Category Archives: Christianity

Lampstand Removed

Write to the angel of the evangelical church in America: “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and who walks among the seven gold lampstands says: I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.1

Being an evangelical myself, I know how readily we blaze past the Revelation letter to the church in Ephesus to get to the letters to those in Thyatira and Pergamum, using Christ’s warnings in those letters as justification for angrily railing against the sexual immorality in American culture. But that’s mistaken—sexual immorality is wrong, no doubt, but the letters in Revelation aren’t written to Ephesus, Thyatira, or wherever; they are written to the churches of those places. The one that applies to us is not the one that best describes America, for America is not the church; the one that applies to us is the one that best describes the church. So, my evangelical brethren, do you “tolerate the woman Jezebel, who…deceives [Christ’s] slaves to commit sexual immorality”2? Do you “hold to the teaching of Balaam…to commit sexual immorality”3? Of course not—that is what you oppose so vociferously—so the warnings to Thyatira and Pergamum are no concern of yours.

I’ll tell you which church you are, and which warning you should heed—it’s the most terrifying of all, I think! You are the church of Ephesus: intolerant of evil, careful judges of truth and falsehood, longsuffering servants who have endured much ridicule, and, unfortunately, almost completely without love for others. Let me ask you: Is it loving to support and identify with a man whose rhetoric clearly demonstrates (regardless of whatever his true feelings may be) hatred of Mexicans, Muslims, and the poor? Even if Mexicans, Muslims, and the poor are your enemies, did not Jesus command you to love your enemies?

I get why you did it: You were afraid—afraid of what persecution the other candidate’s presidency might have meant for you, and reasonably so. But that’s no reason to hate, nor is it any reason to throw your lot in with a man who hates, even if you don’t. It doesn’t matter whether or not we say we love others or even think we love others, but only that we do loving things toward others; the message we evangelicals have sent with what we have done—giving overwhelming, record-setting support4 to a man who hates—is that we hate. In so doing, we have irrevocably damaged our witness. We have so deeply hurt and insulted so many of the lost who are Mexican, Muslim, poor, or identify with any of the many groups our president-elect has indicated that he hates, that we have hamstrung our chances of bringing them to Christ. Even those few of us who didn’t cast a vote of hate have been undermined by the multitude who did.

You have been afraid and you gave into your fear rather than trusting in God. It doesn’t matter how terrible the other candidate was—you could have trusted God, voting third party or abstaining altogether, and He would have delivered you, but you have placed your trust in the strength of men and forsaken your God. The Bible gives us a great story of someone else who could have been delivered by God had he trusted Him but instead gave into fear: King Asa. “Asa did what was good and right in the sight of the LORD…and the kingdom experienced peace under him.”5 Asa was even once forced into battle where he was outnumbered over 3:1, but he trusted in God, cried out to Him for help, and acknowledged that God was the only One who could, and God answered by helping Asa’s army to wipe out every last enemy soldier. But then Asa became like us: fattened on success and afraid to lose it. Another army came up against him decades later, and this time Asa did not ask for God’s help. Instead he relied on his riches and the power of a wicked Gentile king, and when confronted about this sin by the prophet Hanani, he did not repent but imprisoned Hanani and began to oppress the people. He died of a severe disease a few years later, refusing to repent even unto the end, relying on the strength of human doctors over the strength of God.6

We have been warned, just as Asa was, and we have known that God’s judgement is coming against us for many years—we can see it all around as the attacks on us by secular culture grow stronger and more aggressive. Yet we continue to rely in the strength of men, not God, crying out to government saviors instead of trusting the only One who can actually save us. We have been given a chance to repent, to refrain from voting for a strong but wicked candidate and let the chips fall where they may, trusting God to deliver us from whatever may come, but, like Asa, we keep refusing to repent, all the while allowing our fear to disfigure us into creatures of hatred. And the terrible judgement of God is soon to come upon us for it if we don’t repent—assuming it’s not already too late. God will remove our lampstand from its place—He will remove the American evangelical church from His presence7, for our lack of love makes it clear that, regardless of our efforts with regard to His laws and His truth, we are no longer His church.

