In giving the announcements, one of the associate pastors at our church mentioned that there was a petition on the back table for FOCA -- the Freedom of Choice Act; he explained that the members might want to check it out "for your information." He emphasized that the church was taking no position on the issue.
A few weeks later the associate decided to run a little experiment when he saw a young couple at the back table getting ready to sign the petition.
"What're you doing?" he asked.
"Going to sign the petition," the young man said.
"It's against abortion."
"That's what it says."
"Right here." He pointed at the paper, then started to sign it.
"That's what the National Right to Life Organization wants you to think, but have you read the bill in question?"
"Neither have I. I wouldn't rely just on what they're saying about it."
"Well, the church endorses it." And he got ready to sign it again.
"No it doesn't."
"But it's back here on the table."
* * *
On the other side of the coin, the interactive computer information service Prodigy related a story about a ninth grader in Bloomingdale, Michigan. It seems that there was a large picture of Jesus in one of the hallways of his public high school; after learning about the separation of church and state in class, he got to wondering about the painting.
In February, a U.S. District Court ordered that the painting be covered, because the picture "amounts to a school endorsement of Christianity and thus violates the First Amendment, which bars government establishment of religion."
Prodigy reported that late Sunday, February 28, 1993 school officials "covered the picture while about 150 people held a candlelight vigil outside." The online service also pointed out that in 1980 the Supreme Court ruled that it was improper for schools to display the Ten Commandments, and in 1992, the court ruled that prayers are not appropriate at school graduations.
Prodigy reports that "Since the lawsuit was filed, Pensinger has been screamed at by parents and challenged to fights. Some students staged a sit-in to protest the judge's order. Some of his own cousins won't speak to him."
The temptation for Christians throughout history has been to try to impose their view of reality on those who do not believe. This activity has resulted in rather hideous evils, as for instance the Crusades and such horrors as the Spanish Inquisition, where those who did not believe appropriately, or who did not act properly, were forced to change their ways or die.
In the United States, such extreme methods are not possible, but this has not kept the Church from trying to impose its will by less extreme methods. The American Church has a long history of clamoring for various social and political causes; early on, the American churches were divided over whether to support or resist the revolution. Later, the abolitionist movement became a focus in some churches, while others fought for the right to own slaves. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the temperance movement worked to ban the manufacture and sale of alcohol. In the last few decades churches in America have taken a role in the civil rights movement, come out for or against certain wars, and issued statements on nuclear proliferation. There is no shortage of those seeking to impose Christian ideals on American society through legislative action: trying to outlaw homosexuality or ban abortions, institute prayer in public schools, or limit sex and violence on television.
Depending on one's political leanings, the political activities of churches are viewed as either praiseworthy or frightening. Those on the left are quick to condemn churches for mixing religion and politics if the church is pushing a conservative cause. On the other side, the right will happily criticize those churches on the left who involve themselves in issues in which they have the opposite opinion. Each side seems happy with the separation of church and state -- until their own agenda is at stake.
Both sides are right to criticize and wrong to be politically involved.
As well-intentioned as all such political activities inevitably are, biblically they are suspect because these crusades for moral purity in society are confusing the mission of the church and distracting people from the message of the cross.
II. The Purpose of the Church
At the heart of the issue is the question of the church's mission on planet earth. Is it simply to present the gospel, or is it more than that? Based on statements in the book of James, and more especially based upon the example of Israel and the laws established for the people there, cannot it be reasonably argued that the church has a role to play in improving the human condition, in relieving suffering, in working for justice and in fighting for the rights of the oppressed? Does not the Bible say that the church is to be a beacon, a light on a hill, a candle that cannot be put under a bushel? If that is the case, then surely the church not only has the right, but even the duty to involve itself in political issues. The only question then, is to determine which issues are the right ones.
However, is the above line of reasoning biblical? Let's look again at what the Bible really has to say about the church's mission to planet earth.
A. To Evangelize
Biblically, it becomes obvious that the Church's mission on Earth is to spread the good news that Jesus died on the cross. Notice the words of Jesus:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
The Holy Spirit is said to empower the Christian to act as a witness of Jesus. Notice the consistency with a passage like the following:
"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning."
1 John 5:6-9
This is the one who came by water and blood -- Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.
