Thursday, October 22, 2020

Christian Political Theory (10) Two Standards

I discovered that a Kingdom Community will have two different standards.

  1. Citizens of the Kingdom will be expected to live by the gospel standards, because they have received the Spirit. Their law is Jesus’ new commandment.

    Love one another, as I have loved you.
    Turn the other cheek
    Give to those who ask for help.
    This type of behaviour should be normal for Christians, but it will not be expected from those who have not chosen to follow Jesus.

  2. Residents within a Kingdom Community who have not chosen to follow Jesus will be expected to live according to God’s Laws for Society.

    No stealing or theft.
    No assault or murder.
    If they want the benefits of living among a Kingdom Community, they will have to accept God’s law. (The same law will apply to citizens who have fallen away from their faith.) They will often benefit from Christian love, but they will not be expected to live by Christian standards.

The leaders of the community will say to the people living among them something like this. We do not expect you to live according to the standards of Jesus, but you will recognise the need for good law. We are offering you the best set of laws possible. We will apply them, if you are willing to accept them. That is all that you need to do to have a part in this community.

That is an offer that would be hard to refuse, as this standard will not be too hard for most people.

The Laws for Society in the Torah were designed to be rolled out to the world (but Israel failed to demonstrate their efficacious. These laws were God’s perfect standard for the people of the world, and for the children of Israel before they received the fullness of the Spirit at Pentecost.

The Sermon of the Mount is God’s perfect standard for people who have chosen to follow Jesus and receive the fulness of the Holy Spirit. This standard is only for the church, not for the world.

  • The Torah is God’s standard for justice.

  • The Sermon on the Mount is God’s standard for love. It does not replace the laws for society, but enables them to be fully fulfilled.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Christian Political Theory (9) Universal Laws

A problem with studying the Torah is that it is full of a lot of different stuff mixed up together: history, laws, sacrifices, tabernacle design, covenants, infection control, genealogies, priesthood rules. We need a principle to identify the laws that judges are required to enforce in every society.

After looking for a long time without success, I found the key I have been looking for. That key is a phrase in the book of Exodus. Whereas most laws in Exodus are addressed to Israel, I noticed that a section of laws in the middle of the book seem to be addressed to a universal man. They all begin with the expression, "If a man" (kiy ish). These laws are not addressed to Israel, but to all people. This set of universal laws begins at Exodus 21:12 and ends at Exodus 22:17.

This section of law also stands out as being different, because it is expressed in the third person. Most of the other laws in Exodus are expressed in the second person, ie you shall not steal, you shall not murder. Moses used "you" because he was addressing Israel and announcing laws for his listeners and their descendants. The Ten Commandments are all written in the second person, as they were spoken to Israel. The laws beginning at Exodus 21:12 are written in the third person, ie if he does something, he shall receive this penalty.

The third person is used when referring to someone who is not part of the conversation. It points to a third person, who is not the speaker (I) and not the listener (you). Moses used the third person here, because this section of laws are for all people and not just for those who participate in the covenant made on Mount Sinai.

The third factor that distinguishes the section of laws between Exodus 21:12 and Exodus 22:17 is that the subject of the verb is always "a man" or "men". There is no definite article, so the reference is not to a particular man, but to any man. These seem to be laws for all men or "everyman".

The use of the third person and "man" or "men" as the subject of the command marks off a set of laws that apply to all people in all societies everywhere. These laws are not just for Israel. The penalties for failure to comply with these laws are specified in a timeless way. I refer to them as the Laws for Society, as God intends them to be applied by judges in every society and culture.

The Laws for Society cover two areas of life (https://bit.ly/35eYAt0).

  • personal injury
  • protection of property.
Biblical justice is limited to:
  • Theft or damage to property
  • Physical injury to a human person.
These two types of offence are the only ones specified in the Judicial Laws of Moses. There is nothing else. This makes God's Judicial Law very simple and easy for everyone to understand. It means that we do not need a Congress or Parliament turn out hundreds of new laws every year. We do not need laws books with hundreds of pages of detailed legislation. All we need is wise judges, who can decide in any situation, whether a victim was harmed by assault, or if their property was harmed or stolen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Christian Political Theory (8) Purpose of Law

Going into the land, the people need to know how live together in close proximity with each other. They did not need guidance for living while they were slaves in Egypt, because Pharaoh’s taskmasters controlled every aspect of life. The situation would be different once they had a land of their own, with no emperor to control them. Several things should be noted about the guidance that God gave them.

