(Rom. 13:1-6 ESV) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.
Paul declares that the government has been instituted by God to punish bad or wrong conduct. Indeed, the government’s punishment of these behaviors is a form of “God’s wrath” (vv. 4-5), which takes us back to chapter 1. Interestingly, Paul sees the pagan Roman government as an instrument of God’s wrath against sin — revealing the will of God to even pagans without special revelation (the Bible, prophecy, etc.)
Now, in Rom 1, God’s goal was to show the dehumanizing result of worshiping idols rather than God. God’s wrath is shown through the self-destructive behavior of godless people. But in Rom 13, God’s wrath is revealed by the punishment meted out against such behaviors by the government. That is, the fact that even a pagan government finds these behaviors criminal should point the world back toward God. Continue reading
We set up a Ministries Team a long time ago. We quickly learned several critical lessons the hard way.
1. The elders had trouble coordinating their work with the team’s. The elders were used to directly overseeing the church’s ministries. If they wanted to start a new adult class, they just did so.
The team had to meet with the elders to work things out. The elders decided they would not go around the team. The elders did not have to follow the team’s suggestions, but they had to hear the team’s thoughts before making a decision within the team’s charge. Otherwise, the team could not do its job.
2. The team struggled to do its job in the time allotted. One of the profound pleasures of the meetings was hearing from each member the victories God was giving their ministries. But the reports could take all afternoon, there was so much going on and people were so eager to learn what was going on. We had to set strict time limits.
3. Our eagerness to hear these reports told us that the rest of congregation was also starved for information about the work of the church’s ministries. We made a point of publishing very detailed minutes of the reports to the entire congregation so all could share in these celebrations. Continue reading
1 Cor 5:9-13
To my way of thinking, this passage is at the heart of the question, and I’m thankful to the readers for keeping me on my toes as I’ve tried to apply it to public policy questions in earlier posts.
(1 Cor. 5:9-13 ESV) 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
The quotation in v. 13 is from several passages in Deuteronomy dealing with sentencing someone for a crime — generally dealing with death or “cutting off” — meaning either death or expulsion from the Israelite camp — which meant likely death in the desert (Deu 13:5, 17:7, 17:12, 19:19, 22:21, 22:22, 22:24, 24:7). Paul is quite severe in requiring the church to “judge” one of its members for incest (likely with his step-mother) and expel that person until he repents. Paul is using what we’d think of as courtroom language. Continue reading
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