Aug 7, 2014

FAQS


I’m starting a new series in a couple of weeks called FAQ (frequently asked questions) and we have received input from people through informal conversations and online surveys to steer the direction of the topics.  I think the exercise necessitates some preliminary thoughts about tackling social and ethical issues.  Some say leave such hot potatoes alone.  Others spend almost all their time on nothing but these issues.  Let’s sketch out some reasons for addressing these concerns in an even-handed fashion as I bring back my blog:

  1. The  issues are broadcast far and wide in our nation.  If the voice of the church is silent – guess which views people in the pews will adopt?  I want people’s worldview to be biblically informed.
  2. God says to preach the whole counsel of God in Acts 20:27.  In fact Paul speaks in the common square in Athens in Acts 17 using secular examples to make his point.
  3.  Paul divides his letter between theological foundations (orthodoxy) and ethical practices (orthopraxy).  My walk with God in the world should be informed by my time with God in the Word.  Paul does not avoid complicated issues (look at Corinth). 
  4. The direction of much of the church in the US is individualistic focused on conversion while the biblical framework deals with corporate concerns and how redemption touches every inch of creation. 
  5. Daniel (our most recent sermons) tells a tale of two cities: Babylon and the city of God.  Babylon is built on self-enhancement while the city on a hill constructed by Jesus Christ is an alternative countercultural setting to proclaim through theology and show through our lives how Christians use sex, money, and power in a different way.  It also reframes bitter debates about race and class to a biblical ethic. 
  6. Christians should integrate their faith and work.
  7. Southern Baptists have a group in Washington D.C. (The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) that deals with ethical issues.

Much of my research for my doctoral dissertation dealt with the relationship that Christians should have with culture.  I’ll not bore you with the title (it’s too long and way too academic), but the subject matter is of utmost importance.  Two statements espoused all the time summarize the extremes:

“Just preach the Bible and leave politics alone.”

“What difference does it make what the Bible says – we just need to love each other.”

The first allows the pendulum to swing too far by removing the church as salt and light from the surrounding community.  The world is hopelessly corrupted by sin and the church is a fortress that needs the Kingdom of God to supersede the world.  The catch phrase is “come out of the world and be ye separate.”  This model is fundamentally not “of the world”, but they are not “in the world” except to raise their bullhorn and stridently protest.

The second identifies Christ with culture and so identifies with the ethos of the surrounding spirit of the age that it equates the Kingdom of God with the surrounding culture.  German Christians en masse did this prior to WWII.  This model is completely immersed “in the world” but they are also “of it”. 

My recent foray through Daniel suggests the mandate in Jeremiah 29 to seek the welfare of the city the exiles were called to entails a mandate to engage in politics.  Politics is rooted in the city and the citizen.  Politics are assumptions about how things are done.  The way things are done around here is a political action (office politics are an example).  Unfortunately, the whole idea of politics has been tainted by a negative connotation and connected to identity politics and political parties.

God (in Romans 13) ordains worldly institutions and Daniel demonstrates a model that maintains living out the distinct values of the Kingdom of God while seeking to engage the tensions involved in participating in culture because the Kingdom of God is among us.  Who among us does not want our world to reflect the enduring hope of our Heavenly Father, the atoning love of Jesus Christ, and the life-giving faith of the Holy Spirit?  I think complete disengagement from the way things are done (the original definition of politics) violates the command of Jesus to live as salt and light.  On the other hand, attempts to meld Jesus to political parties and identity issues are an exercise fraught with danger. 

What we should seek are biblical answers to complex questions:
1.     Should Christians practice civil disobedience?  When?  Where?
2.     How should the gospel impact our views on dating, marriage, and divorce?
3.     When salvation occurs what is the implications for my daily life?
4.     Is war ever ok?
5.     What about capital punishment?
6.     How can the arts glorify God?
7.     In what ways do we emulate our culture when we should try to change it?
8.     Should Christian musicians sing secular music?
9.     How should I evaluate media?
Most people have opinions on many of these issues.  The question is how many are biblically informed.   My hope is after the coming series we’ll be better equipped to EVALUATE and LIVE OUT our consciences and our faith based on biblically informed positions. 
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Joe Stewart