Saturday, September 26, 2015
American Evangelicalism has been for a long time now conflated with patriotism. In fact, if you listen carefully to many American evangelicals you would think that to be a Christian is to be a patriot and to reject being a patriot is to reject Christianity. I know this all too well for I have come out of that mold myself. Christians that find themselves in American culture have to begin grappling with their loyalties sooner than later. No, you cannot be loyal to a God-hating government and to God at the same time and in the same sense. Before you sound the alarms, this is not a call to rebel against the government. Instead, it is precisely the opposite. This is merely a call to Christians in America to stop conflating their Christianity with being an American or a patriotic American. The delusion that many Christians suffer is finally beginning to fade. This is not your country! What I mean by that is that the Christian that thinks we have to take America back or that we are losing America is suffering from the “Christian nation” delusion and the time for Christians to stop believing that nonsense is long past. Why are we calling for a “return” to Christian values? Why do some pray for a revival? A revival of and to what exactly? I am afraid that we have all been duped by the fallacious Constantinian doctrine that has infected the church to one degree or another from the fourth century right up to the present moment. It is time we put a stop to it. And we can only begin to put a stop to it by exposing the doctrine for its unbiblical nature. That will be the goal of my next few posts.
If Christians in America are serious about their Christianity, their relationship with Christ, then it behooves them to go back in time and study the historical events around the Edict of Milan. Serious Christians are interested in ensuring that their communities, their attitude, and their ethic mirror those found in the NT record. If that does not describe you, then I would describe you as one who is not serious about his or her Christianity. I am convinced that unless you get in back of Constantine, whatever model of the church you come up with will be unavoidably tainted to one degree or another, with an idolatrous Roman influence that will continually impede the Christian's desire to adopt the mind of Christ on all matters ethical, doctrinal, and yes, political.
The Constantinian shift occurred when the Roman Emperor Constantine not only became a Christian but later declared Christianity to be the official religion of the empire. This meant that the empire became involved in the church, appointing leaders to positions of authority within the church. Everyone born into the empire was regarded as Christian (sound familiar?). Christianity saw this as the great victory of subduing the world for Christ. She even began to persecute competing religions. Indeed, it did not take long for the church to begin to disgrace herself. No longer was the church the object of brutal persecution. No longer was the Christian movement a minority movement of outcasts, the down-trodden, and the unimpressive. Christians began to occupy offices of authority, positions of influence, and gain significant credibility.
The consequences of the Constantinian shift are felt to this day, and they are especially felt in American Evangelicalism. Because everyone born into the empire was regarded as Christian, the church disappeared in terms of being able to distinguish it from the present world order. The same has happened in American culture. Because the church has promulgated the delusion that America was founded as, and has been for most of her history, a Christian nation, the distinction between the church and the country is murky at best and impossible to discern in most cases.
Eventually, there was a shift away from the authority of Scripture to the authority of the church, mirroring as it were, the Roman system. Eventually, this shift took place once more at the enlightenment where reason replaced revelation as the final authority. Scripture became subject to the interpretation of the Church which is guided primarily by the new doctrines emerging in human reason and in science. We see this in American Christianity, a version of Christianity that is mostly built upon an empiricist and/or rationalist theology as opposed to the supernatural revelation of an authoritative text. This explains why the “born-again” experience is no longer supernatural in most Christians minds but more like a decision to join the country club. It is a weak, flimsy, unrecognizable version of the ancient movement that Paul was so instrumental in building.
The merger of the church and the state gives the church a vested interest in the affairs, laws, civil codes, and ethics of the state. And the church feels that she is responsible for guiding the civil magistrates to oversee the affairs of the state only as the church sees fit. Hence, laws that are contrary to the church’s beliefs cannot be tolerated under any circumstances. This is not hard to miss in the thinking of most Christians residing in America. Additionally, the church is convinced that a state that comes under her instructions is also a state that comes under God’s blessing. I cannot help but think of the song, “God bless America.” What is amazing is how these facts are clear for us to see but somehow, most of us, myself included for so long, fail to see them. Christians have even bought into the view that America is the greatest country on earth, bar none. Really? What exactly is the criteria used to measure "country greatness?" They certainly are not biblical criteria.
