How we should not - and how we should - influence the area of politics
by Rev. W.W.J.VanOene
(The following is the text of an introduction delivered by Rev. VanOene at a meeting of the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), held in Chilliwack, BC, on January 15, 1988).
What I am going to present to you this evening is only an introduction. This means that what I am going to say is meant to lead into a discussion. In this discussion matters will become clearer and more fixed. In some instances I will only put the question in my introduction without giving an answer.
In the course of the investigation and study for this introduction I have, of course, come to certain conclusions and convictions, although I believe these are for the larger part still provisional and will be abandoned for better conclusions and more firmly based convictions. It is my sincere wish that this evening we may together come to a clearer insight into the place and task which we as Christians have in our society and political system.
I would describe what I am going to say as "How We Should Not and How We Should Influence The Area of Politics."
That we speak of the "area of politics" is to take the field as wide as possible.
We could have used the term "State" or "Government", but in the first place, these terms are too restrictive for our purpose and, in the second place, they are too impersonal. We note that in our confessions we speak of the "magistrates," which immediately draws our attention to persons.
We would, therefore, rather speak of "civil authorities" than of "government," and of "the nation" than of "the state."
In any case, it is clear what we intend to express with the title "area of politics." It is the field with which ARPA is concerned first of all.
That we speak in the first place about the question how we should NOT try to influence the political life of our country, and the lives of our fellow-citizens, gives us an opportunity gradually to see more clearly how we SHOULD try to do it.
To the question whether we should impose our views on our fellow-citizens, some answer with an emphatic "No." As far as I understand them, they base this partly on the fact that we live in a pluralistic society, a society in which various groups of the population live together, each with their own background, their own convictions, their own lifestyle, and their own religious beliefs.
We all have read about the emphasis which the federal and provincial governments put on the pluralism of our society. They speak of multi-culturalism and the need that each and every group of the population receive full opportunity to retain its specific character and culture. Practically every province has a department of multi-culturalisrn which is either a separate department or has been entrusted to a minister who already takes care of another department. Millions of dollars are distributed to all sorts of organizations for the most strange and unnecessary projects.
I always receive the Canadian Scene, from which I seldom quote in Clarion, as this whole matter of multi-culturalism occupies a large part of the available space and we are not all that interested in whether a Ukranian group somewhere in Saskatchewan has received $ 15,000 to organize a specifically Ukranian festival, or whether a group of Dutch descent has received a grant of $ 10,000 to organize a wooden-shoe demonstration in allegedly Dutch costumes.
We shall not deny the value of the contributions from various cultures by which the specific Canadian character of our nation can only be strengthened. Only in countries which have a dictatorial government are the differences obliterated, as now in Zimbabwe, where one man rules in a one-party system as the only officially allowed political group.
However, when the question is raised whether we should refrain from imposing our views on others on the basis of the fact that we live in a pluralistic society, we must distance ourselves from those who come with that claim. The fact that there is diversity and that the diversity should be maintained and preserved is no reason why we should refrain from imposing our views on them.
This applies the more since it is not "our views" that we would try to impose in that case. IF it were just "our views", we certainly would have to refrain from trying to impose them on others.
What we are talking about, however, are not the views of a certain segment of the population which originated in another country. What we are dealing with here is the conviction of a certain segment of the population which has been brought to faith in the Lord our God, and this group of people comes from all nations and races and tribes and tongues. Thus the term "our views" is wrongly used here. The question should be rephrased in this sense, whether we should impose that which the Lord our God has revealed to us upon others, also upon those who either have never heard of God's Word or who, although having heard of it, do not believe it or even have rejected it.
One should never try to impose his own views on others; what we are to answer is the question whether it is our God-given duty to impose on others that which the Lord our God has revealed in His Word and whether we should make His commandments the rule also for the political life of our nation. And if we mention the political life, why then not also the social and economic life? Life cannot be cut into pieces, into separate areas, one area where the commandments of the Lord apply and other areas where they do not apply. If the Lord's revealed will is to be imposed on others, then the whole life must be subject to it, not just part of it.
To the question whether we are to impose the will of the Lord upon others we must also answer with a clear and profound, "No."
