Revelation, Reason, and Christian Duty To Government
“The judge, and the rule by which he judges, are diverse.” Jonathan Edwards said that, and he was right. He referred to reason and revelation. Edwards lamented that some, in his day, sought to elevate reason to a place where it did not belong. Reason is the judge. It serves you well as the faculty by which you understand truth. But, reason is not the rule by which you judge. The difference between the rule and the faculty is a world of difference. The rule by which you judge is not reason, but revelation.
I suspect that much of our evangelical leadership is confused about the following. They agree that divine revelation—be it general or special—is indeed the rule by which Christians should judge religious things. They also agree that revelation is the rule by which the church should judge church things. They do not, however, believe that revelation is the rule by which man is to judge all things. If life were a pizza, they believe nearly all the slices fall under divine revelation. But, certain slices—the political, civil, or sociological—fall under another standard.
We have seen this confusion in the response to pastor John MacArthur’s present situation. Some maintain that pastor MacArthur has no higher standard to which he can appeal, given that the governor has mandated no indoor worship services. Neither does governor Newsom have to ground his mandate in divine revelation—human reason will do. The mind of the governor has spoken and you are to love Big Brother. The truth, however, is that both Pastor MacArthur and Governor Newsom must appeal to the rule (divine revelation) and with their faculty (reason) determine what ought to be done.
If governor Newsom is not to judge truth by divine revelation, what standard is he to use? Should he determine the actual state of things by appealing to his own thought? Should the will of the people be his final standard by which he comes to know the nature of reality? The answer to both preceding questions is simply: Are you out of your mind? Or, in the words of the apostle Paul, “By no means! … Who has bewitched you?”
Governor Newsom is a servant of Jesus and, therefore, must do what Jesus says.
The more pressing question, however, is: Why are we American Christians just realizing this now? It seems some of the humanism our fathers warned us about has worked its way into our thinking. Edwards was not the only one to fight the faulty exaltation of reason. Charles Spurgeon warned, “the new religion practically sets ‘thought’ above revelation, and, constitutes man the supreme judge of what ought to be true.” Thought above revelation was the spirit of the age. That spirit was present outside the church and found its way into the church. We are naive to think we can let revelation be subordinated to “thought” out there and not end up with the same thing in here.
I’m confident many Christians repudiate reason over revelation when it comes to their personal faith and practice. But, I’m also convinced that many Christians conceive of an area of life, or the world, where reason rules, not revelation. We have bifurcated God’s world. Our practice has been put into a box, a lane. We ought not let that happen. If we do, it is nothing other than a dereliction of Christian duty.
If reason is the final standard in California civil life, then Pastor John MacArthur is wrong, perhaps a bit cranky, and should just go along with the governor’s mandate even if he disagrees. It is, after all, just one man’s reason against another, and the governor is the civil leader. If reason is the final standard in California civil life, then Governor Newsom has no obligation to consider Scripture, pray for wisdom from above, or listen to what Jesus says through creation and providence. If revelation is the final standard, then Pastor MacArthur has to determine whether the governor’s mandate is in keeping with the job assignment Jesus has given civil magistrates (Romans 13). He must consider, as best he can through the use of his reason, what God has revealed about Covid through creation and providence. Similarly, if revelation is the final standard, then Governor Newsom must look to what Jesus requires of him as a civil magistrate. He must consider what God has revealed about the virus as well. He must observe what God has said about the nature and necessity of Christian worship. He must humbly and prayerfully seek God’s Word on the matter so that he knows what he prohibits should he mandate such a prohibition.
As long as we live in the bifurcation—failing to see that revelation is the ultimate authority for all people, in all places, at all times—we will be unable to live faithfully. Examples abound, but one is that our intercession for civil authorities will fall flat. God requires that intercessions be made for “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:2). And yet, according to the bifurcation, what are we to pray for Governor Newsom? God make him smarter? Please Lord make him more fair? Fair according to what standard? How will Governor Newsom get smarter if not by looking to divine revelation, the final standard of all truth?