Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Were Christ's Disciples Against Roman Rule?

As I continue to develop my philosophies on faith and authority, an important question is raised in my mind: Were the disciples of Christ against Roman rule? Did they harbor hatred in their hearts against the violent and cruel government under which they lived? Did they subject themselves to the law, as the New Testament instructs, while simultaneously praying for the government to collapse so that a Jewish (or Judeo-Christian) theocracy could be reestablished?

In discussing these questions, we should keep in mind two important concepts that are easily forgotten. The first is that any government, cruel or otherwise, is made up of people, and only of people. It is not possible to hate a government and love the people who make up the government at the same time. Such a concept is absurd. It follows that, since Christ's teachings have their basis in love, the disciples of Christ could not hate the government. The appropriate question, therefore, is whether they considered them enemies who should be loved, as Christ instructed (Matthew 5:44). The answer is almost certainly yes, since the Romans were unclean Gentiles from another nation who trampled on God's Holy Land daily. Who could be a greater enemy to the Jews at that time?

The second forgettable concept is that at least a few of Jesus' disciples recognized that, as God's Son, He had a role in establishing Roman rule over His own people. Jesus Himself, having the fullness of the Godhead in Him (Colossians 2:9), set up the Roman government over Israel (Romans 13:1), and it was He who taught His followers to love their enemies.

Many Jews at the time of Christ's appearance on the earth may have recognized God's hand in setting up the Romans over Israel. Some probably assumed that He had allowed the Romans to take over because of sin, while others may have considered Him to have caused it, rather than simply allowing it. There were plenty of prophetic texts in their scriptures to support God's activity in setting up rulers to punish Israel. But the disciples lived with God in a very literal sense. They knew Him face-to-face and heard His teachings on love. They knew that He was asking them to love cruel people whom He himself had set up as their rulers.

They took this teaching to heart and applied it in surprising ways. Hear the words of the chief disciple, Peter, in 1 Peter 2:11-17:
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
These words of Peter hardly reflect the attitude of a man who is against the government. How could he feel the way he did, knowing the cruelty of the Romans? The answer is in the first part of the quote above: the honorable conduct and good works of the church among the Gentiles would cause them to glorify God. By the time Peter wrote these words, he had long since realized that Jesus' gospel message and His salvation were for Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 11:15-18). While Peter's ministry was primarily to Jews in Jerusalem, he had daily interactions with Gentiles and probably saw Roman soldiers throughout the city every day. As he followed after Christ, he had a heart for reaching them as well as his Jewish brothers.

Although they taught a certain way of conducting ourselves in our daily behavior among nonbelievers, as Christ did, Peter and the other apostles said nothing about their inner desires concerning the continuation or discontinuation of Roman rule over Israel. Clearly they wanted the church to focus on the gospel of Christ and on living our lives in obedience to Him, for His glory. They probably assumed that Jewish converts to Christianity wished to no longer be under the thumb of the Romans, even while they subjected themselves under Gentile law. But there was no need to write about ending Roman rule in their letters to the churches. It was more profitable to encourage the brethren to love the Gentiles and to recognize that the Roman soldiers and rulers were God's ministers for good and for avenging evil (Romans 13:3-4).

There is a third concept we should keep in mind. It is possible to live a certain way, subjecting ourselves under man's law as the Bible instructs, and to simultaneously pray in a seemingly opposite way, asking God to end the cruelty of men in the government. This is a similar concept to one with which we are familiar: It is possible to love a sinner while hating the sin we see them do. Governments are made up of people, as I noted above. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, which allows for us to continue recognizing them as enemies while loving them in every possible way. Therefore, Jesus' disciples could follow every command of their Roman authorities and go far beyond what was asked (Matthew 5:39-41) while still considering them enemies. They could love the Romans with everything they had and still pray for the restoration of Israel as an independent nation. Whether this was actually a part of their prayer life is something we can't know for sure, but we can allow for the possibility.

