Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: non-conformity

CHRIST OR THE WORLD

4.2.7

Raphael: St. George and the Dragon

Review:

Culturally Relevant: Connection or Compromise

Dennis Bliss

Christian Faith Publishing

174 pp., pb.

 

Dennis Bliss is a longtime Christian musician and counsellor who has spent a lifetime observing the Christian scene, and his recently published book Culturally Relevant, expresses the deep concern he has over the direction that many churches have taken.  It is a call to reexamine the depth of our commitment to Christ, and to rededicate ourselves to His kingdom and glory.  It is a much needed book at the present hour.

Denny begins (and he happens to be a personal friend of mine, so I will call him “Denny”) by asking what it means to be “culturally relevant.”  The church, of course, exists in a surrounding culture, and ideally seeks to win the people of that culture to Christ.  But to do so it must connect with them somehow.  But how?  What does it mean to adapt to a local culture?  Is it simply a matter of speaking the same language so that they can understand what we are saying?  Or does it mean changing the message so that we are telling them what they want to hear?  Or, even worse, is it conforming to their standards of behavior so that they will accept us?

Denny argues a strong case that in seeking to win the lost we must never compromise our moral or ethical standards.  People will not be won to Christ if they cannot see any difference between the church and what they already have in the world.  In the end the strategy of compromise is self-defeating.

Denny then goes on to discuss a wide variety of issues confronting the church today: love and marriage, child discipline, evolution, abortion, divorce, adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, feminism, the use of alcohol, and dress.  Many of his observations are borne of his many long years of experience as a Christian counsellor.  He then goes on to address certain issues that affect the church as a whole – evangelism, Bible translations and church music.  On the subject of Bible translations he expresses the confusion and dismay that many feel when, confronted by the bewildering array versions on the market today, and not having access to the underlying Hebrew and Greek, are not in a position to tell which versions are more accurate.  On the subject of church music we will have more to say in a subsequent blog post.

On most of these issues Denny takes a conservative stand: he is opposed to alcohol consumption in any amount, as well as tattoos.  He is in favor of spanking children, and believes that men should wear suites to church.  He prefers the old King James Version of the Bible.  (He does make a concession to modernity by using the New King James Version in his book.)

Occasionally Denny gets caught in an apparent contradiction.  On one hand he condemns denominationalism and suggests that it arose through human pride.  But then he wants churches to separate themselves from doctrinal error and take an uncompromising stance on what they believe to be the truth.  But is that not how the different denominations came into existence in the first place, and continue to this day?   One could only wonder what Denny would have told Luther and Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529 after they could not reach an agreement on the nature of the Lord’s Table.  Which one was being proud and stubborn, and which one should refuse to compromise?

Denny argues a very strong case throughout for non-conformity to the world, and argues that obedience to Christ must always be our top priority in life.  He makes the helpful observation that this does not mean that the Bible spells out in detail exactly how we are to act in every situation.  What is needed, he points out, is spiritual discernment, and toward the very end of his book he lays out his “Twelve Step Program” – twelve basic principles or tests that we can use to determine if a given course of action is in line with God’s will.

At first glance Denny’s book may come across as the work of a cranky old man throwing a hissy fit.  And yet his book comes out at a critical time in history.  Up until now American Christians have had the luxury of living in a country where the freedom of religion was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution.  It was respectable to be a Christian.

And yet the times began to change.  The surrounding culture became increasingly secular and materialistic, and the bulk of the population lost its interest in church.  At first church leaders thought that they could entertain people back into church.  The church became consumer oriented, but in the end fought a losing battle with TV, sports and shopping to get peoples’ attention.

But now the surrounding culture is not just indifferent to Christianity; it is becoming increasingly hostile towards it.  Anyone who dares to take a stand for traditional Judeo-Christian morality is liable to be called “sexist” and “homophobic.”  Thus we are rapidly moving toward a time when modern Christians will have to learn anew what was perfectly obvious to believers in the First Century: that if anyone wishes to be a true follower of Jesus Christ, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24; NKJV).

KEEPING HIS COMMANDMENTS

 

Having promised to answer prayer Jesus then goes on to add a qualifier: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15; NKJV).  It is brief, simple, and of the utmost importance.

