A Political or Apolitical Church?

Editorial

The church should stay out of politics. Right?

We can agree that our congregations and denomination should not publicly endorse party candidates or formulate specific legislation. But shouldn’t we, as church, sometimes risk muddying our collective boots by addressing political issues that have profound religious and ethical dimensions?

The Christian Reformed Church, on several occasions, has answered that question with a resounding yes.

When the United States and Canadian governments proposed allowing “therapeutic” abortions, we spoke up. We told our legislators that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures clearly affirm the sanctity of human life at every stage of its existence. We spoke up for the unborn.

When our governments kept deploying more atomic bombs, our denomination jumped in with a biblical Word decrying the insanity of nuclear proliferation.

When proposed tightening of immigration laws threatened to dehumanize people and wreck families, we spoke out again, calling the state to act in accordance with Scriptural principles of justice and hospitality.

 

Where Scripture speaks, we may not remain silent just because some issues have become politicized.

These examples demonstrate that the question isn’t whether the church should speak on political issues but when. Where Scripture speaks, we may not remain silent just because some issues have become politicized. The world should never control our agenda that way.

Abraham Kuyper’s view of sphere sovereignty has often been invoked to argue that only individual Christians and their voluntary associations should address political issues. But Kuyper also taught sphere universality. With the tightly interwoven and differentiated structures within our world, the institutional church may need to speak to those issues that have a significant confessional dimension to them. It is in that realm that churches have their own unique expertise and contributions to make within democratic societies. They can illumine issues with the Word of God. So we, as church, should speak to those when biblical principles are clearly and significantly involved. The church must then assume its prophetic role in the service of Christ, who commanded us to disciple the nations. In those cases we should address our own members first, then society, and possibly also governments.

Synod 2012 is now asked by its study committee to address the issue of creation care in the context of climate change. We should not dodge that issue by branding it a political issue. It is that, but it’s much more. I sincerely hope that in its discussion on climate change synod will seriously address such questions:

  • Is the issue weighty enough for our denomination to address it as institutional church?
  • Does it have a significant confessional dimension that can and should be addressed prophetically?
  • Is Scripture sufficiently clear, so that we have widespread agreement on the basic principle(s) involved?
  • Is there sufficient scientific evidence to conclude that there is a significant and credible risk that we as humans are presently, and in the future, violating our creation mandate? And are the possible consequences of that risk sufficiently weighty to require significant preventative measures even if those cause their own hardships?
  • Will whatever synod decides significantly help us as Christian Reformed people to witness to and live out our confession that our world belongs to God?

Hopefully on this issue we’ll witness (to) more biblical light than political heat.

About the Author

Bob De Moor is a retired Christian Reformed pastor living in Edmonton, Alta.

See comments (50)

Comments

Is is disingenuous for the editor to now ask if there is "sufficient scientific evidence" months after proclaiming in the pages of this same publication that the science is essentially settled? Which is it? If there is a consensus, why ask this question as if it is open? If there is no consensus, why did the editor recently proclaim that there was no significant or credible dissent?

As I've said before relating to denominational (and Banner) pronouncements about climate change, the question is not only about staying out of politics but also recognizing non-expertise and lack of competency where it exists. The jurisdictional lines of sphere sovereignty exist in part because humans (even pastors, elders, and Banner editors) lack omniscience.

To frame this more pointedly: what is it about a group of just under 200 people, half of whom chose to specialize in theology and pastoral work, who meet for one whole week in a year (to do a great many things), that make it even minimally competent to declare truths, in behalf of the CRC's tens of thousands of members, about the many scientific and economic questions (forget the political) involved in 'climate change'?

Mind you, there is not a world-class climatologist (or probably even a regular climatologist) among this group, let alone among the authors of the report that is recommending them to make proxy declarations about climate change for all CRC members.

I dare say I have probably investigated the question of climate change more than any 2012 synodical delegates will have, and perhaps more or as much as most task force members of the Creation Stewardship Task Force report. Why do these people get to make pronouncements in my and my family's behalf, or in my local church's behalf, about the most complex set of scientific and economic (again, forget political) questions mankind has ever taken up?

Certainly, as much as I've investigated climate change and have opinions about it, I would not presume to pronounce about it in behalf of anyone else in my church, or for my local congregation, for the simple reason that I respect them. I and they are CRC members because the CRC represents an institutional church community. They don't need me or the denomination to be their proxy in proclaiming what is true or not true about this infinitely complex area of science, nor about how to exercise their political prerogatives in relationship to it.

Kuyper's social sphere sovereignty concept requires all of us, especially those who have positions of power, to have a proper sense of humility about what our roles are and are not within the full community, not just because of jurisdictional lines but because those lines represent competency realities as well.

Let's take a hard look at CO Article 85. I'm not "the world" trying to "control the CRC's agenda." I'm a CRC member, like many others, who objects to my denomination presuming to speak for me, or control the agenda that is properly mine, on important matters about which it lacks both jurisdiction and competency.

I rather agree with Doug VDG on this.

But I'd like to ask a couple of questions relating to the focus and perspective of the CRC. The issue of climate change tends to be one of creation care and 'saving the world'. Does it divert us from the saving of souls, from bringing people closer to Christ? Does it help us to bring people closer to Christ? Some examples would be nice.

Is the church just as prepared to spend as much time on issues such as alcohol consumption, which has destroyed more lives than climate change has. Is the church prepared to spend as much time on the issue of smoking, which creates more health problems than climate change does. Will the church spend a proportionate amount of time on the actual millions of unborn children who die every year, with or without climate change? Or are these other issues less politically correct, less popular, and less palatable to the hoi poloi, and thus buried more deeply in church literature, and with less drastic and less authoritarian solutions being proposed.

Just asking.

"Will the church spend a proportionate amount of time on the actual millions of unborn children who die every year, with or without climate change?"

