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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Detail from The Tower of Babel by Peter Brugel, 1563.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

  • Genesis 1:1

“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”  This quote, or some variant to it, has been attributed to several prominent people.  In searching for the origin of the quote, I found it credited to such notables as John Knox, William Tyndale, and Benjamin Franklin. Thomas Jefferson used “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God” on his personal seal.  Jefferson wanted to use this saying on the Seal of the United States

Whatever the origin of the quote, many Christians today are troubled by the notion that it is ever a Christian’s duty to resist tyranny.  Citing Paul’s injunction in Romans 13 “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities,” they take Paul’s command to be, if not an absolute, at least something very close to it. 

The extent of the civil magistrate’s legitimate authority came to the surface in 2020 with the coming of the Covid 19 restrictions across much of the world.  These restrictions not only affected schools, universities, and businesses, but also churches.  Sincere Christians, when considering how to react to government restrictions, in particular government restrictions on church meetings, came to different conclusions.  Some believed it was the duty of Christians to obey every command of the various civil authorities that restricted, or outright prohibited, church meetings.  Others considered it a Christian duty to resist such edicts.  Because of these different views, as a follow up to last week’s post on the divine origin of civil government, it seemed good to me to say something about the relationship of civil government to the church.

To take the suspense out of things, I’ll tell you my view of the matter up front.  Christians are required to obey civil magistrates, but only in the Lord.  The civil magistrate, while a legitimate minister of God, has limited authority.  This was also John Calvin’s view.  He wrote,

The characteristic of a true sovereign is, to acknowledge that, in the administration of his kingdom, he is a minister of God. He who does not make his reign subservient to the divine glory, acts the part not of a king, but a robber. He, moreover, deceives himself who anticipates long prosperity to any kingdom which is not ruled by the sceptre of God, that is, by his divine word (Institutes, Prefatory Address).

Later in the Institutes, Calvin wrote,

We are subject to the men who rule over us, but subject only in the Lord. If they command anything against Him let us not pay the least regard to it, nor be moved by all the dignity which they possess as magistrates – a dignity to which no injury is done when it is subordinated to the special and truly supreme power of God (Book IV, Chapter 20.32).

It is the view of this author that the civil authority has no jurisdiction to regulate how Christian churches conduct their worship services, and that all such regulation represents overreach on the part of the civil magistrate. This is not to say that Christian ministers and Christians themselves are not subject to the governing authorities.  If Christians commit acts that are contrary to the law of God and the just civil laws of society, then they are justly punished by the civil magistrate.  But the regulation or prohibition of singing hymns, capacity limits due to Covid, or even outright prohibition on gathering on the Lord’s Day?  All such restrictions by the civil authorities are tyrannical and ought to be resisted by Christians everywhere.        

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Detail from The Tower of Babel by Peter Brugel, 1563.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

  • Genesis 1:1

In the famous opening sentence of his Treatise on the Social Company, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in change.”   

While Rousseau’s social compact theory of government is not Christian, his observation that man is everywhere in chains certainly rings true.  We can see this in the history recorded for us in the Bible as well as from secular sources.  For that matter, we can see it simply reading the news of the day. 

Jesus himself noted the authoritarian nature of civil government in his response to the disciples’ arguing about who among them was the greatest.  Jesus responded to them,

The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’  But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves (Luke 22:25-26).

Note that the kings of the Gentiles do two things.  First, they exercise lordship.  The Greek verb translated “exercise lordship” can also mean “be the lord or master of.”  Perhaps another way of expressing the meaning of the Greek is to use the English expression “lord it over.”  We talk that way.  We say so and so is lording it over someone.  Certainly, that was true of the kings and emperors who governed during Jesus ministry.  They lorded it over their people.  What the kings of the earth wanted, they took, and there was little to stop them. 

The second thing these kings did was be called “benefactor.”  On one hand they oppressed their people, but on the other, they wanted to be known as men of generosity.  A modern example of this is Joseph Stalin, who, while being one of the most ruthless of the 20th century dictators used the title “Dear Father” among others. 

