Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (2)

st-Paul-painting-pic-croped

The Apostle Paul

Chapter 1: Salutation

While reading these first sentences of Romans, consider the nature of a soul that could compose such a statement.  While so doing, remember that only twenty years earlier this same man was consumed by hatred that manifested itself in murderous violence.  It was at this man’s feet that the stoners of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, placed their robes (Acts 7:58).  He then proceeded to initiate a cruel persecution of the Christian Church with vile verbal outbursts of hatred on his lips (Acts 9:1).  And then, a mere two decades later, this is what he wrote.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s primary goal here is to establish his apostleship for a church that he hadn’t founded and hadn’t ever visited.  The Great Apostle wrote Romans during his third missionary journey, likely while in Corinth.  The map of Paul’s journeys following this paragraph clearly shows that his closest proximity to Rome had been in Berea Macedonia, which is approximately 580 miles from Rome “as the crow flies.”  Note that this map also shows Paul’s trip from Jerusalem to Rome (A.D. 59) as a prisoner to be tried before the Emperor.

Paul-Rom-Map

The Apostle Paul’s Missionary Journeys and the Epistle to the Romans

Although the church in Jerusalem held the honor of being the “home church,” the church in Rome would have been of great import due to its proximity to the Empire’s power center.  In particular, it was in Rome that the most powerful rulers would most directly experience Christians in their beliefs, worship and behavior.  Their impressions could make the difference between benign neglect and terrible persecution.

Paul could have sought to establish his Apostleship by recounting the dramatic story of his meeting with the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus.  Or, he could have pointed to has amazing missionary journeys, resulting in new, vibrant Christian communities planted throughout Greece, Macedonia and Asia Minor.  He could have explained his central role in the allowance and continuance of Gentile conversion to Christianity.  He could have bragged about his suffering for the cause.  He chose to ignore all of these powerful arguments.

Rather, for this critical introduction that would make or break his reputation with the church in Rome, Paul simply and plainly stated his servanthood to and love for Jesus Christ.  Every word points towards Jesus, and thus away from Paul.  Yes, Paul is an Apostle, but only because of Christ’s grace towards him and chosen purpose for his life.  This text is thus primarily focused on establishing Jesus as the Christ and only secondarily on Paul’s apostleship.

Given all his amazing experiences and accomplishments the temptation to focus on himself could have been decisive.  But this is the man who said in all truth that:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

So, this man who could have said so many impressive things about himself simply pointed to the source of it all — Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior.

And, by the Holy Spirit’s intervention, the Roman church did indeed find in this Epistle the Gospel of Jesus Christ expounded with a power, clarity and completeness that time cannot diminish.

Let’s return to it now with expectant hearts.

 

Advertisements

Romans: The Case for Christ to a Hostile World (1)

Christ-Rome-20%

Imperial Rome and its Gods in A.D. 56 … Living in the Shadow of Christ’s Gospel

Introduction

Roman-Empire-Map

The Roman Empire at its Apex

When the Apostle Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans in A.D. 56 Christianity was a tiny struggling religious sect within the vast Roman Empire.  There is no way to know how many Christians lived in the Roman Empire then, but 25,000 might be a reasonable guess.  Were this the case, then less than one in two-thousand people were Christian (the population of the Roman Empire at that time has been conservatively estimated to be around fifty-million).

Depending on dating of Christ’s resurrection, the Christian Church may have only been in existence for 23 years in A.D. 56.  Gentiles would have only been generally accepted as Christian converts for 6-8 years.  Thus, by the standards of civilizations who had centuries, even millennia of historic consciousness the Christian Church was nothing more (in the world’s eyes) than a newborn infant.

Although, by God’s providence, the Church had experienced massive growth, it had occurred within an environment of violent, sustained persecution.  Of course, Saul (now renamed Paul) had been a recent leader of that persecution.  Thus the primitive Church was experiencing direct and purposeful hostility from the ancient Jewish community from which it was emerging.

But the world’s hostility was by no means limited to the local Jewish community.  For the Roman Empire had established pagan religions that viewed the Christian Gospel as at best idiocy, and at worst a dangerous heresy.  The following excerpt summarizes the religious environment that dominated the Roman Empire.

From the beginning Roman religion was polytheistic. From an initial array of gods and spirits, Rome added to this collection to include both Greek gods as well as a number of foreign cults. As the empire expanded, the Romans refrained from imposing their own religious beliefs upon those they conquered; however, this inclusion must not be misinterpreted as tolerance – this can be seen with their early reaction to the Jewish and Christian population.

ba31c3109cf2e02af98126cf8d0cc92a

A Roman Triumph Parade, for a General who had won an important battle or war.

