December 1, 2015

Wisdom and Government Part 3

Wisdom in all spheres of government – civil, self, family, church and vocation – is to recognize and live in light of the reign of Christ over all things.

Regenerate Consciousness and the Christian Office

We are patently facing a situation today in which our lands and leaders have forgotten the law, and are praising the wicked (Prov. 28:4). Government in Scripture and Christian history is not simply the state (civil government); it includes self-government, the family, the church, our vocations and associations, guilds, as well as the civil government, which in Scripture is meant to be a ministry of justice. All are either worked out in terms of the principles of wisdom or will be dominated by folly. How then do the wise engage with a world system dominated by foolishness?

The first thing we must do is recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord over all government, all authority and all power. As Abraham Kuyper famously put it, “There is not one square inch in the entire universe, of which Christ cannot say, ‘This is mine.’”[1] This means there is an antithesis between wisdom and folly – wisdom recognises Christ’s identity and lives in terms of it; folly rejects Christ’s office and lives the pragmatic life. The regenerate believer with a Christ-centered consciousness and the unregenerate rebel may well be able to work together digging wells in Nigeria but their ultimate ends, aims, motives and cause are altogether different, so that although God takes delight in all the work of his hands, the unrepentant does nothing that is finally morally pleasing to God:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:5-8).

That is not to say that the non-regenerate rebel can never exhibit a wise decision or manifest a virtue, for God’s goodness and providence within creation and his work within history to bring all things to his desired end means that man finally is not autonomous, for, “the Lord has prepared everything for His purpose – even the wicked for the day of disaster” (Prov. 16:4).

What then is the basis of our engagement with culture, with leaders and with government? Some have suggested that the basis for our participation with culture is our shared humanity with the rest of the world and a “common grace” that means we have shared objectives. The difficulty with this is first that the Bible never speaks of grace but rather, goodness, patience, or forbearance with respect to creation and humanity in a general sense. John Frame notes:

Scripture never uses chen or charis to refer to his blessings on creation generally or on non-elect humanity. So, it would perhaps be better to speak on God’s common goodness or common love, rather than his common grace.[2]

In Scripture, grace is covenantal, and so the non-believer outside of the covenant is not a recipient of grace proper. What is common to man is not grace but a common curse. To base our engagement with culture on the idea of common grace presumes that the cultural task is something that begins after the Fall, is something that sinful man does, and that Christians have the privilege of participating in with them, so long as it is not specifically sinful.

But that is not what Scripture tells us. Rather we are told that Adam is given a cultural mandate (Gen. 1:26-28), and it is on this basis that we develop the cultural task and subdue creation – bringing order out of disorder. A life of wise engagement with culture is not one that develops out of a natural association with fallen man, but rather is the product of God’s command to go and bring God’s order out of sin’s disordering of creation.

Culture, then, is not the residual of the Fall simply permitted by God (that is not primarily the Christian’s calling), originating in the lives of unregenerate people. This would leave us with an impoverished view of culture-building where, as Klaas Schilder puts it, “there is no higher task for the Christian than timidly to eat under the table, the crumbs which fall from the table of unbelieving culture builders.”[3] In fact, fallen man in one sense, due to his rebellion, seeks to bring disorder to God’s order. In that sense his work is that of ‘un-culture.’ The Bible uses the term ‘world-system’ (John 14:30), not culture, for fallen man’s approach to culture-building, for his system is one grounded in folly, not God’s wisdom. In that system the Christian does not ‘participate’ in the moral sense, but rather ‘ministers’ (John 17:18-19) for we are in the world but not of it.

Culture is therefore a ‘mixed bag’ because it manifests both Christian and non-Christian influence. As a result, we do not beg for a ‘place at the table’ but rather seek to wisely and faithfully work and witness to the truth that Christ is head of all rule and authority (Col. 2:9-10) – it is God’s table.

After the Fall, the first couple were re-commissioned with the cultural mandate. All men failed in that task, including Israel, until the coming of Christ, the second Adam – the head of all rule and authority. In him, the office bearer of prophet, priest and king, we are restored to God’s image and are called to rule with Christ in creation – turning creation into God-glorifying culture. Here culture is not a neutral activity born out of a post-Fall world, it is rather that product of a living faith in God, which does not bypass the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

Our governments and culture manifest the spiritual shortfall which makes fallen man unable to fulfill his cultural responsibilities adequately – he needs a regenerated mind and heart. Without this vital change we remain cultural pigmies.

In short, we are called to be salt and light. We ‘engage’ the culture in terms of obedience to God’s command and we do so with wisdom, virtue and in Christ-like boldness and humility. God’s patience with sinful man enables us to see the antithesis of wisdom and folly, yet at the same time motivates us to work with non-believers in the historical development of civilization, whilst maintaining our cultural work in terms of the commands of Scripture – trusting God for his kingdom to come.

Adam was given an office as God’s co-worker which was to govern his actions and relationships. He was to dress the garden and turn creation into a culture by godly government and rule. Christ as the divine office-holder fulfills that which our first parents failed to do and calls us to represent his interests in the earth. Renewed by the Holy Spirit we are soldiers of culture, working in terms of God’s commandment and promise of renewal in all creation. Walking in wisdom and engaging culture, working with government and rulers is our act of worship, the end of which is the glory of God.


Wisdom and Government Part 1 | Wisdom and Government Part 2


[1] Abraham Kuyper, cited in The Road from Eden: Studies in Christianity and Culture (Bethesda: Academica Press, 2008), 447.

[2] John Frame, cited in John Barber, The Road from Eden: Studies in Christianity and Culture,  460.

[3] Klaas Schilder, Christ and Culture, trans. G. van Rongen and W. Helder (Winnipeg: Premier, 1977), 7.

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