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Posts Tagged ‘Government’


The Church in America has struggled with the notion of Christian activism over the years. Usually such activism is associated with the “Religious Right” but there are groups that would not consider themselves part of that “Religious Right” that engage in activism as well. Is the Church to be involved with activism? Are Christians to be involved in activism? This is the subject of Appendix E in The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame.

Frame begins with mentioning the book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe. There they remind people of the great influence of Christians on Western culture. Christians have been instrumental in education (founding many of our colleges), health care (founding many of our hospitals), political freedom, literacy (the original reason for Sunday School) as well as the arts and more.

“Without Jesus, without the gospel, without the influence of his people, all these areas of culture would be vastly different and very much worse.”

The efforts and influence of Christians have not lead to a perfect society. They have lead to a clearly better society in many instances (note I didn’t say all). Here in America, as a result of the Fundamentalist movement, large portions of the Church retreated from social action. Ironically, it was often the more liberal branches of Christianity that lobbied for things like Prohibition which would typically be associated with Fundamentalists today.

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Tim Keller’s latest book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering didn’t quite begin as I anticipated. I’m not sure why I had the anticipations I had, particularly since I’ve read most of his books.

Tim doesn’t just write for the choir. He anticipates that non-Christians will read his books (what a wonderful thing!). As a result, this book begins with examining how past societies have handled pain and suffering, and why our particular society (speaking of the Western world) has struggled to deal with pain and suffering. In other words, he starts with a good does of apologetics.

His point is that secularization has diminished our capacity to deal with pain and suffering (okay, PaS). In the past, societies were influenced by their religious (and philosophical) views and looked at PaS in context with them. What they experienced, they believed, had a point though they differed on what that point actually was.

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The question of an individual’s relationship to the state is an important one. The answer reflects how one views the state and its responsibilities. Christians have given many answers to this question. In his discussion of the 5th Commandment in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, John Frame gives the answers that various traditions have given.

Frame is of the opinion that the state is essentially the government of an incredibly large family. Such large scale government is far more complex than governing a nuclear or even extended family., In places like Romans 13 we see that God has ordained the State, it is not an accident or human invention (though there have been developments that are the product of human thinking). As Christians, we have dual citizenship. Becoming a Christian does not mean rejecting your earthly citizenship. Paul remained a Roman citizen. We should seek to be good citizens of both kingdoms.

In early non-Christian thought, there was the tendencies toward elitism and libertarianism. Frame notes that the rationalist moved toward totalitarianism. We see this in Greek thinking about the state. Some were born to rule, and some were born to be slaves. Plato’s Republic was not democracy, but ruled by philosopher kings. This was not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. But there is a strong tendency toward totalitarianism among political elites today. They know better than the hoi poloi, the masses. Machiavelli, for one, argued that rulers should increase their own glory thru non-traditional (immoral) means to accomplish their goals. This ends justifies the means thinking is prominent in the big government crowd.

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In a recent Session meeting, one of the elders asked a particular question that related to the issue of men and women in the church. It was a question about which people have differing opinions, even if they are in general agreement regarding the larger issue.

Freedom and Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in ...I sent him some exegetical and historical work I’d done on the pertinent texts in years past. I also sent him links to a few books on the topic. One was a book I had not seen before, and decided to read for myself. That was Kevin DeYoung’s Freedom and Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church.  I was particularly interested because DeYoung serves in the RCA, a denomination in which many egalitarians have found a home. He is a complementarian, so I wondered how he handled this particular issue.

He wrote the book (published in 2006) for congregations similar to his own which did not have “official” positions on the subject. He wanted the book to be understandable for lay people. He wanted to display an irenic spirit. The goal was not to bash those who disagree with him. He did not want to descend into vitriol or presenting strawman arguments (how a view is presented would not be recognizable to those who hold the view).

I believe he succeeded in both cases.

