Archives For Politics

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the seriesChristians and Violence Revisited

I wanted to give one more teaser from my book. But before I do, let me give one qualification and one advertisement.

First, the views represented in my book don’t necessarily represent the views of Eternity Bible College. We have a broad range of perspectives on Christians and violence; mine is only one. So if you come to Eternity, or if you send your son or daughter to Eternity, you’ll/they’ll be forced to think biblically through the issue. They won’t be spoon-fed nonviolence.

Second, if you wanted to court my book before you buy it, you can download the first chapter for free on your iPad or iPhone here.

Okay, so back to our topic. One question that often comes up whenever I talk about nonviolence is: do you think America should have a military?

Whatever answer we give to this question must be transferable to other believers living in other nations. In other words, if we as believers in America say “yes, America should have a women_military_-_from_veterans_todaymilitary” then I think that believers in Argentina, Canada, North Korea, or Iran should say the same thing. That is, unless we think that God has a special place for America and not for other nations, which has no biblical support.

So, should the nations, all nations, have militaries? The answer the New Testament gives is…(chirp, chirp). Nothing. Because the New Testament is not meant to tell secular governments how to operate. (Jesus never seemed to care about Rome’s military, apart from reaching out to those in the military.) After all, people are unable to conform to God’s will unless they are in Christ and have the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3; Rom. 8:5–16). Outside of Christ, they are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 2:13), which is why Paul has no interest in judging those outside the body (1 Cor. 5:12). The nations will act like the nations.

Neither does the New Testament show much interest in the politics of the day. We are to submit to the governing bodies, pray for them, and pay our taxes. But the kingdom of God is not commanded to make the kingdom of Rome more moral. Interestingly, whenever Jesus was lured into political debates, He always “transformed these kingdom-of-the-world questions into kingdom-of-God questions and turned them back on His audience (Matt. 22:15–22; Luke 12:13–15)” (Greg Boyd). That’s because our mission is not to solve all the world’s problems but to embody and proclaim the kingdom of God as the place where those problems are solved.

So do I think America should have a military? It all depends on what we mean by “should.” If we mean “can,” then sure. They can have a military. Or they can choose not to have a military. For citizens of God’s kingdom, the question is a moot one, because militaries don’t advance the kingdom of God—and neither can they stop it. Jesus’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church didn’t have any footnotes.

The New Testament doesn’t say that Rome should or shouldn’t have a military. That’s because the New Testament isn’t concerned with advancing Rome’s kingdom. Rather, it tells us how to advance God’s kingdom. God doesn’t command America to have a military, nor does He command them to get rid of their military.

I therefore disagree with Wayne Grudem, who thinks that “military weapons for governments are God-ordained” or that “because of the great military power of the United States, we also korean militarycarry a great deal of responsibility for maintaining world peace,” or even that “superior military weaponry in the hands of a nation that protects freedom … is a good thing for the world.” Such statements are wrongheaded, if not bizarre. World peace comes through Jesus—the one who doesn’t need a military to rule the world.

Should governments turn the other cheek? Sure, that’d be great. If all governments turned the other cheek, there’d be a whole lot less violence in the world. But that’s not the solution to evil in the world. Jesus is the solution to evil in the world. And trying to follow Jesus’s teaching without following Jesus is ultimately bankrupt. The command to turn the other cheek is directly connected to the person and work of Christ, who turned the other cheek when attacked by sinners.

Our hope does not lie in enforcing our ethic upon secular governments. We can’t legislate the kingdom of God into existence. We could end all wars, yet Satan would simply find another way to destroy us. He could use the thin veneer of world peace to make us think we don’t need Jesus. Our hope and victory lie in the crucified Lamb. Jesus is the solution to war and violence.

I’ll leave you with the trailer for my book. If anything, it’s evidence that I made a good choice by not becoming an actor.  🙂

 

Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence – Preston Sprinkle from Skyline Videography on Vimeo.

 

 

Zimmerman TrayvonA young man is dead. The man who killed him has been found “not guilty” of murdering by reason of “self-defense.” The media on the left and right is exploding with analysis, accusation, race-baiting, and outrage. People on social media are either celebrating or lamenting. Politicians, celebrities, and other elites are making emotionally charged political statements on both sides of the case. The question is how do we respond as Christians who are citizens of the USA and of God’s kingdom.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on this case. I have personally seen racism but don’t claim to know what it means to be black in America. I am not a leader in the realm of racial reconciliation. I am a Christian pastor. My attempt at answering how we ought to respond is limited to my desire to faithfully proclaim the gospel to a people who need to live well as citizens in two kingdoms.

I do not believe our response as Christians ought to be restricted to a particular set of behaviors, with the exception of prayer. I am not sure what your lot in life is and in what manner you are compelled to respond. Your responsibility here is likely different if you are a politician, pastor, homemaker, mechanic, or college professor. However, I do believe our response to this situation can rightly be grounded in at least three different attitudes of our hearts and minds.