The first thing to be noted here is that Jesus has, in fact, given us “commandments.”  A commandment is a directive or order given by someone in a position of authority.  The commandment, then, is given to someone who is under that person’s authority, and who is obligated to obey it.  Jesus is in such a position of authority over us.  He is our Lord and Master; we are His servants.  He has given us explicit directives on how to live our lives, and we are obligated to obey Him.

This is a hard concept for modern Christians to grasp.  We naturally assume our own freedom and autonomy.  If Jesus loves us, we reason, He will look out for our personal well-being, which, we assume, means that He will do what we want Him to do.  But we have it all backwards.  He is the Lord; we are His servants.  We are here on earth to do His will and good pleasure.

Jesus said that we were to “keep” His commandments.  The Greek word that John used (and presumably the underlying Aramaic word that Jesus would have used), means “to guard” or “to keep,” and by extension “to keep watchful care.”  The idea here is that we are to give careful attention to what Jesus has commanded, and to be careful to obey all of His commandments.

But it is specifically His commandments that we are to keep, not some human tradition or social custom.  The importance of this cannot be overestimated.  Jesus is God; Jesus is the Supreme Authority.  And if we are Christians we are His disciples – we are followers of Him.  That means that we must go what He has said in all things.

On the one hand this requires non-conformity to the world.  As human beings we are social creatures, and crave social acceptance.  We must live and function in civil society.  But the human race is fallen and in a state of sinful rebellion against God.  It imposes standards of right and wrong that are often at variance with God’s moral law.  In such cases “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  This principle will become increasingly critical as Western society continues to move in an anti-Christian direction.  But we must never forget that Jesus Christ is Lord and King, and He is the One who we at all times must obey.  And, ironically as it may seem, in so doing we are acting in he the best interests of society.  Humanity never benefits from sexual license, drunken debauchery, economic exploitation, or violence against others.  We may be hated and persecuted in the short run, but we will be proven right in the long run.   Let us take a clear, uncompromising stand for truth, justice, compassion and morality.

But in our churches we must also be careful not to follow blindly a human tradition instead of the commands of Christ.  It is easy to follow customary practices and a set of denominational distinctives.  But are they really biblical, and do they really honor Christ?  Christ is supposed to be the Head of the church, and the question should always be, what does He want?  The different denominations cannot all possibly be right; almost all of them have to be wrong at some point.  And too often we have developed an institutionalized form of church life that departs for the New Testament model of a Spirit-filled brotherhood of committed disciples.  We must make it our first order of business to seek Christ’s will for our lives as individuals and as churches, and seek to please Him in all that we do.  Only then can we expect to receive a blessing from Him.

But Jesus challenges His disciples to examine their own hearts.  “If you love Me,” He says, “keep My commandments.”  The question is, do we really love Him?  What does it mean to love Christ, in the first place?  Can we say that we genuinely understand ad appreciate all that He is, and all that He has done for us?  When we sing in church, do we really praise Him with heartfelt devotion?  Or are we simply enjoying the music?*  Is a genuine love for Christ reflected in our private devotions and public worship?

And what is our motive in getting involved in church activities?  Is it to glorify Christ and serve the brethren in love and humility?  Or is it to gain recognition for ourselves?  Do we consciously strive to please Christ in all that we do?  Do we really, honestly, sincerely love Him at all?

If we are honest with ourselves we will probably have to admit that we are too much like the lukewarm church in Laodicea: ”I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I could wish you were cold or hot” (Rev. 3:15).  And tells them (the church, mind you, not unbelievers), “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (v. 20).

This, then, in just a few words, is what the Christian life should look like: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

 

*St. Augustine confessed to being torn between listening to the psalms being chanted in church for the content of the words and purely for the enjoyment of the music.  His decided preference was for the performance style advocated by St. Athanasius – as plain and simple as possible, closer to speech rather than song.  (Confessions, X.xxxiii)

THE CHRISTIAN IN THE WORLD

 

4.2.7

Van Gogh: Man Reading the Bible

 

In our blog post of June 11 we saw that the Christian’s aim should not be the preservation of America’s civil religion.  But what should its aim be?  How is the Christian to relate to the surrounding world?

In Titus 2:11-14 the apostle Paul gives us a brief summary of what the Christian life is supposed to look like.  It is a different kind of life-style based on a distinctively Christian worldview.