Much of the book is taken up with looking at the passages at the heart of this discussion (Genesis 1-3; 1 Corinthians 11; 1 Corinthians 14; 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Timothy 3. He also handles some common objections as well as briefly outlining the many things he believes women can do in the church. In the appendices he includes his sermon on Ephesians 5 and the similarity in arguments for those espousing egalitarianism and the acceptance of homosexual behavior in the church.

“Controversy, because it makes us think more carefully and support our ideas more substantially, can actually strengthen the church.”

He begins with a series of questions to “set the stage” for the larger discussion. He affirms that this is not a “salvation” issue (I disagreed with one of my favorite professors in this issue, and have friends with whom I disagree). It is a question for the well-being of the church. As such, we should investigate it.

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I flirted with pacifism in the late 80’s. Maybe it had something to do with my disappointment with the Iran-Contra Affair at the end of Reagan’s presidency. But it was triggered by a conference in New England sponsored by an organization for which I’d later work.

Tony Campolo was there (and you thought it was Ligonier, didn’t you?). He was giving his argument for pacifism with a very emotional argument. “Can you see Jesus with his finger ready to drop bombs on people?” As a new, immature Christian I thought “no, I can’t”. Perhaps I hadn’t read to the end of Revelation yet. You know, that part where His robes are covered in blood as He’s been trampling His enemies? You know, Jesus is riding a warhorse? While Jesus now extends the offer of peace, don’t confuse Jesus with a pacifist.

There has been a resurgence of pacifism. Perhaps it is in response to the decade-long war on terror. I can understand, I’m weary of the whole thing. Perhaps it is all the shootings. I’ve seen plenty of people speak as if we should be pacifists in the midst of those gun control conversations. I was about 5-10 minutes away from Gabby when she was shot. Our community was rocked.

Gregory Boyd is another proponent of pacifism. And Shane Claiborne has popularized those views (I don’t give him a hard time for working with the poor, but for his horrible interpretations of the Bible). Recently someone was shocked that I, as a pastor, was defending gun ownership to protect people. Shouldn’t I be a pacifist? After all, didn’t Jesus say …

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Super Hero movies are all the rage these days. I enjoy many of them. They are often about things our culture struggles with: technology, government etc. They often portray a world in which there is good and evil, and in which good ultimately prevails. Many of the Marvel heroes share in our foibles and weaknesses. They are not perfect. In a sense they give us a measure of hope that people can solve the crises before us.

But, I think, there is a potentially dark side to this “hero worship.” Or should I call it “hero longing”? The problem is not the heroes themselves, but the limitations of the heroes which, in part, creates their appeal to us.

Heroes deal with external evil. They rescue people from the tyranny and destruction of an evil being. They recognize that evil is “out there”. They are capable of dealing with evil out there.  And the evil “out there” needs to be dealt with. We do need someone to rescue us from evil people and evil structures.

This is one reason why so many rely on government- to rescue them from evil out there. Governments should be just, and punish evil doers (Romans 13). But it is what neither a hero nor a government can do that is just as important. Dealing with the evil within.

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I wrote this on 9/13/01 for our church newsletter.  I tried to offer some perspective.  I hope to follow this up with a “now” take.

Spring 2001 from the Staten Island Ferry

What is probably the single most horrible act of terrorism in history has ushered America into reality.  The so-called reality shows that are so popular now can never top live footage of two passenger jets colliding, purposefully, into the World Trade Center.  Until this moment we have been under the illusion of being invulnerable.

The horrific bombing in Oklahoma was done by one of our own.  Other acts of foreign terrorism on our shores have been minimal and shut out of our national consciousness.  Never again.  The world is filled with such acts, though not on this scale.  And we will never be the same.

The responses in our hearts are mixed.  We weep for the victims, their families and even ourselves.  We’ve been stripped of that illusion and it is painful.  There is also anger, even outrage.  I’m reminded of the song “If I had a Rocket Launcher” by Bruce Cockburn.  It was written after witnessing similar horrible acts in South America in the mid-80’s.  If he had one “some son of a b—  would die”.  That is how I feel at times.  Do you?

