Tag Archives: evangelicals

Politics, anger and evangelical Christians

Politics for me is like driving by an automobile accident.  I really don’t want to look, but fighting the urge to do so is difficult.  Last century, I minored in political science while earning a journalism degree. I had looked forward to a career doing political coverage as a writer.  Blessedly, the direction of my life changed and as the years have gone by, I have developed a distaste for much of what passes itself off as politics these days. Politics is more about winning elections than creating policy.  Election coverage reminds of a halftime report during a college football game.

Still, because of the past connection, something catches my eye and I will look.  There was article recently online about some supposed coverup by the Obama administration. The article had a slant, but what news coverage doesn’t these days.  To read news well these days, you have to find a variety of sources, slide down the slant and see where you land.  That might be somewhere near the truth because journalism is more about advocacy than truth.  Take out the slant, read critically and look for the truth.

A discipline that I am trying to develop in reading news online is not to read the comments posted by readers, because that is where trolls come out to play. At the end of that particular article, there was one of the worse comments I have ever seen.  A reader mentioned the President and a noose in the same sentence.  It was tasteless and offensive. For one, you shouldn’t even joke about threatening the President, and I came away only hoping that it was a joke.  Also, the racist connotations of that statement are over the top.  And finally, the only person likely to take a comment like that seriously works for the Secret Service.

I hope that the person who made that comment would not claim to be a born again Christian.  I can only hope, because honestly, when it comes to politics, evangelicals are often guided too much by anger and not enough by a desire to glorify God and bring honor to Jesus Christ. I heard a believer once say that Christians need to get angrier and stand up for themselves.  I don’t think that the book of James encourages that teaching.

My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. (James 1:19-20, HCSB)

If we really want to bring about God’s righteousness is the world, we won’t do so by being angry.


Being Vigilant about Religious Freedom

I would rather not write about politics.  There was a time in my life that politics consumed me, even a time when I considered going into politics.  Thankfully, I did not, and in my writing, I have avoided the topic as much as I can.  However, I think that I must address one issue.

Recently, the President Obama’s administration ruled that religious organizations have to buy insurance for their employees that covers reproductive services including contraceptives if those employees work in an aspect of the organization that provides public services.  This is particularly odious to many Roman Catholics.  I am not a Roman Catholic.  I do not share their view that all contraceptives are sin.  However, I, too, find this ruling a problem on the basis that it violates the principle of religious freedom.  There has been a strong reaction by many religious groups and not only the Roman Catholic Church.

However, the administration and many on the left say this as overhyped.  After all, in their understanding, religious freedom is not being attacked.  A column that appears on the website of the Atlanta Journal Constitution written by Jay Bookman, reflected this view.  It is entitled, The overhyped controversy over contraceptives and the law.

Bookman’s column reads like a memo from the White House on how to answer objections to the ruling.  He begins by saying that places of worship are exempt. He writes:

As many of you know, churches that are members of the Southern Baptist Convention are not allowed to hire women as pastors. The Baptists base that practice on 1 Timothy 2:12, in which Paul writes that “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” The Catholic Church follows a similar practice, based on similar reasons. (Actually, it is more complex than that, but I will give him a break.  A column can only be so long.)

Ordinarily, it would be illegal under federal law to deny a woman a position of leadership or authority on the basis of gender. I think most Americans probably support those laws by now. However, because the selection of priests and ministers is so central to religious faith, and because those leaders perform an essentially religious rather than secular role, anti-bias laws don’t apply to such jobs. Doing so would clearly infringe on religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment.

So far, so good. He continues:

However, if a Baptist university denied tenure to an English professor solely because she was female, or if a Catholic hospital refused to hire a woman as its CEO, the exemption cited above would not apply. In both cases, the law has long held that the professor and CEO are performing a largely secular function in the secular world, so secular rules apply.

 Once again, I have no problems yet.  However, wait for the overreaching analogy.  Here it comes:

That is essentially the same logic used to develop proposed rules for health-care coverage, which by federal law require insurers to provide coverage for contraception.

