Gun control is a gospel issue, or so the PCUSA thinks

28 Jan

Theologian Richard Mouw once believed that the Christian church must openly and officially advocate for public policies that promote a just society.  Standing against him was another theologian, Carl F. Henry, who argued that while Christians and the Christian church should speak out against egregiously unjust laws, it shouldn’t advocate or push for the adoption of specific laws or programs.  The latter approach would unbiblically bind the conscious of Christians, disrespecting their Christian liberty on matters that are not clearly addressed in scripture, introduce new elements to the gospel that are not central to it, and confuse the business of the church with the business of the state.  Simply put, for Henry, the church may officially say “No” to really unjust and inhumane laws, but it mustn’t say “Yes” to any policy proposals.  Richard Mouw eventually agreed that Carl Henry had been right.

Just as a preface, let the Apostle Paul remind us what the gospel is:

 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

(1 Corinthians 15:1-8 ESV)

The social gospel movement, perhaps most directly fathered by Walter Rauschenbusch (d. 1918), wants to replace the gospel of Jesus Christ with its own political agenda.  It seeks to replace man’s basic problem (sin) and ultimate need (savior) with something else, namely the problems of poverty and oppression with the savior of social programs and charity.  Essentially, man’s basic need is physical, not spiritual.  Evangelicals rightly criticize that misplacement of priorities as unbiblical.  It is quite simply “another gospel” and must be resisted throughout the church given Galatians 1:8.  Now, evangelicals may not explicitly replace the gospel in this way, but when their churches water it down (all grace and no law), become politically active (on the right side typically), or emphasize biblical ethics, Christian living, and being relevant to everyday life, instead of emphasizing God’s redemptive work, the impact can be about the same.  So, when the PCUSA recently argues that gun control is a gospel issue, self-defeatingly enlisting the support of John Calvin, evangelical churches obsessed with being relevant and drawing crowds might not want to chide them too much… because they are on deck.

From Jeff Gissing:

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a strong history of advocacy in favor of restrictions on gun ownership. The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has raised the profile of gun control and, once more, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has sought to engage it. In 2010 the General Assembly approved the report, “Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call.” Marketed as a new approach to the issue, it purportedly focuses on “preventing illegal guns from getting into the wrong hands.” This is a generous statement.

Its restrictions are broader than advertised. Reasonable Christians may disagree on how to restrict gun violence, which is a worthwhile goal. And since it doesn’t relate to an essential tenet of doctrine, prudence would suggest restraint unless a clear and compelling case can be made. The report fails to do this. What’s more problematic, however, are its theological foundations.

The denomination, we read, is deeply troubled our “a culture of death” and our “tragic devaluing of life.” Interestingly, the church has failed to connect this to abortion. In the case of guns, it seems, the individual is chided for owning something that may only potentially cause harm to another while, in the case of abortion, the right of the individual to do something which can do nothing other than cause the death of another, is lauded.

An Undefined Gospel

“Gun Violence, Gospel Values” roots its purpose in the gospel. Yet never is the word defined. “We need to be willing to ask ourselves,” we are told, “whether we should voluntarily limit our ownership of guns so that we may be more faithful stewards of the gospel?” This is a fair question, but is vapid in the absence of any clear notion of the gospel.

The little we can gather suggests that the gospel is connected to a rejection of idolatry. The Second Amendment, we read, has created an idolatry of guns. Perhaps. What is clear, however, is that the report closely associates the gospel with non-violence. It is a “Reformed theology of…non-violence.” Given recent decisions by the denomination’s refusing to define “essential tenets of the Reformed faith” for those vowing to uphold them, perhaps our priorities are askance. Theology here is clearly subservient to a political agenda. Regardless of our agreement or disagreement with the agenda, this is problematic.

It also rings hollow when the report cites Calvin in arguing for a gun-less society. Calvin does order society along biblical principles. Yet the report quotes him, “…We are required faithfully to do what in us lies to defend the life of our neighbor, to promote whatever tends to his tranquility, to be vigilant in warding off harm, and when danger comes to assist in removing it.” Defense of persons is perhaps first the duty of the civil authority, but it is not exclusively so. Presumably Calvin found it acceptable to defend the life of another by the use of force. The best efforts of the PC(USA) not withstanding, Calvin was no pacifist.

What Calvin was clear on, and yet eludes the writers of this report, is the nature of the gospel. In reading this, one gets the sense that the gospel is a political reality. The Gospel certainly has political ramifications but is not, in itself, a political message or reality.

Read the rest here

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