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The Prophetic Witness of the Church

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Presentation on theme: "The Prophetic Witness of the Church"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Prophetic Witness of the Church
Let’s use HIV/AIDs as an example Part of our response - To seek to change attitudes and behavior - To mobilize care and to educate - Perhaps even to change public policies in terms of priorities, practices Each of the endeavors moves us into the public realm This movement into public life requires us to think how we, as Reformed Christians, should engage in such endeavors

2 Christian Faith and Public Life from a Reformed Perspective
Corwin Smidt Director, The Henry Institute Calvin College

3 Introduction #1 Given the time and nature of this presentation, I must be relatively brief Want to also allow some time for possible discussion as well As a result, I am presenting more of an outline than a detailed discussion

4 Introduction #2 Emphasis here on Reformed perspectives
This is not to suggest that the perspectives of other Christian faith traditions are less Christian Rather, this is an effort to think how the theological understandings of Reformed Christianity has particular ramifications for public life

5 Introduction #3 My presentation will consist of two parts
- The Distinctive Nature of Reformed Theology - Principles of Public Life Drawn from the Reformed Perspective

6 Distinctive Nature of Reformed Theology
What distinguishes the Reformed view theologically, and how does that understanding shape and color the way in which Reformed Christians approach public life? Answer Centrality of “Creation, Fall, Redemption” narrative Implications drawn from it

7 Creation, Fall, Redemption Narrative
Other Christian traditions also recognize and emphasize this thematic scheme But, as noted, what distinguishes the Reformed tradition is its centrality and the implications drawn from it The outline of this narrative is very familiar

8 Creation: The Cultural Mandate #1
God created the world; all things that exist have their being as a result of His original created act When God finished this act of creation, God pronounced all things good—including the natural realm and the human race

9 Creation: The Cultural Mandate #2
Creation story does not mention social or governmental institutions Does not discussion art, recreation, institutions of worship or education Yet, to the extent these are implicit in the creation story, they too can be considered to have been pronounced good

10 Creation: The Cultural Mandate #3
Creation more than this primary formative act; it is an ongoing process Opening pages of Genesis reveal that the Creator assigns the human pair a “mandate” Be fruitful and multiply & Fill the earth and subdue it While the first command can be viewed as a reproductive command, the second command cannot be so interpreted - Filling and subduing can be viewed as a cultural mandate - Naming animals, creating basic labeling systems, crafting tools, making schedules to order their lives - These activities can be viewed as fulfilling the cultural mandate

11 Creation: The Cultural Mandate #4
Clear that God has given humankind tasks to perform on earth These tasks are not merely perfunctory duties, but are creative acts as well They are a major part of the way in which we, as humans, reflect and embody “the image of God” God has delegated some of His authority to humans by giving them a measure of influence and responsibility over the rest of the created world Creation is both finished (in the sense of the original act of Creation) and ongoing

12 Creation: The Cultural Mandate #5
Some see in this “cultural mandate” the development of public authority and government Some see the state as an institution that emerged as the result of sin, with the political sphere existing to hold back sin Reformed theology provides for a more positive view of the state Assuming no fall, and assuming procreation along with technological developments within the Garden, could well necessitate the formation of some kind of governmental authority to provide order within society - thus, the state does not exist simply to hold back sin, but to enable members of society in their life together to accomplish more and faire better than they could simply on their own

13 Fall: Common Grace #1 With the Fall, sin has affected everything in creation and all aspects of life Total depravity relates to the breadth, rather than the depth, of the corrupting effects of sin Humankind continues to bear much of the image of God, even though this image is distorted Even those who reject God or who worship idols can still do some good works

14 Fall: Common Grace #2 Therefore, Reformed theology also recognizes the presence of “common grace” While those who are called by God experience a particular kind of grace (“special grace”), the Bible notes that God continues to bestow His goodness to all men and women, believers and nonbelievers alike Common grace is that grace provided to all people

15 Fall: Common Grace #3 The common grace of God is experienced in the ordering of nature, the restraint of evil, and the ability of nonbelievers to reason and perform acts of civil good Therefore, as Reformed Christians, we do not believe that all insights of unbelievers or their accomplishments are necessarily bad and are to be rejected as totally corrupt and fallen It is common grace that provides us with certain common ground with unbelievers, which give us a reason for Christian engagement with the larger society

16 Redemption: Cosmic in Scope #1
God did not leave this fallen world in a hopeless situation Sent Jesus Christ to redeem all things (individuals, social life, and nature) to reconcile everything to Himself and each other Jesus came not only to save individuals, but or restore His whole creation and reestablish the proper function of family, religious life, state, and all other institutions

17 Redemption: Cosmic in Scope #2
Redemption in the “Creation, Fall, Redemption” narrative, therefore is not limited to personal salvation; it is much broader in scope Just as the Fall touches and affects all aspects of Creation, Redemption in Jesus Christ also seeks to “reclaim” all facets of Creation This task of Redemption is not an effort to restore Creation to some original, relatively pristine, yet “primitive” form Rather it means a restoration of culture and society in their present stage of development

18 Redemption: Cosmic in Scope #3
Christians have an obligation to facilitate this task of redemption Certainly God is at work saving His creation Yet, those of us who know God’s salvation are saved not simply because God loves us, but in order to fulfill God’s tasks for His people in the world—whether in farming, building, manufacturing, educating, or engaging in political life

