Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Christian and Elections (all 4 parts)

 (Note:  This article originally appeared in four parts, but is combined into one full article here) 


I usually don’t spend a lot of time on topics such as this for various reasons.  Perhaps I should spend more for at least two reasons.  First, the Bible does have relevant things to say on this.  Second, this is another opportunity to be salt and light.  I hope this will offer perspective, guidance, and encouragement.


General Theological Considerations: 

There are some things to keep in mind in reflecting biblically on this topic.  

First, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the world are vastly different entities.  According to the vision in Daniel, the Kingdom of God will put an end to all the kingdoms of the world and will last forever (Dan 2:44-45).  This is a reminder that the Kingdom of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is not of this world (Jn 18:36).  It also reminds us that we cannot serve two masters (Mt 6:24) and that we want to be found squarely in his kingdom when he abolishes all rule, power, and authority and delivers the kingdom of God to the Father (1 Cor 15:24).  Unlike the Kingdom of the world, it is we who have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6).  

Second, the purpose of God’s Kingdom on the earth is to bring cosmic harmony in union with Christ through submission to his Lordship (Eph 1:10; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 11:15).  God’s plan for this is through the proclamation of and submission to the Gospel of the Kingdom.  For the Christian, citizenship and nationhood is in the Church that belongs to Christ (Eph 2:18-21).  The Christian nation is the church, and as part of this Christian nation, our purpose is to be ambassadors for Christ through engaging in the ministry of reconciliation through the Gospel (2 Cor 5:18-20).  

Third, we, as citizens of another kingdom (Phil 3:20), are called to respect and honor civil government (1 Pet 2:13-14).  Civil government has always been part of God’s plan for the governance of the world.  God created humans to rule and have dominion over the earth (Gen 1:28).  God intended for man to multiply and fill the earth with culture building, science, and governance for the praise of his glory as part of the Reign of God on the earth.  However, sin created a conflicting kingdom, the Kingdom of the World.  God has been working toward his goal for all creation to once again be in harmony under the lordship of Christ when he returns.  In the meantime, God still has an integral place for civil government in his creation.  Written at a time when Nero was the Roman emperor, the Bible tells Christians to honor and be subject to governing authority because all authority ultimately derives from God and governing authority exists to be “God’s servant” for punishing evil and promoting good (Rom 13:1-7).  In order to fulfill this mandate, governing authority has the right to collect taxes which Christians are to render.  To resist is to resist God.  Of course, if governing authority attempts to force Christians to act contrary to God’s will, Christians are obligated to obey God rather than men, but to do so respectfully (Acts 5:29; 1 Pet 3:15).  

Fourth, as exiles who are not of this world (1 Pet 2:11), we should pray for those who are in authority because this is good and pleasing to God.  When God’s people lived in exile in Babylon, he specifically instructed them to “…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jer 29:7).  In context, God was telling the craftsmen, farmers, merchants, etc. to be productive in the place they were in exile and seek the welfare of that place.  Similarly, in the New Testament, Christians are urged “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man[a] Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim 2:1-6).  This is a reminder that our ultimate purpose is the proclamation of the Gospel which brings salvation.  Everything we do in seeking the welfare of where we live is in service to that goal.  

Fifth, we have the privilege of voting.  This is a privilege God’s people in biblical times did not have.  Paul could appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11), but he could not vote for a ruler that would make it more conducive to the sharing of the Gospel and serving God.  This offers some perspective on many of the instructions about government in the New Testament, especially in Revelation.  Christians could not and would not participate in much of civil government, military service, etc., because it often involved some sort of oath or commitment to the gods.  However, in this country, we live under a system that has attempted to be founded on a biblical understanding of governance, humanity, the world, and God.  This country has often fallen short of their ideals, but the ideals themselves derive from the almighty creator.  All of the limits the country’s founders have placed on government came from an understanding of the flawed nature of human beings due to sin.  This includes the division of power between branches of government and the states as well as voting for local and national leaders.  Many Christians view voting not only as a privilege, but a responsibility.  It is a way to be salt and light in the world (Mt 5:13-16).  Christian should exercise this responsibility in service to the church’s mission of the proclamation of the Gospel. 


Leadership Considerations:

After consideration of the biblical purpose of the Kingdom of God in the world and what our role is as ambassadors for Christ and exiles in this world, there is the question of how to vote.  From the election of local leaders all the way to national ones, responsible voters should make the effort to be informed and proceed with sound, godly judgment.  The Bible instructs Christians to consider the Lord’s will in everything (James 4:15).  Christians are to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5).  As those who offer themselves up as living sacrifices to God and are not conformed to the world (Rom 12:1-2), Christians regard every aspect of their lives as being under the lordship of Christ.  This includes going to the voting booth.

Here are some of my considerations.  Hopefully, this will help you in your consideration as you go to the voting booth.

