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Politics, Theology

Haggai and the call to rebuild the temple: a case study in Church/State relations

Canadians find themselves beginning 2021 under varying levels of lockdown. Across our country churches are wrestling with how to respond. The Bible seems to contain few practical examples of believers facing something comparable to our current scenario. However, over the Christmas break, I stumbled across an article about the story of Haggai and its connection to the book of Ezra. The story struck me as having particular relevance, or at least uncanny parallels, for the church in Canada today. I offer this reflection not to recommend a particular way forward for churches in Canada as it relates to restrictions on corporate worship, but to at least help some Christians better understand the decisions of some church leaders who have made the decision to continue worshipping corporately despite (near) total prohibitions in their province. In the May 2020 edition of The Messenger (a denominational magazine of the Free Reformed Churches), the late Pastor Gerald Hamstra published a meditation about the rebuilding of the temple in the post-exile period. Though the books are spaced far from each other in the Old Testament canon, the events of Haggai and parts of Ezra occur simultaneously. Many of us are familiar with the narrative of Haggai, where the prophet calls on the people of Israel to rebuild the temple:

"This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”

"Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 'Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?'

"Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.'" – Haggai 1:2-6

It appears, on first reading, that the people of Israel were selfishly caring only for themselves and their own houses and ignoring the worship of the Lord without a thought for the temple in ruins. However, that is not the whole picture. In the book of Ezra, we find the rest of the story. Why had the rebuilding of the temple ceased? King Cyrus had issued a decree permitting the Jews to return from Babylon to Jerusalem and charging them to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:2-5). But the Jews, soon after their return, faced many challenges and obstructions from those living in the region and even from the local civil magistrates (Ezra 4:1-5). Eventually, these opponents, with malicious lies, convince a subsequent king, King Artaxerxes, to stop the building of the temple entirely. Having been persuaded by the reports of the local magistrates in Judea, the king concludes that the temple-building efforts are a threat to the security of his kingdom and decrees that the temple work must cease.

"As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop. Thus, the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia." – Ezra 4:23-24

For some sixteen years, the temple lay in ruins because of the king’s edict. Over the course of those years, the crops began to fail and the people were struggling. They were not flourishing following their return from Babylonian exile. Pastor Hamstra, reflecting on this story, explains:

“ interest in the temple and the worship of God was waning. They erroneously viewed the encountered opposition as a divine indication that the work on the temple should be discontinued.” (emphasis mine)

It is worth noting that the order from King Artaxerxes for the Jews to cease building the temple was not a form of direct persecution. The king was not operating with anti-Semitic animus or anti-religious prejudice. He had been convinced by his officials that there was a threat to the safety and security of his realm. So, he ordered the project to cease. Questions of safety and security are under the proper authority (or “sphere”) of the king. So, the Jews submitted to the civil government, ceasing work on the temple. But in this case, the people of God had mistakenly viewed the challenges to building the temple and the intervention of the local authorities as an indication from God that the temple work must stop. God sends Haggai to call the people to repent, to return to building the temple, and to observe the corporate worship of the Lord in the way He prescribed. Haggai makes it clear that the worship of God is to be held in the highest regard, and that King Artaxerxes had been wrong to stop the building of the temple for the worship of God. In the face of opposition, the people begin to rebuild God’s people respond in faith to the call of the prophet. They recognize the punishment for their disobedience, and the suffering they were enduring because of it. Just a few weeks after Haggai delivers his message and encouragement from the Lord, the Jews restart the temple building project. In Ezra 5 we read that the local magistrates came to the building site to see why the people had begun building again in apparent defiance of the king’s orders:

"At that time Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates went to them and asked, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” They also asked, “What are the names of those who are constructing this building?” But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received." – Ezra 5:3-5

Though the local rulers questioned them, the Jews continue to rebuild the temple. The call from Haggai was to obey God, regardless of what the earthly king or the local magistrates declared or forbade. They obey God unquestioningly. Interestingly, as the Jews resume their work, the local governor Tattenai sends another report to the Persian king, King Darius, about how the Jews were rebuilding the temple contrary to the decree of the previous king, Artaxerxes. In that report, Tattenai lists the Jews’ legal defense: that King Cyrus had decreed that they should build the temple (Ezra 5:6-15). King Darius orders a search of the archives and confirms the truth of the matter. He orders the local governors and their associates to “keep away” and to “let the work on this house of God alone” (Ezra 6:6, 7). The Jews are vindicated! Are there any lessons here for today? The parallels to today are striking. In this Old Testament story, we see conflicting government decrees, human opposition to corporate worship, the disdain of the people of God by some levels of civil government, and hasty orders by rulers motivated by fear for safety. We also see commands from God and confusion on the part of His people as to the right way forward. We also see God giving direction, and redirection, patient with His people while unwavering in His call to worship. We see His mighty hand turning the hearts of leaders for His glory and the good of His people. Some lessons in this story for the people of God today include how God’s people can appeal to, and be vindicated by, the higher laws and decrees of civil governments. Perhaps appealing to the original decree of Cyrus (where he first granted permission to the Jews to build the temple), is comparable to church leaders appealing to a constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. Perhaps the Jews’ refusal to abide by the second decree of Artaxerxes while their appeal makes its way to the court of Darius is comparable to the path chosen by some church leaders to resume corporately worshipping God while challenging the legality or constitutionality of overly broad public health orders through the court system. Though I don’t think this story is prescriptive of the way forward for churches in Canada today, the story of the rebuilding of the temple does provide some insight for the 21st-century church to ponder in light of significant restrictions by the civil government on corporate worship. Even if you don’t agree with the decisions made by some churches to continue worshipping, that decision should at least be understandable in light of the Ezra and Haggai story. One thing we can remain confident in is that God rules over the nation of Canada today, just as He has over the nations and empires of the past. He is faithful to those who put their trust in Him. It is our daily duty to pray, work and worship to the glory of His name!

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." – Jeremiah 17:7-8

This article first appeared on the ARPA Canada blog here. Colin Postma is the Federal Issues Manager for ARPA Canada

Politics

Reforming Canada's electoral system?