Great question, John. The official position is the OSJ cares about the abortion issue, but actions speak louder than words. Until not that long ago abortion was not even listed as one of their issues or causes, while things like "fair trade coffee" have been longstanding issues. Look at the OSJ calendar - lots of earth worship and fair trade events, but not so much regarding the slaughter of little children. How many calls to action have there been regarding abortion in the OSJ newsletters compared to "immigratiion rights" and the like? In the end, they are nothing more than a politically progressive group seeking to follow the politically progressive agenda set by secular progressives. And their actions speak louder than their words.

If there is too much rain we pray for sun. If its too dry we pray for rain. If its too hot we pray for cold, if its too cold we pray for warmth. Climate Change? I mean...who is in-charge of the weather any ways? Does the church even know?

Okay, my last comment was a little snarky. So let's put climate change in biblical perspective.

"While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." Genesis 8:22

"Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth." James 5:17

The Bible also warns us also that there will be famines and droughts in various places.

The world doesn't know the living God like Elijah and we do. Global warming and evolution is their pointless hysteria of understanding the world. We can be at peace over this issue, we know who is in charge of the weather. We need to show the world that climate change is a non issue with us. We can do this by proclaiming the gospel of repentance and faith.

To get a sense for the sheer disregard the CRCNA has "sphere sovereignty" restraints, check out: http://www.crcna.org/pages/osj_actioncenter.cfm?utm_source=OSJ&utm_campa... , where the OSJ praises Sec of State Clinton (and encourages you to also via a convenient link) for defying the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman's hold on funds for the Palestinian pseudo-governments.

Admittedly, middle east politics is less complicated than climate change, but barely. Still, our denominational powers-that-be seemingly have no qualms about plunging right it, staking out blatant political positions on complex political matters where Scripture is certainly not "sufficiently clear" (in the words of this article). Mind you, the cause that is being championed by our denominational powers-that-be on this one is giving money to extreme Islamic powers who control a Muslim quasi-society in such as fashion that they are unable to form a stable state. Yasser Arafat loved this US money back when he was alive--lived a fat life off it--and now we, the CRCNA, praise Sec Clinton when she defies a congressional order to not keep feeding Arafat's successors. Exactly what is our denomination (whoever that is) thinking? And where are we showing evidence of restraint in terms of speaking for CRC members on political issues?

So my point at to this article, lest anyone think I'm off-point: the denominational powers that be don't really seem to be cautious and careful about turning the denomination into a political association, disclaimers in this editorial notwithstanding. This OSJ action is Exhibit A.

Is it not possible to address the biblical and confessional dimensions of issues without specifying policies?

For instance, there are biblical and confessional dimensions involved in climate change - stewardship of creation, care for all that God has made, etc. The Church can and should speak to that. She has, too. Repeatedly.

But does the Church - as institution - have the competence to determine whether or not there is sufficient scientific evidence of climate change or what "sufficient scientific evidence" might actually entail on the question? Clearly not. And lacking that, do we then have the competence to determine what specific economic, political, and social policies should be enacted - on a global scale, mind you - to resolve the problem we can't even competently determine exists?

Middle East peace, nuclear weapons and other armaments, and all the rest - same thing. We can (as institutional church) outline biblical and confessional dimensions of the problem (war is bad, but not worst; abortion is murder; etc.) and speak to that, while leaving the specific policies in response to these to others.

It is a presumptious arrogance to assume that either 200 people, half of them trained in theology and the humanities, the other half of varied and sundry backgrounds, training, and expertise; or that a couple dozen people at OSJ know all the answers to all the world's problems.

Whether it's Dobson declaring some biblical basis for his favored tax rate, or Robertson claiming the Bible requires unquestioning support for Israel, or Bob De Moor declaring that all good Christians believe in global warming, the effect is still the same - aligning the church with petty factional politics and thereby demeaning the church, discrediting its message, and alienating equally committed Christians who differ on the prudential application of biblical truth in a specific socio-political and economic context.

The CRCNA is doing its primary job rather badly right now, losing 3,000+ members/year over the last 20 years, dwindling support for denominational ministries and outreach, denominational publications (Faith Alive) reduced to begging churches to buy it's tag-along products, and a clouding of the Gospel with fads and worldly conceits. We don't need to do the jobs of other institutions equally poorly.

"Where Scripture speaks, we may not remain silent just because some issues have become politicized" That just sticks in my craw a bit too much.

Where does the Bible say climate change is happening?

Which Bible verse says industrialization in North America is causing the climate change these Bible verses of yours supposedly say is happening?

Where does the Bible say how many nuclear missiles, aircraft carriers, tanks or other weapons a government may or ought to have?

Where does the Bible say how much money the U.S. should give to petty Muslim tyrants who run the Palestinian Authority?

Is there a Bible verse that requires a society care for its poor primarily through government redistribution? I haven't seen a Bible verse that says what the capital gains or corporate tax rates should be, either. Perhaps you could help me find them?

Could you even find me a verse or two that defines "fair wage" or "meaningful work"? Maybe we should go back to handing out denarii?

I'm all for speaking out where the Scriptures speak, but I've scoured my Bible, checked the concordances, and searched Bible Gateway - and I can't find chapter and verse for any of these things.

So perhaps the converse - where Scripture does NOT speak, we should be silent - also holds?

There is this political ideology and activism that says we got to save the planet. The environmental groups through the United Nations "Agenda 21" program wants to transform human societies. They oppose and do not trust national sovereignty, and nation states that have their own laws and ways of doing things. The UN looks at the world as it's global commons, and that it should have jurisdiction over everything like the air, water, resources, earth, and even space.

Although the UN "Agenda 21" program was crafted during the 1970's it didn't gain real traction till the early 90's. About 10 years ago our denomination adopted the UN Millennium Development Goals. We created the Office of Social Justice within our denomination to implement these goals. They are listed on the OSJ website. Of course one of those 8 goals is to bring climate change legislation into conformity with the UN mandate.

Even the CRWRC receives millions of dollars in federal funding to work as a Non-Govermnt Organization (NGO's) to help direct and write at an international level the Sustainable Development goals to be implemented. This UN program is sometimes called "Sustainable Development."

