(Part One here)
(Part Two here)
The Divine Institution of Self
When we *stand before God, believer and non-believer, we will account as to God as an institution, all by ourselves . That is to say, no one will answer for us, we will answer for ourselves. We will not have allies who will account, in part, for our individual decisions. While it is true God will also judge collaborative institutional endeavors such as marriage, family and civil governments, still, even the individual choices in those contexts will suffer a judgment along with their corporate judgment. God will not miss a thing.
(*the Christian, to be judged and rewarded for his/her works on behalf of serving Christ seeing that the believer was justified by believing the gospel, the other, the non-believer, is to be judged according to his rejection of the salvation offered in Christ and own attempt to merit justification which will result in his/her unending sentence in what the Bible describes as a lake of fire. Cor. 5:10, Bema Seat, Rev. 20:11-15, Great White Throne)
The authority structure of self - The self or individual, is his or her own authority structure. Each person has been given rights, duties and privileges by God for a number of things as a unique person and this is true for believers and non-believers. Person-hood is not, by the way, merely an abstract psychological phenomenon but a real institution established by God. As already covered in parts one and two and with specific attention to the Christian, one cannot exercise the office of the believer-priest and exercise their conscience before God, alone, on matters of liberty, if the self and/or person-hood was not a real thing and instituted by God. Its reality is self-evident or prima facie, before we even encounter reinforcement for this truth in the Scriptures.
This is not just true for the believer but for all mankind. The divine institution of self or the individual was created as the basic building block or single atom of society. No person, believer or non-believer, could be responsible to God for his/her choices in life if he/her, the individual, were not a real divine institution.
Through this single building block we derive the next divine institution that is formed when two selves come together as husband and wife which is marriage and which is given to us by God without compromise to certain unalterable rights, duties and privileges of the self (that is, while a new institution is formed, the preceding divine institution of the self for both marriage partners is not dissolved though it does accept the new context of the marriage institution of which they are part which means a willingness via the contractual pledge to cooperate beyond the interests of the divine institution of the self). And from marriage comes family from which we further get communities and agreed upon alliances and social protocols to form a civic government. And all of these are legitimate divine institutions for all mankind. This is precisely how God designed humanity to exist, from individual to national governments.
The Objective of the Left and Right Kingdoms and the Divine Institutions
The ultimate goal of these left kingdom divine institutions, again, is man’s perpetuity. Via left kingdom governments/divine institutions God intends to perpetuate man socially and via the right kingdom or spiritual kingdom, God provides the information of the gospel and subsequent doctrine for spiritual growth which furnishes the means of man’s eternal perpetuity and growth, in Christ. One is for temporal perpetuity and the other for eternal perpetuity, both having in view man’s protection and prosperity.
And with respect to gender and the left kingdom, this is why a man is generally viewed as a protector and provider and a woman a nurturer. It simply is by design by God for man's perpetuity, not as a construct to demean or denigrate or elevate above the other one sex or the other because of their special properties and/or roles. Rather, this points to the genuis and great love of God in his creation design.
This is why governments do not interfere with individual marriages but seek to construct and enforce a civil arrangement which protects social alliances that are formed by mutual contract for the benefit of that society’s members. This is how God designed and instituted man to survive, live and thrive. Civil government was intended as the friend of marriage, not its enemy or disrupting influence.
Finally, this is the reason the church is charged with being the protector and provider of that which spiritually nourishes and guards against error. They are that which God established for those ends and are not, nor should act as, the nemesis of the divine institutions in the left kingdom of the self, marriage, family or civil government.
Self-Defense in the Bible and Suffering for the Cause of Christ
And so I have laid out for you two contexts, the left and right kingdoms. Do you recall, earlier, I emphasized the importance of context when dealing with the issue of the use of weapons for self-defense? There can be no more perilous thing to a Christian than to handle theology without context. And I believe this is precisely the problem.
While I wish I could have made this essay short and sweet, it was necessary to provide a foundation for what I believe will be a difficult to impeach conclusion. And central to this is the difference between the kinds of suffering a person experiences in life, especially the Christian.