During the 2015 federal election, the Liberals campaigned on bringing in electoral reform. While they didn't deliver on that promise, they weren't the first to propose fundamentally changing the way Canadians vote, and they likely won't be the last. So what prompted their promise? Why did they think voters wanted a new electoral system? What exactly needs fixing with our current system? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of the alternatives? THE CASE AGAINST FPTP The common complaint with our current First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system is that it doesn’t seem to reflect voters’ wishes. Under it a candidate doesn’t need a majority of the vote to get elected; he only needs one vote more than the second-place finisher. So, for example, in the 2015 Federal election that meant one candidate – the NDP’s Brigette Sansoucy – was able to win a seat in the House of Commons even though she received only 28.7 percent of the vote. In her riding almost three-quarters of voters picked someone else, and yet she is still their elected representative. In 2015 the FPTP system also allowed the Liberals to win a decided majority of the seats (54.4 percent) even though they had a decided minority of the votes (only 39.5 percent). Situations like this are why our representative democracy can be criticized for not being all that representative. THE RANKED BALLOT: FOR So what sort of electoral reforms have been proposed? The Liberals' plans never got all that specific, but back in 2014, in an appearance at Ontario’s Western University, Justin Trudeau told students, “I like the idea of a ranked ballot.” There’s a clear reason why the Liberals would. Under a ranked ballot (or preferential) system voters would rank the candidates from first to last (see the picture). If no one got 50 per cent of the vote, then the candidate with the least 1st place votes would be dropped off, and his ballots would be redistributed according to who those voters had marked as their second choice. The advantage of this system is that the eventual winner can claim the legitimacy of having more than 50% of voters picking him. He may not have been their first pick, but he was at least someone they voted for. THE RANKED BALLOT: AGAINST The problem with the ranked ballot is that it gives an advantage to whatever parties are present in the "middle" of the political spectrum. Why? Because when voters on the right or left rank their second choices they aren’t going to pick the parties on the other side of the spectrum. Instead they are going to default to the candidate who is the closest to them. In Canada that means an NDP voter will likely rank the Liberals second (or third behind the Greens), and rank the Conservative last. Likewise, a Conservative voter is more likely to rank the Liberals second than he is to pick the NDP or Greens. So Liberals can count on getting far more of the second-pick votes than any of their political rivals. There is a systemic bias in their favor. CBC’s Eric Grenier estimated that under a ranked ballot the Liberals would have picked up an additional 40 seats last election (mostly at the expense of the Conservatives). No wonder then that the Prime Minister prefers ranked ballots. PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION: FOR Another alternative often proposed is proportional representation (PR). While there are many forms of PR, the basic premise is that all involve parties getting seats in proportion to their total vote total. Under this arrangement, if we use the 2015 election as our example again, since the Liberals took 39.5% of the popular vote they would have ended up with just 39.5% of the seats in Parliament. That means that, as Eric Grenier noted, under the most basic form of PR, in the 2015 election the Liberals would have lost 50 seats, while the Conservatives would have gained 10, the Green Party 11, and the NDP 23 more. Interestingly, it is under the PR system that the Christian Heritage Party (CHP) is most likely to prosper. While the CHP’s 15,284 votes in the 2015 election wouldn’t have been enough to garner them an MP, under a PR system, Christians who had previously wanted to vote for them but thought it a wasted ballot could now cast that vote knowing it would help elect at least an MP or two. PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION: AGAINST But PR also opens up possibilities for other smaller parties too. The CHP would finally be in the House of Commons but there would also be a representative or from the Marijuana Party. We’d likely see a Communist too, and maybe even a Rhinoceros Party MP (yes, there really is a federal Rhinoceros Party of Canada). In addition, it would become harder for any one party to win an outright majority. As the Fraser Institute reports in their booklet Electoral Rules and Fiscal Outcomes, from 2000-1015  In countries with PR election systems...83 percent of elections resulted in coalition governments. That might not sound like much of a problem – so what if some parties have to work together? Why wouldn’t that be a good thing? The reason its a problem is because when a coalition government is built, each participant does so on the condition that they get something out of it. And that “something” usually requires the outlay of money. In the same booklet, the Fraser Institute noted that PR governments spend an average of 29% of their country’s GDP, whereas other governments elected via means such as ranked ballots or the FPTP spend only 23% of the GDP. So a downside to any PR type of system is that taxes will likely go up. Coalition governments are costly! Another downside? It increases party leaders' power. Proportional Representation most often involves voting for a party, not a candidate. A party puts out a list of their candidates, in an order of their choosing, and if they get enough votes for, say, three MPs, then the three people at the top of their list will get in. Canadian party leaders already have dictatorial powers over their MPs, and the PR system would only increase that power – refuse to pick up your party leader's drycleaning and he'll bump you down your party's list, or take you off it entirely. The last thing we need is to strengthen party leaders' stranglehold over their party's MPs. CONCLUSION Some countries have adopted a mixture of these different systems, which means there are a limitless number of possibilities. But these three are the core sorts. So what system should we, as Christians, push for? Each has its own strengths and weaknesses and there isn't an electoral system free of flaws. Ranked ballots give the centrist Liberals an advantage over the other parties that they don’t deserve, while proportional representation seems likely to expand the size of government and strengthen party leaders' power. None of these are attractive alternatives. Meanwhile, even as FPTP frequently gives minorities a majority of seats, that bias isn't specific to one particular party. So I will say of our present system what Winston Churchill once said about democracy: First-Past-The-Post is the worst form of electoral system…except for all others. A version of this article first appeared in the September 2016 issue under the title "Canada's electoral reform."...

