Pulpit and Politics

There seems to be two polar extremes that pastors/churches take on the place of the pulpit and politics.

One extreme is that the pastor is so sure of his place as prophet concerning political issues and candidates that he uses his pulpit to preach concerning these things. I’ve heard from both the left and the right – preachers who have conflated their Christian theology with a particular form of partisan politics. This only undermines the gospel and lifts a person’s political agenda to the level of the gospel itself.

The other extreme is to keep totally clear of political engagement. Politics is seen as a realm of our existence that is separate and unrelated to the gospel. These preachers make it a point to never offer insights from the Bible concerning political issues. The best reason for doing this is that they do not want to come across as one of those they’ve seen who conflate political agendas with the gospel; the worst reasons for doing this is a fear of ostracizing people in their congregations with differing political positions (thus perhaps hurting attendance and giving), or another reason is that the preacher actually believes that Jesus had nothing to say that was political.

It’s a thorny issue, granted. But a third way is possible:

A preacher must not shy away from the fact that the gospel has major ramifications concerning political engagement. However, he must be extremely explicit that while Christians must be politically engaged, there must also be room within the Christian community to discuss and even debate the issues beyond the normal partisan punditry. The preacher must make it clear that there is not always the one “Christian” stand on any given political issue. And, to paraphrase Os Guinness, Christians, of all people, must engage in political discussions with civility.

In this age of partisan punditry and escalated rhetoric from both the Left and the Right, the Preacher has a unique opportunity . He can model this third way; he can show that Christians can thoughtfully engage in the issues of our day without being sucked into performing the political hack-jobs that the person in the pew usually sees on the cable news channels. He can offer Christian alternative ways to engage the issues. He can tell people that they need to listen to all sides before making their decisions. He can demand that the church library not only carry “World” Magazine, but also “Prism,” and “Sojourners” (or the other way around if the church has traditionally leaned left) so that other Christian viewpoints can be placed on the table. He needs to be well-read, regularly quoting people with diverse political viewpoints, both from the secular and the Christian worlds. And, he must be willing to say what he feels needs to be said, but with humility and civility at all times - with a willingness to say, "This is how I see it. I may be wrong."



The Church, Parents, and Training Children in the Faith

In today’s American culture, in order to give our kids what we feel they need, we send our kids to specialized trainers all the time. Our kids have piano teachers, math tutors, basketball coaches, dance instructors, and the list goes on and on. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with our children specializing in a particular skill by being trained by someone with expertise in that field. There’s no way that I can be an expert in everything! (Not even close!)

However, when it comes to a child’s Christian faith, the responsibility lies squarely on the parents’ shoulders.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 gives the “Shema,” the central command and creed of God’s people: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This command, of course, was expanded by Jesus in Mark 12:28–33 to also include “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

What’s important to note about this command/creed is this: That it was to penetrate beyond head and into the heart; it was to be the central aspect of every part of life at every moment. In the next verse of the Deuteronomy passage (6:4), God tells the adults that “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts,” which means it all starts with their inner motivation – will they commit to loving God with all they have?

Then God makes it clear that the matter of raising children in this kind of heart-deep love is the responsibility of parents. “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).

Parents have the primary responsibility for “impressing upon their children” who God is, why he is loved, and our duty to serve him with our entire lives. This is not just an Old Testament command, in Ephesians 6:4, parents are instructed to “bring (your children) up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

With teachers, tutors, coaches, trainers, instructors, and other specialists in our children's lives, it becomes increasingly important that the church does not succumb to the pressure to be just another specialist to do the work of faith training and instruction. Instead, the church needs to shift the paradigm so that parents are given not only the lead role in the faith development of their children, but also the confidence to do so.

Many parents are not confident enough to teach their kids how to dribble a basketball or how to find “Middle C” on a piano, so they acquiesce to the specialists. However, when it comes to training children in the faith, the church must give parents the kind of training they need to confidently do what God has called them to do.


Was there Death Before the Fall?

Death and Decay as a Part of the Good Creation

If you’re like me, you were taught that death was not a part of God’s good created order, but that death came into the world when Adam fell into sin through his rebellion against God. We immediately think of verses like Romans 5:12:
“Therefore...sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.”

However, when we look at the created world as it is before us, we see that death and decay are essential elements of the created order.

Yesterday, I was raking leaves and placed them in our composting bin with the knowledge that as they decay along with the manure and pieces of fruit and vegetables we put in there, we will have a rich fertilizer for our garden in the Spring.

As I watch my favorite Nature shows on TV, I am struck by the incredible design of the hunter animals to be able to capture and eat their prey. I marvel at the delicate eco-system that requires a food-chain for it to function and to even exist. My son Trey and I love to watch "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel. These animals are amazing. One show called them "incredible killing machines." If death is not a part of the way God created the world, then a child might ask, "Were sharks created by Satan?" The answer is to the child is, "Of course not. Satan does not create." But we still wonder why animals have carnivorous teeth and digestive systems geared for such.

So, this brings us to the big question: Is death and decay a part of the created order?

