Putting things in their place

In my last post, I commented on a quote from Corrie Ten Boom to urge Christians to consider the ways in which they were devoting large segments of their lives to things that may be okay on their own but have grown too significant. I’m sure there are hundreds of good things that we could let become ultimate things if we are not careful. This is why Solomon gave the stern warning, “Above all else guard your heart, for from it flows the wellsprings of life.” (Prov 4:23) Jesus echoed this idea when he said “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21)

What follows are some practical tips to help diagnose whether this could be true of you. Could you be, as Corrie Ten Boom said, rearranging pictures in a house that is burning down with people inside?

Get out more: Conservative evangelicals are generally a white middle/upper class bunch and it is possible and even probable that most will avoid being challenged with seriously struggling people in their context. The middle and upper classes have the means to hide or drown their struggles so unless you do something differently, you can live your whole life thinking everyone is pretty much okay. This is true in the church as much as among unbelievers, and is the basic definition of the Christian bubble. I think it’s even more powerful in the “good churches” that tout themselves as better than the others because of (mostly correct) doctrinal distinctions, but have the boomerang effect of shaming struggling people into silence.

Get out more effectively: Once you decide you may be affected by the Christian bubble, come up with a plan. You don’t have to sell everything and move into our neighborhood to start coming out of the bubble (but you are welcome to do that). The Bible is clear that people around you are hurting and if you simply engage them on a more than superficial level you will begin to see it. This means you may have to say no to some of your “Christian” stuff or personal time but it’s really the only way you’re going to do it.

Read the Bible differently: One thing that God used to motivate us was simply reading the Bible to look for God’s attitude toward struggling people. God spends a lot of time talking about people exploited by leaders, and many of those groups continue to exist today. God does care about widowed, orphaned, materially poor, shamed, outcast, and lonely people differently and his promises to them reflect their actual condition. It could be that you are God’s

Ask different questions: If you’re going to do #3, you’re going to have to ask different questions. Rather than reading Matthew 25 and explaining why it doesn’t apply to you, you will need to ask how it does apply to you. When you read about God’s care for widows, you will need to ask whether obedience and love demand you get to know a widow on more than a surface level and start caring for her. As you struggle through Leviticus in your annual reading plan and get to 19:34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and kyou shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God, you will have to ask yourself whether you know strangers in your context and how you will mirror God’s love and mercy toward them. You can’t just assume someone else is doing it because for the most part, they aren’t.

Stop comparing yourself to others: This one came back to the front of our minds recently when my wife and daughter read the biography of Keith Green. It’s easy to think of the progress you make as monumental when you compare yourself to people whose eyes are not yet open to this need. Keith Green is an encouragement, but he is not the standard. Jesus, who left heaven and perfect fellowship in the trinity and constant, pure praise of angels to die for people who would reject him is the standard. Christian literally means “little Christ” so we should always be evaluating our lives relative to his example and nobody else’s.

Leave the Republican party behind: I saved this one for last because it will offend the most people. GOP does not stand for God’s Own Party. It does not represent Christianity well, and given its current standard bearer the trajectory is getting worse. I think Wayne Grudem is right when in his book Politics (which was excellent) he said the traditional GOP party platforms were more in line with the Scriptures about 75% of the time when compared to Democrat positions, but that doesn’t mean we walk in line with the GOP no matter what. The American political process tends to favor extremists in the primary system which means you’re never going to find a 75% Republican who lines up with the Bible well on everything. Marco Rubio, a 93% Republican, got run out of the presidential race because he wasn’t Republican enough. We need to be a people that engages politics on the basis of our Christian witness rather than political affiliation. Much harm has been done by people professing to be Christians blindly posting stuff on social media by right wind websites without doing any fact checking. If these stories end up to be false, and many of them are, we are bearing false witness.


Christianity and “Torture”

After learning they would lose control of the Senate, Democrats hurried to release what everyone agrees is a one-sided report on the American use of torture in its attempts to defeat terrorism. The report and most news accounts of it were pretty inflammatory and didn’t seem to present anything other than a monolithic point of view that was widely disputed by political opponents and intelligence analysts alike.

Still, a friend asked me a more difficult question – What is the Christian position on this stuff rather than the political position? How should a Christian think about torture in the “war on terror” and what should we do related to it?