Apologetics 101, Politics, Pro-life - Abortion

On "the Overton Window" and talking crazy

There are two ways to encourage our country to turn in a godly direction. Both involve talking. **** Glenn Beck, a radio talk show host in the US, authored a novel with the curious title The Overton Window. Before ever reading the book I had to google the title to find out what it meant. I was glad I did – it turns out "The Overton Window" is an enormously useful way of looking at how ideas are discussed in the public square. A political analyst, Joseph Overton, coined the term to describe how some topics/issues/ideas fall into a range - the Overton Window – where they are deemed acceptable for public discourse. To give an example, while no one likes property tax increases, we also wouldn't think it radical or unthinkable to talk about hiking them a point or two. It is an idea that can be discussed publicly without embarrassment, falling within the "Overton Window" of acceptable discourse. Now, some ideas fall outside the Overton Window. If we were to draw out a "spectrum of acceptability" (see the illustration below) for public conversations, then on the outer extremes would be ideas deemed simply Unthinkable. These are thoughts that, if anyone were to propose them, they would then be dismissed as crazy, bizarre, or bigoted. But as we move inwards, towards the middle, ideas start to become merely Radical, then become Acceptable, and as they become more and more Popular, they are so well thought of by the public, they may well become government Policy. The Overton Window helps us understand why some of the issues most important to Christians just don't get discussed. It's because a politician isn’t going to dare talk about ideas that will make him seem like a kook – if an idea falls into the Unthinkable, or Radical end of the spectrum, he won’t touch them. That’s where Christians are right now with the issue of abortion in Canada. And that's where we're heading on transgenderism. A daring politician may bring up ideas that are merely Acceptable, but most politicians try to find out which way the parade is heading, and then get out in front of it. So they will only bring up issues thought Sensible, Popular, or so accepted that everyone thinks they should be made Policy. I bring up the Overton Window because it is a very useful tool to direct, and measure, what we are doing when we set out to shift the public's stand on an issue. The opposition is trying, and largely succeeding, in making orthodox Christian beliefs seem radical. If we are going to change hearts and minds on issues like the protection of the unborn, marriage, human rights commissions, education policy, and restorative justice, we will have to begin by pushing our ideas back into Overton Window of "acceptable discourse." We want our ideas, once deemed unthinkable, to be seen by Canadians as simply common sense, and so popular they should be policy. Doing it right So how do we make the shift? There are two ways. 1. Speak the unthinkable to makes it less so Talking does wonders. The current transgender debate is being lost, quite quickly, and the biggest reason is that no one – at least none of our political leaders – are willing to speak up. The opposition has already managed to make it unthinkable to say, "God made us male and female, and wishing it was different can't change that truth." But what if someone did speak up? Here in Canada in recent months we've seen the impact that even one person can have when they are willing to voice what has become politically incorrect. University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson has made waves for publicly questioning whether people can choose to be genderless or "non-binary." Because he hasn't backed down, his solitary stand has become a movement of sorts, with thousands echoing his concerns. And it all started because he was willing to speak. Here's another illustration, this one from Joe Lehman, president of the Mackinac Center think tank where Joseph Overton first thought up the term “Overton Window.” If a teenage girl wants her parents to change her curfew from 10 pm to midnight the most strategic way forward would be for her to start talking about how all her friend get to stay out until 2 am. Now there's no way her parents will let her stay out until 2 am and she knows it, but if she makes a credible case for this extreme, she might just succeed in shifting 2 am from an Unthinkable idea, to merely a Radical one. And that, in turn, might just make midnight seem downright Acceptable. By overshooting what she is really after, she can tug her parents to where she is actually hoping they will go. We can do something like that too. We aren’t going to exaggerate our position like this girl – that would be lying – but we can take inspiration from her and speak out fearlessly on our most unthinkable ideas. If we are vocal, if we are heard, we can pull the public towards us, even if we don’t yet bring them all the way over. So, for example, if in our day-to-day lives we all start wearing pro-life shirts that celebrated the humanity of the unborn, and if in the next election campaign CHP candidates effectively and vocally make the case for the humanity of the unborn, and then we all use the ARPA Easy Mail to write our MPs, and write in to our local papers too, all of us calling for an end to abortion, we could succeed in pulling the public enough our way to allow a Conservative MP to push for an “Informed Consent” law. This is a law that would require women be given all the facts before they have an abortion. Of course we wouldn’t be satisfied with this one small step forward, but some children would be saved. It would be a start. But it will only happen if we are willing to speak the unthinkable fearlessly and boldly. 2. Speak the radical repeatedly During the 2008 election, one-time US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin brought homemade cookies for students at a Pennsylvania school. She had heard that there was a debate going on over whether public schools in the state should ban sweets. “Who should be deciding what I eat?” she asked a cheering audience. “Should it be government or should it be parents? It should be the parents,” Palin concluded. That a child’s parent should make their nutritional decisions, rather than some arm of the government, is not an extreme position. But unless, like Palin, we speak this truth repeatedly, repetitively publicly, and repeatedly (and repetitively) it could easily become extreme. It is only by repetition that common sense remains common. How not to do it Now there are also two approaches we can use to be sure we won’t shift our nation in a more godly direction. 1. We can't expect change if we won't speak This might seem so obvious as to be not worth mentioning, But it is our default. It is easier not to let co-workers know we oppose how a homosexual couple rewrote the BC public schools curriculum. It is easier to be quiet than do the research to be able to speak persuasively for the unborn. It’s easier to remain ignorant about what our country’s human rights commissions are up to. It’s easier to be unprepared, and unnoticed, easier not to stick out, easier to keep our mouths shut. It’s easier, but we can’t expect change if we won’t ready ourselves to speak on the issues of our day intelligently and persuasively. 2. We also can't expect change if we pretend to be less radical than we are One of the reasons I'm bringing up the Overton Window is because it is a more accurate way to evaluate success than some of our more traditional measures. We sometimes get caught up in measuring our success by how many Christians MPs or MLAs we’ve elected, or how many votes our candidate received, or maybe how many pieces of legislation “our guys” have managed to pass. But there is a problem with measuring success this way. It is possible to increase our vote total and elect more Christian MPs even as our nation becomes increasingly godless. We can even pass positive pieces of legislation, without changing Canadians’ hearts and minds. How? By downplaying our Christian convictions. If we pretend that we aren’t radical, that our radical positions are quite conventional, we can get elected. But without any mandate to make the changes we are actually hoping for. I want to note before I bring up this next example, that I am not trying to attack this man. I greatly respect him. But the strategy he employed is a very relevant example. When he was a Manitoba Conservative MP, Rod Bruinooge, proposed a piece of legislation that would have made it illegal to coerce a woman into having an abortion. It was, possibly, the very smallest step forward in the protection of the unborn, since it would have only protected those few children who were wanted by their mothers, but were being threatened by their fathers. It was a small step, but still a step!  But it was not sold as pro-life legislation. Bruinooge was quoted by WorldNetDaily.com as saying his bill “doesn't have any bearing on access to abortion.” He noted: “That's not related to this bill. Access to abortion in Canada is in all nine months….This bill doesn't have any bearing on that… This bill is neither pro-life or pro-abortion.” Now anything abortion-related in Canada would fall in the Radical/Unthinkable range. But if the public had taken Bruinooge at his word, and believed that his bill has nothing to do with abortion, perhaps they would have found it an Acceptable idea. The bill wasn't passed. But if it had, its passage wouldn’t have signaled any sort of shift in our nation. It will only have passed because MP Bruinooge avoided talking about abortion – so the bill won’t have done anything to change the public's mind about abortion. It wouldn't have done anything to shift the pro-life position in any positive direction in the public's mind. Conclusion The shift that we are after is going to involve pushing boundaries, being radical, bringing up the unthinkable. That’s how we are going to start to shift hearts and minds - when we fearlessly and repeatedly and effectively present God’s truth to our nation (Heb 13:6). And so to conclude I want to encourage you to speak out, in whatever organization you are a part of, and wherever God has placed you:  at your work, in the park, behind a podium, over the back fence, at the gym, Equip yourself to speak out and then speak. We all need to take on this task. This article was based on a talk delivered Nov. 22, 2010 at a CHP event, which you can hear here. ...

