Archive for the ‘theology and politics’ Tag

Donald’s Jesus Trump   3 comments

Paul Kengor over at the American Thinker as apparently been receiving some of the same posts I have on my personal social media. He almost exactly echoes my thoughts on the subject, but he wrote it better than I would have.

I especially liked the part – halfway down the article – where he quotes a “pro-life evangelical” who says voting for Donald Trump is a sign that the religious are becoming faith-filled and trusting Jesus for the answers in politics.

You just can’t make this stuff up.


Donald ‘Jesus’ Trump

It has been hard enough for me, as a Reagan scholar, to forebear claims by Trump supporters of alleged commonalities between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Some lost soul, in a fit of madness, composed a list of 15 uncanny “similarities” between the two. The list has gone viral and has been sent to me too many times. I’ve resisted responding to it, and — pray God — I will not need to. But speaking of God, other analogies are being made by Trump supporters that wrench my stomach so hard that I need to vent as a form of therapy. It started about six weeks ago when a family friend posted something on Facebook. It was an Old Testament verse, a prophetic one, invoked in the name of and alongside a photo of Donald Trump. I initially thought it was a joke. I will not repeat it here. It’s plainly blasphemous. Then, three weeks ago, another incident during one of my regular appearances on a syndicated Christian talk-show that I do frequently, a wonderful…(Read Full Article)

Subverting Scripture   Leave a comment

Romans 13 was written in AD 56-57 from Corinth, where Paul was making tents in the market place while ministering to the local community. Most Christians were not power brokers. The earliest Christians were Jews living in virtual clientage in Palestine. Paul was a Roman citizen with the rights that came with that status, but he abandoned the prestige of being Gamalial’s heir-apparent as THE scholar in Jerusalem to be God’s ambassador to the Gentiles. So he sewed tents in the market place.

The church Paul wrote to was nothing like the church of Rome 300 years later. This congregation lived under threat and soon Nero would attack them with impunity, accusing them of spreading the plague and burning down parts of Rome. The last thing the congregation in Rome needed was the reputation of being rebellious. Thus, Paul suggested they submit to the authorities.

There’s two reasons for this and he touched on them. One, God’s followers are in the world, but not of it. Our citizenship is not Roman or American so much as it is heaven. This is true now as it was true then, but it was more true then. Christians might have to flee to another country to survive. As such, they couldn’t afford to become too attached to whatever governmental system they lived under. The second reason was that Jesus had told them to be peaceful and forgiving, so to be rebellious would cast the God they served in a bad light.

They were going to be hated as Christians regardless, but Paul wanted them hated for being Christians, not for refusing to pay their taxes or follow some other secular law that did not impact their Christianity.

Being Christian was enough of a crime because Christians did not bow to Caesar or sacrifice in the pagan temples. After Paul’s sojourn in Ephesus, Christians would stop buying and making silver idols for the goddess Diana. Christian masters sometimes freed their slaves, which actually led to revolts among slaves held by non-Christian masters. The private worship practices of Christians struck the pagans, used to public displays of religion, as highly suspect — causing false accusations of cannibalism and incest. Later the pagans would feel that Christian neglect of the old pagan gods lead to the weakening of the Roman Empire.

Paul meant for Christians to voluntarily submit to authorities to avoid trouble with the government and so that Christians would be hated for being Christians, not hated for being subversives.

And, I would note, his advice eventually worked. Christians became known throughout the Empire as peaceful people who went about their faith without resorting to violence. They took this idea of submission so far that they sang hymns as they walked into the coliseums to be devoured by wild animals as a form of execution.

Yet, once the church at Rome and, by extension, Christianity, became the exclusive religion of the Roman Empire, that voluntary submission became a liability requiring a subversion of Scripture.

Returning to Romans 13   Leave a comment

Romans 13 was written at a time when Christians had no political power and were increasingly endangered by persecution.

If you return to previous posts, you’ll see that the Greek words might have meant a more voluntary submission than the usual hard edge connoted by commentators. It’s important to note that “authorities” didn’t just mean government officials. Peter and John ran afoul of temple “authorities” when they were told to stop preaching there and they refused.

The fact is that, from God’s perspective, Christians are not positionally subjected to human governments. We are priests and kings of the Most High God. Like it or not, agree with it or not, He owns everything on this planet, right down to our DNA. He’s just letting us borrow it for now. The time will come when that reality will be all too clear even to those who deny it. And, Christians are His heirs by adoption.

