Thursday, April 30, 2015

God and Government Pt. 6: The Indispensable Attitude of a Christian Citizen by Chris White

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of  the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”   --Jer. 29: 4-7

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,  for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  –1 Timothy 2:1-4

When Jesus stood accused before Pilate He said something we disciples should always take to heart:  “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm (John 18:36).”  Paul underscores this in his epistle to the Philippians when he says “our citizenship is in heaven (3:20).”  On the other hand, Paul was never averse to using his Roman citizenship when it was a benefit to the gospel or the church.  Some like to speak of a Christian as having dual citizenship and this is certainly warranted from scripture but the paradigm I prefer is that of an exile or a sojourner in the world.  When the Lord disciplined Israel in the Babylonian captivity, he told them to seek the peace and blessing of the city of their exile.  They were to live in, work in, care about and pray for the well-being of Babylon but they were not to be fully vested in it.  They had a homeland and that was their true inheritance and it was to be where they placed their hopes and heart.  I believe Christians should care about the nation they live in and if we live by Christ’s great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, part of that love should be played out in supporting laws and leaders who will promote a moral and just society.  I don’t even see any conflict with patriotism or defending the homeland of our exile through military service either. 

With that understanding, I think it is indispensable that we not forget that we have no inheritance here and that our nations date with destiny (which has been used by every candidate to describe Nov. 5th in my adult life) is not our true destiny.  We care, we vote, we pray but we recognize our King and Kingdom are what is most important.  If this be true, neither the problems of our country or the failures of our leaders are of any ultimate consequence but rather just another bump on the road of life.
Please pray.  Please vote.  Please rest in the joy of your Savior whenever another November election roles around!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

God and Government Pt. 5: God “Gifts” Nations With Their Leader by Chris White

I gave you a king in My anger
And took him away in My wrath. 
                                                     ---Hosea 13:11

America’s greatest leader was George Washington.  He is known in history as the “father of our country” because of his incredible contribution to our founding as a nation.  Washington really is the father of the presidency as well because every holder of the office whether they want to or not, conforms to the patterns he lived by when he held the office.  To my mind, our first president’s true greatness was his character.  Though that character was tested time and again in battle (both military and political), he passed the greatest test when the Colonial Army having defeated the world’s superpower of the day came to him and offered to make him George I of America.  With their help, Washington would be given absolute power and a monarchy rather than have to deal with a pesky continental congress.  When a man of great strength and charisma can turn down the offer of unbridled power, you know they are a person of true character and integrity. 

Great leaders such as Washington are gifts from God and I might add, few and far between.  But something we all need to consider is that bad leaders are also a “gift” from God.  Many times in the Old Testament God raised up a king not as a blessing but as a chastisement to the people for their moral and spiritual failures.  That God guides the history of other nations besides Israel seems abundantly clear in Acts 17 when Paul preaches to the Athenians and tells them that God has determined the habitations, boundaries, and times of every nation on earth.  A good king (in our case president) is a grace, but it also follows that bad ones might be telling us more about our nation’s spiritual health than that we just checked the wrong box on our ballot.  But good or bad presidents aside, God’s people are always called on to preach the gospel and pray for our nation and the good of all people.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

God and Government Pt. 4: Why Politics Engages Some Christians, Repels The Others and Disappoints Just About Everyone By Chris White

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with his idealism

When we speak of politics we are speaking of organizing, governing, and leading people.  Our English word is an import from the Greek Politikos which in the ancient world carried the idea “relating to the citizens.” This is not a Bible word but is found in the philosophical writings of Plato and Cicero.  There is a difference between religion and politics that needs to be very clear.  Religion, in the broadest sense of the term, means giving God what is due.  This is applicable to all creeds and is especially clear in Christianity where faith and allegiance is due Christ who is the source of salvation.  Religion deals with absolutes such as dogmatic truth and ethics as well as ultimate possibilities such as the full potential of man and the universe.  While politics would love the status of dealing with absolutes it cannot in a liberal democracy (where free citizens elect their leader) because not all share the same religious commitment or worldview.  However, in politics, ultimate possibilities are the coin of every campaign. 

 Here is the overlay with religion which attracts many Christians.  A candidate or party presents a vision of what they will do when elected that resonates with the ethics and worldview of the Christian.  As Christians are charged by God to love their neighbor as themselves, supporting a platform or legislative measure that would point society in a more Christian direction is seen as progress or at least a return to our once firm but crumbling foundation.  Here’s the rub though.  While campaigns present ultimate possibilities to the voter, political power cannot be achieved without bringing together coalitions of people who have differing values.  In practicality this means every voter will likely have to compromise their highest values in differing ways depending on the good that might be achieved if their person is elected.  For some Christians political compromise is tantamount to ethical compromise on their part and thus the climate of politics becomes quite repulsive. 