But could they pray for the end of something that God Himself had established? Most certainly. There are several cases in the Bible of intercessory prayer by men of God for their people when God had decided to punish Israel. The prophet Jeremiah respectfully pointed out the evils he saw when God brought Babylon against Israel to punish her:
Look, the siege mounds! They have come to the city to take it; and the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it, because of the sword and famine and pestilence. What You have spoken has happened; there You see it! (Jeremiah 32:24)
The prophet Isaiah prayed an even more direct prayer when the evil deeds of Israel's Assyrian rulers grieved him: 

Do not be furious, O LORD,
Nor remember iniquity forever;
Indeed, please look—we all are Your people!
Your holy cities are a wilderness,
Zion is a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and beautiful temple,
Where our fathers praised You,
Is burned up with fire;
And all our pleasant things are laid waste.
Will You restrain Yourself because of these things, O LORD?
Will You hold Your peace, and afflict us very severely? (Isaiah 64:9-12)

Paul pleaded three times for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, the messenger of Satan that he knew was from the Lord (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). In one of these three cases, God heard His servant and promised relief for a remnant of His people (Isaiah 65:8-10). But He told Jeremiah three times to stop praying for His people because of their evil (Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14, 14:11). He told Paul that His grace was sufficient because His strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). But although God's answer was "No" in these two cases, there was nothing sinful, rebellious or offensive about the prayers offered. We cannot know God's answer until we ask Him the question.

Therefore, while Christ's disciples submitted to the law of the land as given by their cruel Roman superiors, even the cruelest of whom was God's minister, it would not have been sinful for them to privately ask God to remove the Roman government from their land so the people could enjoy more freedom. The disciples could love the governor while asking God to peacefully remove him from power. They could pray for blessings for the soldiers they encountered and then offer up prayers for the peaceful liberation of their people. It might not have been helpful to the church to offer such prayers publicly, and it is probably not helpful now. But there is nothing sinful about asking God to bring a peaceful end to a government that relies on force and violence to control its subjects, even though God has established that government and has commanded us to love the people who make it up.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pledging Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted by Congress as the national pledge in 1942, with the current version, including "under God", being accepted in 1954. Is it shocking that our nation held together without a national pledge for 166 years? Of course not. So why is it deemed so valuable and necessary today?

You may not know that the Pledge was written by a Baptist minister. You may be further surprised to learn that the composer, Francis Bellamy, was also a Christian socialist. He was an employee of The Youth's Companion, the magazine that published the original Pledge in 1892. This magazine provided schools with American flags in exchange for the use of their students as magazine salesmen. Clearly, Bellamy had a vested interest in publishing his Pledge.

Bellamy called the Pledge an "inoculation" to protect us from the "virus" of radicalism (Beato, G., "Face the Flag", Reason, Dec. 16, 2010). He later wrote, "A democracy like ours cannot afford to throw itself open to the world where every man is a lawmaker, every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant admitted to our citizenship is a bane to the commonwealth; where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another."

In 1919, the state of Washington passed a law requiring schools to make the Pledge recitation mandatory. This sentence espousing "liberty...for all" was now something that a portion of Americans were required by law to recite aloud. In 1935, hundreds of children, mostly of Jehovah's Witnesses, chose to be expelled from school rather than bow down to this law. The Supreme Court ruled against them in 1940, before Congress had even adopted the Pledge, saying that national unity was more important than individual liberty. Some Jehovah's Witnesses were beaten and physically maimed for their stance against the Pledge, sometimes right in front of police. The Supreme Court reversed their decision in 1943. Apparently they decided the U.S. shouldn't look quite so much like Germany.

Whether or not this historical view alters your opinion on the importance of our national pledge or whether citizens should be expected to recite it, we as the church should examine whether we should pledge allegiance to anything or anyone aside from God. The children of the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1935 remind me of Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego when they refused to "pledge allegiance" to Nebuchadnezzar by bowing to his image in Daniel 3. It is clear from this Bible story that God's people are not to give themselves to another person or nation. We are to submit to the governments established by God, but we are not to "bow down" by declaring that we belong, for we have been purchased by the blood of Christ.

By pledging our allegiance to a flag and a republic, we give ourselves over to a nation, to a people, especially to those who govern. We declare that we approve of whatever those who govern decide. We say that we support involuntary military service should the need arise, that forcing our youth to resist evil people through violence is admissible because they've sworn an oath. We say that we will tolerate any sort of privacy invasion that is necessary if the State has deemed it so, even if it means our elderly and children are sexually violated in the middle of every one of our airports. We have sworn allegiance; therefore, we stand behind all that America, or rather her government, does.

