I’m a Christian, and I base my beliefs solely on my understanding of the teachings I find in the Bible. I try to steer clear of extra-biblical doctrines and traditions. The Apostles’ Creed is a brief summary of my core beliefs, and I see myself in fellowship with any baptized follower of Jesus who can say, “Amen,” to that statement of faith. This post is about an extra-biblical doctrine that has led to a heresy which has had unfortunate consequences in America. That doctrine is an eschatological view called Postmillennialism. The heresy is a belief that ties the Church too closely to the State.
Postmillennialism holds that eventually the vast majority of people living will be saved through evangelism and that the success of the gospel will produce a time in history when faith, righteous, and peace will prevail on Earth. After the Church has cleaned up Humanity’s act, Jesus will then return to a world fit to be ruled by Him. Postmillennialism was a dominate belief among various reform movements that did much good during the 19th Century, abolitionism, for example. On the other hand, it was also behind movements such a prohibitionism. Jesus told us that we will know people doing His work by the fruit of their labor. Given the enabling of criminal networks that resulted as unintended (I hope) consequences of the Eighteenth Amendment and the War on Drugs, I feel safe in suggesting that it may not have been God’s hand behind those uses of the State’s power.
My point doesn’t rely on whether Postmillennialism is a correct interpretation of Revelation 20. It may be, but I don’t think so. The problem is rather that too many of its adherents have become willing to use the power of the State to affect change in areas that are not the State’s business. The Bible is clear that God empowers the State to maintain order in secular affairs, and even the most corrupt modern governments do that to some extent. The Soviet Union, for instance, maintained a civil police force and courts to apprehend and punish thieves and other common criminals. However, it is the Church that is empowered to call men and women into relationship with God and to nourish God’s people spiritually. While the State may have a reasonable concern with behavior that affects public order, such as theft, it’s the Church that should deal with the moral and spiritual aspects of our behavior. We’re supposed to remember that some things are Caesar’s, and some thing’s aren’t—they’re God’s alone.
My reading of Daniel and Revelation lead me to believe that the State exists to maintain the secular order, but it isn’t always trustworthy. Indeed, it is often led by evil people.
If Postmillennialism is correct, we Christians should be evangelizing our neighbors and nurturing one another in order to bring about that world of righteousness. We don’t need to worry about the State because it will follow as a matter of course. However, if Postmillennialism is wrong, then we still need to be evangelizing our neighbors and nurturing each other, but perhaps in opposition to the State. In either case, the State is not the Church. It’s a part of the fallen world that God is in the process of redeeming through the work of Christ in His Church.
I’m seeing too many of my fellow Christians engaging in a circular firing squad over politics. May I suggest that probably isn’t what God is calling us to do as part the work of the Church?
Because we are called to be a light to the world, I believe Christians have a place in politics, if for no other reason than to encourage the State to do good rather than evil. However, we shouldn’t conflate our understanding of good politics with the Gospel. There are fellow Christians who I admire and respect who I believe are mistaken in their politics. We can agree on Who is ultimately in charge without supporting the same candidate for President. We can agree on the truth of the Gospel without drawing the same conclusions about public policy. We can love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and still have honest disagreements.
We need to focus on what’s really important. As the song says, “And they’ll know that we are Christians by our love.”