Government oversight of God’s Kingdom?

First-century Christians were persecuted by Rome as “enemies of the state” — a charge that would have been overlooked if those Christians had just been willing to share the loyalty they had for Christ with Caesar. Rome didn’t mind if you worshipped God, as long as you paid proper respect (i.e. worship) to Caesar, too.

Empire10To their credit, many of those early Christians would have rather died than share one ounce of the adoration, to which only God is entitled, with another. We know this because many of them did exactly that — they died at the hands of a secular government that demanded of them a thing they just could not give…

…their absolute loyalty.

It is a situation that has survived to this very day — Fast forward to the 20th century.

World War I put a fresh emphasis on the loyalty one “owed” to his or her nation state. That loyalty was absolute. You must answer your “nation’s call.” And, if answering that call costs you your life, well, that’s only appropriate — you owe it.

Later, with the rise of more and more totalitarian governments like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Communist China, we see this demand on loyalty increase. And, just like their spiritual forefathers in the Roman Empire, Christians found themselves in a difficult position.

Communist governments closely monitored religion. Sermons were subject to state approval and censorship. Only state-sanctioned churches were allowed. You could participate in your chosen religion only as long as it did not interfere with your first priority — absolute loyalty to the state.

You see, everything was viewed only in light of its value to the state — including people. Christians were particularly dangerous, because they recognized something — someone — as greater than the state. Since that kind of attitude was intolerable, these Christians had to be dealt with. Those who refused government oversight found themselves in prison. Many were tortured. Many died. Just like in Rome.

This should come as no surprise, really. The 20th century theologian and writer, Francis Schaeffer, outlined this quite well…

“We must realize that the Reformation worldview leads in the direction of government freedom. But the humanist worldview with inevitable certainty leads in the direction of statism. This is so because humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state.”

Fast forward to the present.

china_church_stifled_1148038826_855986In China Christians are subject to the same kind of scrutiny as the Christians who lived in communist countries in Eastern Europe. There are state-approved churches. Other churches are outlawed because they have no government oversight. Everyone is expected to owe their loyalty first to the state — to Caesar.

At this point, American Christians frequently will say, “I’m so glad that isn’t true here.” Or “I’m glad we live in a free country where that sort of thing couldn’t happen.”

Really?

Please consider…

There are those who will look at evidence like this and say it’s not big deal. After all, we don’t have a state-approved church. We don’t have federal government officials attending services in order to scrutinize the content like they do in China.

No, we don’t. But, in China the Christians are actively resisting the encroachment of the state into the church. In America many of our churches freely and enthusiastically embrace statism in their services — openly glorifying another.

Dave Black, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has cautioned against this kind of thing before…

“Our God is a color blind God. Our God is a dollar blind God. Our God is a status blind God. Our God is a nation blind God. To say or to imply that America is somehow a “holy nation” is, in my humble estimation, blasphemous. The household of God (to which I belong by God’s grace) is the only holy nation on earth. It includes in its membership all Christians of all ages, all nationalities, all levels of social strata, all levels of intelligence. The lesson is clear. From the moment of my conversion to Christ, and from the moment of your conversion to Christ, we have been in fellowship with every other Christian in the world, be they American or Ethiopian or Chinese or Iraqi or Iranian. The Bible tells us “we are all one in Christ Jesus” — and that includes our guest speaker this morning who came to us from southern India.

It is here, on the national level, that we are called upon to demonstrate to a lost world the reality of our fellowship. We are bound together by a unity that goes far beyond mere geography or nationality let alone hobby or personal interest or political affiliation or denomination. Only when we learn to see ourselves as this kind of a holy nation, only when we learn to treasure that kind of fellowship, only when we experience this kind of trans-national love, will we fulfill our vocation as saints.

Beware of the sin of nationalism, my friends. A Christian is a citizen of a heavenly commonwealth because he or she belongs to the holy nation of the people of God. This, and this alone, is the only Christian nation. Other nations may contain Christians, and they may be influenced to one degree or another by Christian principles, but there will never be a Christian nation except the people redeemed by the blood of Christ.”