When your mental furniture is at home with the teachings of Scripture which are absolute, it’s hard to think of compromise as being worthwhile in any setting.  Part of the problem on both sides of this equation is that political campaigns do not encourage circumspect thinking.  The issues and candidates are always presented in stark contrast because in marketing anything, your product must stand out from the others.  Nothing stands out like black and white, right and wrong, good and evil.  Hence we never really get to know the issues or the candidates, just their caricatures.  

But why is it after an election most Christians find themselves disappointed so quickly even if their cause or candidate won?  Well, there’s always the sin thing (which is certainly a big part of it) but that misses a key point: there is a huge gap between campaigning and governing.  Campaigns focus on our ideals and aspirations, governance deals with the reality of what actually can be done in a particular political climate and set of circumstances.  There is an old saying that goes like this: “the two things people should never watch are how sausages are made and how laws are passed.” Rarely are things gained without giving something in compromise and this absolute of politics virtually ensures the disappointment of everyone.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

God and Government Pt. 3 : The Limits of Temporal Authority By Chris White

“ Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah;  and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.”  But the midwives  feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.”   --Exodus 1:15-16

“So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”—Acts 4:18-20

Last time we considered the idea that human government is part of God’s plan for restraining evil in the world and protecting human life.  We also considered the idea that government by nature must be coercive to actually be effective but this should be of no consequence to the Christian because as Christ-followers we follow a higher standard than human law requires us.  But this does bring up a question that every Christian must grapple with: if I am to follow and obey the government God has put me under (through the circumstance of birth,  immigration, or travel), is there ever a time for civil-disobedience or dissent?  The short answer here is yes, but only under limited circumstances. 
Martin Luther King Jr.

I recently heard a congressional leader who is known to be a Christian suggest on a television show that it was time for civil disobedience regarding some government licensing and regulations (and no, he wasn’t talking about any of our rights enshrined in the constitution).  Admittedly, there are way too many regulations out there and this does need some reforming, but his advocacy for ignoring or disobeying the government is wrong in every way.  As Christians we are not free to disobey the government just because we genuinely dislike a law or regulation.  The circumstance that permits civil disobedience by a Christian is when our government requires us to violate God’s higher law. 
Tiannaman Square

A scriptural example of this is the Egyptian mid-wives who were commanded by pharaoh to kill all Hebrew baby boys.  They ignored this command and actually lied to pharaoh about their attempts at compliance.  And God blessed these women for doing so.  God’s law is to take precedence over human law when human law commands us to break God’s law.  Another example of this is when human government prohibits the preaching of the gospel. 

Many years ago I had a conversation with someone who was concerned that our church was involved in Bible smuggling missions serving then communist Eastern Europe and the People’s Republic of China.  “It is a bad testimony for Christians to break the laws of another country.  God is not honored when we break the law,” I was told.  Ethically a Christian may break the law of another land in good conscience because God has not given any government the right to rule a man’s soul.  That is the place of Christ alone.  Such disobedience in some settings may earn severe consequences (think Iran or Saudi Arabia) from the government, nevertheless one is not an evil-doer in the eyes of God.  To sum up our obligations to obey human government are real and binding but only insofar as they relate to the temporal affairs of life and not the spiritual.

Read Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail here
Lunch counter sit-in

Monday, December 22, 2014

God and Government Pt. 2 : Why Government Exists in the First Place? By Chris White

There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. 
                                                                                        --Is. 9:7
Last time we considered God’s purpose for human government in the world from what I would call a negative perspective.  In short, because of human depravity man is not always going to be inclined to love his neighbor as himself.  In fact, he may love himself at the expense of his neighbor or murder his neighbor under the right circumstances.  As with individuals, so with neighborhoods and nations.  Basically government is one of God’s tools to ensure that our troubled world doesn’t break out into utter chaos and lawlessness.  This is not to say this doesn’t happen from time to time (and sometimes at the instigation of the government) but things are not as bad as they could be if man were left alone to his own devices.

But there is a more positive side to this government equation as well.  We see glimpses of it now and then in this present age but it will be fully realized in the government of the Messiah.  What I am talking about is the dispensing of justice and righteousness.  In the Lord’s government this shall mean the world will be ruled by the principles and procedures of God’s perfect law.   In this instance there really will be social progress because problems will be addressed with the wisdom of Him who knows how things are supposed to work not band-aided over with human ideas resourced in fear, greed, and folly.  But that said, human governments when they are at their best will promote justice and even support a moral climate that is at least friendly to the Ten Commandments if not explicitly directed by them.  

If this is in the heart of God for our future, it is in the heart of God for now as well and we who are believers in America who participate in the forming of governments through elections should be giving attention to whether the man or woman we are supporting is inclined towards justice and righteousness as well.  It strikes me that if a leader has a moral compass guided by these, the other concerns of law and order, the economy, and national security will be addressed in a positive fashion as well.