Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Church, The Gospel, The Truth

How the church is to relate to the culture is a matter of much debate, and has been for some time. Decades ago, sociologist of religions Richard Niebuhr released his classifications, ranging from churches held captive to the culture to those who argued for complete separation from the culture.

Most people in the Reformed world fall far to the middle, and yet even there how we are to relate to the culture makes for some strange bedfellows. For instance, both a conservative and a more progressive evangelical may argue for what is called a "spirituality of the church" or "radical two kingdoms" position.

The progressive might say that the church's sole interest is the gospel, not how its members cast their ballots. The church, they say, is in danger of getting between people and the gospel if it becomes the Sarah Palin campaign headquarters. Democrats need Jesus too. Usually, the progressive would not allow such a view to get in the way of clothing the poor or feeding the hungry; it rather issues forth in a concern that the church not appear too partisan, and be blind to the faults and failings of the predominant political persuasion of its membership.

The weakness of this position is that the Scriptures address far more than the gospel, and Christ is our Lord in the voting booth, too.

The conservative 2 kingdom type may proceed on different grounds. He, too, is concerned about the purity of the gospel, and is very wary of the "social gospel," the confusion of the ethical demands of Jesus with a liberal political agenda. He may argue that, liberal or conservative, the church is a redemptive institution, and its sphere of authority and influence relates to "first table of the Law" type issues --man's relationship with God. It has nothing to say to the broader culture, who aren't listening anyway, and it has no right to try to shape the public opinions of its members.

Both of these groups seem horrified at the thought of being identified with anything that might smack of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

The other side of the spectrum are those who make no real distinction between the world and the kingdom of God. Again, this takes both a liberal and a conservative form. The liberal form could be identified with Sojourners Magazine, the writings of Ron Sider, Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo. Christ told us we must care for the marginalized, the downtrodden, the "least of these," and had harsh things to say to the complacent, the wealthy and the powerful: therefore, vote Democrat and usher in the kingdom of God.

The conservative form is: America has forgotten God. Our heritage is a Christian country. We need to elect those who will appoint strict constructionist judges. Here's a voter's guide, which shows why the Republican candidate is always the best choice.

I want to hasten to add that, of these last two options, there is absolutely not moral equivalency. The reason there is not moral equivalency is abortion and associated life issues. If I have to pick between Jim Wallis and Jim Kennedy, it's Jim Kennedy every time, rest his productive soul. Besides, Jim Kennedy did lots of stuff for the poor too, and I don't see the progressive evangelicals doing much more than begrudgingly saying that while life is important, it is not as important as, well, you know, the minimum wage and stuff like that, um er...

Please don't fill the comment box with comments about liberalism and school lunches and poverty. I live in the midst of all that, and believe me, liberalism has done few favors for the poor. Whatever good one can point to, it is far outdone by the harm.

My own position, as you may have guessed, is none of the above. The church can't be quiet. It must be prophetic without being political. If it isn't, stuff like THIS happens, and people get the idea that it is perfectly legitimate to be a Christian and yet be free to form their own opinions about it. Yes, absolutely you can be a Christian and in favor of legalized murder. NO YOU CAN'T. Sorry. You can be a Christian who commits a murder and repents of it. But you absolutely cannot think it's okay. Woe to those who call good evil, and evil good.

You can be a Christian who struggles with homosexual temptation or sex outside marriage and repents of it, but you absolutely are not free to think those things are right. You can't be a Christian and think that it's okay for Mr. Civil Magistrate or Rev. Caspar Mainline Milquetoast to conduct homosexual weddings. Don't call good evil and evil good.

The danger of being political is obvious. First, politicians love to have the church as their patsy --just ask Thomas Beckett. Former friends make heads roll when the church sticks its neck out --sorry, couldn't resist. Conservative Christians elected presidents who gave us Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. Tell me the cause of life advanced with those appointments.

Second, it is very possible for Christians to be duped into thinking that a party with several correct moral positions has all the correct moral positions. Low taxes are equally as important as outlawing abortion. Just for the record: I think taxes should be low, but I would vote for a socialist who would end abortion. No moral equivalency there, either.

Christians have supported all sorts of bad stuff under the banner of the "spirituality of the church." Stuff like this: Dateline 2010, not 1965. That banner cannot continue to fly. Let's take it down and hide it in the closet. Better yet, let's take it out, stomp on it, and burn it for all the world to see.

The gospel sets people free, but not apart from the truth. Jesus spoke the whole truth, and was the embodiment of the gospel. He offended people all the time, yet his sheep heard his voice. Why should we be afraid that we might offend someone away from God by speaking his own truth? Who knows, they might just get convicted of sin, and seek the Savior.


  1. Interestingly, down here in Cuba Norte the homosexuals and liberals commonly refer to CRPC as the "hate church" because "They hate gays."

    My dear wife now works with a bunch of homosexuals and they tell her anything.

    Ironically, CRPC is in an area highly concentrated by gay men. It's sad that such a good church is known for 'hatred.'

  2. OK - where's the stuff about all our former President's and their faith?

    What's up with Millard Fillmore and John C. Stennis?

  3. The big question: Should Christian's expect those who don't believe or understand the gospel to live up to biblical standards? How we answer this question will in large part will shape how we understand the relationship between our faith and politics.

    Does voting for someone mean we endorse all their moral, political, and spiritual stances? This is impossible. We are always sorting through a number of issues. Ex: I am completely opposed to abortion. However, I will not vote based on this single issue, partly because this is not the only important issue where lives are at stake, and secondly because plenty of pro-life politicians have done nothing in recent years to bring significant changes to this issue. So, are we voting on principle, or to actually bring about change?

  4. Aaron,

    The big question is not a simple question. In one sense, yes, those who don't believe the gospel should be expected to live according to the knowledge of the law implanted within all humanity. I think it is reasonable to expect Aunt Sadie the atheist not to go out and murder people.

    No, it does not mean we endorse all their particular stances. It does, however, require that we weigh the relative importance of those stances.

    Why is abortion the sine qua non for me? For the same reason Hitler is the manifestation of all things evil in the Twentieth Century. He fed hungry Germans, to be sure, but he also slaughtered millions.

    Name one other issue where as many lives are at stake? Even if you argue the immorality of collateral damage in pre-emptive war as a reason to vote for pro-choice candidates, the numbers just don't add up, do they?

    It is simply not true that pro-life politicians have done nothing. In many cases, they've done as much as they can possibly due under the strictures of Roe: parental notification, late term abortion bans, etc.

    Voting to bring about change is somewhat dubious, of course. Change to what?