Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Christian Community and Praying for Government

Yesterday, I wondered about a Christian's role in government.  Today, I want to expand that and wonder about a Christian's role in interacting with government, as well as the idea of community.  This is a close-knit community, one in which people who live here have grown up in, gone to college in, and have decided to raise their own children in.  As adults, they often attend the churches in which they grew up.  It is a safe place, a friendly place, and in some ways, almost idyllic.  I love living here.

The other day, as the Sunday school class I was in was discussing wisdom, I was reminded that as Christians, we need to pray for our leaders, regardless of whether or not we agree with them.  While I agree with that, I struggle with it too, not only because I kind of stink at prayer, but because I am not sure what to pray for them, and I realized that prayer can also reflect my own biases.

Do I pray for what I want a decision to be?
Do I pray for "God's will"?  What if I am am equating "God's will" with what I want?
Do I simply pray for wisdom in making decisions?  If so, again, do I equate wisdom with what I want?

Or what if I pray about making this an even better place to live, a place for people to develop stronger bonds with each other, better friendships with each other, and a place in which people feel loved?  In what ways can a community, leadership and ordinary citizens combined, work together to enhance the community?  How can government and citizens serve one another and those around them?

In our unique community, we have an opportunity to put our "Reformed"* theological views into practice, not so much by the passing of laws (because laws do not change a person's heart), but by looking at ways in which a Reformed worldview can positively play out.  In Creation Regained, by Albert M. Wolters (which is an introduction to Reformed theology), he writes that "The 'Spirit of holiness' seeks to permeate our creaturely lives, making a qualitative difference in the internal workings of family, business, art, government, and so on" (90).  He goes on to explain about sanctification, and uses Jesus' shortest parable, (The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough, Mt 13:33) as an example of the "leavening influence in human life wherever it is lived" (90) of the gospel.  He explains that the gospel will affect things in different ways: the "government in a specifically political way, art in a peculiarly aesthetic manner, scholarship in a uniquely theoretical manner.  It makes possible a renewal of each creational area from within, not without" (90).  

This way of looking at sanctification and holiness through Jesus' parable is important in a community made up primarily of Christians.  Because we have both faith in Jesus, yet are still capable of sinning at the same time, we realize that the Holy Spirit works through us in small ways when we may not even know it is happening.  Part of the way that is done, I believe, is living in community with each other.  This is why so many churches offer "small groups" or "home groups" or whatever one wants to call them in order for people to develop better relationships with each other.  That is a very structured way of developing relationships, but they can also be developed organically.  When families run into each other at the park, or at a coffee shop, and conversations happen and trust and friendship deepen, the Holy Spirit is working.  In a community such as this one, there can be ample opportunity for this (well, not necessarily in the winter!) because we have such a wonderful abundance of parks and places to go.  It is through activities such as these that people can really practice community and loving one's neighbor (and one's enemies!) and in a highly Christian community, this should be encouraged and supported.

Wolters explains that in Reformed theology, there is an idea that came from Abraham Kuyper called "sphere sovereignty" in which "no societal institution is subordinate to any other.  Persons in positions of societal authority (or "office") are called to positivize God's ordinances directly in their own specific sphere.  There authority is delegated to them by God, not by any human authority...If one institution raises itself to a position of authority over the others, a form of totalitarianism emerges that violates the limited nature of each society sphere" (99).

In the case of government, what does this mean for the Christian, especially in a Christian community?  How do people in authority make God's ordinances positive, and what specific ordinances should be positivized?    And not only that, if a government should forget its role, how can a Christian citizen oppose political totalitarianism by "calling the state back to its God-ordained task of administering public justice"? (100, emphasis mine).

When I think of justice, I think of the book of Ruth, in which the edges of the fields were left to be gleaned by the poor.  Or I think of the words of the prophet Isaiah in which God tells him how he loves justice and hates robbery and wrongdoing (Isaiah 61:8).  Or the beautiful words of the prophet Micah, when he says "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).  And we cannot forget the dark side of it either, when Jesus berates the Pharisees for neglecting justice and being more interested in themselves and their positions (Luke 11:42-43).

We all sit in church on Sundays, singing songs and listening to sermons, and wondering, theoretically, how it all applies to our lives.  And now, here is a real-life challenge, for everyone on every side of an issue, to search within, to pray, in order to do the right thing, the just thing, the loving thing.  In what ways will that Spirit of holiness make a qualitative difference in our lives?

Jesus summed up the law and the prophets with only two:  love God, love others.  How will we each work that out in our own spheres, be it individual or communal?  Will you join me in praying for our leaders and our community members, whether they are friends or enemies, for an outcome that would be loving and just?

*note:  I am by far an expert in Reformed theology; it is something I have only started learning about in the last year.


Publius said...

Kuyper was QUITE right. But there is a persistent pragmatic problem that occurs when one distinct "sphere" is extraordinarily financially dependent on another, and I wonder if/how he attended to it. Even gifts have a way of coming with strings attached.

FYI, tthe definitive Kuyper biography (in English) will be coming out any time now from Eerdmans. There are still local traces of him in living memory -- do you know he came here and gave a speech?

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Yes, that would be interesting to know what he thought about that. I have a couple of other books about Reformed theology that I just haven't had a chance to read yet, but from what I have learned about Kuyper, I like him. I'll have to add that biography to my very long reading list :)

I didn't know he gave a speech here. I bet that was exciting at the time!

Thanks for commenting :)

Publius said...

Oh yes. Kuyper spoke about how the Dutch here were Americans now and should embrace that identity. The speech was given in Orange City. Looks like the bio is already in Google, but Amazon is not shipping it yet.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Thanks for the info!