Monday, April 09, 2007

God and Force

The church must not attempt to control the state. Christians must never use the coercive power of the state to advance its cause or to enforce Christian standards on the world. This has been a strong temptation for the church in every century. For many years, the church used the power of the state to force people to become Christians. During the crusades, "the heathen Moslems" were killed to advance the gospel.

The use of force to advance the gospel did terrible damage and for most the last 400 years, the world has been trying to throw off the control of the church. Hatred of church control has often led to an unnecessary rejection of the gospel, as most people cannot tell the difference.

We are now living in a season where the influence of the church is disappearing and the gospel is at a low ebb. Despite this rejection, we do not seem to have learned our lesson and the impulse to use the state to advance our cause is still strong. The prohibition movement is a recent example, and Christian support for the war in Iraq springs from the same well.

God’s greatest gifts to mankind is freedom, so we must not force our faith on an unwilling world. Our Father will never force sinners to live righteously, if they are unwilling. He will allow them to experience the consequences of their choices, but he will not stop them choosing. God wants people to obey him, because they love him, not because they have to. The most that he will do to make them obey him, is the Holy Spirit’s stirring in their conscience.

Following God’s example, we should never use political power to enforce Christian standards on a non-Christian world. The state is the only institution in society that has the power to force people to do things against their will. This coercive power of the state is very dangerous, so it should be used sparingly. Christians should never use it to force people to live by their standards. (This is one of the features that distinguish Islam and Christianity. Islam has always used force win converts and force and submission come from its heart. While Christianity has sometimes used force to win converts, this has always been a denial of the gospel that weakened the Church.)

We should only attempt to implement Christian laws when the majority of people are Christian, or if the majority of people accept Christian standards. That means that the battle in the marketplace of ideas must be won before we can achieve victory in the political area. We are currently a long way from that goal. While most people accept the wisdom of Jesus, they are very hostile to the idea of Christians imposing their standards on the rest of society. (I suspect that God agrees with them, as he has never forced people to obey him).

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