Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How You Can Accept Barak Obama As President

Christ and culture will always be at war until Christ returns as judge to restore all things. Nowhere is this more evident than in the words of Jesus in John 3:19, "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." Since culture influences people, and people become governors, all systems of man-led government will move further into corruption as it's people become more wicked. Paul also emphasizes the contrast between culture and Christ when he commands believers not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2). Finally, John provides a strict word to followers of Christ imploring them not to love "the world nor the things in the world," which he says is evidence that the love of the Father is not present (John 2:15).

But are we then simply to always rebel against culture and the governmental systems of this world? The answer is no. Here lies the paradox. A believer is to submit to the government whenever it is possible, whether that government is good or evil, and to submit to it's leaders as if they were God's representatives. God is no less restricted in His ability to use wicked rulers than He is good and just leaders. Indeed He even calls Nebuchadnezzar, a wicked and idolatrous king, "My servant" (Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6). However, at the same time a believer's ultimate allegiance is not to the king, the judge, or this world but to Christ. So then, anything that forces a believer to violate the Law of God is to be opposed (Acts 4:1-31). Such is the picture that is presented in the book of Acts. Believers did not try to have the laws changed to allow them freedom, they simply obeyed God whenever there was a conflict and accepted the consequences as good citizens.

If such is the case, then why is the church so concerned over, and devoting so much time to who is elected and what laws are passed? Can God not work around unbelievers just as much as through believers? Is His plan any less accomplished with Barak Obama as President than it would be with John McCain or Mike Huckabee? Further, how is it that it has become a normative practice in the church to force biblical principles and laws upon a lost nation? I am amazed at how believers complain about the law and say it is unfair that many laws are imposed upon them by a lost world but will quickly turn around and impose their law upon the lost (i.e. abolition, or the closing of stores on Sunday). Yet God has given every man the right to choose Him or deny Him. So then why is the church comitted to forcing men to obey Him who have chosen to deny Him? For most the answer is that America is a Christian nation founded upon Christian principles which must be reinstated. Let me make something very clear, this nation has never been a Christian nation. This nation was founded upon the principle that there would be no official religion or established religion, but that everyone would be free to worship based upon their choice. So then, attempting to make this nation "Christian" is contrary both to the right of free choice that God has given to each man and to the intentions of the founding fathers.

That said, here is the point of all of these posts. I believe and am convinced, based upon the Word of God, that as believers we must pray for, support, encourage, and accept Barak Obama as God's appointed leader of this nation just as we would have any other man. We must not complain if laws are passed which hinder our religious freedom because ultimately our allegiance is to God and we must serve Him first. In such cases we must disobey any law that hinders our obedience to the Law of God (I do not mean any law we do not agree with, but rather any law which forces us not to obey one of God's laws) and accept the consequences of our actions. We must strive to set a faithful witness not as people who are constantly complaining about the woes of society, but as people who faithfully obey the government and serve God. After all, our ultimate responsibility is not to change the state of this world, but to lead the people of this world to Christ. Once we understand that, who is elected and what laws are passed will seem inconsequential to us because we realize that this is not our home, this is not our world, these are not our rulers, and we ultimately belong to and serve a God who transcends everything that we see.

Monday, November 17, 2008

If Only I Could Change The World

There is perhaps nothing more disturbing today than the movement of modern evangelical Christians toward a political worldview rather than a biblical worldview.  These people will believe Christ, teach His Word, and vote based upon biblical mandates, but at the same time look to the world's system of government to solve their problems.  And if that government cannot solve their problems then their responsibility is to change that government to fit what they believe.

Now let me state a few caveats before we examine this belief further.  First, I am not saying in anyway that Christians should not vote.  It is their responsibility to participate in their government and be dutiful citizens.  Second, I am not saying that at times the government will not be changed to reflect biblical principles.  Certainly this can be the case, and has been, throughout history; although these times are fleeting.  Third, I am not saying that we should not pray for our leaders or our government for indeed Paul commanded such things (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

In 1951 Richard Niebuhr wrote a book entitled "Christ and Culture."  His book presented 5 possible explanations for how Christ relates to culture: (1) Christ against culture - a radical view where believers oppose any government and only follow Christ; (2) Christ of culture - a radical view where Christ is experienced through culture and Christian doctrine is remove in order to create unity; (3) Christ above culture - a view where God still has control over culture; (4) Christ and culture in paradox - a view where Christ and culture cannot be reconciled because of sin and therefore continue to exist side by side but always in opposition to each other; (5) Christ transforming culture - a view where believers actively try to change culture to fit biblical mandates through Christ.  The predominant view held by most evangelicals is "Christ transforming culture."  It is this view that causes them to do everything in their power to change laws, officials, and governments to fit Scripture.