The CRWRC wants to change its name to "World Renewed" I think it fits in well with part of their new mission.

Most of the alliances we have formed through ecumenical movements like the WCRC are mostly on board with these types of political ideas. So when our church brings up global warming, and justice issues, they are only keeping in step with the UN millennium development goals and political ideology that we endorsed to re-shape our world.

I am not saying anything new. This information is all on our church websites, and through the years has been in the news section.

@truthmatters - there's more in those UN MDGs. Goal 5, for instance, is to "improve maternal health", which entails "Achieve Universal Access to Reproductive Health". Do some digging and you find that this means making sure all the drugs on some UN list are available. Check out that list and you find it includes "morning after" drugs - abortifacients.

But, hey, when the Scriptures speak, the church cannot remain silent...

With the CRCNA's commitment to the politics and policies of the United Nations MDGs it's a matter of who is influencing whom?

This editorial says, "These examples demonstrate that the question isn’t whether the church should speak on political issues but when."

Wrong. Here's the confusion: some political issues (perhaps all) have a relationship to something the church as institution should appropriate speak to. For example, the church as institution should proclaim that people should not murder or even hate each other. Still, the church as institution should not attempt to persuade government, nor speak to government in behalf of its members, nor tell its members what to decide as to particular bills that may define, say felony murder rules, or create penalties for the various kinds of murder (manslaughter, first degree, second degree, etc).

Similarly, the church as institution should certainly declare abortion to be murder, but again should not lobby government or its members about the particular penalties the government might impose for it. In fact, the church as institution should not demand of the government, except by the implication of its public proclamation of Scripture, that it declare abortion to be illegal, although certainly one would expect Christians as citizens (the church as organism), would so demand, in part resulting from Scripture proclaimed by the church as institution.

The church as institution ought also not lobby the government to declare criminal taking the Lord's name in vain, or raising one's children as Muslims or atheists. Again, the church as institution should proclaim what Scripture says, but otherwise recognize its proper sphere of activity, and trust/realize that the church as organism will do as it should, including through the various institutions that Christians (church as organism) will organize. Result: Christians from all traditions will likely ignore their church as institution differences and exercise their role as citizens to lobby the government to protect the legal rights of the unborn.

Finally, the church as institution should proclaim that our God requires us to do justice, but it should NOT--as the CRCNA can be argued to be doing via its WCRC membership--declare political systems that allow private sector economics to be the worship of mammon, nor should the church as institution lobby the government, or it's members, or the Secretary of State to give millions of US taxpayer dollars to Palestinian leaders who promote terrorism and the destruction of Israel and the United States (as our own OSJ does).

This really isn't as difficult as the Banner's Editor would have us believe. The problem is that some within the denomination want to use the conveniently available stream of denominational revenue to promote their own political agenda. This should stop and Synod needs to find the courage to do that, even if that means flatly opposing its own bureaucracy.

For anyone interested in this very important subject (what the institutional church should and should not be and do), I would highly recommend reading "Ecumenical Babel--Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness," a book written by Jordan Ballor, of the Acton Institute who was (when he wrote the book) a doctoral candidate in Reformation history at the University of Zurich and historical and moral theology at Calvin Seminary.

In his fairly short, very readable book, Ballor examines the big three ecumenical organizations in this country, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches and the World Communion of Reformed Church (of which the CRCNA is a member), and in doing so applies (in addition to his own) the thoughts/writings of Bonhoeffer (of Hitler Germany), Ramsey and Lefever.

Ballor comes to the appropriate conclusion that all three of these ecumenical organizations have adopted an ideological neo-Marxist narrative.(page 107) Hence the warnings we receive from present professors within our own seminary that the Belhar represents "liberation theology." It does. And the current acceptance by the CRCNA bureaucracy of the spirit of the Belhar (and the Accra) is continuing to move us toward this narrative, which is one that has no sphere sovereignty restraints, and it wrong-headed politically to boot.

Were Synod 2012 to accede to a couple of Classical overtures that will be presented to it (Overture #3 in the Agenda from Columbia; Overture #6 in the Agenda from Grandville; and a number of comments regarding church as institution and organism in overtures predominantly made in opposition to the Belhar) and decide to appoint a study committee to examine the proper role of the institutional church, it would do well to appoint people like Jordan Ballor to the committee.

This is a pivotal time for the CRCNA. If it continues to be unable to resist the temptation of abandoning its own special heritage of sphere restraint in order to become like the hierarchical authority structure of the Roman Catholic church, the witness of the CRCNA will become "... obsole[te], marginal, irrelevant, or worse." (Ballor quoting Lefever, referring to the three ecumenical organizations, including our own, p. 106). We need to stop and think about our rapidly increasing zeal to become an irrelevant political association instead of a relevant institutional church.

The book is available on Amazon, BTW, and is pretty inexpensive (about $10). Anyone who loves this denomination and is concerned for its future should read it.

Although I generally agree with Doug, especially on his approach to sphere sovereignty, I want to take issue with one point he made on advocating for something like murder to be illegal. And it highlights the difficulty with making absolute statements even about something like sphere sovereignty.

Doug, you said that the church as institution should not demand of government that abortion should be made illegal, even though it may declare abortion to be murder. Thus by implication, the church as institution should not demand (or advocate)that the state should declare murder to be illegal. I would suggest that there is a difference between making a stand on policy, vs taking a stand on politics.

As to policy, I believe that the state should declare murder to be illegal, and I believe that the church is justified in advocating for that, both as individual church members and as pulpit preaching and teaching, and even as a united institution or group of institutions. Sphere sovereignty means that the church has no ability to force the state to do so; it can only advocate. But advocate it must for something so basic. It is entirely within the competency of the church to do so in the case of legality of murder. (although I agree that the state as institution is better suited to determining penalties).

As to politics, it is the responsibility of individual christians to decide who will most likely implement such a policy or legal decision. But does that rule out assistance or guidance from the church elders from time to time? Ocassionally we have had collections for "Voice for Life"; does this transgress your idea of sphere sovereignty?

