公 法 评 论 惟愿公平如大水滚滚,使公义如江河滔滔
et revelabitur quasi aqua iudicium et iustitia quasi torrens fortis

The Christian Statesman

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Biblical Conservatism: Toward a Definition of a Political Philosophy

by James L. Sauer

Conservatism and Christianity are not synonymous. One can be a Conservative without being a Christian. Many humanists, rationalists, skeptics, and cynics are Conservatives. Many Confucians, Moslems, Mormons, and Shintoists are Conservatives. Conservatism in this sense is a recognition of reality, and the building of public policy, or the lack of policy, on correct perceptions. Secular Conservatism is common grace applied to life. Biblical Conservatism is something else.

Although not all Conservatives are Christians, there is a sense in which all Christians, at least all consistent, orthodox and Biblical ones, are Conservative. By Conservative in this sense, I mean a person who recognizes a fixed and absolute worldview concerning human origins, nature, purposes, roles, and ends. Christianity has cultural implications. Christians who confess Christ but deny the social implications of Christianity are being unfaithful to their creed. Biblical Conservatism, therefore, reflects the social, cultural, and political implications of divine revelation concerning Jesus Christ as Sovereign Lord, Creator, Lawgiver, Redeemer, and Judge.

As Christians we need to step outside the political fracas, and think through the first principles of a Christian social philosophy. What follows are some first notes toward such an attempt.

An Outline of Biblical Conservatism:

1. The Creator Has Spoken: The doctrine of Creation is the beginning of Conservatism. God is the author of Heaven and the Earth; of the seen and the unseen. The Universe is not the product of chance, but of a Divine Mind. Consequently, we recognize that life has an Almighty Author; that the laws of society, nature, and supernature are under His Divine Authorship. Since Creation is His, He may appear to stand outside it or enter it as He wills, as Invisible Lord or Incarnate Savior. He is its Divine King. Because He is a Triune God, the Universe He has made reflects his nature of unity and diversity. The effect of this doctrine on social thinking is that we do not make the Universe in our image; we accept the Universe that He has made according to His dictates. Chance, evolution, or human will are excluded as the basis for preserving a humane Christian society.

2. The Creation Ordinance: Sabbath. At the beginning of the Creation story presented in Genesis, humanity exists in an unfallen state. We are images of God, male and female; diverse, but unified. Three aspects of our created nature form a permanent structure for human existence. These three aspects are called the Creation ordinances.

The First Ordinance is the concept of Sabbath: six days God worked, on the Seventh He rested; six days men work, on the Seventh, they are to rest and worship God. The embedding of Sabbath Rest in the structure of our lives allows us to always acknowledge God at the center of our lives. Denial of Sabbath results in excluding the remembrance of God in the social pattern of our lives. Sabbath life allows us as a society to acknowledge that we must live by faith.

3. The Creation Ordinance: Marriage and Family. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone. Sexual and familial life is the creation of God. The complementarian nature of male and female natures reflects the Trinity. We are the same, but different; we have the same essence, but different roles.

Males are called in love to be familial heads; women are called in love to submission as helpmates. Children are a blessing from the Lord. Parents are to justly rule children; children to obey their parents. Sexuality is chained to God's marital order. Biblical family life is profoundly anti-individualistic, anti-feministic, and anti-hedonistic. A Christian social order will protect family life, protect women and children, support the just authority of parents, and restrict divorce.

4. The Creation Ordinance: Work. Work existed before the Fall. God is a worker; we imitate him in creating and making. Our work is God-given. The jungle is turned to a Garden. The beasts are named by us. Both mental and physical work are to be done to the glory of God. At the same time that we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread"; we acknowledge with Paul, that "He that does not work shall not eat." Christian Conservatism does not view work and career as a god to be served; but protects the notion of labor in home or marketplace as a vocation to be given to God.

5. The Dominion Covenant: We are called to control, subdue, and rule nature. We are to develop and tend the world around us. Man is not a blight on ecology, but its steward. Hence, radical left-wing environmentalism begins at the wrong point by suggesting that mankind is a blemish on "Mother Nature." Industrialism, on the other hand, which pollutes without providing protection for its fellow citizens is equally wrongheaded. The control Christians seek of the world is one always tempered by the law of God.

6. Sin: The Fall of the House of Adam is a universal fact. Sin is disobedience to God, and a refusal to conform ourselves to His authority and revealed will. We all suffer from a moral genetic disease. Sin explains the fallen nature of contemporary family life; the idolatrous nature of materialism. We see disorder in our relationship to God, and in our estrangement from Nature.

