Editor’s note: This commentary piece is a response to Dave Welch’s “Pastors: Get on the battlefield.”
In his WND commentary piece, Dave Welch begins with a quote from Dr. John MacArthur and then says that MacArthur’s words “cry out for a biblically and historically accurate response.” He might simply have said that MacArthur’s words echo those of Jesus in John 18:36; but, if they cry out for a biblically and historically accurate response, they’re still crying.
Welch declares MacArthur’s position “breathtakingly unscriptural” and says that the “most compelling reason” is that he disagrees with D. James Kennedy’s Cultural Mandate view. One wonders why someone must agree with Kennedy to be scriptural, but, aside from that, let’s look at the verses mentioned by Welch. Genesis 1:26-28 describes God giving dominion over “the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” and then recounts God’s command to Adam and Eve to exercise such dominion.
Welch quotes the verses and then, either cleverly or innocently, continues without pause to quote Kennedy in a way which makes Kennedy’s quote look like part of the scriptural account. The problem, of course, is that Kennedy’s commentary is not part of the biblical record and not on a par with Scripture. This is a theme of Welch’s article: He reads his agenda into verses that do not inherently, and in context, contain that agenda. Genesis 1:26-28 would be more properly titled “The Non-Cultural Mandate,” as “culture” refers to that which is man-made, but these verses give man dominion over what God has made. They say nothing about “neighborhoods, schools, our government” or any of the other cultural arenas mentioned by Kennedy. So, we find that MacArthur is not “breathtakingly unscriptural,” but rather breathtakingly un-Kennedyian. In short, MacArthur is not part of the Dominion Theology school because he takes the Genesis 1 account literally and in context – and for that he is labeled “unscriptural.”
It might be worth noting that MacArthur and Kennedy worked together on at least one high-profile project, produced a series of videotapes together (with R.C. Sproul), and that MacArthur spoke at Kennedy’s church at his invitation. It would seem that Kennedy did not share Welch’s blistering assessment of MacArthur’s lack of fidelity to scripture.
Welch also has a problem with MacArthur’s scriptural assessment of the Declaration of Independence, or, more properly, of rebellion. Welch offers one verse of scripture in support of rebellion, but the citation is incorrect, and it is not at all clear how the substance of the verse supports his position. In John 19:11 (not 29:11), Jesus affirms Pilate’s authority over Him. Welch correctly concludes that this verse is teaching that all authority comes from God. In the very next sentence, however, Welch again reads his agenda into the passage when he says, in America, God delegates authority to the people and that leaders exercise that authority “on our behalf.” Where does the verse say that? Pilate was not elected; he gained his authority by means of military conquest. Welch is trying, like two of his heroes in the previous paragraphs, to make the passage say the opposite of what it actually says. It says rulers get their authority from God – period. It says nothing about their removal or illegitimacy or about the people as a mediator between God and rulers.
In the paragraphs preceding the discussion of John 19:11, Welch taps into the wisdom of Jonathan Mayhew and Samuel West for his support for rebellion – as if, again, their voices were equivalent to scripture, which declares that rebellion is as serious a sin as divination (I Samuel 15:23). Indeed, if He had supported Welch’s agenda and promoted rebellion against a much worse regime than George III’s, Jesus would not have been the innocent, spotless Lamb when he stood before Pilate, and Pilate would have had a legitimate reason to crucify Him (Luke 23:14). There are 131 references to “rebel” or some form of the word in the Bible, and all state or reflect disapproval. Another verse could not be more clear: “he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God” (Romans 13:2).
This brings us back to Mayhew and West because their perverse, but creative, interpretations of Romans 13 removed the biggest stumbling block to popular support for the American revolutionary cause. By reading their agenda into the text, they interpreted the clearly stated “he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God” to mean “we should resist authority.” They interpreted “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” to mean “the authority of the government of Great Britain is not from God.” It is particularly instructive to note that Paul wrote these words to Romans living under Nero. There is a school of theology which teaches that Nero was the Antichrist! A ruler cannot get much worse. If these verses (somehow) had the meaning ascribed by West and Mayhew (and Welch), what meaning did they have for the people to whom they were originally written?
It is also instructive to point out that Mayhew is not exactly the most reliable authority on what the Bible says. His reputation for unorthodoxy was so pronounced that his ordination had to be rescheduled because not enough ministers attended. He was a unitarian (did not believe in the deity of Christ) and a rationalist who believed that reason was the ultimate determiner of what counts as revelation. He specifically denied the doctrines of imputation, justification by faith, the virgin birth and original sin and held an unorthodox view of the atonement. He denied them because he found them to be unreasonable. Doctrines, which he called “niceties of speculation,” were not of particular interest to him, though, because he believed that there were many roads to God and that one walked them through works. He listed Plato, Demosthenes, Cicero, Sidney and Hoadly among his intellectual influences. His quoted remark in the article that a king can “un-king himself” is completely without biblical foundation. Mayhew’s view of Romans 13 had nothing to do with what Paul said and everything to do with what Mayhew found reasonable under the circumstances.