The consequences (not inevitable I should say) of the reformation are that the church was broken up into numerous segments. These segments of the church increasingly have identified with the culture in which they exist. This has led the church to become more and more pagan in its thinking. As a consequence, each area of these church segments have tended to see God as favoring their nation over others. This is something all too common in American culture. It is so common that it is rises to the level of nauseating at times. America is not God’s country, not God’s favorite, and is not “special” to God over and above any other nation on this earth. To think so is the product of a blind nationalism. Such an attitude is simply ridiculous. And yes, I owned that attitude myself for most of my life.
For many American Christians, our present state of affairs looks like defeat. The outlook for Christianity looks bleak. The influence the Church has seemingly enjoyed is evaporating at an alarming pace. Many Christians are upset, anxious, and fear even the loss of their religious freedom. They are not used to the first century model of Christianity, where Christians were marginalized, scandalized, brutally persecuted and certain not entirely free to worship as they please without occasional interference from the state. But the church has not benefited from the affairs of the last 1700 years or so as many of these people think. Instead, the church has lost her identity, failed to distinguish herself with any degree of meaningful distinction, and she has very little credibility now in terms of the sort of credibility she ought to have. But things are changing for the better. It will become obvious who among us truly holds to the gospel and who does not. The church will soon be able to look starkly different from American culture. The community of Christ will be evident for the world to see.
The next question we must ask is how has this history infected our thinking? Have we built theological grids in defense of the constantinian model? Have we invented things like theonomy, hyper-preterism, dominionism, two-kindgom theology, etc. in a effort to protect our dearly held theological beliefs within our respective culture? How does the constantinian shift impact our personal approach to Scripture? What impact does it have on our hermeneutic? I think the answers are easy to see.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Brad Littlejohn has posted a interest article here that I think is very much worth the read. He does an excellent job of pointing out some of the issues I have called out a few times myself when it comes to the glaring inconsistency among some “culture-warrior” Christians and the outright hypocrisy of others. I suggest you read the post and think very carefully about the points he makes.
Christians clearly run the risk of hypocrisy these days by appearing to adopt certain pet causes and then allowing their passion for those causes to drive them to rally and in some cases manipulate others to rally around those causes, sometimes even to the point of creating sinful rifts in the body of Christ solely because others do not share in their “unbalanced” passion or perhaps the tactics they use to demonstrate that passion. When our passions interfere with how we handle the biblical text and with relationships in the body, it only makes sense to push the pause button and ponder our heart’s true motivation. Some people are willing to divide the body, use offensive images or language all in the name of their cause, while claiming that their motivation is love for God and for neighbor. The irony and hypocrisy is impossible to miss, both for observers within and outside the Church. Whatever approach we take to oppose ungodly injustice in the world, in the society, and in the culture, we must be consistent. The perfect example is Kim Davis. Christians rally around her stand against issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, even holding her out as a model Christian standing for truth. However, if Kim Davis confesses the Apostolic Pentecostal faith, then she by no means can be received as a true believer. That confession denies the Triune God of Scripture, endorses a works-based soteriology, and holds to some of the most egregious legalism known among some of these practice pseudo-Christian cults. What is worse is that sound Christians are willing to wink at Kim’s confessions about Christ and Christianity simply because she has apparently the same pet cause that they do. And that is not just regrettable, it is sinful. How can we tolerate the most egregious heresies simply because we share the same disdain for a particular sexual immorality? There is no justification for such behavior.
Let’s look at our most recent example as our case study. Some Christian leaders have supported Kim Davis by claiming that as a civil magistrate, she is duty bound by the law and the Scriptures, to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. These arguments begin, not with Scripture, but with the constitution. The notion that the civil magistrate somehow has God’s blessing to rebel against the greater magistrate when the greater magistrate is playing the tyrant is closely connected to the egregious doctrine of the lesser magistrate invented about 500 years ago. This doctrine created and employed to justify violence during the 16th century. However, Scripture is clear in its instructions. The Christian is told to submit to civil government and this applies to the lesser Christian magistrate as much as it does to the non-magistrate. We submit to the point that that law we are obligated to obey demands that we sin. At that point we flee or we suffer. But there is no middle ground. We do not take up arms nor do we engage in civil disobedience. Some will point to the constitution and claim that this document provides the authority we need to behave in such practices. But the Christian has to ask if that document was even legal to begin with when placed under the microscope of Scripture. Where did Scripture give America the right to refuse to pay her taxes? Did this right come from Christian principles? Apparently Jesus would have clearly held a very difference opinion. Did America, the Christian nation, have a right to even spring into existence according to the law of Scripture? Did not Scripture inform the attitudes and actions of the founders? What principle of Scripture were the founders operating on when they rejected the King? From the very beginning of her independence, America rebelled against the clear mandate of Scripture when it came to submitting to the civil magistrate. I speak as a Christian, not as an unregenerate American that prizes independence even above obedience.
Flee from persecution and oppression, yes! But to fight and shed blood for it is never endorsed by Scripture and could never be justified by any appeal to the sacred text, at least not without doing tremendous exegetical violence! It is the Scripture alone, not the constitution and not the constitution with Scripture, that serves as our final authority for life.
The Christian is called out of this present world, out of this culture, out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light. We are in the world, but not of the world. We are to shine the light of the gospel into a very dark world. I cannot help but wonder what the world sees when we take up our pet causes, elevate them above other causes, and then attempt to force the world to live according to our morality by way of the legislative process. Take the gay marriage issue once more. What example has the Church offered the world of God’s design for marriage? What is the divorce rate among those professing to be followers of Christ? More importantly than a high divorce rate (29% among Baptists), is the fact that the Church does nothing about it. We claim that we are serious about God’s design for marriage but that only seems to be true when it comes to gay marriage, not illicit, unjustified divorce. How many Christians have, on the one hand wrongly divorced a spouse, while at the same time standing in judgment of gay marriage because it violates Scripture? The image is a mockery of the Christian standard and an embarrassment to Christians everywhere. How can we shine our light on the wicked deeds of homosexual marriage when we wink at supposedly fellow Christians who ignore the divine mandate no less than the gay community? It is tragic to say the least.
This is of course, the symptom of a much larger problem in American Evangelicalism. And that is the problem of Sacralism. Sacralism is the confluence of the church and the state where one is called upon to change the other. It is the product of what has become known in church history as the Constantinian shift. One blogger points to three key distinctive concepts that we should all become familiar with, intimately familiar with: 1. The confluence of church and state wherein one is called upon to change the other. 2. The sanctification of culture. A theological monism viewing the Church, State, and Culture as Kingdom of God on earth. 3. The body of Christ defined by a combining of Ecclesial, Political, and Cultural Forms. For some time now, American Christians have bought into the lie of a religious Christian nationalism. America has been described as a “Christian” nation, founded from the beginning on basic Christian principles. Christians feel that America is betraying the Christian faith, in danger of apostatizing. Hence, they feel compelled to call for and pray for a revival. I must confess that I have always found the call for revival confusing. America is not a Christian nation, never has been, never will be. There is NO such thing as a Christian nation, never has been, never will be. Christians are members in the Kingdom of the Son, and only in the Kingdom of the Son. America, like every other heathen nation on earth is in the Kingdom of Darkness. Our citizenship is in heaven, not on earth. Our responsibilities are spelled out by the gospels and epistles that followed them. God has graciously provided us with clear instructions on the nature of our relationship to the state and to this present evil age. The time has passed for American Christians to wake up and realize where our loyalties reside. No man can serve two masters!
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
The Evangelical, Social, Reformed Gospel: A Response to American Evangelicalism’s Eleventh Commandment “Thou Shalt Work Toward Social Change”
A very good brother, indeed, a very good friend of mine and I have had a small disagreement as of late regarding the role of the Church in effecting social and cultural change. The question with which we are grappling is this: “does the Church have a biblical mandate to work towards social and cultural change?” He answers this question in the affirmative while I answer it in the negative. My position is that the Church has a biblical mandate to make disciples and whatever social or cultural change is produced by that activity, that is the limit of Church’s mission. In other words, the Church works actively to make disciples and the making of disciples passively, by nature, produces ever so small changes in society and in the culture. My good brother has taken a different position. He is certainly not alone in his views. Recently, my friend posted an article on his blog that seems to imply that the Great Commission involves more than preaching the gospel, baptizing converts, and making disciples. My friend seems to affirm that the Great Commission includes working toward social and cultural change, such as the elimination of abortion, the end of all types of slavery, and so forth. In short, my friend seems to believe that the Great Commission in fact includes the sort of activism that seeks changes in the civil codes of cultures where such codes are said to be inconsistent with divine law. This post is essentially a friendly albeit serious reaction to some of the arguments my friend offers his readers in his attempt to influence them to that end. It seems to me that the danger I see in my friend's post is that it is indeed a social gospel, albeit, very cleverly disguised and designed to provide an apologetic for political activism within the Church. I admit that this is my point of view. That is precisely what I see in such arguments and I see it in this one as well.
My friend points us to a sermon entitled, “If God is Sovereign, Why Work for Cultural Change?” First of all, the question is poorly framed assuming its aim is to refute those of us who think the Church has no business engaging in social activism. Why? Because we argue that the sovereignty of God has nothing to do with whether the Church has a mandate to work for cultural change in the first place. That mandate either has exegetical support or it does not. Moreover, if it is in fact a mandate, then that support must be clear and we have no choice but to take a dogmatic stand regarding it if indeed it is clear. Now, the kind of cultural change we are talking about relates to things like making abortion illegal, making gay marriage illegal, etc. In fact, we ought to make immorality of any kind illegal if we are going to be consistent here. How can we make sure a man is doing justice to his wife and family? The answer is by making it a criminal offense to commit adultery. But that idea is indeed absurd. It really isn’t if our aim is to be consistent across the board. This is not an issue directed toward the individual Christian working for micro changes in his own small world by preaching Christ. This sort of cultural change is focused on changing civil codes that are unjust or clearly contrary to divine law. My friend says there is more to our responsibility than just making disciples and preaching the gospel. If this is the path we are supposed to go down, then we surely have our work cut out for us. We must also end at-will divorce. How unjust is it for a man or a woman to just “fall out of love” with their spouse and run off with another abandoning the family? The scenarios will stack up rather quickly from my point of view.
My friend points us to Micah 6:8 to affirm that God wants us to do justice and mercy. The problem with My friend’s use of this text is that the Church is not the theocracy that Israel was. Do local Christian communities in general, neglect to show justice and mercy? I have never been in a local community that did not support local food banks, missionaries, crisis pregnancy centers, and all of them have had deacon’s funds for local needs. My church funds missionaries, seminaries, orphans, widows, food banks, etc. By giving to those causes, we are indeed showing mercy and doing justice. Moreover, in the Church, it is the individual as well as the community that shows mercy and does justice. My friend fails to understand that there is a difference between doing justice and showing mercy as a believer and actually manipulating a secular culture to show mercy and do justice. What My friend needs to do is tell us exactly what he means. So far, the argument seems somewhat nebulous. In other words, can a community or individual show mercy and do justice without becoming a political activist on issues like abortion, slavery, racism, and gay marriage? If a Church does not send out street preachers, does that mean they are not doing what God has mandated? If a Church is not actively calling their local politicians, out in force protesting and carrying signs regarding the many social ills, does that mean the Church is derelict in its duties? Who is My friend actually targeting? What group is My friend attempting to influence? The truth is we simply don’t know because My friend really doesn’t tell us.
My friend also implies that loving our neighbors as ourselves requires that we engage in social change. But again, what Christians are not loving their neighbors as themselves? If this is in fact true, then these people do not possess genuine faith and are not Christians. So, is My friend asserting that failure to work toward cultural and social change is not only a failure to show mercy and do justice, it is also failure to honor the second greatest commandment? If not, then what is My friend saying? What we need are more specifics and fewer generalities. This way we can avoid misunderstandings. Moreover, why isn’t preaching the gospel ipso facto actively seeking to change the culture? Why the dichotomy? This, in my view, is the link that breaks My friend’s chain. The most effective way to work toward changing the culture is to preach the gospel. There is no better method available to the Church toward that end. But for some reason, my friend clearly thinks the gospel alone is insufficient to produce social change. I disagree.
My friend even calls on James 2:17 to imply that unless the Church is involved in social activism, then they might not be saved, possessing only a dead faith. Here, my friend comes perilously close to the sort of self-righteousness that I had hoped he would avoid. The context of his article is working for social and cultural change. How else are we to take the meaning of what he is saying? The context is social change. Such rhetoric is highly irresponsible not to mention reckless. Essentially, my friend has pulled out his bar of what it means to have genuine faith, and he is measuring the rest of the Church by that bar. Unless we are engaging in the sort of activities that he believes we ought to be engaging in, well, then our faith is highly questionable. We likely have a dead faith or as he implies, we just are ignorant of what it means to be a Christian.