As I noted in my previous post I do not believe that this was the thinking of the Apostles, the early church, or of Christ.  Here are several reasons why this view is not biblical.  First, while Christ ultimately will transform culture when He renews all things, at current Christ is not the ruler of this world.  While He owns this world it is currently under the authority of Satan (Matthew 4:8-9; 2 Corinthians 4:4).  Second, this world is not the home of the believer, but rather the home of those living in darkness (John 8:12-24).  Believers are pilgrims traveling through this world who maintain citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  Third, if Christians are to follow or transform a culture which is controlled by Christ then rebellion against that culture would ultimately be rebellion against Christ and His authority.  This would then contradict the practice of Peter and John in Acts 4.  Fourth, this view assumes that it is reasonable and just to force morality (or even religious morality) upon unbelievers.  It is exactly this sentiment that produced forced conversions by Augustine and the Crusades of the Middle Ages.  Ironically, many believers are fine enforcing their morality on those who do not believe, but complain when the morals of unbelievers are forced on them (Note: This does not mean that some issues of morality should not be mandatory for all people, such as a ban of abortions which result in the murder of those who cannot defend themselves - this is an issue of justice not of forcing religious morality).  Finally, the major problem with this view is the reality that this world will continue to get worse.  The depravity of man will become more gross, sin will continue to proliferate, and the nations will continue to reject God until He finally comes to bring judgment to them (Revelation 7-19).

My hope is that through reading this post you will consider very carefully how you act and what you say in regard to the government of this world.  It is long past time for us to stop waging a political war to legislate morality and time for us to take the Gospel and wage a spiritual war over souls that are lost.  Next time I will present a case for why I think the "Christ and culture in paradox" view is the biblical picture and how this will impact our thinking.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why Does It Matter So Much Who Is Elected Anyway?

Today I went to place my vote for the President of the United States (among many other things).  All this week I have been receiving emails, phone calls, and mail alerting me to the fact that if Obama is elected the world will end (well, maybe not that drastic, but they were certainly close!).  I have heard that if Obama is elected abortions will increase (as if that could happen - the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is what decides those matters), that Christians will be persecuted (might not be such a bad thing), and that immorality will proliferate (exactly what is prophesied of the end times in Scripture anyway).  Now let me make one thing clear.  I did not vote for Barak Obama.  However, neither did I vote for John McCain.  Every time an abortive embryonic stem-cell research bill has been on the floor of the Senate he has supported such procedures.  That is just as much abortion as taking the life of an infant in the womb.  As a result, I went with another candidate who I believe to be more in line with biblical values and principles.  Can he win?  No, but that isn't the point.  If winning was the ultimate end then many moral decisions would be passed over because they aren't popular.

Now, let me get to the point of this post.  The point is not whether it was better to vote for McCain or some other candidate (I will assume that you did not vote for Obama who is clearly in favor of free unabated abortions), but rather in how much followers of Christ are clinging to this world.  Throughout this week I have heard the woes of many believers who think that the world will come to an end if Obama is elected.  I have seen worry, distress, fear, and anxiety, all over something that doesn't really matter.

This world, this government, and this economy do not belong to believers or to the church.  Their world, their government, and their economy is in Heaven.  It is stable, it is flourishing, it is growing, it is abundant, it is unconquerable, and it always provides an increase.  Why then would believers have so much anxiety over a place, a people, a world, a system, and a leader that does not belong to them?  Will God be in any less control if Obama is elected over McCain or if McCain is elected over Obama?  Will his plan be thwarted in any way by a mere man?  Was his plan any less accomplished when Nebuchadnezzar, or Darius, or Caesar, or Nero, or Hitler, or Stalin were in power?  The answer to all of these questions is no.  So then, why are believers so concerned about who leads this nation?  To be quite honest, this world, it's government, and it's economy are all under the authority of Satan anyway.  Satan offered them to Jesus because they are temporarily in his stewardship.  Now that is not to say that we should not endeavor to change these things.  We should vote, we should participate in our government, and we should strive to see justice and morality proliferate, but we must understand that these things will not be accomplished politically.  The only way to fight a spiritual enemy is with a spiritual weapon, the gospel.

