Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Separation of Spheres

I've stated my beliefs here about the involvement of Christians in civil government. I'm against it, generally speaking, believing that when Christ says "no man can serve two masters," that includes the established governmental authorities. The accusation that often gets leveled at such a statement is that this creates a "separation of spheres," that the life of a follower and lover of Christ is delineated from the life of a citizen of a nation.

Before I get into the bulk of my argument I want to make sure I do justice to the opposite side. I think that this is one of the foremost issues the American church faces today. I think the choice between allegiance to earthly systems and allegiance to Christ is a choice that more often than not has been one on which we've been wrong time and again.

But I return to my representation of those who believe a Christian can rightly, and has a responsibility to, participate in civil government. These would say that it is the duty
of every Christian to see to it that right is done in ever aspect of society, including government, that we must protect the innocent and punish the guilty and see to it that society remains a place where the gospel can be freely spread. They wish to preserve the rights of the defenseless, the unborn, children, the poor, etc. They wish to make our country a place that reflects the things important to God.

Let me begin by saying I admire their goals. I want our country to be a place that looks out for the defenseless and the disadvantaged, that celebrates freedom and reflects things that are important to God, too. I don't disagree at all with their aims. What I disagree with is the idea that these things can be achieved at a civil level with any sort of success, and that they ought to be pursued at that level.

I give you the civil rights movement. We have laws in place now which have in many ways created opportunities for black Americans that did not exist before, and on many levels we see success stories that before would not have been possible. And yet, by and large, what are the issues within the black culture? Gang violence, poverty, and fatherlessness. While the civil rights movement led to great opportunities for success legislatively, culturally it did very little.

I give you the death penalty. This seems more about retribution than about reducing crime. The death penalty is not a deterrent for one who makes a decision to take another human life. If one is at the point where they would consider that an option, chances are that they've already counted the cost and determined that it's worth the risk, or they think they'll get away with it, or they're just so furious they don't care. Killing them does nothing but feed our lust for revenge, although we tout it as justice and as a warning for others who might be considering murder.

These are only two examples of the shortcomings of legislation. Let me emulate the apostle Paul in Romans and answer my detractors now. Some will say to me, What? Should we just stop trying and let the world deteriorate around us? By no means! I do not ask for a separation of spheres, an us-versus-them, a Christian bubble that doesn't venture out into the world. I ask for a union of spheres, and a consistency in how we approach life as a believer. Let me give some examples of what I mean.

We say, "Jesus is the only one who offers hope." Then we ought to stop hoping in anything else to give any hope to the world, not presidents, governors, mayors, senators, or city council. They may have good ideas, maybe good legislation, and they may change a few things for the better, but they won't give hope.

We say, "In Christ, we are free." Then we ought to stop being afraid of repercussions for living in freedom and believing that a government can give us more freedoms. When Christ frees us, that freedom isn't just freedom from something, namely sin, but it's freedom to something, namely, obedience. We ought to live in complete obedience to the way He called us without fear of losing jobs, house, livelihood, family, security, or life! "If God is for us, who can be against us?...Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, sword?...No, in all things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us." (Rom. 8) We can obey Christ completely to the point of risking utter loss of everything on earth and still have more than any other person. Whether the government gives us this freedom is irrelevant. We have it from a higher power.

We say, "We're called to be in the world but not of it." Yet we involve ourselves so fully in the world's systems, buying health insurance that supports abortions, buying clothing that supports slavery, buying cars and fuel and food that supports starvation, excusing it because the alternatives are just too difficult, or would slow down our pace of life, or would create more uncertainty than we're comfortable with. We are called to be salt and light to our world, but when we're so tied up in the world's systems, how can they listen to us when we tell them what's wrong?

It comes down to this: We have indeed created a separation of spheres. We separate our belief in the all-sufficiency of Christ from our practice in the world. We create a sphere of spiritual belief and of material practice. We say one thing and do another.

We need to join our spheres under the leadership of the Lord Jesus. If we believe that He is the one hope, then why do we look to the world to give people hope? If we believe He is the one source of freedom, then why do we look to political and military systems to "promote freedom"? If we believe ourselves called to be salt and light, then why do we allow our light to be doused and our salt to lose flavor by allying ourselves with the world? We need to unite faith and practice, and allow our belief in the promises of God and the example of Jesus to permeate our actions. It makes no sense for one who claims to know the Almighty God to worry that if he stands up for what is right, he'll lose something. It makes no sense for someone who believes in a Christ who gives hope to offer hope through legislation or a government program. It makes no sense for one who follows a man, who though He had all authority, sought to separate Himself from the world's systems of authority, to involve ourselves in the systems our Lord avoided and condemned.

I recently watched a documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the depiction of the German church's reaction towards the Nazis and Hitler reminded me greatly of the American church's approach to patriotism/nationalism. Their utter devotion to the cause of the German nation caused many to turn a blind eye to the horrible wrongs Hitler committed. They thought he would restore their nation. They neglected to examine that the nation has no bearing on the kingdom.

I think we made the wrong choice by throwing our hope on George W. Bush, believing he would be the one to usher in a society more friendly to evangelical Christian goals. If anything the opposite has occurred, and we seem to be learning nothing from it. While I'm not trying to develop a comparison between Bush and Hitler by any stretch of the imagination, the correlations between the American church's blind acceptance of Bush and the German church's blind acceptance of Hitler raise some startling concerns about how far we let our loyalty to earthly kingdoms infect our devotion to the kingdom of heaven, our one and only allegiance.

"And now I show you a more excellent way." The alternative is this: we think critically about the calling we receive, and think critically about the systems in which we involve ourselves. There are ways out, if we're willing to pay the price. I truly say this as much to myself as to anyone else, since I also look for ways out of the systems in which I involve myself. We ought to strive to live like Jesus: attached to no earthly thing, in constant communion with God, and our whole lives devoted to loving those around us.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Worthless Crap

Another great witticism from Wondermark.

WWJD Christian Radio

A hilarious video. It reminds me so much of the radio station I grew up listening to: KTSL, Spirit Spokane, especially the commercial bits.