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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Word For The Week

I got caught up in a discussion last night with an atheist on DailyKos (believe it or not, there are indeed one or two atheists on DailyKos) about Christians in politics. It is abundantly clear to me that we need to get two things straight - specifically, what is a theocracy and what does the 1st Amendment mean when it states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"? Additionally, should Christians even engage in politics and if so, how?

I am about tired of this straw man being thrown around any time a Christian advocates laws that reflects Christian values. Christians are trying to do is the same thing that non-Christians are trying to do politically - have our views and preferences reflected in the law of the land. Everyone who is involved in politics gets involved for the purpose of having their beliefs and preferences reflected in the laws and policies of the nation. That's the nature of democratic politics (small "d" democratic) - everyone brings their preferences, desires, hopes, and fears to the public square and we collectively establish laws and policies to govern our society via majority rule (Diebold notwithstanding). This is not about Christians trying to make this a Christian nation any more than is it about farmers trying to make this a farming nation or gays trying to make this a homosexual nation.

Moreover, it might be helpful if people actually looked up the definition of the word Theocracy. From Webster's:
Main Entry: the·oc·ra·cy
Pronunciation: thE-'ä-kr&-sE
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -cies
Etymology: Greek theokratia, from the- + -kratia -cracy
1 : government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided
Any proper understanding of Theocracy - including Webster's - connotes and denotes God as the source of authority. That is why this straw man accusation can not stand - Christians are not seeking to make God the authority of the government of United States of America through politics, and without the authoritative component you do not have theocracy. After all, if one were to say that a government run by religious officials constitutes a theocracy then you'd have to claim that America was founded as a theocracy - the overwhelming majority of the founders were pious men of faith.

The truth of the matter is that by any proper use of the word Theocracy, even the northern kingdom of Israel or the southern kingdom of Judah in the Old Testament couldn't be called "theocracies" - neither of them were governments of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided, the possible exceptions being the reigns of David, Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah. Even then, according to the Old Testament text itself, these were not theocracies: "And the LORD told [Samuel]: Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.'" "The LORD answered, 'Listen to them and give them a king.'"

Rather difficult to have a government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided when the Israelites had rejected divine guidance.

Many secular people appear to reject the idea of Christians having our thoughts reflected in the laws of the land, but their problem is with Democracy, not with some straw man that they call Theocracy.

Seperation of Church and State
What does this phrase mean, and why does it get so much pub when it's not even found in the Constitution? The original intent of the 1st Amendment was to keep the government out of religion, to keep the Episcopalians and Congregationalists from outlawing Baptist expressions of worship. THAT is the seperation of church and state, from Thomas Jefferson's own pen. It is not the separation of religious thought from state legislation.

What is the basis of American laws? The obvious and pithy response is, "The will of the people" and ultimately, that is indeed all that matters (Constitutional prohibitions notwithstanding). If Ms. Cleo informs the thinking of enough people to affect the laws of the land then there will be some phony-Jamacan accented laws on the books. If the flight trajectory of migratory swallows affects the thinking of enough Americans then there will be some bird-brained laws on the books. If the will of God affects the thinking of enough Americans then there will be some Godly laws on the books. That's not theocracy - that's democracy, and like President Andrew Shepherd said:
America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've got to want it bad, because it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who is standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the 'land of the free'? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the 'land of the free.'"
Naturally, many people who object to Christians bringing our Christianity to the public square will try to find some hook to hang their hat upon, but their problem is not with theocracy, their problem is with Democracy.

Christian Politics
So how should Christians interact with politics? That is a question with which Christians have wrestled since Jesus walked the earth. Jesus’ response is well-known to Christians and non-Christian alike in the western world, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21) But beyond paying taxes, do we owe anything else to “Caesar”? What about our allegiance? Do we pledge allegiance to the flag or to the cross? One fundamental problem that American Christians have is that we confuse our nouns and adjectives: are we Christians who live in America or are we Americans who believe in Christ? There is a world of difference between the two, and that difference is life and death (Matt. 7:21-29). Christians who live in America pledge our allegiance to Jesus Christ – if there is a difference between the commands of America and the commands of Jesus Christ then Christians who live in America will obey Jesus Christ’s standard instead of the American standard, while Americans who believe in Christ will follow the American standard instead of Jesus’ standard. It is a question of submission – to whose authority do we submit? Jesus said that no man can serve two masters – either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other (Matt. 6:24). Jesus’ immediate context was money, but the same is true of ultimate allegiance – if there is a conflict in commands and expectations, will we side with America or Jesus? Everyone must choose for themselves whom they will serve, as Joshua told the children of Israel (Josh. 24:15). Paul tells us that this world in which we live is evil and that we must not be conformed to this world – we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind, setting our minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. Yet, as Jesus’ ambassadors to the world, Christians must be in the world but not of the world so that we may transform the world. That means that we must be involved in the world and its politics – even though politics cannot in and of itself transform the world – and we must do that in such a way that God is glorified and the Kingdom is advanced.

