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Pietistic or Sacramental?

F. Earle Fox

Audio Version

3rd Sunday of Lent - Mar. 11, 2012
Is. 45:14-25; Psalm 119:105-120; Eph 5:1-14; Lk. 11:14-28

In what kind of world do we live? Sacramental or pietistic? And what does ‘pietistic’ mean?

I have recently received three blessings which have strengthened my attitude and perception of how we Christians are to respond to the increasing erosion and corruption of America. One was about the nature of pietism, another about the demonic nature of Communism, and a third about our Declaration of Independence and Constitution – which were built on the answer to those two derailments of civil government, i.e., the Biblical view of government.

The first blessing.

I learned that the rejection by many Christians of their responsibilities in the public arena, against which I have been railing, has a name – Pietism. It began in Europe in the 1600’s, much earlier than I had thought, and got its foothold in America in the early 1800’s, promoted by those who (very mistakenly) wanted to protect Biblical faith from the erosion of the rising reason-centered and secular Enlightenment – by privatizing faith in God. They were terribly mistaken because it put the use of coercive force (which is what civil government is about) into the hands of pagan and secular leaders, releasing our rulers from the constraints of Biblical law. Many, perhaps most, American Christians view Christianity today through the Pietistic lens, and have increasingly done so for most of the past two centuries, beginning soon after the founding of America. That kind of pietism is heretical.

The pietistic view was adopted by European rulers who wanted not to be bridled by the law of God, nor by the increasing understanding, especially among the Reformed tradition, that the law of God governed all human government. The 1600’s was a time when rulers were claiming divine right of rulership, meaning total (as in ‘totalitarian’) control of things. And they were drifting toward secularization, dispensing with God altogether.

At the same time, the Reformed tradition was developing a clear sense of the obedience owed to God by all rulers and governors. That led to violent collisions, such as the American and French revolutions. Freedom under God won the American and lost the French, with enormous consequences on both sides for the human race. It set the machinery going for a new stage of the world contest between good and evil, with the issues becoming no less than the spiritual warfare of God vs. the Fall. The spiritual war had been understood and fought mostly on the personal level, with little understanding of what was at stake in the public arena. That was changing, but few Christians saw what was happening. The rise of a Biblical understanding of government must have scared the forces of evil half to death, so they retaliated, and we got Pietism.

So, what is at stake? What is the nature of civil government which makes it so important to the spiritual life of a nation? The answer is simple.

Everything civil government does, it does, as it were, at gunpoint. George Washington remarked that, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.” “Irresponsible” means not responding to legitimate authority. The authority from which government gets its legitimacy is the law of God. Our government has renounced the law of God, and we Christians are doing next to nothing about it. We are practicing pietists.

I know from personal experience that people who think big government is a good idea deeply resent being reminded that coercive force is the very meaning and purpose of civil government. They want a nice, friendly government nanny into which they can entrust their own welfare. They do not realize that we make laws only to enforce or forbid something, and that requires, in our fallen society, a reserve of coercive force to bring compliance from those who reject obedience to the law. That is the nature and reason for civil government. If there was nothing to be enforced, there would be no need for government at all.

But all this is God’s world. It is a sacramental world, in which the whole of time, space, and the whole of the physical are (1) created by God, (2) to be subservient to God, and (3) to reveal and show forth His purposes and nature. That very emphatically includes the realm of government. We are to govern like God governs, with truth, righteousness, and love.

The second blessing. 

I have been reading Tortured for Christ, by Richard Wurmbrand. He was imprisoned by the occupying Soviet Communists in the late 1940’s in Romania for 14 years, routinely tortured for preaching Christ. (The book might be had for free at www.persecution.com.)

It is an extraordinary story of what we will be facing if we let the drift toward totalitarianism continue in the West, most specifically in America. We are targeted precisely because in the West, America, almost alone, still has a residue of Biblical belief and practice. Government centralizers know that a healthy Biblical community is their worst nightmare.

Wurmbrand’s story tells us of the level to which evil can descend in the human heart. You can read there what he faced, and what we will be facing, if we continue to let America drift in its present direction. We have been warned by former KGB agents who have deserted to the West, and by Germans who lived through the Nazi period, that they see the same signs here that led to trouble in their lands. I remember warnings as early as the 1960’s. We are fools if we think that it will all be OK without our taking a concerted public stand – at any risk to ourselves. Any risk.

