The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (8)

sorrow-humilityWhat is the Church to Do?

As I have noted the Christian Church cannot exist above the fray of secular politics.  However, neither can it allow itself to become a captive of any human ideology or political movement.  Tremendous damage has been done by supposed Christian leaders who have come to see the church as a vehicle through which favored secular policies can be pursued.  This danger cuts all ways, from Progressive to Conservative and all other ideological categories.

And yet there will be occasions in which a particular secular group’s position is superior to another’s from the Biblical Christian perspective.  However, it will never be the case that a secular political group’s policy prescriptions will always be the closest to Biblical Christianity.  Since I am currently in a denomination dominated by Progressive politics I have previously explained the absurdity of such an outcome as follows.

What is the likelihood that two organizations, the first driven by the passions and practicalities of contemporary human ideology / politics, and, the second built on Scriptures written by dozens of authors from approximately 1500 B.C. to 100 A.D. concerning the eternal, loving and just God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — would uniformly arrive at virtually identical moral conclusions and policy prescriptions?

The natural answer for most people would likely be “pretty much zero.”  That is, the differences in both the sources and deliberative processes are so vast that it would be absurdly unlikely.  And yet, this is the very absurdity upon which most mainline Protestant denominations are built.

That is, we are supposed to accept that the uniform agreement between a human political movement (i.e., Progressive Leftism) and mainline Christian denominations is a natural and credible outcome.  But, it is actually an incredible outcome, and one that any committed Christian, regardless of their personal political beliefs should find troubling.  Note well that it would be equally incredible and troubling if a Christian denomination uniformly agreed with Conservatism, Libertarianism, or any other secular human movement.

So, what then is the Church to do?  My recommendation is to focus first and foremost on the mission that Jesus Christ gave it — that being to preach the Gospel of grace and repentance to a fallen world.  The Church is in the primary business of seeking out and saving the lost.

A key component of that mission is to preach and teach the Gospel truth as revealed in the entire Bible.  That preaching and teaching should be based on the authority of Scripture, not under the authority of a preselected human ideology.   Sometimes one ideological position may appear closer to the Bible than another.  In other cases no human ideology will be anywhere close to what God’s Word teaches.

pride-v-humility-e-t-bensonThe Church must prayerfully seek to teach the Biblical truth and then let the chips fall where they may.  You can count on the church members to discuss and debate how, if at all, this teaching aligns with a given political position.  Different members will draw different conclusions.

The point is to equip all members to deliberate on their secular political responsibilities through the application of sound Christian theology and morality.  This should not be seen as a means of delivering a uniform political outcome.  However, neither can it be acceptable to remain silent when an influential political position clearly violates Christian morality.

In the end we must place our trust in God’s providential action.  We will each reason and draw conclusions.  Those conclusions will differ in scope, content and force across individuals.  If we seek to maintain a Republic consisting of free citizens then our only option is to create a space in which people of very different perspectives can discuss and debate in a humane manner.

If we understand ourselves to all be subject to the power of sin, all to be capable of error, all to be in need of a Savior, then it will be easier to find the humility to seek together towards Truth that lies only within the Mind of our God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  Romans 12:3

 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

Amen.

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The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (7)

jesus_before_pilateJesus Christ on Politics (3)

Another indisputable political incident occurs when Jesus is brought before the Roman governor, Pilate.  The politics played between the Jewish leaders and Pilate is overt.  The Jewish leaders need Pilate’s authority to execute Jesus, so they seek to  influence Pilate to achieve this end.

As we will see, though the charges against Jesus are secular (i.e., treason), He refuses this frame of reference.  Regardless, Pilate had to make his decision within the constraints of power politics as they existed at that time and place.  It’s impossible to know if Pilate sensed the enormous spiritual forces at play within this event.  Other Gospel accounts appear to suggest that he did (see Luke 23:13-25).  In any case, it wasn’t Pilate who was in control, but rather the inexorable, omnipotent providential acts of God.  Following is the encounter as described in John 18:28-40 (NIV).