But what did our Lord teach? "Do not swear at all" (Matthew 5:34). God does not even permit His children to swear by heaven (v. 34), so why would He permit the blind nationalism we indulge in when we recite a pledge to the U.S.A.? Surely, my brothers, this is not right.

"But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (v. 37). The apostle James echoed this teaching with emphasis: "But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No,' lest you fall into judgment" (James 5:12). Clearly the words we say have meaning, and we will be held to them.

By swearing an oath of allegiance to a nation or any person, we ensnare ourselves into supporting, if not performing, evil acts that we otherwise would find repugnant. This puts our hearts and our conduct in conflict, because when we do this, we can no longer say with Peter, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). For, sadly, we have pledged our allegiance to the nation. This is the devil's trick, and, according to James, we bring God's judgment upon ourselves when we fall for it. It is quite possible that Francis Bellamy invited judgment on our nation by luring the people into taking an oath to the U.S.

God's Word instructs us to be subject to the governing authorities that He has appointed (Romans 13:1). Never once does our Lord tell us to support or be a part of what the governing authorities do, whether good or bad. The church must unify with itself, not to the State. There are enough evil men in our government and evil deeds done by our government that the church must remain separate, giving neither support nor approval. God's kingdom is greater than any other, and we are its citizens first and foremost. We must render to Caesar what is Caesar's (obedience when it does not conflict with Christ's law) and to God what is God's (utmost obedience, worship, and allegiance).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Did God Free America?

As Independence Day approaches, it's only natural that I should apply my developing philosophies on faith and authority to the origins of America and her government. Clearly independence from a tyrannical government leads to increased freedom. But is it right to take action against the reigning government? Is it God's will?

It is clear throughout the Bible that when nations are built up and when they are destroyed, it is God who ordains it. He has a purpose of which we are often not fully aware. I doubt there has ever been a single soul who truly understood His reason for the existence of the United States of America in the world for the past 235 years. Why was it colonized by several nations over a long time, only to shake free and become a free nation in 1776? Was the situation really so bad in the colonies that a revolt and war were necessary?

And, I must ask, how bad would things have to get for the people living in this great land to decide another revolt is needed?

This is as sensitive a subject as any I've approached here thus far. I know Christians who believe that the revolutionaries were following the call of God when they applied violence to their doctrines of independence. I've heard it said that America was established by God as a land where His law is held high. While many of us probably believe such things because we want to, there may be a kernel of truth to some of these thoughts.

It is God who establishes nations, and He uses people, good and bad, to accomplish His will for His good pleasure. When we talk about the American Revolution that led to her independence and establishment as a nation, we can focus on the people who led the revolt and wrote the Constitution, or we can focus on the God who created America.

When we focus on the people, we see decisions that were made that are not in keeping with Christ's teaching to not resist an evil person (Matthew 5:39). It may shock you to read such a statement. Am I suggesting that the colonists should have endured the suffering they experienced under British rule, without resistance? Should they have simply submitted to the governing authorities, repaying the soldiers good for evil, trusting God to care for their needs and relieve their burdens? Should they have loved their British enemies and prayed for them? I am no lover of government, but you can probably see that this is exactly what I'm suggesting. This is the behavior of God's true children (Matthew 5:44-5).

However, when we focus on God, we see His will in effect on the earth He created. In the Bible, we see Him softening and hardening hearts, giving visions and dreams, inspiring courage and fear, promising blessing and destruction, all to accomplish His purpose. Nothing He does is evil, for He is goodness itself.

The hearts of men, by contrast, are marred by evil, from the greatest to the smallest and from the most righteous to the most wicked. If God is going to use a man to accomplish His will, it must be through a man with a wicked heart, for that is the only kind available apart from Christ. Ecclesiastes 9:3 says, "Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live..." and Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, "...There is not a just man on earth who does good/And does not sin." Psalms 14:3 and 53:3, quoted by Paul in Romans 3, both say, "There is none who does good/No, not one." Therefore, it is a mistake to think that God accomplishes His will through men with good hearts, for there is only One who is good.

