God’s Politics

 

I am going to tell you who Jesus would vote for.

Previously we discussed how framing every episode of our lives in terms of “What Would Jesus Do” is potentially banal because our roles on earth are very different from that of the incarnate God-Messiah. Christ’s mission was to come to earth and die for sinners. While in the throes of this mission, He provided us ample teachings and set an example by which we ought to live. His Gospel is inherently designed to penetrate individual hearts within their unique circumstances.

Because Jesus is chiefly concerned with the individual and their relationship to God and His Kingdom, He made particularly clear that he was not necessarily concerned with taking a sides in earthly matters. While it might be argued that Christ would not have paid much mind to politics, it is grossly incorrect to say that He is not political. Jesus is a King, and we cannot ask ourselves what Jesus would do without regarding His concern for His Kingdom.

Mankind is morally corrupted and spiritually alienated from God. While this corruption has estranged us from God and His Heavenly Kingdom, it has yoked us to another, more sinister, kingdom. Christ expressed that all of humanity lives their life in service to someone. By default, we are slaves to our corrupted nature and the kingdom of Satan, the adversary of God. Through various dispensations that met their crescendo in the Gospel of Christ, God provided a means by which people could become reunited with Him- to leave the kingdom of darkness and to be rejoined to the kingdom of light.

Prior to His death and resurrection, Christ foretold that He would soon leave earth, and that He would “come again” (John 14). He promised to send His Spirit to comfort His people and guide them into “all truth.” These people, who would be called “Christians,” would become known as His church. They were to be the body of Christ, empowered by His Spirit, going about His work until He returns. After His resurrection, as He ascended into Heaven He implored His followers to go unto all the ends of the earth and to make “disciples of all men.”

The formative years of the church and the last two thousand years of church history have seen Christians responding to that call. Christ, through His people, perpetuates the magnitude and scope of His Kingdom. He will return one day and reap a harvest of believers who will become completely united with Him, free from the predicaments of our corruption in which we live. Christ works in the individual and uses that individual to act on His behalf to strengthen and to draw more into His Kingdom.

“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will….”

Ephesians 1:11 NASB (emphasis mine)

Scripture speaks a lot of about election, but it is a very different sort than which we refer to today. To elect essentially means “to choose.” God has foreordained those whom He has elected for His Kingdom. The common means by which He draws the elect into His Kingdom is through Christians obediently fulfilling their call to evangelize. Many find this to be a hard saying. Why is it that God chooses some but does not choose others? As hard as a saying as it may be, we can take heart that God has chosen any of us. We are all deserving of our estrangement, and it is by the mercy of God that any ever find restoration.

The implication of God’s election is that all who are not elect will remain in their sins and be thus condemned. Many who understandably struggle with this notion will speak of people all the world over who have, seemingly unfairly, never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. They will then regard the dumb luck of those in the West who are overwhelmed with Christianity.

The first thing to consider here is that Scripture makes very clear that God has made Himself known in nature itself, and “none are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). In other words, whether or not someone hears the Gospel, they are fully responsible for their spiritual estate. The second thing to consider is a reframing of sorts. It is no “dumb luck” that Western societies have become such incubators for a flourishing Church and for religious freedom in general. It was God’s providence that provided society to progress unto this point.

Now, there is no doubt that the Church has flourished (sometimes more genuinely) in the presence of oppressive influences and regimes. All the world over, the Church has always been wrought with severe persecution. It persists full-throttle into the present day. The excess we have found in the West has led, in myriad ways, to a complacent and obstinate church. But if we look to the Scriptures we see that even the suffering early church was met with these same components of human influence.

Regardless of the various contexts in which Christianity can thrive, it is critical to observe the ways in which Christianity has the ability to transform society from the inside out. These benefits are advantageous, but they are not the end in itself. The goal of believers ought to be the proliferation, the health, and the growth of the kingdom of God. Every decision that we make should be made in light of the notion that Jesus is the actual King of all of the earth and that He calls us to the service of His actual kingdom.

