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Our Greatest Political Need

November 11th, 2013

(This is Veterans Day in America, a day we express our appreciation to those who have served in our armed forces. I am grateful that America as a nation has stood for the liberation of oppressed people, and not the enslavement of free people. Our military is under the leadership of our elected leaders, and my article today is written in what is an increasing disappointment with our political leaders and their lack of character.)

When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.

2 Samuel 23:3-4

The young boy who had killed the giant Goliath, the young man who had lived several years of his life in hiding from the wrath of King Saul, the growth man who had united Israel and ruled for a generation, the poet and prophet whose psalms inspired the worship of the Nation – that man, David, grew old and died. But he left us his “last words” and these words, as “last words” do, summed up the final thought of his life, his final legacy for his nation and for the world.

The single thing that was most missing in government people of his day is also, I am convinced, most often missing in our day – the character of the rulers themselves, and namely a commitment to God that is greater than their commitment to their own egos. Very rare that one – in society at large or in politics. Since we choose our politicians from the general public, by common sense we should be concerned with the general moral deterioration of society. When morality is seen as a completely private thing, something that has no repercussions for anyone other than the single individual, not only is reality being denied but society is being harmed. But this is the world we live in today, where the old morals are discarded, viewed as too strict, archaic, judgmental, and passe. From this society we are preparing the moral make-up of the political pond whereby we will “fish” for our leaders. And the general deterioration of the moral fabric of the world as a whole can only result in a lesser chance of finding people of true integrity and character who are able to lead.

Currently in America there is an incredible amount of deception on all sides. Those who claim to be “conservative” are often just mean. Those who claim to be “progressive” are egoists. The great need of our nation is for people of true integrity that is derived from their faith in God. David wrote, “he rules in the fear of God,” meaning that for rulers or politicians there should be some One, namely God, that the ruler feared more than anyone or anything else, and this fear created conscience, moral boundaries, and an ethos for his decisions and policies.

I am not so naive as to say that all that matters is that the politician be a Christian, or a Conservative Christian (whatever that means), because part of integrity is the honesty of knowing when you are not up to the job. Frankly I am uncomfortable with many who burst their way into the political scene in the name of their faith, or who play the religious card too strongly. Anyone who wears his Christianity on his shoulder rubs me the wrong way as well – and I am a pastor! True faith has a public and a private nature about it and when these two are abused, when someone says, “Vote for me for I am a believer like you,” I strongly suspect that (a) he is insecure about his position on the issues and (b) he is not a believer “like me.” I sense more deception in words like that than genuineness and character.

Character is not just seen in standing for what is right, but in the willingness to get along with others – respecting their right for their own ideas and values and trying to work with them. But true character can only bend so far. In the national debate about healthcare, both sides have so muddied the water that no practical sense can be made by the general public.

But I am a pastor, not a politician, and only truly want to make two points. The first is the importance of morality in society at large – this is our concern, all of us and each of us. Not a single one of us can escape feeling the pain and reality of living in an immoral society, and this nonsensical idea that we can let people do whatever they want, whenever or however they want to do it, and that it will not effect anyone else, is a danger to each of us. Hardness, insensitivity, hatred, a sense by any group in our society that “we are above the law” – these things impact us all.

But also, as I said, since we “fish” for our leaders from this pond, if the pond is corrupt, so will the leaders be. This means that best thing we can do for our nation is to be people of character and to teach and preach morality. This can never become old or outdated, for it is the bedrock of every civilization. When we speak of America “coming back to God” this is what we mean. America needs a revitalized Christian faith – more churches, more Christian homes, more Christian institutions – that results in true character and righteousness and morality being experienced among its people.The best thing we can do for any nation is to win someone to Christ – even better if we win more.

I am increasingly disturbed by the insistence on the acceptance of homosexuality by the News media as the standard for a truly unbiased person. Anyone who takes the Bible seriously cannot, by this definition, be a moral person. But this is the type of perversion that is going on in society, with people deciding their own morality, selecting what they want and rejecting other things without considering the clear standard of God’s word. The Christian perspective, no matter how kind it should be phrased, and how tolerant, patient, and loving we are toward those seeking to come out of a homosexual life style, cannot be accepting of the practice of homosexuality. To insist otherwise is to deprive a Christian of his rights of faith.

And the second thought, we need to pray for our leaders. I believe intense prayer should also be made for members of the press, for they play a significant role in forming the policies of our nation – perhaps too significant a role. The words of Scripture on prayer have often come back to stir my thoughts, “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2). It is not enough to talk about these things, we must pray to God. So I invite you to join me now, praying for our leaders, and not just the leaders of America but world leaders in general, for peace, for prosperity, for justice, for morality, for spiritual revival among God’s people.

Religious freedom , ,

On Religious Freedom

September 20th, 2012

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Matthew 22:21

Christ taught us to give to God what belongs to Him – our hearts, our souls, our values, our thoughts, our moral code, our obedience, our families, our work ethic, our hopes for the future – and to render to the government what belongs to it.

The future is being determined today by which of these we feel the greater allegiance to – to God or to the government? The one we feel the most indebted to is the one we will serve the most sincerely, and the one to whom we will look for help and hope. The Christian must always lean to the Lord more than to the government. The psalmist declared to God, “You are my help and my deliverer; O my God!” (Psalm 40:17), and He is the One upon whom we truly depend.

Today among my conservative Christian brothers and sisters a great amount of concern is expressed regarding the seemingly anti-Christian bent of the American government. In this strange age of political correctness, a popular idea is flourishing that the most dangerous ideology on the planet is the conservative Christian perspective and that all others are benign, peaceful, and should be welcomed.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. In the most recent days numerous terrorist attacks by radical Muslims on innocent people has revealed the violence of their ideology. Though the provocations seem to have been ill-advised, silly and the work of just a handful, the violent response has been incredibly out of proportion and reveals a real danger in the world. But not so long ago, in the Twentieth Century, the most deadly regimes in history killed millions in the name of atheism. Though we are assured that on both accounts these were extremists, out of control radicals, and not the mainstream of their ideologies, still their willingness to take innocent lives based on their ideologies cannot be ignored. Yet both of these are more welcomed today in some places in America than Evangelical Christianity.

What must be acknowledged is that the West as we know it today would not exist without the influence of Christianity – and this is certainly true of the United States of America. Christian values of hard work, honesty, family, love, encouragement to children, fairness, compassion, respect to others – these and more formed the consciences and the consciousness of our founding people – not just the Founding Fathers but of the people who comprised the nation. America was not founded upon the ideologies of Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, or Atheism, and even Judaism and Roman Catholicism had but minor contributions in comparison. The bedrock of our national consciousness was formed in the values of Protestant Evangelical Christianity. As imperfectly as the Christian faith has been lived, it has still been the central part of forming all that is good in the American mentality.

Yet there is a question that my conservative friends are not asking often enough. Though the nation has neglected the Christian faith, we must recognize the real danger to Christianity itself whenever the government and religion have linked arms. The history of the state-churches of Europe testifies to this fact: this leads to the corruption and eventually the death of Christianity. I do not care to be a part of a Christian movement that receives financial handouts from the government, that is supported by the government rather than by the freewill giving of the people. For the true people of God, to financially support His work is no burden at all. It is a blessing to be a part of what He is doing. The only ones who would prefer it done another way are those who are greedy and faithless, and that group should never be in charge of the direction of a church. They will always try to please themselves instead of trying to please the Lord. They should be encouraged in their faith and loved in the Lord and taught His Word, but not permitted to lead.

Baptists were among the earliest proponents of freedom of religion, if not the first altogether. The Baptist John Bunyan (1628-1688), author of the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, spent twelve years of his life in English prisons for preaching the gospel in public, yet he never ceased from his commitment to God or to his thoughts that religious freedom was essential for the benefit of society. A free church in a free society is the Christian ideal, where faith may be preached but where it is not mandated and people are free to agree or to disagree. To coerce adult people to be a part of a church that they do not believe in is not helpful to anyone. People of each generation must be won to faith in Christ if true Christianity is to continue.

Thomas Breedlove was a court reporter in the time of Bunyan and recorded the excerpt below of the court proceedings. It is a fascinating dialogue that transpired between Bunyan and Judge Wingate.

JUDGE WINGATE: This Court would remind you, sir, that we are not here to debate the merits of the law. We are here to determine it you are, in fact, guilty of violating it.

BUNYAN: Perhaps, M’lord, that is why you are here, but it is most certainly not why I am here. I am here because you compel me to be here. All I ask is to be left alone to preach and to teach as God directs me. As, however, I must be here, I cannot fail to use these circumstances as an opportunity to speak against what I know to be an unjust and odious edict.

JUDGE WINGATE: Let me understand you. You are arguing that every man has a right, given him by Almighty God, to seek the Deity in his own way, even, if he chooses, without benefit of the English Church?

BUNYAN: That is precisely what I am arguing, M’lord. Or without benefit of any church.

JUDGE WINGATE: Do you know what you are saying? What of Papists and Quakers? What of pagan Mohammedans? Have these the right to seek God in their own misguided way?

BUNYAN: Even these M’lord.

JUDGE WINGATE: May I ask if you are particularly sympathetic to the views of these or other such deviant religious societies?

BUNYAN: I am not, M’lord.

JUDGE WINGATE: Yet you affirm a God-given right to hold any alien religious doctrine that appeals to the warped minds of men?

BUNYAN: I do, M’lord.

JUDGE WINGATE: I find your views impossible of belief. And what of those who, if left to their own devices, would have no interest in things heavenly? Have they the right to be allowed to continue unmolested in their error?

BUNYAN: It is my fervent belief that they do, M’lord.

JUDGE WINGATE: And on what basis, might I ask, can you make such a rash affirmation?

BUNYAN: On the basis, M’lord, that a man’s religious views—or lack of them—are matters between his conscience and his God, and are not the business of the Crown, the Parliament, or even, with all due respect, M’lord, of the Court.

However much I may be in disagreement with another man’s sincerely held religious beliefs, neither I nor any other may disallow his right to hold those beliefs. No man’s rights in these affairs are secure if every other man’s rights are not equally secure.

JUDGE WINGATE: It is obvious, sir, that you are a victim of deranged thinking. If my ears deceive me not, I must infer from your words that you believe the State to have no interest in the religious life of its subjects.

BUNYAN: The State, M’lord, may have an interest in anything in which it wishes to have an interest. But the State has no right whatever to interfere in the religious life of its citizens.[1]

If a person’s religion dictates him to harm another person, that is a concern of the state for it has a duty to protect its citizens – the Canaanite religions in the Bible practiced child sacrifice, for example, and such a thing cannot be tolerated by any government. But otherwise, it should not be the concern of the state to impose religious beliefs on any individual, nor should it be the business of the state to discourage or to attack the faith of any individual.

Yet it would be very refreshing if the American government would at least recognize the undeniable influence of Protestant Evangelical Christianity upon its people – even Europeans do as much. Otherwise we start a journey down a path without a clear moral foundation, and those societies that do so risk their very existence.

[1] http://bible.mythoughtspot.com/2012/john-bunyans-trial-the-breedlove-papers

Religious freedom