Friday, December 2, 2011

Does the Bible Support or Countenance Political Polytheism?

Political polytheism was a common practice in ancient
nations--a practice condemned by God. There is no
evidence in the New Testament that God has had a
change of mind regarding  idolatry.

by Rev. Brian Schwertley

(The following is an excerpt from The Commandments of God by Brian Schwertley)

Most professing Christians today have accepted open, public, government-sanctioned polytheism as the preferred norm for national life. They argue that the Jews had a special covenant relationship with Jehovah and as a theocracy had a responsibility to suppress open idolatry and the open propagation of false religions in their society. We, however, who live in the New Covenant era are only responsible to suppress idolatry within the visible church. Further, they will argue that the days when nations established Christianity as the official religion of the land were times of oppression and persecution.

Does the Bible teach that polytheism is only to be condemned within the Old Covenant nation of Israel? Is religious pluralism as practiced in the United States (where all religions are treated the same) acceptable to God? There are a number of reasons why Scripture emphatically condemns such thinking. In the Old Testament God repeatedly condemned the pagan nations for their idolatry. The severe judgments that God meted out on the heathen nations for idolatry presupposes that God expects every nation to obey the first commandment in civil, social and cultural affairs. The following examples should make this point obvious.

In Deuteronomy 18 we are told that God drove the heathen nations out of their lands because He hated their false religions. "When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you" (Dt. 18:9-12). "These foreign offices and practices, which were an abomination to the Lord, were to be forbidden in Israel precisely because they were part of the reason for God's judgment of the Canaanites, which would be seen in their ejection from the land. If the Israelites adopted similar practices, they too would become liable to ejection from the land." (1) One could argue that the main concern of this passage is false forms of revelation. But, are not all false religions and cults founded upon false revelations?

In Isaiah 19 the prophet says that God will judge Egypt for its idolatry. "The burden against Egypt. Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst" (Is. 19:1). The prophet Jeremiah says that God will bring judgment upon Egypt, Pharaoh and their false gods. "The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, says: 'Behold, I will bring punishment on Amon [a sun god] of No [ancient Thebes], and Pharaoh and Egypt, with their gods and their kings-Pharaoh and those who trust in him" (Jer. 46:25; cf. Is. 46:1). God singles out Amon the Egyptian chief deity of Thebes (No). "Amon was later merged with Re to become Amon-Re, the king of the gods and peculiarly the god of the rulers of Egypt." (2) Pharaoh who lays claim to divinity is also singled out. Is it not clear that Jehovah punishes idolatry even in non-covenanted nations?

"Kingdoms are said to serve the
church [Isaiah 60:12]: and how can a
kingdom, as a kingdom, serve the
church, but as putting forth its power
and strength in her behalf? What God
hath promised, kings, magistrates,
rulers, nations shall do, that is their
duty to do." --John Owen
Jehovah, the only God, the Lord of the universe, hates religious pluralism. To Assyria God said, "Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation....As my hand has found the kingdoms of the idols, whose carved image excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria, as I have done to Samaria and her idols, shall I not do also to Jerusalem and her idols" (Is. 10:5, 10, 11)? God proclaimed judgment against Moab for idolatry. "'Moreover,' says the Lord, 'I will cause to cease in Moab the one who offers sacrifices in the high places and burns incense to his gods'" (Jer. 48:35). Jehovah also crushed the idols of Babylon. "Declare among the nations, proclaim, and set up a standard; proclaim, and do not conceal it, say, 'Babylon is taken, Bel is shamed. Merodach [or Marduk, a Babylonian god] is broken in pieces; her idols are humiliated, her images are broken in pieces....A drought is against her waters, and they will be dried up. For it is the land of carved images and they are insane with their idols'" (Jer. 50:1, 2, 38). "Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge, every metalsmith is put to shame by the carved image; for his molded image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them. They are futile, a work of errors; in the time of their punishment they shall perish.... 'Therefore behold, the days are coming that I will bring judgment on the carved images of Babylon; her whole land shall be ashamed, and all her slain shall fall in her midst'....'Therefore, behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'that I will bring judgment on her carved images, and throughout all her land the wounded shall groan'" (Jer. 51:17, 18, 47, 52). If God so hated the idolatry of the Assyrians, Moabites, Egyptians, Babylonians and the inhabitants of Canaan that He poured out His wrath upon them, why should He exempt the inhabitants of America, Canada, or Great Britain, etc., for their idolatries? Political polytheism was a common practice in ancient nations-a practice condemned by God. There is no evidence in the New Testament that God has had a change of mind regarding idolatry.