John -- If I may speak to this; first, I agree, the question of speaking on murder does highlight the difficulty of making pronouncements on moral issues.

Here's the difficulty of the institutional church making a pronouncement on something like abortion. Should the church oppose/support legislation that permits abortion under specific circumstances? If so, which circumstances? Incest/rape? Risk to mother? Can the institutional church speak for the whole church clearly and biblically about an issue like that?

Unfortunately, the question of abortion in the public sphere almost always ends up being more complicated thatn a simple "yes" or "no" stance. So, while I stand firmly opposed to abortion, and insist that it is a violation of God's will, I'm reluctatn to encourage from the pulpit specific action as a "thus-saith-the-Lord" mandate.

In my view, we have kind of copped out on this issue. Because we claim we can not find agreement on specifics, we allow a whole bunch of unborn children that everyone agrees are viable, to be destroyed. To be killed.

As God's people we need to understand how we value unborn human life, and then speak to that. Do we value it from conception on? From the age of three weeks? Even if we were wrong at the age of three weeks, and even if we should really be choosing the time of conception or implantation, we would still be honoring and respecting and valuing the unborn life more than we do today.

Politically, we ought to be supporting the best available solution, not throwing our hands up in despair. The fact is that politically every party in Canada supports abortion and won't touch it. Which is disgusting.

The state may make exceptions in the case of rape or incest, but it prefers not to have to make these exceptions. In other words it often prefers the blanket worthlessness of the unborn approach. The church is in no way obligated to be political in its message, even if it is sometimes forced to be political in its lesser of two evils approach.

If scripture says nothing about making exceptions for allowing abortion, then why would a preacher preach what scripture does not even indicate?

If a law or political party defends only half of the unborn, while the alternative defends none of the unborn, I would suggest we hold our noses and vote for saving at least half of the aborted unborn, until something better comes along. Would we let one child in a sinking boat drown when we had the chance to save him, just because we couldn't save the other five in the boat?

John: I agree when you say, "Politically, we ought to be supporting the best available solution, not throwing our hands up in despair." The question is who the "we" are; whether the task should be done via the church as institution (meaning by council) or the church as organism. The church as institution should proclaim that to abort is to murder. Still, I don't want my pastor to be testifying to my state legislature's committee about a parental rights bill it is considering. I'll do (and did that), as part of our (Oregon's) state level Oregon Right to Life organization. In that organization, I joined forces with Catholics, Baptists, Mennonites, and other brothers and sisters--the church as organism--to very specifically advocate concerning the nuances of the abortion question.

One of the great disavantages of not having the church as institution stay within its sphere is that it strengthens the church as organism. I have done pro-life work, first amendment work and other political/legal work that one might call "Christian" with believers of other traditions. In every case, without exception, that work was much better done because it was done with brothers and sisters from various churches as institution who had expertise (and a special zeal) for the the work we were doing. We have never lost to the ACLU in Oregon. We have regularly lost in the legislature on the abortion issue (this is Oregon after all), but Oregon Right to Life is highly respected, persistent, and capable. It would have been a shame if the various churches as institution would have supplanted the church as organism on the abortion question.

Similarly, I would much rather CRC members lend their support to political organizations like Jim Skillen's Center for Public Justice (and there are many others, including public interest law firms for legal action) than decide the CRCNA as church institution should (poorly) duplicate those efforts.

De Moor asks, "But shouldn’t we, as church, sometimes risk muddying our collective boots by addressing political issues that have profound religious and ethical dimensions?"

Yes and no. We should address the profound religious and ethical issues that underlie the political debate, clarifying them, helping to set the moral objective towards which the specific policies should aim. Abortion, for instance, is murder and we should not be shy about saying so. Does that mean we should execute those who abort their babies - after all, we execute other murderers? Or should we call this particular form of murder "manslaughter" or something else entirely and punish it differently? How do we as a society move towards protecting human life from conception to natural death? These are questions impinging on specific policies and the answers are not immediately obvious. There is room for discussion and debate on what the most prudential and effective policies might be - room, in other words, for politics.

But when the church, as church, declares itself for specific policies it is not merely a matter of muddying our boots. The Church speaks as the voice of the Lord - ex cathedra, as it were. When we say, as church, that abortion is murder and should be stopped, we are not merely saying that this is our policy preference. We are saying that this is Truth, with a capital "T", and thus the Word of the Lord. This is also what we would be saying if we were to say that "Abortion should be a type III felony, punishable by 15-20 years in the state penitentiary and fines of up to $250,000." The difference is, I have scripture passages and the testimony of the Church throughout time to back up the former claim to speak for God. I have nothing but my own wishful thinking, prudential judgment, and (in my case anyway) ignorance to back up the second.

DeMoor, however, can't seem to tell the difference between those two types of statements, and neither can the CRC's Office of Social Justice. They routinely make the second type - we have to adopt the Kyoto accords; working for peace requires supporting Palestinians and demonizing Israel; government run social welfare policies must be supported; etc. By making such statements, they are in fact trying to shut down debate by claiming a divine dictat for their favored politics.

In addition to insulting fellow Christians and being a dishonest method of argument, it has the added problem of being untrue. And when the Church marries itself to statements that are not true it becomes a false church.

I don't think we should be a false church.

Doug, I guess bottom line is that churches do not vote; citizens do. It is citizens in the end who carry the weight of their individual decisions to influence the direction of laws and regulations. Churches only influence laws based on the perceived influence they carry with their members.

Influence and advocacy carries much more weight than simple officiality. If the RC church says abortion is wrong, but cannot convince its members, or its members ignore the pronouncement, then it doesn't matter what statement it makes. Politicians can figure this out.

Thus it is much more important for churches and preachers to convince their members, than it is for churches to speak to legislatures. Because the members will be able to speak for themselves, and as you say will be able to join specific purpose driven organizations which will focus on the priority task with increased expertise and energy.

