Proper Christian Criticism

Question: Is it right for a Christian to write a blog such as mine and include pointed criticisms of the government and its leaders? Shouldn’t I, instead, humbly accept whatever the government does, in the spirit of Christ? Fair question. Here’s my response.

OT ProphetRead the Bible. Start with the Old Testament and all the denunciations of the government delivered by faithful men of God. No king ever had a free pass. Read the prophets and realize that those prophetic books are filled with declarations of how the government has denied God’s truth and is poised to suffer His judgment.

Go over to the New Testament. Read about how John the Baptist criticized both the civil and religious leaders of his day. He spoke directly and forcibly. And what of Jesus? Did He sin when he took a whip and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple because they were profaning the worship of God? Did He spare the feelings of the Pharisees when he called them whitewashed tombs?

I’m afraid some Christians have a false image of what it means to be the representatives of Christ on earth. Yes, we offer the love of God. Yes, we show people how they can receive His forgiveness and become part of His family, now and into eternity. But in order to receive God’s love and forgiveness, people need to be confronted with their sins first. They need to grasp the need for repentance and lay down their pride.

We also have a commission to do what the apostle Paul described in his second letter to the Corinthians:

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Every generation has its speculations and lofty ideas that contradict the truth of God’s Word. We are commissioned to combat those false notions with His truth. No one in a society, no matter the position, from the lowest to the highest, is exempt from criticism when that person is deviating from the truth.

Obama Arrogant Look 2That applies especially to those who wield immense influence over others. When a president endorses abortion on demand, exalts the sin of homosexuality and seeks to destroy the Biblical concept of marriage, oversteps all legal boundaries on his authority, attempts to silence those who disagree with him, uses his office to divide the nation into groups continually at odds with one another, and constantly displays an arrogance and sense of entitlement that directs all his actions, one would be derelict of one’s Christian duty to simply accept this and say nothing in opposition to the nature of this president’s reign.

Christians are to be salt, preserving the good in a society. Christians are to be light, revealing the path of righteousness. One cannot preserve the good or show the path of righteousness without simultaneously highlighting that which is evil and unrighteous. Both are essential. That is what I attempt to do. That is what I will continue to do.

Finney: Can Sin & Holiness Coexist?

One reason, I think, for the weakness of the Church today (and by Church I mean the universal Church, not any particular denomination) is the acceptance of the idea that a person can be a Christian in good standing with God while actively sinning. Sin is rebellion. How can one be in a state of rebellion and be loving God simultaneously? Yet when we teach this, we are making people comfortable in their sins, allowing them to continue in deception.

Charles Finney 6Charles Finney spoke out forcefully against this all-too-prevalent concept, and I agree with his following comments:

The theory of the mixed character of moral actions is an eminently dangerous theory, as it leads its advocates to suppose that in their acts of rebellion there is something holy, or, more strictly, there is some holiness in them while they are in the known commission of sin.

It is dangerous because it leads its advocates to place the standard of conversion, or regeneration, exceedingly low–to make regeneration, repentance, true love to God, faith, etc., consistent with the known or conscious commission of present sin.

This must be a highly dangerous philosophy. . . . There can scarcely be a more dangerous error than to say, that while we are conscious of present sin, we are or can be in a state of acceptance with God.

Some people reject that analysis because it seems to say that every time one sins, one may lose his salvation. But here is the plain truth of the Scripture: sin separates from God; Jesus came to save us from [Greek word meaning "out of or away from] our sins; our salvation is not just a legal justification through the Cross but a humbling of ourselves and a changed life that makes Jesus Christ Lord of all our motives, thoughts, and actions.

Salvation is not just some technicality because you have prayed a rote prayer. Salvation is an ongoing, continuous relationship with the God of the universe. If the relationship is broken, how can that be called salvation? What have you been saved from if you are continuing in sin?

As the apostle John warned,

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. . . .

The one who says, “I have come to know Him, and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. . . .

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. . . .

No one who is born of God practices sin. . . . By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God.

This is not a message of condemnation, but of hope. When we truly commit our lives to the Lord, we will grow in the knowledge of Him and in our ability to turn from those sins that bound us in our former life without Him. If we really know Him, sin becomes the rarity in our lives, not the norm.

Christians & Politics: My Statement of Faith

Biblical WorldviewI sincerely hope the thoughts I share on this blog can be seen as coming from a heart of deep concern for the truths of the Christian faith, the edifying of believers, and the instruction of those who may be outside that faith. I skewer whatever deserves to be skewered, seeking to do so in the same manner as Jesus cleansing the temple of those who made a mockery of real worship.