In terms of our earthly political role, the Christian who lives in a society in which they are allowed to vote ought to consider how their vote would impact the flourishing of the Church. In terms of American politics, which candidate has a tactical advantage at winning an election and is more than likely going to be the candidate who advocates for religious freedoms of Christians? This pertains to what they advocate as policy and, in terms of the presidency, who they are likely to nominate to the Supreme Court. It is in the presence of this freedom that we support the suffering of believers all the world over. If we are not to protect that now, there will come a day when America will suffer the same persecutions of believers throughout the world.

Who would Jesus vote for, if He voted? I truly think it is a silly question. But if I had to answer it, I would say that Jesus would vote for those who would less likely politically hinder the religious liberties of His Church. Of course, God can grow His Kingdom in any way that He sees fit. But if we are to be preoccupied with growing His Kingdom, we ought to be tactfully considering what might help to further that mission.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Proverbs 29:18 KJV

Who Would Jesus Vote For, and What Would He Name His Yacht?

“It Looks Just As Stupid When You Do It.” That was the caption on an anti-tobacco refrigerator magnet I was given in junior high.

Whoever wrote the ad was either untrained in persuasion or was trying to subliminally create a positive association with cigarette smoking. One’s first thought at this ad is that, despite how silly the creatures look, they do at least look pretty cool. If nothing else, it created an indelible mental association between cute and innocent animals and cigarettes.

More importantly, people (especially young ones) do not care about whether or not they look stupid unless looking stupid makes them uncool. Studies prove that the addition of a cigarette in one’s hand often does make them appear cooler to the bystander. Albeit, it seems that there is a coolness threshold, wherein a nicotine-slave fiendishly sucking down a chain of cigarettes crosses the parabola into unsavory (uncool) territory. I’m not even going to address the blatant uncoolness of electronic cigarettes.

The point is, nobody cares about appearing stupid unless appearing stupid is a barrier to their social acceptance. If one is preoccupied with impressing others and must do so via means of stupidity, then they will not think twice. “Not thinking twice” is actually a pretty good definition of stupidity.

The other inherent silliness of the ad is that it presupposes a similarity of social roles between humans and non-humans. And this is my main point.

The animals don’t look silly because they somehow know better than to smoke cigarettes. They look silly, because their civilizations have not advanced to the level of establishing complex structures, such as a tobacco industry that generates three quarters of a trillion dollars annually, for instance. Animals, it turns out, enjoy cigarettes too. They just were never clever enough to invent them and skilled enough to make them, but that’s not to say they were never unwise enough to habitually smoke them.

Another slogan that was popular in my youth was “What Would Jesus Do?” People would wear bracelets with the slogan. It became a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon.

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And apparently Kanye West still sports one?

The original intent of the bracelets (other than financial profit) seemed innocent enough. They could be used as a reminder to “do the right thing” throughout the day. While it is asinine for someone to need a bracelet to remind them about what they should be meditating on already, sometimes infants need their milk. The bracelets became no more than a fad and an unoffensive context for a Christian subcultural foray into the mainstream.

“Would Would Jesus Do?” as a fad was pretty harmless, but as a theological principle it is incredibly unhelpful if taken to its logical conclusions. You see, the fad did not end with bracelets. After George W. Bush began sending troops into Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 I started seeing bumper stickers on people’s cars that read “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” Then in subsequent elections “Who Would Jesus Vote For?” started appearing. The trend continues.

I should make a bumper sticker that says “What Would Jesus Name His Yacht?” or “What Would Jesus Name His Firstborn Daughter?” Imagine contexts in which Jesus might be purchasing a yacht or being married and having children. It’s a funny thought, isn’t it? Is it a sin to own a yacht? Some people probably think so, but no, not if you have the means. Is it a sin to bear offspring? On the contrary, the Scriptures tell us to “be fruitful and multiply.” So why is it a funny thought? Because Jesus had a different social role and function than other people do.

