John Piper is not a credible voice on Christian ethics. Piper has famously said he would not use lethal force to defend his wife, defended Critical Race Theory in the church, advanced the Covid Jabs, and even defended voting for Democrats. Now he’s taking issue with Uganda and Christian Nationalism in his latest display of being an NPC. John Piper wrote a lengthy article titled ‘My Kingdom Is Not of This World’ The Lordship of Christ and the Limits of Government. Ultimately, this argument is a blatant misunderstanding of sphere sovereignty and how all spheres of authority should be wielded to advance the gospel using the powers in their spheres given to them by God.
In this article Piper without Scripture claims that the government has no right to give law.
The thesis of this essay is that Jesus Christ, the absolutely supreme Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of the universe, intends to accomplish his saving purposes in the world without reliance on the powers of civil government to teach, defend, or spread the Christian religion as such. Followers of Christ should not use the sword of civil government to enact, enforce, or spread any idea or behavior as explicitly Christian — as part of the Christian religion as such.
It is critical to understand what I mean by the phrases “explicitly Christian” and “the Christian religion as such.” The state may indeed teach, defend, and spread ideas and behaviors that Christians support — and support for explicitly Christian reasons (and that non-Christians may support for different reasons). But that is not the same as the state’s taking on the role of advocacy for the Christian faith as such. It’s the latter, not the former, that the New Testament opposes.
The civil government may rightly pass laws that make the spread of the Christian faith (and other faiths) easier (for example, laws protecting free speech and free assembly). That is not what the New Testament opposes. The New Testament opposes Christians looking to the state to teach, defend, or spread ideas or behaviors as explicitly Christian. The sword is not to be the agent of the Christian religion as such — that is, as a religion.
Piper does not have a foundation for what constitutes a crime. If Christianity says abortion is crime whereas Judaism and New Age faiths say otherwise, do Christians not have a duty to impose their morality. Such is the case with idolatry, adultery and homosexuality, the examples Piper gives later on.
I will argue that it is precisely our supreme allegiance to the lordship of Christ that obliges us not to use the God-given sword of civil government to threaten the punishment, or withhold the freedoms, of persons who do not confess Christ as Lord. There is no warrant in the New Testament for the church or the state to use force against non-Christian beliefs or against outward expressions of such beliefs that are not crimes on other counts.
…The principle is peace and stability and justice, not that any one religion be supported or restrained rather than another.
By what standard are crimes determined? Islamic. Should a Muslim want to practice female genital mutilation or honor killing, a Christian government would expressly be punishing Islamic beliefs to enforce Christian morality. This softheaded thinking by Piper has no concept of history pre-WW2 America. The Roman Empire was conquered by Christianity both through martyrdom and the sword of government giving partial treatment to the Christian faith.
Piper’s main argument is that Christ’s kingdom is not “of this world.” His application of this is rather gnostic, as Christ’s kingdom is in this world. Therefore we wrestle with principalities and powers, demonic forces that have manifestations grounded in physical realities. Just as the Holy Spirit indwells believers, so to are unbelievers often under demonic influence. These spiritual realities have physical manifestations like art, civil law, and academics. And at the end, the meek will inherit the earth.
John Piper vs Uganda Forever
And the theocratic warrant for the civil punishment of execution for unrepentant idolaters, adulterers, and homosexuals, for example, is replaced with excommunication from the church. The hoped-for aim of excommunication is repentance and restoration, and therefore it does not look to the state to complete capital punishment for the sake of the church.
John Piper argues, in different words, that in this dispensation some laws prescribed as crimes in the Old Testament are replaced with excommunication. This stands contrary to American history which includes laws against sodomy, adultery, and blasphemy. America was built on the Christian legal system of English Common Law.
Under the new-covenant reign of Christ, the way the people of God deal with the sins of idolatry, adultery, and homosexual behavior is first to seek repentance. When this happens, there is restoration. We see this in the gracious statement “such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). But if the idolaters, adulterers, and active homosexuals are unrepentant, the path forward is church discipline leading, if necessary, to excommunication.
After quoting 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Piper singles out homosexuality in that verse to say that excommunication has replaced civil penalties. Yet he does not make this argument for thieves and swindlers which are also crimes.
The fact that murderers, for example, are rightly punished by the state in this present age does not contradict the point here, because in punishing murderers the state is not functioning as an explicitly Christian agent of the Christian faith. This action of the state is not an aspect of Christ’s rule over his church. When the state punishes a murderer, it should not do so in the explicit advancement of religious faith — Christian or otherwise.
Jesus did not teach that the kingdom was taken from Israel and given to the civil government of each nation. He said it was taken from Israel and given to the church (Matthew 21:43). And in the process, he put in place a new way that God now rules his people until the second coming of Christ. So there can be no straight line drawn from the Old Testament laws and punishments to the present day. The state is not in continuity with Israel. And the people of Christ — the new holy nation — is a differently constituted “Israel.”
Piper attempts to address the obvious objection with a sin that had death penalty prescribed in Genesis. This does not supersede the fact that he has no argument for why thievery should be punished except that it is not explicitly Christian to punish theft.
Because it is Christian to punish theft is why nations should all punish theft. Thus Uganda implemented biblical laws. All authority should be wielded to advance Christ’s kingdom. Whether you are a father in a home, a pastor in a church, or a governor, you should wielded your authority to advance the gospel. For the father, that means a Christian upbringing and education. For the pastor, that means preaching the word and executing the ordinances of the church. And for the state, that means pointing people to Christ by aligning civil laws with God’s standard. The father can’t save his child. The pastor can’t save a congregant. And the governor can’t save his citizen. God does the saving, in the end.