The Roman Empire stood near to its apex in A.D. 56.  It ruled most of the known “civilized” world, having conquered virtually every civilization surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.  Its military prowess was universally feared and its administrative efficiency allowed it to rule over a diverse population.  Its rulers played the power game with consciences unaffected by humane considerations.  They would brook no challenge to their power, be it a barbarian horde or a tiny new religious sect.

peter crucified

The Apostle Peter crucified in Rome.

Only eight years after Romans was written the first official state persecution of Christianity began (under the Emperor Nero).  One year later both Apostles Peter and Paul had been martyred in or near Rome by the Roman State.

The fact that a Christian community already existed in the capital city should be of no surprise given that some estimate 10% of the empire’s population lived in or near to Rome.  It’s clear from Paul’s description that this community was both vibrant and visible.  That is, they were not hunkered-down in a defensive crouch just hoping to survive.  No, they just like so many other Christian converts were living lives utterly transformed by their encounter with the risen Christ.

It is within this context that I propose to reconnect with the Book of Romans.  I hope to explore how this Epistle could have been written within these contexts of time, place and culture.  Along the way many other ideas will also be explored.

The Book of Romans has become for too many Christians a source of “old chestnut” verses that have lost their power and purpose.  However, in our increasingly hostile culture it shines as a beacon calling us back to that which animates all of Christian life — Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Making Sense of It All (8)

Quotation-Thomas-Jefferson-Experience-hath-shewn-that-even-under-the-best-forms-of-14-56-60
What is at Stake?

Our nation is engulfed in an angry, sometimes violent debate about something.  But what is it?

People who think that this all started with Donald Trump are seriously mistaken.  Recall that many in the Democratic party “resisted” the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and then proceeded to destroy his person and administration.  President Bush did nothing to help himself by attempting to “split the difference” between conservatism and progressivism, and, by leading us into a war with Iraq that came to be seen as justified by faulty intelligence and naive expectations.

The nation then traded the “compassionate conservative” philosophy for “fundamental change” progressivism by electing Barack Obama to the presidency.  However, there was no “racial healing” to be found in this historic development but rather increasing racial division.  There was no achieved consensus on health care reform, but rather a solution supported by 51% of the Congress shoved down the throats of the 49% (and the citizens whom they represent).

Many people believe that we have withdrawn into two political camps that share no common ground.  In that scenario there is only the question of who will finally defeat whom.  But, for that to happen a stable “51+%” of the population would have to emerge that lasted for a generation.

Given the disinterest of, say, 60% of our population in politics and policy (a position that I better understand after the past 20 years), one reasonable expectation is that the ideological “20%” on the left and right will compete in an unstable environment.  In this scenario, we would experience huge policy swings as unreconcilable ideologies sequentially gain temporary political power.  This is exactly what we see now, with Donald Trump reversing Barack Obama’s policies.  Were a Democrat to win in 2020 or 2024 we would see the same dynamic.

But although the above scenario seems bad (because it is), I contend that it is the optimistic scenario.  That is, it assumes that, over time, the irreconcilable differences between left and right will be resolved by the working of a stable democratic republic.  Yes, there will be many terrible consequences from the instability.  But the instability will occur because the citizens of the republic can’t make up their minds.  And, even within this instability there will still exist a stable constitutional system that protects fundamental liberty.

The more pessimistic scenario is that we are leaving a constitutional democratic republic behind and heading towards tyranny.  Anyone who has been keeping up with this blog knows that I am not a supporter of Donald Trump.  Nor was I a supporter of Barack Obama.  However, the election of Mr. Trump has, if nothing else, allowed light to penetrate into the dark crevices of our gargantuan permanent ruling class.  And what has been revealed is truly alarming.

image-2018-02-02

The Nunes Memo

As I pointed out in a previous post, the Obama Administration used its temporary public trust to weaponize powerful law enforcement, intelligence, regulatory and revenue departments of the federal government in order to attack citizens and groups with opposing views.  Since that post was written new information (see here, here, here, here, etc.) has become available that shows the scope and depth of this corruption to be far beyond what I could have imagined.

It has become clear to me that a significant motivation for the violent emotional progressive frenzy over Trump’s election is because what they thought would be forever hidden would now come to light.  It’s not just that they lost a Presidential election.  No, it’s that the people against whom the federal government was being weaponized forced these corrupt practices into the light.  And note well — this reaction does not depend on the personality or policies of Donald Trump.

Under President Obama the Democratic Party was devastated at the federal Congressional, state and local level.  The last bastion of power was their hold on the Presidency.  They thought that hold was unbreakable.  They found out to their horror that the people who had voted against their candidates at all other levels of government would do the same at the Presidential level.

Trump InaugurationTheir response was to “resist” the Trump Administration in all ways imaginable, from violent street riots, to shameless leaking of classified information to publishing unattributed innuendo as fact to ginning up a “Russian collusion” narrative that more than a year later is still without a shred of credible evidence in support.