The biggest mistake. The most common misconception I see with Christians (I include John Piper, here) is that they believe they are always operating in the context of the right kingdom. While it is true we, believers, are to be filled with God’s Spirit at all times, that does not mean we are, by default, always functioning in the context of the right kingdom.
Left Kingdom Contexts:
Voting - A Christian citizen who goes to vote in a civil election is not engaging in a right kingdom context rather, in a left kingdom context. The person for whom they are voting may be spiritually as dead as driftwood but for whatever reasons, that candidate understands essential divine principles of civil government which maximizes freedom and liberty thus, the Christian votes for that person.
Yes, the Christian is Spirit-filled and yes, the Christian is informed by the wisdom of the Scriptures even on that civil voting matter but no, he is not operating in the right kingdom nor with right kingdom protocols in view but with left kingdom values (which is why a man or woman’s salvation is moot in civil government, it is their view of government policy which maximizes freedom, liberty and justice which matters). And so, when the Christian voter votes, he/she does so as a representative participant in the left kingdom with left kingdom protocols in mind, Biblical though they be. This means he or she is acting in an anthropologically based, not spiritually based, context.
Marriage - When a man and woman marry they are not operating in a spiritual or right kingdom context rather, in a left kingdom one. Understand, marriage is not, I repeat, not a spiritual institution, it is a left kingdom and anthropologically based institution. It is for all humans, saved and unsaved. If it were a spiritual institution, unsaved people could not legitimately be married seeing that they are not alive, spiritually. The Bible, nowhere, teaches this. I digress.
So,when a man and woman marry they do so based on a number of factors, usually personal attraction and compatibility, i.e., human or anthropological properties. They choose to marry as representatives of the divine institution of the self or individual and then, via whatever social ratification has been established by their civil or government authorities (again, left kingdom), they legalize their marriage contract. And the contract, while accepted by God, is still enforced via left kingdom government and terminated upon death hence, marriage is purely left kingdom and anthropologically based, even though it is a reflection of Christ and his bride.
Yes, Christians are to be Spirit-filled and yes, we should marry other believers, but still, just as in the above scenario, when we marry we are operating in the left kingdom, a government of the world which is terminal. No one dies and enters heaven or awaiting judgment as an unredeemed person, still bound by their earthly left kingdom marital contract. That is relegated to human history. The Bible is clear on that which is why, when someone dies, the surviving spouse is freed to marry.
Right Kingdom Context.:
When we share the gospel with others, we are operating in and on behalf of the right kingdom or the spiritual kingdom. We are now no longer representatives of our family, the state or our selves as a citizen of the state which are all anthropological and left kingdom contexts. We are now in a right kingdom context. I do not feel the need to explain this further since it seems indisputable to most.
So with these examples I bring us to the difference between the contexts of suffering for Christ and that of self-defense.
Example 1 - Luke chapter 3 records the ministry of prophet called, John the Baptizer. John rebuked the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders who appealed to calls of repentance with their ancestry to Abraham. He demanded true demonstrations of their repentance, not their offering of a righteous lineage. While this was going on, someone in the crowd asked what they were to do and among those asking John were some soldiers, men of war and those who killed in self-defense, if not for other reasons, but categorically representatives of the left kingdom on a national scale. Here is the text from Luke 3:14 (NASB):
14 Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.”Notice what is glaringly absent in John’s answer that these soldiers demonstrate proof of genuine repentance - a demand or reqrequirement of their abandonment of national defense and/or self-defense. Why? Because it is a valid function of both the state and individual.
This does not mean John condoned any and all campaigns by the state which involved killing but does affirm that the vocation of soldiering was legitimate. Even more interesting is that these were likely Roman soldiers of the Roman Empire.
Example 2 – During the theocracy of Israel, all of its citizens (if we are to accept John Piper’s argument that God's people are representatives of God at all times) were, in fact, the people of God and always representing him. Yet, we find over and over in the theocratic codes, the right to self-defense.
