Government and Christians (4): apocalypticism

I had originally planned in this mini-series on the Christian and Government to review several documents in sequence, offering some commentary on each.  Instead, I’m opting to use various passages in books and papers, sort of amalgamating them.

Excerpts in this post, which deals primarily with the so-called “apocalyptic outlook” of some Christian thought, come from a chapter in Richard T. Hughes’s book Reviving the Ancient Faith:  The Story of Churches of Christ in America. Page numbers are referenced after each quotation.

Alexander Campbell viewed the kingdom of God as a constitutional monarchy in the here and now and, for all practical purposes, equated the kingdom with the church. . . .  [Barton W.] Stone, on the other hand, held that the kingdom of God transcends the church on this earth.  93-94

The apocalyptic outlook — associated then, with Stone and not with Campbell — is taken to signify “an outlook that led Stone and many of his followers to act as though the final rule of the kingdom of God were present in the here and now.”  (92)  As I become more and more acquainted with this mindset, I am torn.  Part of me instantly gravitates toward it, because I am compelled to attest to the reign of God, believing, as I do, that He is monarch.  But another part of me senses questionable subjectivity in Christian communities given to bridging from eternity to the here-and-now at every turn.

Stone rarely used the phrase “kingdom of God” but “routinely used such phrases as “God’s rule,” “God’s reign,” and God’s government.”  93

If Stone had a creed, he surely expressed it in 1841 when admonished his readers that “you must not mind earthly things, nor set your affections on them — not to be conformed to the world. . . .  Here you have no abiding place, but are as strangers and pilgrims seeking a better country.”  109

Now there’s a terribly non-context-sensitive, yet “Bible-based,” exhortation, to be sure.  Abraham, Romans 12, Hebrews 11, Colossians, and the “Sermon on the Mount” all wrapped up in a paragraph!

It should be acknowledged that life circumstances frequently play a role in developing philosophies and theologies:  Stone was originally set on a career in law (108), and perhaps his new opportunities and pathways combined to move him in directions diametrically opposed to legalism.

In some cases, the Stoneites’ sense of being separate from the world went hand in hand with an explicitly premillennial eschatology.  109

And here is another area in which I find myself questioning apocalypticism.  I suspect that both premillennial and postmillennial thought possess an unhelpful measure of literalness … that is to say, both views seem to me not to take into account that some scripture uses figurative language.

It is precisely here, tucked away in the union of separatism and apocalypticism, that one finds the origin of … the notion that civil government … was demonic and illegitimate.  110

Those who are quick to believe that Christians not only may, but should vote, run for public office, etc., may also be quick to object to the above-captioned thought-line.  If government is “demonic and illegitimate,” then by all means Christians should redeem it by being involved, right?  Not so, though, in the thinking of Stone, Lipscomb, et al:  the objectionable essence of government is more inherent in the proposition of government than in the particular personages in specific governments.  In other words, there’s no hope for making human governments godly when they are by nature human; we might as well abstain, as mere pilgrims in this world.  “This world is not my home.  I’m just a-passin’ thru,” as the gospel song has it.  The important biblical notion of God’s having ordained human government (Romans 13:1-6, e.g.; see here for additional commentary) does not conflict with the reality that government is almost always ungodly and even corrupt.  God has historically used lots of things that are not approved in a moral or religious sense.

The man who more than anyone else carried the Barton Stone tradition into the 20th century  was David Lipscomb. . . .  If Lipscomb was a Campbellite who turned Campbell’s biblicism toward legalism, he also stood squarely in the Stone-Fanning tradition of separatism and apocalypticism, and apoliticism.  121

I must admit that, though I am in most points drawn to Lipscomb’s ideals around government and this brand of apocalypticism, I am repelled by hints of legalism that could be said to have ushered Lipscomb into the unfortunate position of being a divisive agent in the Restoration Movement.

Following the Civil Car, Lipscomb published a short book, Civil Government, in which he espoused that the Christian belongs to a kingdom ruled by God, not to the kingdoms ruled by humankind (122 ).  Perhaps at some point I’ll read that entire online book and comment, but for now, I’ll return to secondary sources.  According to Hughes, Lipscomb opined that the symbolic “Bablyon” of scripture was not Rome or the Romish Church that so many Protestants assumed it to be, but rather, “Babylon” was human government as a whole — illegitimate and to be overthrown.

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