Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Christian Citizenship

Recent stories in the newspapers and on the Internet tell of how Department of Homeland Security and other federal officials plan to use members of the clergy to support their martial law decrees and gun confiscation in the event of future major disasters. The government wants the clergy to tell their flock that Romans Chapter 13 decrees absolute obedience to government authorities.

One WorldNetDaily letter writer reacted angrily to an article condemning this misuse of clergy by condemning those Christians who thought otherwise, insisting that absolute obedience to government authorities is the responsibility of every Christian and asserting that constitutional restrictions of authority are irrelevent to this issue.

One of my seminary professors had a maxim in regard to biblical hermeneutics that said, "A [biblical] text without a context is a pretext." In this case, we have the government using Romans 13 as a pretext for smoothing the way to unconstitutional totalitarianism under the guise of a national emergency, and and expecting the clergy to pacify their congregations into accepting these actions. Considering the constitutional and biblical ignorance illustrated by the above described letter and that is probably widespread among both clergy and laity, the government may get the cooperation they desire.

You may recall that during Hurricane Katrina, agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms along with local policemen swept neighborhoods in New Orleans confiscating firearms from everyone they could, thus leaving the non-criminals at the mercy of the roving bands of thugs who were stealing, raping, looting, and killing while the few authorities remaining were otherwise occupied. Constitutional restrictions on the government such as the Second Amendment were swept aside in the chaos of the moment as these few authorities assumed powers not constitutionally granted to them.

This is a preview of coming attractions if the Christian Church is unwilling to hold their elected representatives accountable to their oaths to support and defend the constitutions of the republic and/or their state and insist that they remain within the bounds of their constitutional responsibilities.

The following sermon outline reviews relevent passages from Romans 13 and other biblical texts that illustrate God's desire for our responsibilities and behavior as citizens:

Christian Citizenship

Romans 13:1-7

I. God’s People and Government.

A. God ordains government. “[T]he powers that be are ordained by God.” (Romans 13:1c)

B. God ordains government to protect and to punish. “For he is the minister of God for thy wealth: but if thou do evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword for nought: for he is the minister of God to take vengeance on him that doeth evil.” (Romans 13:4)

C. God decrees obedience to the government. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.” (Romans 13:1a)

D. God decrees that taxes be paid to the government. “For, for this cause ye pay also tribute…. Give to all men therefore their duty: tribute to whom ye owe tribute: custom, to whom custom…” (Romans 13:6a, 7a)

E. God holds us accountable for our obedience to government. “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves condemnation.” (Romans 13:2)

II. God’s Expectations concerning Governors

A. Governors are subject to God. “…[T]here is no power but of God.” (Romans 13:1b)

B. Governors are God’s servants. “[F]or they are God’s ministers, applying themselves for the same thing.” (Romans 13:6b-c)

C. Governors are to be disobeyed when they compel disobedience to God. “Whether it be right in the sight of God, to obey you rather than God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19b-20)

III. God’s Expectations for Us Today

A. God expects us to participate in the political process. “…Then [Jesus] said unto them, Give therefore to Caesar, the things which are Caesar’s, and give unto God, those things which are God’s” (Matthew 22:21)

B. God expects us to support leaders, principles, legislation, and justice that glorify and honor Him. “That ye may be blameless, and pure, and the sons of God without rebuke in the midst of a naughty and crooked nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15) “Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness…Thou shalt not covet…” (Exodus 20:13-17) “And Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and Queens shall be thy nurses: they shall worship thee with their faces toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet: and thou shall know that I am the Lord:…” (Isaiah 49:23)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Christians and the Immigration Crisis

Christians and the Immigration Crisis

The problems resulting from the twenty-plus million illegal immigrants and from the many non-English speaking legal immigrants residing in the USA are currently the subject of much debate within the Christian community. Questions about how the Church should respond to immigration reform proposals and to the spiritual and material needs of these people are among the issues that burden and often perplex the Christian community. Here are a few observations to ponder about what might be the appropriate biblical response to these problems.

I. The Law – Part A

Romans 13:1-7 “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth, the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause , pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”

Some of the arguments Christians are making about illegal immigration are that our families are all descended from immigrants, the immigrants are poor and destitute, they are only looking for a better life like any of us desire, and therefore they should be left alone to pursue this better life. The major problem is that this line of argument is antinomian and is contrary to Romans 13 and to other biblical precepts that require us to obey the law unless it is contrary to God’s Law. God does not require a nation to open its borders to everyone and anyone who desires to enter, and thus disregard the national security, public safety, public health, cultural division, labor, and exponentiating fiscal problems that exist and continue to expand as a result of the situation.

