Posts Tagged ‘America’

Part 1 of 3: What the Church Needs to be Doing. Now.

Been thinking about church. I do that a lot for some reason. It's not like I have anything else to do with my time. (/sarcasm). The truth is, I'm fairly heavily involved with my local church through helping lead worship (singing, playing guitar, reading Scripture), teaching a Bible school class, and teaching at a small, local Bible College. I also do pulpit supply whenever I can, wherever I can. I wish every day was Sunday, sometimes.

I have a love/hate relationship with the church. I have spent my entire life married to the church. It has seen my best days (baptism, wedding) and my worst days (termination, heartbreak). I am almost 46 and the church has never not been a part of my life in some way, some shape, or other. So this post isn't about any church in particular, it's about the church in general. It's a short sermon sans a pulpit.

Anyhow.

Here's the first of three things the church ought to consider when the church considers its appearance and mission to the world. All three will be drawn from Mark's Gospel, chapter 1.

First, preparing the way. The last thing faithful Israelites heard from the prophets before a what must have been a dreadfully long 400 year silence, was this: "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me…I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes" (Malachi 3:1, 4:5). There's a lot more to Malachi's thoughts, but this is where Mark's Gospel begins. That is, he begins by telling his readers that this is what the prophet(s) said, and this is what happened, "And so John the baptist appeared in the wilderness" (Mark 1:4a).

I doubt seriously this is what people had in mind. Maybe they expected some flashbang or shock and awe. Maybe they thought about fire from heaven or miracles galore. Maybe they thought and end to the Roman occupation with a giant military coup. Yet there was John. Preaching a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." So, it seems, what Mark is telling us is this: the way John prepared the way for the Lord's arrival, the way he prepared people for the appearance of the Lord in his temple, was this: Take personal inventory of your sin and repent. Imagine that such a task–preparing the way of the Lord–could be accomplished with such an unflashy medium. Preaching: repentance.

This is decidedly not how we prepare the way of the Lord in the church. Instead we draw them in with fidgets and gadgets and gimmicks. And all churches do it. To an extent, some churches even make repentance a gimmick. John did nothing fancy. He simply went out and preached that people needed to repent. Interestingly enough, when Jesus took up the mantle of gospeling after John was put in prison, he did the same thing: "The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15). John didn't even draw people in with supernatural power. He went as far away from them as he could in fact–the wilderness. He didn't hang out at all the swank places eating rich fair–he simply at locusts. He didn't look particularly fashionable–he wore scratchy camel hair and a belt. Yet people went to him. And listened. And were baptized by him.

Maybe there is something to what John was doing? Maybe the Lord knew what he was doing? Maybe we need to imitate John? Maybe part of our preaching objectives ought to be calling people to repentance from their sin?

How is it that such a simple message was able to prepare a generation of people for the arrival of the Lord in his temple? And why don't we do more of this in our churches? I mean, isn't the Lord going to return someday to claim his bride? Maybe the best message that the church can preach to the world and to the church is that they and we need to repent.

I've been thinking about it. There's a lot to do in the church in America, here in the last days. Maybe it is time for the church to stop pushing a gospel of America and to start preaching repentance again. It's just a thought. Maybe it is time for the church to abandon all the tricks and gimmicks and all the sermon series' about How a Good American Can Have a Happy Outlook on Life.

Maybe it's time for real power in our pulpits again.

I saw the other day in my Twitter feed where someone quoted a certain political candidate as saying if he is elected to the presidency Christians will have power in this country. Everyone knows that such statements are merely populist in nature, but if it has even a thread of truth in it, the church ought to be afraid. The church doesn't need power (and I'll demonstrate this in a future post). The church needs prophets. The power will come, but not from politicians. This is all another post. In the second post, I'll write about preaching the Kingdom.

Once upon a midnight dreary, I was enrolled in seminary. I had to write a paper once concerning whether or not Jesus ever said anything political. I don't remember everything I wrote but I do remember being marked down a grade because it was my opinion that Jesus had very little to say about politics.

I suppose by now I might change my mind. He probably said a lot. He probably said more than I really care to think about right now. I think if Jesus did say something about politics it is something that most people really will not want to hear. The liberal thinks Jesus said something that justifies their liberal social agenda. The conservative thinks Jesus said something that justifies their conservative social agenda. If we use Scripture to justify a political point of view then we have missed the point of reading Scripture altogether.

