WHAT IS OUR VISION?

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Rick Warren has recently reminded me that the number one responsibility of leadership in the church is to continually clarify and communicate the vision of the church. The leader of the church (AKA the pastor) must constantly answer the question: Why are we here? The job of the leader is to keep the church on track with the original New Testament purpose of the church.

When I first came to the Chapel as Pastor I convened a group of the present and past lay leaders to develop a vision and long range plan. Usually an organization has a vision and calls a CEO to implement the vision. In the case of the Chapel it was the reverse. They called me to be their pastor and we came up with our mission statement. As we have grown in our congregational life and new members have joined there is a constant temptation to expand our mission and try to do many things. They are all good things, but in the process we may lose our sense of who we are and why we are here. The leader can become the manager of all the programs and causes the church supports, and compromise his leadership task.

In my sixteen years as pastor I have felt the need to clarify and communicate the vision of the church. We are here to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are here to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. We are here to build up the Body of Christ which is the church. We are here to encourage one another in the faith to be servants of Christ in our community and throughout the world.

In the next five years we will focus on developing mature Christian disciples who will be able to compassionately respond to the needs of others. Our 2020 Vision text will be Colossians 1:28 “We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less.” (The Message)

If this is our vision we need to be clear about it to all who belong to our congregation. The vision should drive the budget. The vision becomes our passion and our prayer. We should eliminate programs that don’t propel the vision or activities that siphon energy from the vision. We don’t allow those who disagree with the vision or who cannot support it to undermine it. We don’t sponsor programs that obscure the vision. We continually clarify and communicate our vision to ourselves and to the world. We need to be clear on why we are here and not try to be something else.

 

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP OF OLD TESTAMENT ISRAEL TO THE CHURCH?

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British theologian Alec Motyer died recently aged 91. I knew him when I was beginning my ministry in London. He was pastor of St. Luke’s Church, West Hampstead at the time and would join us at our staff prayer meeting on Saturday nights. He was a noted Old Testament scholar who taught at theological seminaries in England. In a foreword to his gem: A CHRISTIAN’S POCKET GUIDE TO LOVING THE OLD TESTAMENT, Tim Keller writes about remembering Alec’s answer to a question about the relationship of Old Testament Israel to the church. “After saying something about the discontinuities, he insisted that we were all one people of God. Then he asked us to imagine how the Israelites under Moses would have given their ‘testimony’ to someone who asked for it. They would have said something like this:

We were in a foreign land, in bondage, under the sentence of death. But our mediator – the one who stands between us and God – came to us with the promise of deliverance. We trusted in the promises of God, took shelter under the blood of the lamb, and he led us out. Now we are on the way to the Promised Land. We are not there yet, of course, but we have the law to guide us, and through blood sacrifice we also have his presence in our midst. So he will stay with us until we get to our true country, our everlasting home.

Then Dr. Motyer concluded: ‘Now I think about it. A Christian today could say the same thing, almost word for word.’

Tim Keller goes on to write:

“My young self was thunderstruck. I had held the vague, unexamined impression that in the Old Testament people were saved through obeying a host of detailed laws but that today we were freely forgiven and accepted by faith. This little thought experiment showed me, in a stroke, not only that the Israelites had been saved by grace and that God’s salvation had been by costly atonement and grace all along, but also that the pursuit of holiness, pilgrimage, obedience, and deep community should characterize Christians as well.”

 

HOW ARE YOU AT EVANGELISM?

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How are you at evangelism? An evangelist is someone who presents the Gospel to others and leads them to commit their lives to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. At my first church John Stott would give a simple outline in the form of an A,B,C, and D as an aid to evangelism: Admit your need of forgiveness as a sinner, Believe that Jesus has met that need by his sacrifice on the Cross, Consider the cost of following him as his disciple, Decide to commit your life to him as your Savior and Lord in a simple prayer.