Those rules do not apply to what is known as “a religious employer,” defined as an employer that “(1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”

A church, mosque, synagogue or other house of worship would qualify for such an exemption. However, a church-run university, hospital, day-care center, etc. — entities that do not have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose, that do not primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets; and do not primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets — would not be exempt.

Those entities are performing a secular function, in the secular world, and employing in most cases people with a wide variety of religious beliefs. Therefore, the people working in those entities deserve the same degree of legal protection as their fellow Americans.

Now, that seems logical if you accept the premise by which he and the administration operate that says the religious precepts of an organization should have little or no bearing on what they do outside their places of worship.  Bookman has compared apples and oranges in the first part of his column.  There is a fundamental difference between a Southern Baptist affiliated church hiring a female pastor and a Baptist university hiring or promoting a female English professor.  One violates the religious conscience of the people sponsoring the organization: the other does not. The passage that he quotes deals with authority within the church and the teaching of the Bible, not an English class.  In other words, the law does not impinge upon the freedom of the faithful to practice their faith in the public sphere nor upon their understanding of Scriptures.
In the case of forcing Roman Catholic sponsored agencies to buy insurance that covers contraceptives, it does impinge upon that freedom.  Those agencies and other religious agencies are an outward expression of the religious beliefs and inner faith of the churches or other religious organizations that sponsor.  Bookman and the Administration are operating from a secular assumption that says religion is a private matter, confined to the place of worship and to the private life of individuals.  For many religious people, whether they be evangelicals, Roman Catholics or Muslims, religion is not just personal in practice.  It affects all aspects of life and must be expressed publicly through their lives and through the institutions they support.  To compartmentalize their lives between the secular and the spiritual is to be a hypocrite.  To deny their freedom to practice their faith and religious beliefs in the public realm is to deny their religious liberty and to violate the Constitution.  To require that they go against their conscience in the public realm is also violates that liberty.
That is the reason that the Administration’s ruling is a big deal to people of many faiths.  Though no one has suggested it, it may be part of the reason a social conservative Roman Catholic swept primaries and caucuses last night.  The ruling is seen as step toward a radical secularization of American society that will ostracize the religiously faithful and deny their religious freedom.  Contrary to the wishes of the left in this country, this issue will not diminish in importance as long as people of faith remain vigilant about religious liberty.
Here’s hoping that I never have to write about politics again.

Our Motivation for Being Biblical Families

My wife and I recently attended a marriage conference where patriotism was mentioned as a reason for having a strong, Biblically based Christian family.  In reading a devotion for couples together, we found the same motivation mentioned.  The reasoning goes that by having strong Christian families we can make our nation great once again.  Personally, patriotism is a poor reason to have a family based on Biblical principles.

Would we apply the idea of patriotism as a reason to have such a family to all believers everywhere, even if they lived in a country that we think of as an “enemy”?  Biblical truth is truth for all people everywhere.  Patriotism as a motivation for Christian conduct reflects an American-centric Christianity that borders on idolatry.  Another reason that I disagree is that it that it elevates family above other areas of Christian obedience such as ministry to others and fellowship with other believers.  How many parents justify missing church with the need for family time?  This can also, at worst, be a form of idolatry and at best reflects a weak understanding of the doctrine of the church.

Finally, it represents a dethroning of Christ and His glory as the motivation of discipleship.  We are created to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  In Ephesians 4:25-32, Paul wrote a husband’s love for his wife should be the same as Christ love for the church.  I hope to obey the Bible in our Christian family not for the sake of my country but to testify of Jesus’ love for us.  As people see Christian families, our desire should be for them to see a reflection Christ and to be drawn to Him.  As Christian we should seek to be more than family-focused and patriotic.  We should be Kingdom focused, Christ glorifying and God centered families.  His glory is our motivation

Maturity to Speak

Just as we must learn to listen to the criticism, advice and teaching of others, we must also learn how to speak into the lives of others.  How we speak is as much an indication of maturity as how we listen.  The Bible gives very specific direction to those who speak into others lives whether it is teaching the Word or confronting sin.

