Systematic Political Science


Protestant Political Thought: A Summary

Dallas F. Bell, Jr.

A complete study of religions and politics involves all theologies, among which the Protestant branch of Christianity is prominent. Religious followers of Jesus began to be called Christians in 37 A.D. about seven years after the historian Josephus recorded Christ's crucifixion. They believed that Jesus was the Christ prophesied in the Old Testament of the Bible. The Bible describes God as the first cause in the effect of all things that exist or have ever existed. The Creator God is logically believed to be infinite and therefore to have the characteristics of immutability, inerrancy, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Additionally, the Creator God has the essence of being, which includes love and justice. That divine being created with purpose and beauty. Christians conclude that finite man has a purpose: to have an acceptable relationship with the creator God. 

Protestants believe that to know what is acceptable by an infinite God requires revelation. That revelation comes either from direct communication from God or by general communication, such as in biblical scriptures. The Scriptures describe a new covenant made by God with man in the New Testament of the Bible. The New Covenant indicates that Jesus is the only sacrificial lamb to atone for man's failure to obey God's law. The chief principle is that grace extended from God to man is the only way to acceptance. This means that the finite ability of mankind is inadequate for acceptance and is an attribute unique to Christianity. 

A period called the Dark Ages began circa 476 A.D. It was signified by an acceptance in most cultures that the social class of one's birth should be accepted religiously. Those born into poor circumstances would only aspire to be workers; those born into privilege would rightly be served by the worker class. That feudalist system had grown to prevalence in Christianity. Christian scholars such as John Wycliffe (c. 1320--1384) began to oppose the elitism of the church leadership in England.  The church was greatly influenced by the Augustinian teaching that only the chosen few in church leadership could interpret the Bible. Church leaders also believed that their individual revelation was superior to biblical scripture. They had joined other world religions in espousing that a relationship with God could be attained by the finite ability of humans. Martin Luther (1483--1546) began publicly to debate the German church about the merits of those theological points. 

Martin Luther's protestations garnered for reformers the label "Protestants." John Calvin (1509--1564) was also a leader in this movement to reform the Christian church to its former principles.  That reformation period is symbolized by the motto on the reformation monument in Geneva, Switzerland: post tenebras lux (Latin, "after darkness light"). The European church began legally to prosecute dissenters such as John Bunyan (1628--1688) for esteeming biblical authority over church authority. This led Puritans in the 1600s to emigrate from Europe to settle in America. Scholars such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Robert W. Fogel and Brown University professor William G. McLaughlin called this a Great Awakening. 

The second Great Awakening was in America and headed by Jonathan Edwards (1703--1758). This movement led to the successful American War for Independence from England and adoption of the United States Constitution. That U.S. covenant between the people and their government and other founding documents used biblical authority to infer Divine human rights and proclaim that all mankind had been created equal. It took a third awakening in the 1800s to abolish U.S. slavery. A fourth awakening in the early 1900s oversaw U.S. voting rights for women. In the late 1900s a fifth U.S. awakening involved what was known as the "moral majority." That movement supported a pro-Israel foreign policy and domestically sought tax reform from oppressive tax rates, increased national security measures, and pro-family and pro-life legislation. Each Protestant awakening had a different emphasis, each of which led to social reform(s). 

Protestant political thought in the twenty-first century is experiencing a return to pre-Reformation values within the ranks of prominent church denominations (i.e., Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.). These groups deny sole biblical authority, and many of them support political movements that are contrary to biblical law. Protestant political thought, however, is still identified with fundamentalist Bible believers. Their goals are to conform individual and government behavior to biblical teachings of laws such as those forbidding stealing and killing. Their greatest laws are to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind and to love their neighbor as themselves. Since they believe that such natural law is commanded by God, it is also immutable and inerrant. That belief provides the authority and standard for their decision making toward what is considered good and what is considered evil in all aspects of life, politically and otherwise. 

Philosophically, law must be either illusory, self-created, self-existent, or created. Violations of natural law result in consequences and cannot be illusory. Laws are rules or effects from a cause and cannot be self-created. Likewise, since laws are effects that must have a cause, they are prevented from being self-existent. The cause of the effects of law has harmony and therefore has purpose. Purpose emanates from the design of intellect. Intellect comes from being. That being must transcend its creation because if there was a time when nothing existed, and now something exists, that something would have had to pre-exist itself to have created itself from nothing. That Creator Being is universally called God. 

Dostoevsky (1821--1881) recognized that an ethical structure is necessary for societal interaction to accommodate justice for judgments and punishments. Law then needs to define behavior such as murder and declare its punishment. It must be either theist and comply with the God of the First Cause, and provide immutable standards of justice, or nihilist, which does not provide immutable standards and provides hopelessness as seen in the twentieth-century nation-state examples of Stalin's Russia, Mao's China, and Pol Pot's Vietnam. The ancient Hebrew king Solomon said that unjust people are an abomination to the just, and the just are an abomination to the unjust. This is why the good and just who conform to God's law have difficulty coexisting with those who do not conform to God's laws. The Lens Model explains the megachurch phenomenon around the world, especially in the United States, as attributed to perceived government assaults on biblical beliefs. Such churches rally more than 10,000 people to weekly meetings. It is logical and inevitable that Protestant (Christian) thought will continue to play a vital role in dynamic political systems.

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