Monday, 25 July 2011

Politics, God and the Church.

Adolf Hiter after a meeting with local
church leadership.
 “Politics is the process by which groups of people make decisions. It consists of "social relations involving authority or power" and refers to the regulation of a political unit, and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply policy” - source wikipedia

             In writing a blog about the influence of the God and the Church in politics, it must be stated that politics is a system that has been created by mankind. Systems of politics have differed throughout the history of humanity. Consider that within the last one hundred years of human history alone humanity has been the witness to everything from Nazi Fascism, to Bolshevik led Communism, and the Democratic Capitalism of the “free world”. A study of Scripture reveals a diversity in political systems (i.e. Pharaoh the dictator, the Judges of Israel reflecting a theocracy and the Acts 2:42 early church reflecting aspects of socialism) With the diversity of political systems in Scripture how can anyone claim that any particular form of government is necessarily the divinely ordained system? Such claims of a heavenly established political systems are evident in quotes by even the most twisted and corrupt political systems and world views: “Adolf Hitler is the tool of God, called upon to overcome Judaism...” (Father Senn, May 15, 1934) Others claims throughout history have even made the case that because God sets himself up as a monarch that any monarchal based political system is thus a reflection of a heavenly kingdom. So which is it? Should Christians vote for the left or the right, the socialist or the capitalist? Let me submit and suggest to you that mankind is imperfect and God is perfect; and any political system that is set up by mankind is destined for complete failure if the goal is establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. 

           What then is the role of God and the church in relation to politics? Jesus tells us in Luke's Gospel to "give to God's what is God's and Ceasers what is Ceasers". I believe this foundational to Christians living within the nations of the world. We are co-operate, give taxes, submit to them, but with the ultimate realization that we must give to God's what is God's. We live in tension with the kingdom of this world. The apostle Paul declares “everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1) Does this establishment by God mean that they are directly representative of God? If your answer is yes: then Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon and others are all representative of God.(That's a hard pill to swallow) If your answer is no, then perhaps you view governments more like an agent that God's uses rather than representative of the Kingdom. (example: Babylon as an agent of God in the destruction of Israel- Jer. 34:2)( I would also encourage the reading of Romans 13:the function of the state; within it's proper context by first reading Romans 12:the function of the church).

          Peter echoes Paul's words “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”(1 Peter 2:13-14) In this passage Peter is very vocal about submitting to authority for 'the Lord's sake'. The motive for submission is not only civic duty but that The Way will not be slandered and that the Triune God would not be in disrepute. It is also of note to mention that Peter attributes that authority is “sent by him to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right”. 

          Could it be possible that the political powers and authorities are the extension of the Triune God's hand on this earth? Maybe.. There is a claim that God is using government to help keep order in this world. Peter definitely affirms that governments are servants/agents of God but never is the claim that governments are to establish the Kingdom of God; that's the church's job. How did we get to the place of viewing politics and governments as sacred? (could this be it?)  Do followers of Jesus blindly give their full submission to the State? It is important that one uses scripture to reveal scripture. Just because there are mentions of submitting to governing political authorities does not mean we ignore Kingdom living in order to submit to governing powers. Take the example of German theologians struggling with the concept of complete submission to authority after the wake of WWII and a Nazi government that slaughtered the innocent and practiced occultic beliefs that directly opposed the morality of the Gospel.  It was Peter himself who defied the Jewish authorities when he said “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29) in response to being told not to preach the Gospel. It IS acceptable to deny an authority that causes one to subvert the Kingdom living. This is evident by the many martyrs of early church who refused to deny Christ, but rather chose to be condemned to death. It also evident in the attitudes of the early church in their position to never taking up the sword to become a solider of the State or swearing oaths to Ceaser. 

               Christians are called to no other Kingdom primary allegiance except the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus makes this claim when he declares "My kindgom is not of this world, if it were my servants would fight."(Jn 18:36) Paul asserts this in his teaching of a Christian’s citizenship being in heaven (Phil 3:20) as well as his bold declaration that we are Ambassadors in this world. (2 Cor 5:20) The ultimate modus operandi of a follower of Christ is not found in functioning as citizens of the kingdoms of this word but as living as strangers in a strange land. The kingdom of the world is in essence a “power over” kingdom. There have been democratic, socialist, communist, fascist, and totalitarian versions of the kingdom of the world, but they all share this distinctive characteristic: they exercise power over people.  Where did followers of Jesus ever get the idea that we need to take our nations back for God? Where did we ever get the idea that any version of the kingdoms of this world could be representative of the Kingdom of God? Where did we get the idea that the way to establish the Kingdom of heaven was to pass laws and force everyone to think and act the way we do? It's worth noting that Jesus and the early church's approach to establishing the Kingdom of Heaven was never "let's pass a bunch of laws in Rome".  It may seem attractive to impose Christian morality on national level, but ultimately it is an act of using the State as a "power over" people. Jesus never came to establish a Christian nation, but the Kingdom within all the nations of the world.  Followers of Jesus must realize that the hope of the world lies not in any particular version of the kingdom of the world. We do not put our hope in Democrats or the Republicans. The hope of the world lies in a kingdom that is not of this world, a kingdom that operates with a completely different understanding of power. It is the kingdom of God. This is a Kingdom that grows slowly, organically, and even serves enemies (Luke 13:18-19; John 12:24-26) a Kingdom is that is peace making and peace-living. (John 18:36; 1 Peter 2:9), a Kingdom is non-institutional and non-territorial the Kingdom is within us. (Luke 17:20-21), a kingdom in which serving others is foundational (Matthew 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27; John 13:12-17).

Although immersed in this world, the church by her way of being represents the promise of another world, which is not somewhere else but which is to come here. - John H Yoder ( The Politics of Jesus) 


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Saved by the law?

Does it say anywhere in the New Testament that you can you be saved by following the law? 

Good question. The short answer is no. The purpose of the law was designed to reveal sin. "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin." (Romans 3:20) With the exception of the Romans 2 clause (I will talk about it at the end of this discussion), Salvation in the NT is strictly the act of a Saviour redeeming humanity. Take the story of the rich young ruler that asks Jesus the question how to be saved:

Mark 10 The Rich and the Kingdom of God
 17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[e] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Verses 17-20 Almost suggest that one could be saved by works, and through the law, yet it is important to recognize that Jesus is engaging in a conversation to determine the rich young ruler's intentions. Jesus is using a question to determine the intentions of the Rich Young Ruler. What also must be highlighted in this passage is that Jesus has compassion and lovingly tries to remove an obstacle to following him in Verse 21.It was a common belief in Judaism that riches were a mark of God’s favour. To be rich in Jewish society is to be the best in both social and spiritual status'. Christian prosperity teachers and the popular culture of today have both taught and acted on the same assumptions. But once again Jesus springs a surprise. Max Lucado says this about this narrative: 

"Don’t miss the thrust of this passage: You cannot save yourself. Not through the right rituals. Not through the right doctrine. Not through the right devotion. Not through the right goose bumps. Jesus’ point is crystal clear: It is impossible for human beings to save themselves."

 I have heard in sermons before the idea that the "eye of the needle" is a low laying gate in Jerusalem that forced the camels to crouch down to pass through. This is to suggest that with the right amount of piety and humility a rich person could enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Let me say this of that method of interpretation: It is wrong! There is no gate in Jerusalem called "The eye of the needle".  Even more it misses the point that Jesus is driving at. 

 When Jesus declares that it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he is actually being literal (contextually speaking). Jesus is not condemning being affluent financially, he is making a cultural statement about a group of people that were considered as the most holy and blessed. The reaction of disciples is appropriate: "Who then can be saved?" If rich people who are considered the most pious of society cannot make it to heaven then who can? The answer is provided in Jesus' response: "All things are possible through God". Jesus is the only one who can save you. The kingdom demands more than merely keeping many commandments; if a disciple would recognize Christ as his king, that disciple must surrender to him possessions, life, and even his/her identity. Whether Jesus then allows the disciple to use some of what the disciple has surrendered is Jesus’ choice. 

I think one the biggest reasons Christians have fallen into doctrines such as entire sanctification (the holiness movements), prosperity doctrines, and a striving based relationship approach to God is due to, in some measure, believing that we can save ourselves. We may not admit it on the surface, but in practice we try to earn the gift of justification that is the beginning of our sanctification. We should be people of holiness! The difference is that I recognize that the striving and seeking for holiness on your own effort does not lead to Jesus; Jesus leads us to holiness.

Most people equate holiness as sin avoidance. When you tell people to “seek holiness to see God” most people will interpret that as, “I need to try harder to meet with God.” The problem with that is that it is works based and not the Gospel. The law saves no one. Paul (not me, the Apostle) echoes this when he writes, "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?"(Gal 3:2) There is no life in having a rules based approach to following Jesus. The Apostle Paul would call us foolish for even trying to approach Jesus through a "system of salvation". 

Consider for a moment that every other religious/non-religious system on the planet reduces salvation as being your own Saviour. There are two ways to be your own Saviour: Self-indulgence, and moralism. Just like in the parable of the two sons there are two ways to separate your self from the Father. (Luke 15). I think we can both agree that the younger son separated himself from the Father by living for himself. (i.e. Prostitutes, Wild Parties) but we must remember the Elder son. The Elder son was steeped in Moralism. (The belief that a set of practices, adherences will result in self- justification.) I know many Muslims whose devotion to prayer can make Christians look really bad. The Elder Son thought that his obedience to his Father gave him control over the Father’s things, and was so upset at his Father's mercy to the disobedient younger son. Jesus is addressing our motivation in doing good! The Gospel is not immorality or morality, religion or irreligion, its off the scale its something else !  Have you ever thought  if I do (insert action) the Father will love me more? Let me release you from that bondage: the Father loves you! Live in that love ! Soak in that love! It will change your life. 

The danger in telling people to try to strive for holiness to get relationship with God is that it reduces to the Gospel to any other religious/non-religious system. If salvation/relationship/holiness could be earned:

1.The Pharisees would have achieved salvation in there own right
2.The Law would have saved you
3.There is no need for Jesus.

Let me suggest to you that the only way to follow Jesus is in relationship with him.

 There is a loving God who desires to meet with us and make us a new creation. Only when people are transformed by the work of the Spirit can they live truly holy lives where the avoidance of sin is a result. Moralistic/Works based people obey God to get things; Gospel people obey God because they love Him. With that said; there needs to be call to holiness and to shining our light before men, however I believe that you need to know that your works/striving is not going to make God love you more. You can’t have works lead to grace; true grace leads you to works out of love. The Gospel is relationship with a God of love. 

To summarize: You have been made holy, now live that holiness out.

Ok long answer (well not so long after my previous material) now is yes: In the absence of the knowledge of Jesus one could still find eternal life. Imagine for a moment an African tribe that has never heard the Gospel message until recently. What do you say to them when they ask you what happens to the fate of long deceased grandma ? You tell them that God is judge and will judge them through their standard of righteousness.  "To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life." (Romans 2:7) Of course this is a very small back door in the area of salvation. It's all based on the premise that you are only held accountable for what you know. If you've never heard of Jesus it would difficult to use that as the standard of salvation. It is in that situation that you are judged by the truths of general revelation.

Until next time,
Paul Walker