While I have endeavored to communicate the Gospel in a multitude of ways over the years, e.g. by using Evangelism Explosion, The Four Spiritual Laws etc. I have never felt that I was good at evangelism. I try to be a faithful witness to Christ but I identify with Timothy whom Paul exhorted, “Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). Obviously Timothy, who was timid, fearful and suffered from stomach problems, needed to be urged to be more evangelistic in his ministry. So do I. I too suffer from stomach problems when I have to confront people with making a decision.

The churches that I have served in over the years have not been good at evangelism. We have been good at nurturing and loving people and taking care of them when they faced challenges. We have been good at worship and fellowship. But I believe we have not been good at evangelism. That is why I paid attention to a recent post on the blog of Thom S. Rainer (www.ThomRainer.com) entitled, Ten Reasons Why Many Churches Aren’t Evangelistic. Let me share them with you with my comments added.

  1. They don’t really believe people need Jesus. Is Jesus just an option not a necessity?
  2. Evangelism is spiritual warfare. Are we willing to stand for Jesus in the battle for souls?
  3. It’s hard work. Are we lazy stewards of the Gospel or hard workers?
  4. Evangelism requires intentionality. It won’t happen by accident.
  5. Effective evangelism often requires we pray for the opportunities. Begin each day with a prayer that God will bring people in your path where you can be a Gospel witness in word and deed.
  6. Too many people have too many excuses. Do we leave it to others or assume they know Jesus?
  7. Too many churches are too busy to do evangelism. Do we have too many good things to do to reach out to others evangelistically?
  8. Church leaders are not evangelistic. If the pastor, staff, Governing Board members and committee members are not evangelistic, neither will be the rest of the church.
  9. Many church leaders and members don’t know the needs of their community. Are we aware of our neighbors and their needs?
  10. Evangelism is counter-cultural. If you want to be a people pleaser, don’t be evangelistic. Our culture hates the gospel that says there is only one Savior.

I am going to renew my efforts to “do the work of an evangelist.” Will you join me? How are you at evangelism? Let me know.

 

WHAT IS YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF POLITICS, CULTURE, MORALITY, AND NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL CONFLICT IN RELATION TO YOUR FAITH IN CHRIST?

Alan Torrance

Alan Torrance, professor of systematic theology at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, engages the apostle Paul in a response to his letter to the Colossians.

Dear Paul,

So let me get this right! Everything is created through Christ, is held together in Christ and thus needs to be interpreted with reference to Christ. Is this to suggest that absolutely every facet of creation requires to be understood in the light of the Christ Jesus – that not only the church, but our world in its totality, gender relations, race relations, our attitudes to the poor, our systems of power, our businesses, our academic, civil and political institutions and that they do…. All this requires to be understood and rethought in the light of Christ the “head”?

And are you implying that to the extent that we fail to think in these terms we are “enemies in our minds” of Christ?

Now you’re going to have to bear with me, Paul, as I’m just a simple Scotsman! Can I ask for some clarification? First, do we really need Christ to interpret creation? Creation, after all, is something to which we all have access. Are you suggesting we don’t really understand it aright until we discern the full extent of the Creator’s love for it and commitment to it as he stands in its midst as the one crucified within it and for it?

And why precisely do we need Christ for our reasoning about the world to be reconciled? Are you suggesting that the forgiveness he holds forth sheds light on current affairs, on how we approach political and religious strife, the spirals of retaliation and revenge that characterize international affairs?

But can’t we have all this without your dramatic insistence that in Christ we have the whole fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily? Isn’t it easier to think of Jesus’ place as a little more modest than you suggest, that is, more private, more spiritual and less questioning, less challenging… and less transforming, less reconciling, less liberating, even less relevant….!