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Now that the date of my exam is set, what better way to celebrate than post some more of my study notes.  Today we’re covering the chapters on the Civil Magistrate and Marriage.

Chapter XXIII: Of The Civil Magistrate

222. From whom does the civil magistrate derive his authority?  God.

223. What is the purpose which the civil magistrate is called to serve?  To defend and encourage the good and punish evil (Rom. 13).

224.What is meant by separation of church and state? The state is not to determine what the church must believe or how it may worship, nor appoint its officers. The church does have a prophetic message for the government, but only where the Word of God is clear.  It is not to dictate policy to the civil magistrate beyond this prophetic message and the power of the vote.

225.What are the implications of your view for the following:

War (just war / women combat)  Governments have a responsibility to defend the helpless against aggressive, greedy nations.  Women in combat is not a hot button issue for me.  Women have been killed in combat, and killed others in combat for thousands of years.  I am distressed at the loss of femininity that accompanies the practice, but I’m not sure the church should be dictating policy to the civil magistrate.

Political involvement – Christians are to be good citizens and use godly wisdom in voting for representatives.  Christians can and should run for office.  Christians should be concerned about a variety of issues, and need not vote only for other Christians.

Patriotism in worship – worship is to honor and worship God.  You can thank God for the many privileges we enjoy in a particular nation, but since our primary citizenship is in heaven I find patriotism in worship inappropriate, particularly since we are ‘idol factories’ and often make idols of our nationality.

226. Under what circumstances is it right for a Christian to disobey the civil authorities?  It is right to disobey the civil authorities when they either prohibit the Christian from obeying God or try to force him to break God’s law.  We are to do so in humility, and willing to suffer the consequences even as we declare how unjust the government is in the matter.

Chapter XXIV: Of Marriage and Divorce

227. Demonstrate from Scripture that marriage is a divine institution. Marriage is instituted in Genesis 2 that humankind may fulfill the Creation Mandate given to us.  In Ephesians 5 we see that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church.  Jesus also affirms the divine institution of marriage in his teaching on marriage and divorce (Mt. 19).

228. Why is marriage not a sacrament?  It is not a sign and seal of our salvation, nor does it convey grace. It is not commanded of all Christians, which a sacrament is.

229. Should a Christian and an unbeliever marry? Should a Christian marry a Papist?  No, we are to marry in the Lord lest we be led astray to worship idols.

230. What are the legitimate reasons for divorce? Adultery (Mt. 5, 19) and abandonment (1 Cor. 7)

231. Under what conditions may the divorced remarry?  They may remarry if they were divorced for legitimate reasons, and may only be equally yoked.  If a person converts to Christianity after an illegitimate divorce (and their spouse has remarried) they may remarry.

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The “Cash for Clunkers” program may be a good preview of how a government-run, national health plan of some type could run.  And the intitial returns aren’t too promising.

I spoke with a car dealer I know (I know a few of them) about the program which has already needed more funding (shocking!).  Here are some the things mentioned by this car dealer.

  • Instead of a simple form, the government has a 6-page document to be filled out by the dealer.
  • The owner of the supposed clunker must provide numerous forms of proof of long-term ownership.
  • The government documentation outlining the plan and process is 150 pages long.  It is in a pdf file (good) but the Table of Contents lists the sections by Roman Numeral, not page number making it difficult to find the actual section you need at the moment.  They printed it and use Post-It notes to identify the most used portions.
  • The engine must be seized and the car crushed at the time of sale, which proceeds the time of approval.  The dealer will be out $4,500 (pluse the costs of seizing and crushing) should the clunker not be approved.  They received notification that they are unable to hold the former owner of the clunker responsible.
  • This dealer has yet to receive any money from the government.  How? you say.  The increase in funds was based on estimates of clunkers already brought in, but not yet approved.  This means the dealers are left hanging in the wind financially while the government takes inordinate amounts of time to process these applications.  Talk about being held hostage, Mr. President.