This answer will need some further elaboration and substantiation.
There is and should be no doubt among us whether only in obedience to God's commandments there is light and life. There is hope for the world as a whole only when the will of the Lord our God is recognized, taken as the guide for all actions and measures, and where the salvation by the Lord Jesus Christ is gratefully received and experienced. This certainly is something which we are to make known to all and every one.
But this is different from the question whether the will of the Lord applies to this whole world, to the whole human race, and whether the commandments of the Lord must be the rule also for the political life of the nations.
To this question we have to answer with "No," however strange this may sound in the ears of people who have learned almost from their childhood on that - to use a word of Dr. Abraham Kuyper - there is not one square inch of the whole life to which the Lord Jesus Christ does not lay claim and of which He does not say, "It is Mine."
In preparation for this introduction I also consulted my old Guidelines for the study of the principles of the Anti-Revolutionary Party in the Netherlands, guidelines which were published by the Board of the Federation of Young Men's Societies in the Netherlands. In these outlines, as well as in other writings, not only from before but also from after the Liberation, I found that especially the Ten Words or the Ten Commandments were brought to the fore as being the will of the Lord also for the political life of a nation. I found that it was stated that the "Moral Law" as contained in the Old Testament was considered to be still valid and binding for all people.
it would lead us too far from our topic if I outlined my objections to the whole distinction of "Moral Law," "Ceremonial law, "and "Civil Law, "as this distinction is still being propagated also among us. Let me say that I reject this whole distinction and don't believe a word of it. But this is a topic apart.
In the reasoning followed, the so-called "Moral Law" is then contained in, among others, the Ten Commandments. And, it is claimed, since the Moral Law is still valid, and then valid for all men, it is the God-given duty of the civil authorities to follow these commandments. This argument then also forms the basis for the contention that the civil authorities are to enact and maintain a so-called Lord's Day Act, restricting work, activities, and store closings on the Sunday.
If this reasoning were correct, our only conclusion could be that it would be our God-given duty to do our best that these commandments are imposed upon the nation. For, if they are still valid for the whole human race, then there is no one who would have the right to ignore them or who would act correctly if he did not try to universally enforce them.
It is my conviction that these commandments, that the will of God do NOT apply to the whole human race.
In order to prevent misunderstanding, I repeat: Of course, there is salvation and there is happiness and progress only when the will of the Lord is obeyed and when His commandments are followed.
But - and we are to bear this in mind as a principial starting-point - the Word of the Lord and the commandments of the LORD have been given to His people only, not to the whole world, not to the whole human race.
When the Lord Jesus sent His disciples as apostles into the world, He told them FIRST to make disciples of the nations, THEN to teach them to observe all that He commanded. In other words: those who had been made disciples, who had become believers, they were to be taught how the salvation, which they had received through faith, could be preserved.
One who claims that the Ten Words apply to the whole human race forgets one basic and important thing: Above these ten words there is an inscription: I am Jahwe your God who has delivered you out of the house of bondage, out of the land of Egypt. In other words: these Ten Words were given to God's redeemed people, to His free children. By obeying these words and all the other provisions which He gave through the mouth and hand of Moses they were to prove themselves grateful for the salvation received, and likewise, by keeping these commandments, they were to preserve the salvation which the Lord had given them out of grace.
When the Lord God separated Abraham and his posterity from the nations, He continued to speak to Abraham and his seed, but He did not speak to nor did He reveal His will to the nations. That's why Israel sang of it in Psalm 147: "He declares His Word to Jacob, His statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know His ordinances. Praise the LORD."
It was the LORD's Will that the blessings of Abraham should reach all the nations, and these blessings have indeed reached all nations: the Gospel of the salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ has gone out into all directions. Now they have come from north and south, from east and west and they are gathered together with Abraham, lsaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God. In that respect has the separation reached its objective.
But the big question is whether the separation as such has been undone. Or rather, it is not a question, it is certain that the separation is still there and that the Word of the LORD has still been given only to Abraham's seed, the remnant of the Seed, the Church of Christ Jesus.
The separation of Abraham and his natural posterity was to be there only until the day when the Seed, that is, when Christ Jesus would have been born and would have fulfilled His task as the Mediator between God and man. Now in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither man nor woman, neither slave nor free.