This point is supported by the fact that Deuteronomy 4:5-8 teaches that Israel was to be an example to the pagan nations around her. She was to showcase God's law to pagan cultures and societies through obedience so that heathen nations would abandon their idolatry and their pagan law order and turn to the one true God-Jehovah. The rejection of an explicit acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as Lord by Western nations and the acceptance of any public religious practice as lawful in these nations presupposes a realm that is outside of God's authority, that God's law word does not speak to every area of life.

The Great Commission teaches that the church is to disciple whole nations so that all nations will become explicitly Christian nations. "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Mt. 28:18-20). The Bible says that the divine-human mediator Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth. It is on the basis of this comprehensive authority that the disciples are to go. Note that the church's task is not simply evangelization and the saving of souls through gospel preaching. It has the task of baptizing nations; that is, bringing whole nations into covenant with Christ so that they can receive the covenant sign and submit to His kingship. The disciples are to teach the nations all things that Christ has commanded. This command rules out a vague theism. It rules out the acknowledgment of the false gods of Mohamedism, modern Judaism, Unitarianism and Mormonism. The Great Commission is not fully carried out until every nation covenants with Christ and implements a Christian social order based on God's law. When professing Christians deny the comprehensive nature of Jesus' authority and teach that civil magistrates should implement religious pluralism with its open practice of idolatry and blasphemy, they set themselves in opposition to our Lord's own marching orders.

The Old Testament prophets reveal a time when the goal of the Great Commission will become a reality; when kings or civil magistrates will serve Christ and aid His church. Isaiah prophesied, "Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers; they shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth and lick the dust of your feet" (49:23). Does Jehovah promise a wonderful future of religious pluralism where the church has an equal status with Satanists, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.? No, not at all. God speaks of a time when kings and nations forsake their idolatry and serve Jesus Christ alone. M'Crie writes: "These promises [Is. 49:23, 60:10, 12, 16] secure unto the church the public countenance of kings and kingdoms as such. Kings shall be her nursing-fathersnations and kingdoms shall serve her. The authority and means competent unto them as such shall be employed on the side of the church, and for the advancement of the true religion; whereas they had formerly been employed against her, and for the support of a false religion. To limit the sense of the words to that common protection which is given to all subjects, and to any society, is to explain away the promises of God....It is equally unreasonable to confine the meaning to the private or personal conduct of rulers, and of their subjects. This would never suggest itself to any who, in reading the passage, had not formed the notion that the church cannot be benefitted by civil power. It offers violence to the plain meaning of the words. It does not accord with the context, which speaks of the public state of the church, and those means which tend to advance its interests in this view." (3) This passage clearly teaches that a time will come when biblical Christianity will be the established religion of nations. Kings will suppress idolatry and support Christianity. These promises cannot be squeezed into the pluralistic paradigm.