Therefore, I try to be charitable toward those who may disagree with me, and I don’t want to be a source of disunity in the Body of Christ. Yet I must speak up with respect to those things that make us ineffective and/or disconnected to the reality of the political and governmental realm. I’m going to disagree today with some brothers and sisters who don’t like Christians getting involved with politics, but I won’t name any names. This is not intended as any kind of a personal attack on those who are in disagreement.

The spark for today’s commentary is the increasing number of articles, blog posts, and passing comments on social media warning Christians not to be tied to a conservative political agenda. Those of us who write or speak out on political issues are being taken to a verbal woodshed by some, and being accused of putting politics ahead of the Gospel.

God & GovernmentI hope regular readers of this blog will recognize my constant reminders that the basic problem in the world is man’s broken relationship with God, a divide that can be healed only through the cross of Christ. There is nothing more important than leading people to that truth. Neither have I placed any false hope in government; it never will be our savior. Politics is definitely a dirty business, but then so is the running of a corporation at times, being involved in a labor union, or any other human endeavor.

Politics, however, and the potential power of government to dictate our lives, affects us all. It can be a hindrance to the Gospel and to individuals who want to live in accordance with the Lord’s commands. It can penalize believers who want to operate their businesses on Biblical principles. It can restrict the interchange of ideas and beliefs. A climate of intolerance—in the name of tolerance—can seek to make everyone conform to what a government concludes is “right” thinking.

This is why I’ve always contended that Christians need to be involved in political affairs, not to set up a theocracy, but to safeguard the religious liberty bequeathed to us by the Founding Generation.

Whenever I speak to any political group, I make it clear that my political beliefs are grounded on my understanding of the Christian worldview as explained in the Bible. I am a Christian first and foremost; if my views line up with a certain political stance, it’s not because I’m a slave to a political party or movement; instead, I align with a party or movement to the extent that it reflects my Biblical beliefs and values.

One well-known pastor recently said he was concerned that evangelicals are turning people off to the Gospel because of our perceived political stance. What stance does he mean? If he means we are against abortion, so be it. If he means we continue to believe homosexuality is a sin and that there is no valid “gay” marriage, I can live with that. With the former, I am arguing against the mass murder of innocent children. With the latter, I am standing up for a God-ordained concept of sexuality and family. What are we supposed to do—apologize for those views? Run away from them? Hide them so as to not offend people?

PersecutionLet’s be clear. Jesus offended a lot of people. He told us that the Gospel message would lead to persecution and would divide families. His message led to His death because He challenged the religious/political establishment of His day. The apostle Paul said that all who desire to live godly lives would most certainly be persecuted.

Who are we? What do we have to offer as a church? Is our goal to make people feel comfortable in their sins?

Here’s what concerns me more than any political chicanery or threat to religious liberty: that the church in our day either minimizes or excuses sin; that we redefine sins such as homosexuality as just another alternative lifestyle and God accepts everyone; that we don’t really call sinners to repentance because we don’t want to damage their self-esteem; that we’re so focused on being liked and accepted in the mainstream of society that we will change the Gospel to fit current trends.

To those who are airing warnings against political activity, let me assure you that most of us on this side of the divide understand the potential dangers. Yes, some people seem to equate patriotism with being a Christian. Yes, some may come close to thinking that there can be a political solution to our crises. But I contend they are a minority.

Can you see the other danger? Too much concern about political involvement may be based upon a dichotomous worldview that separates religious faith from the so-called secular arena. It then allows the ungodly to run those “secular” entities and just hopes for the best. Some may call that trusting God, but I submit that it may instead be running away from a godly responsibility.

Salt & LightI realize some who are sounding these warnings are doing so from a good heart and simply want the Gospel to be primary. I argue that making the Gospel primary means the Good News affects all aspects of our lives and that we take that message into every realm of our society. We are not lights to be put under a bushel; we are not to be tasteless salt. We are to help preserve that which is good in society and shine a light to show people the way out of that which is evil.

Of course that requires a clear understanding of good and evil. We must never change God’s standards. We must stand for His truth even in a culture that is spiraling out of control away from His truth. We need to encourage one another to stand firm and to be the best representatives of His love that we can be. That begins with a strong denunciation of sin, the absolute requirement of repentance, and the offer of unbounded forgiveness to all who will repent of their sin. That is the Good News; that is the Gospel.

Lewis : Willing Slaves of the Welfare State

C. S. Lewis didn’t write a lot specifically about civil government because that wasn’t his priority. Yet when he did write on the subject, he was lucid and devastating with respect to how government can become a terror to individuals. One of his essays in God in the Dock is entitled “Is Progress Possible?” but the subtitle really gets to the point of the essay: “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.” He knew whereof he spoke, writing this in 1958 Britain, which was fast becoming a deadening welfare state at that point.

There’s so much in this essay that I’m going to divide it into two posts. This first one concentrates on the problem of what Lewis calls the “changed relationship between Government and subjects.” He begins with a dissection of our new attitude to crime:

C. S. Lewis 2I will mention the trainloads of Jews delivered at the German gas-chambers. It seems shocking to suggest a common element, but I think one exists. On the humanitarian view all crime is pathological; it demands not retributive punishment but cure. This separates the criminal’s treatment from the concepts of justice and desert; a “just cure” is meaningless. . . .

If society can mend, remake, and unmake men at its pleasure, its pleasure may, of course, be humane or homicidal. The difference is important. But, either way, rulers have become owners.

Note the clear insight that Lewis draws here: society is beginning to take away the idea of sin and personal responsibility—and punishment for evil actions—and replace it with the concept that all “evil” is just some kind of aberration that can be “treated.” And who is responsible for the treatment? Why, the government, of course. It will decide how to remake you in its own image.

Lewis continues:

Observe how the “humane” attitude to crime could operate. If crimes are diseases, why should diseases be treated differently from crimes? And who but the experts can define disease?

One school of psychology regards my religion as a neurosis. If this neurosis ever becomes inconvenient to Government, what is to prevent my being subjected to a compulsory “cure.”? It may be painful; treatments sometimes are. But it will be no use asking, “What have I done to deserve this?” The Straighteners will reply: “But, my dear fellow, no one’s blaming you. We no longer believe in retributive justice. We’re healing you.”

How contemporary as I survey the scene in America today, where Biblical morality is under attack as “hateful,” and where those who adhere to God’s standard are becoming subject to “re-education” directed by government fiat. Lewis saw this coming and shuddered at the loss of liberty attached to the new attitude:

This would be no more than an extreme application of the political philosophy implicit in most modern communities. It has stolen on us unawares. Two wars necessitated vast curtailments of liberty, and we have grown, though grumblingly, accustomed to our chains.

The increasing complexity and precariousness of our economic life have forced Government to take over many spheres of activity once left to choice or chance. Our intellectuals have surrendered first to the slave-philosophy of Hegel, then to Marx, finally to linguistic analysis.

As a result, classical political theory, with its Stoical, Christian, and juristic key-conceptions (natural law, the value of the individual, the rights of man), has died. The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good—anyway, to do something to us or to make us something.

Hence the new name “leaders” for those who were once “rulers.” We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, “Mind your own business.” Our whole lives are their business.

I challenge you to reread these excerpts again and see if a chill doesn’t rise up your spine at Lewis’s description of the modern state. We see his prophetic utterance coming to fruition in our day.

More on this tomorrow.

Technology Is Not the Problem

Self-centeredness is not new. We see it as the reason for the Fall in the Garden, and it has been the root of all sin ever since. Is the new generation emerging into adulthood more self-centered than previous ones? It may be fashionable to say so, but perhaps modern selfishness is just exhibiting itself in different ways; the heart of man never changes without redemption through Christ.

Our technological advancements showcase our selfishness more. Whereas in the past it was unseemly to appear too self-centered, now we practically celebrate it:

Narcissistic Generation

All too often, even though we connect with the world more than before, we do so from a safe distance, offering false aid to those in need:

Do Something

We comfort our conscience by the fact that we have “done” something, even if that something is wholly ineffective. I noted in a previous post how silly it is to think that terrorists who have kidnapped young girls will cower in fear because someone—even at the highest level of government—shows a sign with a hashtag on it. That accomplishes nothing.

Then there are those who are simply reactionaries; they have their own ways of dealing with the new age:

Resistance Movement

I don’t resist new things; I just want them to be used in a way that furthers God’s truth. Some railed against movies and television when they first appeared. That’s pointless. Technology will continue to enter new spheres. We shouldn’t avoid it, but we need to be very careful not to be ruled by it. The computer age can allow man to go deeper into sin than ever, but it also holds the promise of spreading the Kingdom of God in ways never before imagined. Technology is not the problem; the self-centeredness (i.e., sinfulness) of man is. No matter how far technology advances, man’s sin problem remains.

Whatever Happened to Sin, Guilt, & Shame?

I’m hardly the first or only person to comment on how we seem to have lost a sense of shame. There’s rarely, at least among the political leadership, the news media, and the entertainment segments of our society, any embarrassment over actions that used to bring public disgrace. The opposite now seems to be happening: outrageous, disgusting behavior is either ignored or rewarded.

Yet how can one feel shame if one has no sense of guilt over that behavior? Why has guilt gone the way of shame? Let’s trace it back to the loss of belief in sin and one’s accountability before God for one’s thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We used to be a society that had a set standard of right and wrong based on Biblical morality. While that’s not completely gone, we are now experimenting with what a society might be like if it jettisons Biblical morality entirely. We are seeing the wreckage all around.