My friend then makes the following eye-opening statement: “I think I've concluded upon hearing the term "Christian activism" used in a negative connotation, in many cases, it's an excuse to not love one's neighbor as themselves and a condemnation of those seeking to apply the second greatest commandment.” Of course My friend hedges his statement with the prepositional clause, “in many cases.” This is My friend’s out. This way, when someone like me calls him to account for what he really means, he can pull out this clause like a parachute and avoid the charge that he is being highly inflammatory. What My friend is saying here is that to disagree with him on the issue of the Church’s responsibility to effect social change, is in fact, most likely, an excuse to not love one’s neighbor as themselves. My friend’s friends ought to call him out for this and insist that he retract this statement and avoid such uncharitable rhetoric. One does not have to carry signs, travel to Washington, hold up signs of dead babies, etc. etc. in order to love their neighbor. There isn’t a hint of such language in scripture and to prove that, I want you to notice the complete lack of exegetical support offered in My friend’s post. One does not have to work to change ungodly civil codes in order to possess the Holy Spirit and bear fruit. My friend offers anachronisms, reading into the ancient text, his modern principles and passions and then uses his forced interpretation of the text to indict those that have a different opinion. That is unfortunate and regrettable.
My friend then implies that the Great Commission is seeking peace and prosperity in the land. My friend must have simply made that one up. That is not the Great Commission and it isn’t even close. Jesus Himself said that He did not come to bring that kind of peace. He came to bring division. The world is a hostile place for Christ and His Church. The culture is set against God in its living, in its habits, in its thoughts, in its institutions, its laws, in every way possible. The only hope for cultural change is not through social or political activism; it is through the gospel. External change is not change. A new heart is required, and it is only God alone that can give it. We are not responsible for changing the culture. We are responsible for calling it to repentance. Only God can change the culture by changing hearts. You don’t change hearts by protesting with offensive and disturbing signs of dead babies. God alone changes hearts through the proclamation of the gospel. But that takes the work (and the bragging rights) out of our hands and places it completely in God’s control.
My friend goes on to get at the heart of his issue, abortion. “In other words, we should not seek to end legalized abortion for the sake of ending abortion; we should seek the glory of God, which manifests itself in seeking to end legalized, sanctioned evils.” Abortion is My friend’s pet issue. He adopted it some time ago and for him, it is the sin above all sins, or at least it seems to be. Now, do we seek to glorify God by seeking to outlaw abortion? Does Scripture provide any such mandate? Where is the text? What Scripture can we call on to inform the Church that she must seek to change unjust civil codes if she is to seek to glorify God? The lack of biblical support is glaring. But this does not stop my friend from taking the dogmatic position he has taken. The argument fails on every front. We do not seek to change unjust secular laws in order to glorify God. The NT says nothing of the sort. The Roman empire was filled with the same kind of unjust laws that we encounter in American culture, in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, etc. Yet, there is no work, no mandate, no instruction given by Christ or a single NT writer that shows the slightest bit of concern about changing the Roman system.
The Christian should ask “how am I to glorify God within a godless culture that is based upon godless laws?” How does the Church approach unjust laws? Well, the NT Church was born and existed in just such a culture. In fact, since her inception, the Church has lived in such cultures without end up to this point. We demonstrate justice in our daily practice, within our community, within our neighborhoods. We show mercy to one another by providing support where support truly is needed. We fund food banks, missionaries, seminaries, each other, orphans, and widows. John said when we provide funds to the work of the ministry that we are participating in that work ourselves. John calls us “fellow workers with the truth” when we do these things.
Let me be clear on these issues. I am opposed to abortion, to gay marriage, to the terrors of the modern slave trade, and any unjust system that opposes divine law. Abortion is murder, gay sex is perverse, unnatural, and an abomination. Modern slavery is a scourge on society. I believe the best way to experience change is to preach the gospel, make disciples, baptize converts, and to love the culture enough to call it to repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the mandate of the Church. That is our God-given responsibility. That is how Christianity influences a culture. As for those who would lay upon the Church’s neck something God has not laid upon her, all I can say is be careful. Do not impose your standards on the rest of the body. As for the civil authorities, the best advice I can offer is as follows:
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”