Many Christians think that because God only does good, nothing that we perceive as bad, such as the deaths of soldiers and civilians during war, could have been His doing. I have heard several pastors teach that natural disasters are not the Lord's doing. But Amos 3:6 implies the opposite when it asks, "If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?" Shortly after the 9/11 disaster, John Piper wrote eloquently,
How God governs all events in the universe without sinning, and without removing responsibility from man, and with compassionate outcomes is mysterious indeed! But that is what the Bible teaches. God "works all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).
This "all things" includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).
From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure - God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10).

Therefore it would be incorrect to think that the birth of America was not God's will, even though men went against Christ's teachings to cause it to happen.

Some say that the circumstances under which we find ourselves today are much worse than what colonists were experiencing in the 18th century. Should we then rise up and retake the land as the revolutionaries did? If we are interested in obeying God's Word and showing ourselves as His children, we will do no violence to anyone. We will not vote for violence to be conducted by anyone. We will not support someone who proposes violence.

If God chooses to break the power of the current government and to replace it with another, or to replace it with nothing, and even if He uses the violence of rebellious, disobedient men to do so, blessed be the name of the Lord. All that He does is good and right. We must continue to resist the temptations of our fleshly hearts and to follow His example in doing what is good and right.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

God's Law vs. Man's Law

In response to my previous post about the freedom to marry for homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, a family member asked if I think it's important for us to return to the godly standards upon which America was founded. I'll leave the question of whether this country was actually founded on biblical principles up to historians, but I absolutely agree with him that we should uphold God's law, if he means we as the church. Hopefully we've never tired in our striving for righteousness, but it is important for us to check up on ourselves and be sure we are the salt and light our Lord intended us to be. As Paul told the Corinthian church, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?unless indeed you are disqualified." (2 Corinthians 13:5)

How do we know if we've been disqualified, for example, by the evil in the world around us? Verse 6 says, "But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified." He's saying that if Jesus is in us, then we know we're justified and sanctified through Him. Is there a way to be extra sure? Verse 7: "Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified."

If I'm understanding our Lord's Word correctly, Paul is saying that if we are doing what is honorable and not what is evil, we are not disqualified no matter how things may appear to be. As I wrote in my last post, the church should not allow sin in its midst but should "purge out the old leaven," as Paul instructed (1 Corinthians 5:7). There is a continual process of purging sin and returning to God that will not be complete until we join Him in His glory. This is true for us as individual persons and for the church at large.

If you ask me if all of America should return to God in obedience, my answer is more complex. I believe that God's kingdom is still growing from a mustard seed into a tree (Luke 13:19) and that all families of the world will be blessed through His covenant with His chosen people, which He first made with Abraham (Genesis 12:3). I take Psalm 22 literally when it says,
All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the LORD
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before you.
For the kingdom is the LORD's,
And He rules over the nations. (v. 27-8)
I have never heard of a time when all the families of the nations worshiped before God. It seems to me that if we're not looking forward to this event, then we don't really believe God. Apparently a time is coming when every family on the earth will be chosen by God for repentance and salvation.

But the question then arises, how are we to bring America to repentance? I think most of us agree that God can use our fervent prayer, our hard work in His name, our witness of His deeds and His salvation, and our holiness as His church to bring His chosen ones to repentance leading to salvation. I see this in my own church regularly, and I pray that all churches across this land are seeing glimpses of God's work in their own community.

But many Christians, and even entire churches, seem to endorse a tool for righteousness that scripture does not seem to support. Even as they call for economic freedom in America, Republicans, many of them Christians, simultaneously call for denial of the freedom for unbelievers to sin. We are taught from childhood that laws are good. But we all know what tools are necessary to enforce man's lawspolice and courts. And court decisions are enforced through yet more police action. And police only have power through violence. 

Should the church endorse the enforcement of laws regarding marriage through the use of violence? Should the church endorse violence for any reason? To do so, we would have to disregard Christ's teaching to not resist an evil person (Matthew 5:39) and Paul's teaching to repay no one evil with evil (Romans 12:17). Part of being perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48), is showing mercy to unbelievers who sin because they are enslaved to sin.