Politics

5 ways God’s providence should impact how we approach politics

This is an edited version of a devotional given at an ARPA Canada “God and Government Conference,” May 4, 2019, in Aldergrove, BC. ***** God is in control. It’s a simple enough truth, but if we understood it, really understood it, I think it would change the way we approach politics. So I want to look now at government through the lens of God's providence. God's providence means that He governs and upholds his creation, all of it, from little rocks to whole galaxies, and plants and animals too. His providence also encompasses the flow of history and the decisions of individual human hearts. In short, God’s providence means that God rules, and that because He rules nothing comes about by chance. Nothing happens apart from God's will. Nothing surprises God or ever presents God with an unsolvable problem. Nothing is ever beyond his control. At some level, everything happens because God wants it to happen in fulfillment of his good and perfect plan. That means when a nation is blessed with good government, we know this is by the will of God. Good governments don't arise by chance. They don't come from nowhere. Instead, they come to us a gift of God's goodness and mercy. They are from the hand of the Lord. At the same time, when a nation endures a period of poor government or when the Christian Church endures oppression at the hands of government, this, too, is from the hand of God. Also in such times, God is in charge. In all the adversity experienced by the Church, the Lord is still advancing his own good purpose to eventually unite all things under one Head, even Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10). So let’s consider now how working with the doctrine of God's providence will have some blessed effects for those engaged as Christians in the work of politics. 1. Reflecting on God's providence would lighten our mood! When governments do foolish things or act in ways that diminish our freedom and make life more difficult for us, that can be very discouraging. However, when we remember that God is sovereign over everything and that even Satan can do nothing apart from the will of Christ, we get a different feeling about difficult political realities. The world is not spiraling out of control; God is still in control! What's happening is part of his plan and his plan involves working out everything for the glory of his Name and for the good of those who trust him. 2. God's providence should increase our patience. God's providence is connected to God's ultimate purpose and we know that this is a long-term project; our Father in heaven is playing the long-game. Knowing this enables us to continue in hope even as the going gets rough. 3. God's providence should increase our hope for change. We read in Proverbs 21 that the: "king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wills." The imagery here probably comes from agricultural practices of the ancient world. In parts of the ancient world, there was the practice of digging canals and smaller waterways that could be controlled by a series of large valves. If a farmer wanted to channel water to a particular part of his land, he would simply close one valve and open another. It wasn't difficult to do and the effects were quite dramatic. Just as easily as a farmer redirects water in a channel, so easily God redirects the heart of a king; He turns it wherever He wills. Even when the king imagines that he is acting with complete autonomy and sovereign power, it's actually God who is directing his decisions. Notice that God's sovereignty extends not just to the actions of the king but to his heart, that is, to his inner self, the place of his thoughts, desires and wishes. For God to influence a ruler in this deeply personal matter is not difficult. For this reason, even in the most trying of times, we can expect positive change. Even when the trajectory doesn't look good, God can make things happen. Walls can come down quickly. Closed doors can be opened when we no longer really expected it. Events can happen that totally change the political landscape – and we didn't see them coming! 4. God's providence should increase our courage I would say that this is true because knowing God's providence decreases the feelings of intimidation which we may experience. When government and the media seem large, overwhelming, and irresistible, we are not afraid. I'm reminded of what Jesus said to Pontius Pilate: "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11). The fear of the LORD who rules the world in his providence takes away the fear of people. Fear paralyzes us but living confidently in the light of God's all-encompassing providence motivates us and encourages us to speak and act according to our convictions. 5. God’s providence encourages us to engage in politics Saying this may seem counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t the confession that God sovereignly turns the hearts of kings wherever He wills make Christians passive? Wouldn't the doctrine of providence encourage us to simply wait for God's next move? I would say that the opposite is true. The more we reflect on God's sovereignty, the more we think about his providential control over the world, the more we will be motivated toward political engagement. God's work of providence encourages us to work in our sphere and responsibility. After all, in his providence, God uses the work of human beings. He uses our prayers, words and our political witness to accomplish his work of providence. Yes, of course, God can and frequently does act directly upon his world but in many cases, God works indirectly and through the actions of people. Ephesians 1 says that God has a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.  By God’s providence, this plan is coming to fulfillment.  However, this fulfillment involves human prayer, human actions, words and witness. The fulfillment of God's plan involves each one of us working with our own gifts and opportunities for the glory of God. Imagine that you didn't know there was a plan. Imagine that you didn't believe God was firmly in control. Imagine that you didn't know that in the end God wins and his Kingdom is established in righteousness forever. Imagine that life was a crapshoot so that you just didn't know where it would end. Would that motivate you to action? I don't think so. But when you know that God wins and that everything is somehow part of the pathway to final victory, then you can feel a surge of energy. Something good is coming. God's victory is coming and you can be part of the process. Rev. Schouten is a pastor for the Aldergrove Canadian Reformed Church....

