Order of the Church
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the worship service of the church is demonstrated by the presence of order as opposed to disorder.
This is not to say that this order cannot be simulated by human forms and rituals. But certainly the wild excesses that one finds in some Pentecostal/Charismatic services, where everyone is babbling, laughing, barking or running down the aisles at the same time have absolutely nothing to do with the presence of the Spirit of God. Such confusion, from a biblical standpoint, is clearly not the result of the Spirit. There is no getting around that. Consider 1 Corinthians 14:26-33a:
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two-or at the most three-should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
Within Christianity, there is a wide range of practice; even within denominations, the differences in worship services can be striking. Can one method or another be condemned or praised more than another? Not likely. The above passage in 1 Corinthians 14 comes as close as any passage to suggesting what should be happening in a worship service of a church meeting. Does the list that Paul give mean that a worship service, to be genuine, must have all the elements that he lists? Does his list mean that if we add something that he doesn't mention we've violated scripture?
Though some groups may go to that sort of extreme, it seems an unnatural reading of the passage in 1 Corinthians 14. It frankly seems more a matter of taste, whether you prefer the structure of high church or low church. Those in the low churches like to say that their services are not so rigidly structured as say the Anglicans; however, try doing an extra hymn or even a new hymn in one of these sorts of low churches and you'll discover that the liturgy is no less firmly structured for lack of being written down. The way an individual church conducts its worship service is a reflection of the style and desires of those who attend it. Even the structure of the most wild, swinging from the chandelier charismatics, is quite rigid. That is, the order of events, the nature of those events, will remain constant from service to service. In the high churches, this order of service is formalized, written down, and followed rigidly. In the low churches, it is no less rigid, just not written down and different. High churches tend to have robes, banners, special clothes for the clergy, and the like. Low churches don't have robes or "collars"; instead, the clergy where a suit and tie.
It's all, bottom line, simply a matter and question of style. Since the Bible is silent on the details, the best that can be said is simply that whatever style of worship is chosen, it is important that it not be confusing, and that it should be orderly.
Leadership in the Church
There are two classes of leaders in the church, the elders and the deacons.
Not all groups accept the existence of deacons. For instance, Grace Community Church, with John McCarther as the pastor, rejects the notion of deacons. His church simply has a variety of elders who fill all the spots necessary to keep the church functioning.
Historically, there have been groups, like the Quakers, who rejected the notion of elders, specifically the concept of a single pastor. Instead, people would speak as they felt moved by the Spirit to give utterance; rather than a single sermon, there would be a variety of messages, some very short, some more extended.
The qualifications for elders should not be construed as a cause for creating some sort of hierarchy in the church; it is not right to think that those called to such a task are somehow better than the rest of the body. Rather, we should take the qualifications to be what we would expect to find true in the life of any Christian. No one should be able to say, "well, I'm not an elder, so I don't measure up." Or worse, "he's not an elder, so he is unspiritual". Consider Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Cor. 12:4-31. Paul's description of what an elder should be may raise questions in the minds of readers. Below are some of the more difficult or controversial points.
Above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2), blameless (Titus 1:6)
This qualification does not mean that elders must be perfect or "good". Jesus himself said "There is only One who is good." (Matthew 19:17), that is God. All our righteous acts, according to Isaiah 64:6 are like filthy rags. Rather, the elder should be able to say with Paul in Philippians 3:12-16:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
So the elder should be, as Titus makes explicit in giving a definition to his word "blameless":
Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless - not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.
The elders should be people who are mature in the faith, who lead consistent lives; that is, what you see is what you get. They are not two faced or hypocritical. If you saw the person at work or play you would not be shocked, because they would be acting the same way there as they do in church.
It must be borne in mind that we are all sinners saved by grace. If we look for perfection in our elders, we will never have any.
Overbearing (Titus 1:7)
The elders must not be overbearing. In his instructions to Timothy, Paul warns against selecting a recent convert to Christianity as an elder, because such a person might "become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil." (1 Timothy 3:6). As Christians, there is never any room for arrogance or pride, no space for the holier-than-thou attitude; Paul writes to the Galatians that "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." This is consistent with the thought expressed in Ephesians 2:8-10:
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.
Notice also Galatians 3:1-6:
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?
Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Therefore, what Jesus had to say about the nature of leadership within the body makes sense:
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28)
The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12)
Notice also Peter's words in 1 Peter 5:1-3:
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
Elders are not to play God. After all, there is only one God. The role of elders is that of overseers; they are to teach, to lead by example, to pray, to reconcile brothers who are estranged, to restore sinners, to speak to the lost, to heal the suffering - pretty much what any other Christian would be doing.
Elders must never doubt the reality of the Holy Spirit, nor the Spirit's power to work change in the hearts of people. The effectiveness of prayer must never be doubted. When we think "We need to do something", maybe that is just the time we need to step back and watch what God will do. He remains, after all, the head of the church, while elders remain simply sheep.
The husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2, Tit. 1:6); must manage his children (1 Tim. 3:12); whose children believe (Tit. 1:6)
Do these passages mean that the elders must be married, with more than one child - thereby excluding those who are unmarried, or those who are childless or who have but one child? Paul preached and taught and appointed people to serve as elders in the churches he established. (Consider Acts 14:21-28, 1 Cor. 9:1-18). Yet, Paul had no children and he was never married. Notice what Paul had to say about the value of celibacy:
I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion . . . .
Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy [side note: Paul is not denying inspiration of the Holy Spirit for what he pens here; rather, he is simply pointing out that there is no Old Testament scripture about this subject]. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. 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 use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs - how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world - how he can please his wife - and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world - how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Cor. 7:6-8, 25- 36).
In the qualifications for elders Paul writes that they should be "self-controlled" (1 Tim. 3:2); but here, in 1 Cor. 7:9 Paul says that if a person cannot control himself, it is best if he marries. So a married man is one who cannot control himself?
Is there a contradiction here?
Not at all; the point Paul is trying to make in both passages is that the Christian, whether elder or not, must be wholly devoted to the Lord. Therefore, if an individual is an elder, there should be some evidence in his lifestyle that suggests he is mature and trustworthy. In the case of those who have families, if he is incapable of maintaining order and respect there, why should he expect to oversee the affairs of the church? "Physician, heal thyself!"
In the light of this, it seems unlikely to me that a man should be excluded from being an elder simply because he is unmarried, or, if married, he has but one child or no children.
A further comment should be made about the phrase "husband of one wife". Some may want to use this verse to exclude from service those who have been divorced. Frankly, I believe that one might as well ask if the qualifications for elders exclude those who have ever sinned.
There is no unpardonable sin. If one sins, then one repents and goes on, not repeating the same sin over again. Divorce should not - any more than any other sin, if repented of - exclude an individual from serving as an elder. Again, the nature of our relationship to God must be kept in mind; it is not because we are good little boys and girls. No one is good but God. It is because of what Jesus did on the Cross for us that we can be acceptable to him.
Hold firmly to the trustworthy message (Titus 1:9).
In his letter to Titus, Paul considers it important that the elders be well-versed in the message of the gospel; this would suggest elders should be people who know at least the basics of the Bible pretty well. But of course this is consistent with an elder not being a new believer (1 Tim. 3:6). According to Paul, the reason a knowledge of the Bible is important for an elder is so that "he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it."
In closing, we might want to take note of what God had to say about the priests in the Old Testament, those set apart to lead the people in the times before Christ:
"You stumble day and night,
and the prophets stumble with you.
So I will destroy your mother -
my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
"Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children."
Perhaps we should take this as a warning not to neglect God's word.
The driving force in a deacon's heart is love, a love put there by God for his neighbors - whether believers or unbelievers - and most especially for those with whom he labors together in his local assembly. In Matthew 22 a lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest commandment in the Law might be. In verses 37-39, Matthew records our Lord's answer:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
In the Gospel of John 13:34-35, Christ told his followers:
"A new commandment I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another."
Yet, in the local church, how often do we see a different reality: members sniping at one another, murmuring, gossiping, critical of the Church, the preaching, the pastor, the music, the food, each other, concerned that music and preaching be done to fit preconceived notions of propriety, worried more about turf and power, prestige and the respect of others, than about helping the brothers and sisters?
How many times is the Church more accurately pictured by the incident recorded in Matthew 20:20-21,23-24?
Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
"What is it you want?" he asked.
She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."...
...Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father."
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.
Why should that be so?
Perhaps as deacons, we have somehow lost sight of our true job: making love happen in the church. The church in Jerusalem grew rapidly those first few weeks after Pentecost; the Spirit was moving in power - and yet conflict developed. The author of Acts records:
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against those of the Aramaic speaking community because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1)
In the modern church, how often does it happen that the youth, or the young marrieds, or the middle-aged, or the singles, or the seniors or - you name it - unhappy because they are being neglected? How often does a group claim its needs are not being met, that the music or the preaching or the fellowshipping is not reaching them?
More often than we care to think about it.