That is what both Richard and his wife, Sabrina, did. They continually put their lives at risk to defy the commands of the Soviets to cease preaching about Christ. It was much worse, he wrote, than what the Nazis had been doing before the Communists threw them out. At an early meeting just after the Russians has taken over from the Nazis, before it was clear to what level of treachery and cruelty they would descend, Richard and Sabrina were at a meeting led by the Communists to seduce the Christians into cooperation. Sabrina said to Richard, “Stand up and tell them the truth!” to which Richard replied, “If I do, you will lose your husband.” To which Sabrina replied, “I do not want a husband who is a coward.” Now, that is a supportive wife! She supported his Christian backbone. Richard stood up and spoke the truth. That began the long story of intense persecution of them both. Sabrina herself was constantly out on the streets preaching Christ. Both ended up in prison, with no knowledge of each other, and their teen age son was left to wander the streets, seeking his own life. He became a Christian, and followed suit with his parents.

Jesus tells His disciples that if we do not love Him more than family, we are not worthy of Him. He meant it, and He meant it for our good, not for our destruction. Only in following Jesus all the way can we enter the fullness of the Kingdom. We must give that example to our families.

It is one thing to read the statistics of totalitarian rulers, it is quite another to read the personal accounts of those who underwent the torture. It was living proof, said Richard, that the spirit is more powerful and durable than the flesh. A group of them together in prison came to a depth of faith which made it seem that the torture and abuse was in a kind of way distant and irrelevant, the glory of God shone so deeply in their hearts.

Richard said that he would not describe some of the torture because they were so cruel and obscene. It was sheer evil, sold out to Satan. The torturers would spend hours thinking up new ways to cause pain and break the spirits of those who resisted. They would brag that “I am God, you live or die on my say-so!

But these Christians refused to hate them, refused to lash out, refused to do anything but love them back. Richard said that in effect, being in the prison was as close to Jesus as he had ever come. He finally was released, and ransomed out of Romania, still sane, still a joy-filled Christian. He and Sabrina became powerful witnesses in the West to the evils of totalitarianism and the power of the Holy Spirit, and began sending help to the persecuted in Romania and elsewhere.

So what does his story tell us? It tells us of the absolute evil to which centralized government can descend – governments which cast off the constraints of God, governments which claim to be gods themselves.

But even more, it tells us of the more powerful Spirit of God who can reach deeper than the depths of hell to bring sanity and composure. The bottom of all things, the foundation, is not hell, it is the Hand of God on which all things rest. Hell is the self-delusion into which we drift as we rebel against God.   The whole world is a sacrament of the life of God, with resources deeper than what the worldly can touch.

That is what I mean by “charismatic renewal”.  The power of the Holy Spirit to bring life is absolutely unconquerable so long as we keep faith with the Lord.  Pray for that power of the Holy Spirit.  He who endures will be saved, says Jesus in the Book of Revelation.

The third blessing.

I have been viewing the series on the Declaration of Independence and Constitution which Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan has made free for viewing. There is an introductory series of five, and then the regular course taken by all students at Hillsdale, of ten sessions. I recommend and urge to all of you that you go to www.hillsdale.edu and view these 15 gems. Over 100,000 persons have signed on to view these videos – an astonishing number of people. America is waking up, pray, pray, pray... that we are not too little and too late to prevent a major collapse. With God, all things are possible. Do not give up under any circumstances.

The coercive nature of government is why the American constitution specifically restricts the reach of government to a limited number of items. That is what we mean by a “limited” government. The government is restricted in the way and extent it can force anyone to do anything. That is being routinely violated by Barack Obama and his henchmen.

Well, then, if civil government is inherently coercive, what has the law of God to do with it? Again, the reason is quite simple and direct. In the economy of God, the primary reason for civil government is to bring the use of coercive force totally under the law and grace of God. That is precisely the meaning of Deuteronomy 17:18 where the king is instructed to himself write and keep a copy of the law under his pillow so that he can read, mark, learn, inwardly digest – and govern by it.

Christians inherited the legacy of Rome, which ruled almost all of their known world, and, probably being mostly gentile Christians by that time, not steeped in the Old Testament, they simply fitted themselves into that empire structure, even adapting that structure of empire into their vision of the emerging Church of God. The Catholic Church became the Roman Catholic Church.

They had little sense of a Biblical form of governance, and used what they found, trying, with only moderate success, to insert Biblical principles of morality. There seems to have been no clear memory of God telling the king to keep a copy of the law so that he can rule properly.  As Lord Acton, a Roman Catholic, said, I think of the Pope, about 1870, in reference to the Pope at that time being declared infallible, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Only God can be trusted with absolute power and authority. All the rest of us will misuse it. In a sacramental world, God shines through us, but we are not God. 

