Fascinating Conference On Church And State In An Age Of Terror.
A recent conference organized by Sola Scriptura Ministries tackled the subject of Church and State in an Age of Terror head-on. Speakers included Dr. George Grant of the King’s Meadow Study Centre in Franklin, Tennessee, Dr. Michael Haykin of Toronto Baptist Seminary, and Dr. Joseph Pipa of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in South Carolina.
The conference opened with a session by Dr. Joseph Pipa: “Why Government: Do I Have to Obey?” Addressing this topic through an exposition of Romans 13:1-7, Dr. Pipa showed God’s provision for government, the purpose of government and our response. God’s Word makes it clear that everyone must submit to and honour the governing authorities, as they are established by God. Rooted in the establishment of government by God in the Noahic covenant of Genesis 9, our responsibility to submit is reinforced by Daniel 4:11 which declares that every single government is established by God’s sovereign will – whether it is wicked or good. Thus when Paul calls the church to honour and submit to governing authorities in Romans 13, he includes every government. The setting in which Romans was written – under the brutal rule of the emperor Nero – emphasises this command.
Government exists, said Pipa, because men sin. In the flood God’s judgment against sin was evident; in the Noahic covenant which instituted civil government God’s grace was manifested. God stated that He would bear long with the earth for the purposes of grace. In order to prevent another mass judgment, He instituted government to wield the sword of justice. Government is God’s means of promoting good and punishing wrong so that society may have order and law, allowing the church to flourish and prosper in peace. Peace is established primarily through the punishment of wickedness – Genesis 9 institutes capital punishment for murder, manifesting the purpose of civil punishment as punishment of evil and promotion of good, not rehabilitation.
Dr. Pipa noted that scripture is clear that all government is given by God, whether they persecute the church, tax heavily, or promote wickedness. Our response to such a government is submission and honour, obeying for God’s glory all lawful laws (ones in accordance with God’s Word). Scripture provides examples for us: Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego, Daniel at prayer, Peter and the apostles before the Sanhedrin, are all exemplary in their civil obedience – honouring God while showing humility, respect and honour to civil authorities wherever possible. We may disobey and disagree for the sake of the Word, but we must do so humbly, with honour and respect as an act of piety which honours Christ. In conclusion Dr. Pipa reminded the congregation that salvation or restoration never come by political means. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ working in a revived church can transform society.
Dr. Grant presented “Ji’had Worldview: The Root of the Modern Crisis” in the second session on Friday. Addressing the topic by providing a survey of Islam, Grant compared Islam to biblical Christianity, explaining the emphasis on external righteousness and violence presented in the Qur’an. The five pillars of Islam (alms, pilgrimage, prayer, fasting, confession of faith) are essential for the Muslim. However, even with man-made standards men will fail because they are sinful. Grant argued that the “trump card” allowing Muslims to enter heaven is the “sixth pillar” of Islam – ji’had. Orthodox Islam sees ji’had as a path to salvation – a salvation by violence, secured through martyrdom. Grant also noted the irony that the “liberal” Islam we see in the West (where those we see as the good Muslims are liberal, and the bad are the conservative) contrasts with the view in Islamic countries, where the “liberal” Muslims are really bad Muslims: those who espouse ji’had are seen as faithful and zealous.
Contrasting Islamic religion with the grace of God in salvation in Christ, Grant noted that the Christian has the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 3) while the Muslim only has self-righteousness. In his concluding comments Dr. Grant told the congregation of the gospel at work in Iraq and a recent trip he made there. A young Christian woman in a Kurdish village told her family of her recent conversion; her brother, an advocate of ji’had, pointed his assault rifle into her face, demanding she recant her infidelity and return to Islam or have her brains blown out. In holy indignation the young Christian grabbed the muzzle and put the barrel into her mouth, saying that Christ was her Saviour and King, and she would not deny Him. The brother, shaken by his sister’s boldness, dropped his rifle and fled. The girl’s witness won five family members to Christ that day.
Dr. Michael Haykin opened on Saturday morning with an address entitled “Christian Witness During the French Revolution.” Looking at initial and eventual reactions of the Christian community to the violent uprising, Dr. Haykin focused on the results which eventually came out of the church’s reaction.