I pray that God will grant the church in America the ability to recognize the sinfulness of nationalism and the courage to resist it. We are, indeed, citizens of a heavenly commonwealth — one that is NOT subject to the scrutiny of any earthly government.

Let’s act like it.

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The Sin of Nationalism on Display

My last two posts have dealt essentially with the sin of nationalism. I find it ironic and providential that I just ran across the latest column of political commentator, Ann Coulter, where she masterfully — and unintentionally — illustrated my point.

Ms Coulter wrote a piece entitled, “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded to ‘Idiotic,’” in which she soundly criticizes Dr. Kent Brantly for going to Liberia to treat Ebola patients in the name of Christ. A couple of her arguments include…

  • The $2 million spent on his care by the missions organizations that sent him overwhelmed any good he did while in Liberia.
  • His time would have been better spent trying to “open the eyes” of the influential in America because that would have done “more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World.”

The underlying premise behind Coulter’s column is that American Christians should take care of America first. In fact, Coulter goes on to explain that Dr. Brantly’s primary motivations for going on a mission trip to Liberia were…

  • To avoid the criticism of being a Christian witness in the U.S. — “…American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools [because] They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World Countries, away from American culture to do good works.”
  • To gain the prestige associated with being a foreign missionary — “Right there in Texas, near where Dr. Brantly left his wife and children to fly to Liberia and get Ebola, is one of the poorest countries in the nation, Zavala County, where he wouldn’t have risked making his wife a widow and his children fatherless. But, serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been ‘heroic.’ We wouldn’t hear all the superlatives about Dr. Brantly’s ‘unusual drive to help the less fortunate’ or his membership in the ‘Gold Humanitarian Honor Society.’ Leaving his family behind in Texas to help the poor 6,000 miles away — that’s the ticket.”

Thid-TatteredFlagAfter this, Coulter goes for the jugular… “Today’s Christians… are strangely timid for people who have been given eternal life. They need to buck up, serve their own country, and remind themselves every day of Christ’s words: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.’”

All of this is of paramount importance, you understand, because, according to Coulter, “America is the most consequential nation on Earth, and in desperate need of God at the moment. If America fails, it will be a thousand years of darkness for the entire planet.”

Whew!

Allow me to retort…

  1. The $2 million spent on Dr. Brantly’s care did not overwhelm any good he might have done. Everything belongs to God and He supplies us as needed when we are about His business, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:19
  2. God does not need to “open up the eyes” of the influential in America in order to accomplish His goals. He is in complete control, even of the influential… “The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” — Proverbs 21:1
  3. Christians are motivated to action by things much stronger than avoiding criticism and gaining notoriety… “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” — Romans 8:14
  4. Suggesting Dr. Brantly willingly went into a “disease-ridden cesspools” because he was too afraid to face being called names in the U.S. is just (I will censor myself here and use the word “silly”). The man literally risked his very life to treat Ebola patients. Coulter calls that “timid.”
  5. Coulter’s suggestion is for Christians to stop showing that kind of timidity, “buck up,” and “serve their own country” — this is the meat of the issue. Christians who follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit to the far reaches of this earth ARE serving their own country. I may have a U.S. Passport, but the United States is not my country. I belong to God’s Kingdom. Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, them My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” You see, those of us who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, have our citizenship in heaven.

I do agree with Ms Coulter on one point: America IS in desperate need of God. But never make the mistake of thinking God is in desperate need of America. His kingdom is quite secure.

May I Quote You?

While reading daveblackonline.com, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis in his classic, “The Screwtape Letters.” In this book a senior demon gives advice to his cousin, a junior demon, in the art of tripping up Christians. In this context, the following advice was offered…

CSLewis-PatriotismWhat an effective and time-honored tool of the enemy, indeed.

Bumper Sticker Wars

The bumper sticker wars are an entertaining diversion in the life of a commuter. People make all kinds of social, political and theological statements on the bumpers of their cars — to which others will directly respond with cleverly worded bumper stickers of their own. Take for example the commonly seen bumper sticker, “God Bless America.”

