Pastor John Piper, in a recent statement here, argued the merits of not voting for President Trump as a Christian because President Trump’s behavior is too, shall we say, deplorable. In order for an unsaved person to receive Mr. Piper’s vote, he assumes “there is enough overlap between biblical uprightness and the visible outworking of his character and convictions.” He argues that a leader’s personal sins of vulgarity, boastfulness, factiousness, and prior sexual immorality should be of equal or higher concern to his policies, judicial appointments, and laws, even if they align with conservative Bible principles. He goes so far as to express “bewilderment” and poses a “serious” question:
“I find it bewildering that Christians can be so sure that greater damage will be done by bad judges, bad laws, and bad policies than is being done by the culture-infecting spread of the gangrene of sinful self-exaltation, and boasting, and strife-stirring (eristikos).
How do they know this? Seriously! Where do they get the sure knowledge that judges, laws, and policies are less destructive than boastful factiousness in high places?”
Mr. Piper is questioning how we can be sure that an authority’s positive impact on society through policies, appointments, and executive command is not outweighed by poor personal behavior. Even if their policies on topics like abortion, human trafficking, law and order, and biological creation are well in line with the Bible, which can easily be argued for the policies of the Trump administration, Mr. Piper still argues that their personal behavior can be equally impactful, if not worse, for our neighbors. Allowing another candidate to win who would enable and celebrate evil laws, policies, and appointments is justifiable according to Mr. Piper, because the man with right policies has some bad behavior which our neighbors may see on TV; even when the laws, policies, and appointments directly impact hundreds of millions of our neighbors, from their legal murder to forced acceptance of what God calls evil.
My friends, such words and questions stem from Christian pietism.
As this article on defytyrants.com discusses, Christian pietism plays a very destructive role in a well ordered society because it results in Christians removing themselves from their duties to their neighbors. Christian pietism is a self focused, inward form of Christianity that only focuses on the “personal” relationship with Christ, on interpersonal relationships, and separation of Christ and the Bible from government and institutions, as if Christ Himself has nothing to say about institutional governance. We already see the elements of this prioritization of the self and behavior (the inter-personal) in Mr. Piper’s aforementioned words and questions, and we see plenty more evidence throughout the rest of his article.
The result of a Christian steeped in pietism, whether they realize it or not, is a Christian that knows not his or her own duty to their neighbor as it plays out through the institution of government, authorities, laws, law enforcement, and their own personal responsibility to defend their neighbor. Instead of gaining an understanding of how God’s Word instructs a Christian to oppose a tyrant and defend against anarchy, the Christian pietist thinks he has prepared radical Christians if they’re ready to spread the Gospel in a collapsed society; he thinks simply spreading the Gospel is of far greater tribulation than knowing how to stand on the front lines to build and defend societal systems based on biblical principles. We see this exemplified in Mr. Pipers exact words:
“Imagine that America collapses. First anarchy, then tyranny — from the right or the left. Imagine that religious freedom is gone. What remains for Christians is fines, prison, exile, and martyrdom. Then ask yourself this: Has my preaching been developing real, radical Christians?”
Isn’t it interesting how Mr. Piper is only encouraging pastors to prepare Christians to be radical enough to preach Christ once the chaos has come, instead of how to be so radical as to oppose the onslaught of destruction that comes from anarchy and tyranny? How can we expect any preacher’s teaching to be radical enough to prepare their disciples for martyrdom, prison, fines, and exile in a collapsed society, when under protected freedom we can’t even teach them how to properly defend government and institutions that were literally built on ideals pulled directly from the Bible? Anarchy and tyranny are the result of Christian’s not knowing their duty, standing by repeating “God is in control; we need not act”. Imagine if America maintained that position while Hitler continued the holocaust …
Spreading the Gospel message in a concentration camp is easy; building a country capable of liberating concentration camps is very difficult. Waiting until everything falls down to tell people they need Christ is easy; when life is very difficult and dark, the hope of the Gospel message and the light of a well organized, fruitful Christian community shines brightly. Little structure and organization is needed from institutions of government to spread the Gospel message. By contrast, being the city on a hill that the Church ought to be and building a Godly society takes structures built with the “gold, silver, and precious stones” discussed in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Doing the hard work of building and defending structures of liberty (James 1:25), justice (Leviticus 19:15), and governments that operate as they were instituted to do by God (Romans 13) is very, very difficult. It takes wisdom, understanding, courage, bravery, love, faith, and a willingness to bear arms to defend neighbors.
We see no appeal to these structures and Biblical principles in Mr. Piper’s words; only an elevated focus on the personal behavior of a sinful man, as if better behavior would somehow communicate the words of the Gospel to all who see him. Instead of concern over our duty to our neighbors and how we can be good samaritans through laws, judges, and use of authority, we hear only the merits of considering the eternal consequences of being unsaved and the impact of being unsaved on society.