One of the more obvious symptoms of a deceived heart is the outward acceptance of—no, make that the active push for—homosexuality. What was once considered deviant behavior is now encouraged. When anyone comes out of some kind of supposed closet, society applauds the “courage” it takes to make that public declaration of deviance. We are in the process of redefining right and wrong. Wrong is now intolerance of previously degenerate behavior. It’s the Christians who continue to hold to the former standard of morality who are now perceived as the real threat to societal harmony.

The most blatant example, of course, is same-sex marriage, an oxymoron of the highest caliber. The sad tale of Brendan Eich, who is now the former CEO of Mozilla simply because he made a contribution to the California effort back in 2008 to maintain the traditional concept of marriage as between one man and one woman, is the latest warning to those of us who are not going to bow before the new gods of immorality.

Mozilla

We used to be concerned about genuine threats to the safety of the nation, such as when underground communists were stealing nuclear secrets and placing their devotees in key positions within the government. That’s passé.

Traditional Marriage

Culture can change without the government’s aid. However, when the government is in on it as well, it provides a greater impetus for that change. The current administration has led the way. It began with the refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and gradually morphed into outright promotion of same-sex marriage, linking it to the civil rights movement. We have an administration that picks and chooses which laws it will support. That puts us on the cusp of utter lawlessness:

The Law

Whether it’s the push for same-sex marriage, the attempt to force businesses to provide abortion services, or the desire to silence political opponents through the agency of the IRS, we are at a precarious place. The rule of law is on the verge of extinction because we have destroyed the Biblical concepts of sin, guilt, and shame. Only by restoring those will we restore what we have lost as a people.

Defining Sin & Salvation

Usually on Sundays, I excerpt something from Charles Finney, who, I believe, was one of the clearest thinkers in church history when it comes to grasping the need for conviction of sin and repentance as conditions for salvation. In the spirit of Finney, I’d like to offer some thoughts today that I hope may clarify where I’m coming from in my understanding of sin, repentance, and the essence of salvation. I’ll do my best to make these comments succinct.

Some readers of this blog may have a misunderstanding of my concept of sin. Because I talk often abut the obvious sins that are threatening our society as a whole—abortion and homosexuality probably being the most prominent—they may think those particular problems are my ultimate focus and my definition of sin. No, they are merely manifestations of the real problem. They are sinful actions, but they stem from something deeper.

What is sin, exactly? My reading of Scripture informs me that sin is rebellion against the altogether reasonable and righteous commands of God. I don’t believe God lays out laws for our misery, but rather for our well-being. He knows far better than we do what virtue consists of and why it is best for us. When we depart from His path, we are setting ourselves up for disaster. That’s why He warns us to examine ourselves.

Motive of the HeartAll sin begins in the heart, which can be defined as the will and motive for our actions. There are only two ultimate intentions in life: to act for the glory of God or for our own selfish gain. Even if we never descend into outward actions that are considered notorious, we are sinners nevertheless for our inward choice to do what we want to do, contrary to the will of God.

Murder [both outside the womb and within], sexual immorality [both hetero- and homo-], and every other type of sinful behavior is committed first in the mind, then transferred to the heart, and finally manifested in action. But even if someone does not follow through on the outward action, the sin still has been committed—God judges the heart.

Outwardly, a person may be “good” in the artificial sense in which most people judge goodness. A person may be “nice” in temperament, give time and money to “worthy” causes, and even be quite adept at God-talk. Yet that same person may have never faced up to his inner rebellion, never come to the point of genuine repentance for sin, and never seriously considered humbling himself at the cross of Christ to receive forgiveness. There are a lot of people who have a wish to follow God, but that wish never translates into action. That leads to an attempt to prove oneself worthy of heaven by concentrating on external good deeds.

PhariseesBut the Lord will always look at the heart first. That’s why Jesus made some rather harsh statements about the Pharisees of His time. I like the wording of Matthew 23 in the Message version:

 You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?

You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

The thrust of Jesus’ argument is that it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, but what’s on the inside. No matter how good one may look, if the heart does not belong wholly to God, it’s all a sham. We will be nothing more than frauds and hypocrites.

Sin, therefore, is in the heart, and that’s where it must be dealt with. When it is acknowledged and sincerely repented of, one can then receive the forgiveness offered through Christ. And when the heart is cleansed, sin is avoided in the future and the desire is to be everything God wants us to be. Righteousness doesn’t become a burden, but a blessing.

The apostle John put it this way in his first letter:

Do we love God? Do we keep His commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep His commandments, and they are not at all troublesome.

It’s not hard to do what God requires when we have come to love Him and live in gratitude for His love for us. That’s genuine salvation.

Salvation