our struggle is not against flesh and blood

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

What if we Christians were known not for being engaged in American politics, or politics elsewhere, but for sharing and living out the gospel, the good news in Jesus? Maybe it’s not a question of either/or, but and/both. I can hear dismissive sighs or more like silences on different sides, from both progressives and conservatives. If Paul were alive today and in the United States, would he be part of any group cozying up to any political party or president? I wonder. I think not, myself.

Does that mean we have to be disengaged? I don’t think so. But we need to remember where the battle really is for us who are Christians, who name the name of Christ, and profess to follow him. It is spiritual, in the spiritual realm, yes, even the spirit realm. We appeal to people with the good news in Jesus. And we refuse to alienate those caught up in any lesser battle or war. That’s if we follow Paul’s example in following Christ. Or am I missing something here?

An obvious enough problem to me is that when we start battling within the system, the spiritual warfare we’re called to in Christ is largely set aside, perhaps lost altogether. Does that mean people can’t engage in the political system at all, and be involved in the spiritual battle. I think they can. But it takes a lot of discipline. I admire some politicians and career military people, and I am confident they can have deep faith themselves. So this post is not at all a denial of that.

But part of the spiritual battle for us in Christ might very well be a resistance against getting sucked into something lesser and on a ground in which the enemy has some serious footholds. We lose out, and in the end, so do others.

This is difficult. Of course there are issues we’re all rightly concerned about. And we should address those issues along the way, but with much wisdom. Because our priority is on the one answer we stake our lives on: the gospel of Jesus.

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politics and the gospel

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,[b] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[c]

Romans 1:16-17

We have a rule at work that we’re not supposed to discuss politics there. Maybe that’s good, given all the heat nowadays.

I do think the politics of this world has its place, and that there ought to be civil discussions by those engaged in it. I know politics today seems to be in a crisis, with democracy taking a back hand to more of an authoritarian approach. There is so much involved in all of this, in the United States where I live, the whole question of the Constitution, and whether or not it has failed, or not been given its place to succeed. If you start going in depth into the entire discussion and more, you’ll find that it’s essentially mind boggling, or at least having no more authority than what a bunch of diverse intellectuals can muster.

But now to down to earth, in our face, day to day politics. We have a friend who is seeking to get on the state ballot as a candidate concerned primarily with education. We applaud her and her efforts. I would like to add, I think it’s strange, the money required for her to get on the ballot. Everything seems so money driven nowadays. These kinds of efforts can be helpful, addressing real problems and needs with better solutions.

I think and feel strongly about some things, but usually with the sense of realization that we’re at the mercy of a power which seems to have its ways both in our face, and usually more subtly, and finds its way systemically from our hearts into institutions. That’s the power of sin. We don’t care about this or that, because of what we really care about. Or we ignore certain things, because they may or may not be problems, and after all, they’re other people’s problems, not our own.

Paul gets to what we need as Christians, the one thing we can hang our hats on and be devoted to day in and day out, regardless of the mess in the world: the gospel. It is about Christ, and God’s saving righteousness in and through him, through Christ’s death and resurrection, through which sin is dealt with, and something of God’s vision for us and for the world given to us in scripture can begin to take root in people now, especially in Christ’s body, the church. The gospel can be the unifying point in which people of diverse thinking can settle, and find what is just and right, and therefore good. That begins in our own hearts, and right where we live, and goes out from there. Which is why Christians have often been persecuted, and still are in parts of the world, as well as marginalized.

There is one good news in the world worth living and dying for, and only one. The other areas in which people serve can be quite good in their place, and we need to honor them, particularly those who give of themselves in service for others, and who put their lives at risk in doing so. That has its place too.

But we in Christ take our stand completely on the good news in him. While we may take lesser stands, which are provisional for time and place, we know the gospel cuts across all our differences, and gets to the heart of things. It addresses the power of sin. In pointing us to Jesus himself, and God’s grace and kingdom present and to come in him. Hopefully shedding light on the darkness now present through changed hearts and lives. In the church, and out into the world. In and through Jesus.

what the United States needs from us in Jesus, from the church

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.”