I will spend the next several posts thinking through this topic. While I will try to be biblical rather than partisan, I will say that I generally come at issues like this from a more conservative point of view and my military experience probably makes me more sympathetic to war fighters generally than the average person.

A Christian Understanding of War Generally

Before we tackle the idea of torture (or “enhanced interrogation”) in war, I think it makes sense to ask whether war is a biblical idea in the first place. If the bible teaches pacifism then it sheds a very different light on the use of torture or “enhanced interrogation” with subjects captured by war fighters. I am not going to do a better job than Wayne Grudem on understanding the Bible’s take on war so for now I will simply share some of his thoughts on war generally and the “just war” theory (conditions necessary for a war and the suffering it brings to be justified”.

Biblical Justifications for Some Wars

No recognized Christian group or Christian leader today argues that any government should engage in war to compel people to support the Christian religion. This is because of the recognition that Christian faith, by its nature, must be voluntary if it is to be genuine (note the invitations in various parts of the Bible that appeal to people’s freedom to choose whether or not they will follow God: Ezek. 33:11; Matt. 11:28–30;Rev. 22:17). Jesus distinguished between “the things that are Caesar’s” and “the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21), thus establishing that the civil government (“Caesar”) and the church (“the things that are God’s”) have different responsibilities and different tasks, and that the government should not use its power to attempt to control people’s religious faith. Jesus himself refused to use deadly force to advance his kingdom or compel allegiance to him (see Matt. 26:52–55; John 18:36).

However, God does give civil government the responsibility and the authority to use superior force, even deadly force, to protect its citizens from evil. This is because, until Jesus returns (Dan. 9:26; Matt. 24:6), there are some people so deeply committed to doing evil that they can be restrained, not by reason and persuasion, but only by superior force. Therefore, in the OT God says that rulers must “give justice to the weak” and must “deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Ps. 82:3–4). The NT maintains that the civil government has been established by God with responsibility for maintaining justice. This is why the government has a rightful duty to “bear the sword” (Rom. 13:4), to be “a terror” to bad conduct, and thus to be “God’s servant” to do “good” for its citizens (Rom. 13:3–4). Part of this responsibility is acting as a “servant of God … who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). Peter likewise affirms that civil government is sent “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:14). Therefore one of the primary duties of government is to protect its citizens, even through the use of force (“the sword”) if that is necessary in order to restrain evil. This is the justification for police forces that protect citizens from any harm that would come from others within a nation. And this responsibility from God also provides justification for nations to engage in armed conflict (“to bear the sword”) in order to protect their citizens from evildoers who would attack them from outside the nation, including a defense against armies sent by other nations when those armies and nations are “those who do evil” (1 Pet. 2:14) in the pursuit of such a war.

Several wars in the OT fall under this category of a war of defense against evil aggression (such as Abraham’s war to rescue Lot in Gen. 14:1–16; Saul’s war against the Ammonites in 1 Sam. 11:1–11; and Gideon’s war to defend Israel against the Midianites in Judges 6–7). Therefore it should not be thought inconsistent in the OT for God to command people to go to war (see Deuteronomy 20, for example) andalso to command his people, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). The Hebrew word translated “murder” (ratsakh) in the sixth commandment is used 49 times in the OT but is never used to refer to killing in war (for which other Hebrew words are used; see note on Deut. 5:17).

Just War

The just war ethic argues that warfare is sometimes necessary in order to resist or reverse specific unjust actions taken by one government or nation against another, but it also insists that war is always regrettable, is always something to avoid if possible, and is never to be used to establish some new vision of a social order.

The just war ethical tradition arises from both biblical and classical sources. In the Bible, just war principles can be found in rules revealed for engaging enemies outside the territory of the Promised Land (Deut. 20:1–20), in God’s judgment of war actions taken by the Gentile nations around Israel (Amos 1), and in the regard Jesus had for moral wisdom relating to the way kings go to war (Luke 14:31).

The NT church included many soldiers serving on active duty and saw nothing morally inconsistent with Christians serving as military professionals. The conversion of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was confirmed by the Holy Spirit with no question of his profession compromising his faith (Acts 10). John the Baptist responded to soldiers in a way that implied they were serving in a morally legitimate profession (Luke 3:14). And when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, many in the Praetorian guard became Christians (cf. Phil. 1:13). As a result, Christians soon came to fill the Roman “fortresses,” military “camps,” and army “companies” (see evidence provided by Tertullian in Apology 37; c. a.d. 200), and the first persecutions of the church arose because of the high number of Christians serving in the Roman army. While some early Christians opposed military service (cf. Tertullian and Origen), the majority tradition of the church has never considered military service to be inconsistent with biblical standards.

