Real Christian Life . . . and the Government (Part 6)

1 peter 2 (13)The audio from the latest Sunday School is below. As always, all audio and teaching notes can be found here.

Peter tells Christians we’re supposed to submit ourselves to every human authority because of the Lord. He says we must do this because it’s God’s will that, by doing right, we’d silence the ignorant slander of foolish men. We’re supposed to consider ourselves as slaves who’ve been freed from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

In Acts 4-5, the Apostle Peter left us an example of how to draw the line between obeying secular laws, and God’s laws. In short, Peter taught us that, no matter what we decide to do in a tricky situation, we must:

  1. Always be respectful
  2. Always tell them why (“we must obey God rather than men,” Acts 5:29)
  3. Always explain why (i.e. the Gospel)

The goal, of course, is to glorify God and be a testimony for Christ. We have to realize that God wants us to submit ourselves to every human authority so that, by doing right, we’d silence the ignorant slander of foolish men (1 Pet 2:15); so that they’ll see our good deeds and glorify God on the day when He returns to judge the world (1 Pet 2:13).

But, it’s often very difficult to know where to draw the line, and how to draw it. So, today, we discussed two difficult situations from American history to make this command “real” for us. Here they are:

Civil War-era fugitive slave laws

If you were a Christian, living in America in the pre-Civil War era, would you have ignored the Federal fugitive slave laws?

The U.S. Constitution (Article 4, Section 2) made it mandatory for a fugitive slave to be delivered up to his owner if he escapes and makes his way to another state. The Constitution doesn’t say how this should be done.

Eventually, a system developed where “kidnappers” (so labeled by anti-slavery advocates in the North) deployed forth in search of fugitive slaves, apprehended them, and simply brought them back South – with no legal recourse.This set up a terrible clash between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions. The former demanded the federal government assist slaveowners in re-capturing escaped slaves who crossed state lines. The latter factions in several anti-slavery states lobbied their legislatures and successfully passed “personal liberty” laws, which gave fugitive slaves who crossed into their states certain rights (e.g. habeas corpus, testimony, trial by jury) and imposed criminal punishments on kidnappers.

In 1837, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Pennsylvania’s “personal liberty” laws and, in one stroke, invalidated all such laws throughout the country. Even later, in the 1856 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared slaves were not “citizens,” as defined by the Constitution, and had no legal standing to petition for freedom.

What should devout Christians do in this environment?

  • If you’re a Christian, and
  • you live in Pennsylvania, and
  • Peter says you must submit yourselves to the civil authorities for the Lord’s sake, and
  • the Federal government says it’s unconstitutional to interfere with slave-owners trying to re-claim their “property” in the North

. . . then what should you do about it? How do you balance this? How do you do what Peter says, here (1 Pet 2:13-17)?

Oregon’s House Bill 3391

The State of Oregon recently passed House Bill 3391, which is widely acknowledged to be the most progressive and aggressive abortion law in this country. The bill (just signed into law this past Fall) requires all insurers in the State of Oregon to cover a large range of “reproductive services” (i.e. abortion) to anyone in the state.[1] More significantly, the bill allows a woman to get an abortion without any restriction, for any reason. 

Because insurers are forbidden to pass these costs along to the consumers, the State of Oregon will be contributing about $10,000,000 to offset the proposed costs for the 2017 – 2019 biennium. This cost is expected to grow to over $14,000,000 for 2019-2021.[2] This means, if you’re an Oregon resident, your tax-dollars will be used to reimburse insurers for abortion procedures – and the costs will only go up each biennium!

What should a Christian do in this environment?

Join us as we discuss these tricky issues, and consider how real and practical Peter’s letter is for our life today.

Notes

[1] See the text of HB 3391, Section 2(3).

[2] See the State of Oregon’s fiscal analysis of HB 3391.

Paul and the Pagan – The Lost Dialogue

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Most people in America are aware some Christian bakers prefer to not bake cakes for homosexual “weddings.” These “here I stand” moments often repeat in a similar way each time, as the cultural foes on both sides of this ideological divide rush to their phones, eager to summon their media allies to hear their tales of woe.

In conservative Christian circles, many people say this is all a terrible thing. You’ve heard it before. The government is evil. The government is trying to persecute Christians. The government is a tool of Satan. Pack your bags, stock the bunker, prepare for The End. Things ain’t like they used to be. Etc, etc, etc.