After Constantine made Christianity legal and Christians began to take positions of power, there began a centuries-long slow progress toward the rediscovery of Biblical government, a long, and often fractious relation between State and Church, with the Church slowly able to insert Biblical principles into the understanding of government.

The primary principle which changed the whole of Western civilization, including government, was that from Genesis 1, that we are, one and all, created in the Image of God, that there are therefore no differences of inherent status among us, that we all stand equal before God, and therefore all stand equal before one another and before any government. But the pagan principle, that the strong had not only the right, but even the obligation, to rule the weak, was a long time a-dying.

In a landmark event, the English barons in 1215 forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, written by the Archbishop of Canterbury, a distant forerunner of our own Declaration and Constitution. That led over the next centuries to the Reformation theologians developing a clear presentation of Biblical government. The Presbyterian clergy were the firebrands of the American Revolution, “No king but Jesus!” was their battle cry from the pulpits. They were called by the British, the black regiment because of their black robes.

The American Revolution was God’s answer to the Hebrew demand about 1000 BC for a king, which God understood was a rejection of Him as their ruler and protector. One wonders what terror, horror, and grief might have been saved over the nearly 3000 years since then, had the Hebrews understood the need for God as our King. Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas can have horrendous consequences.

Despite secular, and often even Christian doubts, the American form of governance was indeed a gift from God. A secular study shows that if you collect all the references to other writers made by the founding fathers concerning what kind of government to give the new nation, the Bible was referenced and quoted by a large margin more than any other source.

They knew Whom to ask – “What kind of government....?” They understood the fallen nature of our humanity, and knew that you dare not entrust much power to any single person or government entity. So they gave us a government limited by dispersion and separation of powers, with checks and balances, and with the people under God being sovereign, not the government itself. The people taken as a whole are the highest Officer of the State, and the government is our servant, not our boss. That was new and unique in human history. That was a gift from God.

All that was thoroughly undermined by the Pietistic degraded, heretical form of Christianity. We, the people, we the sovereign in our own land, gave away our sovereignty under God to governors who have no use for God, no use for our freedom. We, with some notable exceptions, had lost our intellectual firepower, and melted before the secular “Enlightenment”. We now have next to no presence in the public arena, and are being ruled by an anti-Christ government, which teaches that it OK to kill persons in or out of the womb, with no due process of law to convict of a capital crime. That is a criminal government.

But God has in mind for we Christians to renounce our sins, our failures, our disobedience, our cowardice, and to return to Him as His servants in our personal lives, in the home, in the Church, and in the public arena. We are to be sacraments of the life of God.

That will not happen until we take back our churches from unBiblical pietism. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, or He is nothing at all. That was the effective creed under which and by which the disciples of Jesus won the empire. Like Richard and Sabrina, they would not shut up about Jesus. Not at any cost.

In Isaiah this morning, we read, “They (the pagans) will make supplication to you, saying: ‘God is with you, and there is no other, no God besides Him’

For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens...., who formed the earth and made it....,
He did not create it a chaos, He formed it to be inhabited....! “I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness, I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek Me in chaos.’ I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right.”

God speaks clearly, simply, and to the point.

The chaos in which God did not create the earth is the chaos created by our sin, by the Fall. It is the world disintegrating before our eyes. It cannot do anything else. The built-in power struggle of the fallen world will permit nothing other than the incessant drift toward self-destruction. Only by the law and grace of God can we reverse this downward entropy, descent into chaos. But it can be done. We are fools if we do not do as Richard and Sabrina did, if we do not do as Hillsdale is doing, if we do not restore our faith to a genuine Biblical conviction in God who is sovereign over all things, no exceptions.

As we obey God, He will again put the foundation of His Hand under us, and we will again hear His Voice speaking to us.

So, let us do what we can, to educate ourselves, and to find ways to witness to the Lordship of Jesus over our government. Hillsdale College is clearly aware of the great dangers into which we have put ourselves. They have made the videos free and down-loadable. They appear weekly, and are in the fourth week now. I download as I view them, and will put them on a DVD for anyone who does not have internet access, but does have a DVD viewer. The full set will be available in about six weeks.

The Collect for the third Sunday of Lent: We beseech Thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of Thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty, to be our defense against all our (and Your) enemies, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Audio Version

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Date Posted - 03/11/2012   -   Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012