In the end, what it all comes down to is the simple fact that far too many believers are too closely tied to this world rather than to the kingdom of Heaven.  Their concerns are here, now, with this economy, this leader, and this nation.  As a result, they are more concerned about winning a person's vote than winning person's soul.  This all stems from the belief that role of the believer is to change culture through Christ.  However, as I will demonstrate next time, I do not believe that this was how Jesus or the church proceeded in the New Testament, nor do I believe that this is the message of Scripture.  So until then, think on these things as you sit up till all hours of the night counting every single vote to see who will rule a world that isn't ours.

Monday, October 27, 2008

And The Two Became One

God's Sovereignty is absolutely essential.  Man's responsibility is absolutely essential.  To deny or dilute either of these concepts is unbiblical and will result in greater confusion.  But how is it possible to combine two issues that are seemingly incompatible?  It is only possible to understand how these concepts work together when the whole picture is presented from start to finish.  Since God is one there can be no division or competition in Him.  Neither can there be any inconsistency in Him since He is perfect.  Because of the seeming inconsistencies that are presented it is important to attempt to unify these two concepts as biblically and logically as possible so that the character and actions of God may be vindicated.  Obviously this is not always possible because man's ability to understand an infinite God is limited by his finiteness, but even still there are some things that can be understood because God has revealed Himself to man through His Word.  That said, here is what I believe is a biblical model for salvation that explains how God works and man responds in the process of salvation.

(Before the foundation of the world - Sovereignty and Responsibility)
God foreknows all events including the choices and actions of man
God chooses a world (series of actions and reactions) out of all the possibilities
God predestines that world to occur, as well as those who are saved to be saved and those who are lost to be lost based upon His foreknowledge of all things

(At salvation - Sovereignty and Responsibility)
God draws man unto salvation through the Holy Spirit
Man responds in consistency with what God foreknew, but at the same time uncoerced
God seals those who respond with the Holy Spirit

Now, let me break each section down.  Before the foundation of the world God knows everything that will happen.  Obviously God could not choose something if He did not know what to choose, so everything begins with His foreknowledge.  He knows all events that will happen, and He also knows all events that could happen (this is called "Middle Knowledge").  In other words, God knows each of His possible actions, as well as each possible reaction from man and the world.  For instance, God knows that if He does A on a certain day that you will do B, while if He does C then you will do D, and so on an so forth.  Needless to say this knowledge creates an unfathomable amount of possibilities.  Each of these sets of possibilities is called a "book" or a "world".  Now understand that these are all only possibilities, not actuality.  Before the foundation of the world He knew each of these possible worlds (series of outcomes) and chose the one that was best (best is hard to define, but we know that God only creates the best things possible from Genesis 1, so we might define best as relating to the greatest number of disciples or some other criteria - how we define best is another discussion).  The world that was best was the one that He actualized and the one that we live in.  This world, all of its events, and those who would respond to Christ and choose to reject Him was then predestined to occur.  Based upon these things it is quite easy to say that God is sovereign.

At salvation God draws man unto Himself.  God always initiates salvation (Romans 3).  However, God does not force men to be saved or lost otherwise He would be unjust in rewarding them or punishing them for what He forced them to do.  The fact that they are predestined also does not force men to receive Christ or deny Him in the sense that they are unaware of God's plan.   So then, they make an uncoerced decision either to receive Christ or reject Him.  They will resond free, but at the same time they will respond consistently (unaware) with what God has foreknown, actualized and predestined.  After they choose to receive Him they are then sealed by the Holy Spirit so that they cannot be lost.  Now some might argue that those who are sealed are forced to be saved and cannot retract their decision, however Scripture is clear that those who do not desire to follow Christ to the end were never sealed to begin with (Revelation 3:5).  The Bible is also very clear that many will appear to be saved, but in the end will truly be revealed as lost (Matthew 7:21-23).  Based upon these things it is quite easy to say that man is responsible for his decision to receive Christ or reject Christ.

When these two concepts are presented together, in their biblical forms, it is quite possible (and even beneficial) to present a doctrine that does not divide.  So then, my plea to you would be to understand, as best as possible, how God has intricately woven the fabric of sovereignty and responsibility and look at the coin as heads and tails instead of heads or tails.  When this is done I think that the church will be much better suited to address more pressing issues such as the lostness of this world.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Why Responsibility Is Necessary

Moral responsibility, or free choice as it has been called (I prefer moral responsibility because it suggests that we have the right to choose actions that are either moral or immoral, whereas free choice assumes that we can make choices in regard to anything - clearly there are choices we cant make such as becoming invisible, flying, etc.), actually fits the character of God better than a world without any moral choice.  Most people look at moral responsibility as if it works against God.  They argue that God must be limited if He cannot control man's actions.  However, last time it was argued that things that go against the nature and character of God do not count against His sovereignty, otherwise there could not be such a thing as sovereignty (sovereignty is self-contradictory without some parameters).

