The Christian's Response to an Encroaching State (Part II)
Written by David Silversides
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Reformed Worldviews - Government

In the last article Rev. Silversides explained the Biblical view of the State. 

The Current Exaggeration of the Role of Civil Government

Firstly: exaggeration or expansion of the role of the civil power is inevitable when men forget God

A godless society is inclined to enlarge the importance of most things in order to paper over the gaping hole that godlessness leaves. Where God is ignored, that is the living God who speaks in Holy Scripture, then everything becomes out of proportion. This is true of everyday things. People’s homes are no longer simply places to live in comfortably but become objects of endless pride and vanity beyond anything that relates to comfort or convenience. In the realm of sport, people will go to immense lengths in their devotion. Instead of sport being a diversionary recreation, it becomes a vehicle of idolatry. They idolise their favourite football players or other sports personalities. The forgetfulness of God must lead to a disproportionate place being given to other things.

This applies to civil government. In the absence of the fear of God, civil government becomes wildly extended in its role and expected range of cures for all ills. If you want an illustration of that, you need go no further than the run-up to the election of President Obama in the USA. His election to the presidency was spoken of as bringing in a new era and all our problems, or all America’s problems at least, were going to be solved. Even if Obama was a good President (which we frankly do not believe he is), he could never have fulfilled the expectations that many people had of him. And that is why this phrase turns up, ‘What are they going to do about it?’ Exaggeration or disproportionate expectation of civil government is inevitable where godlessness prevails.

Secondly: subtraction and addition to the role of civil government go together as a general rule

It is self-evident that the government of the United Kingdom is not punishing evil in anything like a Biblical manner. Its definition of evil is wrong and punishment is rather feeble, to say the least. Murderers are not put to death and we all know that all manner of crimes receive a very minimal response at the hand of the legislature and judiciary. This subtraction from the God-given role of punishing evil goes hand in hand with addition. If evil-doing is not adequately punished or not punished at all, then it is hardly surprising if an increasing number of measures, functions, ‘initiatives’ and quangos appear in an effort to compensate for the dreadful effects of this failure to punish evil.

Thirdly: the part played by social conditioning in explaining bad human behaviour is given excessive prominence when God, the Scriptures and God’s definition of evil, are ignored

Crime is seen, not as the outworking of sin because man has rebelled against God, but as due to physical, psychological and social factors. It all comes down to factors working on people rather than anything essentially corrupt within them. In order, therefore, to cure this anti-social behaviour, there must be adjustment of order; there must be changes made in those various circumstances that act upon people and which allegedly cause anti-social behaviour. This is not to deny, of course, that some circumstances bring out the sin of man more than others, but the denial of Biblical Christianity means that all has to be explained in terms of external influences or at least this together with internal physical elements in the person’s make-up, since the existence of the soul is denied.

Fourthly: monitoring of the population with the aim of preventing crime is substituted for punishment of crime

The idea is to create the conditions which will make people good and law-abiding and therefore there is need to monitor much of society and its activities in order to know how to adjust circumstances to produce the desired effect. By contrast, Scripture actually does maintain the deterrent aspect of punishment, though this is not the only reason for it. In Deuteronomy 13:10-11, speaking of the idolater, we read, ‘And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you’.

The question of the extent of the obligation to reproduce the penalties of the Old Testament is a big one and we shall not enter into that here. Suffice to say, our own view is that many of the penalties (especially the death penalties) in the Old Testament were a mode of church excommunication rather than purely civil punishment and therefore not directly applicable as a template for purely civil penalties today. The point here is, however, that the deterrent aspect is not dismissed in the Word of God, not even in New Testament church discipline, although such church discipline aims to be remedial for the offender in the first instance (and does not involve the death penalty), ‘Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear’ (1Tim.5:20). Both civil punishment and church discipline are ultimately to be done because the Lord requires it, but the deterrent aspect is not irrelevant.

