05 July 2008

No Fireworks yet

by Frank Turk

Welcome back – I hope the fireworks in your part of the world were as lovely and thrilled your kids the way they did here in our part of the world.

The last time we cited the Constitution and talked about the hypothetical neighborhood in which we could see something about this question of whether the church – not individual Christians, but churches, acting explicitly in the name of Jesus Christ – ought to go seeking political solutions to the world they live in.

It’s about time we turned toward the Bible. And while I said last time I had “two” examples of what I’m talking about here, I have a lot more than that as I have mulled over my clarification for those who aren’t getting what I have been talking about, and I’m optimistic it’s within a block or two of what Phil is talking about as well.

Let’s think about Acts 4 for a second:
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
Now, Peter and John were tossed into jail for preaching the Gospel, which, I think, all of us would agree is not a crime. Even then, it was not officially a crime – although we might admit that to the Jewish leaders, it appeared to be blasphemy.

Now, here’s why I bring it up:
So [the rulers and elders] called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ...
Now, John and Peter couldn’t be convicted of anything, but they were unjustly arrested – and when they were ordered not to give their testimony and heal people in the name of Christ, they basically said, “you decide if it’s right for us to speak the truth.”

But when they got back to the other believers, what happened? When the other believers heard is, they lifted their voices to God and said, “Lord, bless our efforts to change the laws of our land in order that the rules and elders would stop persecuting us,” right?


Oh yes – it went like this:
Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

'Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed'—

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
That is: they prayed that God would continue to do whatever it was he was doing through Christ in spite of the intentions of these men.

They didn’t pray that some political solution be found for the problem of persecution: they prayed that God’s word would be spoken with boldness in spite of threats.

Now, before I go on, let’s remember something: I’m not trying to build a passivist political ethic here. I’m trying to find the pieces of evidence in the NT for completing a picture of ecclesiology regarding what the church as an entity ought to do regarding political matters – and why.

For John and Peter, the political consequences of leaders who opposed them were, frankly, in God’s hands. What was most important for them was the preaching of the word of Christ. How was the church going to be bold to preach the word – by first making sure they weren’t persecuted by changing the government? Or by committing to preach the word in spite of political threats?

A second example also comes from Acts, where Paul faces Felix and the Agrippa – Felix finds not fault with him, but hands Paul over to Agrippa, and Agrippa wants to hear him out. Now think about the climax of that part of Paul’s story:
And as [Paul] was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind." But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe." And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains."
Paul, pleading for his life, instead pleads the Gospel that all who will hear him will be “such as I am”.

That seems interesting on its face, but remember that the whole church was pleading with Paul as he went to Jerusalem before this that he not go because surely the Jews would persecute him.

Why would the church, instead of pleading for Paul to not go to Jerusalem, not instead go with him to plead for the change of the law that they might live in peace? It’s not like the politics of Jerusalem were not somewhat influenced by mob opinion.

And I bring up those two incidents to say this: the freedom to preach the Gospel must be considered by us the highest political freedom. There is nothing which should matter more to us as a church than the preaching of the Gospel. Yet, the first generation church did not seek a political remedy in order to preach free from persecution. In fact, what they did was see the preaching of the Gospel as the means to making men “such as I am” – that is, a servant of the resurrected savior.

Now, I’m in the middle of page 3 here, and I’m not where I wanted to be relative to making my ultimate point. But from where we are right now, let me suggest something: the church has a primary duty which does not rely on the power of the law of human governments to fulfill.

But the problem we face as Americans is that we can all say, in some way, “L’etat ce moi” – I am the government in a small but necessary way, so what do I do about stuff like abortion and gay marriage? I mean, those are morally wrong, yes? So shouldn’t I do something about them?

That’s a good question, and I think a key question as it is the one which keeps coming up here at TeamPyro, so I will actually get to that the next time.

Hope your weekend is going swimmingly. How you find yourself in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day with the Lord’s people.

Comments still closed. Just keep your powder dry until I get this all laid out for you.