The Bible or the Bayonet

In a parable about stewardship in Luke 19, Jesus tells His hearers to “occupy until I come.” The New American Standard translates the verse this way: “Do business until I come.” The verse prior to the parable gives the context: “While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they [His listeners] supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11). Since this parable immediately follows the story of Zaccheus’ conversion, we have no reason to assume that Jesus is speaking to a different audience. In this parable, Jesus actually speaks of three groups of people: (1) faithful and productive stewards, (2) unfaithful and unproductive stewards, and (3) His enemies. The rewards doled out to the first group and the punishment given to the third seem to be fair enough to our 21st century sensibilities, but the parable is really directed at the second group—the most populated of the three—the unfaithful and unproductive stewards.

If we were really honest with ourselves, we would be quick to admit that we do in fact belong to the second group. Each of us have been given talents and abilities that are seldom used to their maximum effectiveness. Far too often, we are more than willing to stand in the shadows and allow our gifts to go unnoticed. And when this happens on an individual level with alarming regularity, we should not be too surprised when it begins to happen to the church as a whole. The Church in America has an astounding physical presence—a church can be found on nearly every corner in every town—yet the shadows loom large enough so that even these buildings can remain hidden to the culture. Rather than being the central point of contact in the community, the church has become just another building on the landscape—visible yet invisible.

As the church has become more and more invisible, the federal government has become more and more visible. This shouldn’t come as a revelation to most readers because as Robert Nisbet has pointed out:

Politics and religion are and will always be adversaries; this, be it noted, by virtue of what they have in common as much as by what separates them… Only in the mass followings of the Caesars and Napoleons of history are we able to find phenomena comparable to the mass followings of Jesus and Mohammed. But what makes them analogous also makes them adverse. When religion is powerful, as it was in the Middle Ages, the political tie is weak, raddled, and confused. But when the political tie becomes powerful, as in the modern totalitarian state, the role of religion is diminished—in large measure as the result of calculated political repression but also as the result of the sheer lure of the political-ideological “church.” [1]

Nisbet echoes another Robert–Robert Winthrop–who 150 years earlier said this:

All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet. It may do for other countries and other governments to talk about the State supporting religion. Here, under our own free institutions, it is Religion which must support the State. [2]

What both Nisbet and Winthrop are saying is that when men are self-ruled under God’s law—that is, when the church is properly doing its job—the civil government is all but unnecessary. But when men are lawless and refuse to be self-governed and demand freedoms that do not rightfully belong to them—that is, when the church isn’t doing its job—they will find a tyrannical dictator for themselves who will promise to give them everything they want. It is this second state, the unhappy one, in which America in the year 2012 finds herself.

Continued here

 Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress (New York: Basic Books, 1980), 356-357.
[2] Robert Charles Winthrop, “Either by the Bible or the Bayonet,” as quoted in William J. Federer, America’s God and Country (St. Louis, MO: Amerisearch, 2000), 701, 702. Emphasis mine.