If you ask me, it isn’t looking good.  The American consumer may see some short-term benefit.  Not really, only those who have clunkers, which is a small portion of the population (sound familiar?).  But the providers of cars get the short end of the stick.  They spend hours processing paperwork, hoping to get reimbursed by a slow-moving government to might not pay.  They aren’t out a few hundred for tests, but thousands they can’t recover because the car has been destroyed rather than salvaged.  And the American taxpayer gets stuck subsidizing new cars for others without any assessment of why that person is econimically disadvantaged (illness, injury, poor choices etc.).  This does not bode well for the vast majority of us.

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D.A. Carson re-enters the discussion of Christianity’s relationship with culture in Christ and Culture Revisited.  I say re-enters because he hits some similar issues in The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism and his more recent Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.  This time he evaluates the classic, influential work of H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture.  He arrives at the same essential point that I did while in seminary, just in a far more thoughtful and thorough way.  Due to my circumstances, it may have taken me as long to read it as it did for him to write it.

Here is a quick summery of Carson’s conclusions for you:

“Niebuhr’s typology offers his five types as slightly idealized competing options.  Yet this emphasis on choosing from among the options does not square with the canonical function of Scripture.  … Christians do not have the right to choose one of the options in the fivefold typology as if it were the whole.  The name of that game is reductionism.”

What Carson does is rightly is say that no one paradigm fits every situation.  Scripture reveals very different responses to different circumstances as people sought to live life under the gaze of God.  We are to utilize wisdom, always checking our hearts with Scripture lest we deceive ourselves, to chart the best course.

In developing this, Carson digs into some good biblical theology.  This is so we live in light of the main turning points of redemptive history (creation, fall, redemption, restoration), and in light of the already/not yet realities of our salvation.  When we focus on only one or two turning points of redemptive history we fall into reductionism and hover in one (often knee-jerk) response to what is happening around us.

Inevitably Christians find themselves squeezed between the claims and obligations of the broader culture and their allegiance to Christ.  The tensions between Christ and culture are both diverse and complex, but from a Christian perspective they find their origins in the stubborn refusal of human beings, made in God’s image, to acknowledge their creaturely dependence on their Maker. … Although there are better and worse examples of how these tensions might play out, there is no ideal stable paradigm that can be transported to other times and places: every culture is perpetually in flux, ensuring that no political structure is a permanent “solution” to the tension.

It may sound to some as relativism, but it really isn’t.  We apply unchanging standards to changing circumstances.  So at times we will adopt cultural practices, at times abandon them, at times adapt them etc.

It is when Carson begins to examine the various uses of the term ‘culture’ that this book gets a bit heady and philosophical.  It is at moments like that when I realize how average a thinker and how poorly read I am.  But my calling is different from his.  He wisely says you can jump to the next chapter.

He focuses a great deal of attention of the relationship between church and state (and how those terms are variously used).  In our quest for one ideal arraingment, we err.  He traces the development of various views in the West (notably the U.S. and France).  We should learn to tread lightly when wanting to criticize Christians in other cultures.  We often don’t have the frame of reference, and circumstances, they do.  And we often flounder in our own circumstances.  I gather we should take the log out of our eyes.

Overall it was a good read, but not an easy read.  But pastors and elders should labor through that they might shepherd their people through this potential quagmire.  I’m glad Carson revisited some old ground and gave us a better lay of the land.

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With the shrinkage of the for-profit sector, the not-for-profit sector will see a similar contraction.  Churches are one of the not-for-proft organizations that will be hit hard.  The government should take a lesson from other not-for-profits and cut back rather than trying to raise taxes and spend even more.  These cycles come, but governments seem to lack the discipline necessary to save in times of prosperity for times of decline.  Governments abhor a surplus and must spend it, much to our disadvantage.

Churches will be hit hard for a number of factors.