Without any moral responsibility it would be impossible to see God as truly holy.  The bane of absolute sovereignty is the question of the origin of sin.  If man is not responsible for making his own free choices in regard to morality then where did sin originate?  If man did not make the choice to sin then someone or something else made that choice for him.  Now, it can be argued, as many have attempted and failed, that Satan caused man to sin.  However, this is circular.  If Satan caused man to sin then who caused Satan to sin?  Even noted pastor and author R.C. Sproul has been forced to admit that without moral responsibility there is no answer to this question.  However, he is wrong.  There is a solution; it is just not one that opponents of moral responsibility want to take.  Apart from a concept such as moral responsibility, where free creatures make moral choices, the only other possible solution for the origination of sin is God.  However, Scripture is clear that this is impossible (James 1:13-18).  So then, the elimination of moral responsibility compromises a case for the holiness of God because He then becomes the originated, proprietor, and dispenser of sin.

It is clear throughout Scripture that God offers man the right and responsibility to choose moral actions (Joshua 24:15; Acts 7:51-53).  Conversely, when man does not choose moral actions he chooses immoral actions (amoral actions aside).  These moral choices are what justify and vindicate the character of God.  How can God righteously judge and sentence to Hell men who committed acts of immorality that they were forced to commit?  If God forced men either to be righteous or unrighteous, and such a person must argue if moral responsibility is eliminated, then how can God be considered just for sentencing sins that He forced His creatures to commit?  This does not meet any definition of justice known and is illogical.  However, if God gave men a choice, either to choose Him or to reject Him, and men chose to reject Him and do what was contradictory to His character and nature, then He would have no choice but to punish such men because God, being perfect, cannot tolerate anti-God (what is against Him).  Further, He would be just in His judgment because they chose their own actions and fate.

So then, moral responsibility defends the holiness of God, righteousness of His judgments, and necessity of punishment and Hell.  Any system that removes this concept will struggle seeing God as holy, just, and loving because the burden of sin must ultimately fall on Him.  Further, any doctrine that seeks to eliminate moral responsibility must be rejected because it calls into question the character of God.  There are only two options for sin: Either God forced it, or man chose it.  If God forced it then He is unjust and a liar (because of James 1:13).  If man chose it then He is just and men deserve the repercussions of their actions.  Next time we will conclude this discussion by bringing the concepts of sovereignty and responsibility together to form one cohesive picture.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Why Sovereignty Is Necessary

For most opponents of Calvinism the doctrine of God's sovereignty is a particularly frustrating doctrine primarily because it is seen in either of its two extremes.  That is to say, either God controls absolutely everything, and thus free choice is nullified, or God is not in control of everything, and thus Scripture is nullified.  However, this is a false dilemma (a logical fallacy where only two options are assumed possible when in reality there are other options).  When such limitations are placed upon the sovereignty of God it is no wonder that few want to discuss this doctrine.  The results of such discussion would be frustration and confusion, as well as a polarization of opposing sides and arguments.  However, I would argue that it is possible to choose both the sovereignty of God and the free responsibility of man.  Sadly many opponents of Calvinism seem to choose the latter of the two options simply because it is the opposite of the Calvinism argument and provides a better ground for free choice.  This is detrimental because Scripture is nullified when arguments attempt to deny or dilute the sovereignty of God.

God is sovereign, of this Scripture is clear.  He is before all things (Col. 1:17), above all things (Eph. 4:6), knows all things (Ps. 147:5), rules all things (1 Chron. 29:11-12), sustains all things (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3) and controls all things (Job 42:2).  However, it is important to understand sovereignty as it is portrayed in Scripture.  Sovereignty does not biblically mean that God can do absolutely anything.  In fact, quite the contrary.  There are many things God cannot do that are listed in the Bible.  He cannot cease to exist (Rev. 22:13), cease to be God (Ps. 90:2), sin (1 John 1:5), or tempt (James 1:13) to name a few.  God cannot do any of these things because they contradict His nature.  However, it is important to note that none of these things count against the sovereignty of God because to do them would contradict Himself (i.e. sinning would contradict His holiness and make Him unholy).  He is able to do all things that are consistent with His character and nature.  This in no way is "limited" sovereignty because the ability to do absolutely everything is self-contradictory (a thing cannot be red and blue at the same time, a sum cannot be 2 and 5 at the same time, etc.)