Jeremiah 29

God was at work through the mess of that time, judging his people, and sending them into exile into Babylon. And like all the empires of that time, Babylon was given to idols. And it was not the poster boy of virtue. Perhaps not as much a terror as the Assyrian empire which had preceded it, but still a terror to those who would not surrender and bow down to its sovereignty. Actually, when thinking about Babylon and the Babylonian exile of the Jews, one can turn to Daniel, the first five chapters, to see something of what it was like.

The nation where I live, and am a citizen of is a far cry from Babylon. The United States of America has become the world power. It doesn’t impose its will on the rest of the world like Babylon did. Yet it has been the major player in many places, usually linked to its own national interests, but not without some great sacrifice for the good of others, such as in World War II. I’m thinking especially of the Normandy invasion. The United States has had its sins from the beginning and throughout, just like any other nation. And it has done great good as well.

What I want to focus on to some degree might be applied by Christians of any nation, except for nations which practically outlaw the faith. But even in those cases, Christians can hope and pray for change, such as what may be and to some extent has occurred in China. It’s the idea that we’re to pray for the city, and by extension I would say the state/nation in which we reside, because their good will be our good.

“….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.”

The church and we as Christians are to be a witness to the gospel, the good news in Jesus, come what may. That’s our calling. At the same time, we can hope and pray for the good of the nation in which we reside, and advocate that, provided we don’t get swallowed up in an agenda contrary to the gospel. Not an easy track or task for sure.

Right now in the United States we’ve reached a danger point, I believe, with a growing rift politically, which at the extremes is becoming more and more hostile. There seems to be no middle ground in which people who differ can stand and attempt to reason, and work through differences, to arrive to at least some conclusion, which in the nature of the case would ordinarily always be ongoing. I think this was what the Founding Fathers of the United States wanted as the ideal. Not that the U.S. has always lived up to that well.

The church needs to stand in that gap, regardless of where we are politically as individuals. This especially needs to be church led, and Christians should be part of it, of course. It is the salvation through the gospel, and the healing that comes with it that is needed today. What I said on Facebook yesterday:

What the church in large part needs to be here and now is a healing presence through the gospel. Salvation where needed, and the healing that comes with it, in and through Jesus. Across the political divides, and every other divide. What I want to major on and be part of.

We must confess where we’ve been part of the problem. And there is a time to speak up, don’t get me wrong. But how we do it makes all the difference in the world. If we demonize our opponents, and make it a good versus evil contest, then we fail to recognize and acknowledge our own part we’ve played in the breakdown, both in what we’ve done and left undone.

The gospel in and through Jesus is cross-centered, and we’re all included in the sin that Jesus took on himself there. We’re no better than anyone else; we’re all in need of God’s grace. Before there can be better solutions to problems, which are more God-honoring, there has to be a change in our hearts. And it must begin with us. We are the ones that must lead the way.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

1 Peter 4:17-18

We must do so in the utmost humility, removing the plank from our own eye, before we even dream of trying to remove the speck from someone else’s eye. Not disengaging necessarily, unless what we’re doing is not helpful toward healing the divide, and ultimately, for the good of others through the gospel. How we do that will depend on God’s wisdom given to us, unique to each one of us, and worked out in accord and agreement with the church.

We step back, take a deep breath, pray, and then proceed. Together. Hopefully what can become a groundswell that can help bring the salvation and healing on so much that is broken. With no final answers, except the good news and what’s in harmony with that, in and through Jesus.

 

looking at the old world with the vision of the new world

I was listening to N. T. Wright, thoroughly enjoying his talk entitled, Speaking of God in a Confused World. It makes me wonder just how and why we Christians see things in the present the way we do. And we’re all over the place on that. What I like about N. T. Wright’s critique is that he helps everyone see the much larger picture, so that the scuffles we are in appear to be not as significant as we make them. Or so that we can see better to understand just where our own blind spots might be.

