So let’s take an example or two. We start with murder. Is it okay for Christians to advocate for laws making murder criminal? Well, it seems obvious. After all, everyone but a few psychopaths believe murder to be immoral, and no one wishes to be murdered. Banning murder is an act of power coercing a certain behavior from others, but it’s power exercised in love for our neighbors. In fact, it’s even loving for potential murderers who might be prevented from committing murder by fear of governmental reprisal. Murder is worse for the victim, of course, but it’s also bad for the murderer — not just because it’s illegal.
Well, then, what about abortion? For nearly all of Christian history, abortion has been considered sinful. It’s not always been thought of as being as sinful as murder, but it’s never been approved or morally neutral. And for centuries, abortion was criminalized. That is, you could be arrested for performing the abortion or, as a mother, requesting an abortion. But the US Supreme Court has severely limited the power of the states and Congress to criminalize or even regulate abortions. Should the church seek to reverse Roe v. Wade and then seek to pass laws making abortion criminal?
Well, this is not quite as easy as murder because there is no societal consensus on the issue. Many Americans consider abortion a right and symbolic of sexual freedom of women. If the church insists on abortion legislation, many women will seek abortions from illegal sources and so suffer sub-standard medical care, and abortions will not be covered by insurance and so unaffordable to the poor. All true. Continue reading
One of the biggest issues in the Churches of Christ today is the proper role for elders. It’s not received the publicity of many other issues, but ask any life-long Church of Christ member about the authority of elders, and you’ll get an ear full.
Ask them about what the elders should do, and you’ll hear an impassioned argument for elders to become shepherds, that is, to stop acting like members of a board of directors and act more pastorally. And yet the elders keep on acting like a board of directors — even when they desperately want to transition to more pastoral duties.
The fact is that the Churches of Christ have a culture that forces elders to act like directors. After all, we are opposed to giving administrative power to the preacher. Every church has some members who believe it’s wrong for the preacher to even meet with the elders because, well, he’s just not an elder. Continue reading
Christians in a democracy: Foreign policy
One of the thornier issues that the American church must wrestle with is how the church should operate in a democracy. In fact, in the US, there are enough Christian voters that the church’s position on public policy issues really matters. Satan (and many politicians) are fortunate that the American church is politically divided. Were we ever to unite, we’d be the most powerful voice in American politics — which scares me. I mean, are we wise enough to have that kind of power? If so, I’ve seen precious little evidence of it.
So let’s start with that. If the obligation to love our neighbors — even our enemies — means anything, it surely means that we don’t take political positions and vote without bothering to do our homework and know what we’re really voting for or against. We can’t let ourselves be used — by the politicians or even by activists within the church. Just because someone says that asylum seekers will be criminals and rapists, well, we should check the facts. (And if you only read or listen to one side of the debate, you aren’t studying the question — you’re seeking affirmation.) Continue reading
Thanks to XKCD.com
WordPress released an update a few days ago that appears to be the source of all sorts of problems for the readers — especially the commenting software. They just released a patch, and it seems to be working. (Fingers cross, knock on wood.)
Let me know if the problems come back — and thanks for your patience.
Some of my favorite times as an elder were times spent with preachers and elders talking about church leadership. I’ve spent many an afternoon or evening just comparing notes with leaders from other churches.
We in the Churches of Christ have turned autonomy into isolation — and in so doing, we’ve greatly weakened ourselves. We’ve unduly empowered editors, and we’ve failed to take advantage of resources God has given us. Continue reading
Wright on Justice
So we have to start with love. From there, we go to justice. Christopher Wright speaks first of believers who serve the state for God’s purposes.
First, they accepted the realities of the public sphere they became part of, in spite of all its ambiguity. Daniel and his three friends accepted a massive degree of cultural adjustment before they reached a line that they would not cross (Dan. 1). They accepted Babylonian names, Babylonian education in the Babylonian language, and entered Babylonian employment. Joseph obviously learned the language of Egypt so fluently that his own brothers did not know he was not a native (Gen. 42:23). Esther, though she had little choice in the matter other than martyrdom for refusal, accepted a cultural practice that must have been profoundly distasteful, and with Mordecai’s help came to see it as an opportunity to save lives.
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, Biblical Theology for Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 230 (italics in original).
Obviously, believers are not banned from government service. In fact, God has been known to use believers in government service to serve his purposes. Obviously, the government’s agenda will not always be God’s, and sometimes a government employee must refuse to honor a government directive — as Daniel refused to give up praying to YHWH and so was thrown into the lions’ den. Continue reading
Although sexual predators are likely the most common type of church predator, there are other predators that the elders/shepherds should be diligent to protect the flock from.
The obligation of elders to protect the flock from false teachers is the best attested duty in the NT. For example,
(Tit. 1:9-11 ESV) 9 [An elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. 10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.
(1 Tim. 3:2 ESV) 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, …
A man is not qualified to be an elder unless he can teach. This doesn’t mean that he can stand up and ask questions from the Gospel Advocate Quarterly. He has to be able to refute error — especially the works salvation taught by the circumcision party. In other words, legalists aren’t qualified to be elders. Men who consider legalism acceptable are not qualified either. Continue reading
Christopher J. H. Wright includes in the church’s mission “justice (transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation).”
This requires some unpacking as well as some boundary setting.
First, I don’t want to wander off into yet another long discussion on pacifism, which we’ve covered here many times. I’m not sure it’s a fair reading of scripture to be against “violence of every kind.” But today is not the day to try to draw that boundary precisely.
The USA is not the Kingdom
Second, applying biblical principles to modern society is far harder than many imagine. For example, the modern analog to Israel is not the United States of America. It’s the church. The countless warnings and condemnations leveled by the prophets at corrupt government in Israel are targeted toward a kingdom ruled by God — not a secular state. But since the Kingdom of Heaven is not an earthly kingdom, the analogy doesn’t always hold. Not every command or warning can be applied to the Kingdom in its present state. Continue reading
The scriptures refer to elders as shepherds and as overseers. The idea of a “shepherd” carries certain connotations that we often overlook.
I think the foremost idea behind “shepherd” is not that the elder must take on pastoral duties (although I agree that he should), but that an elder’s foremost responsibility is to protect the flock. After all, in the ancient world, the role of the shepherd was, among many other things, protection of the sheep against predators. Continue reading