Sin Ruins Nations: How to Preach to a Government that has Turned its Back

Tuesday is for Preaching

Recently, I was taken to task on a critical statement I made toward politicians in general of both parties and of the president in particular. It was a friend who took me to task, and we remain friends though I remain unconvinced that my criticism of the Congress, Senate and Executive Office were out of place or inappropriate. Bottom line, I don’t believe that respect for the President means non-criticism of the the President. Except for the question between the post and the footnotes, the following is from Kairos Journal.

Repentance to Parliament [or congress]

WhitehouseOn the morning of December 22, 1641, Edmund Calamy, a London curate, calmly climbed the steps into the pulpit of St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. Facing the assembled House of Commons, he opened his Bible to Jeremiah 18:7-10 and proposed a simple doctrine: “Sin ruins kingdoms.” Calamy told his listeners that the only way to avert God’s wrath over national apostasy was through national repentance and a desire to “reform the Reformation” according to the Word of God.1 He set the tone for many of the decade’s sermons that day: “It is about the ruin and repair of kingdoms and nations, a matter suitable for you that are the representative body of the kingdom.”2 His sermon was entitled “England’s Looking Glass,” and its published version went through five editions due to its popularity.

The practice of preaching to Parliament began in 1614 with a motion that all members receive communion together. To respect Puritan sensibilities, the service was to be held in St. Margaret’s, and the speaker of the house arranged for a preacher for the occasion. Beginning in 1642, monthly fasts were established, with sermons delivered in both the morning and afternoon.3 These days took on special significance during the time of the Long Parliament (1640-1648) and civil war (1642-1646, 1648-1649, and 1649-1651).4

As Calamy preached, he emphasized the importance of repentance in their tumultuous times. He boldly claimed God’s sovereignty over nations: “[W]hen God begins to build and plant a Nation; if that Nation do [evil] in Gods sight, God will unbuild, pluck up, and repent of the good he intended to do unto it.”5 Like most of the preachers, he was a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, the men who drew up the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Catechisms. Indeed, it was the preaching of men like Calamy and Stephen Marshall that led Parliament to call the Assembly.6

That morning, Calamy sought to apply his teaching to the Church, to the nation as a whole, and to Parliament in particular, because he believed that Parliament was the representative body of the kingdom. This representation was not so much to represent the people’s rights before the king as to represent its responsibilities before God.7 Therefore, repentance and reformation should start with them.

The seventeenth-century parliamentary preachers had grasped that the greatest need for any nation was reformation according to God’s Word. When they had the ears of some of the most powerful men in the country, they preached not so much about policy as about repentance. For, in the words of one of these preachers, Obadiah Sedgewick, spiritual renewal was “the [only] way to prevent destroying Judgments.8

Is it the Church’s role to call elected officials to repent when the laws of God are broken?

1 John F. Wilson, Pulpit in Parliament: Puritanism during the English Civil Wars 1640-1648 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969), 55-56.

2 Edmund Calamy, “England’s Looking Glass,” quoted in Stephen Baskerville, Not Peace But a Sword: The Political Theology of the English Revolution (London: Routledge, 1993), 63.3 Wilson, 22-28. For example, the sermon mentioned at the beginning of this piece took place on the occasion of a fast for the Irish crisis. Ibid., 239.

4 Charles I called Parliament together to provide needed finances that only parliament could approve. By a special act, it was determined that this Parliament could only be adjourned by a vote from its members. Thus, the Parliament stayed together for nearly ten years, greatly influencing the course of the English Civil War.

5 Calamy, quoted in Wilson, 55.

6 Wilson, 55-57.

7 Baskerville, 79.

8 Quoted in Wilson, 65.

2 thoughts on “Sin Ruins Nations: How to Preach to a Government that has Turned its Back

  1. Marty,

    Before the church asks the government to repent shouldn’t the church repent?

    Shouldn’t the priority for correcting sin start with the church working on the sins of the church?

    Does the sins of the church have a greater impact on the ruin of a nation than the sins of government?

    Thirty-seven percent of women obtaining abortions identify as Protestant and 28% as Catholic.
    See Jones RK, Finer LB and Singh S, Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients, 2008, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2010.
    Also see
    If true, then 65% of abortions are performed by the people of the church.

    Shouldn’t the church do more to protect children from being molested by priest?

    Is the likelihood of divorce amongst the churched close to that of the non churched?

