Christianity 201

March 29, 2020

Obeying Those in Authority

Today we’re back another time with Elsie Montgomery who writes at Practical Faith. This is a very timely article as we’re witnessing a conflict between those who are obeying lockdown and quarantine orders, and those who feel the mandate of God’s people to worship together trumps government directives.

What about obeying the government?

Some Christians claim that God will not allow them to experience a plague. They quote Scripture and continue to meet in large numbers. In contrast, a friend said that we trust God yet wear a bicycle helmet, drive the speed limit, take our vitamins and so on. God promises protection but is it okay to play in traffic? One of the devil’s temptations to Jesus encouraged Him to jump off the top of the temple because angels wouldn’t let Him be injured. Jesus replied that this was putting God to the test.

God’s people, me included, need to remember that God’s protection goes hand in hand with obedience including this passage:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1–2)

God is sovereign. That covers all authorities, even those we don’t like. Agreeing with separation of church and state does not include ignoring political authority during this crisis. That attitude is deadly.

My hubby once took a course called “Christ and Government” which suggests there is much to consider on this topic. I am challenged to think more deeply by this passage:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. (John 18:33–38)

The kingdom of God is not like those of the world. It is not defined by boundaries. It has no flag or logos. Its citizens are not governed by military might, nor according to how much money they donate to their current political party. Jesus’ kingdom is about allegiance to Him and having a personal relationship with Him. All our ‘laws and rules’ are in the Bible.

My devotional book offers additional thoughts. It says that Jesus’ servants will not fight to advance His kingdom the way the kingdoms of this world achieve success — using military drive or human armies. Apparently, Pilate believed at least this part of what Jesus was saying, and therefore saw him as no political threat . . . . But this does not mean that Jesus is making no claim whatsoever with respect to the kingdoms of this world. He insists He is King Jesus, even if His source of authority is not in this world, and His servants will not defend Him by resorting to arms. However, the time will come when all will acknowledge that He alone is Lord of lords and King of kings and all the kingdoms of this world are destined to become His.

How does this work in a practical sense? Again, my heart says to obey those in authority, not because I trust them, but because I trust the One who tells me to do it.

What if they order something contrary to the Lord’s commands? The Bible answers that also. The authorities were worried that the Gospel would spread so they decided to warn the disciples:

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 4:17–20)

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:27–29)

APPLY: Pay close attention to both the Bible and governing authorities. This could mean the difference between life or death even as God gives me a means to stay alive at this time. I am a citizen of heaven living as an ambassador for Jesus in a worldly kingdom. As long as I’m here, I’m to trust Jesus and obey His Word, especially concerning those in authority.

May 30, 2019

Compelling Society

How the Christian Vision for Society Points to the Reality of God.

by Clarke Dixon

Are Christians to rebel against governments? Are Christians to submit to governments? Are Christians to take over governments? Does the Christian vision for society lead to a theocracy, where God’s law is the law of the land? Does Christianity promote a beautiful vision for society? If God is real, and Christianity is true, then we should expect beauty and not ugliness. What is the vision?

Are Christians to rebel?

8 So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:18-20 (NLT emphasis added)

26 The captain went with his Temple guards and arrested the apostles, but without violence, for they were afraid the people would stone them. 27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. 28 “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”
29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. Acts 5:26-29 (NLT emphasis added)

In the New Testament we find rebellion against the authorities in order to be obedient to God. We can think of the many Christians around the world who disobey the authorities by gathering together as the Church, by telling others about Jesus, sometimes simply by owning a Bible. Let us not just think of the underground Church, let us pray. So yes, we are encouraged to rebel and break the laws when necessary.

Are Christians to submit?

1 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. Romans 13:1-7 (NLT)

Keep in mind that these words are taken from Paul’s letter to Rome, the seat of power in the ancient world. While the Christians in Rome recognized that “Jesus is Lord” meant  therefore that Caesar is not, there was still a call to respect the authorities. There is an impulse to be good citizens of the land, to be good Romans, or Canadians, as well as good Christians.

We therefore find in the New Testament a balance between respect for the authorities, but also disobedience when necessary.

Are Christians to take over the government, to aim for a “Christian Nation,” to establish a theocracy?

Reading through the entire New Testament we find no encouragement to take over the government, to establish a theocracy. Christianity began as a minority movement and therefore a takeover was not even entertained as a possibility. Even so, neither do we find a longing to do so at some point in the future. What we find is a focus on individuals having a life changing encounter with Christ. We find disciples making disciples. We find the recognition that Jesus already reigns without the need for a coup. There is no need to take over the government, for Jesus is already Lord. There is no need to set up a theocracy, for God is already sovereign.