I suppose the problem takes us back to the horns of the dilemma with which you confront us – namely, the Who question with which Jesus confronted Peter. Either Jesus is God, in which case all that you say does indeed seem to follow, or he is not, in which case, he becomes utterly irrelevant. Your letter is offensive because throughout, Christ compels us to front up to this. He graciously denies us the opportunity to count ourselves “moderates,” giving him a moderate place within our lives and understanding. Why is this difficult? Because this means we lose the power to moderate where he is and is not to be found in our lives and in our attitudes. And to be denied that power is to find ourselves questioned by him – and to be questioned by him in the most radical and in the deepest possible way. And that, Paul, seems hard, seriously hard!

You end your letter by asking us to remember your chains!

May Christ’s transforming presence liberate us from ours!

(Letters of Faith Through the Seasons, ed. James M. Houston, p.190f.)

WHAT I DID ON SABBATICAL THIS SUMMER

Ted Schroder
Ted Schroder

The last two months I have been on sabbatical leave and vacation. Usually sabbaticals are longer. I have taken three months every seven years in previous pastorates. Each one has been different. One included a preaching tour in New Zealand, another attending various conferences, and one when I was on a research fellowship at Durham University. At different stages of my life and ministry there were different needs to be addressed. This time I wanted to develop a vision for the next five years for the Chapel where I minister and for myself, do some reading and praying, and plan for a preaching series.

I worked through a book by Will Mancini and Warren Bird, GOD DREAMS: 12 VISION TEMPLATES FOR FINDING AND FOCUSING YOUR CHURCH’S FUTURE. It is a practical guide to vision casting and goal setting. I came up with what I entitled, 2020 Vision for the Chapel, which identifies our strengths and priorities and provides an outline for our leadership to discuss for future planning. It is now in their hands and will be on the agenda for our next Board meeting.

After receiving an excellent report from my annual physical examination, listening to the Spirit in prayer, and discussion with my wife, I will continue fulfilling the ministry God has called me to at the Chapel as He enables me to be effective. I would like to see this 2020 Vision fulfilled.

During this two months I read nineteen books: 12 theological and devotional and 7 novels. They stimulated my thoughts and expanded my understanding of human life and God’s purposes. I read novels to enter into the world of others, to sympathize with their challenges, and to familiarize myself with their characters. This summer my favorite authors were P.G. Wodehouse and Frederick Forsyth. I had the pleasure to meeting Frederick Forsyth at my hotel in London last April. I determined to read some of his books that I had not previously read. When I was an undergraduate at Canterbury University I celebrated the end of final examinations each year by reading a comic novel by P.G. Wodehouse. I am always struck by the numerous scriptural references that he includes. I picked up a biography on him that I am looking forward to reading this Fall.

I am privileged to be married to a literary person. Antoinette is always reading and shared her reading with me. This summer she has been reading biographies on two authors of the nineteenth century on which she is an authority. She has a fine nineteenth century biographical library due to her interest in the Brontes. We had more time to discuss what we have been reading. She is a thoughtful conversational partner and we range over all subjects spiritual, literary, historical and political as well as our family concerns. She is my rock, confidant, and prayer partner.

I also worked on planning a preaching series on the Ten Commandments up to Advent, and in January a series on Twelve Questions Jesus Asked, taken from the Gospels. This will take me up to Easter.

There were many other activities, including travel, and preaching at Roaring Gap Chapel in North Carolina which I have done in previous years.

Finally, I want to give thanks to God for His protection on I-95. I always pray for protection on the road but never had it more evident than last Monday when a pickup truck hauling a contractor’s trailer passed me going beyond the speed limit. As it drew ahead of me and the car I was following the tires on the trailer blew out. The trailer swung around across our lane and nearly tipped over in front of the car ahead of me, then jack-knifed swinging the pickup truck to face in the opposite direction. It narrowly missed the car ahead of me and came to a halt across the two lanes of the interstate. There could have been a big pile up. Miraculously no vehicles collided and the pickup truck did not overturn. The drivers in the car ahead of me pulled over and were shaken up. There was enough room for us to pass on the shoulder. If we had not been paying attention there could have been a tragedy. Thankfully I am here to tell the story.