When prevention of unacceptable behaviour by social conditioning and monitoring of the whole of society is dominant, then punishment of crime recedes into the background. This stimulates a cycle. The minimising of punishment increases crime and increases the perceived need to engage in further social adjustments and the increase of governmental monitoring and surveillance of human activity in general. It is virtually inevitable, therefore, that government will become more intrusive when the fear of God is absent. The awareness of God-given authority within His appointed limits is not in place and so the expansion of power by Government results. Because the thought process of the population must be moulded and lifted up, it is thought, to a better level, the behaviour of the populace is monitored to steer the people in what is regarded as the right direction as to their thought-patterns and behaviour. An unbelieving populace can be all too ready to accept this and approve the expansion of the role of the state and even if some begin to see the danger, it is too few or too late: power ceded to the state is not easily recovered.

This partly explains why governments tend not to like home schooling, for example, because the schools act as a means of monitoring the children in order to trace potential parental wrongdoing. But generally speaking, an army of social workers tries to forestall crime rather than the police arresting and the judiciary significantly punishing evildoers. (This is not to disparage all that is done by social workers.)

Fifthly: we need to be aware of the Trojan-horse method of encroachment

This involves the use of noble-sounding language to justify harmful, ungodly and encroaching legislation.

‘Equality’ or ‘diversity’ agenda

One example of this is the ‘equality’ or ‘diversity’ agenda. We would not choose to dwell on these things, but it would be madness to ignore the fact that sexual morality, or the lack of it, is one of the major areas of difficulty for the people of God in this country at present. Under the old pretence, ‘Ye shall be as gods’ (Genesis 3:5), man is still trying to be independent of God and refusing to take God at His word and so he ‘does his own thing’. So much within our nation can be explained when we grasp this; the idea abounds that independent man is competent to judge what is lawful to man because he is competent to judge what is harmful to man.

Gone is the idea that anything is wrong because God says so. Gone is even the idea that anything is wrong because it is repulsive to nature. The only rule that now seems to govern sexual conduct is that of adult human consent. So paedophilia is criminalised, rightly so of course, but only because a child is deemed unable to give informed consent. Do we understand how low we have come? The fact that the paedophile’s behaviour is as instinctive to him as the homosexual’s behaviour is to himself doesn’t seem to be allowed to come into the picture. The homosexual’s instincts have a ‘right’ of expression whereas the paedophile’s do not. The difference is because one involves only consenting adults whereas the other does not. In other words, the rights of God, who condemns both, are not mentioned. Even the self-evident and God-given distinction between male and female is no longer decisive. Man sees himself as competent to decide what is harmful and, on that basis alone, differentiation is made between what instinctive behaviour must be criminalized and what need not. ‘God is not in all his thoughts’ (Psalm 10:4).

No longer does homosexuality bring disapproval; even the older generation amongst the ungodly are falling over themselves to show that they are not behind the times and are tolerant of things that they would have found disgusting in their youth. Above all, it seems, one must avoid the stigma of being accused of ‘homophobia’. We could call this the ‘Phariseeism of breadth’. The old Pharisees liked to show how narrow they were. Today’s Pharisee wants to show how broad he is and display his ‘equality awareness’ credentials.

Homosexuality is now recognised as a valid form of human partnership with increasing legal safeguards for homosexuals and increasing legal penalties against those who dissent from this ‘equality agenda’. This is morality without God. We make it up for ourselves. We are not as clever as we think we are, but are very loath to face up to this. The investment of human pride in the whole ‘diversity’ dogma is exceedingly great. That is why the hostility to Biblical Christianity is increasing – because we do not and cannot fit in! We get some idea of the extent of the pride involved when we consider the response to the problem of AIDS. People have been dying, but the response has not been, ‘Maybe we’ve got it wrong and permissiveness is a problem’ but rather ‘we’ll work out a safe-sex policy; we can handle it’. Inconvenient facts, such as that of homosexuals being significantly more promiscuous than even heterosexuals, are ignored. Nothing must be allowed space that may suggest that the agenda is disastrously wrong.