But councils and preachers and churches can support those organizations both morally and financially. I certainly agree that the combined effort of multi-denominational christians will carry more weight and add more wisdom to the effort. This goes far beyond simple alliances with RCA or south african reformed churches, which are insignificant on a national or global scale.

Some people suggest that sphere sovereignty means that Christians should not apply christian principles to political issues. You know, separation of church and state and all that. Keep religion out of the legislature. Keep the commandments out of the courthouse. This is entirely a misapplication of the principle of sphere sovereignty.

Sphere sovereignty means that the church should not be handing out traffic tickets or putting people in prison. It means that schools should not be preaching sermons (or does it?) or operating businesses, or building jails or installing traffic lights. It means that the state should minimize its "control" over education, and not operate businesses, and should not dictate doctrine to churches, and should not operate churches, nor destroy families. It means families should be able to run their own affairs, without the heavy hand of the state dictating their dinner table manners or the size of their front door.

But as I mentioned in a previous post, as important as sphere sovereignty is, the value of the individual, and the value of the community, sometimes supercedes it. Thus the state will interfere in the church if there are abuse issues(thus protecting the value of the individual) and in the school if it perceives terrorism is being taught(thus protecting the value of the community), or in the family if there is neglect. And the church and its members will condemn state laws that contradict what God has clearly taught and commanded(value of the community). Families will sometimes circumvent the state, or object to certain state pronouncements and laws, based on their perception of the value of individuals and community. Because sphere sovereignty only works well when everyone abides by the same standards and code and guidelines.

Interesting exploration of this topic, Doug.

John: You say:

"Some people suggest that sphere sovereignty means that Christians should not apply christian principles to political issues. You know, separation of church and state and all that. Keep religion out of the legislature. Keep the commandments out of the courthouse. This is entirely a misapplication of the principle of sphere sovereignty."

I couldn't agree more. In fact, anyone who looks at Kuyper's life can't possibly come away with that conclusion. If I am anything, I am an advocate that Christians must be involved in all (every "square inch") of life.

Kuyper's thinking does two things: (1) it commits everything in life to Christ's Lordship; (2) it "decentralizes" the organization of society in a way I find biblically consistent (and wise). As to #2, there is a great deal of commonality between Kuyper and political theorist John Locke. There is a reason why, in the Stone Lectures, Kuyper praised the American revolution and condemned the French (not trying to start a thread on that but still).

I'm delighted that pretty much all in our denomination at least accede to the proposition that all of life is under Christ's lordship and there is no such things as "separation between RELIGION and state." However, there is separation, properly defined (and this can be a bit tricky to precisely articulate) between/among CHURCH, STATE, FAMILY, INDIVIDUAL, BUSINESS, etc.

The deliberate study of all of this--especially the role of the church [as institution]--seems to be something our denomination ought to consciously study (see Overture #3 in the Agenda from Classis Columbia).

check out www.resistingthegreendragon.org. Well done series opening up the debate on creation care. highly recommend it as a great overview of how complicated the issue really is.

Why do some church councils allow the reading of a pro-life petition from the pulpit and others disallow the same petition? Is this the fear of being political and maybe losing charitable status???
Really, for the unborn, this is a life or death situation. Rescue the perishing, those being led away to slaughter.

Brother Robert,

Would not Congressman Paul Ryan's national budget be something begging for us to speak. With all that the bible teaches about caring for the poor, one would think that the CRC would clearly go on record against this budget proposal. I think you would agree, we should not ignore this because it is a political hot potato but speak to it as the Bible speaks and let the chips fall where they may.

Larry

@Larry Van Essen

Assuming this is not in jest and that Larry actually means what he says, my jaw is dropping. Are there actually people in our denominational structure who think the denomination should "go on record against" Paul Ryan's budget?

I just saw a church sign from North Carolina that stated with big bold letters: "A True Marriage, Male and Female and God." I see a message like that as being appropriate, even though it has political implications. It is not directly advocating voting for a particular party; it is indicating support for the homomarriage ban in North carolina.

Perhaps a similar billboard could say: "Does open abortion value financial security, economic prosperity, and individual freedom more than human life itself?"

Economic issues are always more complicated. The short term results can often be quite different than the long term results, so which ones are we going to emphasize? Working for a living is always better than a handout, but people need to survive long enough to be able to work for a living, yet have increasing incentive to work, rather than wait for someone to bail them out. Since it is a complicated issue with varying approaches, it is wise for churches not to take a know-it-all attitude towards these approaches, but rather to emphasize the principles involved.

@Larry Van Essen -
The CRC - through it's DNC affiliate, the Office of Social Justice - has done just that. I just got one of their "action alerts" stating:

"The devastating proposed cuts by the House Budget and House Agriculture Committees to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would mean on average every church in the country would have to come up with approximately $50,000 dedicated to feeding people — every year for the next 10 years."

This is contestable on multiple levels, makes numerous (in my opinion false) assumptions, and advocates a very specific policy that has over the last 50 years been shown to NOT WORK (the rate of poverty in the U.S. is virtually unchanged since the Great Society was instituted).

But the CRC has decided that only continued deficit spending, higher taxes, and the standard-issue Democrat Party talking points are the only viable Christian position on this matter. I do not deny that it is A viable Christian position, just that it is not the ONLY one.

Your miministry shares at work.

The OSJ needs to be disbanded and its work disavowed.

Again assuming Larry Van Essen's post is not a spoof, that post is Exhibit A for why the denomination should not do what this Editorial is suggesting (and which this Editor has repeatedly done, not to mention OSJ).

So how many positions might one find in the CRC as to "Paul Ryan's budget"? Mine would be this: Paul Ryan is one of very few congressmen (maybe only?), to have mustered the courage to be honest, moral, competent and willing (regardless of political fall-out) to tackle the incredible mess our federal government finds itself in because past congresses and administrations have lacked the courage to honestly deal with these difficult issues.