Right now, with another mass school shooting, many Christians are crying out for government action with rebuttals from other Christians citing abortion as the great evil. Ready access to semi-automatic guns has a cult following here in the United States, but arguably is appreciated by those who just like guns, and certainly are not dangerous themselves. But it seems apparent that the more the guns, and the more ready access to them, the more gun deaths there are. And the insistence that Christians need ready access to them to defend their loved ones and others, as well as themselves, seems to fly in the face of what Jesus taught and lived out. At the same time abortion has to be seen as an evil itself. The best way to approach it in the United States might be to work at reducing its underlying causes toward the day when abortions would be no more. And having such a groundswell of grassroots support for overturning Roe v Wade, that eventually that day will come. These are only two evils of the day, another being how African Americans continue to face discrimination and marginalization on a large scale. There you have my own opinion, and there are numerous other things for us to sort through if we have the time and believe it to be helpful to do so.

The big question might be just how we look at this old world destined for judgment in light of the new world to come, and already present in Jesus within and out from the church. When you break it down, that is not nearly as easy as it might look. There are the Reinhold Niebuhr realists all the way to the Anabaptist (with others) Sermon on the Mount followers of Jesus. And within those two camps, there’s some variance, and certainly variety in between. Trying to break it down in this matter is a human construct for sure. We need to keep going back to scripture again and again, and ask the difficult questions in the real world, not thinking we have to come up with hard, fast answers.

Perhaps the best way to approach this is to recognize that there’s both a division as well as overlap between the two worlds. We can think of that in terms of creation, now fallen and broken, and new creation, present already in Jesus, but not yet in its final state when heaven and earth become one at his return. The question for believers and followers of Jesus becomes just what our role in the midst of this is, both in general, and specifically in terms of what we might be able to do, as well as what we shouldn’t do. That is where the debate would lie, and where Christians, even within the same church might vary. But it’s a problem and issue we can’t avoid, unless we see the gospel and scripture as not really addressing any of it. We have to use our God-given minds for understanding and wisdom, and keep working at it. But with an emphasis always on our primary calling as God’s people: devotion to Christ and the gospel. Which is for the world’s salvation, but never a part of this world in terms of its origin. But hopefully helpful for the old world. With the hope always lying in a better world to come when Jesus returns, the beginnings of which are already present through the gospel and in the church, in and through Jesus.

the church and injustice

Nowadays there is nothing more hot among many professing followers of Jesus than addressing injustice, and there’s no end to that, in either number of items to address, nor the depth to address in any one item. Human trafficking, slave trade, need for water wells in villages, continued discrimination against people of color– particularly those of African descent, refugees from war torn countries being turned away, and the list could go on and on, even if I would need some help in making it.

And part of what has happened in recent years is the withdrawal of younger people from the church, thinking the church itself to be irrelevant in their passion and pursuit for justice. And really, can we blame them when we consider just how absent the church has been oftentimes, probably even complicit in injustice as during the days of the American Civil Rights Movement when black people were not allowed into white churches.

The question is being raised nowadays: Has American Christianity failed? I’m not sure I like the question altogether, because normally every church has its strengths and weaknesses (see the the Lord’s letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3), and in the end the Lord is the one who makes the final judgment. But in the meantime with the Lord’s help by the Spirit, we in him are to judge ourselves, and seek to be discerning. So that quest is not necessarily amiss, though it can easily become amiss, I’m afraid.

The problem which has some tensions with it, is that the church has been all too quick to give its voice to the voice of a party or platform of this world, so that the church is a mere echo or extension of whatever the party is saying. That has been true of both the Christian Right, and Christian Left. Instead of grappling with issues, and being a prophetic voice from God to both sides of the aisle, and to everyone else.

The gospel of Christ is central to how we should address everything. And it’s as big as the story of God that this good news in Jesus is the climactic turning point of and end to. And it’s always in and through Jesus, his life as God becoming human– one of us, his teaching as in the Sermon on the Mount, etc., his wonderful works pointing to the great deliverance/salvation in him, and his death and resurrection, which marks the beginning of when this new life takes hold, the new creation breaking into the old. And his ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit, which resulted from, and accompanies that. With the promise of his return, when heaven and earth will be one in him, and all things will be made new.

The vision is shalom, translated “peace,” but meaning much more than the absence of conflict, but especially human flourishing and in terms of love in relationship to each other. And if at the heart of that vision isn’t reconciliation of all peoples together in Jesus, then the vision falls short of that which we find in scripture, fulfilled in the gospel (see Ephesians especially, but other places as well, and really the entire story found in scripture). The church through the gospel is to be ground zero in seeing the beginning of this new life in Jesus, and from that reality, the church is to reach out to the world in its unique contribution, which no government or political system can emulate or duplicate on earth. Yes, the gospel is political, but never as an entity of this world since it’s not of this world, yet is in and for this world, to be sure. It is the good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus.