He noted the revivals in Scotland under the preaching of the Haldane brothers, showing the great concern of the church that true religion be revived lest the same wickedness come to their country. The church in many Protestant lands became fearful that the violent atheism of the French Revolution would also sweep through their lands. Their response was to humble themselves in repentance before God, to strengthen the things that were weak, and to motivate one another to increased diligence and love for the means of grace; all of which were abundantly blessed by the Lord. One fruit was revival of the church which in turn resulted in the great missionary movement of the 19th century.
After Dr. Haykin’s lecture, Dr. George Grant spoke on “Habakkuk and Hamas: A Biblical Response to Senseless Violence.” Noting that Habakkuk was frustrated with his calling, Grant explained Habakkuk’s struggle, complaint and the Lord’s answer, recorded in the first chapters of the book. Complaining about the pervasive cruel violence (Hebrew/Arabic: “hamas”), Habakkuk’s call to national repentance received no response. Instead there was a continued rebellion in sin and societal collapse. When he cried out to the Lord “why is nothing done?”, the Lord’s answer shocked Habakkuk. God said that He was raising up the Babylonians, “a cruel and ruthless people.” Habakkuk could not believe this, appearing to him to be inconsistent with God’s character. Yet, while Habakkuk appeared to know his theology, he forgot the need for repentance. Grant argued that Habakkuk’s errors are ours. We also have a narrow view of providence and how history should go. God, however, has told us repeatedly that judgment begins with the house of the Lord. Secondly, Grant argued that we have a warped view of sin: we categorize it by degree as Habakkuk did. He thought Judah’s sin was small compared to Babylon and thus they could not, and would not be judged by the Babylonians. Habakkuk did not understand that God would use them to shake wickedness from His people and bring them back to Him.
Grant argued that we cannot depend on our theology when our hearts are out of focus. In Habakkuk 2 God lays out before Habakkuk the five woes which will befall Judah and in the next chapter the prophet repents – humbling himself before God’s righteous judgment, understanding that it is God’s people who have manifested Babylonish violence in their hearts. Grant asserted that the violence of terrorism is in our own culture and hearts. Our response must be to repent, pray for mercy and proclaim the Word.
The next session, “The Christian During the American Civil War” was by Dr. Haykin. The American Civil War was a deeply religious conflict since both sides saw it as a holy war. Both the Northern and the Southern armies were full of godly men and, despite years of terrible conflict, both sides saw religious revival. While the South thought the violation of the states’ constitutional rights was the main point of contention, the North understood slavery as the central issue. Dr. Haykin led the congregation through a description of Christians on both sides of the conflict, showing the errors of both sides’ reasoning, but finding that the North was biblically correct in its condemnation of slavery. In the end, however, Dr. Haykin stated that the American Civil War is perhaps one of the most difficult areas of historical study, since it has a certain ambiguity. Despite huge amounts of writing on the topic, there are some issues which we simply cannot understand from an earthly perspective.
After a question and answer period, Dr. Joseph Pipa closed the conference with a session entitled “Revelation 6: Day of Vengeance.” Through an exposition of Revelation 6 and 8, Dr. Pipa spoke of execution of God’s purposes for the church and the continuing application of these truths. Christ is the sovereign king, going forth to conquer. War, famine, death are part of Christ’s purposes. Rev. 6 reminds us that judgment begins at the house of God and that judgment is part of the purpose of God for the church – for her good and His glory. Dr. Pipa focused on the church’s prayer and the Lord’s answer in the midst of the opening of the seals, which symbolize His direction of history. The saints’ cry is “How long, O Lord, Holy and True?” The answer comes, “Yet a little while.” The saints are given the robes of victory. Their prayers, rising as incense before Him, are heard and answered. The church militant is gloriously triumphant, under the almighty care of the absolute sovereignty of God.
The conference was uplifting. Participants were challenged and strengthened through the rich teaching, and encouraged in fellowship with believers of diverse backgrounds. The next London conference, D.V., will be on the topic of eschatology, with Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Dr: Michael Haykin, and Dr. Joseph Pipa as scheduled speakers. For more information see the Sola Scriptura Ministries web site at www.sola-scriptura.ca
Bill VanDoodewaard is a high school teacher at Providence Reformed Collegiate in London, Ontario.
This report appeared in Christian Renewal, December 15, 2004 and is reprinted here by permission.
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