Politics

Even the world should agree…Christians activism is good for democracy

Many among the Left, and even some on the right would like Christians to just stay out of politics. These are the sort who will chant “Separation of Church and State!” and “Don’t force your morality on me!” We could critique the inconsistency in their thinking – they don’t have any problem forcing their morals on us. But in his book The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, Prof. Jon A. Shields rebuts this anti-Christian mob a different way. He notes that there are three main agreed upon measures by which political movements are generally evaluated. And by these measures Christians most definitely have a positive impact in the political realm. Or, in other words, Christian political involvement is good for democracy. Three measures So what are these three measures? 1) Does it foster participation? As Justin Trudeau considers just how he is going to remake Canada’s political process one of the changes that has been suggested is that everyone be required to vote. While that is a very bad idea (do we really want to force those who would otherwise be too lazy or uncaring to vote, to casually and carelessly cast a ballot?) it is based on the thought that the people should have their say. So the first measure, as to whether a political movement is a positive force in a democracy is whether the movement has been successful in mobilizing citizens into political participation... especially citizens who had previously been disaffected or alienated from politics. Is the movement getting more people out to the voting booths? Is it getting more people to visit or write their MP or MLA or city councilor? 2) Does it encourage civil discussions? The second measure is whether the movement encourages its adherents to abide by “deliberative norms.” Some political movements encourage screaming, shouting and even rioting. But if a movement encourages people to speak in a civil manner to their opponents, then we can agree that the movement is, in this respect, a positive force in our democracy. 3) Does it help the common good? The third measure is whether the goals of the movement enhance the common good. Unfortunately, this third criterion is not very helpful because the common good is defined very differently by people holding to different worldviews. Christian political involvement does help the common good but this is not something those on the other side will be likely to concede. So it would be best to focus on the first two criteria, which can be considered separately from the third. Participation Sheilds’ focus is on the American political scene, and there he notes that beginning in the 1970s and accelerating during the 1980s and 1990s, Christian organizations (notably the Christian Coalition) deliberately organized conservative Christians for political activity. This effort had a significant effect. Shields writes, “today conservative evangelicals are not only more engaged in politics than they were in earlier decades, they are also more engaged than other groups that they once lagged behind.” In Canada, we’ve seen the growth of conservative Christian involvement too. In the late 1970s and early 1980s groups like Campaign Life Coalition and REAL Women of Canada were founded. More recently, ARPA Canada has helped get many more active. Considering the first criterion, then, it is clear that conservative Christian organizations (or “Christian Right” organizations as Shields sometimes calls them) have effectively mobilized large numbers of previously uninvolved citizens into the political process. The Christian Right has, as Sheilds puts it, “helped revive participatory democracy.” This is a clear win for democracy. Deliberative norms The second criterion relates to how a political movement’s members conduct themselves in public. Do they treat others with respect and try to reason with fellow citizens? Or do they scream at their opponents? On this point Shields thinks conservative Christian organizations have done a good job encouraging their members to act and speak appropriately in public affairs. He writes that: the most universally taught deliberative norm in the Christian Right is the practice of civility. Christian Right leaders preach the virtues of civility because they want to persuade, not alienate, other citizens. Just as often, movement elites ground this norm in Christ’s command to love one’s neighbor. Pro-life example For his study, Shields focused particularly on the pro-life movement because it is one of the most important and long-standing causes of conservative Christian activism. He found that pro-life organizations frequently try to develop deliberative norms among their members that include “promoting public civility, practicing careful listening and dialogue...and embracing moral reasoning.” Pro-life organizations will help to train their members how to argue for the rights of the unborn. For example, they explain fetal development and why the “pro-choice” position is inconsistent with human rights. In this way, pro-life activists become educated about abortion and how to explain the issue to fellow citizens. This often strengthens the confidence of the activists and their willingness to engage others on this important matter. It makes them more engaged as citizens. The other side’s unwillingness to debate Interestingly, Shields discovered that pro-choice organizations tend to be unwilling to debate. Many pro-choice organizations with college or university campus groups have explicit policies of avoiding such debates. For example, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) discourages its student activists from talking to pro-lifers supposedly because they won’t be able to change the pro-lifers’ opinions. The Pro-Choice Action Network refuses to debate because it claims that abortion is a basic human right and rights are not up for debate. Dialogue about abortion is therefore not possible. Thus while pro-life groups are instructing their members how to discuss the abortion issue, some pro-choice groups are discouraging such discussions altogether. Shields points out that this situation has: left abortion rights advocates severely handicapped in the context of public debates. When pressed by pro-life activists, they have no ready explanation for why fetuses become persons at any point between conception and birth. This fact may explain why an undercurrent of self-doubt runs through some refusals to debate pro-life opponents. Clearly, by the criterion of deliberative norms, the pro-life organizations are contributing much more to a functioning democratic society. ARPA Canada too On its website, ARPA Canada states that its mission is “to educate, equip, and encourage Reformed Christians to political action and to bring a biblical perspective to our civil authorities.” ARPA’s activities clearly fall in line with the two criteria for political movements that enhance democracy. It encourages participation in the political process. It also encourages deliberative norms by educating Christian citizens on important issues and equipping them to make use of that knowledge in contacts with public officials and other citizens. So a clear case can be made then, that ARPA Canada enhances democracy in Canada through its efforts, even aside from its specific impact on the issues it addresses. Its impact on those issues is above and beyond its positive contribution towards democratic participation. Conclusion Christians who engage in activism tend to become better democratic citizens. They usually increase their knowledge of public affairs and become better able to discuss those affairs with others. They are more aware of matters affecting society and more concerned about those matters. Time spent contacting public officials and discussing the issues with other citizens is time spent trying to make the country a better place. Democratic virtues are manifested in this way, even when government policies are not changed for the better. If the world appreciates everyone’s respectful participation in the democratic process, then they should need to acknowledge that Christian participation is good for democracy....