However, has the separation as such been undone? Not at all! Abraham's seed is now composed of people from many nations and tongues and races and countries; but they all together are still as separated from this world and the unbelieving part of the human race as they were before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: You are a holy nation, the Lord says in His Word. The apostle Peter writes to the believers as to aliens and exiles, that is as people who are separated from the rest of mankind. Once, in the days when God's Word and promises were restricted to Abraham's natural children, they were no people, but now they have become God's people. You are the children of Abraham, the apostle Paul writes.
As children of Abraham, we are still a separate nation, a holy nation. And the Church today still sings the same words: He gave His Word to Jacob and His ordinances to Israel; thus He did not deal with any nation.
As, in Old Testament days, God spoke only to Israel, so in the New Testament times God speaks only to His Church, the Church of Christ. And to HER, not to the world, has He revealed His will. The Lord Jesus Christ has revealed to us God's eternal counsel and will concerning our redemption.
When, in our Catechism, we ask why we still have to do good works, we answer that the Lord Jesus Christ does not stop halfway: He not only has delivered us, He also renews us after His own image. How does the Lord Jesus Christ renew us? He renews us by enabling us through His Spirit to prove ourselves grateful in the manner as indicated by God's revealed will.
My only conclusion can be that God's revealed will has been given only to the Church of Christ and applies only to her. I can find no ground in God's Word to substantiate the claim that God's commandments have also been given to this world, to the human race as such and that it is our duty or the duty of the civil authorities to follow these commandments, a duty of which we are to convince them and to remind them constantly.
Not only, therefore, do we have no right to impose our own views on others, we have no right either to impose the will of God on others. His will has been revealed and given to His Church only, not to the human race as such.
In Old Testament days the Lord let the nations wander in their own ways, the ways which they had chosen for themselves. He did not send His prophets to them to make His will known to them; and when He did send a prophet - Jonah this prophet had the task to tell the people that the Lord was going to turn Nineveh upside down.
In our days it also pleases the Lord not to speak to the nations, but only to His Church. He lets the nations walk in their own ways, ways which must lead to ruin and destruction. In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation the Lord preserves for Himself a Church, that separate people. To them He spoke, to them He speaks, to them He has made known His will as a rule for their gratitude that in this manner they should be preserved with the salvation obtained for them.
It will be clear from what I have said so far that I agree with the statement that we should not impose our views on others, be it that I reach this conclusion in a totally different way. My basis is not a plurality of society and the need to let each segment of the population develop according to their own character and background. My basis is not even the thesis that whoever demands freedom of worship for himself should also grant the same to others.
My basis is the totally unique character of the Church as the people of God, as the children of Abraham, as the exclusive community to which the LORD God has spoken and continues to speak while bypassing the rest of mankind.
In the Church no idolatry should be tolerated, as the LORD God says, "You shall have no other gods before Me." But God did not speak these words to the outside world; thus no effort should be made to forbid and ban all witchcraft and superstition, all fortune telling and worship of false gods. This would be necessary IF the LORD's commandments applied to the world. Then we should do our best to have such laws enacted as would eliminate all these things from the life of the nation and of its citizens. However, I do not think that anyone among us would wish to go that far. Yet it would be necessary if the LORD's commandments covered the whole human race.
We are to be thankful for any trace of Christian influence which can still be noticed in various laws in our own country and in other countries. It is a sad thing when it is tried more and more to eliminate these traces of Christian influence. This, too, is a sign that we are coming closer to the appearing of our Saviour.
However, it is NOT our task to try to impose upon our fellow-citizens or upon our nation as such the will of the Lord which has been revealed to us as the guide for our thankfulness for the salvation obtained for us by Christ.
How, then, one may ask, should we try to influence the area of political life?
Or should we be content with the fact that the Lord has spoken and speaks to us as His people and for the rest leave this ungodly and corrupt world to itself, permitting it to dig its own grave even further?
Of course not. As citizens of our country we have our obligations, our calling also towards our fellow-citizens.