Nehemiah offers a rather poignant illustration of the recognition by God that while we may be his representatives, our context is not always a default, right kingdom one. Nehemiah 4:14 specifically says, "...fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses."
Suffering for the Cause of Christ
Think about the Apostle Paul and his sufferings. What was the context of that suffering? When he spoke of his suffering it was for the cause of Christ or as a representative of the kingdom on the right.
Take as an example his reference in 2 Timothy 4:14 where he mentions a man named Alexander, a Copper-smith, who did Paul great harm. As a representative of Christ, Paul understood he was to endure such suffering as participating in the sufferings of Christ (Romans 8:36, Philippians 1:29) and that Christ would repay him, which is precisely the point and context of the issue at hand.
1 Peter states rather plainly, that “if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed." Peter understands the difference between suffering “as a Christian” or because of their Christian identity as opposed to suffering in an anthropological or left kingdom context such as a little brother being picked on by a big brother where we learn to defend ourselves, which is not the context of a Christian, or suffering as a citizen in a dangerous environment where we must protect our God-given right to live and provide for ourselves and family which is not in the context of a Christian but as a member of the human race and a nation or state, i.e., left kingdom.
Peter is not confused between the two contexts, one is suffering for the cause of Christ, a right kingdom suffering which is ruled and reigned over by Christ. The other is a worldly suffering over which God has given worldly kingdoms and authorities, rule and reign and one of those authorities is the self, which governs and protects the self hence, self-defense.
A few more passages worth referencing which qualify suffering as a representative of Christ:
- 2 Corinthians 12:10
- Matthew 19:29
- Matthew 10:39 (I find this one ironic)
- 1 Peter 3:14
- 2 Corinthians 1:
An interesting scenario occurs in Paul’s life in which he understands the sometimes simultaneous nature of being a representative of both the right and left kingdoms while maintaining the integrity of both contexts and their distinct protocols. I refer, of course, to his appeal to be brought before Caesar in Rome and away from the influence of the Jews to whom the lower court and its magistrate was doing a favor in their desire to abuse and possibly execute Paul for the work of the gospel.
He is shrewd to say the least. He is ready to die for Christ’s sake but uses all valid options available to him to possibly escape such a judgment. He employs the mechanism of his Roman citizenship to secure his removal from this provincial bunch who wish to falsely accuse him and have him sentenced to death.
It is something to think about, even with regard to suffering for Christ. There are times that, while we may not retaliate in self-defense if we are suffering for the cause of Christ, it does not always mean we simply have to stand there and take it. We can run, we can use police protection and so forth.
A blog post on a subject like this is difficult. There is so much neglected groundwork where discussions take place so I determined that if I was going to treat the issue I would address its foundation which I believe is absent in many discussions or simply presumed by those arguing while, in reality, are very different with each person.
I cannot answer for you nor prescribe to you what to do, specifically, in every situation. That would be wrong, dangerous and reckless. But what I must do is provide as broad, but clearly defined, basis for you to formulate a personal theology of self-defense and suffering for Christ as possible so that your decisions are not naïve or simply the result of an admired and respected theological personality who has prescribed to you specific actions which may not be applicable.
Yes, understanding the difference between the right and left kingdoms takes some time and further, learning the contexts of each divine institution with their specific parameters, authority structure (which includes limitations on its reach) and the scope and intent of those divine institutions takes more time along with considerable mental and spiritual energy.
Further, learning to navigate not only between such contexts but being in a number of them, simultaneously, while preserving their integrity and boundaries, does demand the most of us as Christians. And a fully vetted view of these matters will not come in a day, a week or a year, but you will grasp this the more you think about it and apply it and over time come to some lifelong and certain conclusions, bedrock conclusions, for your faith.
So while it may take a great deal of thinking and chewing and testing, I am convinced the result will be gloriously emancipating. Understanding what context you are in and which Scriptures do and do not apply, both when and where, frees you to live in every context to its fullest, whether as an Christian individual, spouse, parent or citizen in the left kingdom, or as a believer in Christ who is exercising his or her priesthood in the right kingdom.
May God add to your enlightenment.