If you were a Christian baker, would you bake a cake for what you know is a homosexual “wedding? Some Christians wouldn’t do it, as we can tell from recent media coverage. Some Christians would do it, what they consider to be biblical reasons, too. So, let me ask a simple question. The Apostle Paul was a tentmaker (Acts 18:1-3). Do you think he only made tents for Christians?

Paul was not a wealthy man, and most people in this period only earned enough to survive. Artisans made money by developing a reputation for producing better quality work than the other guy in the same town, or the next. This means you had to build your business locally – and this could only happen if you stayed in one place for a while, to develop a name for yourself.

Paul traveled all over for years, so it must have been extraordinarily difficult to get work – especially because the locals already had their own guys they went to for tent making. In this context, do you actually believe Paul would have survived if he’d only made tents for Christians?

Thankfully, biblical archaeologists have recently uncovered a perfectly preserved mp3 recording of an actual conversation between the blessed Apostle and a pagan customer. I’ve transcribed it, and you can read it all for yourself . . .

The Lost Dialogue

Paul sits on his stool, sharpening his tools, wondering how on earth he’ll find enough money for his planned trip to Corinth. He hasn’t eaten for almost a day and a half. A man wanders by and stops to chat . . .

Pagan: “Hey, dude! I’d like you to make me a tent.”

Paul: “Are you a Christian?”

Pagan: “What’s that got to do with you making me a tent?”

Paul: “Nothing, really.”

Pagan: “Ok . . . so, I’d like you to make me a tent.”

Paul: “I can do that.”

Pagan: “Ok, so how much?”

Paul: “I’ll tell you in a minute. First, do you want to know how to become a Christian? In four easy steps, you can invite Jesus into your heart. I have an old-fashioned altar nearby, too. I’ll even walk you down the aisle myself, with every head bowed, and every eye closed, nobody looking around . . .”

Pagan (looks nervous, wonders if he’s made a terrible mistake): Uh . . . look, I’m not interested. Wasn’t your leader was a criminal? And, didn’t he tell you guys you had to, like, eat his flesh and drink his blood, too . . . ?”

Paul: “Nah, man – that’s not true. In fact —–”

Pagan (interrupts Paul): “Look, I just want to buy a tent.”

Paul: “What do you plan to use the tent for?”

Pagan: “I plan to use it when I make my pilgrimage to Ephesus, to worship the fertility goddess Diana. During my stay, I plan to bring many cultic prostitutes back to my tent, where we will enjoy ourselves, and I pray our energetic activities will entice the honored goddess Diana to bless me with a wife, and many sons!”

Paul (taken aback, clearly troubled): “I . . . see . . .”

Pagan: “What’s wrong?”

Paul: “Oh, nothing.”

Pagan: “Are you sure, man? You look upset . . .”

Paul: “Well . . . actually, I don’t think I can make you this tent, after all.”

Pagan (visibly upset, confused): “Why not!?”

Paul: “I’m sorry, but I just can’t allow my artistic talents to be used for something my religion tells me is morally wrong.”

Pagan: “What!?”

Paul: “Yes, it’s true. I can only use my artistic expressions to promote messages that align with my religious beliefs.”

Pagan: “What have I said that’s against your “religious beliefs?’”

Paul: “I think sexual activity should only be between a married man and woman. I wrote about this in a little book. Let me get it for you —-”

Pagan (interrupts Paul): “I don’t want to see your silly book!”

Paul: “Ok, no problem. If you change your mind, just Google “Nashville Statement,” and it’s all there.”

Pagan: “I don’t believe this . . .”

Paul: “I don’t mean to offend you. It’s just that I think every Roman should be free to choose which art he will create, and which art he won’t create.”

Pagan: “Art? We’re talking about a tent.”

Paul: “My work is my art. It’s who I am. My artistic expressions are a part of me. They complete me.”

Pagan: Your . . . artistic expressions? What on earth are those?”

Paul: “I’m glad you asked. You see, I believe God has gifted me with a very particular set of skills; skills I’ve acquired over a very long career . . .”

Pagan: “Go on.”

Paul: “Well . . . I earn my living by using these very particular skills. They’re how I express my artistic talent. If I use those talents to make your tent, which you’ll take to Ephesus and use to copulate with cultic prostitutes, then I’ll be participating in your wickedness.”

Pagan: “How do you figure?”

Paul: “Because, man.”

Pagan: “Because, why?”

Paul: “Because if I make you an awesome tent with these skills, which I’ve acquired over a very long career, then I’ll be condoning your sin. I’ll actually be helping you sin! Don’t you see?”