From Jesus response to his disciples, we clearly see that there is a large gap between the Biblical teaching about how government should operate – the idea that government is a servant to the people – and how it actually does operate.

But even more basic than the questions what should government do and how should it go about doing it is the question, why should one man obey another man? 

To answer these questions, we must turn to the Scriptures where we find the origin of civil government. 

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Trump acquitted, denounced in historic impeachment trial” by Lisa Mascaro, Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick

“‘Catholics and United Methodists Together’ is a Collaborative Publication Resulting from Decades of Dialogue

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Impeach_Acquittal

Donald Trump holds up copy of Washington Post with headline announcing his acquittal by the Senate, Feb. 6, 2020.

Facing an impeachment hearing and senate trial for his part in the cover up related to the Watergate burglary, then President Richard Nixon chose to resign from office in August 1974.  Upon being sworn into office, President Gerald R. Ford gave a brief 850-word address in which he uttered the now famous line, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

Being all of eight years old at the time, I didn’t have a super sophisticated understanding of all that was going on, but I did get the gist of it.  President Nixon had done something wrong and tried to hide it.  Now, he had to resign.

But more than the particulars related to the case, what I recall from that period was the overwhelming sense of boredom I had with hearing about Watergate and anything Watergate related.  It really did seem like along national nightmare that went on year after year after year.  No doubt, some of that was due to my age.  When you’re eight years old, six months seems like a lifetime, because, in a way, it is.

In truth, the whole Watergate saga took about two years and two months to play out.  On June 17, 1972, the Watergate burglars were arrested.  On August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned.

That was then.

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Visa

Q. 62. What is the visible church?

A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

Westminster Larger Catechism

Last week it was announced that the U.S. State Department had adopted a new rule governing the issuance of category B nonimmigrant visas.  The rule, which took effect on Friday, Jan. 24, is aimed at reducing birth tourism.  Birth tourism is the practice of expectant mothers traveling to the United States to give birth on U.S. soil for the purpose of acquiring American citizenship for their children.

For those of us who have advocated for reform of America’s disastrous immigration laws in a way that protects the legitimate interest of American citizens, this was a welcomed, if limited, victory.  It is a welcomed victory in that, in the words of the State Department document outlining the ruling, “This rule will help prevent operators in the birth tourism industry from profiting off treating U.S. citizenship as a commodity, sometimes through potentially criminal acts…”  It is a limited victory in that it leaves open the larger, more important question, of birthright citizenship.  Specifically, the question of to whom birthright citizenship properly applies.

In the opinion of this author, birthright citizenship properly applies only to children born to parents, either both, or at least one of them, possessing American citizenship.  The notion that a child can rightfully acquire American citizenship by virtue of being born on American soil, regardless of the citizenship status of the parents, is foreign both to the Bible and, in the view of this author, to the Constitution.

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“Hell is going to be filled with good religious people who have rejected the truth of Christ.”

  • Robert Jeffress

 

“President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at tackling anti-Semitism on college campuses on Wednesday – but one of the speakers at the event said that Jews are going to hell,” thus reported the Huffington Post on Thursday.

Yes, the HuffPo was in a state of high dudgeon that Donald Trump dared to invite to the While House a Christian minister, who actually teaches Christian doctrine.

In this case, the guilty party was none other than noted Southern Baptist minister Robert Jeffress.  At times, I have been critical of Jeffress on this blog. I stand by my criticism.  But today I come not to bury Jeffress but to praise him.

What triggered the outrage at HuffPo and several other news outlets?  I’ll let the HuffPo’s headline speak for itself: “Pastor Who Says Jews Are Going To Hell Speaks At Trump’s Hanukkah Party.”

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The End of the World

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

– R.E.M.

To see the headlines from the past week, one would suppose we’re on the verge of an end of world as we know it moment. Stocks are crashing, the military is retreating and, horror of horrors, the government is shutting down. As Christians, what are we to say to these things?

Certainly, the headlines are disturbing. Those who have read my work in this space may already be aware that I take a dim view of our current national condition. Our nation’s finances are a mess, with exploding deficits and debt and a dollar that purchases less every year by design.