I think Jesus said something about the Kingdom of God and anything he said about politics, and how they are used, must be found somewhere within the matrix of God's Kingdom. I think we must also be careful because Jesus spoke to a particular and peculiar political situation. He did not, to be sure, say anything specifically about American politics, American politicians, or the American political machine. There's a lot of folks who think Jesus had something to say about America, but he didn't. Not specifically anyhow. But if he did say something in general, I think he warned his followers that we ought to tread lightly and not be found holding hands with those in power.

Jesus had lots of things to say about the Kingdom of God though.

So I got to thinking tonight and went on a mini-facebook rant, posting mini-screed after mini-screed to my wall. (Mostly I do things like this to aggravate people, but tonight I was kind of being serious because I'm kind of getting sick of the attitudes of many of my conservative Christian friends. Jesus did say something to them, something about humility or being humble or being last or something.) The point here, then, is to post a few of those mini-screeds.

I think if Christians really, really, really want to see the world changed for the better, kind of a redeeming the time sort of thing, then it would be better if we aligned ourselves with Love instead of a particular political party.

[Comment: Jesus gave us one command: Love. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love God. Love one another. That's pretty much it in a nutshell. What bothers me is that more people seem to get this who aren't christians than who are. I think that should bother people; a lot.]

I think if Christians really, really, really aligned themselves with Jesus, then we would have the same opinion of both sides of the political aisle because in truth, neither conservatives nor liberals have in mind the things of Jesus. I'll go a step further and suggest that they don't have your best interests in mind either. Politics is about one thing and one thing only: power. And the Gospel of Jesus is the power we already possess and the only power we need.

[Comment: In my opinion, way, way, way too many Christians think that our salvation comes from electing socially and fiscally conservative politicians. I disagree. I happen to be a socially and fiscally conservative Jesus follower, but that is not where our hope is found. We are not a people of power and we do not need those in power for protection and/or salvation. We belong to Jesus. He is our King. He is our love. He is our God who came to bring us back to Him. David Crowder wrote those last three lines. All I'm saying is that dialogue is fine. Opinion is fine. Belief is fine. But don't for a minute think that dialogue, opinion, and belief in or with a political party is going to keep you safe. It's dog eat dog in politics and Christians are very tiny dogs.]

Funny thing is that I often find it is those who are politically liberal or religiously agnostic who tolerate my ideas more than my conservative friends.

[Comment: I don't even care anymore. I don't even try. I like a good debate, but I have long since given up the idea that I will lead anyone to Jesus just because I have more arguments against evolution than they have for it. I figure if God wanted it to be so clear, he could have made it clearer himself. These political and scientific arguments are great fun, but really amount to nothing in the grand scheme of things. Let's talk about things that really matter–like life, and love, and happiness (that's from Audio Adrenaline.) Down at the bottom of a person, I want to know they are into Jesus. They can sort out their political and scientific angst in their own time and with God. None of this means we have to agree with one another. Jesus didn't say: A new command I give you: Agree with one another. No. No. No. Jesus said, verbally and demonstratively, Love. That's all. Just Love. ]

The Resurrection of Jesus is God's demonstration of Power and if Christians think we need something more or other then we have not truly understood the Gospel of Jesus yet. The greatest among you will be the least. The first shall be last.

[Comment: At the heart of the matter is that we now live in a church that reflects the US constitution and not the Bible. I'm sorry to say it. The church is stagnant–and mega churches prove nothing otherwise. I know from first hand experience how churches treat people–and they do so because of power. Churches like power just as much as the politicians with whom they align themselves. And our daily commentary on world events is not Jesus or Scripture, but talk radio hosts whose use of Scripture is offensive and appalling. What's worse is that Christians buy into it: lock, stock, and barrel. We think because it's conservative, it's right. We think because it's liberal, it's wrong. Seriously, who cares? Let's talk about something like fixing the world because we love Jesus or because he loves us. Let's talk about what real power is and where real power comes from. Let's talk about love. Let's talk about something like how we as Christians can be Jesus to the thousands of people who are illegally entering this country each day. What can we do to alleviate some or all of their burden? Let's talk about how that Jesus Resurrection Power can make this earth shake.]

So you see I am a little out there tonight. It's not about being contrary. It's about thinking through what the Bible really, really, really says and means. It's about being a Jesus follower first and an American second. America is great. I have no desire to live anywhere else, well, maybe Paris for a year or so, but other than Paris, Venice, and Berlin, I'm all about America the beautiful.

But I'm more about Jesus.

Christians need to give serious thought to where their loyalties lie and to whom they belong. Faith is about trusting that God knows better what's going on than we do and that that's OK. We don't have to be in the know about everything. We don't have to be on the supposed right side of everything. Key to our discipleship is God's grace: no one will be saved because they dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's. We are saved only by grace. No one will be saved because they had the right political opinion or because they hobnobbed with all the right political power mongers. Grace. That's all.

In other words, I don't think Jesus gives a rip what your politics are. I do think he pays attention to your motivations when it comes to politics though–that is, where your faith is, how you use politics, etc. He knows your heart. That's what he is concerned with each moment of each day. Your heart. Many of us would do well to be liberated from the notion that our political persuasion will somehow persuade Jesus.

Friends,

This past week I posted the following essay at CRN.info. I have been thinking hard on this subject of how the church ‘fits’ into America, the church’s role in politics, etc. I’m not through thinking about this because there is more to it than this simple post. A great help on this subject has been Jacques Ellul’s chapter ‘Political Perversion’ in The Subversion of Christianity. His insights are simply profound, and, I think, on the mark. A great conversation has taken place at CRN in the comments section of the OP. I won’t copy all the comments (except a couple of my own that clarified positions I am taking in the OP), but this post is at least the catalyst for an interesting question.

__________________________

Friends,

I’m supposed to be on hiatus this week as I begin moving into our new house and all, but something at SOL caught my eye this morning and I don’t want to let it pass without a comment or two.

Before I object to something in the post, I want to state upfront that I agree with this statement, “You cannot be a Christian and support the killing of un-born babies.” I am opposed to abortion on demand and the wholesale slaughter of children (even as I am opposed to the wholesale ‘putting away’ of the elderly in nursing homes or white vans owned by Jack Kevorkian). Murder, what the Bible calls enmity in Genesis 3:15 and elsewhere, is a terribly heinous sin and is perpetuated as the seed of the serpent goes about the business of trying to annihilate the seed of the woman. I am not, please note, not disagreeing with this particular point of the OP.

Having said that, I also came across this sentence (this quote is from Dave Daubenmire’s article that the author of Slice excerpted) that sort of bugged me. I’m not posting this because I agree or disagree (although I am leaning towards disagreement) at this point, but rather to stimulate some wholesome thinking and hopefully learn something. Daubemire wrote (admittedly, there is no other context aside from what the author of Slice excerpted, but I think I am not misunderstanding what he is saying):

No wonder we are losing the battle for this nation.

Now here’s my question: Is the battle we are fighting really for ‘this nation’? Is that really the war we are engaged in right now? I have to say, with all due respect, because in this instance I am perfectly willing to learn–that is, I’m not entirely certain of my position–that this doesn’t seem to be true. (I could ask if anyone thinks RW should have been tougher on the abortion issue, but that’s another post.) You see, I think here I agree again with Ellul who wrote this: “The church lets itself be seduced, invaded, dominated by the ease with which it can now spread the Gospel by force (another force than that of God) and use its influence to make the state, too, Christian. It is great acquiescence to the temptation Jesus himself resisted, for when Satan offered to give him all the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus refuses, but the church accepts, not realizing from whom it is receiving the kingdoms.” (The Subversion of Christianity, 124)

My point here is that if we are in a ‘battle for this nation’ are we not settling? I mean, is a merely Christian America the goal here? Is that why I wake up and pray every day? Is that why I preach? Is that why I sing? Is it God’s ambition that every business, every corporation, every entity in America, be Christianized? I know, I know: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done…” Yes. But if our vision doesn’t extend beyond the borders of America, are we not selling short the prayer? God’s vision is universal, cosmic, not merely local or national. When we pray, “your Kingdom Come,” does that mean, ‘Your Kingdom come in America?’ as in ’smite all the heretical enemies of America so the truly elect can get on with the business of Eden in America? Is that what Jesus had in mind?

With all due respect to Mr Daubemire, I am not fighting a battle for this nation any more than I am fighting a battle for the community where I live. Mostly I’m fighting a battle within myself (Romans 7) and often I’m losing–more often than I am winning. So my question to you is this: Are we, Christians (or for you good Reformed folks, the Elect), fighting a battle for America? Is that our particular calling at this particular moment in the history of the universe?  Ever? (On a side note, I might ask if RW is really the reason we are ‘losing the battle for America, but again, that’s another post as I don’t happen to think that what goes on at Saddleback is necessarily indicative of what goes on in most churches in America.) And do we really think that abortion is the issue in this battle? It goes back to Genesis 3:15 and the enmity. America is fond of killing in general; we invent ways of doing it; we glamorize it in films and Law and Order reruns; we are obsessed with killing. We have all sorts of reasons for murdering, but they are all murder. Abortion is a symptom and a consequence of the greater problem we have in the world, not a specifically American franchise.