Pagan: “No. Are you actually saying you can only make tents for people who think exactly the same way you do about marriage?”

Paul: “Uh . . . no . . .”

Pagan: “It sounds like that’s what you’re saying.”

Paul: “It isn’t.”

Pagan: “Would you make a tent for somebody who has been divorced?”

Paul: “Umm . . . I’m not sure . . .”

Pagan: “What about Alexander, the tanner? You got your leather from him last week, and he’s the one who recommended you! He’s had four wives!”

Paul: “Well, I didn’t know that.”

Pagan: “Did you ask him about it?”

Paul: “No.”

Pagan: “So, you get to pick and choose who you’ll use your ‘skills’ for, is that it?”

Paul: “Well . . .”

Pagan: “I think I’ll file a complaint with the local EEO office. I’m also recording this.”

Paul: “Let’s not be too hasty, here!”

Pagan: “So, if I hadn’t told you what I’d be using the tent for, you would have made it?”

Paul: “Of course.”

Pagan: “But now, you won’t make it. Is that right?”

Paul: “Right! My conscience won’t allow me to do this. I must use my gifts for the Lord, in a way that honors and glorifies Him!”

Pagan: “Whatever. I’m leaving.”

Paul: “I suggest you try Fred, just down the road. Cheers!”

Paul settles back down, goes back to sharpening his tools, and wonders how he’ll find food to eat tomorrow.

Real Christian Life . . . and the Government (Part 2)

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1 Peter 2 (13-17)What do you think of your political leaders? To be honest, many Christians would have to admit they don’t think much of politicians!

What do you think of the government? What do you think about the institutions, the agencies and bureaucracies at the local, state and federal level? Many people wish some of them would go away. In the recent election, “drain the swamp!” was one of now-President Trump’s rallying cries.

The concept is timeless; the political class is corrupt, underhanded and looking out for itself. There is an implicit assumption that all bureaucrats, at all levels of government, are inept and incompetent at best, and nefarious at worst. Even in the Apostle Peter’s day, one pagan writer referred to Rome as the city “where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular.”[1]

It’s almost expected that we should despise politicians, government and those who work for “the state.” In America, we need only look to this recent political season to see the hateful rhetoric and vitriol we often show to politicians from “the other side.” Too often, Christians let their secular political passions get the best of them, and join in on this feeding frenzy of scorn and ridicule. That is wrong.

The Apostle Peter wrote his first letter in a very different context. Christians were under pressure from a pagan society to conform, or at least round some of the “rough edges” off their faith. Former pagans had been ostracized from their communities, cut off from all the support structure they had. Former Jews, who believed Jesus was the fulfillment of their Scriptures, likely had it even worse. The storm clouds of persecution had not yet broken open upon the Christians, but they were about to.

In Jerusalem, James the Just had recently been killed by a Jewish mob, thrown from the top of a building in the temple complex, stoned as he lay injured and crippled, then his head had been beaten in by a club [2]. In Rome, the Emperor Nero would soon conveniently blame Christians for starting a massive fire which had destroyed a good portion of the city. He would use this marginalized “Jewish sect” as a scapegoat, and kill many believers in awful ways. [3]

When Peter commanded Christians to “submit yourselves to every human authority because of the Lord,” he didn’t have our quaint American context in mind. He wrote for a darker time, for a more serious context. In the West, we are blessed beyond all imagination. When we Christians consider “persecution” here, we talk about losing our 501(c)(3) status and cry about bakers being forced to make cakes. In Peter’s day, people died horribly for their faith.

Yet, Peter still wrote those words, and God wanted him to write them. You see, God isn’t concerned with our comfort in the here and now; this is what Peter warned us about elsewhere (1 Peter 1:1-6; 4:12-19). The early Christians rejoiced in persecution, because they knew they were a testimony for Christ (see Acts 4; especially 4:23-31). Instead, we’re commanded to make our entire way of life holy, so we might have opportunity to help draw people to Christ by our own example in the midst of terrible trials. One of those contexts was in dealing with the government.

So to return to modern politics, it’s clear there’s a lot for Christians to disagree with. But, the Apostle Peter tells us we should always submit ourselves to every human authority, anyway. Of course, the Bible qualifies this blanket statement elsewhere (see, for example Acts 4-5).  But, in general terms, we should respect human authority “because of the Lord.”

