When we belligerate against “tyranny,” mocking and lampooning and scorning the civil authorities God placed over us, the unspoken assumption is that we know how to do their jobs better than they do. (And no, I’m not talking about appeals to court or Ceasar which are proper and respectful. Those are a necessary part of maintaining good government.)
But what if belligerators were able to establish their millenarianism by rule of law and marched on the rest of their state and country in an effort to spread their supremely excellent rule? Take Oliver Cromwell, for example…
Well, first Lig Duncan, then Scott Sauls, then Andy Stanley, then John MacArthur would take up arms against them. After whupping the guy in Milwaukee and the guys in Moscow, Lig and Scott and Andy and John (maybe Phil instead) would turn and lead armies against each other. Mark my words; this is what history teaches us.
Pretty soon President Biden or President Trump would be back in office. The people of the states and nation would be sick and tired of Presbyterian fractiousness and internecine bloodshed, so they would turn against it.
But not to worry: Moscow’s leaders aren’t civil authorities.
Reviewing Cromwell’s story is quite a cautionary tale. After ten or years of what is known as the Interregnum, England had had quite enough of its Puritan rulers, and Charles II was welcomed with pretty well open arms. This period of time, known as the Restoration, was a fairly debauched one. And even if we use Calvin’s Geneva as our touchstone, the regime established on his watch didn’t last for that long.
Ok I’ll bite. Yes Calvin’s Geneva didn’t last nor did the time of the Puritans but this doesn’t keep me from desiring for or working for a time like that in my lifetime or in the future after I’m gone. The times of the good kings in Judah were infinitely better than the times with the bad ones.
I’m don’t think you are meaning to say this but I’ve seen many an anabaptist argue along these same lines for just leaving the civil government to unbelievers. I’ve heard essentially that government enforcing God’s law is worse than secular humanist enforcing their own laws. But Geneva and Cromwell didn’t license the murder of billions of children or the promotion of sodomy and idolatry.
Maybe we should throw out Cromwell, but the fact that his rule was unpopular and things went back worse than they were doesn’t tell us anything about how faithful or pleasing to God or worthy of imitation his work was. None of the prophets was popular, and after the prophet died things always went back worse than they had been. Yet the world was not worthy of them, their work was approved by God, and we will be hard pressed to attain to the faith and the work of such men.
Now the prophets were men under authority, so show me that Cromwell was not a man under authority (for example) and now I’m listening.
But don’t give me “burned out districts” as proof of unfaithfulness. The whole world is burned out districts, and each new generation needs preaching and repentance, even when their fathers were faithful.
This isn’t all at you, dear brother; it’s been on my mind a while.
Thank you for replying and commenting, I don’t especially disagree with either of you.
After some more thought, I think we are grappling with quite a paradox - that yes, while we can point to the good things that happened in Calvin’s Geneva and in Cromwell’s England, there is also an element at work here of “be careful what you wish for” - or, put another way, “the law of unintended consequences”. The Puritans in England may have been more effective in terms of their witness over the longer-term had they not ended up in secular power for those years. I think that I am coming from the view that in history, Christians have been more effective at speaking truth to power than they have been at exercising power.
But don’t leave it there, dear brother. What application could follow but this: “…and so prudence dictates that Christians should avoid positions of political power.” Maybe I’m just a melancholy-minded man, but if your application is instead something more like “…and so we must use the power God gives us humbly, crying out to God with Moses (Psalm 90:17) and with Nehemiah (Neh 5:19;13:14,22,31) to establish the work of our hands” do please say so.
Maybe Brits (and Scots) have a special gift for hinting darkly, but will you translate for your American brother?
I carry no brief for Cromwell. His takeover was when things started to go sideways.
The English Civil War, in its earlier stages, gave us the Westminster Standards. There is more than a passing resemblance between Parliament’s disputes with the King and the Americans’ disputes with the King a century later.
Arguably you could argue we got Presbyterianism and America out of it. Not bad. I will take their failure over the alternative.
It seems you misconstrue what is being said, dear brother. No one is suggesting “throwing out” Cromwell. Nor is the point that Cromwell wasn’t “under authority.” He may or may not have been depending on what one believes about reform and revolution. But even if he wasn’t under authority, he was not a pastor, but a man assigned military and governing authorities by the powers that be, depending on one’s perspective. More importantly, he did his work, not by rabble-rousing and belligerating against this or that policy concerning this or that facet of life, but by taking up arms and governing.
What is the center of the issue for our discussion is the fact that most of the men who were on the opposite side of him were orthodox Protestant Christians confessionally, with many being this or that sect of presbyterians/congregationalists, all reformed. To repeat myself, if Doug went to war against DC, we are not stupid to think there would be a great likelihood that normal orthodox presbyterians and baptists would go to war against Doug.
Can’t emphasize enough how helpful reading Cromwell’s bio was for me these past few years. The lesson for me has not been passivity in the face of violations of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. We must do everything possible to protect them while not turning from the church and her raising up God’s godly seed to do so. The time might come when we will go to war, even, but when we do so the danger of schism and internecine battle is very high now as it has been through history going back to Abraham and Lot, the Sons of Israel in the wilderness, the Southern and Northern Kingdoms of Israel, the English Civil War, the American Revolution (when faithful brothers were on both sides fighting against each other), the Civil War (when faithful brothers were on both sides fighting against each other), and even today when, as our abortion paper makes so clear, inside reformed churches mothers and fathers are murdering their own children.
What is absolutely not biblical is mocking and scorning and yip-yapping for the masses against those God has placed over us in authority. Men of God do not do this, and yet it’s everywhere today among reformed men the past few years and now.
After some thought. The OT referent which I think now works best in our context is that of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, godly men who served often-ungodly kings. You could also include Mordechai in that list. In a modern (Church Age) context, I think of William Wilberforce, who fought for so long to abolish slavery and the slave trade in the British Empire. He was inspired to do so by the elderly John Wesley.
More locally and recently: the local (Scottish) equivalent of Anthony Fauci is a man called Jason Leitch. During the pandemic, he had the job of telling people to wear masks, and telling churches that they would have to hold off meeting. But we in the church listened to him, without much of the strife one saw in the States. Why? Because the man is an active Christian, and the church community figured that he was “family” and could be listened to and trusted. But thanks for your question!