19 Biblical Principles and Public Life #1
Given the purposes for which it was written, the Bible is not a political treatise that provides some detailed political philosophy or manual of political instructions Rather, there are various passages within the Bible that relate to politics, some directly and others indirectly Moreover, those passages that do relate to politics must be assessed to determine whether they represent instructions that transcend time and place, or whether they were instructions for a particular historical audience

20 Biblical Principles and Public Life #2
Certainly, there are biblical instructions related to politics that remain true for contemporary political life Such political principles need to be discerned In the end, what can be discerned from biblical texts are principles regarding public life that hold across time and space—rather than detailed prescriptions about political institutional arrangements that transcend time and space

21 Principles of Public Life from a Reformed Perspective
The Vital Role of Communities The Nature, Tasks, and Function of the State The Call to Political Engagement to Political Vocation The Need for Modesty, Toleration, Cooperation, and Compromise

22 Principle #1: The Vital Role of Communities
Reformed theology emphasizes the social nature of human beings Individuals are born into families, and are part of social groups and communities Hold that these associations and communities are an intrinsic part of society

23 Principle #1: The Vital Role of Communities
Reformed Christians emphasize different spheres of authority God has ordained, as part of the creational order, various spheres of authority Each sphere has a reason for existence and has its own particular right to exist

24 Principle #1: The Vital Role of Communities
These spheres represent different domains in which different authority structures operate The state is not permitted to compel its authority on the other spheres in order to compel their to conform to the state’s will For example, the state should not usurp the function and authority of the family that God ordained at Creation

25 Principle #1: The Vital Role of Communities
Reformed thinking confers authority and integrity to social associations and institutions outside the state In so doing, it advances what may be labeled as “mediating structures” or the notion of “civil society” that exists between individuals and the state These structures (associations, organizations, institutions) provide a sense of community, while shielding their members against any aggrandizing tendency of state authority

26 Principle #2: The Nature, Tasks, and Function of the State
Another major principle: the importance of institutions and their responsibilities The nature of the political realm is characterized by certain qualities: - first the state has limited powers - second, the state functions to secure justice - third, the state is an agent of common grace

27 The Nature of the State: Limited Power
For Reformed Christians, the power of the state is not absolute State authority limited in two ways - other legitimate authority structures exist prior to, and independent of, the state Jesus: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s Statement clearly sets limits on what Caesar can claim - Christians are called to submit to political authorities, but we do not owe absolute obedience to the state Romans 13: Paul emphasizing that the Roman emperor was a servant, not the only or final sovereign entity

28 The Task of the State: Securing Justice
State is, in part, an instrument to restrain evil But justice involves more that punishing wrong doers Nor is the state an instrument for pursuing morality per se - Gov cannot compel everything that is right or moral (e.g., to honor one’s father or mother) - Nor can it punish everything that is wrong or immoral (e.g., lying or marital infidelity) - Gov may seek to deter or encourage certain behavior, but it is far less able to control and shape human thoughts and desires

29 The Function of the State: An Agent of Common Grace
State is not an agent for the advancement of religion or the securing of salvation State is an agent to care for the common interests and general welfare of its people Its task is not to redeem its citizens, but to sustain the created order –to maintain the law and uphold public justice. Implications: -precludes any utopian view of politics (politics will never fully eradicate human pride or sinful behavior) -need for patience (our work as Christians in politics is incremental in nature)

30 Principle #3: The Call to Political Engagement and Vocation
Because Christians are called to seek justice, they are called to political engagement They are not to refrain from politics because it is deemed to be a sphere of activity outside the domain of God’s sovereignty It is the belief that God’s redemption is at work in this present world that spurs Christians to engage in public endeavors

31 Principle #4: The Need for Political Modesty, Toleration, Cooperation, and Compromise
Not a principle that directly flows from Reformed theology, but develops from its theological underpinnings Even with the generous tools God has given us in this age to know Him and discern His will (e.g., the Bible and the Holy Spirit) we need to be cautious about claiming to speak for the Lord in public life We presently “See through a glass darkly” Must act humbly Our responses are not necessarily God’s will but only our response to God’s will

32 Principle #4: The Need for Political Modesty, Toleration, Cooperation, and Compromise
In an effort to seek public justice, Christians must be ready to negotiate and compromise Justice requires attention to particular circumstances and changing contexts. To discern what constitutes justice may well require discussion and negotiation among different parties While evil pervades all of life, goodness is not necessarily absent even in the lives of the reprobate The need for negotiation and compromise helps to avoid the theological error that the people of God (or Christians) should rule Christians are not called to rule, but to serve

33 Principle #4: The Need for Political Modesty, Toleration, Cooperation, and Compromise
In working to secure justice, the perfect should never become the enemy of the good In other words, the taking of incremental steps towards a desired policy goal should never be viewed as reflecting unprincipled action

34 Conclusion #1 Reformed Christianity recognizes and accepts the diversity evident in public life and the presence of different structures of authority operating in different spheres of social life It affirms the state as a social structure possessing legitimate authority within a particular domain of life, but as only one among various structures to which God has delegated authority

35 Conclusion #2 While the state is limited in the powers that God has delegated to it, the state also plays an important role in God’s created order It is an agent of common grace, an instrument to secure and administer justice

36 Conclusion #3 Christians are called to be engaged in public life
They are not to abandon the responsibilities they owe to their neighbors While the political domain, like all other domains of human life, is affected by the Fall, God remains sovereign and seeks to redeem His creation

37 Conclusion #4 When Christians engage in public life, they are called: - to act with political modesty, - to demonstrate tolerance and forbearance toward those with whom they disagree, - to cooperate with others to achieve the broader public good


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