HOW TO REMAIN FRESH AND FOCUSED ON WHAT GOD WANTS YOU TO BE AND TO DO

BIBLE

Every morning I rise early, make coffee, and settle down for my time with the Lord. This time is essential for my spiritual health, for the focusing of my priorities, and for the deepening of my relationship with God. I share it with you in the hope that it may encourage you to orient your life in a like manner and be a blessing to you as it has been for me.

I began this habit of a lifetime when I committed my life to Christ at fourteen years of age. My pastor introduced me to the Scripture Union (www.ScriptureUnion.org) method of reading the Bible. I have followed it ever since. I use their Encounter with God guide which takes me through the Bible and supplies a brief commentary written by an international and interdenominational stable of Christian authors. The method is fourfold: PRAY before you read the passage, asking God to help you understand knowing that he is the author and wants to speak to you directly through his Word; READ the Bible passage for the day; MEDITATE on the passage, writing in a journal anything that you have learned; PRAY again, asking God to help you live out his message to you. In addition to the passage I have committed myself this year to read through all the Bible. Encounter with God provides a One Year Bible Reading Plan of three chapters each day.

After the Bible reading I have a devotional book that I add to my spiritual diet. I will read a chapter in each one and thereby gain the insights of other Christians. Over a year I may read through many of these books on the Christian faith and life. Recently I have read Risky Faith by Susan Yates, Intersections of Grace by Susan Kerr, Letters of Faith Through the Seasons edited by James H. Houston and many others.

Finally, I like to read a book of theology or Christian philosophy. At the moment I am reading He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World by R. Albert Mohler. Similar books I have reviewed in my blog posts, e.g. It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies by Mary Eberstadt, Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule by Jonathan Leeman, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene H. Peterson, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (Abridged) by Richard Baxter & Isaac Crewdson, Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme by Dave Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons. This is a time when I can reflect upon some Christian classics which make me think through my faith.

Usually all this takes an hour. After I have taken in all this material I try to listen to what the Spirit is bringing to my attention. Listening to the Lord is an important part of meditation. I will sometimes take notes of what comes to my mind of thoughts and actions I need to take and apply to my life.

Then I spend time in prayer, either in my chair or during my morning walk. I begin with praise and thanksgiving, go on to confession, prayers for my life and direction, and then prayers for my family and friends. I use a Prayer Manual which is a monthly calendar of prayer for members and outreach ministries of Amelia Plantation Chapel, praying for about fifteen members of the congregation each day, and for the coming week of ministry.

This time has proved invaluable over the years in enabling me to keep fresh and focused on what God wants me to be and do. I could not have survived the challenges and difficulties I have experienced without this discipline. I commend such a daily practice to you. Let me know what you have found works for you which may encourage others.

HOW TO BE PRODUCTIVE

A former colleague of mine always sends me a book every year on my birthday and at Christmas. This year for my birthday he sent me SMARTER, FASTER, BETTER: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, an award winning reporter for the New York Times, graduate of Harvard Business School and Yale. My wife sighed when she saw it. She commented that it was the last book I needed to read because my life has always been about being productive and at my mid-seventies I needed to read books about slowing down, and learning to enjoy leisure! I agreed with her but decided to scan it because I am a glutton for punishment.

I have always believed that if you can find one new thought from a book or article it is worthwhile. Duhigg writes anecdotally and draws principles from case studies. His chapter on Motivation identifies the need for purpose to energize one. Asking the question “Why should I do this or why am I doing this?” can motivate you to accomplishment when the going gets tough.

His chapter on Teams identifies the need for psychological safety and social sensitivity amongst a group to create success. That means listening to every team member and encouraging all to speak in meetings. The team leader needs to model that behavior. By sharing control we demonstrate that we are genuinely listening – repeating what someone has said, responding to their comments, showing that we care by reacting when someone seems upset or flustered, rather than acting as if nothing is wrong.

