself as part of the church created and empowered
by Jesus Christ, and not to be a part of any "church" created by civil
You note that you find my conclusions regarding the institutional church
and civil government "too non-conformist and reactionary", deviating
from "religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions
of religion in our culture". You find "contentment and solace" knowing
that your "faith tradition and world view is consistent with the
historical and orthodox beliefs and practices of evangelical
Christianity". I choose not to regard any religious groups as
"normative". I am thankful for all I have learned through institutions
regarding the will of Christ. But it is only His word and will which is
normative for me.
It seems to me that the reasoning you expressed is the same reasoning
which those in the Roman Catholic church use to reject the conclusions
of the "non-conformist" and "extremist" reformers.
It is not clear to me whether you thought I regarded the kingdom of God
as exclusively future as a view of "many Christians with a
pre-millennial view of eschatology". I did not intend to use that
choice of words. It is the view of those with a dispensational (Scofield Bible) view, but not necessarily of those with a pre-mil.
view. You may not have had much exposure to the dispensational view. I
have lived among its advocates. I spoke from experience. I intended to
contrast their views with the appreciation of the present reality of the
kingdom which I learned in my formative years, including those at
Western Christian High School, for which I am deeply grateful.
We agree that God is no merely "religious" God, and that there is a lot
in the Bible about "politics". I understand the kingdom of God as
embracing all of life, including protection, provision, care of widows
and orphans, care of the sick, judging disputes, and education of
children. The question is always, "Under whose authority and law?"
For me, Samuel's discourse to the Israelites seems fundamental. They
wanted a king like all the other nations, to lead them in battle against
their enemies. Samuel said it would be a terrible mistake. They would
be rejecting their maker as their king. They would become slaves of
their human king. But it was their choice. As it was when Joshua
invited them to choose whom they would serve. (And Joshua didn't agree
to abide by the majority vote.) When God agreed to give them the king
they wanted, they were obligated to "render unto the king" what he
asked, but only because they chose to be his subjects. As the
Declaration of Independence summarizes, rulers derive their powers from
"the consent of the governed". So it has always been. The only other
answer to the question of how legitimate rulers are recognized is that
"might makes right", so that those who control the most lethal swords,
guns, tanks, or bombs are recognized as the God-ordained rulers.
Participation in civil governments of the world is consistent with how
many Christians have acted since the days of Constantine. Until then
their behavior was far more radical. Early Christians were accused of
following "another king, named Jesus". They did not advocate
dual-citizenship. Should we fault them for not redeeming the Roman
government or the religious institution of the Pharisees?
It is not clear to me that Paul appealed to the political system to
assure receiving a fair trial. If he did, it was a mistake, unless we
assume he was guilty. His detention was a long one. Agabus begged Paul
not to go to Jerusalem and prophesied that he would be arrested there
and handed over to Gentiles. Agrippa told Festus that Paul could be
released if he had not appealed to Caesar. Paul regarded his calling as
witnessing to authorities for Jesus, and he may have appealed to Rome
with a sense of mission, as Jesus went to Jerusalem, knowing it would
lead to suffering.
As a footnote, you are likely aware that the reasoning you express would
not support the revolt against England which led to the establishment of
the United States government, as celebrated on the fourth of July.
Committed Christians have been engaged in serious and productive dialog
to discern which biblical prophecies are yet unfulfilled. Though I do
not accept any such label as defining me, a Google search of "preterism"
will suggest which conclusions attract me. The biblical evidence which
seems strongest to me includes the first and last chapters of
Revelation, which indicate that everything described will happen "soon",
and the statements of Jesus that events will happen in "this
generation". Taking scripture at face value does not support
fulfillment after thousands of years.
The point of receiving benefits from the state is a valid one. I do not
ask or apply for any such benefits. I do not regard my safety and
freedom as given to me by civil authorities. They are given to me by my
Maker and King. Commonly traveled paths and ways have always been open
to everyone. If governments choose to improve those ways, they may not
exclude those who are not their subjects, just as I may not limit the
use of improvements I make to the sidewalk in front of our house, or
charge for their use. As a matter of fact, most road improvements are
paid through gas taxes, shared alike by all travelers. How would your
reasoning apply to Americans who travel and use the highways in Germany
Not it's my time to thank you for "listening".
May you be blessed, and used to bless many others.
September 14, 2008
Thanks for the dialog over the past several months. I found it interesting
and challenging. But as the saying goes, "Convinced against my will, I'm of
the same opinion still." And so shall it be.