1. Promotes Religious Freedom.  Obviously, we would want leaders who will allow Christians to practice Christian discipleship without interference from governing authority.  1 Timothy 2:1-5 reminds us prayers for leaders in government so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life is pleasing to God, who wants all people to be saved through Jesus, our mediator.  Our interaction with governing authority should help to promote the preaching of Jesus, our mediator.  Therefore, a question to ask would include: “Does the candidate support and promote religious freedom while opposing suppression of religious freedom?”

2. Respects and protects human life.  God has ordained governing authority to bear the sword to punish the wrong doer (Rom 13:4).  Governing authority has the obligation to protect its subjects and citizens without partiality.  Man is made in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and therefore has inherent dignity and value, which makes it wrong to take a human life (Gen 9:6).  Questions to ask would be: “Does the candidate protect human life through the passage of policies that support quality law enforcement that can effectively protect human life?  Does the candidate pursue and support policies that promotes the prevention of the taking of human life and punishes those that do?

3. Upholds justice, order, and stability.  When God first instructed man to have dominion over the earth and to rule over it, he had just finished bringing order to the formless and void chaos (Gen 1:2).  Man’s activity was to subdue the earth and rule over it (Gen 1:28).  This is a reflection of God, who ordained governing activity and is not a God of disorder but of harmony and peace (1 Cor 14:33).  The charge to subdue the wild and untamed earth involves establishing and maintaining social and moral order, which brings peace and harmony.  This at times means being hard on the wicked and the wrong doer.  This is why the sage says, “A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them” (Prov 20:26).  A good leader will ensure that communities are safe and stable.  Questions to ask would include:  “Does the candidate pursue policies that promote justice, law, and order in social stability?  Does the candidate support quality law enforcement?  Does the candidate work for policies that impede social chaos and lawlessness?

4. Protects the poor and vulnerable.  Part of God’s indictment against his people were that the leaders and judges were not upholding justice, especially for the poor because the poor had no money for bribes.  The people were taking advantage of the poor and the defenseless, who had no legal recourse because rulers and judges were taking bribes from the rich (Mic 3:9-12; Am 5:10-15).  God commanded them to love good, hate evil, and to establish justice so that God could be merciful to them.  The Bible says that “The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (Ps 146:9).  It also says that “If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever (Prov 29:14).  Protecting the poor and vulnerable would include taking action against human trafficking, slave labor, unjust labor practices whether here or abroad, and things of this sort.  Therefore, another question to ask would be:  “Does the candidate promote policies and laws that promote the welfare of all citizens without partiality?  Does the candidate work to end practices that take advantage of and trample on the weak and defenseless?  Whether it is children, the aged, those with special needs, the poor, the preborn, or the sojourner, etc., does the candidate work to uphold the value, rights, and dignity of all human life?

5. Displays administrative and ethical wisdom.  This involves both character and skill, each of which are extremely important.  In Proverbs 8:12-16, Wisdom speaks and declares, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.  Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.  I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.”  Proverbs 29:4 says “A king brings stability to a land by justice, but one who exacts tribute tears it down.”  Ecclesiastes 9:17 says, “The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.”  Passages such as these are a reminder of the need for both administrative skill and wisdom.  They are also a reminder that wisdom is not the same as being slick or efficient.  True wisdom is inseparable from righteousness, character, humility and ability.  Questions to ask would include:  “Does the candidate display leadership skill?  Does the candidate display good ethics in his policies and beliefs?  Is the candidate fair and wise in issues of taxation and policies?  Does the candidate display a willingness to listen to counsel and wisdom? 

6. Stewardship of resources.  This is not only an issue of wisdom but is also connected to the mandate God gave to mankind in the beginning.  When God created man in Genesis, he gave them the task to have dominion over the earth, to rule over it, and to be its keeper or caretaker.  Genesis 2:15 says, that God placed man in his creation to “work it and keep it.”  This, along with the instruction to “have dominion” over the earth in Genesis 1:28, indicates the responsibility that man has.  Ruling activity includes being a caretaker.  This means that scientific activity that learns to harness the resources of the earth for good while managing it wisely is a God-given mandate.  A Question to ask would include:  Does the candidate display a concern for the wise management and stewardship of resources?  

7. Promotes the productivity and welfare of the people.  By design, man was made to be productive and to work.  It is interesting to see how God had instructed Israel to provide for the able poor.  In Leviticus 23, God instructed growers not to harvest all the way to the edges of their fields, but to leave the remainder for the poor.  The idea was that the poor would be able to glean some of the produce.  This was a means not only to provide for the able poor, but to preserve their dignity by allowing them to work.  In fact, 1 Thessalonians 3:6-12 gave explicit instructions to the church concerning lazy people.  If they refused to work, then they were not to get any help.  Questions to ask would include:  “Does the Candidate promote policies that helps created the conditions for the poor to be able to be productive?  Does the candidate help to create an environment where people have opportunity for productivity and progress?  Does the candidate avoid policies that would have a tendency to squash productivity, innovation, and progress?

