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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Political Importance doesn't mean Theologically correct

Jimmy Carter was at one point the most powerful man in the world. He is also credited for helping the Christian Right get the idea that religion and politics should mix together in 1976 (The Year of the Evangelical). For a long time, he has taught a Sunday school class in Georgia at a Southern Baptist Church. In 2000, he said he no longer wanted his name linked with the Southern Baptist convention. No big deal. You don't have to be a Southern Baptist to be saved (they will even tell you that), just a Christ Follower (See 1 John).

On Al Mohler's Blog today, he talked about an interview Jimmy Carter had with a London Paper. Carter says (quoting from Mohler's blog)
Instead, his reference to the Southern Baptist Convention introduced his argument that any religious teaching that denies what he construes as full equality for women "is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God."
Mohler rightly points out that
[Carter] opens and closes his article by citing as his main authority the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948. This text, we might note, also declares "freedom of thought, conscience, and religion" as basic human rights. The more important question is this: Does President Carter really believe that he will convince Christians -- Southern Baptist or otherwise -- to see any human statement as holding a higher authority than the Bible? That question, more than anything else, points to the real reason that President Carter and the Southern Baptist Convention have parted ways. The point of division remains the ultimate authority and total truthfulness of the Bible as the Word of God.
I think Jimmy Carter is a good guy and has done a lot of good for this world. Much of this came out of his Christian worldview. I am not questioning, his salvation (because that is only something I believe God has a right to do). So, this is not meant to vilify him

I bring this up because this points to a problem I've seen a lot through history. People of power will become consumed with their position and thinks that gives them the authority to speak on anything and everything. If that person is a Christian, that is especially true. Christian politicians can and should speak authoritatively on politics and religions.

Ever since Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire in roughly 323 AD, Emperors could influence how the Church was governed without a accurate understanding of the Bible/theological truths. He meant well but many of successors probably didn't. They would make decisions that made political sense but not theological (since they were not trained scholars or in many cases confessing Christ Followers).

A good example is an early one. The council of Nicaea was called because Constantine wanted unity in his Empire and could not have it until the Christians stop fighting. He did turn to a theological adviser to understand the issue at the center of the fight (the doctrine of Christ's divinity) but I'm not sure if he actually understand the magnitude of the issue. He just knew he needed peace. Because his own religious adviser, Hossius, over saw the preceding and he was bank rolling everything, it probably brought a "quick" end to discussion for fear of being against the government (they knew which side Constantine was on). They also knew Constantine wanted unity and a creed fast. I'm not saying that they didn't decide correctly but I am saying that for centuries, these issues lingered on in large part because the desire for political unity trumped the desire for doctrinal understanding. Pragmatism ruled the day.

Eventually, the east would adopt Ceasaropapism (Emperor is Pope) and when Constantinople was over taken by the Ottomans Turks in 1453, a Muslim was the head of the Christian Church. Obviously, a Muslim would not do what is best for a Christian Church. The same though could be said for the west. While the West would adopt the supremacy of the Roman Bishop (the Pope), Charlemagne, Frederick II of HRE, Charles V and even Louis XIV would all influence how the Church operated for political reasons. They w not understanding the theological ramifications of decisions (and probably many Popes for that matter).

In America, Thomas Jefferson has the foresight to know that a wall to protect the Church from the State had to be erected. Church would remain separate from State (for the most part every one said they were Christian) until the 1900's. Politicians would not meddle in Church affairs (though the Church would in civil affairs) The deathblow to the Fundamentalist resurgence was the Scopes Monkey Trial when politician William Jenkins Bryan (a Sunday School Teacher, not a Theologian like BB Warfield,Charles Hodge or even Machen) was schooled by Atheist Clarence Darrow on the witness stand. Here, an arrogant politician made a public statement in an area of ignorance that hurt the Church. He could only speak on his limited experience and not on behalf of Historic Biblical Christianity (though he though he could).

Many feel that the Christian Right being "in bed" with Evangelical America could be a reason for a decline in the veracity of the Church. Because we have been pigeonholed as abortion hating, gay bashing, death penalty loving republicans by Christians Politicians by making political statements coming off as theological statements, we have a lot of work to do to show why some believe these things are not just politically based but Biblical base. In many cases, I feel the republican "tail" have been "wagging" the Christians "dog" to do its bidding. The politicians probably only have themselves in mind and not the effect it will have on the Bride of Christ.

We have a hard time contending for the faith when any one believes that they are not ignorant of some things. A Christian speaking on theological issues with a right life can be just as damaging. That's why 1 Timothy 4 says
9This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10(and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.

11Command and teach these things. 12Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 13Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

15Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
As a christian, I know every time I open my mouth I am saying what I believe about God. Every time I act, I showing what I believe about God. So I wrestle with the texts and wrestle with those who in both different eras and different culture have wrestled with the text first. I want to make sure I am not leading people astray and saying something that is not what the Bible is saying. Because of my education, I know how easy it is to say something is Biblical when it is not. I see this throughout the history of the Church when many well meaning people are caught up in saying something contrary to God's word.

I have found the things that I am the most sure of are not only things that make the most sense to me but are the things believed by those that are not bound by my time and my space. I'm sure of all of my opinions (who isn't) but that is why I don't trust my opinions alone. I always submit what I believe to Scripture, to watch both my life and doctrine as I read the Word. My authority to speak comes not from my knowledge but from the great cloud of witnesses before me that believed what I believe now.

I am always afraid of being too proud. I am arrogant by nature and most false teachers I've experienced (including me at one point) say something like this: "I'm sure this is right and I'm not going to budge on the issue." This reminds me of 2 Peter 2:
10This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; 11yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. 12But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.
I, like these politicians, can be blinded by power and not understand fully what we say. When we aren't willing to let people question our faith/life, we will probably end up preaching/living a false Gospel.

If I only point to my experience or your experience for truth, I can't be "judged" because it is a experience; it cannot be measured by another. However, if I point to my experience with a Transcendent Truth along side of others crossing multiple times and multiple experiences, I can rest upon a standard that can judge me and I know that is true. Much like I can throw a ball up and know it will come down because it has been believed by a Assyrian, a Roman, an Aztec and an American, I know it is true and important. If I throw it and it doesn't come down, I must question my experience.

I can speak with confidence because I teach the Word of God, not just a word about God. I have interacted with many other experience in a scientific method sort a way to fish out the Truth. I don't have to trust my experience alone and believe every voice I hear because I have history, cross cultural emissaries, the Church, and others who watch my life to tell me if I'm branching into false teaching/living/ mishearing the Spirit of God. I am constantly seeking and learning because my position does not mean that I am experiencing truth. I just want to stand by the Truth and with the Truth, Jesus, who has given us all of these witnesses and evidences to me so I can know him more and not have to question.

So Politicians (and other who want to use their position in this time and space to speak about truth that transcend this time and space) please lets humble ourselves and see the picture is far bigger than what we can often see. Let us admit when we are ignorant in doctrine or in life. Until we can point to more than our experience, let us only speak of what we know :
1 Cor 15: 1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

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