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Thursday, April 26, 2012

We Were Commissioned To Preach The Gospel, Not Force Holiness

There are a variety of different worldviews that Christians defend.  The engagement of their worldview into politics is almost as varied as the worldviews themselves.  Some would hold a much more apolitical view, and then others would defend a very theonomic worldview.  Depending on the presuppositions one holds, the outworking of that worldview into the socio-political realm will have different goals.  This current election season has brought many things to the surface.  Left-wing Christians supporting Obama, the religious right with their support of Santorum (among them Christians who refuse to vote for a Mormon and will not vote in the absence of Santorum or an equivalent), pragmatic Christians who support anyone but Obama, and libertarian minded Christians with their fists clenched around the idealism of Ron Paul.  This election has proven to do nothing toward unifying the bride of Christ around a common worldview.  This is to be expected, but the massively different views from the political "right" has brought up things that I believe are not only harmful to the integrity of the church, but also to society at large.  The reinvigoration of the religious right has brought to the forefront some issues that I believe we as a church must get past in order to effectively engage the world, fulfill the great commission, and also preserve the integrity of the bride.

Before I dive into the cause of my frustration and make an argument against it, there is one thing I want to address briefly.  I have noticed two very different types of Christians in many churches.  I have often thought of them as the warriors who run into the thick of the fight with a battle axe and medics who run around trying to heal and mend whoever they can.  I would argue both are necessary functions to a healthy church, but each has their strengths and their weaknesses.  The warriors are the Christians, like myself, who feel perfectly at home contending for truth.  Often they are the ones who are eager to fight for the gospel of Christ and the purity of the church which Paul appealed for.  However, in their zeal they often do much more than just hack away the dead limbs.  They have a tendency to wound those around them, both inside and outside of the church, with their zealous contention for truth.  The medics, on the other hand, are often those who are running around around after the warriors trying to mend relationships and heal the broken hearted and the distressed.  Their desire is not to fight but to love and to act tenderly towards others, they are the peacemakers who are called blessed by Christ in the great sermon.  However, in their compassion they often gloss over serious issues and would rather try avoid confrontation at all costs, even if it compromises the integrity of the bride.  We need those who would contend for truth as well as we need peacemakers.  I believe that the warrior minded Christians need to spend a lot of effort developing the heart of the medic, and that the medic minded Christians need to spend a lot of effort discerning what battles they need to fight.  A healthy Christian life is going to be one where both characteristics are present and where there is wisdom in discerning which is more necessary at any given time.

A number of things have been swirling around my mind the past few weeks all of which seemed to culminate when a friend posted a link to the Right Wing Watch's page and I decided to give it a quick gander.  One of the entries that stuck out to me was in regard to the Religious Right defending the criminalization of homosexuality.  The video clip was an interview with a Southern Baptist pastor who cringed at the clip of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, defending the idea that gay rights are human rights before diplomats in Geneva.  I was reminded of the anti-gay bill in Uganda that would punish homosexual acts with either life in prison or the death penalty.  Regardless of your view on the morality of homosexuality, one issue that seems so fundamentally universal to me is the defense of basic human rights and dignity and, from a Christian perspective, the need to love your neighbor and follow the example of Christ who came to seek and save the lost, not kill them.

The church, in many cases, has established both homosexuals and gay rights activists as their enemies because of the "gay agenda" that such groups advocate.  Without going further into this subject, which I have briefly written about before, I believe that by holding this view groups like the Ring Wing Watch actually turn the command of Christ on it's head.  Looking at both the gospels of Matthew and Luke in addition to Paul's admonition in Romans, we can see the command of Christ in how to deal with persecution and how to love our enemies in different lights.
You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. - Matthew 5.38-48
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other ...also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. - Luke 6.27-36
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Romans 12.14-21
The emphasis from both our Lord and Paul is the exact opposite of our common inclinations.  The Christian response to the "gay agenda" should be a response of loving ones enemy.  We are to be perfect and merciful as God is perfect and merciful, we are to overcome evil with good.  The problem I see is that the response elicited by the Religious Right is just the opposite of this.  It is their entire purpose to push legislation in order to subdue their political enemies into submission.  They are being warriors when it is more proper to be medics, to use my analogy above.

As I was thinking about this topic, I began to realize that it is very common that American Christians have a very great tendency to do the same thing.  It is easy to turn the world into our enemy that we must master.  We become great culture warriors who will defend the Christian heritage of our nation with no expense spared.  The biblical code of morality must be the social norm, and if it is not then we are threatened and react in force.  Looking around at the state of the church, however, there are a myriad of evangelical ecumenical movements that continue to search for a lowest common denominator faith.  The once essential doctrine of Justification can now take a back seat as there is a push for Catholics and Evangelicals to unite behind a common cause.  (As a side note, I do believe there is a place for different faiths to cooperate for mercy ministry, and even dialogue about differences, but lowest common denominator ecumenism is doomed to have little to no substance and cohesiveness in the long run.)  In doing this we violate the advice of our Lord in dealing with sinners with mercy love (see quoted passages from the Sermon on the Mount), and we ignore the plea of Paul to contend for the gospel of Christ and reject a different gospel, even delivered by an angel.  We both refuse to love our enemies and become in danger of distorting the gospel.

This is the struggle I have with many on the socio-political right.  I believe that the agenda advocated by many, possibly well meaning, Christians ignores the core of the gospel and harms the church by taking the proper fight for purity within the church and placing it as a drive for forced purity on those outside the church.  In the end, the church stands for nothing and the world resents or rebels against the church.  If we would focus on the purity of the church and the love of our neighbor and our enemies, I believe that we would find churches with more substance, integrity and influence as well as a world with more "neighbors" and less "enemies" (not, of course, ever being rid of our those who are opposed to Christ and his bride).  If we believe that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation then there is no need to shackle the world by turning the entire moral law into the standard for our nation's judicial law.  As the bride of Christ who is also in this world and made up of citizens of nations within it, we can discuss what the best way to embrace the moral law and how to translate that into the political and judicial sphere, but we need to remember that we were commissioned to preach the gospel to and evangelize the world, not force holiness on them.

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