One of the Holy Spirit's primary roles on the planet is to refer people to Jesus. Jesus is the focus of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus is the focus of the church.
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome."
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Jesus receives all authority in heaven and earth. But to his disciples, he gives a simple command: make more disciples. Again, the job of the Christian, the mission he has been given, is one of simple evangelism, followed by the training of those who have been evangelized. Notice the order: first, make disciples; second baptize them; third, teach them to obey.
Obedience cannot precede conver-sion; obedience -- that is, doing good, is the result of salvation, not the cause.
Over and over again, the reader of the New Testament sees Paul and others concerned with proclaiming the gospel, with telling everyone they meet about the gospel:
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation.
1 Corinthians 1:17
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel -- not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
1 Corinthians 1:23
But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolish-ness to Gentiles,
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambass-ador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.
The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice...
Notice that Paul suffered severe persecution for proclaiming the gospel, even to the point of being in chains, yet he viewed such persecution more as an opportunity than a hindrance. We never see him railing against the authorities, or encouraging the churches to march on his behalf or -- for that matter -- on behalf of anyone. There are no letter writing campaigns, no petitions, no banners, no lobbying those in authority. Paul just preached the gospel and encouraged others around him to do the same and even to be encouraged by his plight.
1 Corinthians 9:16
Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
2 Corinthians 4:5
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
2 Corinthians 11:3-4
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
Paul is quite harsh against those who would dare to proclaim a gospel other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. He would argue that such people are eternally condemned.
Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ...
2 Timothy 4:2
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage -- with great patience and careful instruction.
Repeatedly Paul explains his mission in life, and repeatedly in the book of Acts the reader can see how forcefully he pursued that mission. Paul's sole concern was with proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He criticizes those who preached a "different" Gospel, a Gospel of works in place of a Gospel of grace. Paul stresses the nature of his message in Romans 1:15- 17:
That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
Paul writes a summary of the message he's been proclaiming in 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.
By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
So what, exactly, was the message that was proclaimed by Paul and the other early Christians? What was the good news that Jesus wanted his disciples to proclaim in "Judea, Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the world"?
B. What is the Gospel?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about works, good or bad. It is not the work of the Christian or the church to convict the world of sin. That is the work of the Holy Spirit:
But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, and his finished work on the cross. It has nothing to do with good deeds. Yet, as simple a thing as the Gospel is, it is remarkable how easily it becomes confused in the minds of both Christians and non-Christians. For most, salvation and a proper relationship to God seem to be bound up in attempts to be holy, to do good, to avoid evil and thereby achieve either heaven, God's blessing, or the working of miracles or some other desired action on the part of God.
Nothing could be further from the truth of the Gospel than to imagine that being good has anything to do with it. This can be made quite clear by looking at the life of Lot -- and then the New Testament comment on it. We begin with Genesis 19:
The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.
"My lords," he said, "please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning."
"No," they answered, "we will spend the night in the square."
But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom -- both young and old -- surrounded the house.
They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them."
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, "No my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."
"Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play judge! We'll treat you worse than them."
They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door with blindness so that they could not find the door.
The two men said to Lot, "Do you have anyone else here -- sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it."
So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, "Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!" But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.
With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished."
When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, "Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!"
But Lot said to them, "No, my lords, please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can't flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I'll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it -- it is very small, isn't it? Then my life will be spared."
He said to him, "Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it." (That is why the town was called Zoar.)
By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah -- from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities -- and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot's wife looked back and she became a pillar of salt.
Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.
Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.
One day the older daughter said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. Let's get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father."
That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
The next day the older daughter said to the younger, "Last night I lay with my father. Let's get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father."
So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father. The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
Lot is not cast in the most favorable light; in fact, it is quite clear that his conduct leaves a lot to be desired. And yet, Peter makes an interesting, and apparently contradictory statement about Lot:
2 Peter 2:7-8
And if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)...
Lot is a righteous man? He didn't want to leave Sodom and Gomorrah, his sons-in-law had no respect for him, he offered his daughters to a pack of homosexuals to rape, and finally his daughters get him drunk and he has sex with them, making them pregnant. How can a man like this be considered righteous?