28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

This is an odd reply.  It’s as if they don’t want to state their charge against Jesus.

31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Clearly the charge against Christ was the treasonous claim to be the king of the Jews, which was a direct rejection of Roman rule.

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Jesus doesn’t answer the question.

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Note that throughout the entire discussion Jesus hasn’t directly answered Pilate’s question.  The reason why has to do with the issue of “Truth.”  Jesus was accused of claiming to be the “king of the Jews.”  He was not.  Rather, He was claiming to be (and in reality is) the savior of all mankind — Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free.  Thus He could not in truth accept the charge.

However, Jesus also refused to explicitly reject the charge, because this was the worldly means by which the spiritual end of atoning for our sins would be achieved.  Jesus didn’t want to be acquitted.  After all, Jesus Christ is the Second Person in the Trinitarian Godhead, and, God had determined this event before the creation of the world.

So, by refusing to explicitly accept or reject the charge against Him Jesus was upholding the Truth while ensuring that His plan for salvation would proceed.

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

WhatIsTruth885x339

Here we may see in this sophisticated Roman politician a sort of proto-postmodernism.  There is no way to know if Pilate asked this question honestly, ironically or contemptuously.  Regardless, Pilate was taking the position that the “Truth” is something uncertain, and therefore, up for grabs  in this world.

there-is-no-truth-there-is-only-perception-6Almost two-thousand years later the real postmodernists would take the logical next step.  When postmodern Christians confront Christ today, their response has to do with truth, but it is not in the form of a question.

With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

That which had been predestined to come to pass had no option other than to occur.

The “politics” in which Jesus Christ engaged were infinite, eternal and providential in nature.  But this fact doesn’t disconnect our Christian lives from secular, political responsibilities.  Rather, it enlightens, informs and guides our deliberations as we navigate the challenges of this fallen world.  But this guidance can only be Christian if we acknowledge that there is an ultimate, unchangeable Truth and that it exists only in the Triune Christian God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This statement in no way denies that wisdom can be found outside of Christian sources. Nor does it denigrate the individual worth of any human being.  All it does is to acknowledge that we are Christians because Jesus Christ is indeed our Lord and Savior.

The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (6)

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Detail of Fra Angelico, “Arrest of Christ”

Jesus Christ on Politics (2)

There is no doubt that during the Passion Week Christ was immersed in a highly charged political situation.  From the moment He entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey secular political fervor played a key role in the unfolding of events.  However, we mustn’t loose sight of the deeper truth that God was using these secular forces to achieve the ultimate spiritual end.

When the Disciple Judas arrives at the Garden of Gethsemane with the crowd to arrest Jesus the secular and spiritual domains intersected at a fiery point of great danger.  An angry, heavily armed mob has a high potential for violence.  But note how Christ takes sure control of the situation, ensuring that it is God’s providential purposes and not mankind’s passions that carry the day.  Read Matthew 26:47-56.

47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.

50 Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

This is the point of greatest danger.  A member of Jesus’ group physically attacks a man who is acting under authority of the Jewish leadership.  The action would have been interpreted as removing all doubt that Christ is leading an overt rebellion.  Thus the likelihood that this specific situation would careen into open, indiscriminate violence had been maximized.  And, the likelihood that God’s purposes for showing mankind the extent of His mercy would have been utterly obscured.

52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Jesus first deals with His own follower (likely Peter).  He ensures deescalation by telling him to sheathe the sword.  He then calmly explains that He has no need for mortal intervention, as God the Father could protect His Son with infinite power were that His purpose.

55 In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

In Luke 22:51 a detail is added: But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

Jesus has deescalated His own followers so now turns His attention to the arresting mob. He first explicitly rejects the idea that He is leading a rebellion.  He does so by pointing out the open, public nature of His ministry and the lack of response to it by the authorities.  By restoring the injured man’s ear He removes any immediate casus belli.  Finally, He communicates to everyone present that these events are not under control of mortals, but rather are directly and unalterably controlled by God’s providential purposes.