Someone who speaks into the life of another person must be wise.   Proverbs 24:6 says, “For by wise guidance you shall wage war, and in the abundance of counselors there is victory.” [1]  Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”   Speaking into another’s life requires the credibility of wisdom.  God-fearing reverence and knowledge of God through His Word should characterize our lives.

When we are confronting others over sin, we must be very careful.  As Jesus pointed out, before we try to get the speck out of someone else’s eye, we need to make sure there isn’t a beam sticking out of our eye.  This does not mean, as some may suggest that we should never go after the speck.  It only means that we should take time to check our lives first.

Another thing that we have to guard against is pride.  Speaking into the life of another presumes a right to speak and knowledge that another does not have or at the very least is not aware of.  Therefore, we must be humble, and above all, we must have the good of the other person as our motive for speaking. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul admonished us, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

So, it is a good idea before we teach the Word of God, confront others about sin or seek to correct the doctrine of others that we take time to examine ourselves.  Are we walking in wisdom?  Are we covering sin in our own life?  Are we proud?  Do we have the edification of the other person as our goal?

[1] All references are from the New American Standard Bible.

Being Teachable as a Sign of Christian Maturity

In recent weeks, John MacArthur on his blog has given correction and advice to the Young, Restless and Reformed. (here, here, here and here)  The response is interesting.  Some have encouraged the YRRs to listen the advice, but many YRRs have responded negatively.  If you read through the comments on the Grace to You blog, you get a taste of the conversation.

My intention in writing is not to enter the discussion. After all, I no longer fit the young modifier, and I would really like to get more rest.  I do lean toward the Reformed side of things, but doubt that I would be considered a card-carrying member by those in the movement.  Rather than enter that discussion, I want to talk about a spiritual issue related to that.  How do we receive correction, advice and instruction?  How do we listen to those with whom we may disagree but who have something important to say to us?  In other words, how do we become teachable?

These are not issues confined to the YRRs.  We all struggle with these issues. While I would say, based on personal experience, that young adults struggle with this more, I have known some older ones that aren’t very receptive to the teaching, advice and correction of others either.  My own progress toward maturity has included going from defending myself against the slightest criticism to politely saying thank you while fuming inside to learning to take time to hear what the Lord is saying to me through the criticism or correction.  Often, I still slip into defensive mode.

At the heart of this defensiveness usually is not righteous indignation against injustice suffered.  Rather the heart of it is sin.  I get defensive because I feel insecure about what I am doing.  I don’t like my weaknesses being pointed out and I don’t want to feel shame.  I get defensive because I am full of pride.  I really don’t like being told I’m wrong, because I think I am right or mostly right.  I get defensive because I simply don’t like other people teaching me, advising me and correcting me.  They don’t have my credentials or my knowledge, and after all, they are always against me or just don’t understand me.  Besides, their theology and politics probably aren’t right, either.

In the center of every reaction above is me.  It is all about me.  I am protecting myself.  I am being self-defensive and selfish.  What is worse: I am dooming myself to failure and immaturity if I allow this to become the character of my life.  A key to success in any endeavor is to be teachable:  to learn to accept criticism and instruction, to apply it, and to grow.  An athlete who doesn’t listen to his coach will ride the bench.  A student who doesn’t learn from the professor will fail the class.  A business person who doesn’t take advice will go out of business.  A politician who doesn’t listen to the people will become a member of Congress, which is either the exception to the rule or its own worse punishment.  A Christian who fails to learn and to receive correction from others will stagnate in immaturity and not achieve the purpose for which God has called him or her heavenward in Christ Jesus.

So, how do we learn to be teachable?  How do I learn from others to grow in maturity as a follower of Christ?

Of first importance is to walk near to God (James 4:8).  By truly applying myself to be in prayer and in the Bible, and not just going through the motions of spiritual discipline, I am close enough to God to recognize when He is correcting me through others.  By knowing the Word of God, I know when what others say is in line with Scripture, and I know that I need to pay attention.  By being near to God, I recognize His voice.

I also must crucify myself daily (Luke 9:23 and Galatians 5:24)  Since self is the center of my rebellion and defensive, I must get self out of the way so that I can receive truth from others.  By crucifying the flesh, I mortify those sinful responses that I make to others.

