Enlightenment & Authority – Sermon Seven


Governments are being overthrown or protested in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Greece.  Labor unions are leading protests, with some Democratic lawmakers even crossing state lines to avoid having to vote on unpopular state budgets.  Our national debt is over $14 trillion and individual states are not faring much better at this point.

Even in light of these things, those who point out a problem with the governmental systems that have caused it all are called alarmists.  Pastors, in particular, have been convinced and trained to “keep their mouths shut” and don’t “politicize” the pulpit.  I can understand the potential problems with that…in theory.

I was taught that expository preaching was the only way of real preaching – going verse by verse – and, while that is still my typical method, there are times when it is used as a cloak for cowardice.  It keeps many pastors from saying what needs to be said about the times in which we live.  As Martin Luther once said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Background & Context

 So, today, we continue exploring what has happened to the idea of authority since the Enlightenment and we do so, calling us all back to the standard of the Word of God.  As we noted last week, God has established government for two purposes – to protect the good and punish evil; that is, to establish justice.  And all of those categories – good, evil, justice – are defined by God, not by man or the governments of man.

 I.    The Enlightenment – New Foundations for Government

Romans 13:3-4 says, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.  For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”

Since the Enlightenment, government has, in general, run amuck.  As we saw last week, the Enlightenment took Western Civilization from the biblical foundations of government – protect the good and punish evil – and planted them firmly on the idea that might makes right.  This has given us a series of endless revolution in Europe and America; far from the golden age portrayed by Enlightenment thinkers.

Last week, we left off with the French Revolution, which ended with the overthrow of the king in France.  The promise was an age of freedom and opportunity; liberty from the oppression of the selfish monarchy.  What they got was Emperor Napoleon I, who took power in a coup that resulted from the chaos, bloodshed, anarchy, and terror brought on by the French Revolution.  He ushered in communistic reforms that centralized all government and placed education, banking, and transportation in government hands.

Enlightenment ideals swept through France and, when the wind died down, they had a government that controlled more of their lives than ever before.  Sadly, because government controlled education, they were taught to like it.

Less than one generation later, were the Revolutions of 1848.  Napoleon was finally driven from power in 1814, but before he was, he had established an empire that either controlled or allied with essentially the entire continent of Europe and even into parts of Scandinavia in the north.  The French thought they would get freedom; what they got was the logical result of government without principle – brute power and tyranny.

Now, when Napoleon was driven from power, the European economy collapsed, no treaties between nations were secure, and nations had to be reorganized; new governments formed.  At Waterloo, in 1814, with Europe in upheaval, Napoleon attempted a nearly successful comeback but was defeated.  And, after he was defeated, all the leaders of Europe came together to “redraw” the borders of Europe and establish their new governments.  None of this was because they loved each other, but because they really hated Napoleon.

Eventually, Europe seemed to settle, but it was only temporary.  The revolutionary sentiments and Enlightenment ideals went underground and the old royal family lines of Europe came back to power – House of Bourbons & Orleans (France), House of Hapsburg (referred to the Spanish in the 1500s, but divided in 1521; Vienna after Napoleon), the Houses of Hohenzollern and Hanover (Germany).  Good old Europe was back, so it seemed.

But just because the ideas went underground for a bit did not mean they went away and, in the early-mid 1800s, Enlightenment ideas of government sprang back up with Karl Marx.  Marx consolidated the ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution into one cohesive system – communism.  Though The Manifesto of the Communist Party was not published until the late 1800s, communist philosophy was well-developed and growing a full 40 years earlier.  His work The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts was published in 1844 in Paris and laid out a full framework for communism.

He rallied like-minded revolutionaries together and they planned simultaneous revolts in 1848, all designed to overthrow the “Christian” monarchies of Europe.  Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Denmark, Switzerland, Poland, Ireland, Belgium, and even Brazil all faced attempts at revolution in 1848.  Many of them were bloody, but overall they failed to establish lasting governments.  Essentially, the revolutions simply extended the influence of communism and unrest throughout Europe.

That unrest has, in my estimation, never ceased, as shown in the two World Wars that followed shortly on their heels.  To this day, there is ongoing political turmoil in Europe as nations fall further and further into governments with no standard whatsoever.  Might makes right, morality is relative, truth does not exist, the people are God, but the governments are atheist.  In other words, you people who view the government as the one who should make them happy and give them what they want, but the government feels free to abuse and manipulate the people with impunity (because they have no moral obligation to do otherwise).