There are many prophetic passages which teach the establishment of Christianity among the nations. Psalm 72:11-12 says that "all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him." In Isaiah 56:6 we are told that the Gentiles will keep the Sabbath. Isaiah says that Gentiles will embrace the Gospel. "Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (Isa. 60:3). Kings shall minister to the church (v. 10) and the wealth of the Gentiles will flow into it (v. 11). Young writes: "Some have applied the fulfillment of the prophecy to the work of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes Longimanus, but their actions were only a prelude to the real fulfillment in Jesus Christ and the preaching of the Gospel unto the Gentiles (cf. Ac. 15:15ff., where the rebuilding of David's booth is equated with the outcalling of the Gentiles). The prophecy is not speaking of the literal rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls, but of the building up of God's kingdom through the inclusion of Gentiles therein. Calvin well remarks that when kings serve Zion they do not lose their status as kings, but on the contrary are then enabled to carry out their proper function so as to glorify God and to manifest righteousness in their reigns. Happy is that nation whose ruler looks not to man for the solution of his problems but walks in the light of the Lord." (4) The Bible says that "the nation which will not serve you shall perish and those nations shall be utterly ruined" (Isa. 60:12). The church "shall drink the milk of the Gentiles, and shall milk the breast of kings" (v. 16). John Owen writes: "Kingdoms are said to serve the church: and how can a kingdom, as a kingdom, serve the church, but as putting forth its power and strength in her behalf? What God hath promised, kings, magistrates, rulers, nations shall do, that is their duty to do." (5) This (as noted above) does not mean a form of Christian socialism or welfare statism but that the state strictly follows the principles enunciated in both tables of the law and the moral case laws. Right after it says that the church will milk the breast of kings it says, "I will make your officers peace, and your magistrates righteousness. Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction in your borders" (Isa. 60:17-18).

In Psalm 2 the resurrected Christ is promised dominion over the nations. Kings and judges are to be instructed by Christ; they are to "serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling" (Ps. 2:11). If kings, civil magistrates and judges are to sit humbly at the feet of Christ and learn His laws, serve Him with fear and rejoice at His majesty; can one then conclude that serving Christ involves upholding arbitrary humanistic law? Does fearing the Lord involve permitting the open practice of idolatry and blasphemy? Do civil magistrates and judges tremble before the Son by allowing the open practice of homosexuality? "We cannot escape the clear biblical truth that each and every earthly ruler stands under the divinely established moral obligation to 'serve Jehovah with fear [and] kiss the Son' (vv. 11-12). Serving the Lord with fear unquestionably means obeying His commandments (cf. Josh. 22:5; Ps. 119:124-126; Dt. 10:12-13). Doing homage to "the Son" in the form of a kiss was an ancient ritual by which the authority of a leader was acknowledged (e.g., 1 Sam. 10:1)." (6) The idea common even in Reformed circles that the civil magistrate is only obligated to uphold the second table while ignoring the first is totally contradicted by Scripture. Magistrates do not honor the Son by committing or permitting polytheism.

The biblical teaching regarding the civil magistrate, the duty of nations and the goal of the Great Commission can only lead to one conclusion. All nations have a moral duty to obey the first commandment by bowing the knee to Jesus Christ, by legally recognizing, favoring and supporting biblical Christianity and by suppressing the open practice and propagation of the false religions, cults, and philosophies. Christians must reject the myth of neutrality that is foundational to their acceptance of polytheism. Believers in America must reject that part of the United States Constitution that mentions no final authority except the people. America like all nations is obligated to "kiss the Son." "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Pr. 14:34).


     [1] P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), p. 261. Another passage which reveals God's attitude toward pagan religions is Deuteronomy 20:17-18: "But you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God."

     [2] A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), p. 694.

     [3] Thomas M'Crie, Statement of the Difference Between the Profession of the Reformed Church of Scotland, as Adopted by Seceders, and the Profession Contained in the New Testimony and Other Acts, Lately Adopted by the General Associate Synod, etc. (Edinburgh: C. F. Lyon, 1871), pp. 137-138.

     [4] E. J. Young, Isaiah, Vol. 3, p. 450.

     [5] John Owen quoted in Thomas M'Crie, p. 139.

     [6] Greg Bahnsen, in Gary Scott Smith ed., God and Politics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1989), p. 30.


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