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In God's Name

Guidelines For Proper Political Involvement

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It is more difficult for us, living in the middle of our own time and place, to see how we have confused America and the kingdom of God and have used that confusion to casually invoke God's name for everything from the Strategic Defense Initiative to specific domestic policies.

The early Christians, in spite of persecutions, were not hermits waiting in the corner to be caught away. In his Dialogue With Trypho the Jew, Justin carefully explained Christianity, trying to clear it of false impressions and charges. Instead of listing the Jewish persecutions of Christians (i.e., getting locked into a "culture war"), Justin has an eye to winning Trypho. To this effort at persuasion, Trypho replied,

This is what amazes me. Moreover, I know that your teachings, written down in the so-called Gospel, are so wonderful and so great that in my opinion no man can keep them; for I have read them with interest. But this is what we cannot grasp at all: That you want to fear God and that you believe yourselves favored above the people around you, yet you do not withdraw from them in any way or separate yourselves from the pagans; that you observe neither festivals [pagan] or sabbaths [Jewish]; that you do not circumcise; and further, that you set your hopes on a man who was crucified, and believe you will receive good things from God in spite of the fact that you do not obey his commandments (10.1.2).
If the average person on the street today were asked, "What do you think Christianity is all about?", would he or she be as clear and, might I add, doctrinal, as Trypho the Jew? Have we made a compelling case? Are the pagans even aware of what it is they are rejecting? What separates evangelicals from the culture today very often is not doctrine (since many evangelicals adhere to the same basic notions as the unchurched), but style, extrabiblical codes of behavior, lingo, and in-house spirituality. Yet, Tertullian backed up Trypho's impressions of the early church's non-separatist attitude:
Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of mankind by country, speech, or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not speak a special language; they do not follow a peculiar manner of life...They take part in everything as citizens and endure everything as aliens...They have a common table, but not a common bed...They obey the established laws, but through their way of life they surpass these laws...We are a united body. We are bound together by a common religious conviction, by one and the same divine discipline and by the bond of common hope...We pray for the postponement of the end. We gather to bring to mind the contents of Holy Scripture as often as the world situation gives us a warning or reminder..." (Second Apology, 10).
Augustine offered this definition of his classic thesis:
I classify the human race into two branches: the one consists of those who live by human standards, the other of those who live according to God's will...By two cities I mean two societies of human beings, one of which is predestined to reign with God from all eternity, the other doomed to undergo eternal punishment with the devil. (Book XV, Chapter 1)

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Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.

Issue: "God and Politics" Sept./Oct. 1994 Vol. 3 No. 5 Page number(s): 3-8

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