The quote from West recounted by Welch is also instructive. In it, West appeals to “the voice of reason” and “natural law” as guides – not scripture. As I say in the chapter on the revolutionary pulpits in my doctoral dissertation: “When reading these sermons carefully, one is struck by the frequency with which passages of Scripture are interpreted in a manner convenient to the argument being made, but unrelated or opposed to their clear sense. …[T]he ministers were little concerned with standard rules of interpretation; such as adherence to context, comparison with similar passages, and fidelity to the clear sense of a passage when the terms are not ambiguous.”
Since he cites D. James Kennedy approvingly, it is interesting that, for a biblical or historical perspective, Welch does not quote the spiritual father of Kennedy’s denomination: John Calvin. I’ll help. Calvin said: “We are to be subject not only to the authority of those princes who do their duty towards us as they should, and uprightly, but to all of them, however they came by their office,even if the very last thing they do is act like [true] princes.” And “we must honour [even] the worst tyrant in the office in which the Lord has seen fit to set him” and “if you go on to infer that only just governments are to be repaid by obedience, your reasoning is stupid.” He warned, “Make no mistake: it is impossible to resist the magistrate without also resisting God.” One more from Calvin: “And even if the punishment of unbridled tyranny is the Lord’s vengeance [on tyrants], we are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it. All that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer.” [Emphasis mine] (Book IV, Chapter 20 of Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion”)
Welch accuses MacArthur of being historically inaccurate. But even renowned political philosopher Harry Jaffa, who supports liberal democratic theory, admits that “for more than a millennium and a half of the history of the Christian West, the prevailing opinion was that political authority descended from the top down, from God to kings and rulers, and that the obligation of the ruled was simply to obey.” So, on which side does history lie? Steven Dworetz said, “Basing a revolutionary teaching on the scriptural authority of chapter 13 of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans must rank as one of the greatest ironies in the history of political thought.”
Speaking of ironies, it is certainly ironic – perhaps Orwellian – that John MacArthur can be accused of being “unscriptural” simply because he takes the scripture seriously, literally, and in context. Take Welch’s opening, for example. He quotes MacArthur as saying that “[God’s] kingdom has nothing to do with this world.” In John 18:36, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Did Jesus not mean what He said? As a pastor, MacArthur can hardly be justly criticized for believing that He did!
Welch goes on to remind us – as does MacArthur, by the way – that government has a God-given purpose to protect human life and restrain evil. But that only reinforces MacArthur’s position: That is government’s purpose, not that of pastors who are to be ministers of the gospel. MacArthur believes that the best way for pastors to positively impact society is to do what God has called them to do, which is to convert people – not try to redeem society. Welch cannot point to a single verse in the Bible instructing pastors to be politically active, but MacArthur can point to dozens instructing pastors to preach the word of God (not the words of Jefferson) and to embrace spiritual warfare with spiritual weapons (not competing bumper stickers). One may disagree with MacArthur – but is he being “unscriptural?”
Welch does quote Ezekiel 34:10 and tries to make it look as if it teaches that Christians and, especially, pastors will be held accountable for the deaths of “EVERY baby that is murdered in its mother’s womb” and other sins of American society. But, of course, Welch is again reading his agenda into a passage which clearly teaches something else. Those who know Hebrew will know that the term “shepherd” in the passage actually refers to political leadership, not to pastors. Those who do not know Hebrew can discover that for themselves by looking at the context and seeing that the ultimate shepherd to fulfill this responsibility is David – a political leader (Ezekiel 34:23-24). Selectively quoting this verse out of context also ignores the fact that in the previous chapter, those who speak out prophetically and warn evildoers of their sin are not judged, but deliver their own life (Ezekiel 33:9).
Welch’s “Rules of Engagement” parallel fails to be persuasive with Bible-believing Christians because they know that we are called to spiritual warfare with spiritual weapons (II Corinthians 10:3-5). Dr. MacArthur would wholeheartedly endorse Welch’s call to pastors to “preach, teach and obey His word,” but MacArthur would wonder how pastors could have the time or the resources to do so if they are consumed by political activity and encouraging their congregants to give to political parties rather than to the furtherance of God’s kingdom. In addition to his grueling travel schedule, MacArthur devotes five hours per day every day to study of the word so that he can deliver it to his flock accurately and completely. Perhaps it is instructive to note that while Welch talks about a Dual Mandate, he never gets around to mentioning the second part of it – the Great Commission calling on believers to preach the gospel and make disciples (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). When will Welch or those who follow his instruction have time?
Welch concludes with the curious suggestion that choosing the right political leaders is “a directive from the Most High.” I say “curious” because I’m not familiar with a single passage of scripture containing such a directive. Finally, Welch’s Mount Carmel parallel is also problematic; Elijah did not call on people to line up behind a political party, but to identify with God and faith in Him. John MacArthur and I believe those are two different things. I wonder if Dave Welch does.