God has established our city, state and national governments, as He has established all governments (even North Korea's). He controls all things, and He is King of all the nations. He has instructed His church to submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1), but never does His Word tell us to endorse what they do or to be part of it. Unlike man's law, God's law is the law of love:

"...He who loves another has fulfilled the law...Love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:8, 10)

"For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Galatians 5:14)

"If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you do well." (James 2:8)

If there is any hope of widespread repentance in America, the law of man enforced upon the unbelieving will not bring it about. God works in the world by bringing about repentance leading to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). He would have us join Him in this work rather than joining political parties and human governments in theirs. We cannot force America to return to God. We must be obedient in what our Lord has commanded in His royal law of love, so that He may draw the nations to Himself through repentance.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Permission to Marry

George Washington never got a marriage license. Not only that, but if the members of his church could have seen into the future, they would probably be outraged at the current level of state involvement in what they considered (and most of us still do consider) a union ordained by God.

The U.S. Supreme Court seemed to agree in 1877, when they ruled that states should not be able to mandate a marriage license by law. Rather, they said, state laws concerning marriage should only be directives:
A statute may declare that no marriages shall be valid unless they are solemnized in a prescribed manner, but such an enactment is a very different thing from a law requiring all marriages to be entered into in the presence of a magistrate or a clergyman or that it be preceded by a license, or publication of banns, or be attested by witnesses. Such formal provisions may be construed as merely directory, instead of being treated as destructive of a common law right to form the marriage relation by words of present assent. (Meister v. Moore, 96 U.S. 76, 1877)
It is interesting that many states decided to require marriage licenses due to reasons of public health safety. In the early 20th century, marriage license laws in several states were written by lawmakers who mistakenly thought that limiting marriage would be helpful for improving the genetics of the country's population. Marriage license laws were put into effect in most states to limit interracial marriage during that time in our nation's history. It's hard to think that these laws weren't racially motivated. This sort of legislation was condemned on scientific grounds in a 1915 article in the Journal of Heredity (Rucker, W.C., Volume 6, No. 1, pp. 219-226).

Even after courts began to overrule interracial marriage laws in the mid-20th century, states continued to require permission to marry, but the purpose in this new, "enlightened" era, was redistribution of wealth, favoring married couples and families (Coontz, S., "Taking Marriage Private", The New York Times, Nov. 26, 2007). This state of affairs hasn't changed very much, for better or for worse.

I bring you this bit of history so my brothers and sisters in Christ can understand, hopefully, my feelings on last night's ruling for homosexual marriage in New York. Even homosexuals seem to ignore American history prior to the 1960s when they talk about their right to marry. All I've heard from those rejoicing over the ruling is that it was a great decision for equality, because gay couples can now enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples. "Equality" is the word of the day.

If we would think in terms of all American history, and indeed of world history, we would not even be talking about equality when it comes to marriage. We would be talking only in terms of human liberty. The marriage license is an invention of 16th-century Europe. No government before that time was interested in marriage except for royal marriages uniting kingdoms. The Roman government in Jesus' day didn't require permission for marriage. It was a matter among families; a matter within the church.

As far as I can tell from my reading of scripture, God does not approve of homosexual activities. I use the word "activities" because I've seen nothing in the Bible about romantic, nonsexual relationships between members of the same sex. I've never heard of a gay couple that didn't have sex anyway, so it's a moot point. Based on the Bible's teachings, I don't think the church should condone homosexual activities or ignore those in their midst who practice them. Such activities are cause for church discipline, just as Paul instructed for a church member involved in adultery.

However, I do consider last night's ruling a small victory for human freedom in New York. Homosexual marriage should be a matter for a person's family and/or church to deal with, not a matter for civil government. But this is true of heterosexual marriage, too. When people call last night's ruling a victory for equality, I perceive that they fail to realize how much bigger the victory could have been. I wonder if they, and indeed all of us, realize that we should be embarrassed that we still have to ask the state for permission to marry. How can we, as the church, allow the intrusion of government into something so intensely personal as marriage?

Do we really need to ask permission? Instead of asking the state to allow gay couples permission to marry, shouldn't New Yorkers and couples across the nation simply have denied the state permission to require a license? It wouldn't be that difficult. If everyone simply stopped going to the court for a license to marry, the state would no longer have any power in this matter. We don't always have to enter a voting booth to make changes. We have the power of numbers. We can simply say "enough".