1. We ought to grieve over our fallen world.
I did not celebrate the day George Zimmerman was declared not guilty. I grieved for the parents and family of Trayvon Martin. No matter how you feel about this case, it is tragic that a family lost a young son. Death is a terrible and relentless enemy that pursues us all. I grieved over the racism and division that is so prevalent in our world. It does not matter what you believe about the nature of this case. The fact remains that the debates surrounding the case have exposed a people who are divided over racism. Racism is at heart the hatred of the image of God in another person and is always tragic. We thus should grieve over the fact that an entire group of people suffered egregious injustice in our country for hundreds of years. Let us not so quickly dismiss the ongoing effects of that wound and the manner through which that same group of people now view the justice system. Finally, I grieved over the sinfulness of humanity. Our sinfulness leads to all manner of offense against God and one another. We can see that sinfulness abound in many ways surrounding this trial and the response to it. We ought to grieve because we love God and thus hate what offends him. We ought to grieve because we love people and hate what hurts them.

2. We ought to be thankful for a God who is just and has shown us immense kindness in common ways.
Whether you believe justice was done in this particular case or not, you can affirm our God is just. Whatever happens in human justice systems God is not lacking in his application of justice. He will finally and fully avenge all sin. Further, we ought to be thankful for the common kindness of God we see in a human justice system that tries cases in a courtroom before jurors and not in the mass media before the populace. Our system doesn’t always get it right but I remain thankful we do not live in a country with a kangaroo court.

3. We ought to find hope in the character and work of God as supremely demonstrated in the cross and resurrection.
We grieve but not as those without hope. We are hopeful because we have a God who is both just and merciful. We believe God has demonstrated his justice and mercy most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ. God demonstrated that he will not and cannot just let sinners slide by. He paid the penalty for sin due to all of us in Christ. He simultaneously showed his mercy toward sinners in willfully punishing our sin in his Son. This is gloriously good news in which we find hope. However, our hope does not end there because the story does not end there. Jesus Christ was also bodily resurrected from the dead thus being vindicated. Jesus’ resurrection carries the promise that God will resurrect our bodies as well. This means that Satan, sin, death, racism, and injustice don’t have the last word. Jesus has the last word and what hope he provides!

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

We have the right to own guns. It’s right there in the constitution. As citizens of the United States of America, we have the right to bear arms. Aside from any moral issues with owning a gun (is it a sin to keep a loaded .45 under your 4 year old’s bed?),gun control 2 we have a legal right to hang that shotgun over the mantle.

As Christians, we also have a duty to submit to the government. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” writes Paul. “For there is no authority except from God” (Rom 13:1). And Peter agrees: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Pet 2:13).

Notice that neither Peter nor Paul put any qualifications on these commands. We are to submit to the government. Obey its laws, pay its taxes. And Peter and Paul were writing when Caesar Nero was on his throne! (I’ll let you Google around for a character study.) Christians aren’t just to obey good governments (are there any?) or reasonable governments. We are to obey our governing authorities because such undiluted submission looks past our human authorities to the One who established them in the first place. Submission to Rome, or the U.S., is ultimately submission to God.

So what should Christians do if Congress—not that this would ever happen—passed a law that forbids the ownership of guns? Not Uzis and semi-autos. All guns. Rifles, handguns, yes—even your granddaddy’s shotgun hanging over the mantle.

If such a law violates the law of Christ, then we disobey the human law. “We must obey God rather than men,” pronounced the apostles (Acts 5:29). Although the passages above (Rom 13; 1 Pet 2) say that we are to submit to the government, there’s another underlying New Scriptural ethic that tells Christians to disobey the government if the government tells you to do something that isn’t biblical. The book of Daniel is a vivid case in point.

But owning a gun is not a biblical mandate. It’s a legal right that we have as citizens of the U.S. But if this right is taken away by the government, then what should the church do?

Biblically, we turn in our guns. Gladly. Willingly. We should be first in line. If Romans 13 means what it says, then the church should empty its gun cases gun-control 1and “be subject to the governing authorities” since “there is no authority except from God” (Rom 13:1). Eagerly. Joyfully. With hearts greedy for obedience, we turn in our guns because submission to our—sometimes unreasonable and oftentimes quite sinful—governments is only a small picture of our glad, eager, joyous submission to our Creator. Undiluted. Unconditional. Unless we are forced to sin, and since not owning a gun is not a sin—we turn in our guns.

Why do I embark on this fictitious (though…we’ll see) scenario? To make the point, a point that many first century Christians felt in other ways, that allegiance to Christ demands zealous obedience to the government even when, or especially when, the government does something that offends our “rights.”

Our cherished “rights” are not ultimate. God is ultimate, and we are enslaved to His laws, which include submission to a sometimes-unjust government.

Dzhokhar TsarnaevLast week we followed the horrifying news of a terrorist-style bombing, the murder of a police officer, a manhunt, intense shootouts, and finally the death of one suspect and capture of the other. As all of this unfolded, probably the last thing most of us thought to do was pray for these suspects.

