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ASK CHALCEDON ~ Incrementalists vs. Purists

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede,
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Please weigh in on the heated debate between incrementalists and purists concerning the upcoming election.

Martin Selbrede's response*:

Readers of Faith for All of Life [see July/August 2012 edition] may have noticed that I made a passing comment in my recent article, which was a review of Paul C. McGlasson's book NO! A Theological Response to Christian Reconstructionism. My brief comment involved politics. I happened to point out the predilections of certain Reconstructionists politically, and I observed that some purists see the matter differently. Of course, I was really alluding to a wide spectrum of opinion held by those who are theonomists (those who hold to the validity of Old Testament law of God and regard it as perpetually binding). There seem to be very different approaches to the political question and how that plays out.

So you have what are known as incrementalists, those who are willing to take a small amount of progress at a time to push back the darkness, versus those who are not willing to compromise at any step, holding out for the absolute purity of what God requires in a leader. I was respectful to both positions; I acknowledged them both and didn't make a judgment one way or the other as to where I stood on the question, as my opinion was not relevant to my actual topic. Neither is it Chalcedon's business to rule on these matters. I do think we are beholden to the Scriptures in all respects, and so to that end I'd like to make a few comments.

It was common in the early era of American Christianity for election sermons to be preached, and one of the most common texts preached upon was 2 Samuel 23:2-3. It is a very powerful passage, and I'd like you to grasp what it says. These are David's last words, in effect. He said, "The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me:  ‘He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.'"

Now, David knew exactly what "just" meant because he understood that "justice, justice shall thou do" (Deuteronomy 16:20) and that the laws to be followed by kings immediately followed in the 17th chapter of Deuteronomy. Here we have a basic requirement being laid down by God for those who rule over men. Not only are they to rule over men in terms of the law of God, in terms of godly justice: they are also to rule in the fear of God. In other words, fear of men, which is a snare, does not activate or motivate such rulers. Fear of God purifies them and keeps them far above all arrogance and bribery.

Consequently, there are two requirements laid down by this scripture in 2 Samuel 23 for those who rule over men. I do not believe it is possible to evade these at any step in the political process. If God says it's a must, it's a must. So in essence, I do believe that we need to look more closely at, or at least veer toward, the purists' side in terms of what they are trying to seek.

However, here it becomes more interesting, because it is possible for someone to fulfill this requirement of 2 Samuel 23 and yet not pass muster with the purists. For example, we may not be satisfied with that candidate's answer in respect to certain matters of civil magistracy and the function of government, even though he would rule justly and rule in the fear of God (i.e., would apply the law of God insofar as it is revealed to men as to how to apply it).

This is interesting to me because it suggests that theonomists are a little bit behind their game. We Reconstructionists want to talk about the importance of the law of God, but we have precious little experience in bringing the law of God to bear on our society. We need to be workmen approved, not ashamed. Too many knee-jerk reactions and quick off-the-cuff comments seem to be marking our approach. I think the dangerous step is to be expedient in either direction. Note that it was expediency that sent Christ to the cross. "It is expedient for one man to die than the whole nation to perish," as Caiaphas prophesied in the gospel of John.

Far be it from us to follow similar footsteps in our political leanings today. And yet most of us are very willing to throw certain people or groups under the bus for political gain. I'm not sure the Lord is going to honor that. I think each of us must reconsider fully what our mission is as Christians. We do have to answer to God for this verse in 2 Samuel 23 when we stand before Him. I think that should motivate us to the highest standards of argument and not justifications for compromise (or for perfectionism at the other extreme). The truth may lie somewhere in the middle. Neither side wants to hear this. I think we therefore need to be more patient and considerate in our approach to our brothers and sisters in Christ. If justice is required, and we are not using the ballot box as a means to achieve godly justice, where will we stand before God when we've become agents of injustice and expedience toward something less than what God requires?

Does that mean that you might be outvoted 100 to 1? Well, I know of one prophet in Scripture, Micaiah, who was outvoted over 400 to 1. But he was right, and God stood by His word to that prophet. Perhaps if more of us were courageous and not so cowardly or willing to bend to public opinion, or to the opinions of men, and not to follow after multitudes to do potential evil (I'm not saying actual evil, but one must wonder), justice would prevail as Christ "leads justice to victory" (Matt. 12:20). Our propensity to follow crowds and multitudes and movements is not speaking well of us as those who stand upon Christ and His foundation alone. I think we need to reconsider the foundations of our faith and recognize that we are but babes in the woods when it comes to applying this stuff.

Sure, sure, we talk about the great Christians of the 1600s and 1700s in Scotland and America and elsewhere. But do we have what they had? I don't see us generating the kind of output in terms of Biblical commentary and studies that the Puritans did. We still do paperbacks that are relatively quick, easy reads. Maybe when we're in a position to write like John Owen writes, or our pastors reach that caliber, are we then ready to be serious about applying our faith to politics. This does not release us from any obligation to do so today, but I think it compounds the necessity for us to study to show ourselves workmen approved. Unfortunately, too many are workmen ashamed and they don't even know it, which doubles the shame-and the damage to God's Kingdom in the meantime. Therefore, I issue a call to all Christians to examine themselves and to examine the Scriptures and to wonder if they have not taken this matter too lightly. Has all the flurry of political urgency made a shambles of our faith?

Do you have a question for Chalcedon?  Email: [email protected]

[*This essay's original form was an audio recording that took place after I had recorded a regular segment of my Insights with Martin Selbrede. After listening to it, Chalcedon supporter Juan Guajardo transcribed it, Chalcedon's Andrea Schwartz refined it, and I put a few finishing touches on it in order to share with our readership.]

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

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