And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
Volume XI, Number 49 November 02, 2008
In this issue:
In about two weeks, our country will hold an election for numerous offices including the next President of the United States. This article is not about the political issues surrounding that election. This article is being written as an open letter to one of the candidates for the presidency, Senator Barack Obama, for a specific purpose. Specifically, it is an effort to help him understand the basis for and thinking of many citizens of this country who believe the gospel of Christ is verbally inspired by God providing perfect guidance to individuals as well as defining principles for the proper function and rule of government. One might ask what concern would show the need for a basic Bible primer for the Senator. Perhaps the following excerpt of Senator Obama’s own words will help define the problem:
“Given the increasing diversity of America’s populations, the dangers of sectarianism are greater than ever. Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation, at least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, and a Muslim nation, and a Buddist nation and a Hindu nation and a nation of non-believers. And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would it be James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is okay, and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith. Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount, a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own defense department would survive its application? [Laughter and applause from crowd] So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles now. Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles. [Said with sneer and snicker from Senator Obama] Which brings me to my second point that democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values. What do I mean by this? It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. Now, I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, to take one example, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I can’t simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all. Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many Evangelicals do, but in a pluralistic society, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves compromise, the art of what’s possible, and at some fundamental level, religion doesn’t allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible.
If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. Now, to base one’s own life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing” (Senator Barack Obama, “A Call to Renewal,” speech delivered on June 28, 2006).
First, Senator Obama needs to learn the difference between the teachings of Christianity, found in the New Testament, and the teachings of Judaism, found in the Old Testament law of Moses. The fact that the Old Testament law has been replaced by the gospel is the clear point stated by Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ: context:
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:24-27).
Since Christ has come into the world and taught us the complete will of God, it must follow that we are not bound by the regulations of the old law today. It served its purpose in directing man to Christ through principle and prophecy. It is now Christ who directs through His word (Heb. 1:1-2).
The bulk of 2 Corinthians 3 deals with the same point. The writer declares that the old law was always intended to “pass away.” He rebukes those who did not understand this saying, “but their minds were hardened: for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains, it not being revealed to them that it is done away in Christ” (2 Cor. 3:14). In Colossians 2:14, the same writer speaks of the time at which that old law was taken away. The text simply says, “having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.” The book of Hebrews goes into great detail in dealing with this point. In chapters five through seven, the writer proves that we now have a different priesthood than that which existed under the law of Moses. Therefore, he concludes, “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law” (Heb. 7:12). These simple points should help Senator Obama understand why his derision of Christianity based on regulations found in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy is incorrect.
Second, Senator Obama needs to learn the difference between the obligations given to individual Christians and the obligations given to the government by the gospel of Christ. Senator Obama’s disparaging reference to the Sermon on the Mount as “a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own defense department would survive its application” is based on a failure to discern who is being instructed. Who did Jesus command, “Do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matt. 5:39)? The very words and the whole context show this was said to individuals in their spiritual obligation as citizens of the “kingdom of heaven,” not to the governments or kingdoms of this world. Senator Obama is correct that the problem stems from those who “haven’t been reading their Bibles.” Sadly, it is Senator Obama and his speechwriters who are the ones so failing. If the senator would like to read what the Bible says about the obligation of government in reacting to those who do evil, he would do well to read from Romans 13. In that passage, this instruction is given to government regarding it proper place and function:
“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:3-4).
Government is charged by God with executing wrath, including capital punishment, on those doing evil. It is not given the right to reject God’s definition of “evil” for that determined by false religions of the world or atheistic principles, as the senator proposes. Contrary to Senator Obama’s claim, it is not “dangerous” for us as a society “to base our policy making” on principles given by God to define what is evil and act to stop such. It is the legitimate and God-ordained responsibility for government to make policy that is in keeping with the values and principles given by God, then to enforce those policies by executing wrath on the evil doers.
Consider the danger of making policy upon the basis of “principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all,” as Senator Obama suggests. Let us suppose a law is being considered to protect a woman from abuse by a husband. If lawmakers take guidance from the principles of the gospel (Eph. 5:25-29, etc.), they will readily see the “evil” inherent in a man beating his wife. However, if we must consider the principle found in Islam, we find the Qur’an giving this command to husbands:
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more strength than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them first, next refuse to share their beds, and last beat them lightly” (Surah 4:34).
If our public policy is to reflect the faith of Islam, will we allow light beating of wives? It would be interesting to hear Senator Obama explain what common principle he sees between the gospel of Christ and Islamic teaching that would be beneficial in the protection of women. Furthermore, lest we forget to include those of “no faith at all,” perhaps Senator Obama can explain to us how the principles of pagan religions or amoral atheists who think wives are merely the property of husbands could be helpful in the protecting against the abuse of women. This is just one case illustrating the fact that the principles of the gospel best define both good and evil, providing government the best help for guidance in public policy.
The founding fathers of our country sought the help of God and the wisdom from His word as they weighed public policy and legal action. It is disturbing to see one run for the highest office in our land who mocks the teachings of Christ and those who respect the inerrant instruction found therein. It will be our effort in the next two issues of this paper to help educate Senator Obama and others on what the gospel teaches about morality and the uniquely inspired guidance available in God’s word. It is our hope that all will see in the gospel the perfect guide for individual conduct and the greatest source of guidance for public policy. Elevating the teachings of false religion and atheistic principles has never aided in crafting wise public policy, but leads only to the degeneration of any society that tries such.
Reason for Hope, October 19, 2008
The Ballot Box and the Church
Americans are preparing to vote in local, state and federal elections November 4 on issues ranging from transportation to assisted suicide and for positions ranging from city mayor to President of the United States. Unless special rules exist, a majority of votes wins each election. Voting is a blessing and a privilege in our country that should be used and not taken for granted.
But we are concerned here with whether the Lord’s church should be made into the image of American democracy. Most Protestant denominations have adopted some form of voting and majority rule into their church government. The question is what New Testament pattern establishes voting (and the rule of the majority) as the means by which churches operate? One looks in vain to find any Scripture that does so.
In fact, what we find in Scripture is a pattern of unity and agreement among brethren, not majority rule through the ballot box: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10; cf. 4:17). (That is not 50.1% wins the day!) In the church, Christ rules and Christians submit to His word in everything (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 3:17).
in the New Testament, when brethren disagreed they consulted divinely inspired truth – not voting results – to establish God’s will. For example, in Acts 15 the teaching of the inspired apostles directed the Christians concerning a doctrinal matter (15:4-21). Where were the voting booths and secret ballots to decide the truth? There were none.
Under the guidance of inspired Scriptures, churches of Christ are led by qualified elders (Acts 14:23; 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). They lead on the basis of revealed truth, not the ballot box of public opinion. The Scriptures are the standard of right and wrong; not majority rule (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Gal. 1:6-10). Truth is settled in heaven, not the voting booth (Psa. 119:89).
Created by Chuck Sibbing. 10/31/2008
The Spirit's Sword is a free,
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA