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How Should Christians Respond to Violations of Their Rights?

Kevin DeYoung has a new post up today that addresses the question, “Is It Wrong For Christians to Defend their Rights?” This is an excellent question to explore especially in light of several issues around the country related to religious liberty. The subpoena of Houston pastors for their sermons and speeches by Mayor Annise Parker and the threat of arrest and fines to pastors who operate a wedding chapel in Idaho for refusing to perform gay marriages are just two examples of how pressing this question is.

DeYoung outlines four points from the closing chapters of the book of Acts and concludes that the Apostle Paul “would keep preaching the Christian gospel. He would keep on defending the religious and legal legitimacy of the Christian faith. And he would not believe for a moment that the two tasks were aimed at different ends.”

I agree. Last Sunday, I attempted to answer a similar question in my sermon: “What should gospel-proclaiming Christians do in response to the violation of our rights?”

Our text for that morning was Acts 16:35–40. Paul is on mission in Philippi when he is arrested and beaten and thrown into jail. Many are familiar with what happened while Paul was in jail: the story of the conversion of the Philippian jailer who asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” to which Paul responds, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30–31).

It is what happens the next day that may be less familiar. The magistrates of Philippi release Paul and Silas to quietly leave the city. What follows are comments from my sermon notes:

But, how does Paul respond? As an apostle of Jesus, does he just say, “thank you! I am grateful for whatever freedom and liberties you have granted me”? Does Paul, grateful for his freedom, quietly leave without making a scene? Does he say, “oh well, ‘turn the other cheek’ I guess”? No, look at what he does in verse 37:

But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out” (Acts 16:37).

When the magistrates ask them to just leave secretly and quietly, Paul responds with, “Absolutely not!” In no way would Paul quietly go in peace. In no way was Paul going to allow this miscarriage of justice to happen.

If a Roman official were to have done anything that is described in these verses—the public beating of a Roman citizen without a trial—they could be in great trouble. Such mistreatment may be done to non-Roman citizens without any recourse because they were not covered under Roman law. But to do that to a Roman citizen would be liable to severe punishment. Paul says, “you have thrown us, Roman citizens, in here, uncondmned.”

Notice what it says in verse 38:
“The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city” (Acts 16:37–40).

Those magistrates were terrified because they had broken their laws, Roman laws. Roman magistrates broke Roman laws. The ones appointed as officials over a society broke the rules that govern that society that they were sworn to uphold. Paul has a case. If Paul were to go public with this it could be very damaging to them. The magistrates could lose their jobs and even suffer punishments themselves, from Rome, from Caesar on down. That is why they are terrified. That is why they are afraid. They are in the wrong. They know they are in the wrong. And Paul knows they are in the wrong.

So back to my question: What should gospel-proclaiming Christians do in response to the violation of our rights? Do we just say, “oh well.” Or do we say, “wait, we have rights here”?

Paul refuses to leave quietly. Why does Paul do this? I believe Paul is doing this for the integrity of the church. Paul is doing this for the integrity of the gospel. He is claiming his rights. Now, Jesus had taught his followers that if someone who strikes you on the right cheek you should offer them the other one also. Someone might ask, “what about that? Isn’t that how Christians are supposed to respond when mistreated?” They would say that turning the other cheek is what Christians are to do when attacked or persecuted. I would say that that is exactly what Paul did. He was beated with rods and he did not fight back. He was saying, “If you want to beat me with sticks, fine. But if you want to beat me for Jesus and then tell me to shut up and go my own way? You want to bring disrepute to the name of Christ and to his church in this city and you want me to say nothing about it? You want to break the Roman laws and then force me to accept that without claiming my rights as a Roman citizen? Absolutely not!”

Paul’s refusal to leave the city and demanding an official escort by the magistrates is calling them out on their abuse of power. The magistrates themselves are goverened by an authority and they themselves violated that authority in their treatment of Paul. That is why they were “afraid” when they found out that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. For Christians to seek protections, even to demand protections, entitled to them under the law is not an “un-Christian” thing to do. Let me say that again: For Christians to seek the protections that are entitled to them under the laws in which they are governed is not an “un-Christian” thing to do. It isn’t “un-Jesus-like.” Now, how you say it may be un-Jesus-like. Your posture in how you demand it might be un-Jesus-like. But to claim the rights themselves is not an un-Christlike thing to do. Paul was claiming the rights entitled to him as a Roman citizen. We can claim the rights entitled to us, especially our rights of religious liberty and freedom of speech. No matter how well-meaning, to quietly stand by as religious liberties and freedom of speech rights are threatened does not in any way represent Jesus, was not the practice of the Apostle Paul, and is not acceptable in our mission and witness in the world. In the same way Paul was claiming his rights, we have the freedom to demand that our sermons not be monitored, or suboenaed as if they were not protected as free speech, or as if they were subject to the governmental oversight. We can stand up for our religious liberty.

… We can and should stand up for religious liberty and freedom of speech. But let us not only stand up for the freedom of speech but to actually do the speaking for which we seek the freedom. If we are going to defend the freedom of speech and the freedom to preach and proclaim the gospel then let us proclaim the gospel!

As Christians, it is perfectly appropriate to leverage the laws and freedoms and responsibilities that we have. It is in no way un-Christian or not “Jesus-like” to claim our rights. But lets do so not as an end to itself. Let us not pursue our religious liberties and our freedom to speak just because we have them. Let’s pursue them because they are tools for us to proclaim the gospel, which is the most important thing.

… Friends, may we have the courage of our conviction to defend our religious freedom and our freedom to speak, but let us do so as an opportuntity and a platform so that Christ is honored, that the church’s reputation is maintained. This is a fine walk for us as Christians but we must do it.

“It’s John Brooks! It’s John Brooks!”

Its been two days… and I am still on a high.

Monday, in the 86th minute of the USA’s FIFA World Cup match with recent nemesis Ghana, substitute John Brooks’ header sealed the win.

Here is a video compilation of reactions to that moment from various places (including both Grand Rapids, MI and my hometown, Bakersfield, CA):

The US Men’s National Team next faces Portugal on Sunday, June 22 at 6:00pm.

Jesus Saves Culpable Disturbers of Shalom?

I’ve recently discovered Rob Bell’s 59-part blog exposition of how he views the Bible. The whole series is probably worth comment but to do so would take more time than I am presently able. But I am compelled to comment on at least his most recent offering (as of this writing). In the post titled “What is the Bible? Part 59: Sin” Bell gives his interpretation of doctrine of sin.

In it Bell utilizes Cornelius Plantinga’s definition: “Sin is culpable disturbance of shalom.” After breaking down his understanding of each of the three principal terms in that definition he continues:

“Sin is anything we do to disrupt the peace and harmony God desires for the world. Here’s the problem with how many understand the word: When sin is understood primarily in terms of breaking or violating or disobeying there’s no larger context to place it in. There’s whatever you did or didn’t do, and then there’s God’s anger or wrath or displeasure with you. But when you place it in the larger context of the good, the peace, the shalom that we all want for the world, then it starts to make way more sense. Of course I’m guilty of disturbing shalom, is there any sane person who wouldn’t own up to that?”

Sin, for Bell, is not a personal violation or rebellion against a personal God but an interruption of an inanimate idea or concept. To be sure, a “culpable disturbance of shalom” may be one of many consequences of sin. But, with all due respect to Dr. Plantinga, that certainly must not be the definition of sin. Bell’s utilization of Plantinga’s definition minimizes the personal aspect of sin as a personal assault to God’s character. As D. A. Carson has keenly pointed out, Plantinga’s definition of sin is weak precisely on this point:

“Of course, God is comprehended within Plantinga’s definition: sin includes the rupture of the relationship between God and human beings. Yet this does not appear to make God quite as central as the Bible makes him. In [Leviticus 19], for example, where God enjoins many laws that constrain and enrich human relationships, the fundamental and frequently repeated motive is “I am the LORD,” not “Do not breach shalom.” When David repents of his wretched sins of adultery, murder, and betrayal, even though he has damaged others, destroyed lives, betrayed his family, and corrupted the military, he dares say, truthfully, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps 51:4). The majority of the approximately six hundred OT passages that speak of the wrath of God connect it not to the destruction of shalom, but to idolatry—the de-godding of God. Human sin in Gen 3 certainly destroys human relationships and brings a curse on the creation, but treating this comprehensive odium as the vandalism of shalom makes it sound both too slight and too detached from God. After all, the fundamental act was disobeying God, and a central ingredient in the temptation of Eve was the incitement to become as God, knowing good and evil” [emphasis added].

But this is not the greatest problem with Bell’s post. Bell goes on to make several statements about sin that are worth our attention.

Firstly, Bell states, “In the New Testament, there’s only one kind of sin: The kind that God has forgiven in Christ.”
But such an assertion is demonstrably false. Jesus clearly demonstrated that forgiveness of sins depended on how one responded to him: “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24 ESV). Elsewhere Jesus declares that “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt 12:31–32). Setting aside the discussion about what is meant by blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, it is clear that Jesus sees more than one kind of sin and that the distinction is that one is forgivable and one is not.

Secondly, Bell says, “In the New Testament, we are not identified first and foremost as sinners, but as saints.”
Since Bell is talking about one’s identity, the question needs to be asked, Who is Bell talking to in his post: Believers in Christ or everyone? No one is a saint in the New Testament apart from their faith in Christ. The term for saints is used in the address of letters to churches, groups of believers. James informs his readers “that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). Such an exhortation makes no sense apart from the fact that the New Testament does divide all people into two groups: those who have placed their faith in Christ and are saved (saints) and those who have not (sinners, ungodly, etc.).

Thirdly, Bell says, “In the New Testament, people are taught first who they are in Christ, because the more you know about who you are, the more you’ll know what to do.”
To be sure, Christians are to “consider [themselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11). But in context this is only true for those who have been united with Christ by faith as is signified in baptism (cf. Rom 6:1–10). The glorious truth that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23) comes to those who trust in Christ: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…” (Rom 3:21–25).

What is most troubling in Bell’s discussion of sin is the lack of the necessity of repentance and faith. Bell does get around to mentioning the cross of Christ in the last paragraph. But a close reading of his whole post shows that forgiveness of sins for Bell is universally and unilaterally granted. This of course is hardly surprising given the trajectory of Bell’s theology. Mankind’s problem, according to Bell, is that we simply don’t realize what is already true about us: that we are already forgiven and accepted and saved even without repentance and trusting in Christ. This is a lie and, like the false prophets of old, erroneously assures those who do not turn to Christ that they already have peace when there is no peace (cf. Jer 6:13–14; 8:10–11). Jesus himself stressed the need for repentance: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Jesus commissioned the apostles to proclaim repentance for forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:46–48), which Luke records that the early church did in fact do (cf. Acts 2:38; 3:19–20; 5:31–32). Even Paul’s commission to the nations included repentance for forgiveness (Acts 26:16–18). And this is the message for us today. Bell’s “gospel” neglects this key component.

Jesus didn’t die merely for culpable disturbers of shalom, he was crucified for sinners; personal and volitional enemies of God (Rom 5:10). All who repent and believe in Christ are saved from their sin. But, as Jesus himself said, “unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).

 

Whole Salvation and All Its Parts are Comprehended in Christ

Over at Scriptorium Daily is an excellent post by Fred Sanders on one paragraph from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. It is a paragraph that takes the work of Jesus Christ as outlined in the Apostle’s Creed and draws out the practical benefits (implications) of every aspect of Christ’s work for salvation.

The paragraph from Calvin is below followed by a selection of Sanders comments (notice all the “ifs”).

“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him.” If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects that he might learn to feel our pain. If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other” (Institutes 2.16.19).

Sanders:

“The setting is Book II, chapter 16. He has just worked through the life of Christ following roughly the order of the Apostles’ Creed, which he says he has followed “because it states the leading articles of redemption in a few words, and may thus serve as a tablet in which the points of Christian doctrine, most deserving of attention, are brought separately and distinctly before us.” Then, after having analyzed how each aspect of Christ’s work is effective for us and our salvation, Calvin delivers this comprehensive summary: … [cf. the above paragraph]…

“Somewhere along the way in that central sentence, the alert reader notices that the flow of thought comes from the familiar key terms of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed: cross, descent into hell, resurrection. It’s the story of Jesus, but specifically it’s in the concise narration of the creed. What Calvin is doing in this elaborate sentence is taking the points of the creed and drawing out their soteriological implications. Each of these actions of Christ has saving power, and Calvin names each of them in turn, with his if-then structure: If we seek redemption, then it’s in the passion; if we seek eternal life, then it is to be found in his resurrection, etc.” (emphasis mine).

Let us let us drink our fill from this fountain of Christ, and from no other, indeed! Soli Deo Gloria!

Read the whole thing here [~1,500 words].

 

For reference, here is the Apostle’s Creed (~third or fourth century):

I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into Hell [lit., Hades];
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic Church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. Amen.
(from Lang, David, ed., Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms, Version 2.2, Accordance electronic ed. by OakTree Software, Inc., 2006.)

 

World Vision Reverses Decision: What Will the Liberals Do?

What an interesting 48 hours it has been.

On Monday, World Vision USA announced it was changing its employee policy to include same-sex married persons.

This was met with a strong response in many sectors (I noted only a few here).

The responses to the responses generated plenty of heated reaction from progressive Christians.

But with World Vision’s reversal, the question must be asked: Will the liberal Christians who praised World Vision’s initial decision and heaped scorn on conservative Christians who opposed it turn that criticism back to World Vision? Will those who called supporters of traditional marriage unloving, bigoted and vile now say the same about World Vision for returning to their “commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage”? Will those who were critical of conservatives for maintaining that the Bible is clear on all sexual immorality (including but certainly not limited to homosexual acts), now object to World Vision’s “strong commitment to Biblical authority”?

It is my hope that they won’t. In the same way that there were (rightly!) calls to continue to support the amazing good that World Vision does despite their original decision, I hope there will be calls for continued (and increased!) support in the aftermath of their reversal. But I also hope that those who praised World Vision’s initial decision will also listen carefully to their reasoning for their change.

Here is World Vision’s explanation (via CT):

Dear Friends,

Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.

In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.

We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.

While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.

Please know that World Vision continues to serve all people in our ministry around the world. We pray that you will continue to join with us in our mission to be “an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.”

Sincerely in Christ,

Richard Stearns, President

Jim Beré, Chairman of the World Vision U.S. Board