I must learn to listen and be slow to speak (James 1:19-20).  The temptation is to respond and to defend one’s self.  The best response comes after understanding what the other person has said, and often that response turns out to be, “You’re right.” I must learn to receive anything that is true according to God’s Word and that helps me grow more holy and more able to glorify God.

Hopefully, this is helpful to many of you.  Perhaps, soon, I will write on how to become someone who can speak into the lives of others.

Some reading and viewing for musing and amusing

If you aren’t reading Paul Tripp’s blog, you probably should be.

For musing, Randy Alcorn asks, “If one can be an evangelical Christian, and especially an evangelical pastor or leader, and not believe that an able-minded adult (whether raised Baptist, Lutheran, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic or atheist) must repent of sin and place their faith in Christ in this life in order to go to Heaven, then…what is left that an evangelical must believe to still be an evangelical?”  You can read the complete article here.

While I may not agree with the cure this writer prescribes, I agree with his diagnosis of what ails the economy.

And after those heavy articles, you probably need the amusement of seeing a major news network get it wrong.

And finally, you may want to read about the epic battle of Kevin vs. Satan.

Have a great weekend!

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Part 3

Many Christian nationalist believe that it is important to prove that America is a Christian nation.  If not, they fear evangelical Christians will be intimidated into abandoning the public square and losing their influence as salt and light in the world.  For that reason, the type of historical analysis that John Fea did in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? could be seen as threatening.  However, I see much to encourage evangelical Christians to be involved in shaping the culture around them.

One is that from Fea’s book, we see that evangelical Christianity has always been an influence upon American society.  The perspective of many that evangelicals are some new phenomenon with a desire to take over the reigns of political power has no basis in historical fact.  Until the 1920s conservative evangelicals were a prominent part of society and public discourse.  It was only after the Scopes trial and losing the battle for mainline denominations that we who are conservative evangelicals went underground.  While underground, we focused on evangelism and education, both to which evangelicals should give more attention now.  In so doing, we laid the groundwork for re-entering the public square.  However, that is the place we should have always been.

From history, we know that we have a place on the public square.  There we should stand for justice and righteousness.  We should challenge society to be more conformed to the Christian ethical standards of love and self sacrifice for common good that the founders believed essential for the success of a republic form of government.  We should live by those values because those are the actions modeled by He who gave His life for us to save us from our sins.

But we must also realize that there are others on the public square as well.  Like us, they have always been there in one form or another.   Our task is not to only convince them of our political views or our social values, but above all else to proclaim to them the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.   They may not play fair by our rules, but we must never play by their rules.  We must not distort history or engage in personal attacks.  We must proclaim truth with clarity and live truth with joy.

As we stand on the public square, we must stand not upon economic or political ideologies but upon God’s Word.  If we do this, we will not always side with Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals.  Consistency with God’s Word will be inconsistent with the standards of those who take all of their cues from the world around them.

And with that, I want to make one last point.  Was America founded as a Christian nation?  In reality, I don’t think that the answer should matter to us as evangelical believers.  The type of conduct that I mention above does not depend on where we were born or of what country we are a part.  It is not about being a citizen of the United States. It is about being a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  And as citizens of His kingdom, we are fellow citizens with people in places like North Korea, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Their earthly citizenship is not in countries that could in be called Christian, yet they live as followers of Christ according to the same standards by which American Christians must live.  No matter where we live, we are called upon to believe the gospel, live out the gospel and make disciples.  That is our duty as citizens of God’s kingdom, and really, it doesn’t matter if America is Christian nation or not. We must obey the Word of God.

Perhaps, the more appropriate question is, “Is America a Christian nation?”  I believe that the answer is that if it was, it isn’t now.  We are post-Christian or rapidly moving that way.  Evangelical Christians can fight against it blindly, or understand it and respond in a Christ-like and Biblical manner.  In some cases, that means we will seek to change society. In other cases, our only option will be to explain why we hold to a different standard. But always, we must proclaim that which is of first importance “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to Scripture.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).