5953This is a bumper sticker that is perceived to convey the attitude of politically conservative, evangelical Christian drivers. It’s been around for years. More recently, one can see what appears to be the direct response of the politically liberal and theologically pluralistic crowd… “God Bless All Nations.”

I get a chuckle out of both of these because it seems to me both of these groups are defending points of view that miss the biblical mark — and both are doing it on behalf of God.

Take the “God Bless America” crowd. What do they want? They want God to “bless” America. Okay, what does that look like? What does “bless” even mean? If you look into it you will discover this often means God grants to America a prominent position in the world, complete with military strength, economic prosperity, and political freedom. But I ask you: What does this reveal about the affections of the one asking for God’s blessing on America? Is their primary affection for God or for country?

61SxYT3kUtL._SL1500_Then there is the “God Bless All Nations” bunch. They claim to have taken the more enlightened and morally superior high ground. I will grant that they appear to have a better handle on the idea that God is at work around the world and that America is not, in fact, God’s new chosen people. But, if you look closely at the sticker they display, you will see emblems and icons from a whole host of world religions. It is a symbolic affirmation of the old concept that all religions lead to God, they just take a different path. This betrays a fundamental and fatal misunderstanding of the God of the Universe.

These bumper stickers remind me of Genesis chapter 22. In this chapter God has commanded Abraham to kill his son Isaac. Just as Abraham is about to do it, God commands him to stop. Then Abraham sees a ram caught in a thicket and sacrifices it to the Lord. Then God tells Abraham…

“…I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed…”

The apostle Paul insists (in Galatians 3:16) that this offspring is to be understood as a particular descendant — namely Jesus Christ — and through HIM all nations are to be blessed. Please notice, this blessing is not a promise of wealth, or military power, or political freedom — it is a promise that Jesus will save His people from their sins. It is a promise of heaven.

And, yes, all nations are already blessed, because God has promised to save people from every nation and tribe and tongue. But the Bible is clear, He will only do this through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, period.

Read Revelation chapter 5. It is a beautiful picture of Christ’s redeemed at the end of the age…

“And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Notice these people are singing to the Lamb who was slain — Jesus Christ — the same one through whom God promised to bless all nations in Genesis chapter 22.

Dear Christians, the Bible is clear, HE is the one that has provided salvation (not a plurality of world religions) and HE is the one who gets the glory (not America). We need to insert ourselves right into the middle of the bumper sticker wars and declare to both sides that God HAS blessed all nations only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and only for the glory of God.

May I Quote You?

MayhewQuote

A Christian’s Attitude at Tax Time

What would you call it if a person walked up, pointed a gun at you, and demanded your money?

Robbery.

What if three guys did it? Would it be something else?

Of course not, it’s still robbery.

Okay, but suppose you live in a town of 100 people and 75 of them got together and agreed to send three guys to your house with guns to take your possessions. What’s that?

Robbery. C’mon!

Well, how many of them would have to get involved before taking your stuff was justified? 80? 90? 99? What?

That’s silly. It doesn’t matter how many people agree to steal my stuff — it’s still robbery.

What if they gave you a vote?

Doesn’t matter.

But suppose they came and took your possessions and, after pawning it off, took the proceeds and fed some hungry people in the neighborhood. Would that justify their actions?

Of course not, robbery is robbery regardless of what you do with the stolen property.

All of those scenarios were robbery — and easily understood as wrong — yet we blindly accept this kind of robbery in America every day. Many of us enthusiastically support it.

We just call it taxes.

The federal government of the United States — the worst offender — confiscates huge portions of our money every year and gives it away based upon their discretion. And, should we refuse to pay, the “authorities” would eventually show up at our door to take our money or our freedom by force. We are robbed, quite literally, at the point of a gun.

Now, I know what many of you are probably thinking… the Bible tells us to always submit to the government. No. I contend the Bible tells us to render to people what is legitimately theirs and to submit to legitimate authorities. You see, everything that Caesar claims is his is not his. And, when you boil it all down to the basics, most taxation is, in fact, the same thing as theft. A majority vote does not justify it.

