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The Prophetic Witness of the Church


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 – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Prophetic Witness of the Church

The Prophetic Witness of the Church
  • Lets 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
  • This movement into public life requires us to
    think how we, as Reformed Christians, should
    engage in such endeavors

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

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

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

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

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
  • Implications drawn from it

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

Creation The Cultural Mandate 1
  • God created the world all things that exist have
    their being as a result of His original created
  • When God finished this act of creation, God
    pronounced all things goodincluding the natural
    realm and the human race

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

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
  • - These activities can be viewed as fulfilling
    the cultural
  • mandate

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

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

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

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

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

Redemption Cosmic in Scope 1
  • God did not leave this fallen world in a hopeless
  • 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

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

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 Gods salvation are
    saved not simply because God loves us, but in
    order to fulfill Gods tasks for His people in
    the worldwhether in farming, building,
    manufacturing, educating, or engaging in
    political life

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

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 spacerather than detailed
    prescriptions about political institutional
    arrangements that transcend time and space

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

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

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

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 states will
  • For example, the state should not usurp the
    function and authority of the family that God
    ordained at Creation

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
  • These structures (associations, organizations,
    institutions) provide a sense of community, while
    shielding their members against any aggrandizing
    tendency of state authority

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

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
  • to, and independent of, the state
  • Jesus Give to Caesar what is
    Caesars and to God what
  • is Gods
  • 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

The Task of the State Securing Justice
  • State is, in part, an instrument to restrain evil
  • But justice involves more that punishing wrong
  • Nor is the state an instrument for pursuing
    morality per se
  • - Gov cannot compel everything that is right or
    moral (e.g., to honor
  • ones 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

The Function of the State An Agent of Common
  • 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)

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 Gods sovereignty
  • It is the belief that Gods redemption is at work
    in this present world that spurs Christians to
    engage in public endeavors

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
  • 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 Gods will but
    only our response to Gods will

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
  • While evil pervades all of life, goodness is not
    necessarily absent even in the lives of the
  • 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

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

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

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

Conclusion 3
  • Christians are called to be engaged in public
  • 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

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