  • An executive branch was not established in the Law. This means that there was no one to enforce the laws. Obedience to the law was fully voluntary.

  • No legislative assembly was established in the Torah. God provided the laws that his people needed. His laws are better than human laws. He has given us his laws, so we do not need a legislative assembly to create human laws.

  • Judges emerged from amongst the people. They were not appointed. They emerged as the people took their cases to the wise people in their midst. Those who did well were eventually recognised as judges (https://bit.ly/2TcCSAd).

  • Crime - the main problems would be theft and violence. The law provided restitution and exclusion as tools for dealing with these crimes.

  • Economic/social issues – God gave guidance for economic life (https://bit.ly/2T4WC9d). These guidelines were voluntary. No one had authority to enforce them. They would be fulfilled as an outcome of love.

  • Defence – military leaders were temporary and participation in defence was voluntary.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Christian Poltical Theory (7) God’s law is Best

God created humans and all the world. He knows and understands us perfectly. This puts him in the best place to design laws that work well.

For the LORD is our judge,
The LORD is our lawgiver,
The LORD is our king;
It is he who will save us (Isaiah 33:22).
God has infinite wisdom, so his laws will be perfect for us.

Paul understood that the law is a tool for dealing with people who disrupt the peace of society. This is a crucial verse.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers (1 Tim 1:7-9).
The law is used properly when it is used to restrain the evil that harms society. The law is not for the righteous. It is not for Christians. We must understand that the law is for thieves, murderers, adulterer and perjurers who would disrupt the peace and harmony of society. The righteousness of Jesus cannot deal with these people, while they are hostile to him. Until they are transformed by the love of Jesus, laws restrain their evil and prevent them from harming other people.

God's law provides a way of restraining the harm that is caused by people who are willing to harm others. His law is the best for every human society. What could be better for the functioning of society than a set of laws that are holy, just and good (Rom 7:12)? Any other laws will be suboptimal. They will be partly unjust and not always good. Why would any society want to have suboptimal laws? God's law is the best, because he is God.

God's law is good (https://bit.ly/3lU37I). He is just and good, so his law is the best basis for a harmonious society. God has provided the law that every society needs.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Christian Political Theory (6) No Executive

My next big shock was realising that there is no Executive in the Torah. There was no one appointed to implement government programs. There was no bureaucracy to carry out political programs.

One reason why there is no Executive is that there is no compulsory taxation in the Torah. All giving to the community was voluntary. There was an expectation that people would be generous to the poor and needy, but there was no agency to enforce that.

This means that two of the three standard arms of government in most political theologies, the legislative body and the executive, are missing from God system of government.

An important step was realising that God does not want kings. He allowed Samuel to appoint a king for Israel, but he was clear that they were copying the surrounding nations, not doing something that God commanded (1 Samuel 8). Samuel warned that the king would do harm and the people would suffer.

I discovered that Moses’ role, apart from being a prophet, was to be a temporary military leader. When the nation was attacked and the people gathered to defend it, they would agree on a person to lead them. That was a temporary role. When the enemy was defeated, the military leader would go back to their home and become an ordinary person.

Kings are really permanent military leaders. They tend to become dangerous, because they are tainted by war, but gain lots of power.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Christian Political Theory (5) Spiritual Powers of Evil

My next big step was understanding that the spiritual powers of evil have used politics to leverage their power on earth. Although they were defeated by the cross, they have maintained their authority on earth by using spiritual principalities and powers (government-spirits) to control political power and empires on earth. Every town, city, nation and region on earth is controlled by a principality or power in the spiritual realms.

Their authority on earth is perpetuated by a hierarchy of authority.

  • The government-spirits in the spiritual realms control the political powers on earth, such as kings, emperors and other political leaders. The personalities may change over time, but the spiritual powers remain in control.

  • These kings and political leaders have authority over large groups of people, so this gives them immense authority on earth.

  • The people look to their political leaders to solve the problems that disturb their lives, so they mostly submit to them. They should be looking to the Kingdom of God for their salvation, and to the Jesus as their king.

  • Political leaders and kings use military force and political coercion to control their people. This gives the principalities their power a point of entry to control them.

This hierarchy of authority allows the spiritual powers of evil to exercise authority on earth, despite their defeat by the cross. The principalities and powers have authority over all the spirits living in the nation or region they control. These follower spirits listen and obey their commands.

