Minister, theologian, speaker, and author John Piper “came out against gay marriage during a sermon Sunday but did not explicitly urge members of his Minneapolis church to vote for the amendment.
Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals and who served as senior pastor of Wooddale Church, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, from 1977 to 2011 “also said this week he does not plan to take a public side on the amendment, which would change the state Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.”
Religious observers say the lack of formal backing from the two influential figures could signal that evangelical leaders in Minnesota are taking a less active role in supporting the amendment — a marked departure from evangelicals in dozens of other states where similar amendments have passed.
“Don’t press the organization of the church or her pastors into political activism,” Piper said during his sermon, posted on Bethlehem Baptist Church’s website. “Expect from your shepherds not that they would rally you behind political candidates or legislative mandates, but they would point you over and over again to God and to his word.”
How did we get like this? There are numerous Christians who believe that a personal, private faith is all the Bible requires. Os Guinness described this as “The Private-Zoo Factor,”1 a religion that is caged so that it loses its wildness. When true Christianity is applied to any part of the world, it blossoms far more fully and colorfully than we ever could have imagined.
Over time, Christianity ceased to be a comprehensive, world-changing religion. “[W]here religion still survives in the modern world, no matter how passionate or ‘committed’ the individual may be, it amounts to little more than a private preference, a spare-time hobby, a leisure pursuit.”2 Theodore Roszak used an apt phrase to describe much of modern-day Christendom: “Socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging.”3 Let’s apply the Piper-Veith methodology to slavery and Nazi Germany. There’s a real-world opportunity to put an end to slavery, avoid a civil war, social disruption, and the deaths of 600,000 Americans, and become a beacon to the world on how to handle a national sin and crime if the pastors stood up in their pulpits and encouraged their people to go to the polls and vote.
A similar scenario confronted the Christian people of Germany before the rise of Adolf Hitler. Richard V. Pierard comments:
In the nineteenth century . . . German Lutherans made a strong bifurcation [separation] between the realm of public and private concerns. . . . Religion was the domain of the inner personal life, while the institutional and external, the public, so to speak, belonged to the worldly power. Redemption was exclusively the province of the church, while the law, determinative for external conduct of human affairs, was solely the province of the state. Religion was a private matter that concerned itself with the personal and moral development of the individual. The external order — nature, scientific knowledge, statecraft — operated on the basis of its own internal logic and discernable laws.4
For decades before the rise of Hitler, Christians were subjected to arguments like the following from pastors and theologians based on a private-public, two-kingdom theory:
- “The Gospel has absolutely nothing to do with outward existence but only with eternal life, not with external orders and institutions which could come in conflict with the secular orders but only with the heart and its relationship with God.”5
- “The Gospel frees us from this world, frees us from all questions of this world, frees us inwardly, also from the questions of public life, also from the social question. Christianity has no answer to these questions.”6
- Once the Christian understands the moral significance of the state, Wilhelm Hermann declared in 1913, “he will consider obedience to the government to be the highest vocation within the state. For the authority of the state on the whole, resting as it does upon authority of the government, is more important than the elimination of any shortcomings which it might have. . . . For the person who is inwardly free, it is more important [that] the state preserve its historical continuity than that he obtain justice for himself.”7
While many Germans might have been opposed to Nazi policies at a personal level, they had been conditioned to believe — because they were Christians living in two kingdoms operating with two sets of standards — that they could not do anything about these rapidly implemented policies at a political level.
The day may come when the State starts attacking you and me. While our churches might speak out against the action of the State, they might not intervene to save us.
- Os Guinness, The Gravedigger File: Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 79. [↩]
- Guinness, The Gravedigger File, 72. [↩]
- Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends (New York: Doubleday, 1973), 449. [↩]
- Richard V. Pierard, “Why Did Protestants Welcome Hitler?,” Fides et Historia, X:2 (Spring 1978), 13. [↩]
- Christian Ernst Luthard (1867). Quoted by Pierard from Karl H. Hertz, Two Kingdoms and One World: A Sourcebook in Christian Ethics (Minneapolis: Augusburg, 1976), 83. [↩]
- Quoted in Hertz, Two Kingdoms and One World: A Sourcebook in Christian Ethics, 87. [↩]
- Quoted in Hertz, Two Kingdoms and One World: A Sourcebook in Christian Ethics, 91. [↩]