the Christian relation to the state within the politics of Jesus (now in the era of Obama/Trump)

[Jesus] replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’

Luke 13:32

I am amazed at how Christians where I live, in the United States line up with political parties and candidates. I’m not referring at all here to how one votes one way or another. Only how easily enamored or at enmity Christians can be toward political figures. We live in the era of Obama/Trump, and the polarization in the United States is probably greater than any time since the Civil War.

Sadly, I think we Christians are contributing to this mess. We ought to be those who speak truth to power. I personally liked Obama, but didn’t like all his policies, such as the use of drones. And I think what’s to be expected in a nation state is not at all the same as what is required in the church. Too often people conflate that, thinking somehow that America should be Christian through and through. But that’s never really been the case. While there’s been a strong Christian influence present, many other factors figure into the United States right from its outset, not the least of which is the Modernist Enlightenment.

I think white nationalism awakened when Obama was elected, and continues to grow in influence during the time of Trump. Just judged on Trump’s words alone, he is narcissist to a strong degree. It always seems all about him and loyalty to him. If you’re concerned for the good of the United States and what it’s supposed to stand for, you ought to go back and study George Washington, then compare that to Donald Trump. I can understand why Christians vote for Trump based on policy while disliking much that is evident in his character. After all, it’s not like other politicians haven’t had serious faults. But it’s another matter when Christians defend Trump and his character, seeing him as a great champion who they defend, glossing over his faults with excuses, or simply seemingly ignoring them altogether. I like Roger Olson’s point (see link later) that since he’s a “fallibilist,” he may be altogether mistaken, that his similar view of Trump (along with many others) may be mistaken, though he doesn’t think so. I will add that we need to pray for Trump and all in positions of government authority, and hope for the better.

As Christians we should not be in lock step with any politician or political party. We are of one Lord: Jesus, and thus to be committed to one political party only: that of God’s kingdom come and now present in Jesus. That politics should impact how we see the politics of the world. And when it does, Christians should be wary of any party, and never defend everything any one politician says or thinks.

Where are our core commitments? I am for the United States, really for all nations, but particularly for the US of which I’m a citizen. But my complete loyalty is only to our Lord Jesus, and God’s kingdom in him. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a good citizen of the United States. It only means that my earthly citizenship is transcended by my heavenly citizenship which therefore impacts how I think about all of life, including the politics down here.

God’s kingdom in Jesus is now present in the church, and awaits it’s full unveiling and rule when heaven and earth become one at Christ’s return. Until then as those in Christ we’re called to be humbly faithful as witnesses to the one good news in Jesus. And seeing everything else in light of that. In and through Jesus.

(A number of theologians have influenced me over the years. Roger Olson’s recent post is probably echoed here more than I might realize. I never write meaning to state something as if it originated from me when it didn’t. And to the extent I’ve ever unwittingly done that in past years I’m genuinely repentant and want to be more careful while at the same time recognizing I only write what I truly believe, my own convictions even if under the direct influence of someone else. David C. Cramer’s recent post as well which is echoed at least in the Scripture passage, another scholar whose work I consider valuable. Add to that the recent talk I heard from Khary Bridgewater which influenced this post.

I’m reluctant to get into politics at all, and I don’t care to get into partisan politics. I believe partisan politics should never become a priority with believers. We can talk about issues and often agree to disagree. What has to remain central to us is our calling to live in and be witnesses to God’s good news in Jesus.)

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developing an awareness of and sensitivity to systemic evil

There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
and detest the one who tells the truth.

You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.

Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.

Therefore this is what the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, says:

“There will be wailing in all the streets
and cries of anguish in every public square.
The farmers will be summoned to weep
and the mourners to wail.
There will be wailing in all the vineyards,
for I will pass through your midst,”
says the Lord.

Amos 5:10-17

We are very much aware of the evil of abortion. The supposed woman’s right to choose. What about the evil of “white privilege?” The only ones unaware of that are many of us whites who don’t face what African-Americans face here on a daily basis. And then there’s the poor. Yes, there are programs to help them, and of course we should do what we can as well. But all too often the system is stacked against them. Like being hired in places not full time, and not much over minimum wage. So that they are on their own as far as healthcare. And if you make a bit too much, you’re not covered. And often the poor don’t do what’s considered basic healthcare such as a biannual or even annual trip to the dentist, not to mention an annual checkup with a doctor. Supposedly healthcare is something people should figure out themselves, not provided as in every other first world nation. Not to mention that they don’t have a living wage. Of course everyone has to be held accountable, and there are no easy answers for everything. And climate change caused by human consumption, greed, misplaced values impacts especially poor nations and the poor.

