John Calvin and the Civil Magistrate (Part 4)
After a short break for music posts I am returning to John Calvin as he discusses the civil magistrate in the last chapter of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin wrote at a very different political time than us. It sometimes makes it hard to dig through conception Calvin had. We are certainly left asking if Calvin was correct in his assumptions or if he just did not know better. The issue is brought up again when looking deeper at his definition of the civil magistrate and its founding ordinances,
"No man has discoursed of the duty of magistrates, the enacting of laws, and the common weal, without beginning with religion and divine worship. Thus all have confessed that no polity can be successfully established unless piety be its first care, and that those laws are absurd which disregard the rights of God, and consult only for men. Seeing then that among philosophers religion holds the first place, and that the same thing has always been observed with the universal consent of nations, Christian princes and magistrates may be ashamed of their heartlessness if they make it not their care." (Inst 4.20.9)
Many things could be said about this passage and its application to modern politics. In a day when conservative Christian cling to "America was a Christian nation," one can hear a hearty amen. Unfortunately, if Calvin is correct then few (if any) presidents of the United States have ever come close to fulfilling the duties of a magistrate. One cannot fire accusations at Obama without it going through him and making a mockery of other past presidents.
Calvin lived in a time where atheism was unconscionable. Every ruler defended their gods. For Calvin the logic was simple, godly rulers should rightfully defend the worship of the Christian God. We live today though in a time where atheism reigns and gods are called "vices" or "rights."
Molech is alive and well at any Planned Parenthood. Asherah poles are regularly called TVs now. Under the guise of "rights" these items have gone unaddressed until they become uncomfortable. For Calvin a godly president, senate, or congress would have opposed these with everything breath. They "are the ordained guardians and vindicators of public innocence, modesty, honour, and tranquillity" (Inst 4.20.9). But American is founded principally on the rights of man. This is why Calvin could not rightfully be called a libertarian. Libertarians are not in the business of "regulating morality." Emphasis on rights is a rather interesting concept that deserves the attention of Christians. It certainly is the dividing line between Calvin and modern members of every political party in the United States.