May 8, 2004

The easy way to “win” the “lost” is to make Christianity into an ideology and force it on people by the power of the state. Shall we get on with it? Or if not that, we could make a simplified moral system with a few strong points of emphasis, and enforce that throughout society. We would call it “Christian values,” even though we would have to overlook many Biblical ethical concerns – it has to be simple enough to understand and enforce. But then everyone would talk alike (more or less), overt behavior would be more uniform, and the word “Christian” would be a big part of our culture.

But these “easy” ways to a Christian society are not Christian, and thus are no way at all. We do not change human hearts by forcing formal assent to a creed. Outlawing a new list of specific behaviors may (or may not) affect the general culture, but it would not remove the lying and violence from the human heart – not even from the hearts of the rulers. If Christian theology is true, we need heart change to remove dishonesty, hypocrisy, injustice, exploitation, or violence from their seedbed deep in our universally shared human nature. And if the American political tradition has anything to say about this, it says we need checks and balances and the rule of law to keep the powerful under control.

To try to Christianize society by “coercive measures, in order thereby to enthrone Christ without passing by the detour of preaching and conversion, will achieve too much and thereby too little. This would but replace one [worldly] Power by another – in this case by a Christian ideology – whose legalistic character would . . . veil from sight the Lord’s salvation and . . . degenerate into hypocrisy.”(1)

In other words, such a Christianity would inevitably become a false god and a false theology enforcing it-s will on the nation(s) regardless of Truth. Then we would be back into a world like the early Quakers were resisting three hundred years ago, “a world where religion was closely allied with worldly power, and rigidly controlled by narrow interpretations of Scripture. Questioning could lead to imprisonment and worse.”(2)

We ought not to go back. The truth of Christ can stand without the aid of hypocritical worldly powers. If it can’t, we don’t need it, and it isn’t true.

[1] in Hendrik
Berkhof, Christ and the Powers, 1952, 1977, Herald Press, p61 (tr. by John Howard Yoder). [2] in Jim
Pym, Listening to the Light, Random House, 1999, p24.