Christians frequently talk about principalities and powers, but they have not understood the implications of their power. Kings and political leader are easy for principalities and are dominated by a principality or power, because they are vulnerable to pride and control. They make it easy for the spiritual powers of evil to control a nation.

Many Christians assume that other nations are controlled by principalities and powers (Iran and North Korea), but they have no understanding that a principality or power (government-spirits) controls their own nation by manipulating political power. That is why political action always disappoints.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Christian Political Theory (4) No Parliament

My next big insight was that there is no parliament or congress in the Torah. This dramatically changes political theology. God does not want parliaments writing laws, even if the parliamentarians are believers trying to seek God’s will. Law is such an important issue that God decided to cut out the middle man. When Israel was becoming a nation in the new land they needed a set of laws, so they could live together in peace.

God revealed his Laws for Society directly to his people through Moses. He spoke to Moses on the mountain and he wrote down God’s laws. God is perfectly wise, so the laws that he gives will be the best possible laws that could exist. Because we have his laws, we do not need any other laws. We do not need a parliament or congress to make up new laws.

The laws were applied by local judges who emerged within their communities. They were not appointed by someone from outside. Their wisdom was recognised in their community, so people would ask them to apply God’s law to their disagreement.

The judging processes were voluntary. Judges could not enforce their decisions. There was no process for that in the Torah. People would accept a judge’s decision because they accepted their wisdom. If they rejected the judge's verdict, the judge could not make them comply with it.

Discerning the law was important. We need to know which parts of God’s law are universal and permanent, and which were just for the children of Israel. The key is a set of laws in Exodus 21:1 to Exodus 22:15 which are addressed to every person. I call these the Laws for Society, as they provide a basis for people to live together in relative harmony. All societies need these laws.

The remainder of the Torah is cases illustrating the application of the Laws for Society, or laws that were specific to the children of Israel. I doubt that I would have discovered the Laws for Society if I had not committed to loving God’s law, as Psalm 119 suggests.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

General Election

This Saturday is election day in New Zealand. As I don’t believe in salvation by political power, I am not that worried about the outcome, except as a sign of where the heart of the nation is at.

One good thing about the election here is that there is almost no potential for fraud or election rigging. In New Zealand the election process kept well away from politicians and political parties, so they are not able to fiddle with the results. Instead, it is managed by a crown entity called the Electoral Commission, which means we work independently from government. The commission is operated by faceless bureaucrats who are committed to operating fair elections, regardless of the outcome (they don’t put their photos on the voting website).

The staff of this organisation tend to be middle-aged, middle class people (mostly women). The nature of the work seems to attract careful, conscientious people, who love to operate in a rules-based environment.

The electoral commission manages the registration and funding of political parties, registration of voters, the process for voting, and the counting of votes. Each of these processes has built in scrutiny and checks to ensure that fraud does not occur. Large donations to political parties have to be declared.

When New Zealanders go to vote this week, some will worry about who will be the winner, but no one is worried that ballot boxes will be stuffed or stolen, that votes will be lost, or eligible people will be prevented from voting. No one is worrying that the election might be stolen.

The contrast with US presidential election is stark. Looking from here, it seems bizarre that people on both sides of the fence in the United States are worried that the presidential election will be stolen. It is odd that political leaders are so heavily involved in the election process and that it can be distorted for political benefit. It seems unusual that the voting process in each state varies according to which party is in power. This is what you would expect in a third-world country, not a rich Christian nation.

Successive US governments have condemned elections in other nations for being unfair, so it is strange that their own people are worried that their presidential election will not be fair. This seems like a case of the pot calling the kettle black. If the US wants to be taken seriously as a champion of democracy, it needs to get its election house in order. The system that operates in New Zealand shows that it is not that hard to do, if there is political will to do it.

Christian Political Theory (3) Torah

If you want a political theology you need to go back to the Torah in Exodus and Deuteronomy. If we want God’s political theology, we have to study his law, because that is where he sets it out clearly.

Unfortnately, there was a big problem, like most Christians, I needed a change in attitude to the Torah. I had read it, but I was quite ambivalent about it, because I assumed that Jesus had made it redundant. One time when I was reading Psalm 119, the penny dropped. I always understood it as applying to the whole of scripture, but I suddenly realised it was a Psalm in honour of God’s law.

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me (Psalm 119:57-102).
These verses stunned me. I wanted to be wise in the political space. This Psalm explained that I would only get wisdom if I loved God’s law.