It will not be necessary to elaborate on the need to live as children of our Father who is in heaven, giving a good example to those who are without. There are many places in the Holy Scriptures where we are told these things. They must be able to see our godly walk, we are told, so that they may glorify our Father who is in heaven. They may be wondering, we read, why you are not partaking with them in all sorts of filthiness and dirty practices, but at least they will have to acknowledge that you are different and that you live in accordance with what you confess.
We are not speaking now of our godly walk and the need for it; nor are we speaking here now about the task to make God's Word known to others in order that they, too, may come to the faith in Christ Jesus the Saviour. The matter of evangelism does not enter the picture when we speak about our political task.
What we are to bear in mind and let ourselves be guided by, however, is the word of our Saviour that we are the salt of the earth and the light to the world.
This right away prevents us from separating ourselves to such an extent that we are living on an island in the sea of the human race and that, as the anabaptist groups do, we abstain from all sorts of things, content with living our own sheltered life and not showing any concern for the surrounding world which is condemned anyway in the sight of God.
I am afraid that in the past such a spirit was found too much among us, too. There were and are tendencies to lock ourselves up within our own rather small community without any contact with the outside world. It took ages, so to speak, before brothers made themselves a candidate for local councils or before there was any sign of political action in our midst.
The reasons for this may have to be sought partially in the immigrant status of our people, but I am convinced that there was also a perhaps not-so-small measure of isolationism which did not sprout from Reformed conviction but from basically anabaptist tendencies.
It is, therefore, to be applauded that in more and more congregations the political awareness is increasing and that there are more and more members among us who are active in political life.
When these brothers succeed in obtaining a council seat and become an alderman or receive any other function in government, we are to be thankful for this and to remember them in our prayers that they may fulfill their task to the benefit of the citizens. They need much wisdom for this task, since their whole course of action is to be determined by the love towards God above all and the love towards the neighbour as to themselves.
In all their actions, their deliberations and decisions these brothers - as we all are - are bound by the will of God and by the summary of God's Word as we have adopted it in our confessions. The will of God may, then, not apply to the world outside the Church, when Church members go out and are active in political life, they are bound indeed by what the LORD has revealed in His Word, and by their promises made at their public profession of faith.
It is only when they remain faithful also in this point, that they can be a real blessing for the community in which they have received their position. This is not to say that we have to impose on others that by which we are bound or that, if we cooperate with others, we by that very fact deny our confession. It is only if we are asked to do something or to agree to something which brings us into conflict with God's Word or with what we have confessed to be the truth that we have to refuse or - if we don't refuse to go along with that - could be justly accused of forsaking our solemn declarations.
However, are we allowed to say that we have fulfilled our task when we have worked for brothers to be elected and when we taste the sweetness of victory? Are we then to leave it up to them to do what basically is the task of all? Is it then permitted to take an attitude such as is oftentimes taken in the Church: we have the consistory for this or that, let them do it; or "We have the school board for this task, so it is their baby"?
We have not fulfilled our political task once we have succeeded in having brothers elected to a government position.
YOU are the salt of the earth, the Lord said, and the Light that is to shine in this world.
Let us leave the imagery of the light out of the picture and confine ourselves to the symbol of the salt.
In the first place we are reminded here of our obligation to retain and maintain our own character. if the salt loses its saltiness, the Lord Jesus said, it is good for nothing any more. This means that also when we go out and take part in political life, we should not deny our own character or conviction, but make them known to others, making clear that only when the path is followed which does not bring into conflict with the will of our God, the true interest of the population and country is served and promoted.
The question has been raised why those who profess to be Christians have not had a far greater influence on the whole course of events than they did have in reality. If we take the total number of those who profess to be Christians, we come to a large percentage of the population. Their influence, however, is disproportionately small.
One of the main reasons for this dismal failure to influence political life to a larger extent is that they made and make a distinction between or even separate being a Christian and being a citizen, between the Sunday and the other days of the week. To sing to the praise of God in church is one thing; to be in business or in politics is something else.
There the salt loses its saltiness and thus is good for nothing.
When Christians go out and take part in the political life of the country, they must not become like the others, but retain their Christian convictions, values, standards and lifestyle. We should not form a segregated part of society, yet show that we have been separated by God to be His special people; then others can see from us what obedience to the will of the Lord avails.