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished -- he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing -- if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
To summarize: there are no good people; only God is good. Our righteousness and acceptability to God are entirely up to God himself. The work of Christ on the cross cleanses us from all iniquity and in him we become righteous. Apart from him, we are nothing. There is nothing more to be done to be in God's good graces. Jesus took care of it all; we do good things simply because He makes us (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, with Paul, we have nothing to boast of except the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14)
The message of the Christian church is that sin has been atoned for, the way to God is clear: come all who are heavy laden and God will grant rest. The chastisement we deserved fell on Him. Like sheep, we all have gone astray, but the Lord has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all.
The Gospel message is a message of grace, a message that sin has been atoned for, and that nothing needs to be done in order to gain a proper relationship with God. The penalty has been paid for in its entirety!
2 Corinthians 5:18-21
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambass-adors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
C. Works versus Grace
The thought seems prevalent among so many Christians that people must be made to act good so they will want to be saved. If they have the right environment, if they can't be gay, if they are forced to pray in school, if they are restrained from having abortions, then they will be appreciative and come to know God.
But the gospel is not about good works, or making others do good works. It is about the good work of Jesus on the cross. Nothing more. We cannot expect to make people good in order to attract them to the gospel. There are no prerequisites to the gospel, nothing that any of us needs or even can do in order to become acceptable to God or to somehow merit salvation. There were those in Paul's day who were attempting to place restrictions on people, arguing that they must first be circumcised in order to become a Christian. Paul made the comment about such people that
As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:12)
Involving the church in attempts to pass laws or prevent people from doing things that Christians find reprehensible, confuses the mission of the church and confuses what its message is. Non-believers too easily get the mistaken notion that the message of the church is simply to be good for God.
Being good for God, or encourag-ing other, non-Christians to be good, is not the gospel. Paul made the comment that those who came preaching a different gospel should be eternally condemned. How do those who push political agendas avoid being charged with doing precisely that: turning the gospel message into a message of works and do-goodism?
The Los Angeles Times of Monday, February 22, 1993 discusses an anti-gay video produced by a small, fundamentalist church in Lancaster, California called the Springs of Life. Twenty minutes long and called "The Gay Agenda" it has found its way into the Pentagon and the Congress and stirred up widespread debate. The Times quotes Jeanette Beeson as saying: "This is an exciting time! God has called us to save a nation." The paper further reports that,
"The Gay Agenda" was released in October in time to bolster the efforts of groups in Oregon and Colorado working for the approval of anti-gay rights ballot measures. Horn said that groups in Oregon ordered 6,000 copies and another 4,000 went to Colorado.
The interest on the part of the military came as a surprise to the church, Horn said. He read a letter that came, just before Bill Clinton's inauguration, from someone he identified as a two-star Army general he would not name. It praised the tape as "a splendid teaching vehicle" and said that it was being looked at by high-ranking officers.
Soon other Pentagon officials were requesting the tape, Horn said.
In the entire article, the gospel message is not heard once, any more than it can be heard in the video the church is producing. The only message coming through is summarized nicely by the pastor of Springs of Life:
Beeson took several swipes at mainstream churches for being, he believes, too passive, and he called liberals "godless." He saved his most scathing comments for gays and lesbians.
In talking about lesbians wanting to bear children, he said: "They might want to act like a cow and get artificially inseminated, but you need something from a daddy."
He complained that he had been labeled a bigot because of his views on homosexuality. "I mean, we can't say something is perverted any-more?" Beeson asked.
The message that comes through from such activity is simply that of good works; worse, it presents the church in the following way: we are good, and you are bad, and if you don't change you should be hated.
The attitude of non-Christians to Christian politicizing is, "Who are they to shove their beliefs down my throat? What gives them the right to decide what's right and what's wrong?" The protest that "we're only teaching what the Bible says" falls on deaf ears. Why? Because they aren't convinced the Church knows what the Bible says, and they wonder whether the church might not just be interpreting it to fit their own agenda. Beyond that, the appeal to the Bible is a meaningless appeal to authority and in the mind of the non-Christian does not answer the objection he has raised: "Who are you?..."
Beyond that, verses about "casting pearls before swine" and the inability of unbelievers to understand the Bible come to mind.
What some churches do in politics or in speaking against sin stands in sharp contrast to the approaches one sees in the New Testament.