That might give some folks, even faithful Christians, a big head. I suspect Paul, with that history of being Gamalial’s student, heir to a great deal of prestige in the Jewish community, struggled with the temptation of hubris. I think most Christians, if they rolled their human frailty about in the knowledge that we are Christ’s adopted siblings, would be tempted to lord that exulted position over our fellow humans.

So God said we can’t.

Why? Because He knows us and we are who we are, so He says we won’t receive that reward on this planet, which keeps us humble. Humility is good and it follows the example of Christ Who being God stepped down into creepy human flesh to die for us. Even God submitted Himself to His own authority.

So Christians are encouraged to submit to government authorities as an exercise of humility. We learn a great deal about our relationship with God through our relationships with our fellow human beings — including officers of the state.

But that doesn’t mean that Romans 13 says we must submit at all times to all governments under all circumstances.

Romans 13 in Context   Leave a comment

For most of European history, Christians were taught that the government was divinely appointed. No matter what  government did, Christians were to treat it as just and fair and support it wholeheartedly because Romans 13 said we must. There is no distinction made in Romans 13 between “good” rules and “bad” rulers or “fair” laws or “unfair” laws. There’s not even an out for objecting to oppression.

That is … if you take the verses in Romans 13 all by themselves ….

That’s not how Paul wrote them and it’s entirely possible that it was not how he meant them. Paul wrote the letter to the Romans as a letter and what we deem Chapter 13 is just a convenient way of breaking up a large body of text. If we go back further in the letter, we can find where the subject he’s discussing starts. Chapter 12 ends with the admonition “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Romans 12 talks a lot about the Christian’s love for one’s neighbor as one’s self and strongly warns Christians not to resist evil with evil. We aren’t just to love those who we find loveable, but to bless those who persecute us; “bless and not curse.”

Then we reach 13:1 where it says there is no authority except that instituted by God and that Christians are to be subject to the government authorities. Governing authority is, according to the Net Bible translates as “power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases, leave or permission” (and only talks about government rule in the fourth definition). The NET Bible was translated and the site is administered by textual critics from the Dallas Theological Seminary. The word translated “be subject to” actually carries with it two connotations. In the military sense, it means to arrange or subordinate under the command of a leader, but in the non-military sense, it means to have a “voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating to share a burden.”

Is it possible that this passage of Scripture has been deliberately misinterpreted and given that militaristic sense in order to co-opt Christianity into the governing systems?

Modern Idolatry   55 comments

There are many idols in this world. We don’t tend to think of idol-worship in our modern society. We are so sophisticated that we don’t make graven images to bow before. That doesn’t mean we don’t have idols. Any time a Christian puts anything higher than God, it becomes an idol. Even our government can become an idol if we put obeying it above our obligation to obey God.

Here in the United States, many Christians insist that we must support our government and obey it, even as it does things that are cruel, greedy, murderous and godless. If you point out where the US government has gone astray, they will cite Romans 13 and a handful of other passages to assert that Christians must never, ever disobey the government because that is tantamount to disobeying God.

So they plunk down their tax money and they send their sons and daughters off to war, to pay for and participate in assassinations, unjust wars, taxpayer-funded abortion, drone strikes, and attacks on American citizens (such as Ruby Ridge). They don’t complain and often they cheer.

When President Obama authorized a drone strike murder on American citizen Anwar al-Alwaki I objected on two grounds — one that he was an American citizen and therefore supposed to be protected by the Constitution and two that our government should not be using drones to kill anyone. If we are a nation founded on the rule of law, then simply sneaking up on someone we suspect of terrorism is not good enough. Innocent until proven guilty, right to a fair trial, right to face your accusers … and all that. Yet, many of my fellow Christians informed me that I didn’t have a right to judge the government as abusive and out of control because of … Romans 13.