The anti-tobacco ad is silly because it unfairly associates human civilization and capacity with animal civilization and capacity. Jesus is fully man and fully God. As peers in Christ’s human nature, we are able to laterally relate our experience with His. Herein, Jesus refers to us as His “friends” (John 15). But as subjects unto His divine nature, our relation to Him is quite different.

Jesus came to earth with a very specific purpose and role. The example He has set before us and the lessons He has taught us provide us with the instruction for leading lives of holiness, but they do not define the nuances of our daily experience. Because of Christ’s Messianic role He lived in such a way that promoted His mission.  Although our Christian mission is to proliferate His, our earthly role is not materially the same. It is of the same Spirit, but of different functions. The body performs a different set of tasks from the Head (1 Corinthians 12).

With these things in mind, it is not helpful to constantly pose the question of what Jesus would or would not have done. It may be relevant to basic questions of morality, but it is useless in light of complex social scenarios. These questions are not helpful because they miss the point of the Gospel entirely. Christ’s Gospel is good news for condemned sinners. It’s chief aim is to save and internally transform a person (gradually) into the person God designed them to be.

To this end, we are given the instructions for daily living. In addition to being preoccupied with one’s conversion and spiritual growth, Christ’s instruction is also focused on the growth of His Kingdom as promoted through evangelism and discipleship. For that reason, the complex social structures in which we try to retrofit Jesus Christ do not boast the precedence that His Kingdom holds.

That is not to say that Christians are not tasked with engaging with the complex systems of our surrounding societies. At times, many of you have probably felt immense internal conflict regarding that engagement. I will address that at a future date. In the mean time I’m pretty sure I know who Jesus would be vote for, but I’ll address that in my next post.

 

Invisible Oppressors

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“The scribes… were saying, “[Jesus] is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.”

Mark 3:22-27

The wisdom of Jesus is remarkable. In this particular exchange He is, on the surface, defending the origin of His power. In doing so, He goes on to say a great deal more. A prominent lesson to be inferred here is that internal divisions disrupt unity and pave the way for inevitable defeat. There is strength in numbers acting in solidarity with one another, but when those numbers are broken off into factions there is vulnerability. Jesus teach us also that it takes the greater strength of one to overcome the great strength of another.

Throughout history, civilizations have always been vulnerable to external and internal forces  which have been represented as foreign governments or rulers, business corporations, and political or religious ideologies. Much is said these days regarding the individual person or group’s perceived experience of “oppression.” The blame for societal oppression is often placed on racial, gender, religious, or economic groups. While injustices do occur within these parameters, it seems to me that the majority of systemic injustices are rooted in issues of class and/or ideology.

The human brain likes shortcuts and will seek to ascribe a familiar face to a threat. It could be said that our greatest enemies are those that are invisible to us in our day-to-day. The class ruler or the ideologue makes use of this tendency of the human brain and so seeks to persuade the members of a society to cast blame unreservedly on their own peers (based on superficial identifiers) in an effort to divide them into factions. Once divided, they are more easily brought unto the heel.

The irony of this, of course, is that the members of a society will waste their time bickering or warring with one another all while unwittingly being subjected to shared injustices. There is strength in numbers, and we take on our enemies by “binding the strong man.” but we are so often weakened by division.

While we can draw these lessons from Christ and apply them to our experience of earthly injustices, Jesus is referring more directly to spiritual tormenters. Every human being is alienated from God because of their sin. This alienation renders us vulnerable to Satan and his kingdom- the enemies of our souls. This sinful nature is what drives humanity to act unjustly  in the first place.

Because our sins alienate us from God, they set us on a course to hell where we will forever remain alienated from Him. There is no earthy life or afterlife to be truly cherished unless the terms of this alienation are rectified. Jesus came to earth to do just that. When He died on the cross, He bore the punishment of our sins. He bore injustice that He might justify us before God. When He resurrected from the dead (for death is a curse for sin for which He was not worthy) He made it possible for us to be made spiritually alive- to be restored to our fellowship with God.