III. What Did They Preach?
Paul and the other Christians of the first century -- what did they preach? What sort of society did they live in? Did they try to change the laws of Rome -- or did they try to change men's hearts one by one? Recall that in Philippians 1:12-18 Paul speaks of being in chains for Christ, but he does not speak out against the laws of Rome that had put him there. When he stood before the crowd in Acts 21:37-22:21 he spoke the message of the Gospel by beginning to give his own personal testimony.
Notice Paul's approach in Athens in Acts. He did not berate them about the fact they worshipped idols. He did not talk to them about their bisexuality or homosexuality. Instead, he presented the gospel in a way that they could understand it:
The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?"
Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods."
They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'
"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone -- an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
IV. The Relation of The Church to the World
The relationship between the church and the world according to the Bible is not particularly cordial. Consider the following passages:
1 John 3:13
Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.
1 John 4:5-6
They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
The Christian is not really a part of the world. He or she walks around in it, but he or she is essentially a stranger and is alienated from it; he or she no longer fits.
1 Peter 1:1
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia...
1 Peter 1:17
Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.
1 Peter 2:11
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
The writers of the New Testament point out that the world's methods, the world's attitudes and even the world's sin are something we should not be a part of.
2 Corinthians 10:2-4
I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strong-holds.
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."
1 Corinthians 7:28-31
But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people -- not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
Notice the interesting point that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 5:12, when he asks the question, "what business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?" Yet, oddly enough, the church has been doing precisely that off and on for hundreds and hundreds of years. The church has its own agenda, its own citizenship; the world is passing away and so are the things in the world. Therefore, the focus of the church must be on the eternal kingdom, not the temporal issues at hand. The church's sole agenda is to bring more people into itself. Sin in the world around us is not an issue -- unless it comes into the church; then Paul's words are clear: get it out of the church.
V. The Nature of Government
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours."
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me...
And in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
1 John 5:19
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
Christians who try to involve the church in legislative action, who believe in working with the government to get it to make people behave a certain way are putting themselves in the awkward position of trying to use the system owned and operated by the Devil to achieve churchly objectives. One has to wonder about the sanity of such an attempt.
2 Corinthians 6:14-18
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteous-ness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."
"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. "Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you."
"I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
VI. The Church and Israel
The writers of the New Testament compared the life of Israel to the life of the church, pointing out the many parallels. The pattern of the Christian life in Israel's history is unmistakable: the nation accepted Yahweh, and then Yahweh lead them from Egypt through the sea. Their deliverance from Israel was always portrayed as if it were a salvation experience, and served as a picture to Israel throughout its history of God's power to save. Regarding the passage through the sea, Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 10:1-4
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
From baptism, the Israelites passed into the wilderness, symbolizing the Christian life of trouble and tribulation, until at last they entered the promised land (Hebrews 3-4). However, such allegorizing is not the only identification between the church and Israel that can be made; the identification is explicit. Paul writes that Gentiles were joined to and made a part of Israel.
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men) -- remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.
Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
There are those who argue that as Israel established laws to govern the actions of its people, so too must we as a nation establish such laws. The difficulty in such an argument from a Christian perspective is that Israel is not equivalent in New Testament times to a national government. Rather, Israel is equivalent to a Church. Israel did not extend its laws beyond its borders; it did not seek to make other nations obey its regulations. Rather, it was supposed to seek the conversion of the other nations to Yahweh. (Cf. Deuteronomy 28:9-10 and Jonah).
Likewise with the Church. We can discipline and govern those within it. But for those on the outside, our duty is clear: we present the message of the Gospel: Jesus Christ and him crucified. Salvation is by grace, through faith, apart from good works.
The laws of Israel were the laws governing God's people.
The church may make laws for itself -- but those laws do not apply to the community beyond, since they are not the church.
Therefore, it is not the place of the church to be involving itself in matters of politics. To do such dilutes the gospel and confuses the issue. We seem to be preaching good works.
God did not call us to convict people of sin (that is the job of the Holy Spirit). He called us to proclaim the Good News that Jesus died for our sins. We preach him crucified, and nothing else.
We change the world, one heart at a time.
For additional information, check out:
Copyright © Quartz Hill School of Theology. All Rights Reserved.