Undershepherds of the little flock of God,
In the certainty that each of you is aware of the political turmoil sweeping our nation, in the fear that some of you will be sorely tempted to not honor the Lord Jesus Christ as you ought in the present crisis, and under the authority of the Word of God, reflected in our common confession of the faith once delivered to the saints, I write to appeal to you to stay true to your calling by carefully weighing the impact of your political speech, not only on those under your care, but on the watching world, visible and invisible.
During the Reformation, some of our forebears attempted to undo aspects of the Constantinian innovation which had for the first time granted church leaders some access to raw political power. While that medieval experiment had produced a spectrum of political and cultural failures and successes, the reformers were more concerned that it had not, on the whole, been a healthy exercise for the church, having accompanied, if not hastened, an incremental lack of faithfulness to the Scriptures in general, and to the gospel of Christ in particular.
The corrective measures themselves, however, were less than uniformly beneficial: while certain Anabaptists were intent on abolishing the state altogether, the magisterial branches sternly opposed them, attempting rather to disentangle church and state with adjustments which showed varying degrees of promise, but too often produced a conflict-laden checkerboard of territories within which men’s consciences were subjected to the condition of a particular prince’s soul. Later generations of Pietists chose to withdraw from the political realm altogether, and some Puritans thought it worth the effort to start the church afresh on the blank slate of a new continent. A comparison of the founding confessions of our communions–Augsburg, Dordt, Westminster, Savoy, London–reveals, against the solid backdrop of our indissoluble unity in Biblical essentials, not only our lesser distinctions over polity and the sacraments, but also over the proper relation of the church to the magistrate–the boundaries of which were sometimes adjusted as the church moved into the New World.
By the time of our Republic’s birth, a consensus of the heirs of the Reformation had formulated a Two Kingdoms model of church and state which they thought the most faithful to the whole counsel of God, and our own Establishment Clause, though couched in secular language, was intended to reflect its wisdom. Two central theological tenets of the model, however, which the Clause implies but cannot articulate, are that God has purposely not given the church any means to act as the state, and that God has purposely not given the state any means to act as the church. The corollary of these principles is that when agents of either kingdom attempt to use means proper only to the other, both kingdoms are weakened, and Christ–the Lord of both–is thereby dishonored. As expressed by the German, multi-denominational, Confessing Evangelicals in their 1934 Theological Declaration of Barmen, which renounced the Reich Church:
8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.
8.22 Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.
8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.
In the light of that model I appeal to you, brothers: do not dishonor the Lord who bought you by endorsing a particular candidate from the pulpit. That has nothing to do with 501c3 regulations, but everything to do with God’s definition of your calling, which is to preach Christ and him crucified: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Has the Holy Spirit–whose delight is to glorify Christ–somehow revealed to you his chosen candidate, so inerrantly and infallibly, that you would risk binding the consciences of the members of your church to your decision?
It is easily demonstrated that America’s Presidents have rarely been exemplary representatives of Evangelical Christianity. Thomas Jefferson, following the spirit of the age, famously attempted to scissor the supernatural and miraculous out of the Gospels, hoping to make Jesus more palatable to the New World Order which would bow to no Sovereign; John Adams feared, and therefore despised, the Evangelical–as in Calvinist–foundations of not only his forbears but his issue, John Quincy, who apparently pleaded in vain with his father to return to the orthodox faith; whether you abhor or adore Abraham Lincoln, it is clear that although he was undeniably saturated in Scriptural tone and idiom, the accounts of his owning and articulating the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ are few and contradictory; Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the most Bible-beltish of our lifetimes, were light-years removed from the conservative ideals thought integral to Evangelical teaching. Most of our Presidents, whether due to political pressure or the shame of unbelief, have been very tight-lipped about whose ground their house was resting on, while some of the few who have attempted to be more open about their presumed faith have either fallen into scandal or simply not been well equipped to serve, and still others, clearly hostile to the Gospel, have nevertheless faithfully and wisely executed their office.
It would appear, then–even apart from the clear testimony of Scripture–that the Sovereign Lord appoints whom he will for his own self-glorifying purposes, which include, even simultaneously, blessing the faithfulness of his covenant people and giving them peace in which to labor in his vineyard, testing their faith by fire to reveal Jesus Christ as their first love, disciplining them in Fatherly displeasure until they are restored, showering common grace on the ungodly to draw some to repentance, and revealing his wrath from heaven against all who refuse to bow before the Son of God. He has told us in his Word that he raises up both the wicked and the righteous according to the purpose of his will–who among us, then, is wise enough to declare in advance which candidate he has chosen?
Thankfully, he has ordained us to live in a blessed land in which we may persuasively engage our neighbors with what little wits we have, not in the Lord’s house, but our own, and not lording it over other’s consciences, but civilly discussing policies and personalities, programs and potential pitfalls, thereby properly engaging our role in the body politic. In this, our choices can be honoring to the Lord of civil government, without detracting from his salvific work if we end up making the wrong choices–as we are more than likely to do.
That said, in light of the currently available choices, I make my second appeal: please soberly consider the implications of even privately endorsing a man who is a member of one of our own denominations, who has publicly and repeatedly professed to be a true Christian, and yet who has nearly as frequently demonstrated that he neither fears God nor respects man, apparently never having needed forgiveness. Brothers, we have endured candidates and Presidents who have been too silent about their faith, too noisy about it, too antagonistic toward our own faith, or who have wrongly claimed that a non-Biblical system was somehow Christian–but I cannot recall one who has so shamelessly called himself a Christian while denying the first element of saving faith, that he is a sinner in need of a Savior. To the degree that his words reveal his heart, the Word of God reveals Mr. Trump as devoid of the truth, and worse, one who portrays Jesus Christ as a liar: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Evangelical pastor, are you willing to be known as one who promoted a man whose public testimony of faith so clearly fails this Biblical test? Will this honor the Lord Christ in your eyes, those of your flock, and those of the watching world, visible and invisible? While you are forbidden to endorse, you must certainly warn:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
“But he’s strong! He tells it like it is! He wants things to be great again!” A number of men have been loved by the world for those very reasons–names like Adolph, Benito, Jong Il, Fidel, Idi, Papa Doc, and Vlad come to mind. Can’t happen here? Maybe not–or not yet–but are we as a nation now so very different from their countrymen?
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
Are those under your care to be abandoned, then, to fear and despair, if they cannot take a little comfort in following such a strong, brash and crass champion of the people? Not if you fulfill your holy calling to build them up in Jesus Christ, to whom both they and you belong:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria