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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Come Out from Them: The Biblical Case for Government Neutrality

Since coming to embrace non-violent resistance after years of wrestling with the issue, other doctrines I held were scrapped as I tried to take seriously what it means to believe in the Scripture alone, in general, and in Kingdom of God, specifically.
Whether it was a lack of Scriptural justification for a certain theology or that it was contradicted by an already established biblical principle, I knew I could no longer hold these beliefs in good conscience.

I want to share with you why.

Specifically, why I believe that I, as disciple of Christ, should remain neutral as to the governments of this world.

To understand why Christians should abstain from voting and other participatory functions of government (political office, war, lobbying, government reform, etc.), we first look at what the Bible says about the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is a real thing, not an abstract concept.

It has real workers (Matthew 9:35-38), real work (1 Cor. 4: 10; Romans 14:17), real laws (Matthew 7:21), real power (Matthew 4:23, Luke 10:9), and, of course, a real King, Jesus (John 18:36)

The Kingdom of God is also a spiritual kingdom, not of this world (John 18:36; Daniel 2:34, 44-45), nor seen with the naked eye (Luke 17:20-21), nor temporal in duration (2 Peter 1:10-11), unlike the kingdoms of this world.

The Kingdom of God is also synonymous with the Church. Scot McKnight writes this in his book “Kingdom Conspiracy":

It is reasonable to say that the kingdom is the church, and the church is the kingdom – that they are the same even if they are not identical. They are the same in that it is the same people under the same King Jesus even if each term – kingdom, church – gives off slightly different suggestions

I think the biblical evidence will evince this point.

To summarize, we are part of a real Kingdom with real workers, works, laws, powers, and Kingship held by Jesus Christ, yet spiritual, not of this world, and eternal. Furthermore, if you are a member of the Church you are member of the Kingdom and vice versa.

Secondly, we need to look at what the Bible says about the rulers of the world and human governments.

Like divorce, which was allowed due to the hardness of man's heart, civil government was established out of a rejection of God and His rule, as it was God's intention and desire to be the direct King of His people (1 Samuel 8).

Consequently, the State has no inherent claim to power (Romans 13: 1-7; Isaiah 40:15-17).

Furthermore the Bible teaches that Satan is exercising a temporal, but actual rule on the earth. Consider the following passages:

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. – John 12:30-33

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. Come now; let us leave. – John 14:28-31

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.John 16:7-11

And, as Paul says, “as for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph. 2:1-2)

And “giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:12-14)

The definitive proof that Satan is the current master of the State, is his offering to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world while trying Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:9).

Some might say he was lying about his power, but if he wasn't lying when he said Jesus could change stones to bread or jump off the temple without injuring himself, why assume he was lying when he claimed to have the very power ascribed him in the gospels and elsewhere?

No, Satan was telling the truth, though, as always, with a bent toward deceit (for example, we know that ultimately all things are under God and His Jesus Christ; Eph 1:18-23) .

As John says, “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19)
Furthermore, Satan is described as the one who deceives the nations (Revelation 20:3, 8) and the kingdoms of this world are unqualifiedly juxtaposed with the Kingdom of God (Revelation 11:15).

As Greg Boyd writes:
This obviously doesn't mean that all leaders in earthly governments are under Satan's rule. Many leaders are God-loving people who are sincerely trying to serve their society and the world. But these passages suggest that the whole power-over system that constitutes human government is under Satan's oppressive influence. I see no way around this conclusion.

With this in mind, the very principle by which we must not be yoked together with unbelievers is the very principle which prevents us from colluding with worldly governments:

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God...” – 2 Cor 6:14-16.

Again, that the State is under the control of Satan, at the moment, precludes us from being participants thereof.

 It would be akin to having dual citizenship in both North and South Korea: it's just not possible!

As James says, "you adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."(James 4:4)

Despite this, many Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons claim voting and civic participation is our Christian duty.

But what does the Bible say?

We are told to pay taxes. (Matthew 20:20-22; Romans 13:1-7)
We are told to pray for our government officials. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
We are told to be subject and obedient to government (Romans 13:1; Titus 3:1) (only insofar as it the laws of man do not contradict God's laws, of course). (Acts 5:29)

However, there is no support for the idea that to be good citizens Christian must involve themselves in government, rather we are described as “foreigners here” on earth (Hebrews 11:13), who are said to be “not of the world” (John 17:14-19), having “citizenship in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

There is so much more that could be said about this issue, but I want to draw the threads of this post:

1. We are subjects of a real Kingdom with a real King.
2. The kingdoms of this world are under the control of Satan and thus cannot merit our participation.
3. Never are we commanded to participate in government, but are called foreigners here on earth and citizens of heaven.

The idea that is is our Christian duty to do so is without merit.

What say you?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Do Your Pants Hang Low? The Question of Sagging.

WARNING: if discussions about underwear make you 
uncomfortable, STOP HERE!
I have long been opposed to pant sagging. Until a week ago.

I have a pair of pants I love. They're sort of like khakis, but they fit more like “skinny” pants and they ride relatively low.

And when said pants were combined with my much loved “I [Heart] Mexico” t-shirt, my black “Rico” briefs could be seen when I made certain body motions.

I was faced with a dilemma: I liked the shirt and I liked the pants, but neither could compensate for the longitudinal (a real word) deficiencies of the other.

While pondering my conundrum, I had an epiphany:

I'm a young black male, I can actually get away with showing a little bit of my ropa interior and I won't have to sacrifice either my chosen shirt or pants.

So I did, in fact, choose both and headed off to school. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel just the slightest bit liberated that day.

However, apart from personal satisfaction, was my fashion decision appropriate?

Some might cite the hygiene problems against me. In other words, I don't want to sit where you've sat if you sat there directly on your underwear.

Gross. Point taken.

However, this doesn't apply to me, because upon sitting, my pants assumed their proper function, carefully guarding my behind and calzones.

Another objection might focus on aesthetics or “I don't want to see your underwear!”

Again, point taken.

Then again, I may not want to see your particular shirt, headband, jacket, or hat but why should my optical preferences have veto power over what you wear?

Besides, this was not what I was doing:

It was much closer to this (but black on black), not even visible 100% of the time:

What about the “it sends the wrong message” objection.

This, I think, is dangerous territory.

As anyone who knows me knows (especially my sisters), I have plenty of opinions on how certain clothing choices can send certain messages, but I also understand it's not always clearly discernible where the line between acceptable and unacceptable is, especially when “lines” differ from person to person.

That's not to say there is no standard of modesty, rather when it comes to issues like seeing a couple inches of someone's unmentionables for a few brief (pardon the pun) moments, I'm inclined to put that in the “agree to disagree” style box.

In addition, some like to bring up the history of sagging pants, letting guys in prison know your, erm, “available”.

This doesn't bother me, however, because appropriation is a part of life and is a valuable for tool social and cultural advancement.

For example, some beloved Christian hymns were written to the tunes of bar songs and some pagan holidays were appropriated by Christians in order to make way for our own special days.

Sagging was once something, but now it's something different or, at least, something else entirely too.

Finally, one might ask why do it in the first place.

Well, initially, I did it for reasons of convenience and curiosity, which, upon further reflection, were pretty lame reasons, though there was another side to it.

When you see someone sagging their pants, you don't think wannabe preacher, four years doing competitive Bible memory, or, even, Christian at all.

But all of those things apply to me.

I enjoyed the prospect that just by letting a little underneath show, I might accomplish some small part in collapsing the stereotype of who sags and who doesn't.

Because even if you don't agree with sagging, you shouldn't form an opinion on someone based on how high or low they wear their pants.

So, will I sag again? Probably not (my mom was not to keen on it).

In spite of that, my one time sagging escapade had given me a fresh perspective on the issue.

What say you?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Importance of Loving God: A Special Occasion Speech

[Alright–Wow, I am ecstatic] to speak you all tonight, but before I share with you a message the Lord has put on my heart for some time now, I just want to thank you all for coming to the North American Christian Convention's student convention. And not only for coming to the NACC, but for desiring to know how you can better and deeper serve the Lord out of love. And it is that subject of love I want to talk with you about tonight, specifically the importance of keeping our love for God central to everything we do as Christians and how we may rekindle love lost.
I want to illustrate this first point by way of a brief story: In working with kids this summer at a mission for children, I remember a particularly poignant conversation I had with a young man, not yet 16, who lived at the mission. Now you just gotta know this kid: ever the smart-Alec, loved to give me all kinds of grief, but with the biggest of hearts. And I remember there was this one night I found myself discussing with him about why he had walked away from his Christian faith. You see, I had been at his baptism just a couple years prior and upon learning that he had since left the faith, I just wanted to know what had happened. What he told me that night has stayed with me every day since then, truly, and is the inspiration for this message. He said he no longer saw the meaning in following Christ. “So we pray before meals”, he said, “we drag ourselves to Church on Sunday morning”, “we do all the stuff, but where's the meaning?" I was stunned. How my friend had gone from such an eager young believer, to so totally disaffected with God and His Church baffled me, but not for long.

In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus talks to us about love. Verses 34-40 record how the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up by asking him to name the greatest commandment in all the law. Jesus responded with a quotation from the Hebrew Scriptures, saying that to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul—This is the first and greatest of all of God's commandments.
Now, at first blush, the Pharisees query doesn't seem like much of a stumper, nor Jesus' answer particularly novel, but if you had to answer this question without the benefit of knowing Jesus' response, what would you say? Well, some might answer an active prayer life. Others might point to regular Bible reading. Still others might argue for regular church attendance or a political battle; a social justice cause. Do you see the problem now? The Pharisees understood that a wrong answer to this question could tilt the axis of biblical theology so far one way or the other that it would all come crashing to the ground. However, Jesus knew this, as well, and he not only knew this, but in everything he did, he modeled for us the importance of keeping our love for God central to everything we do. Because if we miss that first part—loving God with all that we are—we can strip the meaning from everything that comes after and we'll end up just quitting altogether. That is how my friend could be so on fire for God and then not. It's how you can have senior Christians who have sat in the same pew, sung the same hymns, taken the same communion emblems for decades whose faith has atrophied and grown cold. And it's how you and I can fill our lives up with spiritual stuff that makes us feel good, or feel Christian—stuff that may very well honor God—but, in the end, be nothing more than whitewashed tombs full of dead bones. Jesus knew: if we don't love God, we excise the very heart from our faith. That's why this is so important.

So, what do we do? When our love for God has ebbed and our faith as a result, what do we do? The Bible has an answer for us: we remember where we came from, repent of anything between us and God, and then remain in Him. Remember, repent, and remain: three r's taken from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.
You know the story, after taking his Father's inheritance, going off to a far country, and blowing it all, the prodigal soon finds himself bumming slop off a team of hogs at a farm. “When he came to his senses" in Luke 15:17 "he said, "‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” That is, he first remembered from where he'd come from. Then in verses 18-20, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; take me back as one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.” His repentance, the second R, was him apologizing to his Father and then returning to restore their relationship. The final R is remain. We don't know what happened to the Prodigal son after the story's end. We do know that his father, like God our Father, accepted him back, not as a servant, but as his beloved son, but whether the son choose to remain in that love for the duration of his life is only speculation. However, it is not enough to simply remember and repent, we must remain in God's love.

And, in closing, that's not a hard task, for when make a habit of reflecting on who God is, how great He is, we cannot love help but love Him. And when we love God, people cannot help but see .And, maybe, will come to love him too. To love God with all our hearts and minds and souls, I pray this for my friend and I pray this for us as Body of Christ, as well. Thank you very much.