Isn't living under a "religiously tolerant" civil government better for evangelism than living under a government which enforces God's law (e.g. against idolaters)?

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Answered Questions

There are two problems with this question.

No true "religious tolerance"

There is no such thing as a "religiously tolerant" society. Every society must:

  1. deal with sin and crime
  2. define the role and limits of the civil government
  3. take a position on how much of the people's money they will confiscate in order to accomplish the previous two things

The three things in the above list are not "religiously neutral." Every society will deal with sin and crime from a particular religious perspective. No civil government can be religiously "neutral" with regard to, for example:

  • whether unborn innocent image-bearers are worthy of protection from murderers
  • the definition of marriage
  • whether adultery is a crime or not
  • whether a business should be forced by law to transact (e.g. bake a cake) with everyone
  • whether civil government should be allowed to take money from certain people and give it to others.
  • whether civil government should be allowed to confiscate your land for the (so-called) "public good"
  • whether the responsibility to educate children belongs to the civil government or the parent

People who publicly oppose the ruling civil religion on these (and other) issues will, ultimately, be suppressed by that society (especially in a democracy). Only one religious understanding of law will ever be enforced within a particular governing community. This religious understanding of law may change over time (as it has done in all modern legal systems). But it will always be opposed to alternate understandings of law.

False dichotomy

The above question contains a logical fallacy called a "false dichotomy." Let's grant, for the sake of argument, that it is easier for a person living in a (so-called) "religiously tolerant" (but pagan) civil jurisdiction to evangelize (and there are good reasons to doubt this: see below). Even so, it still would not follow that Christians shouldn't form their own social communities and civil jurisdictions -- jurisdictions which try to abide by and implement God's transcendent standards of justice here on earth.

Evangelism is, by definition, spreading the gospel. An important part of the gospel is the good news that the prophecy of Daniel 2:44[1] has been fulfilled: Jesus (YHWH) is king, forever. Jesus affirmed that "all authority" ... "on earth" had been given to him: Matt. 28:18.[2] Jesus' kingship means that his will must be done on earth as it is in heaven, and he expects us to "judge just judgment" when necessary (John 7:24).

God's law benefits evangelism

The following facts are supported by scripture:

  1. The abiding principles of God's law (as expressed and nuanced in both testaments) are transcendent standards of justice designed to be exemplary for all civil governments (Deut. 4:5-8).
  2. It would not be wrong for a community of Christians who are willing to live under God's law[3] to voluntarily and peacefully establish such a just government jurisdiction.[4] According to Paul, it is "lawful" to use the law against evildoers: 1 Tim. 1:8-10.
  3. A properly Biblical civil government is very limited in the scope of its power/authority. A citizen/resident/sojourner who stays within the legal limits bounded by the defined crimes (which would include 'no public idolatry', and 'no subornation of others to idolatry') is free to live their lives and do business unmolested by the state. This was exactly the situation experienced by the foreigners and sojourners -- many of whom were pagan idolaters -- who lived and traded in Israel. These pagans enjoyed the protection of the law, the same as the Israelite covenant-members: Exod. 12:49, Lev. 18:26, Lev. 19:34, Lev. 20:2, Lev. 24:22, Num. 15:15-16, Num. 15:30, Num. 35:15.
  4. A Biblical jurisdiction which punishes crime justly and consistent with YHWH's transcendent standards will experience less crime, because of:
    • The removal of high-handed evildoers: Lev. 20:14, Deut. 13:5, Deut. 17:7,12, Deut. 19:19, Deut. 21:21.
    • The deterrence of others from evildoing: Deut. 13:11, Deut. 17:13, Deut. 19:20, Deut. 21:21.
  5. The obvious blessings of living in such a just Christian community would -- in and of themselves -- be a very strong type of evangelism. In fact, this is confirmed by the scriptures in Deut. 4:6-7, Deut. 28:9-10, and Rev. 21-22. A city set upon a hill cannot be hidden[5] (for better or for worse).
  6. The larger such a just Christian community becomes, the greater the scope of the following benefits:
    • Safety and peace of the community itself.
    • Blessings of living in accordance with God's law (Deut. 28:1-14)
    • Amount of people who are able to live in (true) freedom under a just civil government. The more people such a community is able to attract, the better for the human community as a whole.

If someone admits to the obvious truth of all of the above, and still thinks that they personally are "called" to evangelize in heathen communities, then I would not gainsay them. However, I would also expect to see that they are active evangelists, consistently finding opportunities to share the gospel with others. If they do not actually do this, then I would encourage them to broaden their understanding of the term "evangelism."

See also:

What is Paul saying about civil government in Romans 13?

  1. 44 “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, nor will its sovereignty be left to another people; but it will break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it will stand forever. Daniel 2:44WEB
  2. 18 Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Matthew 28:18WEB
  3. or even non-Christians who are willing to temporarily abide by God's law, for the sake of trade
  4. This was what the American Puritans tried to do, even though there were many flaws in their approach.
  5. Matt. 5:14