Our militarist foreign policy is an ongoing train wreck which threatens to involve the US in open wars, all avoidable, in any number of theaters.

Our culture is an open sewer where people cannot make the simplest moral distinctions and find it impossible to even answer the question what is marriage. It’s a place where classic songs such as “Baby It’s Cold Outside” are considered unfit for human consumption, but the vilest rap lyrics raise not so much as an eyebrow.

We live in a time where those in power delight in calling evil good and good evil.

How did it come to this? How can it be that a nation largely founded by Puritans can come to such a state?

One could write a long treatise on that subject, but that’s not my intent here today. But the basic answer is that for well over a century Americans have been rejecting the doctrines of the Lord Jesus Christ for those of secular philosophy. It would seem that we’re determined to learn the hard way just how brutal the world without Christ can be.

As Christians, it can be very easy to look at all this and fall into despair. And lest anyone suppose he’s not immune to despair, consider the case of Elijah, who, upon securing a stunning victory over the priests of Baal, soon found himself on the run from wicked Queen Jezebel who was determined to have him executed.

This was not an easy time for Elijah. Had he not been faithful in all God called him to do? Of course he had. And yet, not for the first time, he found himself on the run from those who sought his life.

As Christians, it can be very easy to fall into the same mindset as Elijah. We pray for our unsaved family members, yet unsaved they remain. We pray for our nation, yet our countrymen go from vileness to vileness. And not only that, but they even boast about it. Deeply disturbed men such as Bruce Jenner are praised for their courage to embrace their true selves, while Christian bakers are dragged through the court system for their refusal to endorse same sex marriage. Justice, at times, can seem far from us.

But what did God say to Elijah in his despair? “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Though Elijah thought he was alone, he wasn’t. And though the destruction of the priests of Baal was the end of the world as they knew it, for God’s elect, it was a chance at a fresh start.

Let us consider another passage in Scripture, the account of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. At Christmas we’re treated to bright lights, the hustle and bustle of the season and songs of the baby in the manger. “How idyllic it all must have been,” some may think.

But life in the first century Roman Empire was not all sweetness and light as many people seem to suppose. In his book Christ and Civilization, John Robbins pointed out that life the world Christ entered was in many ways quite brutal. It was a world of cruelty and violence. It was a world of superstition and anti-intellectualism. It was a world of slavery and poverty and injustice.

Looking at the condition of the world, who would have supposed there was any reason to hope for any improvement to the wretched conditions enjoyed by most, let alone the birth of a Savior? And yet a Savior came indeed. For the corrupt religious leaders of Israel, Christ’s coming was the end of the world as they knew it. But for God’s people, it was life from the dead.

In the early 16th century, the Church of Rome reigned supreme throughout Europe. All resistance to Rome, it seemed, had been snuffed out. The popes were large and in charge. And in spite of widespread discontent with the state of things, what hope was there for ordinary people to break free from the Church’s straightjacket?

Yet God, in his providence, sent Martin Luther and other men to preach the Gospel of Justification by Belief Alone. And as sinners were made free in spirit, so too were they made free politically and economically. For the papal Antichrist and his henchmen, it was the end of the world as they knew it. But for the Lord’s elect, the Reformation was a light and life.

In our own day, beset with strife as it is, we may be tempted to ask where is our deliverance, and where is our hope? How an unbeliever may answer, I do not know. In truth, so long as a unbeliever remains and unbeliever, there is no deliverance and there is no hope.

But those of us in Christ, we know whence comes our help. Our help, as the psalmist wrote, comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.

In this Christmas season, let us remember that the child whose birth the angels sang even now sits at the right hand of the Father and one day will return to judge the quick and the dead.

What will the new year bring? I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet and do not pretend to know the future. That said, it appears that we very well may face serious challenges in 2019. Will it be the end of the world as we know it, or a chance at a fresh start? If the past is a guide, the answer to that question will depend on whether we trust the evidence of our senses or the revelation of God in Scripture.

Come what may, my prayer is that the Lord’s people would face the future, not in fear in trembling at the end of the world as we know it, not in sorrow as those who have no hope, but in the confidence of what the angels spoke to the shepherds that night so long ago, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

 

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