Confronting Civil Government—John Murray (1898 – 1975)
John Murray, a native Scotsman, was the first professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (U.S.A.) and a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He was a scholarly exegete and profound theologian whose teaching and publications strengthened evangelicals in the battle with modernism during the twentieth century. In this extract, from a document entitled “The Relation of Church and State,” Murray provides ministers with helpful instruction on how to avoid being party political, whilst at the same time preaching directly on political issues. Murray begins by outlining the primary focus of the Church’s involvement in the political arena—the proclamation of the divine Word in all its fullness. The Church is not to do the job of the state, but it is to critique the state from a biblical standpoint.
"To the church is committed the task of proclaiming the whole counsel of God and, therefore, the counsel of God as it bears upon the responsibility of all person and institutions. While the church is not to discharge the functions of other institutions such as the state and the family, nevertheless it is charged to define what the functions of these institutions are, and the lines of demarcation by which they are distinguished. It is also charged to declare and inculcate the duties which devolve upon them. Consequently when the civil magistrate trespasses the limits of his authority, it is incumbent upon the church to expose and condemn such a violation of his authority. When laws are proposed or enacted which are contrary to the law of God, it is the duty of the church to oppose them and expose their iniquity. When the civil magistrate fails to exercise his God-given authority in the protection and promotion of the obligations, rights, and liberties of the citizens, the church has the right and duty to condemn such inaction, and by its proclamation of the counsel of God to confront the civil magistrate with his responsibility and promote the correction of such neglect. The functions of the civil magistrate, therefore, come within the scope of the church’s proclamation in every respect in which the Word of God bears upon the proper or improper discharge of these functions, and it is only misconception of what is involved in the proclamation of the whole counsel of God that leads to the notion that the church has no concern with the political sphere."
Murray further distinguishes between the Church’s role in proclaiming the nature of the political reality and the duties of citizens (whether Christian or not) in actually organizing community political life.
"When it is maintained that the church is concerned with civic affairs, is under obligation to examine political measures in the light of the Word of God, and is required to declare its judgements accordingly, the distinction between this activity on the part of the church and political activity must be recognized. To put the matter bluntly, the church is not to engage in politics. Its members must do so, but only in their capacity as citizens of the state, not as members of the church. The church is not to create or foster political parties or blocs. The proclamation of the church may indeed induce the members of the church and others to affiliate themselves, in their capacity as citizens, with one party rather than with another or, perhaps, to form a political party for the promotion of good politics. If the proclamation of the church is sound, the church has no need to be ashamed of the influence its proclamation exerts in this direction, nor does it need to be troubled by the charge that may be levelled against it to the effect that it is engaged in politics. In such circumstances the church must be prepared to pay the price for its faithful witness to the political implications of the message committed to it."
-- from www.kairosjournal.org -- for this specific article, go here