8. Displays good character.  Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”  Obviously, leaders need to display righteousness and good character.  The Bible is replete with examples of the effect of unrighteous leaders.  Questions to ask would include: Does the candidate promote an environment conducive to righteous living?  Does the candidate display good character?

There are many other issues that we consider in candidates.  Some are a matter of preference, and some may be a matter of what is good or bad.  But those in this list are perhaps the most important for the Christian.  


Voting Process Considerations:

After consideration of what the Bible teaches about the difference between the Kingdom of God and the World and what my place is in it, and after reflection on the characteristics in a candidate that I should consider from a biblical standpoint, there are a couple of other things that I keep in mind as I proceed.

First, I consider the information I have.   On the one side, I have the biblical information that I need to think theologically about this.  However, the other side is much harder to navigate.  When it comes to accurate information about the candidates and the issues, some sources are extremely biased and incomplete.  I tend to the sources that give a fuller and more accurate picture.  There have been those who have demonstrated and written about how much of what is called journalism has gotten sloppy, lazy, and sometimes downright misleading.  What is trying to be passed off as information is often propaganda.  It can be designed either to distract or to mislead.

All of this is a reminder to myself to make the extra effort to ensure I am getting good information.  It is a reminder to sift out the chaff from the wheat and to not get distracted from the questions I am considering about the candidates.  I stay focused on the questions I have carefully constructed above to ask about the candidates before I consider anything else.

Some sources of information include:
     1) Website and Printed Material.  Go to the candidate’s own website and publications to see where the candidate says he/she stands on certain policies and issues
     2) The Record.  If a candidate already has a political record as a representative, go to the congressional website to see their voting record on the bills that have come before them.
     3) Speeches and Debates.  Listen carefully to what the candidate says and does not say as well as how forthright the candidate is.  
     4) Other Sources.  Other sources might include something like a voter guide.  The are several Christian organizations that provide voter guides that highlight where candidates stand on certain issues based either on an answered questionnaire sent to the candidate, or on their voting record or published comments.  A couple of places to start would be www.christianvoterguide.com or www.myfaithvotes.org  

Second, I consider what my votes mean and what they do not mean.  For me, a vote does not mean I endorse everything about a candidate or believe that a candidate is a stellar human being.  I am voting for who, out of all of those who are running for a particular office, meets the greatest number of the considerations that I have listed above.  I have never voted for a perfect candidate, and probably never will.  There have been times when I did not care for any candidate.  However, I knew one of those candidates was going to take office whether I voted or not.  Therefore, I voted for the better of the candidates, or as some put it, “the least worst.”  That is all my vote means and nothing more.  This is why I always have found voting preferable over not voting at all.  It is one small way to be the salt of the earth.

Third, I do not become consumed with politics.  Politics are not my life, nor are they the life of the church.  Galatians 3:28 says that in Christ, we are all children of God, and that there is neither Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female, we are all one in Christ Jesus.  This means that in Christ we are neither Republican nor Democrat but are one in Christ.  The Bible says that the Kingdom of God will put an end to the Kingdom of this world when the King returns.  We are ambassadors for Christ in his eternal Kingdom.  Our hopes and dreams reside with him, not with the leaders of this world or their parties.  We are “Christians,” which in Greek means, “Of the party of Christ.”  Our platform is the Gospel and our goal is the Eternal Kingdom.  I was reminded of this when I saw the image of one of our presidents on the front page of a magazine after his re-election.  Under his face, the heading read, “Second Coming.”  That so-called “second coming” has now come and went.  The only “Second Coming” I place my hope in is the second coming of our Lord, King, and Savior, Jesus the Messiah.  It is like the song says, “In Christ alone my hope is found.”

Labor Day Reflections


 There are some holidays on our calendar whose meaning we reflect on, whether it is civic or religious. Whether it is Independence Day or Thanksgiving, these are days that were set apart to commemorate something important.

Labor Day was intended to be just that. As I understand it, this was a day set apart to honor the laborer and their contributions to society. Early Labor Day parades featured workers and labor organizations. I remember reading about a banner in one of these early parades that read, "Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for recreation."

As I reflect on the nature of work from a biblical perspective, I am reminded that it is a reflection of God. God is a God that works, and he calls us, his people to work to fulfill his purposes. In order to understand this, we must find the true meaning for our work in the scriptures. 1 Timothy 2:15 says, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." If I am going to be an approved worker, I need to go to the word to learn what this means.