Human Rights, Parenting, Politics

How mom and dad can fight Big Brother

Governments in BC, Alberta and elsewhere have shown they want to use government schools to teach children that their gender is something they can choose. But gender isn’t a choice, and to teach impressionable children otherwise is to mislead them. Still, despite many parental objections, governments continue to move forward with these plans. It's important we understand, then, that this isn’t the first time a government has tried to override parental rights in education. Politicians and bureaucrats in various jurisdictions seem to be regularly devising new ways to thwart the freedom of parents to direct the education of their children. These government have the backing of intellectuals who produce academic materials arguing that parental rights in education need to be severely curtailed or even abolished. These intellectuals aim to persuade lawyers and judges that parental rights are unnecessary and no longer need to be recognized in law. Thankfully, not all intellectuals think that way. In recent years, a law professor named Stephen Gilles at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut has written a number of scholarly articles defending parental rights in education over against statist arguments. “Statist” here refers to the belief in the supremacy of the government – the State – over individual and family freedom. Arguments and counter arguments One of Professor Gilles’ most famous scholarly articles is entitled “Hey, Christians, Leave Your Kids Alone!” which was published in the Spring 1999 issue of Constitutional Commentary, an American law journal. In it he took on the Statist arguments of another law professor, James Dwyer, that Dwyer proposed in his Religious Schools v. Children's Rights. ATTACK #1: Parents harm their children What Dwyer argued was that religious education is harmful and damaging to children and therefore the government needs to protect children from the harm their parents will impose on them through a religious education. In short, Dwyer sees parental rights as an obstacle that must be eliminated to ensure the wellbeing of children. This differs only in degree, but not in kind, with what provincial governments have sought to do via their school systems. In BC the school curriculum was rewritten to promote homosexuality and parents were limited as to whether they could opt their children out of these classes. In Alberta and Manitoba the government wants to use the schools to promote transgenderism, over against our objections. And in Quebec the government wants schools to teach the equal validity of many religions, which is the very opposite of what we as parents want to teach our children. Our secular governments thinks they knows best. ANSWER: No, Parents know their children best But if our governments think like Dwyer, we have a friend in Professor Gilles. He completely rejects Dwyer’s statist perspective and demonstrates that following Dwyer’s proposals would, in fact, be positively harmful to children. Why? Because parents have a much better grasp of what their children need than government officials, so transferring decision-making power to those government officials would undermine the children’s well-being. ATTACK #2: Government knows best Dwyer’s statist thinking gives us a glimpse of where our government may be heading in the future. Dwyer provides a theoretical foundation for the use of government coercion against conservative Christians, an idea that is popular among some left-wing intellectuals. As Gilles explains, …many law professors see religious traditionalists – especially Christian Fundamentalists – as extremists whose beliefs and practices are irrational, without value, and positively dangerous to themselves and others. The dispositions these opinions induce are not limited to preventing religious traditionalists from gaining government power; they also include using government power to counter and undermine religious traditionalism as a movement. ANSWER: Parents know best In contrast Gilles wants to promote what he calls “parentalism,” which maximizes parental rights. This view has not just the Bible but history behind it. In the past, in the Anglo-American countries (of which Canada is one), it has always been assumed that parents act in the best interests of their children. Gilles calls this the “parentalist presumption” which he summarizes as follows: the state may not override a parental decision unless it overcomes the presumption and demonstrates that the parents' choice is in fact harmful to the child. ATTACK #3: Some parents are lousy Naturally, then, the next question is to determine what constitutes “harm” such that the parentalist presumption can be overcome. Gilles answers this way: If parents starve or brutalize their child, or prevent the child from acquiring foundational skills such as reading, writing, and calculating, there is consensus that they are doing harm, and state intervention is entirely appropriate. From time to time there are instances where the government may legitimately need to take action to protect children. While God calls on parents to care for their children, He also gives the State the power to administer justice, so when parents neglect their children the State does have the jurisdiction to step in. Most people would agree that children who are being starved, or tortured, or deliberately prevented from acquiring literacy and numeracy skills by their parents would need help. However, outside of these extremely rare occurrences families should be left alone by the government. ANSWER: The government always makes a lousy parent Now, parents are imperfect. We all fail to one degree or another. That leaves an opening for opponents of parental rights to point to these instances of parental failure and use them to justify increased government control over children. But Gilles points out that this line of reasoning is faulty: The relevant question is not whether robust parental rights are perfect when measured by the yardstick of children's best interests, but whether they are superior to alternative regimes that give the state more control over children's upbringing. To this question, the longstanding answer of our legal tradition has been that state authority over childrearing is more to be feared than comparable authority in the hands of parents. Parents make mistakes…but they are far better than a “government as parent” alternative. Of course, that’s the very point that Dwyer, and others of his ilk, will dispute. He argues that the government is much better suited to determine what is best for children. Therefore the government, rather than parents, should have ultimate control over education. So what answer does Gilles give? The flaw in this approach is its blithe assumption that state agencies, and above all courts, will expertly and disinterestedly pursue the best interests of children. A moment's reflection will show that courts are neither as well-placed as parents to discern the child's best interests nor as interested in ensuring that the child's welfare is in fact advanced. Unlike parents, judges will never have the time or the day-to-day contact necessary to acquire an intimate understanding of the procession of children who would come before them. Nor will they have to live with the many-faceted ramifications of their childrearing decisions. God has crafted a wonderful way to raise children that the government simply won’t be able to improve on. Parents have much more at stake in the well-being of their children than any employee of the government. Parents know their children much better and will have to endure the consequences of any bad decisions they make. In other words, the incentive for parents to watch out for the best interests of their children is infinitely higher than any social worker, teacher, or judge. That’s why it is absurd to suggest that these public employees are better at determining the best interests of the children. Nevertheless, theorists like Dwyer write as though teachers and judges are best suited to determine what’s good for children. Really? Gilles will have none of it: I find it naive to describe the run of state employees in such idealistic terms, let alone to believe that they will more often be better judges of a child's best interests than that child's parents. State agency personnel may spend years thinking about what is best for children – but parents spend decades doing what they think is best for their own children, and living with the consequences. Parents are far more likely to get it right, even if they have fewer course-credits in child development or education theory. Because children are young and immature, they need to be under the authority of adults. People like Dwyer who claim to be promoting children’s rights are not suggesting that the children be allowed to determine their own best interests. They just want the determination of best interest to be done by government employees rather than parents. Gilles notes that this is an issue of who has authority in the lives of children: Thus, the question is not whether our childrearing regime will entail other-determining governance of children by adults; it is which adults will enjoy the freedom to engage in this other-determining behavior. That’s how we need to present the issue: which adult will do the job best. When the government treads on parental toes we need to ask, “Are you trying to say that you think a government employee working 9-5 is a better parent for my child than me?” ATTACK #4: We should have a broad understanding of harm Historically, Anglo-American nations have recognized parental rights, with the only limits on these rights involving the rare instances where parents harm the children. So if the State can only act when a child is being harmed, we can predict what statists will do – they’ll want to greatly expand what we view as harm. So, for example, Dwyer hates conservative Christianity and what it stands for. Thus he argues that teaching children certain Christian doctrines is harmful. What are these harmful doctrines? Dwyer believes that teaching children that sex is only for married couples harms those children because it restricts their freedom. He also believes teaching girls that women have different roles than men is harmful. So he wants the government to prevent parents from teaching conservative Christian tenets to their children…to protect the children from “harm.” ANSWER: Labeling anything the government disagrees with as harmful is arbitrary As Christians we need to highlight the sheer arbitrariness of Dwyer’s definition of harm. We need to highlight that he is simply defining as harmful that with which he disagrees. In fact, Dwyer’s proposal has clear totalitarian implications, as Gilles points out: If the government can forbid parents and teachers to communicate any message it decides (based on value-laden and highly debatable criteria) is “harmful to children,” then the government can control the transmission of ideas to future generations. Conclusion Prof. Gilles has shown us what to watch out for, and how to present well-reasoned argumentation for defending parental rights in education. Since parents have such powerful incentives to promote their children’s best interests, it is clear that they should have virtually unhindered authority over their children. Government employees and institutions never have as much at stake in the well-being of children as the children’s parents. A tiny number of parents occasionally abusing their authority do not undermine this fact. To think that government employees will make better decisions about children than parents is naïve at best. And to use an anti-Christian ideological concept of harm to determine what children should be taught, clearly leads to a totalitarian government. Parentalism, as Prof. Gilles calls it, is much more reasonable and consistent with freedom than the statist perspective of the left-wing intellectuals. A version of this article was first published in the March 2016 issue under the title "Government knows best? Stephen Gills shows us how to defend parental rights"...

Politics

4 bad arguments for Traditional Marriage…and 1 good one!