But perhaps most of us are afraid of having that much freedom. Maybe we like the tax benefits that come with marriage. But even with those benefits comes a reminder that we are involuntarily taxed at nearly every level of government on a daily basis. Should we thank the government for not taking so much of the money we've earned because we got married? Do we really need this kind of government parenting? Involuntary taxation is also something we allow, perhaps because we're afraid of what a truly free nation would look like. But if everyone decided to stop paying taxes on the same day, and the government melted away as a result, would it really be so bad?

A truly free country? I think it's one of the best things that could happen for us.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Established by Providence, Set Free by Revival

This week a couple of pastors to whom I listen regularly spoke on topics that relate very well to what I'm attempting to do here. Perhaps they've been observing some of the disturbing events I've been hearing about recently, such as the quiet buildup of the Transportation Security Administration's operations, their worsening tactics in airports, and the thousands of surprise screenings they've conducted outside of airports in the past year, all in the name of fighting terrorism. 

Never mind that the biggest terrorist threat to our nation has been all but cut down, so much that our government's leaders are now planning to draw down troop levels in the terrorists' countries of origin. By the way, these TSA operational squads are called Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams, or VIPR. Could they not have picked a scarier name?

I love my pastor, but none inspires me quite so much as Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. Last Sunday he preached on the topic of Saul's apparent conversion experience just prior to becoming king of Israel. In the final section of his sermon, he spoke about the prophet Samuel's decision to write up a constitution of sorts (1 Samuel 10:25) to limit Saul's government, effectively making it a theocracy. Brother Wilson then began to relate what Samuel did to the current big-government state of our nation. He said something very interesting, something I've been hinting at myself as I speak on this subject: 

"There is no way to bring liberty back to our nation, there is no way to bring a sense of limited government back to our people apart from a revival of the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of God's people."

I feel that Brother Wilson and I are very much on the same theological and ideological wavelength, now more so than ever. This is a statement you probably won't hear from the Mises Institute, but it is something that many Christian libertarians realize. God sets up governments, whether good or evil, and it is only through the obedience of His people, and their holy influence on the people around them, through the Holy Spirit, that evil states can be turned toward the good. I believe, like Brother Wilson, that it will take not only a philosophical enlightenment but also a spiritual revival to bring us into a state of true liberty, if that is God's vision for our nation at all. It's in His hands, for He is in absolute control.

But if He is in absolute control, then, we might ask, why is there so much evil in the world? This is the topic that pastor R.C. Sproul, of Saint Andrew's in Sanford, Florida, tackled yesterday on his program Renewing Your Mind. He asked the question, "How is divine providence related to evil governments?" Did God ordain Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin? "Is evil something that is ordained by the providence of God?" he asked.

Here are a few choice quotes in Dr. Sproul's attempt to answer this important question:
  • "I have no idea why God allows evil to besmirch His universe." 
  • "When God ordains anything [to] come to pass, His purpose in doing so is altogether and absolutely good." 
  • "It must be good that evil exists, or it couldn't exist, because God only will sovereignly, providentially ordain what is good." 
  • "But when God ordains all things to come to pass, He ordains not only the ends, but also the means to those ends, and...He works through all things to bring about His righteous purpose."

I recently swore, along with Thomas Jefferson, "eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." This week I have seen the error of my ways, and I now endeavor instead to love and pray for those who would take the place of God in our daily lives, as our Lord instructed. For though it is difficult to see it, He established our government by His providence, to accomplish His purpose in the world.

Dear Father, as we see the president's TSA and their VIPR teams conducting tyrannical acts across our own land, which You have given us and can rightly take away as You see fit, cause us by Your Holy Spirit to examine our own hearts and see the sin that we have allowed to enter in. Please cleanse us and set us free once again to do Your work in the world. 

Lord, we lift up the president and the leaders of the TSA to You. We ask You to influence them through Your Word and by Your power. We ask that You would draw them near to You and save those who do not know You. Father, these are things we can ask of You because we believe them to be Your will, based on our reading of Your Word. 