I resolved that I would love God’s law. I understand the love is not a feeling, but a decision, so I decided I would love God’s law and look for the good in it. I put all the laws into a spreadsheet, so that I could sort them by topic and theme to see how they fitted together and when they applied.

I would seek for the precious insights it contains. I believed that everything that had been put in the Torah by the Holy Spirit for a purpose. If I found something, I did not like, I would ask the Holy Spirit to show me what he was saying when he put the passage in the Torah. Over a time, I began to understand God’s law in a totally different way. Loving it became natural. More important, the Holy Spirit gave me some amazing new insight.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Christian Political Theory (2) Missing?

Jesus made some political statements, but the gospels do not contain a well-developed political theory. The good news is that Jesus is the king is a political message, and the gospels explain that his kingdom will be totally different (no coercion), but they don’t describe how it will be structured. For someone who is interested in political theory and government this is a problem.

People looking for a well-developed Christian political theory will not get much from the New Testament epistles. Romans 13 does not help much on its own, as it has been used to justify political dictators like Adolf Hitler.

Going back to the Old Testament prophets does not give much more. The prophets critiqued kings and rulers but they did lay out their ideal form of government.

Christians who are looking for a well-developed political theory and system of government will have to go back to the Torah to find it. It took me twenty years of study before the penny dropped, but one day I woke up and realised that God had given his chosen people a system of laws and government when they entered the promised land. This was God’s system of government, so it must be the best that is possible. We don’t need to develop a modern system of government, because God has already given us his ideal system of government.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Government of God

The Kindle version of my book called the Government of God will be available for free on Amazon for the next three days.

If you don't have a Kindle download the Kindle app and you can read it on your phone, tablet or laptop.

Christian Political Theory (1)

When I was young, I was very interested in politics and economics. Many of the problems in the world are caused by politics. It seemed like solutions would be political.

When I went to university, I studied political science for a couple of years, but I found it was a dry well. There are a huge variety of political systems, but none seem to work well. The common answer was that we should persist with the government we have, because anything else would be worst. This was disappointing.

Once I became a Christian, I realised that the solution had to involve Jesus. Every society needs laws, so I spent a long time thinking about how a parliament could produce laws that were consistent with God’s will. The only way that seemed possible, if most of the members of the parliament were followers of Jesus. If that did happen, and it is not common, the people who were not Christians would hate having Christian laws imposes upon them. That did not sound like Jesus.

I committed to solving this conundrum. I went to theological college for three years to get a sound understanding of theology. I learned NT Greek. I read several histories of political thought to understand how we had got to where we are today. I worked for thirty years of the edge of the political system; close enough to see how it worked, but not close enough to be distracted by power. Later, I did a three-year course in Hebrew to understand the Old Testament better.

Over several decades God showed me the answers to the questions that were bugging me. I was totally surprised by where he led me. I will describe what I found I found in the next few posts.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Throw Out the Playbook

A few weeks ago, I heard a pastor on television say that the “clock determines the play”. At beginning of the ball game, the coach sticks to the standard plays, but with a few minutes to the end of the game and a few points needed to win, the coach needs to throw out the playbook and do something radical and unexpected by the other team. He said the players need to put their bodies on the line.

The pastor applied this to the current situation in New Zealand, but his proposed play was not that radical. It sounded like more of the same.

He is correct that the times are challenging. So, it is probably is time to throw away the modern church playbook and do something radical that will reach our communities. The pastor said the people should put their bodies on the line. I suspect it would be better if the pastors put the body of believers that they control on the line, and let them do something radical for Jesus.

See Doing Church during a Crisis

Friday, October 09, 2020

Political Powers

We are in the middle of an election season. Politicians here are making promises about how they will make New Zealand a better place. The big thing that is missing from the election adverts and campaign pledges is any understanding of the spiritual aspect of life.

Most politicians do not understand that they will be constrained by the invisible, but evil spiritual powers, that they, their predecessors and the people, have given authority in our nation.

God has poured out huge blessings on the people of this country. For most of our history, a significant share of the population has acknowledged him and given thanks for his grace towards us. But things have changed.

Now most people don’t acknowledge God. They say something like this. “I am not even sure that God exists. What I have got, I got by my own hard work and effort, so I am not going to give thanks for it to a god that I don’t know exists. I deserve what I have got.