It begins with a historical fact: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men . . .” (v. 11; NKJV).  Here Paul is undoubtedly referring back to the first advent of Christ and His death on the cross that opened up to all mankind the offer of salvation.  This was the great turning point in history.

But what effect does this have on us?  Paul goes on to say that salvation is “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age . . .” (v. 12).  Here it will be seen that there is both a negative and a positive side to the Christian life.  On the negative side we are to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.”  The word “ungodliness” might better be translated “impiety” – it is the lack of devotion to or reverence for God.  A good modern term would be “secularism,” the absence of God in our thinking.  “Worldly lusts” are self-centered desires that drive most of human behavior – the lust for pleasure, wealth, fame or power.  We sometimes dress it up as “enlightened self-interest” or “the profit motive.”  These are the things which typically mark human behavior outside of Christ, and the Christian must turn his back on all of this, leaving it all behind.  He has been called to a higher life.

On the positive side we are to “live soberly, righteously, and godly.”  To live soberly means to exercise sound judgment in all of the decisions we make.  It means that we do not go through life pursuing pleasure with reckless abandon, but we carefully weigh the consequences of the actions we take.  We look to promote the glory of God and the well-being of our fellow man.

But we are also called to live “righteously,” which means to live in accordance with God’s law.  God is our Creator, our Lawgiver and Judge.  We can find happiness and fulfillment in life only when we live in accordance with His will and purposes.

And then we are to live “godly” or “piously,” as the word might be better translated.  We are to give God His proper place in our lives, to have a genuine and heartfelt devotion towards Him, and to acknowledge Him in all of our ways.

All of this we are to do “in the present age,” the time in which we are now living.  The Bible often contrasts “the present age” with “the age which is to come”: and the “the present age” is marked by sin and evil.  Nevertheless the Christian is expected to live a godly life now, in the present age.  This will inevitably mean a life of non-conformity to the world.

But why would we want to do this?  Why would we run the risk of social ostracism and financial failure by refusing to conform?  The answer is because we are “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 13).  The Christian looks forward to the future, and what he sees is “the glorious appearing” of Christ, His visible return at the end of the age when He comes to establish a new order of things here on earth.  The Christian is conscious that what we experience now will not last forever.  Christ will return and things will be entirely different.  The Christian lives for tomorrow and not for today.

It should be kept in mind that God’s whole purpose in our salvation is to free us, not just from the guilt of sin, but also from its power.  Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (v. 14).  The word “redeem” means to pay a ransom and thereby secure the release of a slave or prisoner.  We were once under the power and guilt of sin.  Christ paid the penalty for that sin by dying on the cross and thereby secured our salvation.  And He did this at enormous cost to Himself: He “gave Himself for us.”

But why did He do this?  What was His aim and objective?  It was not just to forgive us but also to sanctify us: “ . . .that He might redeem from every lawless deed and purify for Himself his own special people, zealous for good works.”  It was sin that got us into trouble; Christ freed us from that condition.  Now we are “His own special people, a people of His own possession; we now belong to Him.  And we are to be “zealous for good works” – we are not to conform half-heartedly to an external set of rules; we are to desire sincerely to do good to others.

The Christian, then, is called to a life of non-conformity to the surrounding world.  He does not have the luxury of living the life of a nice, comfortable, middle-class existence.  He is conscious of answering to a Higher Authority; and that will eventually bring him into conflict with the values of the surrounding world.  This will require personal sacrifice on his part – the possible loss of job, family reputation.  It may even invite on occasion legal prosecution.  But faithful to God he must remain.  The sacrifice is temporary; the gain is eternal.   May God grant us all the grace to live for Him!

CHRISTIANITY AND CIVILIZATION

 

The Tower of Babel

 

 

In our last blog post we considered the nature of civilization, and concluded that it was an organized effort on the part of human beings to live and work together; and that this, in turn, required certain standards of behavior.  But what is a Christian to make of all of this?  Is civilization good or bad?  Should he support it, attack it, or ignore it?

The answer is that from a Christian standpoint civilization is both good and bad.  It is both good and bad because it reflects the fundamental contradictions of human nature.  We are created in the image of God and have consciences.  We are social creatures.  Yet at the same time we are also fallen sinners and routinely do what is bad.  And thus it is with human civilization as a whole.

