In response to the Kingdom of Heaven Post a friend asked if those in the name of Islam and Christianity were both just power hungry to build states and grab wealth. Probably a little of both…but the question about the two religions and their relationship to state building is an interesting one. Islam is by nature a state building faith – in its inception, Islam establishes the law for the land for the areas which it rules. So religious expansion and geopolitical expansion were one in the same for early Islam. The question is still valid for Islam today as some are attempting democracies Christianity by nature is not a state building religions, but Christians can be involved in the affairs of the state. Thomas Aquinas, a medieval Christian (he’s not right on everything, but one of the greatest thinkers in church history. One of our finest minds) talked about the relation between Eternal Law, Natural Law, Divine Law, Human Law, and the Law of Sin. The following would be helpful in thinking about the role of the Christian Faith in relationship to “political states.”
- Eternal law are the principles by which God created and governs the universe. Protestants call this the “decrees of God” – it is the counsel of his own will (Eph 1:11), which we know little of. God makes his own choices freely based upon his own reasons. We know of the Decrees only as he revealed – other parts we know nothing of (Duet 29:29).
- Natural law is the law “written on the heart” (Rom 2:13) – the conscience by which people know Good and Evil – right from wrong. Sin mars this faculty in man, but it remains none the less. These are things that people “Can’t Not Know” – ie that Murder is wrong, it flows from the moral nature of God and presses upon people. People suppress this and hold it down in wickedness, many becoming callous as to be seared against God’s witness in conscience. See Romans 1,2. This is shared by both regenerate and unregenerate – though our Reformed brothers (and I am very reformed) some times do not like saying that non-Christians know right and wrong. Thomists think Natural law is evident to right reason, reformed scholars say that the noetic effects of sin blur, mar, even destroy this capacity in people. Though some make room for “common grace insights” ie that murder is wrong. CS Lewis was big on natural law as well.
- Divine Law – the reflection of God’s Eternal Decrees revealed in God’s Word which directs us towards faith in Christ as the way of forgiveness, reconciliation, with God. \
- Human Law – Law of Nations/Civil Law – the applications of Natural law to specific times, places, and issues a society faces (ie for us – laws on cloning, outlawing slavery, rights to vote, speed limits etc.) Law of Nations would be a derivation from a basic moral principle – “doing no harm to your neighbor” and making a deduction that “you should not shoot him with a gun” and punishing those who do. Civil law would be something for the common good but could have one or more solutions (which side of the road to drive on so people do not crash into each other) Human law is for believers and unbelievers – it should be derived for the common good. God’s word (Divine law) should not be forced upon unbelievers, but Human law should not violate divine law either (hence the dotted line in the diagram). For Aquinas if Human law violates natural law (it is immoral) or Divine law, it is not a valid law but an act of violence against God and man.
- Law of Sin – the consequence of sin and rebellion against God. This affects us and puts us in bondage as we are distorted and corrupt in our very nature (Fallen) – Reformed thinkers and Thomists disagree as to the extent of the affect of sin on the mind – is the mind or the will fallen and to what extent is the issue. Thomists seemed to say that the mind was able to function though at odds with our feelings, affections, desires – hence man is at odds with himself due to his separation from God. Reformed thinkers tend to further stress the noetic affects of sin (the mind fallen as well). The diagram and thought follows very closely a discussion in J. Budzizewski’s Written on the Heart, The Case for Natural Law – 60-63.
Most believers, and certainly those in the American Civil tradition hold that Natural law (ie self-evident truths of moral reason) should provide the basis for Civil law. In the past our laws were written based on Natural law and not contradicting Scripture – though today, that sort of reasoning is not widespread with other ideologies and political philosophies (utilitarianism) hold many thinkers in tow. So Christians should form “just states” and societies for the good of all, so that the Gospel, the Word of God is free to go forth to convert sinners and then those converts should then “Obey Government” (Rom 13) – unless it does violence to conscience commanding us to violate Divine Law…Christians should not seek to conquer their neighbors but do have the right to wage just war in defense.
Now the question arises…Were the “Crusades Just?” – That is a complex question – the initial response of Europe was very well a just defense against an aggressive invader. It seems to me like much of the activity of European knights certainly not, but I am no expert on the precise history…just the major facts. Now, to the Medieval Crusader States. The Kings of that era were interested in the faith but also very much interested in power and wealth. In fact, much that did violence to “law” was done in the name of God by rulers of Christian provinces. When a Christian murders and conquers the innocent in the name of Christ he is clearly in the wrong. There was much excess on both sides during this period of history and the results still carry into our day.