Even after this fellowship is restored Christians are still affected by the evil nature of these bodies in which we dwell. With God’s help we fight against this sinful nature all of our lives. The sin has influence in our lives, but it no longer has power to subdue us and to formally separate us from God. Because of that, it removes the power of Satan in our lives. Jesus Christ is greater than the “strong man,” and He gives us authority in Himself to oppose our (invisible) spiritual enemies and to subdue them. Our individual fellowship with God must emerge into corporate fellowship with other believers. God invites us into His kingdom and calls on us to spread His Gospel that others all the world over might know such freedom.

 

Evangelism is Not an Elective

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“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you….”

Matthew 28:19-20a NASB

As He ascended into Heaven, Christ parted with words that would set the tone for the entire future of Christendom. His disciples would go on to obey this edict and take the Gospel to the the whole of the known world. The Church of Jesus Christ continues to pursue this mission to this day. Some of them do, anyway.

In my last post I recalled a recent experience in which I totally disregarded an opportunity to evangelize a stranger. This experience was disappointing for me, despite the fact that I’ve not recently had a tendency to evangelize, probably due to distraction and self-centeredness.

In the preceding weeks, God had begun to stir up a passion in my heart toward these matters. This is always the origin of Christian evangelism. As the late Keith Green said, “You put this love in my heart.” Evangelism arrises from an overflow of love and gratitude for our Savior. It is mercifully driven by His work in us.

“…[The religious authorities] commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:18b-20 NASB

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When confronted by opposing religious authorities, Peter and John expressed an INABILITY to stop preaching the Gospel. They were so wrapped up in their love for and thankfulness toward Christ that they couldn’t help but tell all about it to others. Their love for and fellowship with Christ led to a compassion for others, to see them become believers of His Gospel.

The day after my aforementioned experience, I had an experience of another sort. I work at a homeless shelter and have recently gotten to know a man who is staying there. Before I left for the day I struck up a conversation with him. He told me that he was moving out soon. As I was about to leave, I felt a compulsion to share Christ with Him. I almost ignored it entirely, but I was constrained by the Holy Spirit.

I began conversing with him, prayerfully seeking an opportunity to mention Christ. Finally he made mention of a local Christian ministry at which he had attended some services and performed some court-ordered community service hours. I abruptly asked him, “Are you a Christian?”

He pinched his fingers together as he informed me that he believed in the power of prayer and that he felt like he was “almost there”- almost ready to commit himself to God. I sat down and talked with him for a while, and he began to tell me his life story. He kept stopping and saying, “I’ve never told anyone this stuff before. I don’t know why I’m telling you.” I answered some questions he had and persistently shared the Gospel.

As we wrapped up, I asked if I could pray for him. He eagerly gave me his hands, and we prayed. As I left he kept remarking on how amazing it was that this conversation had occurred, as he has been on the fence with these matters. I gave him my number and went on my way, assuring him that I only spoke with him because I felt God leading me to do so.

Although circumstances like this have been normative in my life in times past, this entire episode was a unique experience for my life in recent years. My hope is that, through God’s help and courage, I begin to seek out evangelistic opportunities elsewhere. It has been natural for me and so many Christians to disregard this critical piece of Christian living.

We are not only called to lead righteous and holy lives, but to love God and to love one another. Jesus tells us in John’s gospel that if we “love Him, [we] will keep His commandments.” Therefore, if we love Him, we will obey the call to share the Gospel persistently with others.

Might I challenge you, as I am being challenged, to pursue a pure fellowship with Christ through the Spirit of God? Will you make specific requests of Him that He will surround you with His Spirit and keep you in His steps? That He will give you a love and a passion for Him that overflows into a deep love for others? That you will be granted wisdom, opportunity, and courage to share His Gospel to those you meet? He commands it! Evangelism is not an elective for the child of Jesus Christ!