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.
RIGHTS RESERVED COPYRIGHT © 2007 DALLAS F. BELL, JR.---------------------------