But, we often don’t do that, do we? This isn’t the way our culture operates today; our culture encourages people to act petulant, childish, angry and crazed when they do not like a politician or agree with his politics or policies.

Last week, we spent some time in Sunday School talking about this. How we speak and think about government institutions and officials, at all levels (local, state and federal) is important. The Christian message is offensive enough; we shouldn’t compound this by crazed activism, un-Christlike rhetoric or insurrection.

Take a listen to the audio (below), and let’s see what Peter has to say about all this. It will take us several weeks to discuss this passage, and some of its implications. The teaching notes for the passage are here. All audio and teaching notes for the 1 & 2 Peter series so far are here. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or to comment below.

Notes

[1] From Tacitus, “Annals 15.44.2-8.” This excerpt is from J. Stevenson (ed.), A New Eusebius, revised by. W.H.C. Frend (London, UK: SPCK, 1987), 2-3.

[2] I follow Eusebius’ account, who quotes from a near-contemporary source (Ecclesiastical History, 2.23). Josephus makes no mention of James being clubbed to death (Antiquities, 20.9.1).

[3] From Tacitus, “Annals 15.44.2-8.” This excerpt is from J. Stevenson (ed.), A New Eusebius, revised by. W.H.C. Frend (London, UK: SPCK, 1987), 2-3.

Real Christian Life . . . and the Government (Part 1)

It’s easy to lose your perspective. We live in a very self-absorbed, historically ignorant culture. We know, intellectually at least, that we can learn from people who have come before us. We get it. But, functionally, we don’t get it. We often act as though what’s happening right now is momentous, unprecedented, and unparalleled. That’s often not the case at all.

We live in a very politically charged atmosphere. Old mores are being toppled, the “shackles” of a Puritan-esque Christian ethic (though, to be sure, our society left Puritanism behind a long time ago, but never mind the facts) and are being cast off with glee. Our society has formerly transformed from a false “Christian Americana,” to outright secularism. To be sure, America has been secular for quite a while, but now she feels free to revel in it, without the rusty, embarrassing remnants of a Christian ethical compass to hold her back.

The historian George Marsden wrote about this bygone age in American culture, which he believes was at its height in the later quarter of the 19th century. He described it well; very well. Those who grew up in the old “Bible Belt” will understand exactly what Marsden was getting at. He wrote:

A veneer of evangelical Sunday-school piety covered almost everything in the culture, but no longer did the rhetoric of idealism and virtue seem to touch the core of the materialism of the political and business interests. It was a dime store millennium.[1]

This dimestore millennium endured for a while. I believe we saw its last gasp this past decade. Now, it’s gone. Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist leader and minister a generation older than me, wrote this about his Boy Scout troop and the cultural Christianity of his childhood in the South:

The “God and Country” badge wasn’t really about conforming us to the gospel, or to the Bible, to any confessional Christian tradition, or even, for that matter, to the “mere Christianity” of the ancient creeds and councils. This project didn’t want to immerse us (or even sprinkle us) into the strange world of the Bible, with its fiery spirits and burning bushes and empty tombs. We were here for the right kind of Christianity, the sort that was a means to an end. We were to have enough Christianity to fight the Communists and save the Republic, as long as we didn’t take it all too seriously.[2]

That version of America is gone, and it’ll never come back.

So, Christians in America are in a quandary. How should we live, work and minister in a culture which is so adamantly pagan and secular? The Apostle Peter tells us how. And (to return to my point about perspective), Peter is a guy who wrote and ministered in a much more secular time than we live in today, in the West.

Not long after Peter died for his faith (likely on the orders of the Roman Emperor, Nero), Christians were periodically ordered to declare their allegiance to the Emperor by offering incense to him, and worshipping him. Now, that’s a quandary. Do you think our political climate is unprecedented? Peter faced Nero. You face MSNBC. Children, please . . .

Our text for next few week is very practical; it speaks to real life, in the real world, and how Christians should think about and deal with the government (really, all people in authority).

1 Peter 2 (13-17)

  • Who are you supposed to submit yourself to?
  • What does it mean to “submit yourself?”
  • How should this inform how you interact with government officials, or refer to them in private conversations, public conversations, and your posts on social media?

Take a listen to the audio (below), and let’s see what Peter has to say about all this. It will take us several weeks to discuss this passage, and some of its implications. The teaching notes for the passage are here. All audio and teaching notes for the 1 & 2 Peter series so far are here. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or to comment below.

Notes

[1] George Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 10.

[2]  Russell D. Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2015), 11-12.