Yet that’s exactly what we should have been doing, and with one suspect still alive, that is what we should be doing still. Here are three reasons we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

 

#1 – Jesus Commands Us To Love & Pray for Our Enemies

“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 5:43–48)

Maybe you read that and think, “Okay, fine. I will love and pray for my enemies. But this guy is a terrorist. He committed one of the worst crimes of our time. Surely Jesus didn’t mean him.” But Tsarnaev is exactly the kind of person Jesus had in mind. Jesus says that everyone loves their own friends, but he calls us to love people who would ordinarily be hated. Enemies.

So Tsarnaev’s unbelievable deeds only serve to cement his status as the kind of person Jesus was talking about: a hated enemy. This kind of person, Jesus says, we are to love and pray for.

 

#2 – God Loves Wicked People

The reason Jesus gives for loving and praying for our neighbors is startling. We should do this “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” God, he says, sends his sunshine upon everyone, and dispenses his rain to all of his creatures. So why should we respond in love to such a heartless killer? Because that’s how you reflect your Father. After all, he is the one who sacrificed his own life to show his love for hardened sinners like us (Rom. 5:8).

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” (Ezekiel 33:11)

 

#3 – We Shouldn’t Underestimate the Wrath of God

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Repay no one evil for evil…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, 17, 19–21)

Paul’s words here echo those of Jesus in Matthew 5. When evil rears its head—and last week it did to a disturbing degree—we don’t overcome it through violence, vengeance, or any other form of inflicting harm. We overcome it with good.

Paul’s statement in verse 19 is intriguing: “leave it to the wrath of God,” or “leave room for the wrath of God.” In situations like this, we want blood. We want to see Tsaraev punished for his crimes. And this cry for justice is right. We need to be careful not to minimize the pain of the victims, nor to simply brush aside the atrocities under a banner of cheaply-defined forgiveness. But when we think that a humanly- inflicted punishment will satisfy justice, we are actually trivializing the evil deeds and—even more seriously—we are underestimating God’s wrath. Indeed, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

So Paul tells us to do good to those who do evil to us. To bless those who persecute us. God promises to repay the evildoers; our job is to show them love. God has indeed placed human authorities on earth to handle such matters (see Romans 13). And our government will respond as it sees fit. But as for the church, our call is to be on our knees. After all, God is in the business of loving and even saving sinners—even the worst of them:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” – The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15

BallotElection day. The past few months have been leading up to this moment, so much so that our Facebook newsfeeds carry all the same headlines as the major news outlets. So much passion, so many hopes, so much skepticism, so much disagreement, so much slander—all coming to a head today.

And depending on when you’re reading this, all of the critical decisions of Election Day 2012 will either be done soon or are already settled. So how should a Christian respond to a finished election? Here are a few thoughts.

Be ready for disappointment. Keep in mind that I’m writing this before the election, so I don’t have a clue about who will be the next president or which ballot issues won the day. But I’m insightful enough to know that all of us are going to be disappointed in some way. Maybe your guy will lose the presidential election. Maybe the ballot initiatives you feel strongest about will go the wrong way.

But even if the election goes your way in every respect, you should still be ready for disappointment. Your choice for president will let you down. Our best ballot measures will always stop short of solving society’s problems.

Elections offer us a unique opportunity to share in the direction and development of our nation. In many ways, we are never more powerful than we are on an election day. When else does the government ask you what they ought to do? Voting gives us an opportunity to give input into matters that are typically far above our pay grade.

But then again, we are also relatively powerless on an election day. Think about it. How much will your solitary vote accomplish? Sure, the government asks for your input on this one day, but are they really hearing you over all of the shouting voices?

So we follow our conscience on Election Day and say what needs to be said. But once that is over, we have to decide how to respond.

Will Jesus remain on his throne? Count on it. Is he still sovereign over human governments and social issues? Of course. Are we still called to pray for our leaders, whether we like them or not? 1 Timothy 2:1–4 says that we must.

So on November 7, no matter what has been decided or which candidate has to figure out if he can actually keep any of the promises he made to the American people, we continue to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1–7), we continue to pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1–4), and we continue to labor to see God’s will done on earth (Matt. 6:10).

Voting is one way to work towards seeing God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, but in reality, we are far more effective in this regard in our everyday lives than we are in a voting booth. Sure, our vote goes toward something much broader than we typically take on, but in our smaller spheres of influence we have much more power to actually make changes.

I am one impersonal voice among millions when I vote on the abortion issue, but I carry a lot of relational weight when I comfort a young woman who is wrestling with how to handle her unplanned pregnancy. I can fill in a ballot in an attempt to influence healthcare, but I am far more powerful on a smaller scale when I join with my church in caring for the needy in our community.

The point is, regardless of what happens with this election, we must still feel a sense of calling and confidence in working to see God’s will done in the smaller spheres of influence which he has entrusted to us. Let the election be what it will be, we still have work to do for the kingdom.

 

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