Moreover, unless something like Ryan's budget is actually adopted as our federal government's economic policy, our national (which will become global) march to the economic Armageddon will continue (the only good news would be for the Climate Alarmists because global demand for carbon and all other forms of energy will diminish greatly).

Certainly, this is not a simple subject matter, but when the denomination begins to take political sides (i.e., becomes a political association), CRC members will start lobbying--literally--for their denomination to take their position on all sorts of political issues. And just who within the CRCNA should decide for all CRC members what proxy positions their denominational should take? Would that be Synod (meeting once a year), OSJ (handful of people), the Banner editorial committee, maybe the result of an online survey monkey poll?

When thought through, doesn't it seem ridiculous that any of us should want the denomination to be our political proxy? Let's reverse course on this now. I hope Synod 2012 will have the wisdom to do just that.

Anyone know why the leaders of the CRC have been remarkably silent on the issue gay marriage? Is it that Scripture speaks more clearly on how many atomic bombs a nation-state should have or is it due to the fact that as Brother Eric suggests, we are now simply a sort of chaplaincy to the Democratic Party and probably the Liberal Party of Canada? We gave not yet jettisoned our Reformed heritage for mainline irrelevancy, but we are coming perilously close.

Can the folks at the Office of Social Justice (wow...that's a loaded name!) explain to me why in the world the church is making pronouncements on specific budget proposals being debated in Congress?

This is NOT the role of the church! What the church ought to be doing in the halls of Congress or Parliament is setting up Bible studies and prayer meetings and organizing new church plants in the D.C. or Ottawa areas.

If I wanted to influence legislation in government, I'll personally get involved, or run for public office, or send money to an advocacy organization. But I do not want church money and resources being used to advocate on spending bills in Congress.

The time has come for overtures to finally abolish the Office of Social Justice. We've seen enough of this nonsense come out of that office for too many years now. And as a result, here we are, arguing in a church forum the pros and cons of a budget proposal in the halls of Congress that won't even see the light of day in the Senate. How silly, and what a waste of resources.

@Tyler,

You said,"The time has come for overtures to finally abolish the Office of Social Justice. We've seen enough of this nonsense come out of that office for too many years now."

I agree, this office is doctrinally changing the church and forcing us into a political ideology of global governance. Some call it Eco-Tyranny. Doug Vande Griend referred to the Accra Confession of the World Communion of Reformed Churches which we are a member of as a "neo-Marxist" document.

The fall out with this so called "environmental crisis" or "Climate change" that the United Nations is promoting, is demonizing capitalism and liberty, withholding and locking up vast amounts of resources, driving up prices, and is causing food, water, and energy shortages.

Why did the CRCNA buy into the United Nations plan? Has the UN wooed the church in by using poverty as their bait? Are we witnessing the marriage between politics and religion that the Bible speaks about in Revelation?

There seems to be a lot of evidence that things are converging.

To call the Accra Confession a "Neo-Marxist" document akin to calling the Bible a neo Marxist document. There is no class warfare mentioned in it, instead it asks us (as does the bible) to promote a political / economic structure that allows for human flourishing for all. The Accra is faithful both to the biblical message and the reformed tradition informs us. That reformed tradition that at its root calls us to return to the Bible and then act on what it tells us to do, even if it is inconvenient.
To suggest that the church should not provide social justice leadership denies the very heart of the gospels and many of the prophets call to work for shalom.

Tim: Your post is refreshing. While so many others either refuse to answer assertions made about the Accra, or suggest that we should adopt the Belhar without considering what the Accra says, you at least embrace the Accra as a document that is reflective of your perspective. Would that other CRC'ers in leadership on the Belhar be as honest.

Certainly, it is legitimate to embrace what the Accra says (even if I so thoroughly disagree with it). Indeed, it is legitimate even to embrace neo-Marxism. The tradition of liberation theology, e.g., that of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, married a Marxist political/worldview perspective with Scripture. I think that marriage is badly forced and certainly not within the Calvinist/Reformed historic tradition, but I do respect those who openly say otherwise.

What I would really like to see is an open, honest debate about this two-perspective option that the CRCNA really must choose from. Conversely, it is dishonest and manipulative to move in a particular direction (e.g., Belhar) but be unwilling to admit where the direction leads (e.g., the Accra and its condemnation of non-government controlled markets as the worship of mammon, as well as other propositions).

Those who offer us the gift of the Belhar are also encouraging us to buy into the Accra Confession and the general perspective of the WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches). It's time to be open with the members in the pews about what that means for the CRC, and ask them--CRC members in the local congregations nationwide--whether they want their denomination to actually become what the Accra/WCRC represent. You do. I don't. I could be wrong, but I'd suggest the vast majority of CRC'ers in local congregational don't either.

There is nothing biblical or Reformed about Accra. It is Marxist agitprop. The term "social justice" does not appear any where in holy Scripture. How a denomination that has benefited so well from the free enterprise system can now have a generation of members that would entertain such thought is a bit astounding. I have watched over that past decade or so as the denominational leadership has leaned further and further left both theologically and in terms of political engagement. I have been wondering when the "grown ups" in the CRCNA would reign in some of this? Perhaps there simply are not enough grown ups left.

I think Tim is wrong about the Accra (and about what Scripture teaches regarding economics, but that's a different subject). As far as this editorial is concerned, however, it's a distraction from the more fundamental question.

The question the editor poses - and answers - is whether the church should, as an institution, "muddy its collective boots" by embroiling itself in political controversy. His answer spreads a little mud on its own, eliding the difference between affirming Reformed and/or Christian principles in the context of political discourse, and affirming specific, debatable manifestations of those Reformed and/or Christian principles.

Nobody in the Church seriously challenges the notion that we should call on individuals and organizations, including the State, to care for God's creation. There is considerable room for debate, however, on what specific harms threaten that creation, the nature of those threats, the best ways to redress those threats, the need to balance our address to those threats with other threats to life and limb, and so on and on. The editor, repeatedly, has simply asserted that his views on these questions are the only legitimate views and that therefore any debate is not really a debate about creation care, but an attempt to avoid caring for the creation entirely.

