Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: October, 2014

GOOD GOVERNMENT

   

Solomon's Judgment

Solomon’s Judgment

    With election day just around the corner here in the U.S. it might be worth our while to take a look at what Scripture has to say about government. The Book of Proverbs in particular, most of it written by a king (Solomon), brings an interesting perspective to bear on the subject.

    We might begin by asking, what is the purpose and function of government? Why do we need government, and what is a government supposed to accomplish? We are all familiar with the language of the Declaration of Independence, which asserts that we have a natural right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Accordingly the preamble to the U.S. Constitution states, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    The Bible, however, presents a somewhat different picture. Human beings are prone toward sin, and this tends to result in social chaos. Without some form of government we would be at each other’s throats, and in the end it would be the criminals who control society.

        “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices;

          And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.

         By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted,

          But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.”

                        (Prov. 11:10,11; NKJV)

In other words, when the wicked prevail we have a situation in which evil appears to be rewarded and virtue punished. Crime pays and nice guys finish last. And when that happens all of society becomes corrupt and unjust.

    Therefore the chief function of government is to administer justice. “Open your mouth, judge righteously, / And plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:9). “The poor and the needy” are the weak and vulnerable elements of society, the one who are the most likely to get taken advantage of by the rich and powerful. Thus one of the key functions of government is to protect the weak from the strong. Its decisions, especially in judicial proceedings, must be based on what is right, not on who has the most influence.

    When a good government is in power justice and social stability are the result. “A king who sits on the throne of judgment / Scatters all evil with his eyes” (20:8). “The king establishes the land by justice, / But he who receives bribes overthrows it” (29:4). On the other hand, “It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, / For a throne is established by righteousness” (16:12).

        “Like a roaring lion and a charging bear

         Is a wicked ruler over poor people.

         A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor,

         But he who hates covetousness will prolong his days.”

                            (28:15,16).

    What will often ruin the effectiveness of a government are bad advisers. “If a ruler pays attention to lies, / All his servants become wicked” (29:12). “Take away the wicked from before the king, / And his throne will be established in righteousness’ (25:5).

    Moreover, what is needed in a ruler besides integrity is wisdom. In Proverbs 8:14-16 wisdom personified speaks and says,

        “Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom;

         I am understanding, I have strength.

         By me kings reign,

         And rulers decree justice.

         By me princes rule, and nobles,

         All the judges of the earth.”

    Government involves some of the most difficult decisions that mortal human beings are ever called upon to make. Laws are passed, policy decisions are made, and court decisions are handed down, many with far-reaching consequences that we can scarcely foresee. In some cases life and death hang in the balance.

    No government is perfect, of course, and there will inevitably be miscarriages of justice. But does that mean that we should cease to care what happens in the political realm? Not at all! For human governments are still accountable to God, the righteous Judge, for their actions, and He demands justice. “Many seek the rulers favor, / But justice for man comes from the Lord” (29:26).

    In a democracy “we the people” are presumably the rulers. Our elected representatives supposedly make decisions on our behalf. The question is, will we choose our leaders wisely?

100

Reply to Cynthia Tucker

Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist. The editorial to which I responded appeared in the October 21, 2014 edition of the Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette. Here is my response:

 

Dear Ms. Tucker,

 

I find that I must take sharp exception to your recent editorial “Despite polls, GOP still quietly opposes marriage equality,” in which you characterize socially conservative Republican voters as “Bible-thumpers,” “aging, narrow-minded,” “bigots,” and “backward-looking.”  Has it never occurred to you that a fundamental moral principle might be involved, one that does not change over time?

 

Your moral confusion might be understandable, and perhaps even excusable, had it not been for the fact that you also made the astonishing assertion that Georgia’s ban on same-sex marriage is “a law denying a basic human right to a portion of the population.”

