Christians, churches and culture

Today is the March For Life in Washington, D.C. For 49 years Americans have been killing the unborn out of convenience. It’s no surprise our culture is a mess of contradictions and conflict. Is American culture by and large sick? Yes. Why? Perhaps because it has been growing in the blood of 60+ million abortions.

What do we do? It depends on who’s asking.

If “we” is a man or woman committed to following Jesus Christ and the Bible’s teaching that the strong must advocate for and even fight for the helpless, then vote, blog, podcast, canvas neighborhoods, run for office, call your political leaders, share the gospel, create school clubs or non-profit organizations, hold conferences, write books and pray–all for the purpose of seeing abortion end.

We happen to live in a culture (mostly) governed by the Constitution that makes all of this possible and even desirable. I’m often surprised that Christians somehow don’t believe we have power enough to effect cultural change. How did the culture get the way it is? Men and women of all political inclinations and religious persuasions have done all the things I listed above. There is no special power to change culture: it is done by the consistent use of the opportunities and freedoms we have at our finger tips.

If “we” is a local church then preach the full counsel of God’s word, eat the Lord’s Supper, pray together (all from Acts 2:42) and plead for the Lord to return and roll up the evil world like a scroll (2 Peter 3:10) delivering the New Jerusalem.

You’ll notice the scope of activity is very different than the first? The business of the church is to grow a different kingdom in a different manner. The Bible tells us the power of the Holy Spirit is not for the sake of building worldly institutions: family, school, government or culture. It is for the building up of the church, the Temple, the House of Living Stones whose Cornerstone is Christ.

Why is it that there are some in Christendom who believe there aren’t two “we’s” here? That the work of the church and the work of the Christian aren’t distinguishable? Would they have the State ordain Ministers? Then why would they have the Ministers give orders to the State? “State Church” experiments in human history have rarely produced faithful churches–they still don’t. Have “Church State” experiments fared any better?

There simply is no benefit in conflating the work of a Christian in the culture with the work of the Church in the culture. There is no greater power for the Christian if this was so; indeed, there is only the danger of the culture contaminating the church (the mainline churches who have abandoned Apostles’ Creed Christianity for some social variant is proof of this).

It is also not true that if the Church were to build its house in the ways mentioned above and stay out of political or cultural advocacy that becomes a version of isolationism. Culture changes from the inside-out, not the outside-in (education is far more effective and long lasting than litigation / legislation). Faithful churches make cultural change each Lord’s Day as the word and sacraments tinker with the souls of the redeemed to give them courage and Christlikeness. As a result, individual believers are subjectively motivated to glorify God in all we do and objectively equipped by the truth of God’s word.

Our culture doesn’t need the church telling it how to behave–that’s not the church’s role. It needs individual Christians motivated and active in making change to unjust institutions working with men and women of all stripes.

An Open Letter to Public Servants, Part I

Dear Public Servant,

You have already been long embarked on a mission to bring a political agenda to the municipal, state or national stage.  This path seems sometimes long and always arduous.  As a political student, spectator and sometimes participant (as a voter), I thank and commend you for choosing this area of service.  Having served in this nation’s military for years, I recognize the presence of the costs in many areas of your life.  Thank you.  Do not grow weary in this endeavor – see it through.  If you are headed into the November general elections, it seems that God, who rules both the realms of the Church and the State, may prosper your path and place you into a position of influence.  That is exciting!  As you continue your work toward that end, I wanted to write you; even to begin a conversation with you.

First, it is not necessary for you to agree with me that God rules both realms or that He is the one who may grant you success: this is what I believe (and, as a local talk show radio host says, “you’re welcome to it”).  We have for too long judged someone by virtue of his adherence to a religious manifesto (Christian or Secular).  The Founding Fathers saw something different.  Theirs was a commitment to found a country in part for religious freedom.  That really means something, namely, folks should be free to follow the dictates of their conscience.  (At what point did we lose this view?)  Surely their expectation was that men and women of principle (including religious principle) would bring those into governance.  But not so that they could pursue a Christian or Secular nation (any more than a French nation, for example).