So how did the early church solve this problem of the "overlooked"?
The same chapter in Acts goes on to record that the twelve apostles agreed that a need existed, and proposed that those who felt neglected should "choose seven men from among [themselves], who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom." (Acts 6:3).
The result was predictable. After the seven were chosen,
...the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
We should note now what the job of the deacon was; failure to recognize the true purpose of deacons has resulted in a lot of unnecessary and destructive strife in churches down through the ages.
Notice that the word deacon is a transliteration of the Greek word diakonos, meaning "servant" or "slave." Vine records that the word diakonos:
...occurs in the N.T. of domestic servants, John 2:5, 9; the civil ruler, Rom. 13:4; Christ, Rom. 15:8; Gal. 2:17; the followers of Christ in relation to their Lord, John 12:26; Eph. 6:21; Col. 1:7; 4:7; the followers of Christ in relation to one another, Matt. 20:26; 23:11; Mark 9:35; 10:43; the servants of Christ in the work of preaching and teaching, 1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6; 6:4; 11:23; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25; 1 Thess. 3:2; 1 Tim. 4:6; those who serve in the churches, Rom. 16:1 (used of a woman here only in N.T.); Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12; false apostles, servants of Satan 2 Cor. 11:15. Once diakonos is used where, apparently, angels are intended, Matt. 22:13; in ver. 3, where men are intended, doulos is used.
That the word means servant should be enough to prevent deacons from getting a swollen opinion of themselves. Servants are generally not working for themselves; by definition, they are working for someone else: in this case, for the body of Christ, to aid those in need.
The concept that deacons serve as a board of elders, or as some sort of administrators is foreign to scripture. Nowhere do we find deacons taking the role that is reserved to the pastor, elder, or bishop (depending on which of those three Greek terms you prefer). Yet in how many Baptist churches has it happened that the deacons have become a group of tyrants, a law unto themselves, ready to hire and fire pastors and politic for their viewpoints, pontificating as if they ruled?
I can hear the protest already: "but that's the way we've always done it!" So? Tradition has no value; the Bible is the only authority in this. And what it has to say often runs counter to the way a lot of us "have always done things."
Deacons are slaves, serving the church in a practical way, working together with the pastor so that the work of the body might go forward. Their purpose is not to be a check or balance on the pastor, like a legislature versus a governor, or the congress against the president. Under no circumstances are the deacons to be self-serving; they must follow the royal law of love, and hence always, without fail, be others-serving.
The judge of the deacon's ministry is love, and our example is Christ:
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45).
"But as deacons we've been ordained! Doesn't that mean something?" Yes, but it doesn't mean that we've been made boss: it means we've been recognized as servants, and therefore set apart for the singular purpose of serving, not ruling.
As Americans we are taught to stand up for our rights, and to allow no one to push us around. But scripturally, we are to be un-American. We must stand up only for others, never for ourselves. The Sermon on the Mount is important as deacons consider their role:
You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." [sounds like a church business meeting]. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:38-48).
As Christians, and especially as deacons, we are called to do the impossible: to love the unlovely, to love those who hate us, to love those from whom there is no hope of ever receiving anything back. True Christian love means that often time our love will go unrequited.
Our righteousness, our love as Christians and deacons is for the sake of others, not us, and should never, ever be dependent on what someone else does. "Well if he would just apologize." Or, "If they don't change the music, or change the pastor, or change [your gripe here] then I just won't tithe any more". Or, "Since I can't have my way, I'm leaving." Oh, but "This is a matter of principle!"
Why am I a deacon? Why am I in church? Why do I serve God? For myself? Because it makes me feel good? Because I hope God will look with favor on me?
If that's my attitude, I need desperately to repent.
We come to church as deacons to minister, not to be ministered to. To stroke, not to be stroked. To love, not to be loved. If love is not our motivation for service, we have a serious problem.
Our job description can be summarized by recalling 1 Corinthians 13. In place of the word "love", if we inserted the word "deacon", we'd get a good idea of the difficult road we must follow:
A deacon is patient, a deacon is kind. He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. He is not rude, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. A deacon does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (13:4-7)
The deacon ministry is a love ministry, and an impossible task from the human point of view. If we believe we can do it by ourselves, we've lost sight of the truth. Notice Ephesians 2:10:
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Isaiah records in 64:6a that "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags..." Those good things we try to accomplish by ourselves are disgusting. Why do we imagine that that applies only before we became a Christian? Those works done by our own strength, for our own purposes, however proper, will be burned.