II. The Law – Part B

A few years ago, I worked full time a few months at $8/hour for a tax return preparation service where I interviewed people, entered their tax return data into a computer, then prepared the data for electronic filing with the appropriate tax authorities. A significant number of the customers I served were recent immigrants of whom very few spoke fluent English. They, like many fluent English speakers, had no hope of deciphering the complex tax forms, and so chose to pay to have it done for them.

Most of these folks worked for local poultry processors. Their yearly incomes were almost without exception $12,000 or less, most of them having incomes of under $10,000. Most qualified for the federal earned income credit, which based on income level provides a tax credit that is not limited by the amount of taxes being paid. Additionally, many qualified for the federal child tax credit that is also a tax credit not limited by the taxes paid and is based on total income and the number of one’s children.

The tax “refunds” due these folks often amounted to thousands of dollars, in some cases amounting to 50% of the income they had earned from their employer that year. Those who were single parents with several children received the largest “refunds.” In almost every case, they chose to purchase from the tax service a “refund anticipation loan” that sped receipt of their “refund” by several weeks. The loan fees and interest were significant and were paid for by reducing the amount of the “refund”. The main goal seemed to be to receive a financial windfall as quickly as possible without regard to the overall cost.

These tax credits of course are not limited to recent non-fluent English speaking immigrants, nor are these folks the only ones getting expensive loans in order to get their tax refunds a few weeks earlier. That is not the point. The point is that the government is effectively subsidizing through tax law businesses that pay poverty-level wages to those desperate enough to work for those wages. The point is that the government is calling black - white by characterizing these giveaways as tax credits. The point is that the government is financially enabling single-parent families and encouraging poor stewardship. The point is that the government has found yet another way to buy votes and influence from those who benefit most from dependent constituencies and government interference in the marketplace.

So, borrowing McLean (VA) Bible Church Senior Pastor Lon Solomon’s trademark question, “So What?” What does this have to do with the Church’s response to these immigration issues?

I don’t have any profound solutions for the specific problems described above, but I do know that ignoring immigration law, ignoring the not-so-hidden power and money agendas of those most responsible for creating this mess, and ignoring the significant destruction to our nation being wrought because of these problems is NOT going to make anyone’s life better - recent immigrant or not - illegal or not. I DO know that the Church is responsible for obeying the law and in providing Godly influence for our culture.

III. The Church

So then, what is the Church’s responsibility in these matters? I strongly suggest that Christ’s command to us before his ascension is most instructive:

Matthew 28:19-20 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

A while back, I had the opportunity to speak to an influential leader involved in church planting about how Christ’s Church should go about ministering to the growing immigrant population. I described the hundreds of thousands of recent immigrants living and working in western Virginia, and how I had gained some insight into their lives by assisting some of them with their tax returns those several months. I told of discovering that the vast majority of these folks were gentle and personable people. I told of how most of those I had met were living in very modest means. I told too of the spiritual poverty of these folks, citing the lack of ministry to their communities and how the problems of single parenthood and immorality affected their communities so profoundly as they do the rest of the culture. I asked what might be done to increase Christian ministry to these fields ripe for the harvest.

I was saddened to hear from this leader that these immigrant communities were not good prospects for planting churches because the folks do not give much money to the church and because it takes several hundred thousand dollars to successfully plant a church and support a minister. In other words, the only appropriate place to plant a church is in an affluent and otherwise demographically appropriate community where a minister is assured of getting a good compensation package and where there is the prospect that a decent church building can be constructed. Somehow, I do not think this is what Christ had in mind when he spoke about the least of our brethren and when he gave his Matthew 28 marching orders…

So, again, what is the responsibility of Christ’s Church toward the many recent immigrants in our communities? At the very least, we are to:

1) Obey the laws and encourage obedience to the law to the extent commanded by Scripture.

2) Reach out to the least of our brethren in those ways commanded by Scripture including but not limited to proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples, and meeting temporal needs – even if imaginative and laborious means are necessary.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Today's Church = Gutless Cowards?