The place to start, as with anything else, is at the beginning, in Genesis. The reason one should start with Genesis is because this is what Jesus did. When they asked him about marriage and divorce, Jesus did not refer to the law of Moses, but went all the way back to Genesis, where God designed marriage and set the paradigm. The same is true for mankind and work. The very first command was to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it. This means that the taming, harnessing of the earth's resources, enculturation, and the building of society are all part of the mandate that God has given to the human race. Whether it is scientific discovery, teaching, art, literature, building, engineering, planting, growing, repairing, maintaining, cleaning, etc. it is all part of the mandate God has given to us.

This means that all work is ultimately God's work. This is why Colossians 3:23-24 says, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." This means that there is no such thing as a "secular" job. All work is sanctified. Every individual person's work fits in some way with God's mandate to fill the earth and subdue it for his glory.

There is no meaning or significance in work apart from God. This is what the teacher in Ecclesiastes discovered after a lifetime of impressive accomplishments. Without God, there was no meaning or significance in any of it. When he instructs young people to remember their creator while they are young, he is calling them to reflect on the significance of work under God, rather than merely under the sun.

As God called mankind in Genesis to work in order to fulfill what many now call the "Cultural Mandate," he also calls us as Christians to work to fulfill what we call the "Great Commission." Redemption from the corruption of sin can only come through the Gospel. Romans 8:18-25 tells us that both the creature and the creation will be redeemed from the corruption of sin through Christ. To participate in his work of redemption, Jesus charged his followers to proclaim the Gospel to all creation.

All of this means that our Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission are connected. 1 Timothy 6:1 says, "Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled." Titus 2:9-10 says, "Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative,  not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior." Working with honor and integrity is connected to the teaching of the Gospel.

I Was Sick and you Came to Me

Plagues were a common occurrence in ancient times. What was also a common occurrence was abandoning the sick to die. Even in an impressive place like Rome, the only people who received any kind of health care were the wealthy and powerful who had the money to hire a physician. There was no such thing as a hospital in first century Rome. This was because there was no pagan theological basis for the inherent value and dignity of the stranger. The only option for the poor would be a visit to a healing deity's temple, such as Asclepius. It was a common practice for people to carry their sick out of the house and leave them in the street for fear of catching the plague themselves. During a plague that struck in 250 A.D., it was reported that 5,000 died in one day in Rome. Bodies were left piled up in the street as pagans tried to appease the gods whom they believed were angry at them.

Into this situation came a group of people with a radically different view of human beings. They believed that humans have inherent value and dignity because they are created in the image of God. Their Lord, Jesus, had modeled and instructed love that gives sacrificially to all, especially those without status or money.  As a result, they cared for the sick and the dying, taking great risk on themselves. Many of them contracted the disease and died. However, they viewed this as a type of martyrdom in the name of Christ. In the third century, Eusebius pointed out that only Christians showed sympathy to those who were sick. Christians not only cared for their own, but also for the pagans, many of whom had persecuted Christians, blaming them for angering the gods. These efforts became more organized over time, which gave rise to various orders whose purpose was to care for the sick and the dying. This, along with the Christianization of the culture, drastically changed the public attitude toward the sick. Rather than seeing the sick as those to be avoided, they were seen as those that needed to be cared for in the name of Christ. This divine motivation to care for the sick is what eventually led to public health care, clinics, and hospitals.

Later, in the early 1500's the plague came to Wittenberg in Germany. While many were fleeing, Martin Luther, a minister, believed that he was called to stay. Just as health care workers stayed to care for the bodies of the sick, so he was called to stay to care for the souls of the sick. He refused to abandon those in need.

During the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic,  A.B. Lipscomb, nephew to David Lipscomb, wrote an article in the Gospel Advocate about one Nashville church's response. As the hospitals became overwhelmed, The Russell Street Church of Christ offered its building as a field hospital. The editor, J.C. McQuiddy, praised this action in the next issues, citing the parable of the Sheep and the Goats as the authority to do this.

In 2015, medical missionary Dr. Kent Brantley, traveled to Liberia to serve in the name of Christ. While there, he contracted the deadly Ebola virus and survived with an experimental treatment. In February this year, he told Fox News, "The message I shared in 2014 is just as true and just as pertinent now as it was then: We must choose compassion over fear. We must choose to respond to people (even in deadly outbreaks of infectious diseases) with actions and words and attitudes that convey compassion and uphold the dignity of our fellow human beings."

The thing that all of these and many, many other similar examples have in common is the love of Christ. Love overpowers fear and causes one to run to the disaster to help rather than away in fear. John wrote that perfect love casts out fear. Paul wrote that the love of Christ is what compels us. Like our Lord who left Heaven to come here, we love in deed and in truth, and not with just words. It is that love, the love of Christ, that opens the door for the Gospel which brings about true spiritual healing, even in the face of violence, danger, sickness, and death.