I came across a new term to me – “Cognitive Tunneling” – for becoming overly focused on whatever is directly in front of you, or by becoming preoccupied with immediate tasks so that you lose your ability to direct your focus. Instead, we latch on to the easiest and most obvious stimulus, often at the cost of common sense. He illustrates this by two dramatic airline disaster stories. To counter cognitive tunneling he advocates taking control of your attention by building mental models that put you firmly in charge. Get into a pattern of forcing yourself to anticipate what’s next. Decide what deserves your attention. The key is forcing yourself to think beyond the immediate.

The chapter on Decision Making is illustrated by playing poker. Duhigg uses it to encourage seeing “the future as multiple possibilities rather than one predetermined outcome: to identify what you do and don’t know; to ask yourself, which choice gives you the best odds. Fortune-telling isn’t real. No one can predict tomorrow with absolute confidence. But the mistake some people make is trying to avoid making any predictions because their thirst for certainty is so strong and their fear of doubt too overwhelming.” As Kierkegaard wrote, “Faith is possibility.” If God has a purpose for your life and the lives of your loved ones then there are all sorts of possibilities. Being locked into one only is a recipe for stagnation. I have been grateful for the opportunities that have been open to me over the years as I have entertained multiple possibilities. Too many limit themselves within narrow boundaries and miss out on God’s best for them to be productive in their lives.

Management books are contemporary applications of time-worn truths that can be found in the book of Proverbs and the teachings of Jesus to be good stewards of all that we have been given. St. Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving…Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 3:23,24; 4:5)

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS AND MCCARTHYISM?

Eberstadt-Mary[1]

Using the historical analogies of the Salem Witch trials and McCarthyism, Mary Eberstadt in IT’S DANGEROUS TO BELIEVE: Religious Freedom and its Enemies, chronicles the efforts of the progressive-secular alliance in North America and Europe to enforce their dogma on contemporary society by policing cultural precincts for heretics and shunning and shaming dissenters from their anti-Christian creed. “They are the guardians of what has become a secular substitute faith, concerning the secular revolution and its perceived moral imperatives. And like the Puritanism of yesteryear, today’s secular version does not tolerate nonconformism.”

There is an inquisitorial zeal in searching out what they call bigots and haters who follow, what until today, has been orthodox Christian teaching on sexual morality. The new fundamentalist faith is that the sexual revolution of the gradual destigmatization of all forms of consenting nonmarital sex, has been a boon to all humanity. “Doing what you want” is the new master ethic. Pleasure is the greatest good. “If it feels good, do it.” Therefore traditional moral codes represent systems of unjust repression. They are judgmental and hateful. Yesterday’s “sinners” have become the new secular “saints”, and yesterday’s “sin” have become virtues. There is no sexual act that is wrong.

“The bedrock of contemporary progressivism can only be described as quasi-religious…..less a political movement than a church….it is a contest of competing faiths.”

Homeschooling is attacked as a means of indoctrinating children in “faith’s dark, lurid dogmas before science, reason and the enlightening joys of secularism take over….Homeschooling amounts to allowing the faith-deranged to infect their young with their disorder.” Parents have no right to fill their children’s minds with nonsense! The National Education Association passed this resolution for 2014-15: “Homeschooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide students with a comprehensive educational experience.” Of course the Bible, prayer and a teacher’s faith are not permitted in our public schools – just like in Communist societies until they were restored after the Iron Curtain came down in Eastern Europe when parents demanded their children be taught Christianity again. Will that happen again in the USA?

Christian charities and colleges are being attacked for adhering to their beliefs. Gordon College, in Massachusetts, where I served as Dean of Christian Life in the 70’s, has been blacklisted by local school districts for requiring their students to live by a Christian moral code. Catholic Charities have been forced out of the adoption services. There is a religious war between two groups of believers: those following a two thousand year old creed and those following a secularist creed of the last fifty years.