The current Marriage debate has many people worrying about the institution’s survival. In Canada and the US, the battle has been fought, and seemingly lost. Now it moves to Australia, where a plebiscite – non-binding, but it has everyone talking – is happening in September. But what should be more worrying is how many Christians have not used this battle to give glory to God where and when we could. Instead of relying on Him and His unshakeable Word, too many Christians have decided to rely on secular reasoning. Oh, we might have signed petitions, and cast our ballot, and even encouraged others to vote the proper way, but in all that, many Christians have done so without battling as Christians. Too often we've relied on “neutral” non-religious arguments. And the problem with neutral arguments is that they have no foundation - they don't hold up under scrutiny. 4 bad arguments So, for example, you may have heard it argued (and perhaps you've used this yourself): Traditional Marriage is, well, traditional - it’s been this way for thousands of years, so why change it now? The problem is, slavery was also in vogue for millennia too. Does that mean it was right? Of course not. So tradition for tradition’s sake isn’t much of an argument. “Gay marriage” will undermine Traditional Marriage. This argument may well be legitimate, but the next time a divorced politician brings up this point he should be arrested by the hypocrisy police. Will “same-sex marriage” ever undermine the institution as much as no-fault divorce already has? Gay marriage is not natural. There is a sense in which this is most certainly true. In gay marriage the parts do not fit or function as they should. We are not designed for this sort of thing. And yet, they said that about human flight too – “unnatural” is hardly the same thing as “bad.” And besides, if we look to Nature, homosexuality is found among many animal species – it is “natural.” Christians should know better than to base any arguments for morality on what we see happening in our sin-stained world. We know that since the Fall, it is now in Man’s nature to sin – sin is natural. After the Fall, Nature was also stained and twisted, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find that brokenness evident there too. Most Australians are against changing Marriage. We’ll see once the results are in. But even if the vote goes our way, we know better than to believe that just because most people think a certain way that way is right. As our mothers used to say, “If all the other boys jumped off a bridge, would you too?” Instead of focusing on what’s popular, we should try and figure out what’s right. 1 good one There is really only one good argument for Traditional Marriage: God created this institution so He gets to decide what it is, and isn’t. That argument may not be very appealing to atheists and agnostics. But the alternative is probably even more unappealing because the truth is if you reject God’s standard for Marriage you’re left with no standard at all. Only one standard Some find God’s definition of Marriage too intolerant, so they want to replace it with something a little less discriminatory. So, for example, you’ve likely heard it mentioned that there was a time not so long ago when it was perfectly acceptable that women could not vote. In other words, since it was wrong to discriminate against women back then it must therefore be wrong to discriminate against gays when it comes to Marriage. But where does this new standard – that discrimination is always wrong – take us? Yes, gays will be allowed to “marry” but this new standard justifies much more. After all, if two men can marry, why not three? What about the bisexual? We discriminate against her, on the basis of her sexual orientation, when we require her to marry only one gender or the other. How can she live a fulfilled life in such a restricted setting? And what of homosexual couples who want to have children? These couples, by necessity, require a third individual to propagate. For example, it’s been more than ten years now since a New York lesbian, Beth Niernberg, decided to live with two gay men who have both fathered a son by her. The three co-parented the boys. We’ve entered the realm of polygamy and really, it only makes sense. If you reject God’s limits to Marriage then there’s really no reason to have limits at all. After all, if two men can marry, why not three? Or why not one? In the Netherlands Jennifer Hoes was one of the first to end her wait for the perfect man or woman and instead “marry” herself. There is even a name for this: sologamy. And in France, the government decided that they would grant marital benefits to two heterosexual men who "marry." After all, it really isn’t fair to discriminate against them just because they aren’t having sex. If God’s standard for Marriage is rejected then absolutely anything is possible. The way it was meant to be The only anchor, the only firm foundation for Marriage is found in God’s design for the institution. His institution recognizes that men and women need each other, and that being male and female has real meaning beyond just our body parts. He knows that children need a mother and a father, parents who are committed to one another for life, so He hates divorce and adultery. Over the past decades we’ve seen the damage that happens when we deviate from His standard. That's where, if we speak as Christians, we can offer our nation a prophetic voice. We can tell them that in this direction lies only further lawlessness. But we can also tell them about the God who thought up marriage in the first place. We can tell them about how his love is evident in his commandments – He made us, so He knows what's best for us – and that's why we see children in stable loving families, with parents living out their marriages as God intended, do better than in any other setting. Then, in standing as Christians against "gay marriage" and for Traditional Marriage, we can point people to the God they need to know....

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Politics

The Bible and Pluralism

Pluralism is the belief that people of different cultures and beliefs can live together in harmony. But when their different values inevitably clash how do these differences get resolved? In this excerpt from Dr. Van Dam's “God and Government” he outlines a specifically Christian form of pluralism that allows for believers and unbelievers to live in peace together, because it recognizes that God and his law are supreme. ***** When God gathered his chosen people, his demands were clear. They had to be completely dedicated to his service. However, God recognized that within his kingdom of Israel, there was not only his holy nation, the church, but, as noted earlier, there were also others who did not really belong to the assembly of God’s people. They nevertheless lived within the kingdom of God on earth as established in Israel. To these people the Lord showed great forbearance. They were not forced to become worshippers of the God of Israel nor did God give any command to that effect to Israel’s rulers. However, they were expected to obey the prohibitive commands of God’s moral law. They could not, for example, indulge in sexual sin (Lev. 18:24–30), blaspheme God’s name (Lev 24:15) or sacrifice their children to the false god Molech. (Lev. 20:2). The people in whose midst they lived, as well as the land, was holy and they had to respect that. Indeed, God had expressly commanded that all the idolatrous nations living in Canaan had to be wiped out for the land was to be holy (Deut. 7; cf. Ps. 78:54; Zec. 2:12). There was, however, no such command for territories outside Canaan that were later conquered to be under Israel’s rule. It is noteworthy that after David defeated Moab, the Aramaean kingdoms of Hadadezer (Damascus and Maacah), Edom, and the Ammonites, there is no hint anywhere in Scripture that he worked to remove all idolatry and false worship. Also no special attempt was made to compel these people to become worshippers of the true God. Since David’s office as a godly king over these gentile peoples roughly parallels the office of government today, this tolerance points to a principle that can apply to government today. Tolerance of false religion Indeed, state tolerance of false religion is not in disagreement with Scripture. God is long-suffering and patient. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). He allows the good grain as well as the weeds to grow together, until the time of harvest. Then God himself will separate the two in the final Day of Judgment (Matt. 13:36–43). Government can tolerate what the church cannot endure. Each has its own office and calling. In a modern pluralistic society, the following words of Christ are relevant: “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12). If one asks freedom of worship for oneself, then it should also be granted to others. As head of the church, Christ tolerates no ungodliness and sin. The church on earth must act accordingly. As head and ruler of his kingdom Christ is patient and bears with the weakness of the sinful human heart. His servants, the civil governments, must do likewise even as they are obligated to seek true righteousness and justice for the country entrusted to their rule. State is not the Church Besides the principle of toleration, there is the related principle of the civil authority being distinct from the religious authority in Israel. Even though church and state were very closely related, they were not identical. Each had its own jurisdiction. This has important implications. Even in Israel, which was a theocracy, there were clear limitations to what the king as civil ruler could do. Although the theocratic king had priestly and prophetic aspects to his office, he nevertheless remained in the first place the civil ruler in charge of the judicial and political affairs of the nation. Although the priests were vital in the theocracy, Israel as a theo cracy was not a priest state as found in other ancient near Eastern countries such as Egypt. Priestly authority was limited to all things related to the administration of the sacrificial service of reconciliation, including instruction in the ways of the Lord. And so there were clear distinctions. Religious matters were in the province of the priests and the civil ones were the responsibility of the king. Accordingly, in the time of King Jehoshaphat the civil courts were organized specifically along the lines of religious and civil matters (2 Chron. 19:11; cf. 1 Chron. 26:30, 32). We need to value the biblical principle that is involved here. Scripture gives no justification for a modern theocratic state such as we find in some Islamic jurisdictions. The Bible indicates that there is to be a clear separation of what we today call church and state, or spiritual authorit y and civil authority. Christ’s teaching affirmed this when he said “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). Such thinking is completely contrary to, for example, the Muslim idea of a jihad or holy war that is necessary to establish their kingdom in the here and now. All of this underlines the fact that the state is not given the duty to force people to love God and to worship him. The state is permitted to tolerate things that the church cannot tolerate. There is, however, more to this larger issue. Rule of Law Another important principle in considering the relation of church and state is the rule of law. The Davidic king was not to be autocratic and self-seeking, thinking himself to be more worthy than those around him. He was God’s representative in the theocracy, sitting on God’s throne (1 Chron. 29:23) and therefore a servant of God who needed to submit to God’s law. The Lord even stipulated that when the king assumed the throne of the kingdom then he “is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left” (Deut. 17:18–20). In this way God’s will would be done for his chosen nation in his kingdom. With all the plurality that may have existed in Israelite society, above it all was the law of God. It needed to be heeded for the well-being of the people. Israel’s rulers were not the only ones who were accountable to God. Pagan ones were as well. For example, Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that God had put him in power (Dan. 2:37–38) and so God warned the monarch through Daniel that unless he acknowledged God’s supreme place and repented of his sins in ruling, he would be driven from the throne to live with the wild animals (Dan. 4:24–27). There was accountability that had to be acknowledged. Today, rulers are to be servants of God in the first place and as such also have an obligation to heed the abiding principles of God’s Word for the good of society. Thus, when government makes decisions pertaining to morals and issues on which the Word of God gives clear direction, it should not set itself above the norms which God has revealed. It is the duty of government to restrain sin and evil (Prov. 14:33; Rom. 13:4). How does the calling of the church factor into this obligation of the government? Church is not the State Clearly the task of the church is to preach the gospel and administer the reconciliation that God offers to humankind. The church’s “job description” was given by the risen Christ prior to his ascension when he said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20). The church is to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation and gather God’s people together. The state must give the church the freedom and opportunity to do its calling of spreading the gospel. That gospel includes the proclamation of Christ’s kingship, a message the state must hear from the church or its members so that it understands its servant role. The church’s task with respect to the state is not to make official pronouncements about the political issues of the day and to get involved in crafting government policy. The church as an institution has neither the charge nor expertise to do so. It is also not the task of the church to try to rule over the government (the Roman Catholic ideal). The state has its own God-given responsibilities. However, the church does have the duty to train and equip its members so that they can function meaningfully in today’s secular society as citizens of Christ’s kingdom and so influence also politics. Scripture is certainly relevant for the affairs of the state, but it is not the calling of the church as a corporate body to interfere in the political process and attempt to apply the biblical principles to the government agenda. That is the responsibility of Christians in all walks of life, also those involved in politics. All of this does not mean that the church should always remain silent. There can be unusual circumstances when the church needs to speak up by means of the pulpit or otherwise in order to protect its God-given mission to preach the gospel and condemn sin where sin needs to be condemned. There can also be occasions when the government invites input from interested parties on new legislation which is of great interest to the church. Churches should then participate and make a case for the application of biblical principles on the issues of the day. In summary, the church’s duty is to preach and safeguard the gospel and seek the spiritual well-being of its members. The resources and gifts of the church should focus on these central concerns. With respect to its task over against the government, the church must also lead the way in instructing its members to be good citizens and to be obedient to those in authority over them. Furthermore, the church is called to pray for those who rule over them (1 Tim. 2:1–4). Such prayer includes the petition that the state may continue to protect the freedom and ministry of the church so that the gospel can continue to be proclaimed. When that proclamation is blessed, it will eventually have a salutary effect on society and government. In our current age of secularization, it is easy for the people of God to grow weary in seeking the best for those who rule over them. But, one must realize that there are usually no quick fixes to the dilemmas of evil and sin in society and often incremental change is all that is possible. But the church need never become despondent. It has every reason to be encouraged for an important truth is that God is supreme ruler over everything already. In a broad sense his kingdom encompasses the entire universe. The battle against evil has been won (Col. 1:13–20; 2:15). One day God’s kingdom will arrive in full perfection when all will recognize him as Lord and Master. This excerpt is reprinted here with permission. To get a copy of “God and Government” email info@ARPACanada.ca for information (the suggested donation is $10). Or you can get a Kindle version at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com....