Maybe our new president is a temporary reprieve; maybe God will use him to delay our judgement long enough to give us another chance to repent, but I wouldn’t count on it. God can always use us—even amidst our failures—to accomplish His good purposes, but our failures are rapidly reaching the point where our best use to Him may be simply as another dreadful example of His righteous judgement. Judgement is coming upon us soon—upon the church, not upon America—and whether it comes at the hands of this wicked human king in whom we have placed our trust, abusing whatever extraordinary executive powers of surveillance or detainment or suppression of dissent that we eagerly allow him to usurp “for our protection”, or through events beyond his control that beset us during his reign, or at the hands of the tyrant sure to follow afterward, who will undoubtedly eventually turn any new executive powers against us, you can be certain of one thing: It will surely come if we don’t repent now and start loving others, not just in word, but also in deed.

  1. Revelation 2:1-5, (HCSB, v.1 modified for illustrative purposes)
  2. Revelation 2:20 (HCSB)
  3. Revelation 2:14 (HCSB)
  4. Pew Research reports that exit polls indicated that 81% of “white born-again evangelicals” voted for the president-elect—a larger percentage of this demographic than has ever gone to any candidate for as long as the statistic has been measured.
  5. 2 Chronicles 14:2, 5
  6. You can read Asa’s whole story in 2 Chronicles 14-16.
  7. Revelation 1:20 makes this clear: “…the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (emphasis added)

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God’s Love Language

Today is Election Day, and since anyone who may be reading this right now is probably burnt out on political acrimony, I’ve decided not to come back from my long break from posting with a discussion of why I voted for Gary Johnson and why you should have also (I’ll save that for a later post). Instead I thought it might be a nice break to talk about something spiritual I have learned—it might be useful to you!

I mentioned in my previous post, which, I apologize, was six months ago, that my wife and I have been going through Blackaby’s Experiencing God study, and one thing that challenged me early on was the notion that God pursues a love relationship with me. From what I understand, since we always hear God referred to as “Father”, we subconsciously attribute our human father’s traits to God, myself included, so any time I’ve heard about “the Father’s love” or “God is love”, I’ve subconsciously assumed that God’s love relationship with me is identical to my dad’s.

Now, growing up (he seems better about it now), my dad’s love was very service oriented—Dr. Chapman would say that dad’s “love language” is “acts of service”1—and apparently conditional upon my cheerful obedience (normally to commands to serve him in some way). That is to say, dad tried to show me that he loved me by going to work in order to provide for my needs, rather than by giving me presents or spending lots of time with me, and he became very angry, and his words very unloving, whenever I didn’t reciprocate with my own acts of service, like voluntarily waking up early on a Saturday to mow the lawn with a smile on my face, but rather complained or looked dour when ordered to do so. I understand now that his negative reaction was because he felt unloved by me, but at the time it seemed like he only loved me when I was obediently sacrificing my time and energy to work for him. I still subconsciously feel like my value to others is wholly dependent upon the amount of service I do for them without asking—I have small panic attacks whenever I see my wife doing dishes that I haven’t had a chance to get to first, and less small panic attacks whenever she asks me to do something—when she has a need I haven’t anticipated.

I also subconsciously assume that I only have value to God insofar as I work for Him and obey His commands. No doubt there is a component of service and obedience to any healthy relationship with and love for God, but focusing only on this element has been very drudging and disheartening—it has seemed like God keeps demanding work and obedience but only occasionally reciprocates with an act of service for me, “Not that I deserve any,” says the guilt, “since He already committed the greatest possible act of service by sending His Son to die to save me from the eternal consequences of my sin.” During the course of Experiencing God, however, it occurred to me to ask, “What is God’s love language?” Is it really acts of service, or is it quality time (as I thought the study might have been suggesting at the time)?

After some prayer and time spent outside praising God for His good qualities (an exercise suggested by the study, one which I must confess was rather uncomfortable for me during the first several minutes), it occurred to me that if everyone is created in God’s image, then we are reflections of Him, and our attributes and emotions must also be derived from His attributes and emotions. Men are strong and functional because He is strong and functional; women are gentle and beautiful because He is gentle and beautiful. We can feel joy and pain because He can feel joy and pain. It occurred to me that, if God has attributes both “masculine” and “feminine”, if He possesses the fullness of all traits found in greater or lesser degreein each of His images, then this must be true of love languages also—God’s love language is all of them; there are five of them because God loves and feels loved in five different ways:

  • Gifts – in the Old Testament, God ordained the “tithe”—the giving to Him of the best 10% of the fruits of one’s labor; in the New Testament, that has been expanded to the giving of one’s entire self to Him
  • Quality Time – the Bible is full of exhortations to “meditate” on God’s words—to immerse oneself in prayer, reading the Bible (and other Christian books), learning about Him, etc.
  • Words of Affirmation – the book of Psalms is filled to the brim with prayers of praise of God, His character, His works
  • Acts of Service – God desires obedience to His commands, not just to live righteously, but to care for the poor, heal the sick, etc.
  • Physical Touch – I had to think about this one for a minute, but I’m pretty sure it’s fellowship with the body of believers—any time we go to church or small group, we see, shake hands with, and even hug fellow images of God, other members of His “body”

These are not mutually exclusive and are often connected—the service act of healing the sick or comforting those who mourn could also be considered physical touch, and the latter could also be words of affirmation and quality time. I’d even go so far as to say that any time we express love to others, in whatever way we do it, we are expressing it to God, and He is expressing it to them through us. The point is, though, that though each one of us may only feel and show love in one or two of these ways and not care less about the others, God feels and shows love in all of them, and desires to be loved in all of them. Loving Him through acts of service may come most naturally to me, but He also wants me to love Him through spending quality time with Him. This is a challenge for me, but hopefully having a wife whose primary love language is quality time is helping me to learn that language better.

So that will be my challenge to you this Election Day: Figure out how you normally love and feel loved by God, and today try to love Him in a different way and think about the other ways He has shown you that He loves you which you might not have noticed. Maybe it will encourage you as much as it has me.

  1. For those who may be unfamiliar, the Five Love Languages Theory states that everyone has a primary mode in which they feel, and consequently also express, love. The five languages are gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. I’ve never actually read Dr. Chapman’s book myself (it’s thoroughly explained and widely discussed in evangelical circles), so I’m sorry if he already came up with and explained what I’m talking about here.

Evangelicals for Trump!

My wife and I have been doing Blackaby’s Experiencing God study recently, and I thought this week’s memory verse was particularly applicable to the current state of evangelical politics: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Ps. 20:7). I wonder how many of us Christians really trust in God, and how many actually trust in our modern equivalent of chariots and horses—tanks and missiles and the omnipotent government who controls them. If we actually did trust God, would we really say things like “Hillary Clinton as president would be the worst thing for this country—she will destroy America” or “Not voting for Donald Trump is basically a vote for the enemy”? If we really trusted God, would it matter who controlled State power?

The answer, of course, is no, and yet so much evangelical vitriol has sprung up around the Trump candidacy that it seems clear that a large portion of us place more faith for salvation in getting the right guy—the right-wing guy—into office than we do in the God Who worked astounding miracles in Egypt to free His people, Who saves us from the enormous power of sin and death, and Who even created the entire universe and all who are in it—including presidential candidates. The good news is that we evangelicals are split on the Trump issue—many of us already understand that we can’t support him, even though he is the Republican. The bad news is that we evangelicals are split on the Trump issue—many of us are convinced that he is our only hope for salvation, just as we have been convinced of every presidential candidate from our party before him. But it does not matter who becomes president—whether Trump or Clinton or Johnson (although I’d personally prefer the latter, despite his imperfections)—God will still be God, and Christ will still be our only real hope for salvation, both from damnation in the next life and the troubles of this life.

My friends, you may not support Mr. Trump if you are a Christian. Certainly you can, but to do so is to compromise your own faith and principles. To do so is to say that God cannot work, cannot save or help you, cannot be glorified, if someone else controls the government. To do so is to create a false god—an idol—out of State power and of Mr. Trump himself, and we should all know how God feels about idols (hint: it’s the subject of the first and second commandments). Even such prominent evangelicals as Eric Metaxas, who for some reason frequently impinges upon my radar these days, fall victim to this sin, rationalizing away their idolatry by saying that the Trump candidacy (and, recently, Trump’s “feud” with Dr. Moore of the SBC1) is “complex” or “complicated”,2 but this is a lie. Idolatry is not complicated.

I don’t meant to pick on Mr. Metaxas exclusively—there’s plenty of rationalization to go around. “But Hillary is for abortion!” many cry. Are you sure Donald Trump isn’t? After all, he is very inconsistent and has even said that everything is negotiable. Are you sure he could even do anything about it if he were anti-abortion? Abortion isn’t a matter of legislation or executive order but rather a matter of constitutional (mis)interpretation—something quite beyond the purview of the president. Even if we were sure he was anti-abortion and could fix it with a snap of his finger, is being a single issue voter really becoming of a Christian? Osama bin Laden was openly anti-abortion and anti-gay, so would you have voted for him if he ran as a Republican? Wouldn’t it be better to vote for someone who, on average, favors the most life and liberty for all and religious freedom for all, not just us Christians, even if they’re misguided about this single issue? “But at least he’ll put a conservative on the Supreme Court!” many others cry out in obvious rationalization, “And that could move us closer to reversing the constitutional misinterpretations that have led to abortion, Obamacare, etc!” Are you sure, given Mr. Trump’s inconsistency and negotiability? Will God be any more or less able either way? “But God can still work through an evil man—even Trump—just like He did in the Bible over and over!” you may rationalize. But couldn’t the same be said of Mrs. Clinton and be just as justifiable?

“But if we don’t vote for him, we’ll split the vote and hand the presidency to Hillary!” First of all, “splitting the vote” is a load of hogwash designed to ensure that you do exactly what you end up doing—voting for a terrible two-party candidate out of mistaken loyalty to a party rather than voting for a better third-party candidate out of loyalty to God and to the principles which stem from your faith in Him. Thanks to the electoral college system, it would take far, far more than just you to vote third-party (or refrain from voting) before a state flips the other way and hands the victory to the other party. For example, in Texas, over one fourth of those who voted for Mr. Romney in 2012—over 1.25 million people—would have had to vote independent before the state would have flipped to Mr. Obama, and here in Tennessee, it would have had to have been over one third—500,000—of the people who voted for Mr. Romney.3 The possibility of support for an independent candidate causing a state to flip really only exists in Ohio and Florida, but even then, is God any less powerful if a (gasp!) Democrat wins the White House? Would Christ be any less mighty to save if Mrs. Clinton became president? Would He be any more mighty to save if Mr. Trump becomes president?

We have to give up this false belief that any Republican is better than any Democrat and that not voting for one is a vote for the other. It’s not left versus right anymore (if it ever even was); it’s State versus liberty: A State which will eventually use its omnipotence, which we gave it, to persecute and kill us for our beliefs when it finally falls into the wrong hands, versus a liberty that is added unto us for free if we seek first the kingdom of God by living as Christ—as servants and lovers of others, not as conquerors or oppressors. Supporting a right-wing tyrant, even if only to oppose a left-wing tyrant, is still to further the cause of tyranny and evil. Even the limited persecution we Christians face in America today under tyrannical left-wing rulers was only made possible by the expansion of government powers under their tyrannical right-wing predecessors—predecessors supported by us Christians! Besides, this Republican/Democrat anxiety is idolatry, for it fails to trust in God and instead places trust in State power and the human who controls it. God is not so impotent as to need Donald Trump or any Republican in order to bring about an end to abortion, homosexuality, or any other sinful practice.

Don’t be an idolater—don’t vote for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton; don’t worship the power of the State. Vote for the Libertarian candidate who values your religious liberty or for someone else who more closely represents your beliefs, or don’t vote at all. Worship GOD, not GOP.

  1. Time has a pretty decent article with the details if you’re unfamiliar.
  2. For example, see hour two of his program from this past Friday.
  3. “But I don’t want to waste my vote!” is another rationalization for supporting evil along these same lines. If anything, based on these examples, your vote is wasted when you cast it for one of the two major parties, for it is simply lost in the noise of all the others voting for those parties. That is to say, why bother voting for a Republican who is guaranteed to win your state regardless of your vote? A third-party or independent vote, on the other hand, is more noticeable and will attract attention both to the cause of that party or candidate and to your disapproval of the failed system which brought you two terrible mainstream candidates in the first place. This is especially true if you can pick up substantial numbers in even one state.

Evangelical Problems: Hated by the World

“You will be hated by all because of My name…you will be hated by all nations because of My name.”
–Jesus of Nazareth

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…”
–James, the Lord’s brother

It’s no secret among evangelical Christians in America that we are hated more and more every day, and given the warnings that Jesus gave us about this, most of us aren’t really surprised. We have a unique status in the spiritual realm that is at odds with the spirit of the world and its ruler, Satan, and this often plays out in the physical world as us drawing criticism, animosity, and ultimately persecution for our religious views. In America, in particular, our views have been labelled “intolerant” and “bigoted”, two categories which have come to be the antithesis of America, a country which to most other Americans stands for “tolerance”, a seemingly lofty concept which is in reality a code word for acceptance and approbation of practically everything. The hypocrisy of course is that this tolerance doesn’t extend to Christian values—it only really extends to everything at odds with Christian values.

I’m sure none of this is news to an evangelical reader. The real irony of all this, though, is that America used to be an almost exclusively Christian nation. Of course not everyone was a Christian, and we have had some influx of non-Christian immigrants, but we have still traditionally had a super-super-majority. So what went wrong? Doesn’t it seem that a nation of Christians would stay that way if the Christians were actually doing their job as witnesses of Christ? The problem, it seems, is that most of us and our Christian ancestors haven’t been faithfully following Christ—we’ve actually brought this on ourselves by refusing to walk according to the Spirit and make disciples of our families and neighbors.

I think the fact that we’ve been labelled as “intolerant bigots” is actually a very telling sign of this. Has it ever occurred to any of us that those who accuse us of bigotry may actually have a point? There is nothing wrong with pointing out, for example, that homosexual relations are sinful, although that perhaps is enough to get some people riled up into hatred of us, but do we ever stop there? Don’t we normally push it much further, ranting angrily about evil homosexuals and how they’re all going to Hell unless they stop ruining society, supporting discriminatory laws that single them out and exclude them, and always finding ways to punish them on God’s behalf for what feels to them like just the way they were born? Given how hatefully most of us act towards sinners in general, I can’t blame them at all for hating us back! I would hate us too! Jesus certainly didn’t say that the embezzlement of the tax collectors or the sexual immorality of the prostitutes was righteous, but He certainly never ranted hatefully about their sin or targeted them for derision or ostracism. He simply pointed out the sin for what it was—often not even verbally—and then loved them all the same.

We, however, don’t set a good example of Christ, and we angrily condemn sinners to their faces and show them no love or mercy. Then, when we discover that everyone hates us for it, we go around quoting those verses above as confirmation that we’ve done the right thing! “Well, Jesus said we’d be hated, so I guess we need to keep fighting the gays!” I’ve also often heard it said, “I’m just speaking the Truth in love,” but are we really speaking it in love? When we angrily decry sin and bully sinners, aren’t we really speaking the Truth in judgement or in hate? No, these verses may be true, but more often than not they’re just used as excuses for our bad behavior.

Somehow, people always find a way to cause to happen whatever they focus on—it’s self-fulfilling prophecy. When we focus on being hated for being Christian, we are guaranteed to start acting in a way that will invite that hatred. Instead, why don’t we focus on doing to others as we’d have them do to us or loving others as Christ has loved us? If we treat people lovingly and with mercy, overlooking their sin without condoning it, we are likely to find that we’ve invited the same love and mercy back upon ourselves. If we love homosexuals despite their sin, they’re far more likely to love us back despite our “sin” (in the world’s eyes) of believing homosexual relations are wrong. They’re also far more likely to come to salvation if we love them. Yes, there are spiritual forces at work, and loving our sinful neighbor as ourselves is no sure-fire way to keep from ever being hated—we may eventually end up being hated anyway—but at least Christlike love and mercy minimize it and delay it as much as possible, and we will reap a far more fruitful harvest of souls that way. Just because we may be hated one day simply for being Christians doesn’t mean we should be hateful and egg it on.

Evangelical Problems: Church-splitting

“…and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
–Paul the Apostle

“Repent and turn away from all your transgressions… Cast away from you all your transgressions…and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! …For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone…therefore, repent and live.”
–the Lord GOD

“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
–Jesus of Nazareth

The church my wife and I had been attending last year and in which we had been considering placing our membership began a struggle all too common in Baptist churches. The senior pastor of the past two decades announced his retirement, and the formation of a search committee for a new pastor revealed that many in the church’s leadership are strict Calvinists, while many others are strict non-Calvinists (even anti-Calvinists). As a result of this discovery, animosity between the two sides built up to the point that the church split in two over this issue, or more specifically, over a single point in Calvinist doctrine: predestination.

On the one hand, those adhering to the Calvinist interpretation of scripture latch onto the multitude of verses which use the word προορίζω, meaning “foreordain” or “mark out beforehand” or “predestine”, and take them to their extreme conclusion that God did not endow man with any free will at all—that whoever is saved is saved solely because God decided before they were born that they would be saved, and whoever is not saved is not saved solely because God decided before they were born that they would be condemned to Hell. This is not a very rosy picture of God at all, and Calvinists often seem hesitant to discuss it in such terms (understandably so), but that really is what their conception of predestination necessary implies.

On the other hand, those opposing the Calvinist interpretation latch onto the multitude of verses containing the word μετανοέω, meaning “repent” or “change my mind”, in which sinners are invited to choose God. This side often has to squirm through twisty interpretations of the “predestination” verses, often landing at the conclusion that “God knew beforehand which way we would choose, because he knows everything, but it was still our choice.” This side also contends that a strict adherence to Calvinism undermines ministry—one of the primary rallying points for Baptist churches—because there seems little point in trying to reach the lost when God has already decided that the predestined will be saved one way or another, regardless of our help.

My problem with all of this is the level of importance placed on secondary doctrine. What makes us all Christians is not whether or not we believe in predestination or any of a number of other finer points of theology; what makes us all Christians is our saving faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. God will not deny salvation to someone who believes that Christ died so that their sins could be forgiven simply because that person also believes (or doesn’t also believe) that they had any say in the matter—God grants salvation through the faith alone. There is no laundry list of beliefs one must have or works one must perform in order to be saved, but a single turning of the mind towards a repentant attitude through faith that God has it all taken care of through the sacrifice of His Son. It doesn’t matter whether that faith or turning of the mind was caused by God alone or by the person’s free will. This should provide such unity! Sadly, we are often too busy trying to be right about the mysteries of the spiritual universe to remember that we are all one in Christ.

Is it possible that the Calvinists are right? Certainly. Is it possible that they’re wrong? Certainly. Is it possible that both sides are right, that God predestined us before we were born to freely make the choice to repent? That’s a bit of a paradox and difficult to comprehend, but all things are possible with God. It’s no more difficult to accept, however, than the physics of light (the first thing God created), which is a wave yet somehow at the same time also a particle—two completely disparate and seemingly mutually exclusive physical constructs. God is infinite and perfectly capable of also designing the spiritual universe in such a seemingly paradoxical way as to allow us free will even though he predestined us to salvation or condemnation beforehand.

I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure which one it is, but I also don’t think it matters. By grace we are saved through faith, and that should be enough to unite us. If this church can’t make up its mind whether or not it wants to be Calvinist, that’s fine. Teach both sides and let each member of the congregation choose (see what I did there?) for themselves, but don’t forget to continue preaching what truly saves us—faith in Christ—and don’t forget that, predestined or not, Jesus commanded us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

Evangelical Problems: Pharisaism

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
–Jesus of Nazareth

“The Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British [or American] people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives.”
–C. S. Lewis

In my last post, I mentioned that evangelical Christians these days are much more like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day than like Jesus himself. I used to be just as guilty of this until I was convicted by a sermon I heard that pointed out this very fact. I thought I was so special because I didn’t lie or steal or cuss, because I wasn’t a homosexual or a deranged Democrat voter, and I looked down pompously on people who did and were. I had lost sight of that fact that all have sinned, including myself, and fall short of the glory of God, that the wages of that sin is death, and that the eternal life I possessed was nothing I had earned – it was a gracious gift given to me by the God whom I had wronged. I had lost sight of the fact that my disrespectful attitude towards my parents, my heavy drinking, and my “artistic” Playboy centerfold screensaver were violations of God’s law which made me just as worthy of death and condemnation as the vilest of pedophiles and serial killers.

Sadly, I am far from the only Christian who has ever done this. Evangelical Christians in particular, with our peculiar devotion to scripture and to our belief in its inerrancy and supremacy, seem prone to quickly develop an attitude that, as we are more enlightened than those who either don’t have the scripture or reject it either in part or in whole, we are then somehow also holier and better than everyone else. Forgetting that all transgressions against the Spirit of God, including our own, have made us just as culpable as any other sinner, we develop a hypocritically judgmental attitude against other sinners and, like the Pharisees, are quick to point out the specks in their eyes without noticing the logs in our own. God has called us to be holy as He is holy; He has not called us to be holier-than-thou. We are to set ourselves apart from the world and live righteously, not set the world apart from ourselves and judge it, yet that’s what we almost always do. We forget that all the sins we have committed, no matter how “small”, are just as great to God as those of the sinners around us, and instead condemn them to their faces and abuse them with all sorts of laws and regulations, expecting them somehow to live a sinless life that even we are unable to live despite our advantage of being indwelled by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, of Whom we are supposed to be imitators, routinely rebuked the Pharisees for such behavior, and I have no doubt He would rebuke us as sternly. Note that the Pharisees weren’t some hated, unpopular group, reviled by everyone around them for their pride and hypocrisy, but rather they were quite the opposite: teachers of Old Testament scripture and the Law of Moses to whom everyone looked for instruction. Note also, however, that Jesus didn’t spend time rubbing elbows with these “righteous” men but instead spent time with sinners, with embezzlers and prostitutes – no doubt if He came today, He would not waste His time on Southern Baptist preachers or hypocrites like me but would instead spend time with the lost. He would more likely call as His twelve disciples men coming out of a gay bar at 2:00am or a young woman on her way to Planned Parenthood than He would a clergyman or member of the worship team at church.

This is certainly not to say that we shouldn’t strive for righteousness, but we should follow His example and, rather than condemning the world (which He told us He did not come to do), shower mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love upon the sinners who surround us. We will never be able to lead the lost to repentance if we constantly chastise them and legislate against them and make them feel unworthy, especially if we have glaring sins in our own lives to which we have not attended; this will only alienate and lead to hopelessness. Our only hope for leading the lost to repentance is to treat them as Christ did, coming alongside them right where they are, showing them righteousness by example, not by stern lecturing, and making it clear that they are valued and loved by God and by ourselves regardless of what they’ve done, just as we are loved regardless of what we’ve done.

I know this is a tall order for most of us, myself included – I don’t even have that many sinners in my immediate vicinity towards whom I can even show the love of Christ, as I’m sure is the case for many others, and this is something on which I personally need to work. In the mean time, we can, however, stop sending a message of condemnation to those we don’t know personally through our public actions. We can stop using Twitter and Facebook as a means of promulgating hatred. We can stop supporting legislation to punish sinners on God’s behalf. We can stop picketing with angry, closed-minded slogans on our signs and on our lips. We can stop being angry at sinners altogether, for that matter. Each one of us was worthy of eternal damnation but has been shown tremendous love and mercy and forgiveness; we must learn to live a life of love and mercy and forgiveness towards others, even if it hurts or makes us uncomfortable. Jesus loved and forgave us to the point of being crucified; surely we can endure the heartache of showing love and mercy to members of a stubborn, unrepentant culture.

Evangelical Problems: “Progressivism”

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

— Frédéric Bastiat

The worst legacy of the “progressive” movement, in my opinion, is the socialist confusion of terms Bastiat observed as far back as the 1840s. Although America is not openly socialist, the multitude of socialist victories in the last century have so thoroughly changed the political dialogue in this country that it is impossible to discuss the ills of society without immediately jumping to conclusions about what the government must do to fix it. People are poor — we need the government to redistribute the wealth; people are on drugs — we need the government to imprison all drug users; children have been shot in schools — we need the government to ban guns near schools, if not confiscate them altogether; prostitution is unsavory — we need the government to ban it; and so on.

This affects all of us down to even the tiniest level — how many of us have encountered a pet peeve, like a loud muffler or children running around the apartment upstairs, and grumbled “that should be illegal”? The real problem is selfishness — both on our part for insisting to never be annoyed by anything and on the annoyers’ part for having it never even occur to them to consider others — but we are so accustomed to the socialist mindset of “a law for every problem” that even those of us who aren’t socialists can conceive of no other solution than to clamor to our government for stricter noise ordinances or a ban on children living above the first floor.

The group whose entanglement in this mindset disappoints me the most are evangelical Christians, of whom I am one. One of the reasons the tax collectors of Jesus’ day were so reviled was that they regularly collected much more tax than was required and pocketed the leftovers, but there was never one time when Jesus approached one of the Roman centurions and said, “You know, these tax collectors are seriously defrauding the people — you really need to start auditing their books.” No, instead Jesus treated them lovingly, befriending them, eating with them in their own homes, and being an example of non-judgmental righteousness to them. This method was far more effective — Matthew left tax collecting immediately upon Jesus’ request to follow Him, and Zacchaeus, tax collector of tax collectors, was so transformed by Jesus’ love and grace that he gave half of everything he had to the poor and repaid everyone he defrauded four times over! The best the righteous leaders of the day (the Pharisees) were ever able to accomplish was to alienate these men from their own people to the point that collecting taxes was all they had, but Jesus radically transformed the culture around him without passing a single government law.

Unfortunately, evangelical Christians today are much more like these Pharisees than like Jesus. When we see a problem in the culture, we can conceive no solution other than government mandates. Same-sex marriage is a great example of this. Homosexual relations are almost certainly sinful (the Bible seems to be fairly straightforward on that one), but pouring all our energies into same-sex marriage bans is hardly a productive or Christlike solution to this social problem. Such a ban will not prevent homosexual relations, nor will it encourage any homosexuals to be transformed by the love of Christ. All it will really accomplish is to further alienate them from Christ, increasing the likelihood of their souls being lost forever, and by forcing our religious mores upon them (a violation of their religious liberty), we invite them to seize control of the government and violate our religious liberty — a problem we are beginning to see in some areas where ministers are being threatened with fines and imprisonment if they refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

No doubt our socialist programming will encourage many to now say that I condone and support homosexuality because I object to government enforcement against it, but that is not at all the case — remember our quote from Bastiat: Just because I object to state-enforced sexual morality does not mean I am opposed to sexual morality altogether. It just means I would like to see it upheld by engaging with the culture directly, as Christ did, causing actual transformation in the hearts of the people, rather than by simple government force, which will not change anyone’s heart or lead to salvation at all. As ambassadors for Christ, we should bypass the government — let same-sex marriage be legalized if that’s what they want — and instead meet the lost where they are, loving them and befriending them one-on-one, being an example of the righteousness which redemption in Christ can bring. If we use all our energy to do that, we will win far, far more souls than with the force of legislation, and if God wants to call people out of the homosexual lifestyle, in the end it won’t matter that same-sex marriage is legal — there won’t be any unredeemed same-sex couples left to get married.