A Christian political philosophy must flow from and be informed by our theology – our perspective on the nature and character of God. God created all that is ex nihilo – out of nothing – including earth and mankind. Mankind was created good but, through man’s disobedience to the will of God as revealed through the Word of God, mankind fell from that good state such that it is now natural for us to choose that which is opposed to the nature and character of God (i.e. sin). Nevertheless, God demonstrated His own love for us in this – while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. The Just died for us, the unjust, to bring us to God – such that to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (Rom. 5:8, 1 Pet. 3:18, John 1:12-13). Accordingly, the only way that a Christian can view the world is through the lens of the Great Commission which says:
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
There are a number of implications from this passage that should inform any policy position that a Christian takes:
  1. All authority comes from God through Jesus Christ
  2. Christians are to make disciples of all nations
  3. Christians are to baptize these disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
  4. Christians are to teach these disciples to obey everything that He has commanded
  5. Jesus is with us Christians until the end of the age
All authority comes from God through Jesus Christ
Democracy is the best structure within which human beings may be governed by human beings. Likewise, capitalism is the best system for exchanging goods and services. However, neither of these systems is infallible or indispensable. They are useful – exceedingly useful, but merely useful. The secular world views capitalism and democracy (in that order) to be that for which they would fight and die. Democracy and capitalism are to Americans what grace and mercy are to Christians – the means of interacting with our sovereign and each other. Americans believe that power is wielded legitimately only by the consent of the governed. Jesus, however, posited the source of legitimate authority elsewhere. When Pilate wondered why Jesus wouldn’t answer his inquiries, he asked Jesus, “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” Pilate was a governor, appointed by Caesar. You would think that Pilate’s authority came from Caesar – Pilate certainly thought so – but Jesus posits ultimate authority in God. Jesus retorts earlier, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28) This antithetical parallelism that Jesus employs emphasizes the fact that our loyalty to God should outweigh our loyalty to the “gods” of this world such that it seems like we are ignoring Bush and his GOP. It does not mean that we should ignore the government or our stewardship of our civic responsibilities – we must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s – and in our cultural context that is political involvement as well as paying taxes.

The failure to be involved is similar to the failure to pay taxes – the effective operation of our government as it was designed is dependent upon our participation as well as our tax dollars. While Jesus’ teaching does not imply – or even allow for – isolation from the world, it does mean that we must seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, such that all other things will be brought into line. This means that whenever we begin to think about an issue that faces this society we must remember where the source of authority lies – it is not in the consent of the governed; it is not in an act of Congress; it is not in an executive order; it is not in the latest ruling of the Supreme Court. All authority is in Jesus Christ – all authority – and while we must respect and operate within the civil authority of the state, the starting point of any Christian discussion of political issues must begin with the authority of Jesus Christ.

Christians are to make disciples of all nations
In 1992 James Stockdale, Ross Perot’s running mate, opened the Vice Presidential debate with the humorous quip, “Who am I? Why am I here?” It was humorous because he was not a politician, relatively unknown, and yet he was in the political spotlight. The question, however, is quite profound, and we need to ask ourselves, “Who are we? Why are we here?” This question drives philosophers to dream and minstrels to sing – each inquiring about that one thing: “Who are we and why are we here?” Africans throughout the Diaspora who are separated from the land of our ancestors have struggled to sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land, and we struggle for an identity, for collective self-esteem. We need to answer the question, “Who are we and why are we here.” To answer that question we must look to our Creator. David inquired of God, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Who are we and why are we here?

Christians are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light. This language that Peter used to describe the Church is taken from Exodus 19:5-6 when God cut a covenant with the children of Israel. Israel was chosen, elected if you will, for a purpose – namely to reconcile the world back to God in fulfillment of Genesis 12:1-3, which was fulfilling Genesis 3:15c. Israel, however, failed to fulfill the purpose for which she was elected. Israel did not minister to peoples in order to share the grace of God that was given to them – they separated themselves from the rest of the world and considered themselves to be something special that the outsiders – the Gentiles – could only hope to be. They wholeheartedly embraced the “chosen people” and “a people belonging to God” while rejecting – or terminally neglecting – the “royal priesthood” and “holy nation” parts. This rejection caused the northern kingdom of Israel to be destroyed by the Assyrians and the southern kingdom of Judah to be destroyed by the Babylonians.

Today, salvation is free to you and me – even to us Gentiles – since in Christ Jesus there is neither Gentile nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, circumcised nor uncircumcised. Our situation in life is not the determining factor in our relationship with the Father; it is our relationship with the Son, and our primary purpose as Christians is to make all nations – all people-groups – disciples of Jesus Christ. We must extend a horizontal connection to our neighbors in order to facilitate their vertical connection to the Father through the authority of the Son in the power of the Spirit. Any position that we take on a political issue must keep this primary purpose in mind – reconciling the world back to God must remain the main thing.