N.T. Wright thinks so. Wright is one of the world’s foremost evangelical biblical scholars. He believes that the decay we see in the world is not necessarily evil, but a part of the created order.
“Evil then consists not in being created but in the rebellious idolatry by which humans worship and honor elements of the natural world rather than the God who made them. The result is that the cosmos is out of joint. Instead of humans being wise vice-regents over creation, they ignore the creator and try to worship something less demanding, something that will give them a short-term fix of power and pleasure. The result is that death, which was always a part of the natural transience of the good creation, gains a second dimension, which the Bible sometimes calls ‘spiritual death.’ In Genesis, and indeed for much of the Old Testament, the controlling image of death is exile. Adam and Eve are told that they would die on the day they ate of the fruit; what actually happened was that they were expelled from the garden. Turning away from the worship of the living God is turning toward that which has no life in itself. Worship that which is transient, and it can only give you death… Mysteriously, this out-of-jointness seems to become entangled with the transience and decay necessary within the good-but-incomplete creation.”
-Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church p. 95

Doug Moo also thinks so. Moo was one of my professors at Trinity, and is recognized as one of the top evangelical experts on the book of Romans. He writes concerning Romans 8 in an essay entitled “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” published in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49 (2006) 449-88:
The language of the text before us (Romans 8:19-22) suggests that human sin led to some kind of change in the nature of the cosmos itself. It has been subject, Paul says, to "frustration," or "vanity"; the Greek word suggests that creation has been unable to attain the purpose for which it was created. The "bondage to decay [φθορά]" is also difficult to interpret, but Paul is probably attributing to the created world the inevitable destruction that the Greeks attributed to all created things. And Paul's use of this same language in 1 Cor 15:42 and 50 to contrast the "perishable" body of this life and the "imperishable" body of the life to come points in the same direction. Decay" suggests the inevitable disintegration to which all things since the Fall are subject.

This does not necessarily mean, however, that physical death itself was first introduced into the created world at the Fall. On the contrary, the necessary continuity between the world that God created (Genesis 1-2) and the world that we now observe suggests that physical decay and death – an indispensable component of the created world as we know it – were likely present from the very beginning. To be sure, as Rom 5:12, for instance, makes clear, Adam introduced "death" into the world. But the "world" Paul has in view here is almost certainly the world of human beings (compare the roughly parallel vv. 18a and 19a), and the "death" to which Paul refers here is mainly (though not exclusively) spiritual death (compare again v. 12 with vv. 18 and 19, where "condemnation" occurs). What was Adam's relation to death before the Fall, then? Some think, as Gerald Bray puts it, that Adam was "a mortal being who was protected from death as long as he was obedient to the commands of God: disobedience removed the protection, and Adam was allowed to complete the life cycle which was normal to his physical being" (Gerald L. Bray, "The Significance of God's Image in Man." TynBul 42 [1991] 216). But it is preferable to think of Adam as possessing conditional immortality, with physical death as "a possibility arising from his constitution" (Blocher, In the Beginning, 184-87 [187]).

The main thing I find intriguing is this: Death is a natural part of the good created order, but when sin entered the world, death took on a new dimension: that of being separated from God. Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden was the "death" that they experienced on that day, and then their physical death would come eventually due to the fact that they no longer had access to the tree of life. Death for Israel was exile from the land of promise and from the Temple of Yahweh. And, ultimately, Spiritual Death is eternal separation from God.



Oh, Those Stinkin’ Democrats and Their Stand on Abortion!

Ummm... Wait a minute. This is not the kind of news you hear on Focus on the Family.

Around 40 Dems line up against federal abortion funding in healthcare bill
By Jordan Fabian – The Hill 10/24/09

Approximately 40 House Democrats are prepared to block healthcare reform legislation from coming to the floor should the bill include federal subsidies for abortions, said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) Friday.

Stupak, who is conservative on social issues, told CNS News that he has organized the voting bloc to support his amendment that would strip the abortion provisions from the legislation. House Rules Committee chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), according to Stupak, said that there is "no way" her panel would provide a vote for his amendment.

The group of 40 would join House Republicans in voting against procedural measure that would draft rules for debating the bill on the House floor. Passage of the measure is necessary for the House to hold a floor vote.

"There’s about 40 like-minded Democrats like myself -- we’ll try to take down the rule," Stupak said. “If all 40 of us vote in a bloc against the rule -- because we think the Republicans will join us -- we can defeat the rule. The magic number is 218. If we can have 218 votes against the rule, we win.”

With 177 Republicans in the House, Stupak would need at least 41 Democrats to cross the aisle and vote against the rule. Stupak's amendment was originally defeated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee during mark-up.

Under language in the Energy and Commerce proposal, one health plan in each health care "exchange" that sells public health insurance must provide coverage for abortion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is currently in the process of merging the House's three health bills.

“We’re just finishing our conferencing on this legislation,” Pelosi told CNS. “We haven’t even gone through the procedure as to what we’ll do on the floor, if there even are any amendments on the floor.”

ACTION ALERT from Evangelicals for Social Action and Americans United for Life

Americans United for Life (AUL) is working against time to support the efforts of Stupak and other pro-lifers on the Hill, meeting with Congressmen to ensure they know what’s at stake if the health care reform bill is not amended to protect life. Even as House members express determination to remove abortion from the House bill, AUL has learned that Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic leadership are working hard to convince pro-life members of Congress that the Capps Amendment “compromise” prevents abortion funding and coverage.

Please, call your Congressman and tell him/her that the Capps Amendment is not a compromise. The Stupak/Pitts language must be included in the House bill.