On the one hand there is much that is undeniably good in civilization.  In a civilization people are willing to work together for the common good.  When a government is created to establish justice, this is a positive thing.  The apostle Paul could go so far as to call the civil magistrate “God’s minister to you for good” (Rom. 13:1-7), and urges prayers to be made “for kings and all who are in authority” (I Tim. 2:1,2).  Civilizations have made tremendous advances in science and technology and have created great works of art, music and literature.  All of this is undeniably good.

But sinners are still sinners, and this is reflected in civilization as well.  Even when human beings outwardly do what is right they often do it for the wrong reasons.   Instead of being motivated by a genuine love for God and for righteousness, individuals are often driven by the prospects of rewards and punishments that are held out by the particular society in which they live.  They seek the praise of their fellow men, or dread the prospect of a prison term.  They go along in order to get along.  At best they are motivated by “enlightened self-interest,” but that is still a form of selfishness nonetheless.

Moreover civilization itself is in many ways an attempt to better the human condition, but to do it without God. It is an expression of man’s hubris, a reflection of his underlying rebellion against God.  Civilizations impose standards of behavior, but these are usually conceived of as standards we create ourselves to advance our own interests as a society.  And these values and ideals often fall far short of God’s standards of morality – everything from Roman gladiatorial games to American rugged individualism.

But what is even worse, the members of society often try to undermine the very ideals they profess to believe.  No sooner is a constitution adopted and laws passed then men begin looking for ways to circumvent them.  Right and wrong soon become a matter of what we can get away with.  We in the U.S. declared that “all men are created equal” and are endowed by their Creator with “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  But just eighty years later the U.S. Supreme Court, in the infamous Dred Scott decision, declared that black people were not included in the “all men” of the Declaration, and that “they had no rights which a white man was bound to respect.”  And so we rationalize our bad behavior.

What our Creator really expects from us, however, is that we love Him with all of our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.

The Bible gives us a brief but vivid account of the beginning of human civilization.  In Gen. 11:1-9 we are told how that ancient peoples found a place to dwell in the land of Shinar (Sumeria).  They then proceeded to build a city.  “And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4; NKJV).  What is significant here is not just that they undertook a construction project, but the mentality that lay behind it.  They wanted to reach the heavens and “make a name for ourselves.”  In other words it was a purely human endeavor driven by pride and ambition.  And God’s response was to scatter them by confusing their language.  The city became known as Babel, or Babylon, and it remained a symbol of worldly power and human arrogance.

To understand the biblical attitude toward civilization it is necessary first to understand the biblical view of history.  The Bible draws a contrast between “this age” and “that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21).  The age to come is a time when the Messiah will reign over all the earth.  But this age is the time when “the prince of the power of the air” is “the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” who are “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1-3).

By the same token the apostle John tells us that “all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it . . .” (I John 2:16, 17a).  In other words human society as a whole, including its various civilizations, is fallen and corrupt, and under the wrath of God.

The Christian, however, is no longer a part a part of this corrupt world system.  “He [i.e., God] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13).  And this kingdom operates on a whole different principle from the surrounding world.  “. . .for the kingdom of God is not eating or drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).  Thus a human civilization can never truly be called “Christian”; it is always sub-Christian at best.

But what about the culture of civilization – its arts and science, its learning and philosophy?  “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (I Cor. 3:19: cf. 1:18-25).  Because fallen sinners refuse to acknowledge God as the Creator and Lord, their philosophy is based on a false premise and they develop a warped and distorted view of reality.  They live in a world created by God, but they refuse to admit the fact.  The result is an educational system that does not truly educate.

That, then, is the picture that the Bible paints of human civilization.  But how is the Christian to relate to the surrounding world?  How does he fit in?  Or doesn’t he?

On the positive side we are to honor and respect those who are in positions of authority in human society.  Jesus said “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).  The apostle Peter could write, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake . . .” including kings and governors.  We are to “Honor all people.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the king” (I Pet. 2:13-17).  It is even permissible on occasion for the Christian to avail himself of the legal remedies at his disposal.  The apostle Paul could claim Roman citizenship and make a formal appeal to Caesar when threatened (Acts 22:25-28; 256:10-12).