It goes further than that, however. God gave us the right of liberty (1 Peter 4:15), which our Constitution acknowledges, but the American government tells us what we must do, own, buy, sell, and consume. Our Constitution sets forth protections for criminal and civil procedings in a way reminiscent of the cities of refuge and the trial in the gate system of Israel, yet our government recently has given itself the power to arrest and incarcerate without evidence or trial. God gave us the right of property (Exodus 20:15), which is recognized in the Founding documents, but the American government imposes coercive taxes, confiscates possessions, and tells us what we can and cannot own. God gave us the right of privacy (1 Peter 4:15), acknowledged by the 4th amendment, but the American government gave itself license to spy on us through our computers, telephones, and records and by means of cameras, drones and even our neighbors.

If God granted these rights and safeguards them through His divine law, then it reasonably follows that man has no authority to take them away. That used to be understood in the United States and was enshrined in our constitution, but in recent times we have given ourselves the right (through the government) to define and even take away the rights of other men, thus attempting to dethrone God and replace Him with the government.

Does that seem like an overblown statement?

In a society that is supposedly founded on self-government, when the government steals, coerces or murders, it does it in your name. Christians are called in the Bible to refrain from such activities, but when our government engages in them, it does so on our behalf … though increasingly against us.

To obey a government without question because you believe God has required you to obey it even as it violates His commands is as much idolatry as Caesar declaring himself God!

On Biblical Liberty   Leave a comment

It’s always a good idea to keep in mind that the letters and histories of the New Testament were written in a particular order. Scholars have pretty much teased out the time line. James wrote his letter to the Christian diaspora (an overwhelmingly Jewish Christian population) sometime before the Jerusalem Council in AD 49. Not long afterward, Paul wrote two letters to the brand-new church at Thessalonica and almost immediately wrote to the churches in Galatia. Although the books of the New Testament are not organized in that manner, this chronology is important because it explains certain emphases in the subject of each letter.

Even in AD 49, a mere 14 years after Christ’s death, the Christian churches had some concept that the gospel gave liberty — James 1:25 says to keep their attention on the “law of liberty” and James 2:12 warns them to conduct their lives as people who are judged under liberty. In other words, they could sin and not be condemned, but they shouldn’t because they loved God. Jesus had said believers would know the truth and the truth would set them free. Free from what? Free from the authority of “words on stone tablets” (2 Corinthians 3:7). Believers would be free to worship God not in a place, under a specific authority, but in their spirit, wherever they went. This did not mean they were free of God’s authority, but that they were free of man-made religious authority.

Paul would expand upon this concept of liberty, in Galatians 5 (which was one of Paul’s earliest letters written not long after the Jerusalem Council) and then later in both letters of the Corinthian church. There is no question that the early church believed they’d been set free of the authority of Judaism. The entire letter to the Galatians represents Paul’s attempt to teach Gentile Christians that they did not need to be Jews to be good Christians. They had been taught to this erroneous belief by false teachers who had failed (or rejected) the teaching that the truth would set them free … not free to sin, but free to worship God within a cultural concept that is in line with God’s will.

And, then came the letter to the Romans.  Before we get to Romans 13, it benefits us to look at Romans 8:18-21: “For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.”

There’s no question that the New Testament Christians believed they lived in God’s liberty. They were directly under the authority of God, not any man-made institutions.

So, once again, why did Paul write Romans 13 and what did he mean by the words he penned?

On Human Bondage   Leave a comment

The apostle Paul had been a Pharisee and Jewish legal scholar before his encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. Jews believed that society and culture were based upon instructions originating from God the Father and not from humans. They saw no difference between the social, legal or political systems of their day. They were all one and the same. As a Jew, Paul would have had no objection to a legalistic social order so long as that society was based upon God’s word. All of Jewish life was based on a theocratic political system in which there were no distinctions between social, political or religious spheres.

In the early years of Israel, the people were largely free to conduct themselves within their tribes as they saw fit. Tribes selected leaders and conflicts where resolved by consultation with “judges”, who spoke for God. Later in their history, the Israelites demanded a king. God warned that they wouldn’t like what they got, but they insisted. However, even the king was subject to the authority of God. He didn’t rule in his own right. He answered to God. When Saul turned out exactly how Samuel had warned he would, God allowed him to destroy himself and replaced him with David — a (flawed) man after God’s own heart who knew that he was answerable to God. Even David let the power go to his head and he stumbled and when you read the account of the kings, there are few that followed God and more that followed the lust of their power. Many of the kings of Israel chose to worship idols as well.

