by Pastor John Lawrey

where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom 5:20b-21

If you are following along at home, you might be wondering “Dude, where’s my country?” I won’t recite the tedious list of wrongs done in the name of coronavirus, but one stands out head and shoulders above the rest: closed and restricted churches. The salt in the wound is that blue state governors have restricted churches at the same time they have provided unfettered access to abortion, marijuana, alcohol, and the somewhat misnamed “peaceful protest.”

Something ought to be said about the blatant inconsistencies, hypocrisy, and double standards, not to mention a two-tiered justice system, but this article is about something much bigger: Will we even have a civilization at the end of this, and if so, what kind? 

We are watching, in real time, the birth of a new state religion.

Let’s take one step back: The ideas beneath the Bill of Rights were forged in the same crucible as the great and historic English confessions of the faith. The Constitution guaranteed protections of religious worship and free speech, not to protect the state from the impositions of religion, but to safeguard the church from the encroachment of the state, and thus banned it from governance in or over the church. No doubt the tune plucked on the strings of persecution under the English sovereigns got stuck in the minds of the first American statesmen (who were also churchmen). Their goal was not simply the creation of a state which would leave the church alone, but which would provide the necessary protections to speed the church towards purity, that she would cling to the headship of Jesus Christ and order herself according to the commands of Scripture.

Of course, there were differences of opinion between the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, and the Baptists when it came to matters of polity, but they agreed on a key doctrine the English divines took as an article of faith: Total Depravity. In terms of practical politics, this means the citizen is duty bound to mistrust his fellow (depraved) man who wields power and authority (in a depraved way), and to insist upon checks and balances to accompany any public trust. This same principle can be found in the government of the local church. Of course, the Bible has much more to say about local church governance than this, but I only wish to show that the divines and the statesmen recognized a basic truth in the world: human nature is fundamentally corrupt. Their agreement on this one point led to a civilization in which the state and church have a symbiotic relationship, each recognizing limitations and responsibilities towards the other.

the citizen is duty bound to mistrust his fellow (depraved) man who wields power and authority (in a depraved way), and to insist upon checks and balances to accompany any public trust.

I submit to you this is the best form of civilization in this day of grace. Many Americans understand this instinctively. Asked to explain it, they might appeal to history or to ideals like liberty or freedom. But I think the reason we understand this is because consciously or not, we recognize this central fact about the world: men are sinners, and it doesn’t pay to trust another sinner too much! 

In this view of the world, the state’s role is to restrain sin and to disincentivize it.  But the ultimate answer to the corruption of sin is not found in the state, nor even in the church. Rather, it is in Jesus Christ, the Lord from heaven, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The church, however, and not the state, serves as Christ’s ambassador.

This is the starting point for the type of civilization that has formed the American ideal. Whether a man calls himself freedom-loving or a patriot, maybe what he is really saying is that he finds a certain delight in being part of something unique, something special, an active idea that has resonated not only with the real facts of the world, but a sphere in which the real problems of life can be faced to greatest advantage because the state has not come in and bungled things up. 

Now, let’s go back to that salt in the wound: open abortion clinics, marijuana dispensaries, alcohol vendors, and “peaceful protests.” These are the sacraments of the new state religion, the cornerstones of a civilization in which church and state are not symbiotic, working together, but monolithic.

We see the utter bankruptcy of this concept of civilization in the burned out hulks of Minneapolis. Many know that this sort of thing, if it does not appeal to truth or beauty, is certainly unworkable in the long run. That is, it does not square with the main facts of life. But the architects of this new civilization, most notably blue state governors, have a very different understanding of life. You might say they have “alternative facts.” 

This is no place to examine their “isms.” The main thing to point out is where their trust is placed, or perhaps, rather, where mistrust is placed. Citizens are mistrusted while the state is trusted. There is a peculiar view of human nature behind this: Human nature is not corrupt, society is. This is why we hear phrases like “structural racism.” The key to the redemption of society is not held by the church, but the state. The state must have the power to mold her citizens into an ideal society. Of course, whose ideal? 

Conveniently, it is the ideal of the elite who also exercise the state’s authority in the name of their new religion of wokeness, complete with laws and sacraments and ceremonies. The church may or may not fit in with this program to the extent that it does or doesn’t conform to the beliefs of the elite. If the church is concerned with the problem of sin as defined in Scripture and residing in the heart of every man, she is part of the same problematic “oppressive” society that the state must endeavor to cure. On the other hand, if a church has become “woke,” it is now part of the same monolithic civilization of which the state has become the champion.

…in this brave new world language is tortured, and facts are too.

Hopefully by now the wheels are spinning, but let’s take one last look at those sacraments of this new religion. Ironically, abortion will account for far more deaths this year than any virus. But in this brave new world language is tortured, and facts are too. As are the unborn. What matters is not truth, but narrative. An open abortion clinic proclaims that the state has observed the rite of “reproductive rights” and is therefore fit to exercise the authority it has been entrusted with to remold all aspects of humanity into the image of the woke god.

Where you and I see the bodies of aborted babies sold for parts like some profane chop shop, drunks and stoners locked into a cycle of addiction, violent encounters beneficial to no one, and a total disregard for public and private property, others see that the woke fairy godmother has turned the rat into a coachman, who is driving us to the ball with all haste and determination. The only problem is, the rat is still a rat. Hopefully, for the good of our civilization, you and I can still smell one. The necessary antidote to this civilizational misadventure is the aggressive cultivation of a polite mistrust of the state, especially when it goes by the title of Governor. 

John Lawrey is Pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Duluth, Minnesota and a member of the Common Slaves