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven:
“The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 11:15 (NLT)

The place of the Christian is not to enforce laws that make the land look like God’s kingdom. The place of the Christian is to live kingdom focused lives while watching and waiting for God to bring His kingdom.

We find something similar in Old Testament. While there was a call for the establishment of a theocracy, known as Israel, there was no impulse for that theocracy to take over the world. Israel was to be salt and light to the world. Christians today are to be salt and light within the world.

We can have influence on society, but we are to be salt and light, not a hammer and gun. We are to carry a cross, not a sword. Helping people know Jesus is the priority of the Christian, not enforcing non-Christian people to live like Christians, especially not our own vision of what a Christian looks like. Our own idea of a “theocracy” might better be termed a “meocracy.” We are not kings over the land but kingdom people in the land, leading kingdom lives, looking forward to the Kingdom to come. We are disciples making disciples.

As lives are changed, society is changed. Christianity has brought good and beautiful changes to society, yet without a vision for totalitarian control. As an interesting example, consider the nations that are best, and worst, to live in if you are gay. According to one source, here are the ten best in ascending order; Argentina, Belgium, Malta, Germany, Iceland, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands, Spain, and Canada takes the top spot as the best. From another source, here are the worst in descending order; Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somaliland, Nigeria, Russia, United Arab Emirates, and Mauritania. Notice anything about these two lists? The nations that are considered best have all had Christianity working in the background for a long time, helping to shape the culture, helping to develop a societal vision of love for one’s neighbour. The nations that are considered worst share a history of either Sharia law or communism, Islam or atheism. Rights and freedoms have flourished in lands that have been marinating in Christianity. This speaks positively about Christianity.

To conclude, the New Testament does not promote a vision for society that is to be fought for, that is to be enforced. That could get ugly quite quickly. Unfortunately, being all too human, we Christians have made things get ugly at times. What the New Testament promotes is a vision for how Christians engage with and interact within society, any society. We are to be individuals reaching individuals with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are to be disciples making disciples. We are to do good, to love our neighbours. We are to lead Jesus-centred, Spirit-filled, wisdom seeking lives. We are to be kingdom people living kingdom lives, while watching and waiting for the kingdom to come. We are to be good citizens of whatever land we live in. We are to rebel when necessary. Overall, the Bible promotes a beautiful vision for how Christians engage with and live within society. This is another reason Christianity is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

March 12, 2018

Staying on Track When Christians Seek Political Influence

Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.
 -2 Timothy 2:4 NLT

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
 -2 Peter 2:20 NIV

Again we’re revisiting the writing of Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. Amy is currently at the forefront of the intersection of Christianity and the study of mental health issues.  Her new book is Blessed are the Unsatisfied: Finding Freedom in an Imperfect World (InterVarsity) and you can read chapter one from the book for free at this link. (Look around her blog for chapters two and three as well!) To read today’s post there, click the title below.

Be Careful: Power Tends to Corrupt…Our Faith

Several years ago, my family and I spent a weekend visiting friends in North Central Indiana. Although this part of the country is home to lots of regular Indiana folks, it’s one of the places known as “Amish country,” a handful of regions in the United States that are home to large Old Order Mennonite and Amish communities. Although we were there to visit friends, not to engage in “Amish tourism,” we did visit the Menno-Hof Amish/Mennonite Information Center in Shipshewana, Indiana. Part museum, part educational experience, it features interesting exhibits about the history, beliefs, and contemporary experiences of Amish and Mennonite people.

The experience began with a quick multimedia presentation of a couple of thousand years of Christian history, starting with the birth of Jesus and showing how and why the Anabaptist movement emerged in sixteenth-century Europe. Through this perspective, one prominent theme emerged: bad things happen when religion and political power get cozy.

These folks should know; their history serves as brutal illustration. The center’s exhibits highlighted the European experiences of Anabaptists and other minority religious groups. An underground dungeon shows the lengths to which powerful state churches would go to suppress the rights and views of minority groups. A ship, ready to sail for the “New World,” illustrates the lengths to which they went in order to find a place where they might peacefully practice their faith and honor their conscience.

In fact, among those of us with European roots, many are descended from people who came to this land seeking escape from state-sponsored religious persecution in Europe. They saw for themselves how political power and religion, when they get all mixed up, can be a recipe for oppression. And we see it for ourselves today, in nations all around the world, where faith and power are used as both justification and tools in the fight for domination. Whether we like it or not, the entire Western world is at war with one such system. How tremendously ironic that American Christians can’t seem to let go of our own appetite for political power.