I consider all of this, and there’s surely more, as nothing less than systemic evil. I’m tired of government being considered evil. And corporations are not? Please. They sold us down the river during the last recession, and we had to bail them out. Main Street bailing out Wall Street with taxes. And our nation continues to spiral into further and further debt funding the military with more money than the next several nations combined. So that the national debt it has to pay will soon exceed what is spent on the military. And yet we don’t have enough funds to provide needed healthcare to the poor and middle class, the latter losing their homes sometimes because they became ill or have some disease, lost their job, and didn’t have adequate healthcare insurance, which by the way, they couldn’t well afford in the first place.

All of this is chalked down to politics and then summarily dismissed. But it’s not at all about politics. And as far as I’m concerned the Democrats overall are just as guilty as the Republicans. I don’t even care to get into the political aspect of it, with all the finger pointing, and white washing that goes on. Washington is broken no doubt. And government with the political impasse is in crisis.

But that’s in a way neither here nor there with me. What we as Christians need to address in word and deed insofar as we can along with much prayer are matters that have to do with loving our neighbors as ourselves. And loving our enemies as well, by the way. But Jesus was talking to his disciples, to be sure.

It is all messy, what to make of what’s going on, and trying to figure out just what our role should be as Christians, and as the church in relation to the state. It’s a tall order. But we shouldn’t be shy at expressing our thoughts and concerns. We shouldn’t be known as either Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, progressives, liberals, or whatnot. When people look at us they should have trouble pinning us down in ways like that. But they should know that whatever our mistakes, we are committed followers of Christ, and the church, not at all subservient to the state. Except to pray for government leaders, pay taxes, participate in the democratic process as we’re led to, as we choose, and wish the best for everyone.

We can’t cut the prophets out of scripture, in so doing cutting a large part of Jesus out, too. We must echo them. But always in love, along with justice and mercy always together. As we pray for God’s kingdom to come, and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. In and through Jesus.

our politics is hurting our witness (mine included)

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.”

“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.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:36-38a

I’m not sure what to make of the posts I see from Christian friends on both sides of the political spectrum. Often at best there’s a mix of morality and politics. At worst it seems like there’s more adherence to the political party line than there is to truth. Of course that’s my judgment. But when I see Christians line up either on the religious right as conservatives, or the religious left as progressives, I don’t see just an unblinking, uncompromising commitment to unmitigated truth. Maybe they’ve weighed everything and decided on one side or position, or another, something we may often have to do when we vote. And too often then they’ll try to line up with their party’s agenda or platform completely, on every issue. I suppose thinking that the underlying philosophy mirrors their own.

I was raised Republican in an area with an understanding that voting that way was being faithful to Scripture, voting any other way, especially Democrat is not. What I think anyone is going to find is that the politics of this world just can’t be endorsed without compromising something of morality and truth. I find over and over again on every side that when one political party takes a stand against something that’s wrong, while the other party seems to either endorse that wrong, or be blind to it, the party doing well in that is invariably not doing so well on other matters which are of equal importance, or at least matters of justice and mercy. Even if you think your party is doing basically well on everything, that doesn’t mean you should march in lockstep with them. As a follower of Christ, you’re going to have to be willing to take unpopular stands if you’re going to be faithful and a true witness to the Truth and the gospel.

The decisions made in such places are often not black and white to be sure; they’ll have complexity and accompanying uncertainty. In those positions, Christian officials will have to pray and seek God’s counsel and wisdom, listen well, and make the best decision possible. And of course all of us need to pray for everyone in positions of government authority (1 Timothy 2).

Jesus before Pilate makes it clear that his politics are above this world, his kingdom not being of this world since it’s not from it, but directly from God, no less than God’s kingdom come to earth. But as such it’s not of this world which I think is a good rendering since Jesus makes the point that that is why his servants wouldn’t fight to prevent or end his arrest. Instead Jesus said that he was present to testify to the truth and that everyone on the side of truth would listen to him. Pilate in what one can see as up to date right to the present time, lifts his eyebrows, shakes his head- so to speak, and almost protests: “What is truth?”

If we Christians don’t wake up then our witness is going to be entirely lost, or at least significantly diminished. We must speak out with the truth in regard to abortion, racism, helping the poor and dispossessed, violence, caring for earth, and a whole host of other issues. We must be known as followers of Christ, not of any political party or ideology of this world. Bearing witness to the good news in him, not to anything less. And humbly participating as we’re led, in the affairs of this world.