Yet the Christian must always be conscious that he answers to a higher authority, and when human law clashes with divine law, divine law always takes precedence.  Jesus state the matter quite starkly: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

The fact of the matter is that the life of a Christian should stand in sharp contrast with that of the world.  Paul could write to the Ephesian believers and tell them “For you were once darkness, but you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), . . .”  He then goes on to say, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them . . .” (Eph. 5:8-11).

But what about Western Civilization?  Was it not a “Christian” civilization?  Should not Christians have whole-heartedly supported it?

The answer is that Western civilization was only superficially Christian.  It supported state churches and professed Christian values, but it was largely an external morality, whereas genuine Christianity is the life of Christ within the heart, transforming life from the inside out.  Western civilization was the greatest civilization in the history of mankind, and it attained that status precisely because of the influence on it of Christianity.  But it still fell short of what our Creator expects from us as human beings.  Genuine Christians must conform to a higher standard.

The Christian, then, lives in the world but is not really a part of it.  He seeks to do good to his neighbors wherever he can, but must be careful not to participate in their sins.  While he may support the government in its efforts to establish justice and meet human need, the Christian realizes that man’s real need is for salvation and eternal life.  The Christian’s aim, then, is to be a light shining in the darkness.

THE CHRISTIAN IN THE WORLD

             In our blog post three weeks ago (“What God Thinks of the Modern Church” – March 18, 2017) we saw that the church’s aim should not be the preservation of America’s civil religion.  But what should its aim be?  How is the Christian supposed to relate to the surrounding world?

In Titus 2:11-14 the apostle Paul gives us a brief summary of what the Christian life is supposed to look like.  It is a different kind of lifestyle based on a distinctively Christian worldview.

It begins with a historical fact: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men . . .” (v. 11; NKJV).  Here he is undoubtedly referring back to the first advent of Christ and His death on the cross that opened up to all mankind the possibility of salvation.  This was the great turning point in history.

But what effect does this have on us?  Paul goes on to say that salvation is “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age . . .” (v. 12).  Here it will be seen that there is both a negative and a positive side to the Christian life.  On the negative side we are to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.”  The word “ungodliness” might better be translated “impiety” – it is the lack of devotion to or reverence for God.  A good modern term would be “secularism,” the absence of God in our thinking.  “Worldly lusts” are the self-centered desires that drive most human behavior – the lust for pleasure, wealth, fame or power.  We sometimes dress it up as “enlightened self-interest” or “the profit motive.”  It is consumerism.  These are the things which typically drive human behavior outside of Christ, and the Christian must “deny” these things – he must turn his back on all of this, leaving it all behind.  He has been called to a higher life.

On the positive side we are to “live soberly, righteously, and godly.”  To live soberly means to exercise sound judgment in all of the decisions that we make.  It means that we do not go through life pursuing pleasure with reckless abandon, but we carefully weigh the consequences of the actions we take.  We look to promote the glory of God and the wellbeing of our fellow man.

But we are also to live “righteously,” which means to live in accordance with God’s law.  God is our Creator, our Lawgiver and Judge.  We can find happiness and fulfillment in life only when we live in accordance with His will and purposes.

And then we are live “godly,” or “piously,” as the word might better be translated.  We are to give God his proper place in our lives, to have a genuine and heartfelt devotion towards Him, and to acknowledge Him in all our ways.

All of this we are to do “in the present age,” the time in which we are now living.  The Bible often contrasts “the present age” with “the age which is to come”; and “the present age” is marked by sin and evil.  Nevertheless the Christian is expected to live a godly life now, in the present age.

But why should we do this?  Why should we run the risk of social ostracism and financial failure by refusing to conform?  The answer is because we are “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 13).  The Christian looks forward to the future, and what he sees is “the glorious appearing” of Christ, His visible return at the end of the age when He comes to establish a new order of things here on earth.  The Christian is conscious that what we experience now will not last forever.  Christ will return and things will be entirely different.  The Christian lives for tomorrow and not for today.

It should be kept in mind that God’s whole purpose in our salvation is to free us, not just from the guilt of sin, but also from its power.  Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (v. 14).  The word “redeem” means to pay a ransom and thereby secure the release of a slave or prisoner.  We were once under the power and guilt of sin.  Christ paid the penalty for that sin by dying on the cross and thereby secured our salvation.  And He did this at enormous cost to Himself: He “gave Himself” for us.

But why did He do this?  What was His aim and purpose?  It was not just to forgive us, although that was certainly a part of it, but also to sanctify us: “. . .that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”  It was sin that got us into trouble; Christ freed us from that condition.  Now we are “His own special people,” a people of His own possession; we now belong to Him.  And as such we are to be “zealous for good works” – we are not to conform half-heartedly to an external set of rules; we are to desire earnestly to do good for others.

The Christian, then, is called to a life of non-conformity to the surrounding world.  He does not have the luxury of living the life of a nice, comfortable, middle-class existence.  He is conscious of answering to a higher Power; and that will eventually bring him into conflict with the values of the surrounding world.  This will require personal sacrifice on his part – the possible loss of job, family, reputation  It may even invite on occasion legal prosecution.  But faithful to God he must remain.  The sacrifice is temporary; the gain is eternal.  May God grant us all the grace to live for Him!

CHRISTIANS AND THE ELECTION

donald-trump-hillary-clinton

Well, last night Donald Trump gave his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.  It was, in many respects, a masterful display of salesmanship.  He addressed the fears of many Americans, presented himself as the law-and-order candidate, and reached out to key blocks of voters, including Bernie Sanders supporters, inner city residents, the LGBTQ community, and evangelicals.

It remains to be seen, however, what kind of president he would make if elected.  He has no prior experience in public office, has no clearly defined political ideology, and has a reputation as a ruthless, cutthroat businessman.  It is hard to see how he could keep some of the promises he made in his speech, such as ending violence (“and I mean very soon”), defeat ISIS, and end wasteful spending.  It is easy for an outsider to make promises; it is harder to keep them.

Thus we are faced with an uncomfortable choice in November.  Hillary Clinton is predictably liberal; Trump is unpredictable.  Many evangelicals feel that we must vote for Trump because nothing could be worse than Clinton.  But the fact of the matter is that we do not know whether Trump actually would be a better president that Clinton.  How, then, should a Christian vote in a situation like this?

It must be remembered, first of all, that we are voting for the next President of the United States, not the pastor of our local church.   A president does not necessarily have to meet the biblical qualifications for a church elder.  The United States is not, strictly speaking, a Christian organization.  “The kingdom of God,” we are told in Scripture, is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17; NKJV), not a bunch of corrupt politicians catering to the whims of greedy businessmen.    Biblically speaking, the United States, just like every other human society on the face of the earth, is a part of what the New Testament calls “the world” or “this age,” and in that sense any secular, human government will only be sub-Christian at best.  As Christians “our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:20).

That does not mean, however, that civil law can be separated from morality, or that a secular government is free to do whatever it pleases.  As human beings we were all created by God, we must all learn to function in a universe that was created by Him, and ultimately we are all accountable to Him.  In the Old Testament the Canaanites, who had no special covenant relationship with God at all, were nevertheless condemned for their sexual immorality and infanticide (Leviticus chapter 18), and in the New Testament book of Revelation “Babylon,” the symbol of worldly power, is criticized for its arrogance and sensuality (Rev. 18).  When governments engage in oppression and injustice they betray the whole reason for their very existence.

The Christian, then, lives in the world but is not really a part of it.  But that does not relieve us of our responsibility to our neighbors.  We are to “do good to all” (Gal. 6:10), pray for those in authority (I Tim. 2:1-4), and pay our taxes (Rom. 13:6,7); and yet all the while we are to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” (Jas. 1:27).  The church’s job is to proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), which includes God’s moral standards for the human race.

Should we become involved in the political process, then?  In America we have been blessed to have a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, speech and assembly.  We have the right to vote and to elect our own political leaders.  It is certainly appropriate to write letters to our public officials and to the editors of our newspapers about issues that concern us.

Yet we must be careful about engaging in partisan politics.  “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.  For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?  And what communion has light with darkness?” (II Cor. 6:14).  And yet the major political parties represent exactly that.  They are attempts to form electoral majorities for the purpose of taking over the government.  Each party inevitably contains a variety of special interest groups, each pursuing its own agenda.  And in many cases these agendas are far from righteous.  In some cases politicians can be downright corrupt.

In particular a Christian cannot vote for “the lesser of two evils” because that would still involve him in voting for evil, and that in turn would make the Christian complicit in the evil.  There comes a point at which the Christian must recognize that the world system is corrupt and that he is not to be a part of it.  It is no longer “God and country” but “God or country.”  What Christians are told in Revelation about Babylon is pertinent here as well: “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).  America may very well have passed the point of no return with the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same sex marriage.  Sodomy is now enshrined in the law of the land, and the decision makes it virtually impossible to return to the social norms, and the stable family life, of the past.  America may now be beyond redemption, and the current election campaign may very well be God’s righteous judgment upon the nation.  In situations like this, when the church finds itself in the midst of a wicked and corrupt society, it needs to be a prophetic “voice crying in the wilderness,” and speak truth to power.  But what it needs to speak, clearly and unequivocally, is truth, not the corrupt agenda of some crooked politician.  Voting for a seriously flawed candidate, no matter how bad the other candidate is, does not advance God’s kingdom.

CHRISTIANITY IS SUPPOSED TO BE DIFFERENT

In our last blog post we commented on a CNN Belief Blog by Rachel Held Evans in which she took Evangelicalism to task on a number of issues. Among other things she criticized evangelical Christianity for being “hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” She goes on to say that “the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more that sticking to a set of rules.” In saying this she seems to be adopting the viewpoint of modern society at large, in which homosexuality is rapidly becoming accepted. (We realize that her own personal opinion may be more nuanced than that, but if so, it does not come out in her article.)

But Christianity is not supposed to conform to the standards of the world. It is supposed to be different from the society around it.

We get a clear picture of the position of the church in the world in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. Paul is writing to a group of Christian believers in the city of Ephesus, an important commercial, political and religious center in Asia Minor. The epistle may also have been intended for Christians in nearby cities as well. The region was sophisticated and wealthy – a center of Hellenistic civilization.

Paul makes it clear, however, that the Christians were not to conform to the standards of society around them. “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind” (Eph. 4:17; NKJV). He then goes on to give a scathing critique of the surrounding culture. Their understanding is “darkened”; they are “alienated from the life of God”; their hearts are hard; they are “past feeling” (vv. 18,19). As a result, they “have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (v. 19). The word translated “lewdness” (aselgeia) means licentiousness or sensuality (cf. NASV,NIV,ESV). It speaks of a decadent society devoted to pleasure.

The Christians in Ephesus used to live like that. But Paul tells them to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to deceitful lusts” (v. 22). He goes on in verses 25-32 (and indeed the entire rest of the epistle) to list the behaviors that acceptable and unacceptable. They were to put away all lying, anger, stealing and foul language. “Let all put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (vv. 31,32). In other words, Christianity is everything about how we live, and how a Christian lives should stand in sharp contrast with how the rest of society lives. The Christian life is supposed to be a life of non-conformity.

Ms. Evans complains that “the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules.” In some churches that may be the case, and she may have felt that way as a young adolescent chafing under parental control. But that is not the way it is supposed to be. True holiness begins in the heart and mind. “. . . and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,” Paul says (v. 23). Having denounced a whole list of sinful behaviors, Paul concludes by pointing to the inward attitude of the heart: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted. . .” (v. 32). True righteousness flows from the heart, and sinful behavior is sinful precisely because it is contrary to the love of Christ that should fill the heart.

This, in turn, presupposes the actual experience of salvation and the real relationship with Christ that follows. Having described the moral corruption of Gentile society Paul says, “But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as the truth is in Jesus” (vv. 20,21; NASV). To “hear Him” means to sense Christ Himself calling you to salvation. To be “taught in Him” means to learn as one is “in Him,” i.e., to know Him personally and to have His Holy Spirit dwelling in your heart. The Christian thus taught has a new perspective on life, a new value system, and new motives. He is no longer content merely to go through life living for himself, seeking pleasure wherever he can find it, and exploiting others to his own advantage. He has a higher calling and purpose in life, and the world with all its tawdry tinsel and toys has no attraction for him. He is a changed person, a “new man,” with a renewed heart, and he could never go back to his former manner of life.

The proper aim of Christianity is not to become more like the world, either in style or in substance. The church is not called to base its doctrine or its practice on public opinion polls. Rather, it is supposed to follow Christ in the path of discipleship. And this requires a life of non-conformity.