    Jesus (whom we try to model our behavior after) directed his strongest words toward the religious leaders of his time. Jesus did very little to change the government. And the Roman government did not concern itself with the things of God.

    Shouldn’t Christians try to clean up themselves first as requested in 2 Chr 7;14, the church second before changing the world?

    Your friend who is greatful that you showed me how to hold my thoughts accountable to scriptures.


    1. Ricardo,
      Absolutely! The church should repent. Every week, that is what pastors who believe the word of God call people to. My BLOG is a constant, unrelenting call for the church to repent of idolatry, segregation, selfishness, self-centeredness, lack of love, lack of faithfulness in witness, faithlessness in prayer and Bible study as well as Bible living.

      The church absolutely needs to repent. That is what it means to be a Christian. We are constantly, or should be constantly repenting of sin. That is why Martin Luther wrote that Christ calls a man to himself, he calls a man to a life of repentance. Bonhoeffer echoes this in The Cost of Discipleship. So absolutely, the church should repent.

      Now on the Guttmacher study. Statistics, particular large aggregate statistics need to examined carefully. As a preacher, I might quote the above statistics to show the sad state of the institutional church in America. At the same time, however the statistics mislead. How? Let’s take the groupings. “Protestant” in the Guttmacher study includes everything that is not “Catholic.” It includes groups like JW, Mormons, Christian Science, Unitarian churches, Churches that deny the Deity of Christ, Cults. It also includes denominations that have moved far afield from the sound, orthodox doctrine, and denominations that deny the authority of Scripture. Do these churches need to repent? Yes! Is it surprising that they are having abortions in higher numbers given their departure from biblical norms and standards. No.

      What about the 28% who claim to be Catholic? Just as above, there are many who claim to be Catholic who do not live as Catholics. Is this something to repent of? Yes. But it again proves that what a person proclaims with their lips may not actually be true. These are (Protestant and Catholic) “in name only.” Should the church call them to repent? Yes.

      Now let’s deal with our wing of the church, the Evangelicals. Evangelicals exist in most of these groups. There are whole denominations that are comprised of mostly authentic believers, and their are evangelicals, true believers in many historic denominations even though many of their fellow pew sitters are “in name only”. God is the only one who ultimately knows who is who and we will leave that up to him.

      If the Guttmacher study had separated out Evangelicals as a separate category, I suspect the numbers would be very low. Very low is still bad. Evangelicals should not be getting or encouraging abortions. Should this be repented of? Yes. Should church leadership be calling the church to repent of this? Yes. Is the church doing this? For the most part, yes. Am I as a pastor doing this? Yes.

      As for the church doing more to protect children from pedophile priests? ABSOLUTELY! Should this be repented of (that they have not done more)? ABSOLUTELY. But here we are talking about one particular denomination and that needs to be addressed there.

      Brother, you also mentioned divorce? I don’t want to open old wounds. I will just say this. The widely quoted statistic that divorce in the church is as prevalent in the church as it is in the general culture is simply wrong. It is a made up statistic. It has been quoted so often that many think it is authoritative. There is no evidence that this is true in Evangelical believing churches. NONE. Is divorce a part of evangelical churches? YES, unfortunately. Should this be repented of? Yes. But it is not anywhere near the proportion as it is among nominal Christians of whatever claimed denomination.

      Jesus really does make a difference. Your life is a testimony to that. I think of one couple at New Song. She had four divorces before becoming a Christian. He had three divorces before becoming a Christian. They have now been married since coming to Christ for 20-25 years and are like newlyweds in their real happiness and joy as together, they pursue Christ.

      So the answer to your question is yes, the church should repent of all of its wickedness but that should not mute the voice of its “prophets” in calling sin and wickedness what it really is, whether it is inside or outside the church, whether it is religious authorities or governmental authorities, whether it is a republican president or a democratic president. Irresponsibility in leadership, is irresponsible whether it is a president or a pastor, or a so-called-layman in the church. I want to be called irresponsible when the evidence mounts that that is the best characterization of my behavior. Why do I want that? Because I am a sinner who needs to be constantly repenting. Because I want to adorn the gospel of Christ with beauty and holiness.

      And those are just some of the reasons why I believe that my characterization of our Congress, our Senate, and our president as fiscally irresponsible is on target and appropriate, though I will accord every one of my Congressman/woman and Senators and my President honor and respect due to them and the nature of their responsibilities.


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