Saturday, February 11, 2012

Christians And the State.

“If we are going to have a separation of church and state, we’re going to have a separation of church and state.”

Those are reportedly Al Jackson’s words in explaining his support for the Government’s recent mandate that all religious institutions, save a very narrow exception for churches themselves, must provide for contraceptive services in their employee insurance, even if they have moral objections to doing so.  At first glance that statement seems irrational, that is until one recalls what folks on the political left in our country mean by “separation of church and state.”  When one digs beyond the superficial when it comes to the idea of separation of church and state what one finds is to them it really means the church is to stay out of the state’s business and out of public life.  It doesn’t mean that the state must stay out of the church’s business.  They consider the state the highest expression of man’s hopes and desires and every other institution under the sun inferior.  Thus all others must bow to the dictates of the state without exception.  When that is understood Mr. Jackson’s words make perfect sense.

Normally I prefer to stay out of political issues; this is a religious blog after all.  However, the controversy over the mandate provides a perfect opportunity to have a look at the issue of the relationship between Christians and the states they live under.  So I’m going to take the bull by the horns.

Jesus was once asked once asked whether it was proper for a Jew to pay the Roman tax.  That was a hotbed issue in his day as the Jews resented their Roman masters and the taxes they imposed.  Their scriptures told them they were a “Gods” to the Gentiles and many felt that as such they shouldn’t be subject to the tax imposed by imperial Rome (Ps. 82:6).  Jesus’ answer is quite instructive and forms the basis for the relationship between the members of the true Church, those called to be co-heirs with the Christ in heaven, and the state (Rom. 8:14-17).

Here is the passage:

Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?  Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.  And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?  They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.” (Matt. 22: 17-21)

Notice how deftly he turned their question back on them.  Still, he gave a very profound answer to the question, one which every Christian should keep in mind.

As Christians we occupy a pretty unique position in this world.  Paul explains to use that since we are called out of this world to be future rulers with Jesus Christ we are really members of the ruling class of that future government.  As such we are in the position of ambassadors telling the world about that kingdom and what it will do for mankind (2 Cor. 5:18-20).  As such we live under rules much like temporal ambassadors do.

Modern ambassadors fall under certain international conventions and treaties giving them a different position in the societies they have to function and live in.  Generally speaking they are exempt from the laws of the lands they live in, but for the sake of peace they are expected to follow those laws unless their duties require them to break them.  So while an ambassador has the liberty to ignore, say driving laws and cannot be prosecuted for breaking them, he or she will generally follow them, unless special circumstances require they be ignored, for the sake of safety and good will.

Those exemptions exist for a reason since ambassadorial personnel routinely conduct activities which are illegal in their host countries, such as intelligence gathering, and couldn’t perform their duties without those exemptions.  As subjects of another government their allegiance is to that government and they must follow its laws and demands.  There is a caveat, however.

That exemption isn’t absolute.  If caught blatantly disobeying their host country’s laws they may be declared persona non grata and deported.  In certain cases, such as murder their governments didn’t sanction, their government may choose to remove their immunity and hand them over to authorities for prosecution.  That has happened.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

In the thirteenth chapter of Romans Paul tells us to be obedient to the laws of the nations amidst which we live (vs. 1).  Then he goes on to outline why and what benefits we derive from doing so in the next seven verses.  This is in line with Jesus’ comment to “give Caesar that which belongs to Caesar.”  Caesar coins the money, so it is his and we who have placed our hope in the heavens are but stewards over that money which our heavenly father blesses us with for our efforts to provide for our selves and our families.  And for the sake of smooth daily living obedience to the laws of the land are a must.  After all, how far will one get if they decide they don’t have to stop for red lights or stop signs?

Yet we are citizens of another government, members of its ruling class in training.  That means we do have a higher loyalty and its laws are our priority.  That is what is meant by giving God’s things to God.  Since the nations don’t recognize God’s government, and certainly don’t recognize it as having a prior call on our loyalties, that can bring us into conflict with them.  That conflict can lead to our being expelled from those lands by imprisonment or even execution.

Those of us who live in the United States of America are fortunate.  Our land has the right to practice our faith enshrined as one of its primary laws, one which is intentionally made difficult to change.  God put that government and its law in place for a reason.  That freedom of religion led to a rediscovery of genuine truth and the establishment of a Christian movement based on those rediscovered truths.  That also led to the truth being spread to much of the world, including nations very hostile to it because that movement had a secure base from which to operate.  For this we are very grateful to our God and heavenly Father.