 

Where did you ever get the notion that gay men have “a basic human right” to engage in oral and anal sex with each other?  (That is, after all, what we are talking about when we legalize “gay marriage.”)  But more to the point, where do “basic human rights” come from?  Who says we have a “right” to do anything?

 

There are several possible answers to the question.  One is that our rights are God-given.  But this presupposes the very thing that the proponents of gay marriage wish to deny: that there is a transcendent moral law that is eternal and unchanging.  It presupposes that we live in a rationally ordered universe created by an intelligent Supreme Being, and that everything in life has a meaning and purpose.  And what is the purpose of sex?  Obviously to perpetuate the species through heterosexual reproduction.  By this standard homosexuality is a bizarre anomaly, if not an outright perversion.  How, then, can it be a “basic human right”?

 

Another possible approach would be to argue that Judeo-Christian morality is based on ancient myths and legends, and that we came into existence through a blind, purposeless process of evolution.  But that would mean that there is no “moral law”; we simply exist in an impersonal and amoral universe.  On the one hand it would mean that we are free to do as we please.  But on the other hand what happens to “basic human rights”?  Does the tree have a “right” not to be cut down?  Neither do you – you are simply another organism sharing the same ecosystem.  No one has a “right” to anything.

 

Yet another possible approach would be to argue that rights are man-made – we agree with each other to recognize certain rights for our mutual benefit.  But nothing less than the United States Supreme Court once declared that black people have no rights which white people are bound to respect (the Dred Scott decision), and on another occasion declared that racial segregation was perfectly constitutional (Plessy v. Ferguson).  Can it really be true that we have only such rights as the majority is willing to cede?  No wonder Dr. King appealed to a higher law!

 

Our rights, then, come from God.  But our Creator did not give us a “right” to use our sexual organs for purposes other than what He intended.  And what He intended is that a man and a woman would enter into a permanent committed relationship with each other and raise their own biological children together.  Sexual license, on the other hand, inevitably leads to social chaos.  Have we not already seen this in our society?  Perhaps the Democrats should rethink their position.

 

Sincerely,

Robert W. Wheeler

 

A PRETRIBULATION RAPTURE? – I

    One of the most commonly held misconceptions regarding the end times is the idea of a “Pretribulation Rapture” – the notion that the Christian church will be “raptured” (snatched away from earth) before the Great Tribulation of the end times begins. The word “rapture” comes from the Latin word used in I Thess. 4:17: “rapiemur cum illis” – “we shall be snatched away with them.” The text, however, does not say that this rapture will take place before the Tribulation. In fact, it implies that it will take place after. Many conservative, Bible-believing Christians will be startled to discover that the idea of a pretribulation rapture isn’t taught anywhere in Scripture. There is no passage of Scripture that says any such thing. The theory rests on the weakest of exegetical inferences.

    So what does the Bible really say on the subject? Let us return to our Lord’s description of the end times, the Olivet Discourse, recorded in Matthew chapters 24 and 25. As we have seen, Jesus’ disciples asked Him two questions: when will the temple be destroyed, and “what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3; NKJV). When the disciples asked the latter question they were undoubtedly thinking back to something that Jesus had told them previously. In the Parable of the Wheat and Tares recorded in Matt. 13:24-30 and explained in 13:36-43, Jesus had said that the “harvest” would come at “the end of this age” (te sunteleia tou aionos toutou – 13:40). The disciples properly understood this to coincide with the Lord’s Second Coming (tes ses parousias – 24:3). The question is, when would this event take place?

    Jesus proceeds to tell them that several things must take place first, including the Great Tribulation – “a great tribulation, such as not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21). He then foes on to say, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days . . . all of the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (vv. 29,30).

    Up until this point our Dispensationalist brethren would have no problems with what we have said. They would agree wholeheartedly that the Second Coming of Christ “with power and great glory” will occur after the Tribulation. They insist, however, that the church will have been raptured seven years previous to the Second Coming.

    When we look at the broader context, however, there are serious problems with this scenario. Jesus has been addressing His disciples and warning them all along that when they see certain things they should not be deceived by false Messiahs and prophets. Then, in describing the Tribulation itself He says, “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, bur for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (v. 22). One would naturally expect that the “elect” would be Christian believers who will be alive at the time.

    Jesus then goes on to say that at His Second Coming “they will gather together (episunazousin) His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (v. 31). Jesus goes on to explain that His Coming will be very sudden and unexpected, that no one knows the exact day or the hour. He then cites the examples of the two men in the field, and the two women grinding at the mill, and says of each, “one will be taken and the other left” (vv. 40,41). One would certainly think that this refers to the rapture, which Christ says will occur at “the coming (he parousia) of the Son of Man” (v. 39).

    And then Jesus makes the main point of the entire discourse: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming . . . Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (vv. 42-44).

    In other words, the “Pre-Trib” position misses the whole point of the passage. The Olivet Discourse was given to us specifically to warn us to be ready when the Lord returns “after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29, emphasis mine). We can expect to meet our Lord in the skies at the end of the Great Tribulation.

    Jesus then goes on to reinforce the point with three parables: The Faithful Servant and the Evil Servant (24:45-51), The Wise and the Foolish Virgins (25:1-13), and the Talents (25:14-30), all of which stress the importance of being faithful and ready until Christ returns. The focus of the entire discourse, then, is on the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation, and the clear implication is that the saints will be here on earth until the very end. There is no ground whatsoever for the belief that Christians will be spared form the Tribulation.

    Some Dispensationalists have tried to evade the difficulty by asserting that since the Gospel of Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish audience, in the Olivet Discourse Jesus was addressing His disciples as representatives of the Jewish nation, and therefore the discourse does not apply to the Gentile church. The flaw in this argument is that most of Matthew 24 is repeated in Mark 13, and even though Mark was writing for a broader audience, he made no attempt to explain to his Gentile readers that the Olivet Discourse was intended only for Jews. The discourse really has to be regarded as intended for the Christian church as a whole.

    We are headed for the Great Tribulation!

BABYLON THE GREAT

John Sloan: The City from Greenwich Village, 1922

John Sloan: The City from Greenwich Village, 1922

    Down through the centuries Christians have had to face daunting challenges of every sort, from physical deprivation to deep discouragement to outright persecution. Yet Christians in the western industrialized nations may be facing the deadliest challenge of all, namely, the challenge of material prosperity. To understand why this particular challenge is so deadly, it is instructive to examine a biblical picture of a prosperous civilization. The example we have chosen is the lamentation over “Babylon” contained in Revelation chapter 18.

    The chapter describes the judgment of God on “Babylon the Great.” In trying to understand what “Babylon” represents, we believe that many commentators have overlooked an important and obvious detail: Babylon is described in the chapter as a very wealthy commercial power. Therefore the figure cannot represent an ecclesiastical entity, such as the Roman Catholic Church, nor can it symbolize all secular political power as it has existed throughout the church age, for not every great political power has been economically successful. Rather, Babylon represents a certain type of secular power, namely, a power that has grown wealthy through extensive commerce. It is this financial prosperity, moreover, which creates the distinctive spiritual conditions that are so typical of “Babylon.” That is the picture we have before us in this passage.

    Why, then, does God pour out His judgment upon Babylon? What is so wrong with being prosperous?

    First of all, we are told that Babylon “lived luxuriously” (Rev. 18:3,7,9; NKJV), that is, she maintained a life-style that was marked by the ostentatious display of wealth, or as we would call it today, “conspicuous consumption.” We get a picture of what kind of life-style this was from the list of merchandise she bought contained in verses 12 and 13. It includes precious metals and gems, fine clothes, costly building materials, rare spices and fragrances, as well as livestock and vehicles, much of it imported from as far away as Africa, Arabia, and China. The denizens of this city obviously had a taste for the finer things of life, and spent their money lavishly to acquire them. In a word, Babylon is the very epitome of a materialistic society.

    Secondly, she is proud. “. . . she glorified herself,” and said, “I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow” (v. 7). In a similar passage in Ezek. 28, it was said of the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre,

        “By your great wisdom in trade you have increased your riches, And

         Your heart is lifted up because of your riches.” (Ezek. 28:5).

    Prosperity tends to make men proud of their achievements, and give them a sense of self-sufficiency. The begin to become more impressed with what they have done for themselves than with what God has done for them. Eventually their philosophy conforms to their hearts, and secular materialism is born.

    What is especially significant, however, is Babylon’s ability to corrupt others with her wealth. “For all the nations have drunk the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury” (v. 3). “. . . for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived” (v. 23) Apparently the idea here is that Babylon’s tremendous wealth had seduced the other nations to partake in her idolatry and other abominable practices. Men were all too willing to compromise their moral and religious principles for the sake of financial success, and thus they were corrupted by Babylon’s imposing wealth and decadent life-style.

    And finally, Babylon persecuted the saints. “And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on earth” (v. 24). If men do not worship the true God, they will worship a false one; and a false religious system cannot tolerate a competing religion that threatens to expose the lie. Thus the opposition must be crushed brutally, and true Christians typically pay with their lives. This, then, is Babylon the Great: materialistic, proud, seductive, and brutal.

    Is this not, in large measure, a picture of our own society today? We are proud of our free market economy, and it has produced the highest standard of living in the world. This, by itself, poses a serious threat to the church. Robert L. Dabney, who was once a professor of church history, made this trenchant observation: “The past answers that there has not been a single instance in which the spiritual health of the church has survived a season of high temporal prosperity. She has survived the sword and the fire. Like the burning bush, persecutions have not consumed her. The power of kings and commonwealths and the gates of hell have not been able to prevail against her; but never, in a single case, has she failed to succumb before the miasm of temporal ease and plenty.” (Discussions, Vol. I, pp. 699-700).

    The reason is not hard to find. Over 3,000 years before, God had warned ancient Israel to beware, lest, when they have prospered in the promised land, “your heart is lifted up and you forget the LORD your God . . . then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth” (Dt. 8:11-17). Prosperity leads to a false sense of self-sufficiency, and this in turn causes us to forget God who is the real source of our blessings. Is it any wonder that the church today is spiritually dead, always looking for the quick fix, but never willing to make any real sacrifice for God?

    It is important to observe, moreover, the morally corrosive effects of a free market economy. Private enterprise is in business to make a profit, and to do this retail merchandisers must sell products. In order to sell a product, the retailer must convince the public that a need exists, and that his product will meet the need. This he does through advertising. Thus an extensive body of propaganda is generated aimed at convincing the public that happiness and fulfillment can be gained through the acquisition of various material possessions. This phenomenon is known as “consumerism.”

    Eventually, as consumerism begins to take hold, a popular culture develops which reflects these materialistic values. With time, there is an inevitable slide into outright hedonism, as an every hungry public refuses to be denied any kind of pleasure. This hedonism is especially pronounced in the communications media that are heavily dependent on advertising revenue, such as magazines, and commercial radio and television. Today, teenage girls and young women in particular are subjected to a barrage of propaganda aimed at convincing them that happiness consists in clothes and a boyfriend, and that the way to get the boyfriend is to wear the suggestive clothing advertised in the fashion magazines. The articles in the magazines reinforce the message in what amounts to an outright assault on morality. Thus, in a sense, the morals of our young women are being corrupted by our business community. Sadly, American films, television programs, and popular music are exported the world over, thereby drawing other nations into our sin.

    What Christians in such a society must realize is that they are surrounded by Satanic propaganda on every side, deceiving and enticing in every manner possible. The warning we have been given by God , however, is contained in Rev. 18:4: “. . . Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” We must turn off the TV, put down the magazine, and stop the CD. To drink from the poisoned cup is to invite spiritual death. If we value our souls, we will not allow ourselves to be defiled by the pollution of the world. May God give us grace to flee from Babylon the Great!

Note: this blog post originally appeared as Chapter 24 in The Road to Heaven: A Practical Guide to the Faith of Our Fathers, by the blogger, copyright 2004.

THE ANTICHRIST

The Bible tells us that just prior to the return of Christ a worldwide empire will arise headed by a charismatic dictator. This person is variously designated in Scripture as “the man of sin,” “the son of perdition,” and “the Antichrist.” It is a sobering glimpse into what lies ahead.

    The Scriptures indicate that the domain of the Antichrist will be global in extent. “And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation” (Rev. 13:7b; NKJV). But what is especially significant about this figure is the role that religion plays in his regime. We are told that he “opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (II Thess. 2:4). What we have here, in other words, is a political cult, with all the outward trappings of religion, used to reinforce political power. The dictator will command respect and loyalty by presenting himself as an incarnation of deity.

    To assist him in this he will receive the support of organized religion. Revelation 13 describes a false prophet who promotes the cult of the Antichrist. The prophet is described as possessing supernatural powers. “He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on earth in the sight of men” (v. 13). A statue of the Antichrist will be erected, and the false prophet will be able “to give breath to the image of the beast [i.e., the Antichrist], that the image should . . . speak” (v. 15).

    To reinforce the religious cult economic power is used. In a passage that has been much discussed and debated, the false prophet is said to “cause all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (vv. 16,17). The number is 666.

    We can only begin to guess what this will mean in actual practice. One of the better commentators on the Book of Revelation, George Eldon Ladd, says “It is not at all clear that John is thinking of a literal brand visible on the person of the worshipers of the beast.” But whatever it is, it will have the effect of punishing people economically for refusing to worship the Antichrist.

    All of this may seem a little far-fetched to the modern, sophisticated reader, until it is remembered that we have already come close to this in the not so distant past. The fact of the matter is that totalitarian states will often use the trappings of religion to control public opinion and promote loyalty to the regime.

    Probably the most outstanding example of this is Nazi Germany. The Nazis were skillful manipulators of the masses. British historian Michael Burleigh describes the annual rallies held at Nuremberg to honor the Nazi regime. “Using architecture, sound, light and quasi-liturgical responses, those rallies were the nadir of Nazi attempts to replace politics as rational conversation with affect and sensation.” “. . . every audible or optical effect was carefully managed,” and the participants “found themselves in a world of aesthetic and emotional intoxication” (Sacred Causes, p. 114).Adolf Hitler-Der Fuehrer-34

    It must be remembered that this happened in Germany, one of the most cultured and sophisticated states in the world at the time. It happened because Germany had already started to lose faith in Christian orthodoxy. While it still maintained the external forms and rituals of worship, confidence in the Bible as the inspired Word of God had long since eroded. This loss of faith created an emotional void, which could then be filled by a skilled manipulator.

    The loss of faith in moral absolutes also allowed the Nazis to act without moral restraint. Eric Voegelin noted that “without a moral code derived from a transcendent God there was nothing to inhibit them. Any means were justified, from lying propaganda to physical mass murder, to bring about the desired realm of God on earth. . . ” (Burleigh, p. 120).

    Because of the quasi-religious nature of such a regime, and its claims on the undivided loyalty of the masses, it ultimately becomes a rival to the older, established religions, and eventually seeks to displace them. This means that it inevitably persecutes those who remain loyal to the old religion. Christian believers, then, are faced with a difficult choice: either they conform or risk prison sentences, torture, or even death. It forces the believer to determine where his true loyalties lie. Does he have a genuine faith, an unshakable confidence that God exists and that His will will eventually prevail? Or is his faith merely a cultural one – a desire to fit in with the rest of society and look respectable? In a situation like this the religious chaff is separated from the wheat.

    Are we prepared for what lies ahead?