It seems to a large degree our public servants have lost their nerve.  Is it because they have navigated away from principles that lead to good government?  “Principles?  Like what?”  Some would say biblical principles; others secular ones.  Something else.  How is it that our nation has prospered over this 200 years with such a varying degree of religious belief and practice? Has it been by force of arms that one group prevailed over another?  How can men and women of legitimate and real differences govern and be governed together?

This is one of those questions that has never been more important.  Scads of young people and other disaffected voters acted in 2008 to usher into political power those who were different than the status quo.  Maybe it was the Democratic Party platform that persuaded these voters; maybe not.  In fact, “hope” and “change” and whatever people annexed to those concepts is what won the day.

This is part of the reason for my letter to you: it is likely that God has prospered your path towards elected office irrespective of your religious beliefs.  That is, in spite of them rather than because of them. This is important for you to consider.  Long many have held that we need more Christians (or non-Christians) in public office simply because the broader goal of politics must surely be a Christian America (or Secular America).  I urge you to search the Bible and you will see that God has no such goal as a Christian or Secular America.  No.  His goals are far different when we start to consider what He has revealed to us in the Bible.  Nor must this encourage those of you who think that secularism should reign.  Neither is true.

I asked earlier how we have succeeded in forging out a national history that has involved men and women of almost every political stripe?  How are we to govern and be governed in our climate of uber-partisanship?  It is not wrong to answer that question by exploring what the founders initially saw as the pathway to governing.  Do we think that we alone live in a time of discord?  Let’s not be so arrogant as to think that our fathers wouldn’t (or didn’t) understand precisely the pressures to govern a disparate and independent people.  Surely, at the headwaters of our founding there were more factions than today!

So, secondly, the Declaration of Independence speaks of several concepts that can guide us and, I hope, you as well.  These are summed as the “laws of nature.”  Among them: distinction-making, decency, self-evident truth, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, justice, safety, prudence, definitions of evil and patience.  Each of these concepts drawn from the laws of nature were enshrined in our national origins.

Distinction-making.  You ask, “Where is that in the Declaration?”  It is the Declaration.  This document (as every document like it) is where distinction-making either takes place or is recorded.  The colonists categorize in the Declaration the ways in which the Crown acted tyrannically.  These included such things as making laws that were too difficult to obey, calling convocations in locations that made attendance impossible, quartering standing Army troops in peace, etc.  Experiences and burdens that all could agree where not necessary or right.  We wrongly fear distinction-making today.  We eschew calling nations to account for harboring terrorists, for calling out greedy capitalists, for dressing down corrupt government officials or even for equal treatment.  Yet, we cannot govern if we fear making distinctions.  For these things must be done.

Decency.  Turn on the TV and seek examples of decency; ask congressional staffers about examples of decency.  Indecency is rampant – even having touched the White House in years past.  Decency, according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary is that which is “morally praiseworthy.”  We go astray if we ask “whose morals?”  (We continue to prove my first point.)  Language, dress, decorum and vocations that advance honor to all men are decent.  That means prostitution, crime, corruption, immodesty, pornography, violence and vulgarity are not honorable and should be restricted by law.  For whom do these things produce decency?


Rules for Christian Blogs

We have all been to blogs that want to make us spit nails.  Sometimes, it’s because the content makes us mad.  Other times, the blogger makes us mad.  In my work of pastoral ministry, I encourage people to adopt a set of ground rules that governs how folks communicate with each other.  I think it makes a good foundation for rules for Christian blogging, too.

Rule #1: There is only one agenda on our blog: God’s.

We draw this from 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  I would suggest that no matter the topic at hand, God has something to say to us or through us.  We cannot assume that our blogs are places where we may write untethered from this reality.  No one knows just who will read our posts or when; perhaps we might reach into the heart and soul of a person who previously was hardened against the message of repentance and faith. Who knows?  We cannot blog as if it is our own sovereign universe, free for us to do with as we will.  No, brothers, our blogs belong to Him.