 II.                  The Enlightenment & Its Impact on Those Who Don’t Know It

So far, all of this talk has been about what went on in Europe, but these revolutionary sentiments made their way across the pond to America as well.  We will get into specific individuals and details next week, but now we need to back up from this overview.  We have seen that, governments were in shambles and nations were thrown into revolution as a result of Enlightenment thinking and much of that continues to this day.  But, we need to recognize how Enlightenment thinking has developed in more recent times, particularly in America.

The Enlightenment changed the worldview of Western Civilization, changed the authority for culture.  God was taken out of the picture, to be used only as a buzz word to get elected.  In place of God and biblical standards was placed man’s definitions of good and evil; man’s definitions of God; man’s definitions of government.  As Machiavelli and Hobbes both argued, government had the right to do whatever they wanted, but if they were going to keep people in line and in submission, there are only a couple of options – violence & manipulation.

In America, within our own borders, the predominant method has been manipulation.  For example, the Enlightenment and its emphasis upon governmental responsibilities, led to the creation of “nationalism.”  Nationalism is the belief that the state or government is of utmost importance.  Its technical definition is: the ideological notion of the dominance of politics and the unification of politics over all other things.  If governments were going to run the show, then they had to rally the people around the government and make sure that there were no divided loyalties; nothing to take devotion away from the State.

One shocking example of this is how language has changed.  Before the intrusion of Enlightenment thought, people identified their governments with terms like “Commonwealth, people, confederation, public, and community.”  Around the 18th-19th centuries, for the first time, you heard widespread usage of “State, polity, federal government, national, etc.”

Even definitions changed.  The term “nationality” was not even used until 1691 and, when it was used early on it was defined as “a clan, group, tribe, or family” (New English Dictionary, 1908).  Your nationality was defined as your family, family line, and community; you were defined by your family and friends.  Now, “nationality” is defined as “a legal relationship involving allegiance on the part of an individual and usually protection on the part of the state” (Merriam-Webster, 1st definition).  We are no longer defined by our relationships and families, but by our government; our legal relationship to our State!

People did not see themselves as citizens of a government, but part of a people.  This is even borne out in maps before all these revolutions.  What you see on those maps are regions united by family lines and traditions, not borders, fences, and guards asking for passports.

As a result of this, the definition of patriotism is far different as well; literally and practically.  The actual word “patriot” is derived from the Latin word “patria” or fatherland; but note that the connection was a family one – land of my fathers.  A patriot was one who was loyal to those family lines and connections.  Now, the word “patriot” is defined as: one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests” (Merriam-Webster, 1st definition).   

Now, I want us to pause and consider some of the ramifications of this.  First of all, we now live in a culture where government determines “good” and “evil”, they determine your identity (from the birth certificates to SS#s), and they determine whether you are truly loyal to your ultimate obligations – which are no longer to family and community, but to the State.

  1. Be aware of the danger of “party politics” – Both political parties in America are drenched in Enlightenment thought – from the open socialist/communist ideas of the Democrats to the militarism and blind, redefined “patriotism” of the Republicans.  Our loyalty is to God and His Word and Scripture clearly says that government is to protect the good (as defined by God) and punish evil (as defined by God).  That is it.  Our views of government cannot be driven by allegiance to a political party.  We must be driven by the truth of God’s Word and that alone.  And, when a political party (no matter how many Evangelicals support it) steps outside of the biblical bounds for government, they are wrong.  Do not get trapped into thinking that someone is a friend of God simply because they stand for “family values.”  Most of those arguing for family values are actually arguing for absolute allegiance to the State – even when it means imposing American Imperialism around the globe.
  2. We must resist the constant “redefining” – nationality, patriotism, good & evil
  3. We must not accept the idea that politics is not a “religious issue” – Not only does Scripture speak to the authority and limits of government; but once a government begins to demand loyalty that replaces God, we cannot be silent.  Luther was right – if we do not speak where the troubles truly are, then we are not fully confessing and professing Christ to our world.  May God give us wisdom, faithfulness, and courage to learn to live in faithfulness to our families, friends, and to His Word.


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