Archive for the ‘ Biblical Principles ’ Category

Principle: A Biblical Form of Government (Part II)

As Samuel the prophet was stepping down from his role as judge in Israel, the people demanded a change in the government’s structure. They didn’t trust Samuel’s sons to judge righteously, so they asked instead for a king. We’re told of this episode in I Samuel 8:4-22, and it is quite a remarkable account of how to destroy a God-given governmental system.

The elders of Israel came to Samuel and said, “Now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” That’s a clue right there that they were not listening to God or honoring His ways. Whenever we want to do something simply because it’s what everyone else does, we are on the wrong foundation already.

Their demand displeased Samuel, but when he prayed, the Lord told him to do as they wanted. Why? It was obvious they didn’t want to be obedient and remain in God’s governmental structure. He wouldn’t force them to do so. Yet he told Samuel to warn them of the consequences.

The list of consequences that Samuel gives is rather long, but to summarize: if you get a king, he will take everything of value away from you—your property, your money, even your family. After going through this litany of evil results, Samuel then warns:

When that day comes [when you have become the king’s slaves], you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.

You would think that particular consequence would be enough to make them rethink their foolish request, but instead they answered:

No, we want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.

When it came right down to it, they didn’t really believe Samuel’s warnings. Notice the other rationale besides the desire to be like all the other nations: they want this king to fight their battles for them.

We have the same blindness today. We somehow believe that the government will take care of us and provide everything we need. And America seems to be drifting into the same type of system that now dominates Europe. We are becoming like all the other nations.

We don’t really believe all the warnings.

Principle: A Biblical Form of Government (Part I)

I believe God is interested in how we govern. Since He is the Creator of all things, perhaps we ought to pay attention to what He has said about it.

We must start with a defintion. What do we mean by a “form” of government? A form is a manner or system, a stated method or practice, or an appropriate arrangement of parts. What then is a Biblical form? Substitute those words for “form” and we have:

  • A Biblical manner of system of government
  • A Biblical method or practice of government
  • A Biblical arrangement of the distinct parts of the government

Then we can look at the history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament for clues to how God wanted them to be governed. We get our best clues from the account of Moses leading the children of Israel through the desert.

Moses by Michelangelo

Moses by Michelangelo

When Moses tried to rule by himself, he almost wore himself out. His father-in-law, Jethro, advised him to find others to help. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses later explained his procedure for finding these men, when he comments that he had previously told the people:

Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.

He then appointed them to be over “thousands, and of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens, and officers” for the tribes.

Finally, he instructed them to judge righteously within each tribe, but if any case was too hard for the tribal leaders, they could bring it to him.

What was actually set up here was something quite similar to a federal republic. There was representation: the people of the tribes chose their own local leaders. There were different levels of government: most of the governing was accomplished at the tribal level; only those cases too difficult for them were to be taken to the higher level, which at the time was Moses himself.

When they entered into the Promised Land, the people maintained this form of government for quite some time. God apparently sanctioned it. It was a form of government that allowed maximum self-government, and minimized power at the very top. That was reserved for special cases only. Therefore, I conclude that this system is not too different from the original intent of the American Constitution.

What happened to this form of government? Why did it change over time? What were the consequences of this change? More in the next post.

Principle: Unity & Union (Part II)

Building on the concept that unions must be voluntary and that there must be internal unity before an external union can be successful, we can look at examples in certain nations. Remember the old Soviet Union? The official name was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—one of the most dishonest names imaginable.

First, it wasn’t a true republic—that would have required representation and the protection of inalienable rights, ideas foreign to its government. Neither was it a true union as understood by this principle. Look at the map below:

Notice all the appendages to the Soviet Union—places such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. None of them were eager to join this “union.” They were forced into it; voluntary consent was not an option.

This union held together for about 70 years, but when the central government could no longer keep it in line militarily, most of those appendages broke away and became independent nations. The reason? There never was any real unity.

The United States, on the other hand, provides a different image at its founding. Unique for its time [and pretty much ever since], the United States came together voluntarily, based on common agreement on basic principles. We had a consensus on the essentials: a Christian framework for understanding the nature of man; the need for a representative government that divided powers to protect from tyranny; the belief in inalienable rights granted to man by God.

It has been a model much imitated, but rarely with the same Biblical foundation. The Founders, despite their disagreements on specifics, were united on the general principles. They could hold a convention, write a Constitution, debate it in all the states, and voluntarily set up a new government. They accomplished all this because of their common worldview.

What would happen if we tried to hold a constitutional convention today? What consensus do we have now? How have we changed as a people? Would there be any hope for agreement? I submit that we are polarized as a society, one segment retaining the original Biblical framework, another rejecting it totally, and the mass of citizens in the middle, not really knowing what they believe.

We can wring our hands over this situation or . . . we can see it as an opportunity to speak Biblical truth into our society. I choose the latter.

Principle: Unity & Union (Part I)

In politics, we are always hearing appeals for “bipartisanship.” That’s great in theory, but overlooks a basic reality. A Biblical prinicple that I call “unity and union” helps explain.

Those two words—unity and union—are not the same. Unity is an internal voluntary agreement; union is the external joining of two or more things into one. External unions should be built on internal unity. They really need to be voluntary unions for them to succeed. Forced unions that lack unity will ultimately fail.

The prophet Amos put it this way: Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?

I don’t think Amos was opening up a discussion with that statement. It was meant to be rhetorical. Everyone understands that agreement is necessary for people to work together.

That’s why so many of the calls for bipartisanship are hollow. It will work only if two people or groups are united in a few things first: beliefs, purposes, goals, interests, and something called unity of spirit.

When I was in junior high, I joined the science club. I think I did so simply because I liked the science teacher. That provided some basis for my being part of that union, but it wasn’t sufficient. At one meeting, we all held hands while the teacher made contact with a battery. The shock that went through each of us convinced me that I lacked sufficient unity of purpose with the rest of those students. I didn’t consider that to be a “thrill.” I dropped out of the club.

In politics, if I firmly hold to a belief about how government should operate, or if I have strong, principled reasons for a policy position I hold, I cannot set aside those beliefs just for the sake of working together with others. The result might be a denial of basic principles that I consider essential to the proper working of government or that would lead to ungodly policies.

Being bipartisan is fine as long as you don’t deny truth, but we have been called to stand up for truth. For Christians, first and foremost, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and it is that truth only that will set people free. Further, only His truths—principles—will be beneficial for society. If I ever set those aside, I am denying Him.

Principle: Property–Christian Communism? (Part II)

Some Biblical interpreters note a particular incident in the early church that, they say, indicates God is in favor of communism. They refer to the Ananias and Sapphira story.

As believers were voluntarily selling property and giving the proceeds to the apostles to help the needy (see the previous post for a fuller explanation of this), one couple, Ananias and Sapphira, came up with a little scheme. They sold some property and brought part of the profit to the Apostle Peter, declaring that this was the entire profit, even though they had kept back a portion for themselves. The Biblical account tells us that God struck them dead for this deed.

Ananias Struck Down by the Lord for His Hypocrisy

Ananias Struck Down by the Lord for His Hypocrisy

“See,” we are told, “God judged them for continuing to hold private property. They were struck down because they kept some for themselves.” Not exactly.

If we look at the text, we are told precisely why they were judged, and it has nothing to do with owning property.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.

It is obvious from this passage that Peter is not condemning Ananias for owning land. He makes it clear that it belonged to Ananias, and that he could have done whatever he wished with the profit–it was his to dispose of as he chose. Peter also points to the real sin here: lying/hypocrisy. Ananias and Sapphira were attempting to appear they were giving all the proceeds of the sale to the church, while secretly holding back. They wanted people to think they were doing a wonderful thing, when in fact they were not.

So, bottom line: they were judged for being liars and hypocrites. They could have used that money for anything they wished; instead, they deliberately decided to deceive. There is nothing in this passage that mandates communism for Christians.

Christian communism? An oxymoron.

Principle: Property–Christian Communism? (Part I)

Is God’s design that the church model communism? Some point to the example of the early church in Jerusalem in the book of Acts where we are told,

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:32, 34-35)

Well, that settles it then, right? Owning private property is wrong; you should turn it all over to the authorities who will distribute to those who have a need. Sounds like the Marxist maxim, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

There is only one big problem with that interpretation: the Acts example was one of voluntary giving, while communism is one of coerced giving. In fact, that can’t really be called giving at all. Coercion and giving are inherently contradictory. The believers in the passage above saw a need and, from their hearts, chose to sell what was rightfully theirs to help their brothers and sisters. There is no indication of coercion; neither is there any further indication in the entire New Testament that the practice of the early church was to force everyone to forfeit private property.

And what precisely were they selling? If they actually sold the houses they lived in, that would make them homeless. Now someone else would have to take care of them; they would have made themselves a burden to the entire church. I believe that what they sold was property they had in abundance that they decided could be put to better use for the benefit of all–extra land, a second home, etc.

Confused About Communism?

Confused About Communism?

There is a clear difference between giving from one’s heart and being told by an authority that you are now going to “give.” When Obama was accused during the campaign of promoting redistribution of people’s money, he tried to make a joke about it, saying that his critics would probably accuse him of being a communist if, as a kindergartener, he shared his toys with other children.

Either he was being disingenuous or he really doesn’t grasp the distinction. If it was the former, he is counting on the political and economic illiteracy of the American people to shield him from close scrutiny. If it was the latter, it reveals that he is a profound economic illiterate. Neither option bodes well.

Christian communism? Another refutation in the next post.

Principle: Property–The Intangibles

Mention property, and nearly everyone will focus on material possessions. We naturally think in terms of money, land, homes, etc., as being the essence of property. Yet those are merely the external forms of property–the things we can see or touch. There are other properties that are more significant, and which form the basis for the external properties.

God has given us internal properties: a mind with which to think; emotions with which we can interact with the world and others; a will that determines our actions; a conscience that informs us of right and wrong; a spirit, which is the eternal part of us (although it will be joined to a resurrection body as well).

How we handle these properties–mind, emotions, will, conscience–will make all the difference as to where that eternal spirit will reside. Our thoughts need to be taken captive to the love of God; our emotions must be directed by our thoughts; our will must be submitted to God’s will; our conscience will let us know which path to follow, and when we have failed to follow the right one.

The conscience is delicate. The apostle Paul talks about a “seared conscience.” What does that mean?

Look at it this way. If you violate your conscience once (this can apply to any particular sin), you feel remorse for doing so. But if you resist that feeling, and never repent of the sin, the next time you do it, you won’t feel quite as bad as the first time. The more often you repeat the sin, the less your conscience is going to bother you. Finally, you can commit that sin without feeling any remorse or regret. It doesn’t make the sin any less sinful, but you no longer respond to the conscience God gave you.

Each of those internal properties are gifts from God. They need to be appreciated as gifts, and we must be good stewards of them. When we misuse them, we suffer what Paul calls a shipwrecked faith. When those who claim the name of Christ violate their consciences, we contribute to the spiritual devastation in the world.

This does not have to be the norm. We can obey God. We can be the examples He wants us to be. We can bring His principles to bear on the world. We can make a difference!