There are various ways in which we can make our influence be felt. Is it not so that oftentimes what minorities lack in number they make up for in conviction and commitment?
We do not have to look far for examples.
Just a few weeks ago it was announced that the sealhunt at the east coast was to be discontinued in its organized and licensed form. This was the fruit of the actions of a rather small group of people, but this small group of people was and is very vociferous and active. They have succeeded in causing millions of dollars in damage by mobilizing their group and causing its influence be felt in Europe and other countries.
The whole swinging around of the federal and several provincial governments into the direction of women's rights, or equality and, more recently, of daycare-centres - as if the care for the children of couples that are both working, is the responsibility of the nation and not of the parents themselves - is the fruit of the loud demonstrations and actions of a rather small minority which claims to speak on behalf of all the women and by their determination have succeeded in steering the federal government into their direction.
We could mention more things, but I should not occupy the whole evening.
The above may suffice in showing that oftentimes it is only a small minority which imposes its will upon the large largely silent majority. A small group of determined and dedicated communists oftentimes succeeds in taking over a whole country. And once they are in the saddle, there are always the masses which eagerly jump on the bandwagon.
One of the first requirements for our political involvement is that we are to be fully convinced of our own cause and are dedicated to it, determined to give our all for it. Then we shall also be prepared to speak out.
No, we shall refrain from demonstrations and pressure-tactics. Those are worldly means from which we are to abstain. But there are other ways and means to be heard and to have our influence to be noticed.
It is a fact that politicians are very sensitive to the expressed wishes of their constituents. One of the ways in which we can make our influence be felt is via letters to our members of parliament, or telephone calls to their office. Time and again we notice that these things are being appreciated and that they are taken into account. At the vote in the matter of capital punishment which was taken in parliament, the calls to the constituency offices and the letters received by the members of parliament certainly put weight into the scales. How often did we make use of this way which is open to all? We can be sure that the opponents of capital punishment did make their feelings known and that they did not fail to write letters and to make phone-calls. How many of our people did do this?
And then there are the newspapers and the periodicals.
Almost each and every publication has a column for letters to the editor. How many of our people have made use of this possibility? These letters are read not only by the editors to whom they nominally have been addressed, but by the readers as well.
It is especially the local papers - of which, fortunately, there are still a many - that are excellent means to propagate the truth also for the political life.
Recently there was a good reply in the Times in Abbotsford to the accusation that people who voted in favour of Sunday closing were stupid. Arguments in letters to the editor come to the attention of a large and wide circle of readers.
We should watch out, of course, and see to it that we do not render ourselves ridiculous by writing too often and about all sorts of things. However, as there are hundreds of us here down in the Valley who could take turns, this danger would not be very great, if only many take part. Until now, however, I have not seen many letters to the editor from our own people, most of whom I know, be it some only by name.
You could say, of course, that there were not many letters from my own hand either, and you are right. I, too, have to learn many things still, and shall do my best to show some improvement. We all are here to learn from one another, aren't we?
I must say that the few times I did write a letter to the editor, I received favourable phone calls and comments from unexpected quarters. And then there is the fruit which we may never notice and about which we may never learn.
Another way in which we are able to influence the political area of life is attending all candidates meetings or communicating our convictions and concerns to the candidates in the weeks before the election takes place. Or by writing letters to them after they have been elected and are in office. It is my own experience that letters written to elected officials are being read and that they are taken into account. Sometimes an impersonal reply is received, sometimes, however, arguments are either accepted or politely acknowledged without commitment. Whether they have any effect is something which we are to leave up to the Lord.
One thing which I haven't mentioned until now is, of course, what the apostle Paul writes: That he wants intercessions to be made for kings and princes and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
The prayer of the righteous avails much, James writes. But the same writer assures us that words without actions are worthless. Prayer without practice does not avail much. Pray and work, we are told.
There must be many more possibilities than I have touched upon. However, this is only an introduction to the discussion. It is for the one to point out the basis; it is for the other to build on it.
If I have contributed something either to the former or to the latter, the many hours spent on preparing for this evening will have been rewarded richly.