So, why draw this comparison at all? Because it’s tax time in America and many of us have become conditioned to think it is our “patriotic duty” to fork over our hard-earned money to the ones holding a gun on us.

It’s really no different than a mob boss sending thugs around the neighborhood collection protection money. The mob boss wants you to pay for services you neither asked for nor needed. And, he is prepared to use force and intimidation to make you “accept” his services.

The federal government is just like this. The Internal Revenue Service is a master at intimidation and is dispatched every year at this time to collect money from us for services we neither asked for nor need. In fact, most of us have voiced our objection to these “services” over and over again — the propagandized “Affordable Care Act” being the most recent and egregious example.

But, this sort of extortion is nothing new. It might be comforting to know that people throughout history have had to deal with this sort of thing.

Augustine of Hippo, a Christian theologian and apologist who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries, commented on this very thing in his book, the City of God

“Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a vast scale? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms? A gang is a group of men under the command of a leader, bound by a compact of association, in which the plunder is divided according to an agreed convention. If this villainy wins so many recruits from the ranks of the demoralized that it requires territory, establishes a base, captures cities and subdues peoples, it then openly arrogates to itself the title of ‘kingdom,’ which is conferred on it in the eyes of the world, not by the renouncing of aggression but by the attainment of impunity. For it was a witty and a truthful rejoinder, which was given by a captured pirate to Alexander the Great. The king asked the fellow, ‘What is your idea, in infesting the sea?’ And the pirate answered, with uninhibited insolence, ‘The same as yours, in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate; because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor.’”

So, why even bring any of this up? Because, as Christians we need to understand that wicked men will always try to plunder what they can, whether they wear the title, “emperor” or “pirate,” “mob boss” or “president.” From time-to-time all of them step beyond their legitimate authority and engage in criminal behavior. And when they do we need to stop pretending that one is any better than the other. None of them are worthy of our devotion and loyalty.

PiratePistolBut, there is one who is. One who harbors no ulterior motive and no hidden agenda. One who is righteous, holy, and worthy of our loyalty. One whose kingdom is enduring and eternal.

Only One.

And it is to His Kingdom we need to turn our attention.

So, where does this leave us on the question of the proper attitude toward taxes? Should we pay them or not? Should we only obey governments that are legitimate? Should we always resist governments that are illegitimate? What do we do?

It depends on what will bring glory and honor to our King.

Sometimes it honors God to defy the illegitimate laws of men, just as the apostles did when they refused to obey the order of the Sanhedrin to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Sometimes it honors God to comply with an illegitimate law — and Scripture provides the perfect example…

“So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you now know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.'” — John 19:5-11

If ever there was a situation where a government had zero authority over someone it is when Jesus stood before Pilate. Christ is the supreme lawgiver — holy and righteous. He is the rightful judge of all those who judged him and yet he allowed himself to be placed under their power — subjecting himself to sinners. Why?

Obedience.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” — Philippians 2:5-8

Those men had no right to judge Christ, but Christ was not concerned with his own rights. He was not concerned with the injustice of his situation. He was concerned only with the glory of his Father in heaven.

John recorded an instance where Jesus taught his disciples about his purpose.

“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” — John 14:30-31

Note that Jesus points out the “ruler of this world” has no claim on him yet he is going to do as the Father has commanded so that “the world may know” that he loves the Father.

Jesus was sent to this earth for a purpose. Not to defend his own rights against an unjust empire, but to accomplish the will of his Father. Likewise, we are saved for a purpose. Not to defend our own rights against a wicked and sinful generation, but to accomplish the will of our Father. Illegitimate governments and the wicked men who run them have no claim on us — but we do as the Father has commanded.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” — Ephesians 2:10

We need to remember that God’s will for us is that we always bring glory to Him. And that should be our guiding principle in life.

crownIn fact, we should rarely, if ever, concern ourselves with the legitimacy of earthly laws. If they are legitimate then they will be completely consistent with God’s higher law and our obedience to them will stem from our obedience to God. If they are illegitimate we may or may not be obedient to them — depending on what will glorify our Father in heaven.

 

May I Quote You?

C.S.Lewis Quote

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