We here have a startling example of men being driven by their own wills in relationship with God willing His ultimate purposes within mortal action.  Yes, the passions of both sides drove words and actions.  The source of these human passions was the will of each participant.  However, God at every turn maintained perfect control of the situation.  Christ always said and did exactly the right thing to herd these unruly, dangerous humans onto the path of God’s ultimate purposes.

Had it been Jesus’ purpose to lead a secular political movement this encounter would have ended in violence and death.  But, as He showed repeatedly, Christ’s primary mission was spiritual — the saving and redemption of humankind’s souls.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (4)

dv1492005How can the Church be in the world but not of it?

The Christian Church is comprised of individual humans who all to one extent or another adopt specific ideologies, act on personal preferences and make partisan decisions.  Thus it is not possible for the Church to operate in a domain that is isolated from human opinion.  In fact, by attempting to do so it abrogates its responsibility to provide spiritual guidance in this current life.

The problem is that the Church can become so caught up in the exercise of politics that it becomes virtually indistinguishable from any other partisan interest group.  This is the case for Mainline denominations with respect to Progressivism and also for some Evangelical churches with respect to Populism / Conservatism.  How then can the Christian Church provide spiritual guidance to its members on things political without becoming captive to secular political movements?

One of my greatest frustrations with Mainline Protestant leadership is the way that they have politicized every aspect of the Bible’s teaching.  In their view almost everything that the Prophets, Apostles and Christ Himself did or said had a secular political motivation.  Thus, Christ is reduced to not much more than a particularly influential Progressive, pacifist, socialist community organizer.

However, it would be equally false to contend that nothing done by the Prophets, Apostles and Christ Himself intersected with secular politics.  In fact, there are cases where it is virtually certain that human worldly politics provided the framework for the Biblical text.  How then can the Christian Church fulfilled its duty to deliver spiritual and moral teaching that informs its member’s political deliberations without becoming captive to secular political ideologies and movements?  Answering this question will be the focus of following posts.

TheChristian Church in Revolutionary Times (3)

basis-for-giving

The Biblical Foundation

Although revolutionary times share common attributes, each instance is driven by its own set of issues.  As was discussed in the previous post this potential revolution is driven by the segregation of our population into waring identity groups.

Given this situation, what are the most relevant Bible verses upon which to base the Christian Church’s response?  My initial thought is a verse that may seem to cut in the opposite direction, given that it calls Christians to identify completely with Christ.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  (John 14:6 NIV)

We cannot credibly respond to the world as Christians if we in practice reject Christ.  Much of this blog’s content has been dealing with just that issue within context of the PCUSA’s leadership.  One of my key points has been that our leadership has so completely conformed to Progressive ideology that all credibility as a Christian voice has been lost.

I am not saying that Christians should segregate themselves from the world or presume some sort of automatic moral authority.  Rather, my point is that unless we demonstrate that we are addressing events from a sincere, consistent and distinctive Christian perspective we will be written off as just another interest group.

With this said, there are two Scriptural passages that I believe most directly and effectively address the foundations of identity politics.  The first is Romans 3:9-20 (NIV).

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”
 “Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
     “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
     ruin and misery mark their ways,
 and the way of peace they do not know.”
     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

This passages reminds us that we all share in the fallenness of sin, be we Conservative, Progressive, Independent, Libertarian, Liberal, Moderate or anything else.  We all are tainted morally, and we all are capable of corruption, hypocrisy, deceit, greed and lust.  This is not to say that therefore all political positions are equally moral from a Christian perspective.  It does say that to presume one group of humans to be inherently morally superior to another violates a central truth of Christianity.  That being our universal fallenness and universal need for a Savior.  Were our society to hear this message consistently and compellingly from the Christian Church some of the divisiveness at free play might just be attenuated.

While the Romans passage stresses our human unity under sin, the following verse from Galatians proclaims our common identity in Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NIV)

When the Apostle Paul wrote these words (under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration) in the first century A.D. within the Roman Empire they covered the three most divisive identity issues of that time and place.  Thus, this was a radical and controversial position.  Were the Christian Church to put this teaching into today’s context it would go far toward closing the rift that currently exists between identity groups.

The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (2)

identityWhat is the Core Issue?

At the top level this potential revolution is about the clash between a Progressive “elite” ruling class and the “commoners” who do not wish to be ruled by them.  However, the deeper issue is how the concept of identity is understood and put into practice.

The Progressives see culture and politics through the lens of victimhood.  Therefore, individuals are organized into victim groups who have suffered oppression.  Because of this oppression a powerful government operated by morally superior people is necessary to protect and advance the interests of the victims.  This ideological system is often described as “identity politics.”  That is, by asserting identity as a member of or a champion for a victim group one obtains moral standing to exert power over those others who are the designated victimizers.  Power over the victims is also obtained, since it is only by submitting to the designated ideology that victims can earn protection.

Commoners have tended to define themselves by associations and interests outside the realm of politics.  To them, though politics may be an important part of life, other domains like faith, family, neighbors, sports, etc. have clear priority.  Commoners see themselves as part of a common heritage and culture.  Thus, they have appreciation for the nation and those through whom it was formed and maintained.  This appreciation often finds its voice through concepts such as adherence to our Constitution and other founding documents of the nation.

As a consequence of the Progressives so aggressively organizing around “identity politics,” the commoners who find themselves under siege as the designated evil victimizers have also began to organize under a group identity.  The most common form is to claim the Hillary Clinton insult of “deplorables” for themselves as a badge of honor.

Thus, the forces unleashed with our nation are driving people into opposing identity camps where good and evil exist not within each human heart but rather are the uniform attribute of each tribe.  If you are a Progressive then virtually all good exists within your camp and all bad in the other.  And, to an increasing extent, commoners/deplorables are engaging in this same theory of moral distribution (obviously with the roles reversed).

This dynamic is a key reason why the possibility for civil, reasoned discussion is shrinking at an alarming rate.

 

The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (1)

realrevolutionIntroduction

I recently read a persuasive article that posited we are living in revolutionary times.  Since persuasive falls short of conclusive, we can still hope that  Angelo Codevilla’s thesis is proved false.  However, the events of 2015 to the present provide credible evidence that something fundamental has changed within our Republic.  If these changes are indeed revolutionary in nature then the question of how the Christian Church should respond becomes of paramount importance.

To begin, here is how Mr. Codevilla defines the revolution which he claims our nation is experiencing.

The 2008 financial crisis sparked an incipient revolution. Previously, Americans dissatisfied with their Progressive rulers had imagined that voting for Republicans might counter them. But then, as three-fourths of Americans opposed bailing out big banks with nearly a trillion dollars, the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates joined; most Republican legislators joined all Democrats; The Wall Street Journal joined The New York Times, and National Review joined The Nation; in telling Americans that doing this was essential, and that their disapproval counted for nothing. And then, just as high-handedly, all these bipartisan rulers dropped that bailout scheme, and adopted another—just as unaccountably. They showed “government by the people, for the people” to be a fable.

This forced the recognition that there exists a remarkably uniform, bipartisan, Progressive ruling class; that it includes, most of the bureaucracies of federal and state governments, the judiciary, the educational establishment, the media, as well as major corporate officials; that it had separated itself socially, morally, and politically from the rest of society, whose commanding heights it monopolized; above all that it has contempt for the rest of America, and that ordinary Americans have no means of persuading this class of anything, because they don’t count.

As the majority of Americans have become conscious of the differences between this class and themselves they have sought ever more passionately to shake it off. That is the ground of our revolution.

Although we need not accept this theory of revolutionary times, we should consider that it is a credible possibility.  In that case, the Christian Church should be thinking hard and long about how it should engage with the chaos and challenges of such a time.