Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Wisdom of David Lipscomb

The following quotes derive almost exclusively from David Lipscomb's Civil Government which I have just finished reading for the first time. My general impression at the end was one of encouragement. I was grateful to see that so much of what I have believed and striven to put into practice has been pioneered so clearly before. That is certainly not to say that I buy wholesale into everything Lipscomb says. I am uneasy about the position and power that he gives to Satan, almost as an opposite but analogous authority to Christ. Some of his particular applications of the principle of non-participation (e.g. Christians cannot work for the post office) seem to me to carry things too far. Still, the reasoning and the ethical conclusions of his work in large served to bolster and further refine my own beliefs about non-participation. I particularly appreciated, when compared to the Mennonite Guy Hershberger who I also greatly respect for his views on the subject, Lipscomb's emphasis on the transient nature of human kingdoms when compared to God's kingdom, what is often styled his "apocalypticism." His stress on the fundamentally antagonistic stance of the church to the world as a means of self-defense articulates a sentiment that has been latent in me for some time, but which I have been unable to give adequate expression.

Thus, without further ado, here are what I consider some of the more compelling quotes from David Lipscomb on the question of Christian participation in civil government:

"The chief occupation of human governments from the beginning has been war...All the wars and strifes between tribes, races, nations, from the beginning until now, have been the result of man's effort to govern himself and the world, rather than to submit to the government of God."

"[The principles in the Sermon on the Mount] are diverse from and antagonistic to the principles that have obtained and must ever obtain in all human governments. No human government can possibly be maintained and conducted on these principles laid down for the government of Christ's subjects in his kingdom. The spirit that prompts the practice of the principles is opposed to the spirit needful for the maintenance of human governments. The two spirits cannot dwell in the same heart, nor the same temple, or institution. A man cannot be gentle, forgiving, doing good for evil, turning the other cheek when one is smitten, praying 'for them that despitefully use and persecute' him, and at the same time execute wrath and vengeance on the evil-doer, as the human government is ordained to do, and as it must do to sustain its authority and maintain its existence."

"Every act of alliance with or reliance for aid upon the human government on the part of the church or its members, is spiritual adultery."

"No violence, no sword, no bitterness or wrath can he use. The spread of the peaceful principles of the Savior will draw men out of the kingdoms of earth into the kingdom of God."

"The great weakness of the church today is that the children of God enter into the kingdoms of this world, imbibe the spirit of those kingdoms, bring that spirit into the church of God, defile the church and drive out he spirit of Christ. The spirit of self-aggrandizement, reliance upon human wisdom, human devices, and institutions, ambition for worldly honor and glory, bitterness and wrath are as prevalent in the church as in the world. The spirit of gentleness and meekness under trials, insults and persecutions, is as seldom found in the church as in this world. The reason is that Christians enter the human governments, imbibe their spirit, participate in their works, and bring this spirit into the church of God. The spirit of Christ is driven out of the church and the distinction between the church and the world is destroyed."

"Christ's subjects are in the world but not of it. His kingdom is not of this world; his subjects cannot fight with carnal weapons. Their citizenship is in heaven, the weapons of their warfare are not carnal, but might through God to the pulling down of strongholds. His children are pilgrims and strangers in the earthly kingdoms. They seek a city which hath foundations, whose make and builder is God."

"The effort of man to live without God, and to govern the world, resulted in confusion and strife from the beginning. It brings strife, war and desolation still...All the wars and conflicts of earth, all the desolation, ruin and blood-shed, between separated nations, or distinct peoples, are the fruits of human government. The government of God breaks down divisions among those who accept it, and brings peace and complete union to all who submit to his rule. Whatever tends to wean men from this government of God, and to substitute other governments for it, brings confusion and strife."

"The spirit of the Church of Christ and the spirit of civil government are different. The one is a spirit of force, as all history attests, that no civil government ever did arise except by force, violence, and the destruction of life. So they must maintain that existence by force. We suppose the future, with but slight variations, will repeat the history of the past. But Christianity permits not its subjects to use force or do violence, even in defence of its own existence; its guiding spirit is one of love, peace on earth and good will toward man."

"No church ever thought of force to repress error, or to uphold truth until it had first imbibed the spirit of the civil power. The civil power is founded on force, lives by it and it is its only weapon of offence or defence. Christians enter civil government, drink into its spirit, and carry that spirit with them into the church. All force in religious affairs is persecution. This spirit of force is antagonistic to the spirit of Christ. They cannot harmonize. They cannot dwell in the same bosom."

"The religious element in man is the permanent uncompromising enduring element of his nature. And the very qualities that make him a cruel and unrelenting despot with carnal weapons in his hand, make him the self-sacrificing, devoted servant of God, willing to endure all things to save his enemies when clothed with spiritual weapons."

"The consecration of all the powers of mind, body and soul, to the service of God on the part of every man, woman and child, was the rule of the church."

"And it may be set down as a truth that all reformations that propose to stop short of a full surrender of the soul, mind, and body up to God, are of the devil."

"To the claim that a Christian is bound to vote, when he has the privilege, for that which promotes morality, and to fail to vote for the restriction and suppression of evil is to vote for it, we have determined that, to vote or use the civil power is to use force and carnal weapons. Christians cannot use these. To do so is to do evil that good may come. This is specially forbidden to Christians. To do so is to fight God's battles with the weapons of the evil one. To do so is to distrust God. The effective way for Christians to promote morality in a community, is, to stand aloof from the political strifes and conflicts, and maintain a pure and true faith in God, which is the only basis of true morality, and is as a leaven in society, to keep alive an active sense of right. To go into political strife is to admit the leaven of evil into the church."

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