God’s kingdom come in Jesus is not of or from this world, but it is definitely for this world. People need to see the difference in us for one reason only: we are followers of Christ. We inevitably will have different understandings of issues, and how to address them. But that should be secondary to our commitment together of Christ and the gospel. Alas, all too often it’s not. That needs to change. Again we as Christians should not be known as Progressives, Democrats, Conservatives, Republicans, or whatever else, regardless of how we’re registered, or how we vote. Rather we must be known as Christians, true followers of Christ, witnesses to the one and only good news for the world in him.

politics and the Christian

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Matthew 22:15-22

Recently I heard a recording of a sermon Tim Keller delivered entitled Arguing About Politics. Even if I may not track fully with him, I think it was insightful and thought provoking. Worth a listen. The elephant in the room nowadays is politics, and especially Christian involvement in it. And the inherent divisiveness which ever has been a part of the political process seems to have reached a point in which the United States itself is in danger of being torn apart. Hopefully it’s not that bad, but the talk on the ground, influenced by some outlets of the media is often caustic.

Jesus was up against it because he was indeed the Messiah, but not in the way most every Jew anticipated. In some way he was to rule politically no less, and ultimately over the whole world. Rome would certainly be taken care of.  His answer to the question put to him by the Jewish leaders who were trying to trap in him in what he said, was mind boggling to them. It sidestepped the trap they had set for him, because he didn’t answer it in their book, yet he really did answer it.

Jesus’s kingdom, as he told Pilate is not from this world, we can say not of this world, but definitely for this world. It is obviously never in the terms of this world; it is gospel derived and ends up rooted in the church because the church is rooted in Christ who is both its foundation and cornerstone. In a sense the church is Christ, being Christ’s body. And where Christ is, the kingdom of God is present. And that kingdom is not only internal, though certainly it is, and Jesus did make a big deal out of that. But it is about and for all of life. But it can’t be tied to a political party, since it can never be allied to such, nor could it become a political party and player in this world. It is rather a world itself, yet present for this world. And hopefully can impact even the political parties of this world.

This is all certainly a controversial theological matter: there is the Augustinian and Lutheran two kingdom approach, the Anabaptist approach which sees a stark often antagonistic contrast between God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of the world, etc. I don’t mean to get into any of that, even if it’s probably not altogether possible to avoid it. But the point of this post is simply that we need to be sensitive to obligations ultimately given to us by God. The tax was not much really, but it was symbolic. As a captive people, you owe this to your captors. Jesus said, “Pay it.” But he also said that they’re to give to God what is God’s. Which really means heart and soul and life: everything. And in the way God prescribes: for the poor, etc.

In the United States’s democratic republic, Christians will disagree over how much they should get involved in politics, and even over who to vote for, or how to look at various issues. It’s not like Rome’s iron clad rule where Christians had no choice but to comply. But how we do this, how we treat each other and others, regardless of what politician we support, how we do that should be different than the world in that it’s clear that the one we follow above all else is Christ. That we are never beholden to any other person or party except Christ and God’s kingdom come in him. That doesn’t mean that we won’t hold American political views, because we obviously will. But it’s how we do so that’s vitally important. At the end of the day our witness should point others to Christ, and never to any mere human, regardless of how well we might think of them ourselves.

Jesus was faithful to who he was, his calling, God’s kingdom present in him: the king. And he calls us to no less than the same in our faith and practice. In and through Jesus.

avoiding a destructive divisiveness

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Titus 3:9-11

Just open your mouth nowadays and you’ll be controversial. There’s not much room for discussion or taking into account the complexity of anything. It’s black or white; you’re either for or against. And that actually does push people into a corner to have to decide that way, when so many issues are complicated and open to different interpretations.

It’s hard to know when to speak out, and when not to. The church as a whole does well to stick to the gospel and avoid divisive matters such as politics, while being willing to address moral issues, but in a way which does not support one political party or another. And that takes plenty of wisdom, but it’s worth the effort.

I wonder, and am inclined to think that some Christians can and should speak out in ways which might tip their hand as to how they think politically, even though there should be no doubt as to where their prime allegiance lies. There were prophets in the Bible, and I’m especially thinking of the Old Testament, who decried what was happening in society, especially the evil being done by God’s covenant people against the poor and downtrodden.

One thing for sure: We need to avoid a divisiveness which detracts from the gospel. What we are about and here for is to see the gospel impact people’s lives, and hopefully the world at large. And the gospel itself is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Any stands we take publicly as Christians, and especially as the church should be for the faith of the gospel. Anything less than that is detrimental to the gospel. For the gospel might include work done to influence or even undermine what is being done politically. But we should aim at it being a gospel work, not something that merely we ourselves do.