Authorities “bear the sword” to bring “wrath on the wrongdoer”; the officials we elect and appoint are responsible for the institutions that enact God’s wrath on wrongdoers who have broken the law. Judicial appointments are supposed to uphold the law, though the bad ones unfortunately judge the law itself which we are not to do (James 4:11). The commander and chief, our president, commands our armed forces and government bureaus to be a terror to evil doers, both foreign and domestic. The policies and laws enacted by our elected officials have a far reaching, direct impact on hundreds of millions of our neighbors in America and abroad. The life, death, or judicial ruling on our neighbor comes down directly from the authorities and officials we elect. Only a Christian pietist can bury their head in the sand and ask “how can we be sure that someone’s behavior isn’t more destructive than their policies, appointments, and laws.”
The policies, laws, and appointments of our leaders directly decide the outcome in life for our neighbors every day. Authorities are instituted to be a terror to evil doers; if the authorities are under the command of someone who does not stand for policies, laws, and appointments that uphold righteousness for our neighbors, then evil and corruption ensues on our neighbors. This may occur even though the ruling authority may have the most eloquent speech and demeanor of any statesman. Look into history to see many tyrants who were of the highest class and caliber, only to turn and use the sword of the authorities on citizens. Monarchs, dictators, and aristocrats throughout history, from King James to Hitler and Pol Pot, were great orators, well educated, and “high class” citizens. Yet, they descended into policies of tyranny, persecution, murder, and genocide. The policies, laws, and appointments of a leader stretch far beyond their behavior; their individual behavior saves no one, and desiring that they behave well to disguise the true corruption within has historically proven deadly. Cursing in front of someone while you defend law and order, justice, and liberty is far lesser of a concern than speaking to a crowd eloquently while you round up thousands for gulags and death camps through policy, laws, and appointments. Mr. Piper ought to know this, having acknowledged previously himself that sins have different weights and consequences:
“First, not everybody is hurt in the same way by every sin. In other words, if I shoot Michael dead right now, or if I just spit on him, both are very ugly sins and Jesus calls hatred murder. But he’s not dead if I only spit on him!”
In order to arrive at his conclusion that the personal behavior of a leader can be more destructive than his laws, policies, and appointments, Mr. Piper takes at least 3 sets of Bible verses out of context to justify his position. He uses the death of Herod in Acts 12:20-23, the pride of Moab in Jeremiah 48:29-42, and Jeroboam misleading Israel in 1 Kings 14:16 to argue for his position on a leader’s behavior and influence on his people. Mr. Piper fails to acknowledge that all three of these passages are contextualized by the leaders leading their people into one particular policy: idol worship.
King Herod is killed because he allows his people to worship him as a God (Acts 12:22), Moab led the Moabites in idol worship of Chemosh (Jeremiah 48:7,12) and magnified himself against the Lord (verse 26), and just a few verses earlier in 1 Kings 14, God said of Jeroboam:
“but you have done evil above all who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back.”
So in fact, what we see exemplified quite well in these verses is the deadly reality of how a leader’s policies, laws, and appointments of a false gods over their people results in their destruction by the Lord. Yes, the personal behavior of these kings was worship of these false gods, but it was because they instituted, or did not stop, such worship that they corrupted their nation. God especially abhors the evil and pride of a ruler who will elevate a false god over Him; certainly He abhors crude speech as well, but as aforementioned, these two are of quite different consequence.
Now, let’s consider President Trump again for a moment; not only did he walk across the white house lawn to hold up a Bible after a night of riots in Washington D.C, he also personally humbled his name below that of Jesus Christ here, and celebrated a man’s coming to Christ and the work of Billy Graham here. So, while President Trump may display some undesirable behavioral qualities, he is in fact doing quite the opposite of all of the rulers mentioned in these passages. Instead of pointing to a false god and advocating idol worship, he’s actually pointing to the one true God, Jesus Christ. As Philippians 1:18 teaches, in this we should rejoice. Whether President Trump is pointing to Christ in pretense or in truth, we should rejoice and note the sovereignty of God’s hand at work, much like with king Cyrus in Isaiah 45 and Ezra 1. King Cyrus was chosen by God to favor His people, but God said of him: “I name you, though you do not know me.” Right in the Old Testament we have a king who God ordained to favor His people through laws, policies, appointments, and personal favor, even though that king was still depraved in heart and unsaved; in other words: “I name you, though you do not know me”. Regardless of the king’s personal language and inherently prideful, historically conqueror-esk leadership due to his being unsaved, his policies, laws, and appointments were of great positive impact on the people he ruled.
So too with President Trump, we have a leader who not only favors the liberty, justice, and rule of law that is founded in Biblical understanding, but one who is literally a vocal proponent of the one, true God, Jesus Christ; we have a leader whose policies, laws, and appointments favor the justice, liberty, and rule of law for our neighbors that God favors and commands. Defending our neighbor from temporal evil against them is a command of God, and this is the essence of Christian duty missing from pietism. It is only through a pietistic, self-focused Christianity, lacking in understanding of duty, that we find any excuse as to how the ramifications of unbiblical, social behavior of a leader can take precedence over their policies, laws, and appointments that protect citizens and uphold righteousness.