Christians are to baptize these disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
This is the point where Baptists have historically emphasized baptism by immersion. While that is indeed the mode of baptizing employed by the apostles in scripture, it is not the emphasis of this passage. The emphasis of this passage is bringing people into the community of faith by a public declaration of their faith. In whom is this faith placed?
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, from the substance of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made, both in heaven and on earth, who for us humans and for our salvation descended and became incarnate, becoming human, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead; And in the Holy Spirit.

– From The Nicene Creed
As we ponder public policy we must remember to keep our mission of global reconciliation back to God as the main thing, and we must remember by whose authority we operate. Our mission is to facilitate people coming into relationship with God. Our mission is not to get people to live moral lives, although that should be an outworking of people coming into a relationship with God (Matt. 5:16, Gal. 5:22-23). Our mission is not to create a just society where people can realize their full potential, although that should be an outworking of people coming into relationship with God (Rom. 12). Our mission is to facilitate people coming into relationship with God through Christ in the power of the Spirit, and to bring them into the community of faith. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sins against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg the nations on behalf of Christ, “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:19-20). That is our mission. That is the main thing.

Christians are to teach these disciples to obey everything that He has commanded
What has He commanded? The first and foremost command is for explicit faith exclusively in Jesus (John 14:6). It is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone that we are saved (Eph. 2:8-9). All of human destiny centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and apart from Him there is no salvation (Matt. 10:32-33). We are first of all commanded to publicly place our faith in Jesus for the salvation of our soul. Jesus summed up all other scriptural teaching in Matthew 22:37-40 when he answered critics by saying:
"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets.
The Jews of the 1st Century AD referred to the scripture as having three parts: the law, the prophets, and the writings. Sometimes they would refer to the whole of scripture as the Law, or the Law and the Prophets, while other times they would refer to the individual sections. In this text, Jesus is referring to the whole of scripture hinging on these two commandments – love God and love your neighbors. Jesus was asked what the single greatest commandment was – they asked for one commandment – but Jesus gave them two. The vertical and the horizontal are intricately linked – you cannot separate the two. If we love God with all that we are then that will manifest itself in our love for the people who God loves, namely everyone. (John 3:16) If we don’t love God fully and our neighbors unreservedly then we will quickly fall into legalism – just following a list of rules – such that on that day Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” (Matt. 7:21-23) The vertical relationship cannot be decoupled from the horizontal relationships – we cannot emphasize personal piety over social concerns or social concerns over personal piety. The two are intimately linked, and what God in Christ has joined together, let no man tear asunder.

One thing that we cannot forget is who it was that Jesus commanded us to teach to obey all that He commanded. It is those from all nations who, by the authority of Jesus Christ, have been made into disciples and have publicly professed their faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that we are to teach to obey all that Jesus commanded. We cannot expect those who are not Christ’s disciples to act like Christ’s disciples. We must stand up for what is right and stand against that which is wrong in society, but we cannot expect people to abide by the commands of One to whom they have not pledged allegiance, to whom they have not submitted. That would be like the Russians expecting Americans to abide by Russian law here in America. As we consider public policy, Christians must strive to create an environment in society that facilitates the furtherance of the gospel – keeping the main thing as the main thing. All else should be considered as a pile of fecal material (Phil. 3:8).

Jesus is with us Christians until the end of the age
Jesus said that there would be wars and rumors of wars, but we must see to it that we are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes, but all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver Christians to tribulation, and will kill us, and we will be hated by all nations because of Jesus’ name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the son of man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth his angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Matt. 24:6-14, 29-31)

People often wonder just how soon the end will be. Christians are facing tribulation in many places in the world, even death. Even in America Christians are hated as being intolerant zealots. Many of us know people who used to profess faith in Jesus Christ and are now agnostic or functionally atheists. There has been a significant falling away from the truth already, such that we even have to argue about what is epistemological truth. Theological conservatives often display animosity toward theological liberals who hate the conservatives right back. As to false prophets leading people astray, TBN (sometimes pejoratively called “Twisting the Bible Nightly” or “Totally Bogus Network”) is proof positive. The law in America – and especially in international relations – works on a sliding scale in favor of the haves against the have-nots, with cronyism and cynicism currently more common than breathable air. These are not the best of times.

One may wonder if the end is coming upon us as a thief in the night, but we are called to persevere to the end – something that we can do because He promised that He would be with us until the end of the age. He delivered on His promise to send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who helps us to stand firm in the struggle (John 14:26). We understand that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, we must take up the full armor of God, so that we will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm then, having surrounded yourself with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:12-17). For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5). As we consider public policy we must understand the nature of the warfare into which we have been thrust so that we can maintain our focus on the main thing – facilitating people coming into relationship with God through Christ in the power of the Spirit, growing them up within the community of faith to stand firm in this evil day.

May the LORD bless you and keep you;
May the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
And may the LORD,
Who wants you to fulfil the Great Commission,
May He turn His face toward you and give you peace.

Emancipated by Athanasius @ 11:00 AM

Read or Post a Comment

Excellent blog post. The separation of church and state discussion has been something that I have also discussed in my blog. I think you bring up a number of cogent and interesting points.

Posted by Blogger Cocacy @ Sunday, August 20, 2006 6:17:00 PM #
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