And that's where he goes wrong - in this editorial as in previous ones - and does so in a most condescending, insulting, and demeaning manner. As before, he owes an apology, but I won't hold my breath waiting for it.

@Eric
I'm not so sure that the Accra and Tim's perspective is beside the point. Let me explain.

It is a core tenant of liberation theology (and WCRC/Accra thought--just peruse the wcrc.ch website) that one must heavily involve him/herself in a great deal of political action of a certain bent in order to be of that perspective. In the historical reformed tradition, one can leave one's confessional life sans political action for the most part, but not in liberation theology/WCRC/Accra thinking where political action is definitionally essential.

This is very much like reconstructionism/post-millenialism (Rushdoony, Gary North, etc) except the political perspective is different ('opposite'). Reconstructionism picked and chose from Scriptural hints for how to politically organize society (making them very 'right wing') as does WCRC/Accra/liberation theology except the latter picks and chooses different Scriptural hints. While reconstructionism will adopt/emphasize stoning adulterers, WCRC/Accra/post-millenialism will adopt/emphasize gleaning rules and the year of Jubilee (not even mentioning the free enterprise rules the other 48 years).

The former is almost without mercy, the latter converts all things mercy into a political right. But in both, it's almost like doctrines of personal salvation, rightness with God, etc., become a mere wrapper, a cheerleading cry for the main point, which is a certain political organization for society in the here and now.

There is a phrase about being so heavenly minded that one can be of no earthly good. Both of these perspectives are the opposite, but with differing/opposing political theory positions. Each ignores Kuyper's sphere sovereignty but rather adopts only sphere universalism (as does this editorial).

When we forget about sphere sovereignty, we really run into problems. A recent example was where a candidate for MLA in Alberta was a pastor/preacher, and where he had once said that homosexuals would burn in hell. As a preacher, he was just extracting from scripture, where scripture says that homosexuals(and others who practice and live certain lifestyles) would not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Thus an entirely logical conclusion.

But politically his words had an entirely different connotation, which is to say that homsexuals should be condemned for their condition, and might imply that they should be socially condemned, denied all kinds of things, and legally challenged, and that there is no hope for them.

Scripture says, ie. Jesus said that we would always have poor people around. Repeating that is simply scripture. But politically the implication is that we will never solve the problem of poverty, so why bother helping them. Why approach poverty with an assumption that we can actually reduce or solve the problem?

The statements in their own sphere make sense, but taken to another sphere may leave the wrong impression. In the same way, preachers trying to be politicians, mixes the message. An institutional church structure trying to run the state, or attempting to make scientific pronouncements, or economic judgements, will run into problems. I think it is okay for sermons and church writings to ask questions. But assuming that answers are simple and straightforward... no. While we ought to help the poor, we can also see that some methods are much better than others, and that the social context for this help can change from century to century, as well as from country to country. We can also see that being poor is defined differently by different societies, relative to their expectations. The poor people here would often be considered to be rich in other societies. So we have the poor, but yet they are also rich. To forget that poverty is mostly relative, is to not understand what poverty is.

The poorest Canadian has a better healthcare plan than King Solomon did. Most poor people today can eat better than the richest aboriginal did five hundred years ago. Many poor people in Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica have a TV, which their ancestors never did. They are still poor, but also very rich. There is not one best plan to deal with poverty. Sometimes a perception of need, is the best incentive to work, which in turn is the best social and emotional reward to fight depression and a feeling of inferiority.

When the poverty level keeps increasing or getting higher, we know that poverty is always relative to average incomes and expectations. Poverty is not only (and maybe not even primarily) about the poor. It is about those who have something, being willing to voluntarily share with those who have less. It is about considering the needs of others. The greatest gift to the poor is probably meaningful employment of some kind. (the poorest gift is the ACCRA or Belhar).

The day I hear a political agenda being espoused at my CRC church, will be the day I walk out the door permanently.

@Doug-
You are correct that these are factors in Liberation Theology (and the Accra which is of that bent) and Christian Reconstructionism.

But the question DeMoor is asking and answering here is independent of those two movements. DeMoor is, I think, engaged in the more mundane activity described in Jonah Goldberg's recent book THE TYRANNY OF CLICHES - eliding the distinction between his personal political views and the biblical injunctions regarding creation care via cliches about justice and so on in order to squelch debate on the prudence and effectiveness of those preferred policy prescriptions. If I can label my political opponents as unchristian (what he is, in effect, attempting to do in this editorial), I don't need to debate them. I can simply condemn them.

Who thinks we shouldn't be merciful? Who thinks we shouldn't take care of creation? Who thinks we should not be racist? Again and again and again, the answer - at least as far as the CRCNA is concerned - is nobody. So then the discussion is what will be most effective in achieving these ends, not what ends we should be striving for. But again and again we see people arguing for their favored policies as if those who differ from them oppose the ends in view. If you don't think global warming is harmful and caused by humans you don't care about the environment! If you don't like the Belhar, you must be racist! If you don't favor reducing taxes, you must be anti-family! And so on.

Enough. This lazy sort of argumentation is rampant, and destructive of our unity in Christ and THAT is what I want to stop. If I stop the Accra, but this kind of argument continues, I've not really achieved anything. Which is why, in view of this editorial, I think discussing the Accra as such is a distraction.

@Eric & @ Doug,
Yes absolutely there a tendency in the debate here (and elsewhere) to "demonize" the other side, as you suggest "how can they believe that and call themselves Christian". I confess to that sin myself.

It is also why I had to react (and will continue to) when people chose to categorize documents such as the Accra rather than speaking to specific issues, saying the Accra is Marxist is both incorrect and unhelpful to debating the issues.
I strongly recommend folks listen to an interview Bill Moyers had with Jonathan Haidt. It is very instructive for those on either side of the spectrum.

http://billmoyers.com/episode/how-do-conservatives-and-liberals-see-the-...