Lord, as Your church, we desire to be a holy people, even as we live among those who are evil. We wish to be a holy influence on all around us so that many more will be set free from the bondage of sin and have the eternal life available through the death and resurrection of Your Son. Give us eyes that see the world as You do, we pray. Cause us, by Your Spirit, to be ready to serve when You call. We thank You and give You glory in Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An Awakening From an Enlightenment

I have my parents to thank for setting me on a path that leads in a slightly different direction than the one I was taking. For some time I've been developing a radical hatred of civil government, spurred on by Murray Rothbard and his disciples and culminating in my recent hearing of Rothbard's article "Do You Hate the State?" (1977). I had begun to accept all the teachings of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, of which Rothbard was an important member, as truth, an unwise and dangerous practice.

I had been sharing what I learned through social media and had been applying it to current events and government policies, often to the displeasure of friends and, especially, family members, many of whom, as is common in America, are either staunchly on the left end of the political spectrum or staunchly on the right end. Even those in the middle often could not quite grasp my new doctrines of absolute liberty. My parents recently guided me to ask myself this important question: "What would the Lord have me do about these things I'm so passionate about?" For I am a Christian in mind, heart and soul, dedicated to the work and vision of Jesus above all else.

I have struggled recently to understand the scriptures teaching that governments, no matter how evil, are established by God (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2). Even as Pilate was trying the innocent Jesus, a trial that would result in His death sentence, Christ declared, "You could have no power at all against me unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11; New King James Version) [Edit: Please see my comment below]. Why would God operate in this way century after century, setting up vicious rulers and knocking them down, only to set up other evil men in authority over His people? How is a Christian to live under an evil government, knowing that God is responsible for setting it up? What is the purpose of Christian persecution under an evil state? It is to these questions that the current work is dedicated.

As of now I still agree with all the Mises Institute's teachings on free-market economics and the evils of the State, but there is now one important difference in me. I have recently clung to two different brands of non-aggressive anti-statism. As an unofficial student of the Mises Institute, I believe in the nobleness of the free market for the provision of human needs and in the ability of the individual person to govern himself and to live among other individuals in harmonious ways that benefit all, without the need for armed policemen and forced taxation.

However, I have also been exploring supposedly Christian anti-state views as expressed by writers such as Leo Tolstoy,  David Lipscomb, Ammon Hennacy and Jacques Ellul. This morning I listened to Chapter One of Tolstoy's What I Believe (1884), which he wrote after accepting Christ's doctrines as the focus of his philosophy and lifestyle. I am so far unsure of how much I agree with Tolstoy's thoughts on spirituality, but in this chapter he extolled Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:39: "But I tell you not to resist an evil person." Tolstoy seemed to base everything he did and thought on this solitary teaching in the latter years of his life.

The Mises Institute teaches a non-aggressive philosophy of anti-statism, but their official motto, from Virgil's Aeneid, is translated, "Do not give in to evil but proceed ever more boldly against it." For a man who is interested in living a good, noble life in this evil world, this motto is highly appealing. But today I realize, thanks to Tolstoy, that this philosophy is in direct opposition to the doctrine of Christ that teaches us not to resist evil. Jesus teaches us to love, bless and pray for our enemies and to do good to them (Matthew 5:44), for this is how the true children of God behave (v. 45).

If I am truly His child, it's no wonder I was confused in my philosophies. It's not enough just to allow policemen to abuse me and tax collectors to steal from me. Christ teaches me to love them. What does that mean? When the apostle Paul described so eloquently what love is, he taught that love "is not provoked, [and] thinks no evil" (1 Corinthians 13:5). While love "does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth" (v. 6), Christ teaches that His children respond to evil with good, by turning the other cheek, giving up their cloaks and going the extra mile (Matthew 5:39-41).

Therefore it is not enough, and perhaps it is even sinful, to simply point out the evils in the world, stirring up hatred within ourselves and those around us. When we see evil, our first response should be prayer, for those who are committing the evil as well as for the victims of it. I hope now to adjust my anti-state philosophy to fit in much better with Christ's teachings of love and nonresistance. It is my hope that by discussing many aspects of this issue in a public, interactive way, I can begin to develop a new, Spirit-filled philosophy of how the body of Christ can and should operate in a world ruled by men but controlled by God.