Now, I’m no separatist. I’ve never even read an Amish romance novel. And I’m a firm believer that Christians ought to be as engaged–and personally invested–in our cultures as anyone else. But I think these Anabaptists got something right–political power has the potential to corrupt our faith as thoroughly as it can corrupt any other area of life. As soon as people perceive a threat to their power, they often begin to lose their way as they focus on trying to cling to it. I’m afraid this is one form of sickness currently infecting the American church.

We are here to live in relationship with God and wield our influence in the direction that relationship leads us. We are not here to make or keep ourselves powerful. That is not part of our calling. Does this mean we ought to eschew power and influence, automatically yielding it all to people who have no misgivings about the relationship between power and faith? Absolutely not. But graciously exercising power is far different from grabbing for it, hoarding it, or wielding it only in our own self-interest. Humbly and generously seeking the common good is vastly different from seeking to hold over others the kind of power that God himself chooses not to exercise.

Many of the people who are quick to point out power’s corrupting influence on people who have disappointed us–like lifelong politicians, corporate kings, and media moguls–are foolish enough to believe it won’t have the same effect on us. Take a look around and think again.

These are messy times, like all other times in human history. I’m not naive enough to believe any one attitudinal shift will bring ideological peace to our society. But clinging to power at all costs has never brought lasting peace or fostered a kinder, more livable culture. In fact, those who refuse to share, without exception, eventually lose everything they worked so hard to amass. Let’s take a lesson from our own stories. Let’s imitate the all-powerful King of Kings and Lord of Lords, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).

 

March 9, 2018

Should Christians Take Each Other to Court?

We’re paying our third visit to the online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. They feature various authors, but our writer today, Keith Harris, was presented here previously.

Lawsuits & Social Media

Should a Christian file a lawsuit against another Christian? Is there ever a time when you believe it is appropriate to the courts in order to settle a dispute with a brother or sister? Suppose a fellow Christian was a financial planner who handled accounts for church members. If this planner misappropriates, mismanages, or embezzles funds from a church member, is this worthy of taking him to court?

If you are like me, your mind recalls Paul mentioning something about the topic of taking a brother to court. It is in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth. “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints” (1 Corinthians 6:1)? He goes on to ask, “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church…Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?” (1 Corinthians 6:4-6). Why do you think Paul is so concerned about a brother taking another brother to court? Why would it really matter? If a brother or sister has been wronged by another person, even if that person is a fellow Christian, doesn’t the offended party have a legal right to seek restitution? The question of legality arises in the context of Paul’s discussion on this subject. “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Historically, we have not connected this statement with the concerns raised regarding lawsuits. But I have become more and more convinced that this entire chapter deals with the foundational elements of Paul’s concern with unity among the Christians in Corinth.

So how do these issues which Paul addresses in this letter relate us today? Is there any parallel we can draw between their context and our own? I think the connection becomes clear when we begin to see Paul’s juxtaposition of the unrighteous and the saints. Check out 1 Corinthians 6:1 again, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?” He goes on to offer examples of those that are unrighteous: sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Paul says these will not inherit the kingdom of God. This list of examples of those that are unrighteous is place just prior to his clear statement concerning those within the church at Corinth. “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). You used to be numbered among the unrighteous. You were once involved in these unrighteous activities. But…

“…you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Paul once again presses the saints up against the unrighteous. Why? His point appears to be helping these Christians see how foolish it is to bring grievances among brothers and sisters before those who have no interest or standing in the church. This picture, graphic as it may be, is illustrated in Paul’s exhortation to not be joined to a prostitute. It is the picture of one who has been cleansed of filth and dross taking a dip in a sewage pond. What sense does that make?

Paul concludes his thoughts by exhorting, “So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). This is a statement that incorporates all that he has stated to this point in the larger context of this chapter. Refrain from joining with the unrighteous. This is not Paul saying they should avoid all contact with those outside of Christ. After all, how would they accomplish the will of God if they never interacted with those outside the faith. Basically (and I understand I have greatly simplified this), what Paul is saying is that there is no reason why two Christians should take their grievances to those outside the church. Doing this would be the same as a Christian joining his/her body with a prostitute. For the Body of Christ to do this fails to bring glory to God.