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Politics

What is Principled Pluralism?

Our country is made up of many people and many faiths. How can the government best resolve the clash of values that will inevitably result? Can the government operate from some sort of "neutral" perspective that doesn't elevate one group's beliefs over another's?  In this excerpt from Dr. Van Dam's “God and Government” he explains that such neutrality isn't possible, and isn't desirable. But harmony between believer and unbeliever can be had, under a "Principled Pluralism" that recognizes God as supreme. ***** "Principled pluralism" recognizes the pluralism of contemporary society but contends that biblical norms need to be recognized and applied in order for government and society to function according to God’s will. When this is done, society benefits for God established the norms for humans to live together peacefully and for the benefit of each other. Principled pluralism has the following distinctive basic principles. 1) No neutral “non-religious” ground    There is no morally neutral ground. All of life is religious in nature and both Christians and non-Christians have religious presuppositions which they bring into the public square. Also secularism and the denial of God’s relevance for public life is a religious system. It is, therefore, impossible to restrict religion to the private personal sphere of home and church and to insist that the public square is without religious convictions. Principled pluralism opposes a secularized public square which bans religious voices and practices except its own. Christians have the obligation to influence the public discourse in a biblical direction. Principles derived from Scripture need to be part of the debate in the public square so that arguments can be made for a public policy according to the overriding norms of God’s Word. 2) All know God’s law Although God’s special revelation in the Bible is normative for all of life, God has revealed enough of his eternal power and divine nature in creation and in the nature of things to render all people without excuse. He has written his law in their conscience (Rom 1:18–21; 2:14–15). In this way God has a claim on all creation, including the civil authorities. Before his throne they are without excuse if they suppress the truth and refuse to see the light of God’s gracious demands and promote sin (Rom 1:18–19). 3) Government’s role is to maintain justice and righteousness The civil government is God’s servant to maintain justice and righteousness (Rom 13:1–5). To understand this mandate properly, one must realize that God gave each person an office or offices in life, be it as a parent, a church member, a plumber, a husband, or whatever. If a government is to maintain justice, it must see to it that these offices can be exercised. Or as Gordon J. Spykman put it: “The state should safeguard the freedom, rights, and responsibilities of citizens in the exercise of their offices within their various life-spheres according to their respective religious convictions. The government is obliged to respect, safeguard, preserve or, where lost, to restore, and to promote the free and responsible exercise of these other societal offices. That is what God commands the state to do to fulfill the biblical idea of public justice.” 4) Government’s authority is limited Principled pluralism affirms that a government’s authority is limited because God has ordered society in such a way that different structures make up the whole. These structures, such as civil government, the family, church, and the market place, each have their own sphere of authority which should not be transgressed by another societal structure or sphere. Government has the duty to recognize this diverse reality and to promote the well being of the different spheres of authority found within society by safeguarding their existence and ensuring their continued health. 5) Government doesn’t oversee the Church Principled pluralism also recognizes that civil government does not have the authority to decide what constitutes true religion. For that reason, government cannot favor one religion over another or enforce, for example, the religion of secularism in society. Within certain limits, such as the need to restrain evil, all religions must be treated alike and be given the same freedom and opportunities. This excerpt is reprinted here with permission. To get a copy of “God and Government” email info@ARPACanada.ca for information (the suggested donation is $10). Or you can get a Kindle version at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com....