@Eric & @ Doug,
Yes absolutely there a tendency in the debate here (and elsewhere) to "demonize" the other side, as you suggest "how can they believe that and call themselves Christian". I confess to that sin myself.

It is also why I had to react (and will continue to) when people chose to categorize documents such as the Accra rather than speaking to specific issues, saying the Accra is Marxist is both incorrect and unhelpful to debating the issues.
I strongly recommend folks listen to an interview Bill Moyers had with Jonathan Haidt. It is very instructive for those on either side of the spectrum.

http://billmoyers.com/episode/how-do-conservatives-and-liberals-see-the-...

@John Z
Jesus was no doubt thinking of Deuteronomy 15:11.
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

@ Tim

Yes, you are right. A christian who is obedient to Gods word will be openhanded toward the poor. Not only that, they will do it with a cheerful heart.

But the Accra is a closed fist. Fabricating what they think justice is. Forcing a political agenda through top down government control as to regulate all land, water, resources, energy, freedom and your christian beliefs. They are going to tell you what you can and can't have, Who is rich and who isn't. Who should be giving and who should be receiving.

Just look at the curriculum of the WCRC. They are rewriting the Bible to feminize masculinity, condone homosexuality, promote reproductive rights, worship mother earth, youth empowerment, and take charge of the world through a global justice system. This is nothing but a conquest system of beliefs.

There should be among the Bible believing christians a righteous anger toward all this wicked propaganda. Enough!!!

@truthmatters -
I was once told, "Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity." People might not like that word "stupidity", but if you take it to simply mean thinking someone incorrect and/or incomplete on facts or reasoning, it's good advice.

I believe the writers of the Accra, and Tim, and Doug, and you are sincere in your desires to serve God and care for the poor. None of you are motivated by malice, either towards God or each other. The writers of the Accra have been, I believe, mis-educated and their trust in governments is at times charmingly naive. That makes them mistaken, not wicked. The worst thing they do is what you have just done - assume those who differ in their politics are evil.

But such is the divisive poison that spreads among us when we make the church about politics instead of about Jesus. Which is why this editorial, certain recommendations in the Creation Stewardship Task Force report, and OSJ need to be repudiated.

@ Eric

Point well taken.

Eric, the difference between stupidity and malice is not always so great. The "wicked propoganda" that truth matters refers to, may be conceived stupidly, but it is wicked nevertheless, since it is designed to avoid God's claims on our lives, and to place other idols on the "high places" in our lives and in our church. We can talk about propoganda being wicked, without making specific judgements about those who believe it is okay.

@John Z.
There is a difference to be made between evil that is intentional and evil that results from error - the motivation of the actor matters.

Adam Smith's insight in THE WEALTH OF NATIONS that an individual acting in his own self-interest in a free market governed by consistent law will inadvertently promote the welfare of others is indeed counter-intuitive. Hayek's insight in THE ROAD TO SERFDOM makes a great deal of sense when you think about it, but one doesn't automatically conclude that a highly trained, articulate, skilled, committed expert knows less about what matters than I do (in a personal economic sense, anyway). Much more natural is the idea that an altruistic expert will do a better job.

As Hayek (and Smith, and numerous others - most notably Thomas Sowell in recent years) have amply pointed out, that natural but mistaken idea results in great harm. Nevertheless, I am inclined to be gracious towards those who make that error with Biblical ends in view.

Those I would call "wicked" are those who, whether aware of these truths or not, use them to pursue their own selfish ends.

The first group, if I can teach them something of what we've learned about economics over the last 250 years, might be brought around to see why their policies don't work (Thomas Sowell's BASIC ECONOMICS is a good start). We are at least operating in the same moral universe. The latter, even if they can see the truth regarding economics, cannot see the truth regarding God and Mankind - a problem of a far different character.

Bob DeMoor is simply ignorant about economics, not wicked. And in addition to my objections to his policies, my objection to this editorial is that it, albeit quite subtly (by equating my objections to his policies with an objection to his ends), says that I am wicked.

One has to consider the context of the present political /economic power structures in North America when evaluating the importance of a clear voice from the Church as an organization.

In my view the control of political and economic power has tipped significantly away from "the people" in favour of organizations whose main purpose is to separate owners / members from the responsibility of the actions of their organizations. Those organizations are notably the public corporation and the trade union, two sides of the same coin I believe.

Unfortunately in the face of those organizations and their fantastic lobbying power, the individual can make little significant impact in the policy decisions of the government. This reality increases the importance of having the Church organizations speak and offer a different view of what priorities should be considered when considering how the market should be structured. The importance of building strong communities, creating meaningful employment, a structure that provides appropriate value of natural capital so that we do not abuse what should be shared with future generations.

Many writers come to conclusions on how I and others who say Amen to the Accra believe these goals might be achieved, they believe I "don't understand the consequences".
I have worked in the chemical process industries, as a manger, business owner, for an engineering company for the past 20+ years. I affirm markets, I affirm the need for individual responsibility. I have read widely, traveled extensively and worked in 2nd world countries, I have good grasp of how economic systems are intended to work and probably more important how they actually work "on the ground".
To say that folks like myself are "ignorant and dangerous" is arrogant and condescending, completely unhelpful to further anyone's understanding of the issues. Do not presume to know how I would chose to work to solve the power imbalances and misapproprated priorites that the Accra seeks to illuminate.

First step then to agree on the what the problems are, after that we can go ahead and solve those problems in any way that suits the context of our own lifes.

Tim, perhaps you ought to explain exactly what it is about the ACCRA that you are saying, "Amen" to. That might be helpful in gaining more insight in this discussion. What specifically do you like about it, what points are significant to you. Is there nothing about it that bothers you, or that you have doubts about?

@Tim-
I'm perfectly willing to engage in that kind of political debate. I'm not willing to have the Church try to settle it ex cathedra. The problem isn't that you and I disagree on the political remedy(ies), but that through the Accra, one of us is attempting to claim the Bible proves he's right.

And I take issue with that, conservative or liberal, Marxist or Hayekian or Keynsian.

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