And so we need to point toward the right direction, and get to walking. Not thinking we’ll arrive, or there won’t be plenty more along the way for us to learn. But doing so, completely committed to God’s call to us in Jesus in a gospel/good news which is not idle in the face of injustice, but sees the answer to be found in and through Jesus, and the new life and community that he brings. In which we’re to live, and welcome all others in with us, in and through King Jesus.

the beauty of evangelicalism in the good news in Jesus (not US or any other politics of the world)

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Acts 11:19-26

Because of how white evangelicals, unlike the rest of evangelicals voted in the last election, and how that tradition has become identified with an element of  politics in the US, good people and leaders have either left evangelicalism, or think it should be renamed, the term in their minds ruined because of its meaning to many. I too am concerned over the connotation. No church should be given over to a political entity of this world, and known for that. Instead every church should be known for its adherence to and witness for the gospel.

But at its historical roots evangelicalism was a movement in the church born from a desire to witness to the good news, in promoting missionaries to spread the word to the nations, and from experiencing revival such as in the Great Awakening. And to this day, when such churches thrive, that is at least their ideal and more or less their practice.

What is needed, frankly, is leadership within the church which refuses and even, when necessary repudiates the example of some leaders who make it plain that their emphasis is a US political one, maybe for a given candidate of whatever party or stripe. Churches must take a stand against that if their conviction is that what they’re about is solely the gospel, the good news of the Lord Jesus. I would like it if churches would do that in more subtle ways, by simply ignoring such as they go about fulfilling their calling. But perhaps sometimes words may need to be said. Much wisdom is needed because it should never turn into something which puts something of the politics of this world into a category that identifies the church. Our kingdom is not from that place, but is from God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus. Many of our concerns might overlap political concerns of this world, for sure. But our identity as church and Christians is to be wrapped up only in Jesus and the good news in him.

That aside, we exist to grow in the word of truth, in the gospel, and to share that gospel with others. In how we live (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12), as well as what we say in our witness to the gospel. An ideal I hope is renewed and continues on in churches born of the evangelical tradition. So that we and others might know the beauty of our Lord in the good news- the gospel, in and through him.

the free fall in our society– the church and the state

I really struggle over the relation of the church and the state. I respect scholars and Christian traditions in their various takes on the matter. I think there’s often good we can take out of varying viewpoints.

That said, I also think the so-called “Constantinian turn” of the church when the Roman Empire became formally Christian, was in some sense the death knell of what the church is called to be in the world: a witness to another lord, the one true Lord, and to the one good news in him. One can plausibly argue otherwise, and surely some of what they say will have plenty of truth in it. But a major problem I see today in the United States is the emphasis on the importance of the morality of the state, as if it somehow ought to be Christian in some way or another. This is the case from both the religious left and the religious right, the former emphasizing world peace and the right to do whatever, and the latter emphasizing a certain morality as in “family values.” Both have a code of ethics, but the attention is turned almost completely to the state, it seems.

Regardless, this is my take on the current sea change in the United States, of course same sex marriage, etc., all in the equation. The church needs to hold the line both on the teaching of the gospel: the good news concerning Jesus, and righteousness: God’s will in Jesus. And of course, that is to be a witness for the world, hopefully impacting the state for good. But the church must neither be influenced by the world, nor expect the world to be influenced by it. If I read the Bible right, that is. But to hear people both from liberal, progressive and conservative perspectives, you would have to think that much depends on what the state is doing, that is all that essentially seems to matter, and the church is present to applaud and support that.

It doesn’t matter one whit what the world does, what the state does, the church must kindly tow the line, holding to the teaching of our Lord, of righteousness. The church always must pray for the state, and be a witness to it of the power of Christ and the gospel. And it does need to be present for the good of all, including the state, praying for its blessing, as well as for the good of all people.

But the church must be careful not to compromise its calling to be a witness to the one good news in the one Lord and Savior, Jesus.