Does the Democratic Party presume that, while they own the Presidency, they are free to use the overwhelming power of the state to subvert, intimidate and criminalize opposition?  Is the Democratic Party claiming a “veto power” over Presidential elections?  If the U.S. citizenry doesn’t vote the “politically correct” way does anything go to overturn their decision?  I hope the answer to these questions is a resounding No!

Because if the answer is anything less then we are contending between a constitutional democratic republic and naked tyranny.

quote-to-those-who-cite-the-first-amendment-as-reason-for-excluding-god-from-more-and-more-ronald-reagan-55-97-14

 

Making Sense of It All (7)

2016-09-16-37525587_largeThe Interests of the “Basket of Deplorables”

In 2016 Hillary Clinton, while running for President, insulted approximately one-quarter of the United States’ citizens.

cnn_hillary“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”

By this statement Mrs. Clinton gave voice to the quasi-caste hatred that animates far more of the Progressive program than many would like to admit.

I am not here to claim that any segment of our population is morally superior.  Those citizens who chose to vote Mr. Trump into the Presidency are all fallen, frail flesh and blood, just exactly as are those who voted for someone else or didn’t vote at all.  I am here to point out that this quarter of the nation’s population has legitimate interests that both the Democratic and Republican parties had ignored for decades.

We must first identify to whom Mrs. Clinton was referring.  We can begin by agreeing that this “deplorable” quasi-caste can be found within that segment of the population who are willing to vote for Republican candidates.  That is, if you are a reliable Democratic voter then in spite of any personal faults or bad behaviors, you are certainly not a “deplorable.”

However, not all people who are or vote Republican are “deplorables.”  If you are in this group but submit in silence to, or better yet, actively support core Progressive policies (e.g., open borders immigration) then you can avoid (as long as you don’t stand between Progressives and the acquisition of political power) falling into this category.  Make no mistake though, you are both stupid and likely evil, but not to the point of being an actual “deplorable.”

The above discussion helps, but doesn’t sufficiently describe the boundaries of the “deplorable” quasi-caste. To accomplish that we must revisit some of the other statements made by the leaders of the tip-top Progressive quasi-caste.  The most useful of these was made by candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

obama-below1You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.
And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Mr. Obama was right about the economic frustrations experienced by a large segment of our population.  However, note also the condescension and contempt with which he responds to these very real issues.  For, in his mind, these sorry communities are so full of incompetent people that neither Democratic or Republican administrations are able to pull them out of failure.  The reason is that they are bitter, small minded folk who stupidly “cling” to dangerous or irrelevant totems of the past.  Sounds a lot like “irredeemable” to me.

Another boundary setting statement fell from the lips of no other than Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader of the House of Representatives in 2017.  Joe Scarborough set up the discussion by asking:

But how do Democrats who have the right policies economically, in their minds, how do they reconnect with a middle America who feels like sometimes they are looked down upon because of their faith or their values?

Her answer to this soft-ball question shows the depths of contempt that lives in the Progressive mind towards those who don’t share in their ideology (emphasis added).

Speaker Pelosi Holds Weekly News Conference“And I say, this will be a little not in keeping with the spirit of the day of unity, but I say they pray in church on Sunday and prey on people the rest of the week, and while we’re doing the Lord’s work by ministering to the needs of God’s creation they are ignoring those needs which is to dishonor the God who made them.”

With this material I believe we can identify the boundary between the lowest “deplorable” quasi-cast and all that sit above.  They tend to:

  • live in small towns, suburbs or rural areas;
  • be (but are not all) middle to upper-middle class;
  • have suffered significant, sustained economic frustration and/or decline over the past 30 years;
  • be Bible-believing Christians;
  • own guns or support gun ownership;
  • oppose Obamacare;
  • oppose open-borders immagration;
  • have become suspicious of “world-trade” agreements;
  • not embrace gay-marriage or the other aspects of “queer ideology“;
  • not embrace radical environmentalism in general, or “climate change” in particular;
  • believe that the United States in particular and Western Civilization in general have great value and should be preserved;
  • love their country, believe that it has mortal enemies and honor those who defend it.

As far as I can tell, these are the people who made the difference in electing Mr. Trump to the Presidency.  This is a group who found themselves actively hated by the Democrats or treated like an embarrassment by the Republicans for decades.  The idea that these citizens would forever ignore the fact that neither major political party cared about, let alone addressed, their interests was ludicrous.

Such a situation couldn’t last in a functioning democratic republic, and it hasn’t.  The question that now faces us is will the United States continue to be a democratic republic or is it on the way to becoming something else?

2016nationwidecountymapshadedbyvoteshare

The 2016 Presidential results by county. A Progressive archipelago in a sea of deplorables.