Christian Nationalism is all the chatter, occupying headspace for anyone who cares to listen. The secular establishment has been given over to unthinkable manifold depravities, and some folks are looking for a better foundation than the poisoned fluidity of secularism. As fluid and gender-fluid as secularism might be, the definition of Christian Nationalism might be a little less mutable, but not much. My sense, as I listen in, is that folks are often talking over each other, and, because of that, could be producing more heat than light. Within the slice of blogs I’ve read and sermons I’ve listened to is this recent piece by Josh Buice over at G3 Ministries.
He closed the piece with some thought-provoking questions, and I hope to address one of them in a moment. Before I do, I note what I perceive to be a strawman within his piece: “Therefore, any attempt to Baptize the nations by forcing people by magisterial rule to embrace the label of ‘Christian’ would be an overreach of governmental authority.” Perhaps someone is advocating for magisterial enforced baptisms, but I am not aware of it. I have never heard of that. If said culprit falls outside of the slice of material I’ve consumed on this hot topic, then please forgive my ignorance. I will stand corrected.
Instead, my perception is that those who advocate for the various forms of Christian Nationalism are attempting to advance legislation and adjudication which spring forth from a national consensus that God’s Law is the norm of norms. The sword of the state, in such cases, cannot be used to convert. Only the Spirit of God can do that. Rather, the sword of the state is to punish evil, which includes upholding both tables of the Law.
At last year’s Church at War Conference, Pastor Tim Stephens masterfully argued that the state, impotent to convert, has divine power to legislate and adjudicate both tables of the Law. He didn’t call himself a Christian Nationalist, and I don’t think he even employed the term. His sermon deserves careful attention from anyone engaged in this debate, not just because he accurately divides the Word but also because he forged his convictions while he and his family were severely persecuted by tyrants.
That brings me to Buice’s questions. I’ll comment on one of them, and I want to focus what remains of my humble blog on his sixth question:
Do the goals of Christian Nationalism fit within the pilgrim ethos of New Testament Christianity? In other words, if John Bunyan had been a Christian Nationalist, would we have The Pilgrim’s Progress?
It’s a bit of a loaded question, you might say. The question seems to assume that Bunyan was not a Christian Nationalist. But was he? Or was he not?
Answering that question will depend on one’s definition of Christian Nationalism, which, as noted, is rather fluid. Bunyan was opposed to the state’s interference in Christian liturgy and Christian church assemblies. That’s beyond dispute. He ministered during the tyrannical reigns of Kings Charles II and James II. Under Charles, he spent 13 years in prison for refusing to comply with state encroachments upon gathered worship. In fact, his first imprisonment occurred after he flouted assembly bans and gathering limits amidst a national emergency. State interference in Christian worship was a nonstarter for Bunyan. Beyond that, he stood opposed to state mandated church attendance. In fact, among his first charges was the charge that he did not attend divine services in the Church of England. He was a Baptist, so that makes sense.
That said, Bunyan believed the state’s job was to destroy the flesh of Antichrist. When the Roman Catholic James II succeeded Charles II, he conspired to centralize power through backroom deals and trickery with the aims of advancing popery on England. Bunyan, having already experienced the horrors of arbitrary centralized power under Charles, preached against James’ conspiracy. Such a threat to James was Bunyan that James attempted to silence him with the offer of political favours, essentially attempting to bribe Bunyan into silence. Bunyan resisted, and, instead of being quiet, wrote one of his final works, Of Antichrist and His Ruin. It was his direct and clear response to the Antichrist powers emerging in England under James.
He starts the work by defining Antichrist:
Antichrist is that adversary of Christ; an adversary really, a friend pretendedly, So then, Antichrist is one that is against Christ; one that is for Christ, and one that is contrary to him… Against him in deed; for him in word, and contrary to him in practice.1.
His definition is broad enough, within the context, to include both Antichrist religion and Antichrist politics. It is the mixture of a political-religious ideology that stands in the place of Christ. In Bunyan’s time, it was the ideological imposition of Roman Catholicism via the English Crown.
Given his opposition to magisterially imposed liturgy and state oversight of Christian worship, some might think Bunyan viewed the state as a neutral force on matters of religion. But Bunyan maintained that God would, in His time, raise up a Christ-honouring state which would properly employ its sword to destroy the flesh of Antichrist: “I believe that by magistrates and powers we shall be delivered and kept from Antichrist.”2
To understand him on this, we need to understand Bunyan’s distinction between the flesh and spirit of Antichrist. The spirit of Antichrist is the power of Satan that animates Antichrist. Spiritual powers must be met with spiritual powers, and thus Bunyan taught that it is the church’s job to fight the spirit of Antichrist with spiritual weapons. That is not the state’s job.
In contrast to the spirit of Antichrist and the church’s fight against that dark spirit, the flesh or the body of Antichrist, for Bunyan, was quite another story.
The body or flesh of Antichrist, is that heap of men, that assembly of the wicked, that synagogue of Satan that is acted and governed by that spirit.3
Now the body of Antichrist, is that church or synagogue in which the spirit of Antichrist dwells, or unto which the spirit of Antichrist is become a soul and life.4
The flesh of Antichrist, to Bunyan, represented the institutional and personal manifestations of Satan’s dark powers. While the church waged spiritual war on Antichrist’s spirit, it was the state’s job to employ the sword to wage physical war against Antichrist’s flesh.
I then take it, That the destruction of her flesh shall come by the sword, as managed in the hands of kings, who are God’s ministers for the punishment of evil deeds, and the praise of them that do well. Not that the church, even as a church, shall be quite exempt and have therein no hand at all; for she, even as such, shall with her faith and prayers help froward that destruction.
The church therefore, as a church, must use such weapons as are proper to her as such; and the magistrate as a magistrate, must use such weapons as are proper to him as such.5
Believing that God has appointed the magistrate to use his sword to destroy the body of Antichrist, Bunyan offered hope to those oppressed under James II by telling them that God would indeed raise up a prince who would destroy institutional and magisterial tyranny.
Kings, I say, must be the men that must down with Antichrist, and they shall down with her in God’s time.6
I believe that by magistrates and powers we shall be delivered and kept from Antichrist…7
Now these kings whose hearts God shall set to destroy Antichrist, shall do it without those inward reluctancies that will accompany inferior men: they shall be stript of all pity and compassion.8
As if to vindicate Bunyan posthumously, Providence directed William of Orange, the Dutch Protestant son-in-law of James II, to enter England and depose James II less than two months after Bunyan’s August 1688 death. Historically, William was lionized as a political saviour who restored English Protestant liberty, and his revolution is historically known as both the Orange Revolution and the Glorious Revolution. While he and his wife, Mary, reigned as King and Queen of England, Parliament passed the Bill of Rights, which, among other things, recognized the rights of Puritans to worship freely and the rights of Protestants to bear arms, the latter seemingly so they might defend themselves against future Antichrist governments.
So, was Bunyan a Christian Nationalist? He was wholly against mandated liturgy, but he longed for a government that would use its sword without “inward reluctancies” to destroy the persons and institutions animated by the spirit of Antichrist. The answer to that question depends on one’s definition of Christian Nationalism, but if Bunyan was a Christian Nationalist, then, at least in this respect, so am I.
As it turns out, I recently produced a documentary named after Bunyan’s book, Of Antichrist and His Ruin. You can purchase it here.
Check out the trailer: