Archive for the ‘ Biblical Principles ’ Category

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!

Principle: Property/Stewardship

Throughout this blog, I’ve pointed to a number of principles upon which Christians should base their thinking. If we would analyze everything through these principles, we would come to more Biblically based conclusions.

The principle of property is very important. If you look at property from a worldly perspective, you see it potentially in a number of ways. For instance, one can be quite selfish and focus entirely on accumulating “things.” This is one end of the spectrum. The other end is believing that elimination of property is the key to universal peace and harmony. Both are wrong.

The Christian, in thinking about property, should remember this one salient fact: all things really belong to God. We are merely the temporary receptors of what He has given us. So, more properly understood, the principle of property is a principle of stewardship. That word isn’t used much in the world anymore, but it needs to be. A steward is someone who has been given the responsibility to manage the affairs of another. This world, and all it contains, comes from the hand of God. We are allowed to use what He has made. But we will be held accountable for how we use His gifts.

All that we have is a gift. We didn’t “earn” anything, in the proper sense. If we realize that, we become grateful rather than complaining. I also used the plural–gifts–on purpose. We are not stewards of material possessions only. There are gifts that are intangible, that cannot be held in one’s hand.

What are they? More on that in the next post.

American Self-Government: Example #2

All of America’s early colonies had legislatures of their own. Most of them, from the start, had been allowed self-government in their charters. When the British government began to change the rules by taxing them without any representation in Parliament, the colonies reacted. Their first line of defense was the charters they had been given.

When the British government dismissed their arguments, they turned instead to the idea that God had given each person the right to direct his own life, and that self-government was an inalienable gift from God. They put that in a document that has inspired people all over the world (except perhaps in Muslim nations). It was the Declaration of Independence.

Presenting the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress

Presenting the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress

In this document, the Continental Congress stated that the right to liberty was an inalienable right provided by God. It was the official beginning of what is normally called the American Revolution.

I tell my classes that I think “American Revolution” is not really the best description of that event. I don’t think these early Americans were all that revolutionary. Instead, their primary purpose was to preserve what they thought was the essence of their British heritage. Based on that, I have a name that I prefer: The American War for Continued Self-Government.

Now, I know it isn’t very pithy, but it is a much more accurate description of what took place. The colonies had experienced self-government for most of their existence. Britain was threatening to overrule them and wipe out their ability to make their own laws. Their response was to defend their long-established right. Therefore, this was a war to continue what they had been doing for a century and a half. It truly was a war for continued self-government.

Do we care about this anymore? Are we willing to defend the right of the United States to make its own choices in the world without first asking permission of other nations? As a country, we must continue to assert our right to self-government.

American Self-Government: Example #1

They were called Separatists in their native England. They got this name because they couldn’t abide being part of a state church where the government controlled the worship and doctrine. So they set up their own churches based on their understanding of how God wanted His church to work, following what they perceived to be the model in the New Testament.

When they set up these churches, they had to start from scratch with church government. Consequently, they relied on covenants, where each member voluntarily joined together with others to agree on the rules by which they would be governed. No authority from above told them what to do; they simply did it.

They were persecuted and had to leave their homeland. Holland allowed them to worship as they pleased, but they longed for a country of their own. That’s when the decided to sail for the New World.

They were blown off course and were unable to land where the charter under which they sailed had authority. That led some of the hired men to talk of the “liberty” they would have once they got off the ship. The covenanted settlers knew they would have a problem on their hands with a group of people who were eager to be in a place without established government. That is why they wrote up their own covenant for civil government.

Drawing Up the Mayflower Compact

Drawing Up the Mayflower Compact

We now call those early settlers “The Pilgrims.” The document they wrote is the Mayflower Compact. It’s not a long document. It merely says that they will obey whatever government is set up. But that was enough. It was the beginning of true self-government in America, from people who already were used to governing themselves in their churches. We continue to look back on that model of self-government today (at least where anything about the Pilgrims may still be taught). A group of dedicated Christians showed the way.

How are we handling self-government in our day? Do we really believe in it anymore? When we look to Washington, DC, to provide for us and to take care of all our problems, what is left of the spirit of self-government?

I hope it’s not too late to revive this principle.