We are seeing those liberties eroded day by day, as the situation which inspired this blog amply demonstrates.  There are men determined to bring everyone and everything into total subjection to the state under the progressive model we see elsewhere on this earth.  Yet, as Christians we shouldn’t be overly anxious over the matter.  And while we live in this land as God’s ambassadors we will continue to “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How Do I Justify Being A Christian.

Today a friend on face book posted a question she was asked.  “Since Christianity has been responsible for more violence and death than any other thing, how can you be a Christian?”  Since she asked how we would handle the question I posted a simple answer.  However, I’ve been thinking about the question and decided to post my thoughts on the subject.  So how do I answer?

First of all I question the premise of the question.  I’ve seen various figures around on the net and decided to dig a little.  The figures depend much on how you define things and what you do or do not consider “Christian” nations.  For instance some folks lump the neo-Pagan Nazis with their massacre of around 20,000,000 people into the “Christian” category simply to pad the case against Christianity because the nation they ruled was nominally Christian.

I finally decided to go with an essay by one Kirk Durston, National Director, New Scholars Society.  He cites a figure put forward by a political scientist, Rudolph J. Rummel, who figures about 284,638,000 people were killed for either religious or ideological reasons throughout human history.  Of that number 151,491,000 were killed in the last one-hundred years with Communism, Nazi Germany and Nationalist China accounting for 141,160,000, nearly 50%.  Communism by itself accounts for about 110,000,000 of those deaths.

I can hear atheist readers rejoicing over that one.  “That means that over half of those killed were killed by Christians.”  Not so fast.  The remaining people were killed by Christianity and all other religions and ideologies combined.  The figures for how many deaths can be laid at Christendom’s feet vary from 2,000,000 up to 50,000,000.  Even if I’m generous, that means that the violence and death toll for 2,000 years of Christian history is less than one-half the death toll of Communism in the last one-hundred years alone.  There is no real comparison!  So “Christianity” is nowhere near as deadly as modern atheist and secular ideologies.

Now that we’ve taken care of that, let me state for the record that I am not about to defend the horrible record of cruelties and abuse of their fellow man by people calling themselves Christian.  It is horrible and all of those who are called by that name should be appalled at the abuse heaped on God’s name by such a terrible record.  I condemn it from the deepest wellsprings of my heart.  So how do I justify being a Christian with that record associated with the name?

It is simple; the religious/political nations we know today as Christian are Christian in name only.  They represent a fallen Church which left the teachings of her founder and reached out to become a temporal power.  And they pay lip-service to the teachings of the one they claim to represent.  As such they bring reproach on the names of both their founder and his God and stand rightly condemned.  I choose to follow the founder and his teachings with all my heart and thus am proud to be called Christian, or Christ like, the meaning of the name.

When Jesus founded the Church he didn’t found a nascent world ruler which was supposed to grow and take bloody rulership.  He founded a movement.  Those are two different things.  Jesus intended the Church to declare the Gospel, or good News, to people of all nations as a witness and make disciples out of people from those nations (Matt. 28:18-20).  That was not a mandate to go out and take over the whole world and force it into submission like the mandate Muhammad gave Islam.  There is no permission in that command to take temporal power, for that temporal power will be taken once the true Church is empowered in heaven (Rom. 8:15-17; Rev. 20:1-6).  As a movement it was to operate anywhere under any ruler during conditions both friendly and hostile.  As a movement it couldn’t be stamped out and could go about its current mandate to make disciples out of people everywhere and did so to some extent or another throughout the Gospel age.

As a Christian I follow Jesus’ teachings to love God, my neighbor and my fellow Christians.  That means I obey the laws of the land such much as is physically and spiritually possible and do my best to harm no other person except in self-defense.  And I’ll try to avoid situations which make that necessary to the greatest extent possible.  In doing so I am fulfilling God’s law, as Paul pointed out at Romans 13:10.  Far from bathing in the blood of innocents true Christians have more often than not been among the victims.  Instead they’ve been a movement for peace and love, however dimly their lights were able to shine through the obscurity of persecution.

That, my friends, is how I’m able to justify being called by the name Christian despite the bloody record charged against it.