Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Principles from 1 Corinthians and Some Thoughts on the Elections

Principle 1: We are here to glorify God, and the ways to glorify God are: (1) believe in Him and the Lord Jesus Christ- for our salvation, sustenance, sanctification and union with Him in glory; (2) fulfill God’s desire for us by living in a consistent manner to God’s Word; (3) fulfill God’s desire for human beings to know Him by carrying the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

“In him you have been enriched in every way- in all your speaking and in all your knowledge, because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who called you into fellowship with His son, Jesus Christ our Lord is faithful.”

“Now you are washed, you are justified, you are sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

“For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many so that they may be saved.”

“I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some.”

Principle 2: Christians must rely on God’s power to fulfill his desire, not on earthly powers.

“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, only God who makes things grow.”

“I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith may not rest on man’s wisdom but on God’s power.”

Principle 3: Even so we must work hard to fulfill God’s desire and trust God to take the work to his planned end. We constrain ourselves, bind ourselves in order to glorify God. However we must expect God’s reward for our work.

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly. I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others I myself will not have run in vain.”

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

“When the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.”

Principle 4: We must be opportunists because God gives us several opportunities to glorify Him.

“Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone so that they may be saved.”

Principle 5: It is heresy to expect an unbeliever to behave like a believer, but we must admonish and teach those inside the church- and call to repentance our brothers when we feel that their path is not according to God’s Word.

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those inside.”- 1 Corinthians 4:

Some thoughts on the application of the above

 I started writing this down in connection with the debates among Christians going on at this time, during the Presidential elections. As all the others, Christians are also seeking to influence laws, and therefore the outcome of the election; to reflect what we believe is right. We are often told to vote our conscience. Phrased this way, we are asked to vote into office lawmakers who promise to bring to the table bills that will reflect our views on right and wrong.

In recent years this view on right versus wrong have taken on the form of creating more than social contracts but the understanding of personal moral absolutes on the society as a whole. I view marriage as between one man and one woman and therefore I’m urged by social, political and religious leaders to influence laws that would make this not just a personal moral understanding based on the Bible but the only social contract referring to marriage.
On the other hand major victories can be legitimately claimed by believing Christians of the past- in civil rights (Dr. King), abolitionist movements (William Wilberforce), women’s suffrage (Frances Willard), women's rights in the church and society (Katharine Bushnell, Elizabeth Andrew- especially in their effective investigation of rape, neglect and abuse of Indian women by British soldiers during the Raj), so-called Christian feminism (Josephine Butler), animal rights (Wilberforce again), environmental stewardship (John Muir). In our time modern abolitionists at International Justice Mission, Freedom Firm and other organizations have led this fight in the name of Christ, and thousands of slaves have been rescued. These victories have been achieved in full observance of the political and legal structures in place in the countries in which they have been accomplished. While some have involved working with victims of injustice directly, others have involved tireless political campaigning on a grand scale. In every way, these efforts glorify God, according to definition in the above paragraphs: by trusting God, living Christianly (in a personal sense) and by making the Gospel compelling to those outside by the power of God.

This brings us to the question. Which of our current issues on the political front (not the ones in which we are working directly with victims of injustice or unbelievers) are making the Gospel look compelling?

  •          Gay marriage
  •          Abortion
  •          Death penalty
  •          Euthanasia
  •          Right to bear arms

It has become clear to most Christians that many of us, even in the church, are not believers of the Gospel of Christ, but believers of civil religion- be it American, European, Indian or Chinese. And thus the goals of the country have become enmeshed with some of the goals of the Gospel.

We are pro-life. Human life has sanctity. Do we have the right to end it, whether at conception or at any other time?

We believe in the union of one man and one woman. By insisting that the society endorse this in its laws explicitly, are we creating a compelling case for the Gospel? What if the definition of marriage is changed to include polygamy or polyandry? Even then, should we oppose it as Christians in the political sphere? Certainly we know that we should oppose it in our personal lives, but is it our business to enshrine it as the sole union in human law for everyone, even against their wishes? How about an age limit for marriage? Should we take that away? I think most people understand that puberty, financial responsibility, education, worldly knowledge, etc are prerequisites to start a family, and on those bases we have agreed on an “age of majority.” This is a constraint based on practical matters, not a restriction based on a different understanding of right and wrong.

What if this “slippery slope” impacts our liberty to choose heterosexual monogamous marriages to be upheld as being the only legitimate marriages in our churches? This may be scoffed at as even a remote possibility by unbelievers, but we know that countries have trod roughshod over our religious liberty in the past by more despotic government systems and this continues to be the case today in countries like China. How then can believers cope? To prevent this from happening, should believers attempt to influence laws that restrict unbelievers to behave differently than us?

Historically, when the state has acted against Christians, we have resorted to loving civil disobedience that has compelled unbelievers to see the power of the Gospel. Avoiding this pain is neither compelling nor even effective as a defense against worldly values.

Laws that are unjust towards people are fair game for Christians to fight. We cannot drop out of these fights. The Amish people sought to divorce themselves from the government. They pay their taxes and do not take advantage of the laws permitting religious institutions to be tax-free. But they do not avail of the Government’s healthcare provisions. They pay what is owed to Caesar but are under no illusions that Caesar (while appointed by God) behaves at all like God desires. They also do not purchase insurance but help each other pay for medical bills. This seems attractive to me- a church seeking to take no advantage of the state is also free from the diktats of the state. While our decrying of the President’s mandate for religious institutions (not churches) to pay for mandatory birth control is right because it is an infringement of our liberty, we must also be cognizant of the fact that we have already roped in the government into the functioning of these institutions by accepting funding from them. This is to be sure a dilemma. The funding is important to ensure that the people we serve get good treatment at our hospitals, education at our schools and other services that we provide. We must negotiate this carefully.

The Amish not only dropped out of the government but also out of society, and this clearly is an indictment against them, according to our definition of glorifying God. Their isolation of themselves, dropping out of education after Grade 8, disengagement with society, are all examples of the church going the other extreme. It is no surprise that among the victories mentioned earlier, the key figures have been Christians who have engaged society and the government, and do not include any Amish that I know of.

In my mind “voting our conscience” is clearly a value to abide by- but as it has been interpreted differently, I would add to this the value of “voting in a manner that would make the Gospel compelling.” If our efforts are geared towards anything other than this, we are wasting our time. And most of our efforts in the past decades have been a clear waste of time. We have poured time and resources into fights that have distracted from many "life" issues. While our pro-life stance (in the case of abortion) has been right, our definition of being pro-life has been narrow- we have mostly forgotten about our duty to extend a cup of cold water to those in need. We have missed golden opportunities to glorify God in our headlong rush to build walls between ourselves and the world by enacting laws that alienate unbelievers from the Gospel, and cause us to judge those outside the church.

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