Why can’t we agree to disagree and allow the two groups to live in peace? Why must the secularists use shaming language and the coercive power of the government to bludgeon Christians into silence? Why can we not allow public discussion of different beliefs without demonizing one another and calling the other side intolerant and abusive? To call someone a homophobe because their belief is different from yours does not advance the debate? People of goodwill should be able to discuss and differ without using pejorative language or tactics.

“The rhetorical question that put the final nail in McCarthyism, posed by army counsel Joseph Welch and famously repeated ever since, was ‘Have you no decency, sir?’” Smearing, shaming and silencing people of different beliefs, as did McCarthy, was finally seen to be counter-productive and vindictive. Christians are not bigots because they hold to Biblical morality. The present intimidation and exiling of supposed heretics who do not conform to the elites’ sexual orthodoxy needs to stop.

Some of the great social problems of our day are caused by the breakdown of Christian sexual morality. The breakdown of marriage and the number of children in single parent families is a recipe for unemployment and poverty. Income inequality will not be solved by higher taxes on the wealthy and better schools, but by the restoration of families led by mothers and fathers committed to one another rather than the pursuit of promiscuous selfish pleasure.

WHEN SHOULD CHRISTIANS AND THE CHURCH CHALLENGE THE GOVERNMENT?

Polycarp movie

Continuing the insights of Jonathan Leeman in POLITICAL CHURCH: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule begun in my last post, he cites the writings of John Locke which informed the thinking of the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This understanding of a social contract excluded atheists because he assumes “the social fabric depends upon commitments underpinned by the fear of God.” He writes, “The true ground of morality can only be the Will and Law of a God, who sees Men in the dark, has in his Hand Rewards and Punishments, and Power enough to call to account the proudest Offender.”

In other words the ground of government is God’s laws not man’s consciences. The more we are governed only by human conscience the more the nation will be characterized by widespread disobedience, crime and anarchy. George Washington and John Adams, among other Founders, believed that the Constitution and Bill of Rights could only work if the people were governed by religion and divine morality. For Christian citizens that requires declaring that Christ is Lord over all, and the final authority, as revealed in Holy Scripture.

“Therefore the local church acts as an embassy of Christ’s rule within the nation. It represents the invisible spiritual realities of heaven, heaven’s powers and heaven’s battles against the cosmic powers of the present darkness and the spiritual forces of evil. A church is almost like a doorway to another dimension. Through the keys of the kingdom a group of Christians open this doorway to make the invisible visible. The keys comprise the saints’ authority to establish themselves as a geographically and time-bound embassy of Christ’s end-time and uncontested rule.

Jesus does not commission churches to wield the sword and challenge governments directly. But he does commission churches to challenge the idols and false gods that prop up every government and marketplace, whether the gods of the Roman Empire or the gods of the secular West. Since no government is free of idols, churches preaching the gospel will always pose a certain kind of threat. Historical regimes have been correct to fear Christian influence and have sought to neutralize it with persecution and punishment. Persecution is the norm for Christians (John15:18-25) because Jesus is a threat to the gods of the nations. Persecution is the logical consequence of idolatry. The measure of success for Christians must be faithfulness to Christ. Our witness will be vindicated over time, sometimes in this world, certainly in eternity.”

What I take away from Leeman’s thesis is that Christians and the churches they represent are called to obey a higher authority than the State. They consent to the rule of government when it does not contradict the rule of the kingdom of God. They witness to the rule of Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture and seek to obey him as Lord even when civil government disobeys God’s law. This is the clear teaching of the New Testament. As a nation drifts away from the divine moral law and worships the idols of human conscience and so-called human freedom to do as you like, the Christian will be persecuted and pressured to conform to a new religion of “tolerance” and “diversity” at the cost of faithfulness to the Gospel. This calls for courage to witness to the truth as it is found in Jesus. The battle is on.