Ancient Israel is recorded in the Bible as frequently needing to repent of building temples to idols and joining with nearby pagan cultures in practices of which God did not approve. By Paul’s time as a young student in Jerusalem, the Pharisees comprised about 20% of the population. They had devised a very strict religious code to help steer themselves and their society away from the moral degradation of the greater Greek society around them. They met with some success, but their king was still a hot mess.

By Jesus’ day, there was still the understanding that God was the ultimate authority, but the political system of Israel was entangled with the Roman Empire. Being as Israel had been a theocracy, the political system’s entanglement with the Roman Empire meant the religious system of Israel was very much in the thrall of the Empire, even though the people didn’t realize it.  Jesus challenged both the authority of the Temple and of the Roman government. His authority came from a much higher source than either of these two hierarchies, which is why — apart from it being God’s will — they killed Him. Christians understand that it as a wholly spiritual event pre-ordained for salvation, but from a secular political view, Jesus died because He was civilly disobedient. The Temple authorities thought He was bucking their power structure (He was, just not in the way that they thought) and the Romans thought He meant to proclaim Himself king (He was, just not in the way that they thought).

Understanding Christian relationship with the state starts with the understanding that in order to serve God, we may have to break the law.

Merely Mugged   3 comments

Christians in the 1st century, non-Catholics throughout the Middle Ages, Christians in the Middle East, China, and Myanmar ….

Just examples of Christians who were/are murdered and muzzled simply because they believe that Jesus Christ exists and He is the Answer for what ails the world.

By contrast, Americans are merely mugged. We face social embarrassment and some political hurdles for our beliefs, but nobody is trying to kill us … yet. The Chinese Christians say that American Christianity would be much more vital if we actually faced persecution. Maybe if we risked death or imprisonment for our beliefs, we’d understand the difference between a compelling cause for Christ where we must make a stand and a mere inconvenience where we might want to consider our witness before we get on our high horses.

On the other hand, in a nation founded on natural rights and liberty, all citizens must be eternally vigilant to secure those rights not just for ourselves, but for our fellow citizens.

How do Christians walk that line in a society where religious liberty is threatened with suppression, but not actively persecuted? Should we?

If Hobby Lobby et al are told to tow the ObamaCare line and pay for abortifacients … should they fall in line or is it time for civil disobedience from Christians?


When we’re merely mugged and not murdered, what should our response be, Christians?


Balancing Act   4 comments

Every day, Christians are called to be citizens of heaven rather than of earth. We may live in the United States or Russia or South Africa or China, but we are in this world and not of it. The apostle Paul understood that. The gospel didn’t come just for the Jews. Jesus died for everyone who will accept God’s grace by faith. And that brought Paul and his fellow 1st century Christians into conflict with the government authorities. By their very existence as a people, they were in violation of the civil authority of the government.

So why did Paul write what we designate now as Romans 13? Because he knew, better than most, that Christians were going to be murdered, muzzled or mugged by the world around us. Our every day lives will always be in conflict with the societal standards around us. We should probably think something is wrong with our Christian walk if we are NOT in conflict with the world around us because Jesus warned us in John 4 that we will have grief for no other reason than that we believe in Him.

So if we’re already in conflict with the world simply for believing in Jesus, why not also be in conflict with the government that opposes our beliefs? Why would Paul write Romans 13 if we were already in conflict by believing what we believe?

The first human born on this planet killed the second human born on this planet because he perceived his brother’s existence was somehow defrauding him of his “due”. Many centuries later, God used the writer of Hebrews to commend the murdered brother for his faith. This ought to tell us something about ourselves. We are bent, fallen, given to having our feelings hurt by imagined slights and to inflate minor slights into major conflicts.

Paul wrote Romans 13 because he knew this about human nature. He recognized that Christianity would always be in conflict with the world because the world is in conflict with God, but he also recognized that we could spend our energy railing at injustice rather than ministering on God’s behalf. We can become known as the people who resist the government rather than the people who walk in Christ’s way and that can and will diminish the gospel of Jesus Christ. By damaging our own witness through political activity rather than through godly works, we become salt that is good for nothing but to melt ice.

Which brings us to the question …

Should Christians ever be civilly disobedient?

Christianity is Transcendent   2 comments

I am a Christian where ever I am standing. Christianity is transcendent. It is greater than my racial makeup, greater than my nationality, greater than my family and greater than the law of whatever country I am living in.

Can I get an amen?


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