Over time, the just war ethic has developed a common set of criteria that can be used to decide if going to war in a specific situation is right. These include the following: (1) just cause (is the reason for going to war a morally right cause, such as defense of a nation? cf. Rev. 19:11); (2) competent authority (has the war been declared not simply by a renegade band within a nation but by a recognized, competent authority within the nation? cf. Rom. 13:1); (3) comparative justice (it should be clear that the actions of the enemy are morally wrong, and the motives and actions of one’s own nation in going to war are, in comparison, morally right; cf. Rom. 13:3); (4) right intention (is the purpose of going to war to protect justice and righteousness rather than simply to rob and pillage and destroy another nation? cf. Prov. 21:2); (5) last resort (have all other reasonable means of resolving the conflict been exhausted? cf. Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18); (6) probability of success (is there a reasonable expectation that the war can be won? cf.Luke 14:31); (7) proportionality of projected results (will the good results that come from a victory in a war be significantly greater than the harm and loss that will inevitably come with pursuing the war? cf.Rom. 12:21 with 13:4); and (8) right spirit (is the war undertaken with great reluctance and sorrow at the harm that will come rather than simply with a “delight in war,” as in Ps. 68:30?).

In addition to these criteria for deciding whether a specific war is “just,” advocates of just war theory have also developed some moral restrictions on how a just war should be fought. These include the following: (1) proportionality in the use of force (no greater destruction should be caused than is needed to win the war; cf. Deut. 20:10–12); (2) discrimination between combatants and noncombatants (insofar as it is feasible in the successful pursuit of a war, is adequate care being taken to prevent harm to noncombatants? cf. Deut. 20:13–14, 19–20); (3) avoidance of evil means (will captured or defeated enemies be treated with justice and compassion, and are one’s own soldiers being treated justly in captivity? cf. Ps. 34:14); and (4) good faith (is there a genuine desire for restoration of peace and eventually living in harmony with the attacking nation? cf. Matt. 5:43–44; Rom. 12:18).

If a war is just, it should not be viewed as morally wrong but still necessary, nor as morally neutral, but as something that is morally right, carried out (with sorrow and regret) in obedience to responsibilities given by God (Rom. 13:4). Those who serve in a just war should understand that such service is not sinful in God’s sight but that they do this as “God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4; cf. Luke 3:14; John 15:13; also Num. 32:6, 20–23; Ps. 144:1).

Most nations throughout history, and most Christians in every age, have held that fighting in combat is a responsibility that should fall only to men, and that it is contrary to the very idea of womanhood, and shameful for a nation, to have women risk their lives as combatants in a war. The assumption that only men and not women will fight in battle is also a frequent pattern in the historical narratives and is affirmed by leaders and prophets in the OT (see Num. 1:2–3; Deut. 3:18–19; 20:7–8; 24:5; Josh. 1:14; 23:10; Judg. 4:8–10; 9:54; 1 Sam. 4:9; Neh. 4:13–14; Jer. 50:37; Nah. 3:13).

The next post will talk more about biblically understanding the methods of war including interrogation and treatment of prisoners.

Book Review – A Christian Manifesto

Francis Schaeffer wrote A Christian Manifesto in 1981 in response to a growing decline of morality in almost all spheres of life in the west, and especially in America. The premise of the book is that Christians have been largely asleep at the wheel while secular humanists have taken over the public square, and in doing so the control of all government and laws related to morality and right living. This occurred, he says, by Christians taking a myopic view of one issue at a time rather than seeing the broad picture of secular humanist philosophy which had it been seen from the start would have been vigorously opposed. The incremental approach taken by those opposed to God lulled Christians into a slumber that only the stark reality of where we are now can disturb.