What do you think? Does Ephesians 6 here play any role in this? Is there a battle for the soul of America that Christians are engaged in? (This sounds very political, and I am tres skeptical of the church being involved in politics at any level.) I’ll be interested in reading your thoughts.

Soli Deo Gloria!

PS-please don’t read this and assume that I am either a) pro-abortion or b) anti-America. I am neither.

PPS-shame on Daubemire for laying all this at the feet of RW! Even if we are ‘losing the battle for America,’ it is hardly just to pile that at the feet of one person, especially RW. Fact is, all of us are guilty at some level. All of us bear the shame and responsibility for the sin of this nation.

_____________________

From the comments section.

Someone wrote that Christianity should affect politics even if only residually. I wrote in response:

Christianity cannot affect politics and the laws of the land because the land is not a Christian place and because eventually the land will want to affect the Christianity (see ‘faith-based initiatives’). Rather, I think we should have nothing to do with the land [I explain this below in another response]. We live here. Besides, whose ‘Christianity’ are we going to allow to affect those laws? Shall it be the Christianity of Rod Parsley or Jim Wallis or Jerry Falwell or Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen or Doug Pagitt or Brian McClaren or Jerry Hillyer or Rick Frueh or Ken Silva or Richard Abanes or Kirk Cameron or Ray Comfort? And how shall it (Christianity) affect it?

You see the problem? Even in a merely residual way is problematic. I would argue that Christianity (at least one strand of it) has residually (in fact profoundly!) affected our policies towards the Middle East and Israel. I think those policies are horrifying and have yielded horrifying consequences because they are, in effect, based on very, very, very bad pre-millenial, rapture theology. Our blind allegiance to Israel to the detriment of others living there is beyond absurd. And I’m telling you it is based on bad theology. This is exactly what I am talking about in the OP. We (the Redeemed, the Elect) are not building a kingdom of America nor are we fighting a battle for America. And while I don’t think laws should exist to punish Christians or subjugate them (or minorities or others), neither do I think laws should exist which protect us as a special class of people (nor do I think laws should exist to protect any ’special’ class of people, such as women, Muslims, homosexuals, minorities, whites, etc.) Laws ought to be for basic human dignity and freedom–human, I say, because our (the Redeemed, the Elect) freedom is found only, truly in Christ and exists quite apart from the laws that govern the land.

Another person thinks that Christianity has too much of a role in politics. I agreed and wrote:

Frankly, I think politicians spend entirely too much time, money, and energy courting the Christian vote. We would be outraged, as Christians, if they spent as much money courting the atheist vote, or the Muslim vote, or the homosexual vote. It’s almost as if these politicians are running for the high office of the church and not of the land. I wish they would concentrate on running for president and stop with all this fake ‘we care about our Christian values’ crap. Every last one of them is fake beyond imagination. They don’t care about Christ or the church. They care about getting elected.

Finally, concerning whether or not Christians ought to vote, I wrote:

I was thinking about this very thing after I posted my initial response. I mean, if what I have said is true, then perhaps Christians should not vote. But after reading your reply, I thought about it this way: We do not vote because we are Christians specifically or necessarily. We vote because a) it is a civic duty (and Christians are to obey the law except in cases where it places God in a less godlike position) b) we are Americans and can (because people have secured that right for us) and c) we are humans (and we still have to live here like it or not).

We should vote, and I suspect that some people are vocationally called to political positions (i.e. Daniel, Hananiah, Mischael, and Azariah; Nehemiah; and Esther and Joseph among others). But my point is this: Even the positions they take and policies they affirm must be beneficial to humanity generally and not to Christians specifically. Does that make sense my position? (We might argue that Nehemiah used his position to move Artaxerxes, but methinks a strong argument can be made that his was a unique position and his petition a unique petition.)

My point in this last quote is rather simple. I do believe that God protects, what some call, ‘the seed of the woman’. But what I mean by that is this: He will not leave himself without a witness, and, furthermore, the enemy will never successfully destroy God’s people. However, on the other hand, the Scripture also says that God sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. This means, I think, that God has arranged this earth and its ways so that rain benefits all humans and not a select group of humans specifically.

Thanks for stopping by and please feel free to comment on any point.

jerry

Republished courtesy of CRN.info and Analysis