Now…what about our context? I am saddened by the vast number of Christians who rant and rave on social media. Often, message of disdain and disrespect fill the news feed. And all too often, Christians pour their hearts out over issues within the church. And they do this in front of the whole world. Is it possible that doing so is congruent with what Paul addresses among the Corinthians? Why is it that so many have no problem airing their differences and grievances regarding the Body of Christ on social media for all to see? And I mean all to see. Paul would say, “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 6:4-5). Without a doubt, Paul’s major concern throughout his ministry was the church. This letter, this discussion, is no different. What do our actions and words say about the Church for which Jesus died? What impact are we having on the unrighteous? How are we influencing the unrighteous? Maybe closer to home…what impact are we having on our children/teenagers? How are we influencing them?

Technology, even social media, can be very beneficial. Think about the number of people that can be reached with the message of Christ through these avenues. Think about the number of people that can be turned away from God through these avenues. We must be diligent to remember the power of a word. Our message must be one of love and hope. We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that it is okay to abuse and slander a brother or sister. It is not okay to overtly, or passively (as is the case with far too many), berate a fellow Christian. When we speak/type/post, we must allow the love of God to penetrate every word. So glorify God with your body. Glorify God with your speech.

August 20, 2016

When Christians Bear the Sweetest Fruit

“But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.

Deuteronomy 11: 11-12 (emphasis added)

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6 (both verses are NASB)

Today we are again paying a return visit to Katherine Harms at the blog Living on Tilt. One thing I really like is how she bridges topical and Bible study material, and sometimes in the same article! Click the title below to read at source.

More Than Survival

I just finished reading a long essay by a man who believes that everyone should acquire the knowledge that enabled people to survive and thrive before electronic technology existed. I agree. Electronics are seriously vulnerable, but the ways of pre-electronic society can and will enable a good life to anyone. God’s earth will still be here, even after the EMP or a hurricane or a world war.

People in today’s world need another “tool” in their “survival kit,” too. They need faith in Christ who redeemed humankind and all creation when he died and rose again.

Many people believe that it is “all up to me” and there is no help other than their own wits and strength. Self-sufficiency is an important and valuable character trait that keeps us from being needy and dependent on our fellow man and on government, but it is not enough to give us real health and long life. Only faith in Christ and a life lived in relationship with him will enable us to thrive in utterly destructive circumstances.

The first principle of a successful life before, during, or after disaster is to put all your hope in God alone.

Contemporary culture rejects the existence of God, and that stance means that one must be completely self-sufficient. God cannot help a person who denies his existence. God sends rain on the believers and the unbelievers alike, but only believers see God’s hand at work in the blessing of the rain. Unbelievers see a water control problem that they must fix. Unbelievers see no blessing in the seeming randomness of the rain, or in the gradual increase in the size of a desert, or in the transitions of natural climate change. Unbelievers see Inequality in the difference in rainfall, paychecks, or intellectual gifts. Unbelievers think that only equal pay, equal rain, and equal intellect is equality, and therefore unbelievers are always at war with God’s diversity and inclusiveness. God loves all people equally, but his gifts are distributed according to his perfect plan, not according to the ability of humans to measure equality.

To put your hope in God alone is to accept his work and his administration without fear. If you hope in God alone, for example, then when voters choose a tyrannical president as wicked and faithless as the ancient king Ahab, you do not lose faith in God. You recognize that a purpose and plan bigger than yourself is at work. When that godless tyrant begins to disassemble legal and moral structures that were God’s gifts delivered through leaders obedient to God’s direction, you recognize God’s judgment on people who chose the tyrant who hands out bread and circuses rather than a Godly leader who focuses on protecting opportunity for all. God has not stopped caring about the nation; the nation has stopped caring about God.

If you put your hope in God alone, then you trust God’s guidance and care for the nation and for you as an individual. You don’t despair when God’s will for the nation results in pain for you; rather, you give thanks to God for the privilege of suffering for His Name’s sake, in the same way the disciples suffered from human evil: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”  (Acts 6:41)

This is why Christians who mourn the collapse of Constitutional government and the moral rot perpetuated by government mandate in public schools do not, nevertheless, despair. The church, Christ’s body on earth, was not made for the easy times; it was born of inhuman suffering and it thrives in the most inhospitable times and places.

Christians thrive and bear the sweetest fruit when nourished by being like Christ — despised and rejected by men.

It is wise for Christians to prepare for disasters. A wise person will be ready for war, civil unrest, hurricanes, or whatever hard times he can foresee. However, all that common sense wisdom can be made worthless by disasters nobody could have foreseen. When that happens, it is good to be able to testify with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Only those who put all their hope in God alone will thrive in times like that.