My general impressions of the book are twofold. First of all, it is a really well researched and written text. It is short – only 138 pages – but covers a tremendous amount of ground. Much of the historical content is material I had heard before, namely that the founding fathers were generally committed Christians and had set up the United States with that mindset. I already knew that the founding fathers wanted the first amendment not to prevent religion from influencing the state, but to prevent the state from controlling religion as it did in much of Europe throughout the fourteenth thru nineteenth centuries. The detail Schaeffer presents to support this history is quite good, especially in such a little book. Did you know that while the federal government was prohibited from establishing an official religion, individual states DID have state religions and that was not deemed in conflict with the first amendment? In fact, Massachusetts used tax monies to support the state church until 1853.

My second impression is tremendous surprise at how little Scripture is actually in the book that promotes itself to be “A Christian Manifesto”. In the whole book I saw only one reference to how a believer should react to the government expounded from the Bible, namely how David responded to King Saul when he was wrongfully pursued. He ran rather than fought because he saw Saul as God’s anointed king. (of course he also ran from his son Absalom when he stole the throne from David but that was different). It isn’t that Schaeffer doesn’t make logical arguments from the character of God or the history of God’s people, he just doesn’t cite any actual Scripture to support his points. In a general sense I’m okay with that because we know we are to be salt and light to the world while we’re here. Salt is both a source of flavor and a preservative and Christians should take on both roles in the world. It just seems really odd to me that he’d go through all the effort to write this book and spend an inordinately great amount of time on the history of what preachers believed and taught in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without providing a basis. This is especially true given he pretty much slams the secular humanists for not having a basis for anything they believe about government and law (which is correct).

As I mentioned in a previous post, I kept waiting for him to explain why something like the American Revolution was justified in light of the fact that Rome was certainly worse to Christians under Nero than King George was to the colonists and yet the first century Christians did not revolt. Romans 13 is also pretty clear that we should be praying for and submissive to our government BECAUSE no authority exists except that which God himself has ordained. He does do a very good job of explaining the options a Christian under governmental persecution has available and promotes the idea of taking the least aggressive action that will permit obedience to God, but I’m not sure he ever convinced me that revolution is the way to please God in the case of an extremely ungodly government. He repeatedly goes to the concept of Lex Rex by the Scottish 17th century preacher Samuel Rutherford that claimed the law is greater than the king. Rutherford actually based that on Romans 13 in that kings can only make laws because they are given permission by the great Law Giver, God. Therefore, anything that would violate God’s revealed will must be opposed.

To buy into his argument for revolution, you first have to accept his presupposition (actually not his but Samuel Rutherford’s) that there is a difference between government’s oppression of an individual verses a corporate body. For example in current affairs it would be one thing for the government to force a Christian to have an abortion and another thing to force the State of Georgia to violate its own constitution in some way. This is the basic argument he extends to the colonial fight for independence, namely that England was trying to force unjust laws on the colonies as entities. In such cases, individuals who organize under lesser authorities (for example the Governor of Georgia) have the right and in many cases the duty to resist. That’s his point anyway.

I’ll close with this provocative quote from the last page before Schaeffer’s closing remarks.

If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in place of the Living God.

What can I say? I’m still not convinced but I know that after reading about a sneaky way some in Washington wanted to try to force government control of healthcare on the states who believe it is wrong to do it my reaction was “there will be a revolution if they do that”. Still, even with my uncertainty I recommend this book. Given the current times and polar political climate it was a helpful text to prompt questions in my own mind about the role of civil disobedience and even resistance by force by professing Christians.

Political Christianity

Brian loaned me the book “The Christian Manifesto” by Francis Schaefer. I’ve been reading what I can of it these last few days. I expect I will do a book review on it, but sharing some thoughts on it may be worthwhile as well.

I am appreciating Schaeffer’s main point that if Jesus is Lord, then He is Lord of all. This includes mankind’s political ways. He highlights what happened between the 1940s and 1970s relative to the dramatic shift in Amerrica toward secular humanism, including how liberal Christians aided the movement. He describes liberal Christians as humanists with theological language who are humanists nonetheless.

I guess I will need to be thinking more and more about some of his points. If you read this blog at all, I hope you see a thought process that basically says Christians should not fret and fuss over politics because God’s purposes are not generally political – they are related to the Gospel. He does make a compelling point however that being salt and light means we must be engaged and use the freedom that is peculiar to very few countries to maintain the freedom we have as a result of our founding fathers’ belief that law is greater than king because law is provided first by the great Lawgiver, God Himself.

Overall, very thought provoking for me and I believe I will write more after I get my thoughts in place.