Much wisdom required; more than we ourselves have. But given to us preferably together by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

why I’m not much worried about the election, or upcoming elections

I will participate in the election tomorrow, and I do have opinions, some of them strong. And I have expressed concern over the incivility nationally on both sides, beginning in the White House. And not good in many places.

I think what the founding fathers of the United States struggled to put in place is strong enough to withstand the problems today, as long as citizens, and particularly those in governmental leadership continue that struggle. There is a good overview, well worth the time, on that. Although the subject matter may not seem to be directly applicable, I think it does get to the heart of what the American democratic republic is, never tried before in the separation of church and state: First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty.

I do share a concern over the United States, but my own biggest concern by far is the witness of the church in all of this. Yes, for the good of the nation, but above and beyond that, in view of God’s kingdom present in Jesus through the gospel. The church, and Christians should not be seen as either Republicans or Democrats. We are Christians and follow one Lord, Jesus. Because of that we’re going to run counter to prevailing thinking on a number of issues nowadays. And maybe considering the big picture, on some issues which likely won’t ever change. Though over time some may. And even Christians will disagree at times. One example: I’m for government mandated healthcare for all, but others are not. At the heart of that is the role of government, a debatable issue in itself. Christians are certainly not opposed to healthcare for all, the question is how to get there.

Whether we agree with what is in place or not, we’re to be in submission to such (Romans 13), and even to honor the office I take it, even if the one in place is not entirely honorable. We are to pray for all those who are in authority (1 Timothy 2). We may have to make appeals to such, and because of the democracy which the United States is, we can participate by lobbying for change, and voting.

Though God gives humans responsibility, God is ultimately in control (Psalm 75, etc.). We can and should participate insofar as our conscience dictates. But we should not be alarmists, nor should we think the world is on the line. At the same time, we need to be sensitive to real life issues out there, which are impacted by government, where perhaps laws are needed for the common good, and particularly for those who are marginalized. And we need to avoid readily taking on some kind of martyr complex, even if a political party or ideology is trying to force their will against us in a way which violates religious liberty. We should press for freedom in the public square for all, those religious as well as those who are non religious. In the midst of all of this, our final appeal is to God. As Christians and the church we live as Christians who happen to be American, along with those who are British, Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, etc., etc., etc.

And we need to remember that the power of God for salvation is only through the gospel, never through politics. The change needed will come only when people’s hearts are changed through the gospel, and by common grace. So that there’s a new standard in place for people of the world, including everyone. Christianity through the centuries, along with grave errors at times, has brought a world of good, such as hospitals, stands against slave trade and racism, protection for the unborn, etc.

I will vote, and will lose no sleep over the outcome. God is God. Our trust is in him, not in any president, any government, nor in ourselves.

 

 

looking beyond what’s in front of us

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:14-17

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:

“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”

This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.

Romans 15:14-22

Yesterday a number of us listened to a message which is well worth the barely over 30 minutes it takes to hear it, from a most respected evangelical thinker, Os Guinness. It was expansive, to the point, and most encouraging, all in one message, and that to a young evangelical student body at Biola University.

This got me to thinking. In some ways we always need to be looking beyond what’s immediately in front of us, and often shouting in our faces for our full attention. I don’t think Jesus was occupied with Herod, even though Herod was outstanding in his day, some of his greatest achievements near where Jesus lived. Certainly a mover, if not the mover and shaker of his day, at least in Palestine. Neither did Paul pay much attention to the Roman power except to use his Roman citizenship to move forward in preaching the gospel which even impacted the Roman emperor’s palace.

When will we wake up to really believe that it is the gospel of Christ that makes the needed difference in the world, and not Washington, or some world leader, or whatever else? We say one thing and may believe it to some extent, but we act as if we don’t. Other things clamor for and often get our full attention.

We as professing Christians have to ask ourselves if we really believe the gospel, and that it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, and that it’s what is needed in our world beyond anything else. And if we do, what difference that should make in our thinking and in our lives. Today there’s a mighty current pushing us in one direction, yes, with different reactions, but I’m afraid with the same result: leaving us high and dry, on empty, and more importantly, of no help to others at all, in fact all too often I’m afraid, just the opposite.

We don’t believe in the revolutionary change the gospel can bring, not only in individual lives, but in entire societies, and out from that impacting the entire world. We think the difference comes from elsewhere, really. The breath of heaven doesn’t make the impact we seem to think comes from other places. In our heads we may not believe that, but our hearts give us away. The heart is known not only by the words said, but the life lived, and how we preoccupy our time, again- what weighs on our thoughts.

In a time as critical as the time in which we live, with the dangers involved, comes a new opportunity for God to bring home to ourselves, and to many the real answer. Which when all is said and done will stand and go on. But will we answer this call, or not?