This week will mark the first presidential debate for the upcoming 2016 national elections, so it seemed a good time to begin this series of posts. My goal in this blog, among other things, is to publish all my otherwise unpublished writings here. That includes, in some cases, email conversations. This post begins a series of email exchanges I had exactly a year ago with a Lutheran pastor with whom I began to dialogue when we both left comments on an online blog post. I won’t be posting his emails, but as you’ll see, I often quote from them in my replies, so that should make things fairly clear. I have also changed the name to protect my correspondent’s privacy. As an homage (not a comparison) to C.S. Lewis' fictional Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, I have given my interlocutor the name Malcolm.
Below, then, are the first two emails in this exchange. Or rather, the first email, and the first half of the second: some of these are rather long, and I plan to split them up into separate posts for easier reading.
Those who are familiar with the writings of James Jordan and Douglas Wilson will recognize their influence in what I write, and the obvious debt to them is acknowledged.
Malcolm, with all due respect, I think that the Evil One wants us to leave the culture wars, so he can proceed without opposition. Or does God not care about human culture? Are politicians and political entities off the hook when it comes to obedience to God? I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to hear it! But Psalm 2 says that God will give “the nations” to the Son, and that the duty of political rulers is to “kiss the Son.”
You say “the church’s vocation is to make disciples” and I agree; but the passage you’re quoting (Matthew 28:18) actually says we are to “disciple the nations.” Sure, that includes the conversion of individuals and families. But it also includes nations, for that is what it says. The reason Jesus gives for this is what he says immediately before: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Note well: “All authority in heaven and on earth.” This certainly includes political authority. As I said in a comment on another thread, politics is no savior. But politics needs a savior, just like everything and everyone else in this fallen world.
Malcolm, thanks for your reply. It’s appropriate, and rather fun, to be discussing this on Independence Day. Hope you have a nice holiday.
I do differ with you in some respects, but I wonder if some of the apparent differences are only superficial: for instance, if you are saying that the Church, as such, does not have the power of the sword, and that the main work of reforming government should be done by individual Christians, as such, then that’s fair enough, and I don’t disagree. However, I can’t help but feel that your view is still a bit schizophrenic, for all that. Let me hit a few key points, and see if this helps.
You are correct that the Greek word is “ethnos” in Matthew 28. However, the passage does not merely say “go to” them, as you paraphrased, but “disciple” them, a word Jesus further qualifies by saying, “teaching them all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The distinction is important: this passage won’t allow us to think we’ve fulfilled our duty under the Great Commission if we simply go to the nations, and tell them about Jesus. That’s the first step, to be sure: but we are actually commissioned here to “disciple” the nations. I think the burden of proof is on you if you wish to suggest that politics is the one area of life somehow excepted from this commission, as if the Bible has nothing to say about it (surely “all things whatsoever I have commanded you” includes the whole Bible, not just the four Gospels?). More on this anon.
Further, I’m not sure how the emphasis on ethnicities helps your point. The word is translated “nations” repeatedly in many English versions, and for good reason. But my point is made once you acknowledge that the word refers to groups rather than just individuals: yes, we are to disciple the ethnicities of the world—we are not just to save a few people out of those ethnicities. We are not to stop until those ethnicities, as a whole, are baptized and discipled. If we are to disciple all the ethnicities of the world, then we are to teach those ethnicities “all things” that Jesus taught us in His Word. This includes God’s Law (of which Jesus said that not one jot or tittle will pass away while heaven and earth remain, Matt. 5:17–19), which has plenty to say about how a nation ought to be governed. Plus, imagine how the Apostles would likely have heard the Great Commission with their Jewish ears: “disciple the nations,” Jesus said. They’d read Exodus and Deuteronomy. They knew what a discipled nation looked like, and they knew that Israel’s mission from God was to be a light to the nations (Ps. 18:49, Ps. 96:3). This had always been part of God’s plan (Gen. 26:4; Deut. 4:5–6), and the Church was now to carry it on, and actually accomplish it.
You mentioned the Reformed Postmillennial view, which says, following Psalm 110, and I Corinthians 15, that the nations will be converted before Christ returns. Speaking of Christ’s current, post-ascension reign at the right hand of the Father, Paul says, “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” This is in reference to Psalm 110, where we read: “The LORD says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Note well the word “until.” So Jesus will not leave the Father’s right hand and return to earth until all his enemies are put under Him (implication: Christianized nations at the time of the Second Coming). But how are these enemies conquered? Paul reminds us that our weapons are not carnal (swords and guns) but spiritual (II Cor. 10:3–5). We conquer Christ’s enemies by preaching the Word of God to them and being faithful unto death. What will be the result? Psalm 22, a Messianic Psalm, says this: “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” This sounds just like what you said Postmillennialists believe: “nations themselves are to be converted.”
If these ideas are indeed “rejected by Orthodox Lutheran teaching,” that’s certainly worth considering: I believe confessions and creeds are vitally important. And I think it’s at least possible that Postmillennialism is contradicted by Article XVII of the Augsburg Confession, though no Postmillennialist that I’m aware of teaches that we will “annihilate all the godless,” except in the way that God “annihilated” Saul the Persecutor by transforming him into Paul the Apostle. But even more important is to consider whether these ideas are Biblical. That’s a discussion Lutherans need to have, in my view.