Sin is the central problem of human existence. Because of sin we restrain men with government; and we restrain governments with constitutions. The solution to the spiritual problem of sin is not government, but the gospel. Because we know from experience and revelation that men are sinners, Christians acknowledge the Conservative truth that no human being or society is perfectible. Schemes to create perfect social orders are therefore foolish and harmful.

7. Deluvian Disorders: It is instructive to examine the Scripture concerning the origins of human society. We note in Genesis that before the flood, humanity was already being effected genetically by the Fall. Giants were in the earth. Changes in life span were taking place. The imagination of man was prone to evil.

The Flood brought about a new social order, but it too required human government to restrain evil by the sword. "He who sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." Capital punishment was sanctioned to restrain violence. Man's attempt at social engineering was thwarted at Babel. Language therefore was both a punishment for human pride, as well as a protective measure by which human planning schemes can be held in check. Both capital punishment and Babel are reminders that humanity in a fallen state was never meant to have a utopian existence. Attempts at one world government, universal languages, subvert the natural restraints that God has placed on human society.

8. The Moral Law of God: The moral law of God is summarized in the Ten Commandments. God gives us laws concerning Himself, and laws concerning our fellow man. Forbidden is the worship of other gods, idolatry, slandering God's name, and Sabbath breaking. Forbidden is dishonoring of parents, murder, adultery, stealing, lying, coveting. All these laws are bathed in the Greatest Commandments to love God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves.

The precepts of the Old Testament provide us with case law; the commandments of the New Testament provide us with commentary. Though some may shirk from the "theonomic" label; we cannot escape the notion that a society which follows God's way is blessed. Our laws, our social habits, our media, our systems of culture should conform themselves to the Will of God.

9. The Wisdom of the Ages: The practice of the wisdom of life is Conservatism. In the Bible, the Wisdom Literature teaches us about every aspect of human existence: Job enigmatically explains suffering; Psalms lead us in worship; Proverbs teaches us the proverbial truth that proverbial truth is true; Ecclesiastes propounds the vanity of all things but a life in God; and Song of Solomon presents a picture of sexual life.

As for the world's wisdom, we are free to "bring it captive" to Christ. Like the Israelites leaving Egypt, we are free to despoil the pagans of their treasures. Biblical conservatism does not need to invent wisdom, but to feed off the True Wisdom, which is Christ.

10. The Prophetic Tradition: There are times in history when we need prophets. Prophets remind us of God's law when we have forgotten his ways. Prophets remind us when we have become blinded by our own traditions. In the Middle Ages, it may have been the Court Jester who played the role of Nathan. In our own time, it may be a poet, a comedian, a song-writer, a novelist who reminds us of God's truth. Solzhenitsyn was just such a prophet against godless Communism. Biblical Conservatism must be open to being taught God's truth as revealed in His Word or we may fall once again into attitudinal problems of Pharisaic yeast.

11. The Kingdom of God is Among Us: As Christians we can be comforted that Christ has already won the battle of life and death. Christ's Kingdom is advancing. It cannot lose. It is inevitable. For this reason, we must get rid of the theological pessimism that pervades much Evangelical thinking, and return to the optimism of the Lord's prayer. Biblical conservatism does not believe that universal progress is inevitable at all times and places; but it does believe that adherence to God's law and gospel will result in the blessings of God.

12. The Governments of God: The Church is not a political party. Its government and sacraments are established by Divine command. In the same way, God has established many governments. Nature has a government, and by it we can obtain medical, technological, and economic success. God commands the Self to be governed by Self-Control. The Family has a government; and a divine ordinance for creating new family governments. The Church is to be governed by Elders. States are to be governed by the Laws of God. And all the governments of the world are to bow the knee before Jesus Christ as their Lord and Sovereign. Biblical Conservatism is the acknowledgment and application of the Kingdom of God in every area of life.

Reforming Conservatism:

The contemporary right is a blend, as George Nash stated in The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=1882926129/nationalreformasA/>, of three strands: Anti-Communism, Free Enterprise Capitalism, and Traditionalism. Both Christian and pagan philosophical elements can be found in all three of these areas. Hence, side by side with activists in the Christian Right, we find those in Conservative circles who have a greater love of liberty, money, and their habitual lives than for the Lord Jehovah. In the realm of political activism, this is especially the case. Pragmatism, not principle, governs the political landscape.

Philosophies and political movements, like men, are prone to err unless they are built on a true foundation. As Christian Conservatives, we are poised to have a dramatic effect in modern life if we do not water down our message. The Creation order, the Law of God, and the gospel of grace have consequences. As American Christian Conservatives, therefore, we must reformulate our political theology according to biblical revelation.

Let us now begin the Reformation of Conservatism.