By In Politics

Should Personal-Faith Interfere with the Public & the Secular?

Recently, a candidate for political office in my home state of Texas said his Christian faith “is personal” and went on to insist “I will not let it interfere with how I govern.” Much has been written about the man, a Ruling Elder in the PCA, and his politics; my goal here isn’t to be yet another voice hitting him over the head. Instead of addressing the particular policy issues at play—which are no doubt important—I want to take a step back and ask whether or not the Christian faith can, in fact, remain wholly private and secluded from one’s politics.

Writing in 1935, Anglican Monk A.G. Hebert insists that the doctrine of the Incarnation precludes any effort to silo off the faith from any area of life, political or otherwise. His book, Liturgy and Society, was in every way ahead of his time, anticipating the sort of work in political theology that was to come thirty years later. In my reckoning, the book deserves a place next to Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism, to overstate the matter only slightly. His argument is worth quoting at length:

“The incarnation of the son of God claims the Kingdom of God over the whole of human life. It is the manifestation of God’s goodness in the flesh; it involves the redemption of the body, and therefore also of the social relations of the life lived in the body, and of the whole social, economic and political structure. God has established His Kingdom, a kingdom not of this world, but very much in this world. It is wrong to assume that the concern of Christianity is only with the religious life of the individual, and the endeavor of a select circle of devout people to live a sanctified life and attain an individual perfection: it is the denial of the Incarnation.

The method of the Incarnation means that the separation of ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ is broken down. Christianity is deeply concerned with the ‘secular’ activities of every kind: not so that the sacred becomes secularized, but so the secular activities are redeemed to God. It is impossible that he who loves not his brother, whom he has seen, should love God whom he has not seen. It is impossible because of the Incarnation; the will of the God whom we worship comes to us through our relations with the common humanity which God has taken on Himself. Insomuch as I have not served and helped one of the least of these, I did it not unto Him.”

To illustrate his point, Hebert points to how the church building relates to other structures in a city:

“In every parish the church building stands as God’s House. It is not that the church building is exclusively God’s House, and that all the other buildings, factories, shops and public-houses in the parish belong to the devil, but that the earth is the Lord’s: by the existence of a house called God’s House, these others are all claimed for Him. So the Lord’s Day at the beginning of each week claims all the other days and their occupations for God’s glory: and times of prayer are set apart, both for the Church service and by individuals for private prayer, not to imply that those times only are given to God, but to claim for Him all the rest of the day.

…The same principle is seen in a hundred other ways. In the Church service we make use of the common things of daily life: we use water in a solemn ritual washing; we use bread and wine, we eat and drink before God; we read aloud, we sing in chorus, we light candles—all these things are done in church in order to signify that the corresponding actions in daily life are redeemed to God. The fact that the Eucharist is the Lord’s Supper makes the family dinner also a holy meal.

In actual fact, we Christians sin against the Gospel of the Incarnation by our slowness to recognize the significance of these things. We are fools and slow of heart to believe: we are even ready to acquiesce to the Church becoming a preserve for the devout instead of being a home for the people.”

Hebert goes on to emphasize the ways in which the “Incarnation principle” should influence our Christian education classes. He says catechists need to go out of their way to connect the gospel with, “the boy’s actual interest, his home, his football club, his work as an assistant at a garage, and showing him how it is just these things that are to be laid on God’s alter and redeemer. We might show him the place of his little daily job within the social structure; how the things that he uses in his daily work, petrol, oil and machinery, are God’s things, used by God’s children; what the Sacrament of Baptism teaches about the people who use them, that they are human beings and not wage-slaves or cogs in an economic machine, that God has a meaning for their lives.”

To be sure, there is a wave of sound literature trying to hammer away at the sacred/secular divide within the church. But the aforementioned statement made by the politician is a fairly typical sentiment among even the most thoughtful Christians in my experience. What’s needed today is exactly that for which Hebert calls: an intentional, concentrated effort by the church to show forth Christ’s grace-filled, chain-breaking rule to every square inch of creation. In short, we need Christians with a faith that can’t help but interfere with every area of life.

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