Rule #2: On our blogs, we will assume no harm about those with whom we differ.

We are an opinionated lot.  I do not need to belabor the essential need that we maintain our positions of truth and grace in this world that crumbles around us.  As we have rehearsed in our own communion before, the “parties” present in our church, the commitments to doctrine, piety and cultural engagement are essential.  Since we’re a bunch of strong-willed, fire-brands, it is inevitable that we will get sideways with each other.  Nevermind that, Christ has wrought our union with Him and with each other (John 17:22) and that means that neither you nor I need to be preeminently concerned about making sure we’re right to the expense of each other.  If I’m one with you, and you’re one with me, then there is far more we have in common than we do not.  Therefore, you are far more likely to act for my good, than for my ill.  So, I will assume no harm with you until I have to.

Rule #3: We will not give the darkest interpretation on events, comments or actions of others on our blogs.  When it looks like we would be justified in assuming the worst, we will work hard to find another interpretation.

Of course this is related to the others.  In our blogs, as we journal publicly, are we truly justified in darkly interpreting the words and works of another who confesses faith in the same Lord?  We must exhaust our efforts to find interpretations to words and works of brothers that would leave our unity intact and their reputations unsullied.  This means our blogs might taste like vanilla ice cream rather than Rocky Road, but the desserts in heaven are far better anyway.  Work harder, brothers, in finding ways to give the benefit of the doubt.

Rule #4: On our blogs, we will assume that our greatest enemy is within us, the sin that we must yet mortify, rather than those things external to us.

We lose sight of the tentacles of sin in our thoughts, words and deeds.  Like spending a week at the beach in the sun produces a rich tan – on the top.  How many of us are surprised by the fish-belly white of our obscured and covered parts?  You can’t be tan all over.  We cannot think that we’ve mastered the influence of the kingdom of self in our lives.  The depths of darkness are long and unknown.  Are we not better served by thinking that our blogs are steeped in self rather than God?  Wouldn’t that force us to measure our words and govern our writings?  Our denominational commitments to cultural exegesis for the purpose of the preaching and the application of the gospel has a dark underside: pride and contempt for those who disagree.  No matter the “party” this is always a possibility.

Rule #5: Since we are human and lacking in perspicuity with each other, we will assume we don’t know the facts or motivations until we ask.

You’ve read blogs where there are charitable exchanges of viewpoints.  One writer will blog anticipating another will respond and so it happens that in the end there is a winsome and safe and brotherly result.  (I remember reading something like this between Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian.)  Brothers, we don’t ask because we don’t care.  We don’t ask because we want to be correct.  We don’t ask by and large because we’re pathetically in love with our own reputations.  We love the kingdom of self.  The problem with the kingdom of self is that all others become servants there.  Chances are you’re a poor servant in my kingdom; you will need instruction, rebuke, chastisement and even punishment to get it right in my kingdom.  In my kingdom, I know everything about you – or so I think.  Wrong.  I know nothing about you until I ask you.  On our blogs, before we stake out territory that we earnestly believe needs to be marked and defended at the expense of others, we must know and so we must ask.  Brothers, we truly just don’t know until we do.

Rule #6: We will adopt the Golden Rule of Blogging: we will blog about people like we’d want to be blogged about.

Lastly, I’m quick (typically) to poke someone in the eye and call it “standing for truth” or “just rebuke” or “saving them from the pit.”  Perhaps.  I’m quicker to lash out at someone when I get poked for all the same reasons.  Let’s make a deal: I’ll blog however I want, and you blog however I want.  Sound OK?  Um, no.  I suggest instead that I blog how YOU want, and you blog how I want.  I would say this is Philippians 2:3-4 applied to the blogosphere.

In the end, ground rules like these will be guard rails that can keep us focused on the right things.  If cyberspace has introduced anything, it is the temptation to establish public mini-kingdoms where we operate independently from authority thinking and writing what is best in our own minds.  If we press on into new technological territory for Christ, we can’t (and shouldn’t) leave Him behind.