This point is crucial to understand because it reveals how sovereignty and free choice are not mutually exclusive but rather completely compatible.  Since God cannot do what contradicts His character or nature then He cannot override a free and moral choice made by one of His free creatures, and yet is still completely sovereign.  Because God has made man free, to override his freedom (either by force or coercion) would contradict His creative nature.  God only creates things that are perfect.  If He were to override what He had created perfect then that would imply that there is an inconsistency or imperfection in the creative nature of God.  If God would need to override a free creature then why was He made free in the beginning?  This kind of reasoning would suggest that God made a mistake and is rectifying His error, which is impossible because God cannot make mistakes.  So then, moral freedom in human beings is consistent with the sovereignty of God.  He maintains absolute sovereignty, while at the same time human beings maintain moral responsibility and freedom of choice.

However, please do not think that God's sovereignty is limited to man's free choice.  Indeed, He has many things that He can do to woo, persuade, convince, and convict men in regard to their choice.  It would also be wrong to say that God is not sovereign over the events of this world, the actions of men, or the combination of these things.  This will be revealed in more detail when we conclude by drawing sovereignty and responsibility together.  Next time we will examine why moral responsibility, or free choice as it has been called, is absolutely necessary. 

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Calvinism And Misunderstandings

I was unable to find an article to comment on this month and so I have decided to divert my attention to a doctrine that I have noticed is particularly divisive.  This doctrine seems to divide more churches, turn more friends into enemies, and splinter and fracture the unity of Scripture (not that Scripture is not unified in it's message, but that it is portrayed in one-sided arguments) than perhaps any other doctrine.  The doctrine that I speak of is Calvinism.  For those of you unfamiliar with this discussion allow me a minute to set the stage.  Essentially, the major questions revolve around God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.  If God is completely sovereign then how can man make free choices?  Conversely, if man does not have the ability to choose to sin then how can he be held accountable for his actions?  These questions, and more, are common questions that believers are wrestling with as they study the Scriptures.

Calvinism, unfortunately, is being heatedly debated by many believers who are not biblically, spiritually, or intellectually ready to tackle such issues.  As a result, when unable to present reasonable points, summations, and responses many believers become angry and as a result heatedly defend a "position" rather than making sound arguments.  This results in seeing the position as more important than the other person.  Eventually, it is only a matter of time until attacks against an individual's "position" are taken personally and a great divide is formed between two Christians who once were good friends.  However, I would like to personally point out that Calvinism is not a deal breaker, it is not a hill to die on, and it is not a discussion that should be divisive (unless it is taken in either of its more radical forms - Armenianism, where a person can lose salvation and works to keep it; or Hyper-Calvinism, where free choice is completely eliminated and thus everything is predetermined and forced by God).  I have many good friends who stand on the other side of the fence in regard to this discussion, and I respect their opinions, study of Scripture, and search for the truth in God's Word.  We understand that ultimately, even knowing Greek, Hebrew, and Philosophy, will still not prepare us to completely understand these things because it is impossible for a finite being to understand the mind and workings of an infinite God.

However, that does not mean that we cannot understand the biblical picture of sovereignty and responsibility, or that we should not attempt to understand these things.  God has revealed to us many things about these issues in His Word and desires that we study these things so that we may gain a better understanding of Him and of ourselves.  That said, let me present the direction I am going to take in addressing this issue throughout the next month.  I believe, and will show, that God's sovereignty is 100% necessary and that man's responsibility is 100% necessary.  Any position that tries to deny or dilute either of these essentials is unbiblical.  My hope is to post 3 more times on this issue.  First, I would like to show the necessity of God's sovereignty in light of what Scripture teaches.  Second, I would like to show how man's responsibility results in accountability for good and evil, and how this ultimately serves as the justification for God's judgments.  Finally, I would like to tie these two principles together and spend a little time bridging the gap between these two camps so that believers may be unified in Christ as He intended (Eph. 4).  It is my hope that you will listen, think, and question your own view.  After all, an unexamined view is not worth having.  These postings are not mean to be a forum for divisiveness, but rather a balm of healing for both sides to understand, appreciate, and love one another and see that there is more common ground than unfriendly territory because we all serve the same God.