WHAT SHOULD THE CHURCH SAY ABOUT ISSUES OF PUBLIC AND POLITICAL LIFE?

Political Church

In the USA we are being bombarded with diverse views on the state of the nation. The national political debate pits two presidential candidates and their philosophies against one another. What attitude should Christians have about politics? What place should the church have in the public square? What should the preacher say in the pulpit? How controversial should we be? Do you think that the church should be spiritual only and not political? Or should we be engaged with the issues of the day?

As a preacher, a church leader and an American citizen I have struggled with these questions all my ministry. I am always reading material that might help me to interpret the signs of the times. I have just completed reading POLITICAL CHURCH: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule by Jonathan Leeman. It was a hard slog of 392 pages of dense theology. However I did glean some nuggets of wisdom which may be of interest to you in this political season.

He argues that there is no such thing as a neutral secular state. Quoting St. Augustine he states that people are either for or against the Bible’s God. All humanity belongs to one of two societies – one city that “lifts up its head in its own glory” and “loves its own strength as displayed in its mighty men,” and another city that “says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory and the lifter up of mine head’ and ‘I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.”

Luther reminds us that everybody has a god – something that they worship, and so secularism is just as much a religion as any traditional religion. The Supreme Court decisions, e.g. on abortion and same sex marriage have religious underpinnings, the religion that judges traditional Christian moral standards as false. He writes, “One could argue that any and every position a person might adopt in the political sphere relies upon a certain conception of human beings, their rights and their obligations toward one another, creation and God.” Religion and politics are not separate because our religious beliefs, broadly defined, determine or yield or provide the worldview lens through which we come to hold our political commitments.

“The public square is nothing more or less than a battleground of gods, each vying to push the levers of power in its favor. Which means…. There are no truly secular states, only pluralistic ones…..In the battleground of gods called the public square, the law books present a record of which gods won a majority when the vote was taken or which could secure a high court decision.”

With the traditional, historical, Christian moral consensus evaporating an appeal is made to freedom of conscience. “But in a nation of believers and unbelievers, the unattached, unaccountable conscience will be employed to legitimize the freedom of various religions only so long as the conscience of the nation’s decision makers value them. When a nation’s decision makers decide that traditional institutional religions are a threat to liberty or equality of tolerance, they will banish them, first from the public square, then from the marketplace, and, perhaps, in partial ways, from the home (“No you may not indoctrinate your children”). See what has happened in North Carolina over transgender use of rest rooms – the marketplace is punishing the state by cancelling public events.

“The reigning ideology of the day is that we want to do what we want to do. It might even be a bill of rights, that very thing which is supposed to protect a nation from the tyranny of the majority, that will be employed to suppress the conscience for the sake of conscience…. A nation of citizens who insist that their consciences must always be free is a nation that will eventually have little patience for the incursion of the minority’s religion in public or private. There is a logic to the persecution of Christians throughout history, and it is easy to see once we recognize that politics and religion are inseparable. A people’s strongest desires – the desires they refuse to let go of – reveal their worship. And people will always fight for their idols and gods, their objects of worship. Christianity, then, will be opposed in precisely those places it opposes a people’s particular idols…Churches do not need to take up arms against the state in order to pose a threat to the state; they only need to oppose the gods upon which a nation’s political and economic institutions depend. To oppose unabated sexual freedom in the democratic West today, for instance, is to condemn one of the West’s favorite altars of worship… Sexual freedom is religious freedom in a pagan culture, which is increasingly our own. When a nation bows to Ashtoreth, Aphrodite, Hollywood heroines, or pornography, Christians who oppose sexual freedom just might expect to be excommunicated from the sacred public square. And they will be excluded for violating the very principle that grounds their own doctrine of religious freedom: the right of the free conscience…. The activities of the public square are always undergirded by some spiritual or religious worldview and everything taught inside a church building has political meaning because the church is a political assembly.”

Challenging stuff, don’t you think? More to come!