At a conference in the summer of 2005, I had the privilege of hearing a series of messages on Christian Courage by the Preaching Pastor of Christ Church of the Carolinas in Colombia, South Carolina. He characterized the overwhelming majority of preachers and congregants at today's evangelical churches as "gutless cowards" for their lukewarm-at-best exercise of their faith and for the diluted-at-best Scripture being taught and preached at their churches. He then went on to put Scripture where his mouth was and show how accurate was his indictment and what God's solution is to the problem. Please listen to these messages on Courage and other topics (http://www.christchurchofthecarolinas.org/The_Sacred_Desk.Sermon_Series) and be blessed by the full counsel of God's Holy Word.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why is Creation Important?

In the summer of 2006, I had the privilege of attending Answers in Genesis' Creation College 2 in West Harrison, Indiana where I and about four hundred others spent six days studying the importance of Genesis chapters 1-11 to the integrity of Scripture as a whole, and the harmony of scientific evidence and the biblical account of creation. During the conference, AiG Chairman Reverend Don Landis presented several sessions on the theology of Genesis 1-11. The following sermon outline was distilled from these presentations:

Why is Creation Important?

(Genesis 3:6-7)

"And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened…"

I. Adam’s Sin Had Consequences.

A. Adam sinned intentionally. “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” (1 Tim 2:14)

B. Adam’s sin caused him to die. “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return." (Gen 3:19)

C. Adam’s sin causes us to die.For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (Eph 5:8)

D. God provides a solution to death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23)

II. The Second Adam Fixes the Sin of the First Adam.

A. Christ’s shed blood turned away the consequences of God’s wrath for Adam’s sin. “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

B. Christ’s physical death and bodily resurrection fixes our physical and spiritual death. “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.” (1 Cor 15:12-13)

III. Physical Resurrection is at the Core of the Gospel

A. Christ is the first to be resurrected. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Rom 8:29)

B. In Christ, our resurrection is assured. “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Cor 15:3-4)

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11)

C. Our resurrection through Christ fixes death and sorrow. "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." (Rev 21:4)

D. Our resurrection through Christ removes the curse of Adam’s sin. “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.” (Rev 22:3)

IV. So, Why is the Genesis Account of Creation Important?

- If there are billions of years and millions of fossils before Adam’s sin and the fall…

- And these fossils are evidence of death, decay, and chaos…

- So…if there were death and decay before Adam’s sin and fall…then the entire Gospel is a lie…

“So the LORD God said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life. And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel."” (Gen 3:14-15)

"These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.” (John 16:1-4)

***** Satan’s attack on Genesis through evolutionary theory is an attack upon the cross of Jesus Christ. *****


I sometimes listen to a widely syndicated Christian radio broadcast that is hosted by several psychologists who answer phone calls and dispense advice to the callers. These psychologists and their ministry provide many outstanding and effective resources through their on-air and off-air ministries, but there is one characteristic of their advice that is a cause for concern. Most of the time, their focus is on the “feelings” of the caller with questions like, “What are your feelings about this matter?” and “How does he/she make you feel when they do this?” Notwithstanding the validity of this information in the overall healing and sanctification process, when the emphasis is placed on fixing or improving the caller’s feelings, the weightier matters of biblical truth are often minimized.

This mindset is not unique to Christian psychologists. It is a pervasive, ingrained aspect of our culture. Refinement of this way of thinking can be traced to philosophical and theological movements that go back as far as the late 1700’s. David Hume’s 18th century theories of Noncognitivism reduced morality to one’s feelings about the moral issue.(1) The 20th century theories of Logical Positivism dismissed anything that could not be verified by empirical observation.(2) The theories of Emotivism developed by Charles Stevenson were synthesized largely out of Noncognitivism and Logical Positivism in moving morality far from the realm of absolute truth into the relative world of individual feelings.(3)

Neo-orthodoxy, Emotivism’s theological fraternal twin, filters biblical precepts through these philosophical screens and sets aside such things as inspiration of the Holy Spirit, inerrancy, and the closed canon. This reduces Scripture to being only the opinions and perspectives of the human authors and legitimizing new revelations from God. Truth is determined by individual interpretation [or feelings] and not by scriptural precept. (4)

Jeremiah lived in a culture that followed similar philosophies and theologies, and God provided some straightforward revelation on the subject:

Jeremiah 17:5 “Thus saith the Lord, Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and withdraweth his heart from the Lord.”

Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful and wicked above all things, who can know it?”

God also revealed the solution for the problem:

Jeremiah 17:7-8 “Blessed be the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the water, which spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not feel when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green, and shall not care for the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:10 “I the Lord search the heart, and try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his works.”

So, to the radio program caller who has been mightily wronged on numerous occasions by another and is feeling anger, exhaustion, and is experiencing a miserable, less-than-effective existence; perhaps the advice given and the questions asked should early in the process include:

Bad feelings are not necessarily and often not a reflection of reality. We are fallen, totally depraved sinners whose hearts are deceitful and wicked above all things. We need to filter these feelings through Scripture to see what God would have us do to deal with them.

Is it possible that these feelings and the destructive emotions they facilitate spring from a root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15) that needs to be taken to God in repentance and prayer?

Is it possible that these feelings and the destructive emotions they facilitate spring from your usurping, even if only in your thoughts, God’s prerogative to exact vengeance (Hebrews 10:30) on evildoers in his providential time and in his providential way?

Etc., sola scriptura.

At the very least, these are the type of things that God used in my own life to convincingly prove to me “…that all things work together for the best unto them that love God, even to them that are called of his purpose” (Romans 8:28)

(2) http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/l5.htm#logp
(3) http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/e.htm
(4) http://www.gotquestions.org/neoorthodoxy.html
Note: Scripture quotations from the 1599 Geneva Bible (http://www.1599GenevaBible.com)

The 2008 Election Campaign

With the 2008 presidential election campaign already in full swing, the inevitable arguments about what candidate those on the so-called Christian Right should support will soon be the subject of heated debate. Recent history shows that once the major party primaries are completed, any principled candidates will have long since been winnowed out of the field, and the usual quartet of pragmatic insider politicians will be on the ballot. The Democratic candidates will be liberals and progressives masquerading as moderates, and the Republicans will be moderates-to-liberals masquerading as conservatives. One contemporary analogy characterizes the Democrats as locomotive engineers running the train of state at 100 MPH toward a steep cliff at the end of the tracks. The Republicans feign shock at the Democrat’s extremism and urge that they be elected, promising to drive the same train at only 55 MPH.

The January/February 1999 issue of The [John] Lofton Letter reminds us that this situation is not a new one, quoting 19th century theologian Robert L. Dabney:

“[The history of secular conservatism] has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the acceptable principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn.”

“American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward to perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It tends to risk nothing serious for the sake of truth.”

Thus, the major parties offer the choice between the fast and slow trains to perdition, and the leadership voices of the Christian Right overwhelmingly urge support for the slow train as being the only viable option. Pragmatism, expediency, compromise with the world, and the perceived comfort of the moment are touted as the only proper Christian response, i.e. vote for the Republican candidate, and those within the Christian Right who urge that only principled candidates and parties be supported are pilloried and dismissed for drawing away support for the lesser evil and in effect giving the election to the 100 MPH’ers.

As reformed believers who espouse the absolute sovereignty of God and that “all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (WCF I.VI.), we are called away from the conformance to the world that has long dominated Christian political thought and action and in large part has led to our present perdition, and toward biblically principled thought and action in the political arena and for that matter all areas of our lives. I offer the following points not as an exhaustive exegesis of this subject, but as a few applications as food for thought:

* God has ordained government for specific purposes and we should support only candidates and governments that conform to God’s design for Government. (Romans 13:1-7 etc.)

* In the USA, our national, state, and local governments are those of a constitutional republic, i.e. their powers are limited to what is granted to them in their particular constitution, charter, or bylaws, and we should support only candidates and governments that stay within their prescribed limits of power. (8th and 10th Commandments, Luke 20:25 etc.)

* God ordains particular leaders for particular times for particular circumstances according to his sovereign, eternal providence, and does not need man-made assistance like compromise, pragmatism, relativism, syncretism, and lesser-of-two-evilsism. (Daniel 2:21, 5:21 etc.)

* God calls us to keep his laws and commandments in matters of elections and politics as in everything else - no matter what the temporal cost. (Daniel 3:16-18, John 16:2-3 etc.)

I close this first essay with the inspired words of Paul, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure…That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:13, 15). May we be those willing and doing lights – in politics, elections, and all throughout our lives.