Nationally, we are in love with darkness. Pride prevents all reconsideration. We can be on the verge of collapse as a society, but neither permissiveness nor the ‘equality agenda’ must be called in question. ‘The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God’ (Psalm 10:4). Sodomite couples can run B & B establishments in our cities without hindrance, but Christians who will not accommodate such couples await the knock at the door. They are seen as bigots who oppose equality and so are viewed as enemies of society who need to be re-educated and delivered from their time warp.

We must notice, at this point, the official and much trumpeted tolerance of Islam, even though Islam is officially intolerant of homosexuality. How do we explain that? There is an element of fear, no doubt. By comparison, Christians will not issue a fatwa and are a soft target. Even so, there is a strange contradiction in such a welcome being given to a religion that is so intolerant of homosexuality by a society that has gone to such lengths to show itself tolerant of it. We must not, however, expect rationality where human pride reigns. Another feature is that Islam keeps quite a low profile on opposing homosexuality. They are rarely involved in protesting against it. No doubt this is because consistent Muslims have little interest in cleaning up British ‘infidel’ society. Their real interest is domination followed by the imposition of Sharia law.

To summarise, then, Christians are viewed as opponents of equality and the state has assumed the right to intervene in the realm of private business to impose its pro-sodomite agenda. This, surely, is iniquitous state encroachment.

Child protection

A second example of the ‘Trojan horse’ method of encroachment is the issue of ‘child protection’. Like ‘equality’, ‘child protection’ sounds noble. Don’t we all want to look after children? Only the worst people in the world would object to protecting children. What about the requirements of child protection, however? In Northern Ireland, from 2003 criminal record checks were required for employment in state-run educational institutions and any other ‘child-care’ organisations. Many churches assumed, probably correctly, that the legislation applied to them and felt they should follow the prescribed procedure. This was seen as ‘best practice’ for insurance purposes and legal safety in the event of anything going wrong. Similar legislation is in place in the rest of the U.K. The Labour Government was in process of bringing in the ‘Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act’. This, if it had been passed, would have required vetting through the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which would have two lists: an adults’ barred list for those working with vulnerable adults and a children’s barred list for those working with children. And this would apply, at least, to voluntary organisations meeting with children on a weekly basis. The coalition Government has put this ‘on hold’ because they think it is too cumbersome and too expensive. One of the few benefits of the recession may be that it restricts Government interference due to financial constraints. There are variations between different parts of the UK, but the general pattern is clear.

But this raises questions, for example, about the State’s definition of who is suitable to work with children. If there was a smacking ban and a Christian is prosecuted for giving Biblical correction to his children and he goes on the ‘banned’ list, what are we going to do then? We don’t think that is a Biblical reason for barring someone from working with children. Are we going to have elders who can’t teach children and members who can, or are we going to bar such people from being elders? Is this not the State telling the church who can hold office in the church of Christ? And what of the idea that someone in the church is appointed to relay matters in the church to the civil power without necessarily going through the officers of the church? Does it not belong to the churchofficers to deal with church matters and to decide whether there is a criminal matter that must be reported to the police? ‘The Lord Jesus, as king and head of his church, hath therein appointed a government in the hand of church-officers, distinct from the civil magistrate’ (Westminster Confession 30:1) and is not that appointed church government adequate to deal with child protection matters and report crime as necessary and without an appointed State agent in the membership of the church?

Are we alert to the very encroachment of the civil powers into the government of the church against which our forefathers so heroically contended, but now coming under the guise of looking after children rather than the ‘Divine right of kings’ as in former times? We do have to wake up to State encroachment into the province of the church by stealth and noble-sounding policies.

Continued here.

Rev. David Silversides is the pastor of Loughbrickland Reformed Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland, UK. This article was printed in the Free Church of Scotland's "Free Church Witness" and is republished here with permission.