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Trust Not in Princes

August 24, 2018 One Comment

By: John Hellwege

The situation looks bad for traditional, conservative Christians. The prestige of the Christian Church has been steadily undermined. Social views of morality have changed, with pornography, prostitution, and homosexuality becoming common and even publically celebrated. On top of this, there are economic challenges, and even a country that seems to be losing its identity. Into this mix comes a political party that promises to restore the economy, dignity, and morality of the nation. The party officially endorses a non-sectarian “positive Christianity.” This sounds very good and many church members and pastors vote to give this party the largest share of the government. Almost immediately, this party makes good on its promises. The economy turns around, patriotism and dignity are restored, and morality and the family are praised. Things are starting to look up.

Does this situation sound familiar at all? What was just described did not take place in Canada or even North America. It wasn’t even the 21st century. It was the 20th century, the place was Germany, and the party was the National Socialist Worker’s Party. Yes, the situation described above was that which raised Hitler to power.

In a tragic form of irony, many Lutheran pastors, such as Martin Niemöller, voted for the Nazi party, only to later be imprisoned by that same party once in power. What happened? How could Christians do such a thing? How could a historically Christian nation, and even Christian leaders, support Adolf Hitler?

It is all too easy for us to sit here in Canada and take pride that we didn’t fall for a Hitler, but rather fought him. But there is a danger in looking at other countries and focusing on “their” problems, as if we too did not face similar temptations, albeit in different forms.

Even now, it seems there are many things over which Christians in Canada can wring their hands in worry. Consider the situation described at the beginning of this article: how much of it sounds eerily familiar to our own times?

It is all too easy for us to sit here in Canada and take pride that we didn’t fall for a Hitler, but rather fought him.

Consider the well reported case of Trinity Western University and their attempt to establish a law school. This proposed school was denied accreditation by the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario due to the university’s code of conduct which prohibits sexual relations outside of traditional, heterosexual marriage. By now everyone knows about the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision that the rights of potential LGBT students trump the religious rights claimed by the university (see article). Likewise, in Alberta there is a legal battle taking place over a provincial law mandating gay-straight alliances at all schools, including Christian ones. One could easily list many more examples.

What are we to make of these things?

We are living in a world today that scholars have defined as “post-Constantinian.” This is a shorthand way of saying that, ever since the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine, Christianity and Christian institutions have had a somewhat privileged position in Western society, but that this “Constantinian” privilege is now over. That leaves us in a curious position in Canada: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms begins by stating this country is “founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law,” yet it seems that the very idea of the supremacy of God is being attacked and at times expunged from our legal framework.

Because so many of these battles are being waged in the realm of politics, it has sometimes been suggested that a political solution is necessary. While this seems largely true, we also need a word of caution.

Christians and the State

In Article 16 of the Augsburg Confession, we are reminded that “Christians may without sin exercise political authority; be princes and judges; pass sentences and administer justice according to imperial and existing laws; punish evildoers with the sword; wage just wars; serve as soldiers…” Lutherans confess that it is good and right that Christians serve in governmental offices.

Furthermore, in Romans 13 we are told: “You also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.” In a parliamentary democracy, such as Canada, this means not only paying taxes, but also other aspects of representative government: making an informed vote, for example, and other forms of participation that are expected of all citizens. After all, how can our Ministers of Parliament, as well as others, represent their constituents if their constituents do not give them guidance?

Therefore, it is not right for us, as Christians, to hide away in our own little communities and ignore the outside world. We need to be active and involved in the greater political world.

We must keep in mind that God works in this world through two different realms of authority. These are traditionally called the Kingdom of the Right-Hand and the Kingdom of the Left-Hand. The Kingdom of God’s Right-Hand is the Church. Here God comes to us and rules through His grace and mercy. God has established the Church as His means of bringing forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life to humanity.

Psalm 146:3 cautions us: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”

However, God also rules over the world through governments and authorities. In this Left-Hand Kingdom, God is the ultimate King over all creation, including all rulers and authorities. In this Kingdom, God works for our good by rewarding those who do good and punishing evildoers in this life (Romans 13:1-4).

In this Left-Hand Kingdom, God grants authority to our earthly rulers to protect us in this life. Because of the importance of this charge, it is vital that Christians be willing to be engaged, not for our own good, but for the good of our neighbors. God calls us all to work for the good of those around us, including through political means.

However, our engagement in the political realm also comes with a warning. Psalm 146:3 cautions us: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” We need to remember that whenever we turn to political means, we are turning to sinful human beings. Everyone must make their decisions in regards to elections with caution and prayer. We must be wary not to put too much hope and trust in fallen people.

Here is where our great danger lies. It is easy for everyone, Christians included, to fall into the trap of thinking that if we can only get the right people or party into power, then all will be well. But when we act in this way, then we are no longer trusting in God—we are trusting in fallen sinners. If we hand too much power to sinners, we can end up with tragic problems, such as befell Germany under Hitler. But even to a lesser extent, we need to be vigilant. Yes, we should work to put the best individuals into power, but we also need to make sure that our trust is not in people, but in God. Likewise, we must pray for our leaders, even those we do not like—and especially for those with whom we do not agree.

Rev. Dr. John Hellwege is Assistant Professor of Theology at Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Edmonton.

One Comment »

  • Canadian Lutheran: Trust Not in Princes – ANO / Lutheran Watch said:

    […] like we have today. On Aug 3, 2018 the Canadian Lutheran posted an excellent article titled “Trust Not In Princes” where Rev Dr John Hellwege discussed the differences between the two kingdoms, makes a case […]