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
Whatever true good we do as Christians is the result of God working through us, not because we're hot stuff. We must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, letting God do the good work with us, who are simply his tools, to use as he sees fit, with all the glory going to Him.
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. (Galatians 2:20)
Love is the motivation, the center, the judge of the Christian life - a life which is no longer our own.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
If our actions are motivated by fear of retribution, or hope of reward, we need to repent. Love is others centered. When we love others, we cease to be concerned about ourselves.
Remember, if Jesus had been concerned for himself, we'd still be in our sins.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking on the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death -
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)
The Practice of Church Discipline
In Matthew 18 is listed a series of steps that should be followed in helping a person who is sinning. More often, though, it is taken as a prescription for how to get rid of troublesome people, whether they be our friends who have in some way hurt us, or church members we'd like to throw out.
Unfortunately, this passage does not present satisfaction for the Christian who is looking for an excuse not to continue being a part of a certain person's life. Instead, the thrust of the passage is "how do we bring back the person who is falling away?" But, says the skeptic, doesn't 18:17 say "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church and if he refuses to listen to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."
So, smiles smugly the skeptic, we kick them out.
How did Jesus treat the pagan and tax collector?
Gulp. And in that, we find the answer to what otherwise would seem a contradiction to the theme of the Bible: "love God and love your neighbor as yourself." Or "Love your enemies". Jesus received criticism from the religious establishment precisely because of the way he treated the pagans and tax collectors.
Matthew 11:19 records:
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, "Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and 'sinners'." But wisdom is proved right by her actions.
And Mat 21:31b-32:
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
So instead of throwing the offending brother or sister away, the point is, if the person is not even listening to the Church, chances are they are unsaved and need to be won to the Lord. They are a candidate for evangelism. And I'd be curious to see how many lost people you'd win by treating them the way some Christians treat those who they, for some reason, are in disagreement with?
In God's relationship with the human race he was willing to let his Son die so that the issue separating him from them would be removed. To Him, relationships mattered more than issues. Why is it among Christians, that most of the time issues take precedence over relationships? They say "I love you, but..." They need to get their big buts out of the way, I say. Love does not seek to destroy sinners, but to restore them; reclamation, recycling, these are terms which should describe the Christian experience.
When Paul writes "restore sinners, but be careful lest you also fall" it's not a warning that you might participate in the evil wicked abhorrent things the scum sucker did, but rather, that we might forget where we came from and who we are - that in reality, we're evil abhorrent things who suck scum and so arrogance in our approach would be peculiar. Remember Christ's parable about the servant whose master forgave him a debt that was a fortune, who then turned around and choked a fellow servant who owed him a couple dollars?
The self-righteous arrogance that is a part of most church discipline is a stench in God's nostrils. And it is the church who practices such things who is in trouble, not the sinner, however sinful he might truly be. His sins will be forgiven. But those who toss stones...
Of course, God will forgive them too - already has in fact.
The Separation of Church and State
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.
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. (Acts 1:8)
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." (John 15:26-27)
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. (1 John 5:6-9)
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. (Acts 4:33)
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. (Acts 10:42-43 )
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." (Acts 23:11)
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." (Matthew 28:18-20)
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 conversion; 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. (Romans 15:20)
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 1:17)
But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, (1 Corinthians 1:23)
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 ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20)
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... (Philippians 1:12-18)
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.
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! (1 Corinthians 9:16)
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5)
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! (Galatians 1:6-9)
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. (2 Corinthians 11:3-4 )
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... (Ephesians 3:8)
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)
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:
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. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
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. (John 16:7-11)
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.
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 encouraging 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.
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. (Acts 17:15-34)
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:
Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13)
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. (1 John 4:5-6)
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.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia... (1 Peter 1:1)
Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. (1 Peter 1:17 )
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11)
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.
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. (2 Corinthians 10:2-4)
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." (John 18:36)
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 7:28-31)
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." (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
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.
The Nature of Government
It seems clear, from a reading of the New Testament, that although God is without question in ultimate control, nevertheless, this world, specifically the world system is dominated and controlled by Satan.
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." (Luke 4:5-7)
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. (John 12:31)
I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me... (John 14:30)
And in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:11)
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. (Ephesians 6:11-12)
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. (Ephesians 2:1-2)
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)
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.
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness 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." (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
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:
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. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
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. (Ephesians 2:11-22)
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. (Ephesians 3:4-6)
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. (Romans 11:11-26)
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. (Romans 9:6-8)
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. (Galatians 3:6-9)
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. (Ephesians 3:6)
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.
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