  1. Unemployed members.
  2. Under-employed members
  3. Lost retirement savings

All of these will reduce the offerings a church needs.  If a church is small, or comprised of a largely retired population, that crunch will be most severe.  I know of a few churches that are at risk for these very reasons.  Things were already tight financially, and now these churches are on the brink and in grave danger.

Other churches will merely contract- reducing staff and/or programming. 

On the surface, this looks to be a bad thing.  As someone who is under-employed and watching the number of churches in which I could serve shrinking, I can see it that way at times.  But overall I think it presents some great opportunities for the church at large.

  • Opportunity for mercy ministry.  There will be opportunities to take care of our own, displaying the love of God in a tangible way.  We are to take care of one another, carrying one another’s burdens.  There will also be plenty of opportunities to take care of the poor outside of the church- opening the door to sharing the hope we have in Christ.
  • Opportunity to repent of our greed, materialism and consumerism.  Many people are having to cut back on their spending and realizing much of it was superfluous and luxury rather than necessity.  Many Americans live beyond their means- as evidenced by the average consumer debt.  It is time for that to change.  Our priorites can be reshaped, refocused by the gospel in times like these.  Good financial management programs can be utilized to instruct those in and outside of the church.
  • Opportunities to reveal the greater hope we have in Christ.  Yes, this can be a time of effective evangelism as people realize they have built their house on sand instead of rock. 

So while times like these are hard, they are also opportunities for ministry.  Churches driven by the gospel will recognize this, and go for it.  Churches driven by other agendas will … be overcome and possibly close their doors.  It is in times like these when we need to trust Him who holds the present and the future, and remember that He tends to work most profoundly when it seems darkest.

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During our pastors’ meeting to discuss Nehemiah 6, Tim Rice relayed this information from a discussion with a former CFO of Publix.  It is helpful to understand a large economy, the issues that face our nation, and therefore how to wisely choose a candidate (there are NO perfect candidates, sadly).  I am not savvy enough to reproduce the diagram, so I’ll wing it.

For Profit Business => Owners, employees & dependents => Not for Profits => NFP employees & dependents => Poor, unemployed & dependents

The foundation of an economy is For Profit Business (FPB).  Those profits support the owners, employees and their dependents.  I know in this day, the idea of making profits seems barbaric. But profits are how a business stays in business and therefore support all those dependent upon them. Those businesses and people provide the funding for NFPs, both public and private.  The government is the public NFP which is funded by taxes.  The public NFPs are churches and social agencies that are funded by donations.  The more profit generated by the FPB, the more resources that are available to the NFPs. A government that wants to see revenues increase, wants to see the NFPs do well, not stifle them. It is simply increasing the pie, so the slices of the NFPs increase as well.

There is an inverse relationship between the public and private NFPs.  The more the government takes in taxes, the less that private NFPs end up receiving.  The employees and their dependents are dependent on how well the NFPs do, which is a result of how well the economy (read For Profit Business) does.  The poor and unemployed (and their dependents) rely upon the NFPs until they work for either the FPBs or NFPs.

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I’ve been here before.  My disgust with the 2-party system drives me to consider the Libertarian Party.  During time outs of the Celtics game I’ve been flipping over to the Libertarian Party debate.  I saw want to be Libertarian.  More than any other party they seem to get the Constitution.  I agree with small government.  They seem to forget that people are sinners, but the answer is not big government, which is giving lots of power to a group of sinners.

Then they do it.  “It” is something really stupid, something that turns me off just as much as the Big Party candidates.

Tonight it was their comments on marriage as a private contract which the government should not regulate.  If there was no such thing as children, maybe.  But marriage is a public thing, not a private thing.  It was designed to fulfill God’s purpose, not our selfish purposes.  Marriage matters, and since the Libertarians don’t get this, they don’t get my vote.

And this is why they really don’t garner much popular support.  Their isolationism, legalization of drugs and refusal to talk about abortion will sentence them to a mere oddity.  I guess their problem is they are Pelagians who think that evil only exists in the accumulation of power.  They don’t realize that individuals do bad things.

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