The consequence that these people do not understand is that when they lose track of God, they also lose sight of the evil spiritual powers that are fighting against him. When the people of a nation reject God, they unwittingly give the spiritual powers of evil much greater freedom to do their nasty stuff on earth.

In recent years, we have seen them doing what they love to do.

  • Stirring up people to hate and kill each other.
  • Disrupting the weather with storms and droughts.
  • Spreading disease and sickness to destroy people’s lives.
  • Stirring up greed and corruption to damage the financial and economic system.
  • Putting people into poverty to rob them of peace and happiness.
We can expect more of the same, and worse, as long as we continue to give the spiritual powers of evil freedom to work in our land.

Only God can rescue us from their power. He loves us, but he can only rescue us if we turn to him and seek his deliverance. That will require a massive change of heart and switch of allegiance from the things of the world to Jesus.

Politicians cannot rescue from the spiritual powers of evil that are rampant in our land. No matter how much money they spend, or how many laws they pass, if they ignore the spiritual problems that beset our nation, their plans to make New Zealand will fail. They will find themselves being manipulated by the government-spirits that have been given a place of authority in the nation. These evil spiritual powers will ensure that the best efforts of the politicians will result in confusion.

Even if they are motivated by compassion and their intentions are good, they will come up against strong headwinds created by the spiritual powers that have gained a stronghold in the land. Their wisdom will fail and their plans and programs will flop.

Confusion will go ahead of them.
and disaster and trouble will follow.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Law and Punishment

Christians tend to assume that passing a law against an activity that they do not like stops it from happening. That is not true. A law change does not change people’s hearts.

All that a law can do is punish the people who engage in the banned activity. Laws lead to punishment. Some people will stop doing the banned activity, but it will be due to fear of punishment, not to a change of heart.

So, when Christians advocate a law change to prevent an activity that they do not like, they are actually advocating that the people who engage in the activity are punished. As a consequence, the people of the world see Christians as people who want other people to be punished. They assume that the Christians’ God likes punishing people. They become hostile to him, because they see him as a punisher, and miss out on his love.

When advocating laws against immoral behaviour, Christians often claim that they are standing up for righteousness, but the people of the world perceive them to be standing up for punishment, which makes their gospel seems like bad news.

Christians see themselves as people of grace, but they are often perceived by the world to be people of punishment, which harms the gospel.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Disappointment

Jesus explained that we cannot serve to masters. God wants to rescue us from evil and use us to establish his Kingdom, but he cannot do that if we are relying on human government to deliver us from our problems and transform society. The problem is that faith in political power is greater than it has ever been. Most Christians are looking for political change to cure the social problems that trample them.

The Kingdom of God cannot come in its fulness until his people lose their faith in political power. Unfortunately, we are in a season when faith in political power is at an all time high. People have greater expectations of their governments than ever before. To shake that faith, God will have to allow governments to make many mistakes and do great harm.

I suspect the next election will be a huge disappointment for many Christians, both in New Zealand and in the United States.

I welcome this disappointment because God will use it to shake their faith in political power and move them to rely more on the gospel and the Holy Spirit to transform society.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Election Debates

Yesterday was a day for televised election debates in New Zealand and the United States. Unfortunately, these debates do not prove much.

All political junkies love to argue, so every experienced politician knows how to argue and debate. They are skilled in picking the holes in an argument and demolishing it. They know how to put down an opponent who exposes weakness. Unfortunately, the ability to debate and argue is not a good indicator of leadership skills.

  • A political debate tells us nothing about the leadership skills of a candidate. Ability to win arguments does not mean a person has the ability to build and lead a strong team.

  • A debate tells us very little about the character of a candidate. A little bit might sneak out, but if they have been well-trained, they will show what they believe people want to see and hide their flaws.

  • A debate tells us very about the character of a candidate. A little bit might sneak out, but if they have been well-trained, they will show what they believe people want to see and hide their flaws.

  • Skills in winning an argument tell us nothing about the ability of a candidate to negotiate with a leader of another nation who does not like them or trust them.

  • A debate does reveal whether a candidate is honest or devious. It will not show whether they are arrogant or humble.

  • Winning a televised debate does not mean that a candidate has the wisdom to deal with unexpected problems effectively.

Televised election debates are persuasive because they seem to be real, but they actually tell us very little about the skills and character that a good leader needs.

People who are relying on a televised political debate to help them choose which candidate they will support are probably missing most of the things that are really important.