Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Lord Gives and The Lord Gives Away, Even Our Rights

This week I read a column and heard an interview with Pastor Chuck Baldwin.  I respect him and I know he has done much for the church and I know that he is passionate about our freedoms.  I used to enjoy reading his columns, but recently I have grown more and more troubled by the things that he has said.  I do not know if this is his true personal conviction, but his actions and writings have put the message of American freedom over and above the message of the Gospel.  Specifically, he made comments regarding his preference of people who are more politically in line with him than they are theologically aligned.  He is not alone as many also hold to this error.  They try to reinterpret Romans 13 into some kind of call for freedom and go on to say that the passage in question has been used by tyrants throughout history to keep the church in line.  I have posted on this topic before, but today I am going to address it again.  I think it is that important because the solution to our nation is not preaching constitutional freedom or theories of natural law, but the solution is changed hearts through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  First let us read Romans 13.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to [execute] wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore [you] must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes [are due], customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.  Romans 13:1-7 NKJV
Personally, I think this passage is quite clear.  I do not know how some can say that it means anything other than what it says.  We are supposed to submit to governing authorities and it gives no provision for us to pick and choose which governments to obey.  Furthermore, considering this was written to Roman Christians who were living under persecution from a tyrannical government, I do not say how one can say that this does not apply to a tyrannical government.  Did Paul write this to the Romans but not mean it for them?  He certainly was not stirring them up to any kind of rebellion!  Even Jesus submitted Himself to the civil authority of the Roman government.  Even Jesus said that we should pay our taxes and there is no Scriptural reference to Jesus or any of the apostles ever throwing a tea party.  Will some governments use this passage to keep Christians under some kind of tyranny?  Of course, and even God said that would happen so long as we choose man to rule over us.  But the Bible does not say blessed are the revolutionaries or blessed are the rebellious, but the Bible says blessed are the meek.

Now we also have to ask if the Bible promises civil freedom?  I think the best way to look at this is to look at what the Bible says regarding the most extreme lack of freedom that there is, that being slavery.
Were you called [while] a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use [it].For he who is called in the Lord [while] a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called [while] free is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.  1 Corinthians 7:20-23 NKJV
Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether [he is] a slave or free.  Ephesians 6:5-8 NKJV
I can also add the whole book of Philemon when Paul sends Onesimus back to his master to ask permission to be free.  If slaves are not promised earthly freedom from a master who literally owns them as property, how can one say that the Bible teaches any kind of earthly freedom?  I am not saying that freedom is not desirable, but it is not a promise of God.  The freedom we are promised in Scripture is the freedom from sin and condemnation of the Law of God and it is not freedom from man.  One day we will be free from man, but until that day, we are subject to the authority of man. 

So where does this leave the theory of Natural Law, the theory by which our rights are bestowed upon is by God by virtue of us being human.  Am I preaching positivism, that being the idea that our rights are given to us by government?  The answer is not so cut and dry.  I do believe our rights are given to us by God, but what rights we have are a measure of what God allows for us.  In other words, our rights are given to us by God, but it is not an absolute gift.  Whereas we can not "lose" our salvation, we can lose our rights.  God can take them away as a measure of chastisement and that chastisement can be personal chastisement or national chastisement.  Any reading of just about any of the Old Testament historical books shows that playing out time and time again.  It can also be as a measure to purify the church.  We all know that the blood of our martyrs who faced persecution with amazing grace and faith in God was a large part in spreading the early church throughout the world.  We even see that true today where the refining fires of tyranny have led to amazing awakenings in the darkest of nations.  Did those awakenings lead to freedom?  Very rarely does that happen.  Are we to say that those churches lack faith?  I quite honestly dare any one of you to challenge the faith of a man who holds to the faith in the face of death and torture, even by those he once called friends and family. 

So what is our personal responsibility? Am I saying that we are to obey man's laws no matter what?  No, I am not.  There is a law that supersedes man's law and that is the law of God.  If man tells us to do something that the Bible tells us not to or if man tells us not to do something that the Bible tells us that we are to do, then we are not to obey.  For example, there is Daniel who when a law was passed saying not to pray, he prayed anyway.  We have those three brave young men who faced the fiery furnace rather than bow down to Nebuchadnezzar.  We have the apostles who preached Jesus despite what the ruling authorities told to them.  The overriding principal is that we are not obey God rather than man.  That said, there is a small catch to that idea.  We are to obey God rather than man, but we are still to face (with grace) and submit to man's consequences for our actions.  Daniel went willingly into the lion's den, the three brave young men stepped into the fiery furnace, the apostles submitted to imprisonment and even execution.  So even in our righteous disobedience, there is still a measure of submission in that we accept whatever penalties man proscribes for our violations of their laws. 

I am not saying that living under tyranny is desirable.  We all have a desire to live in freedom.  We all want a freedom to express our minds, worship our God, travel where we want, or do just about everything else we think we should do or we want to do.  Now any freedom we receive from God has to be taken with the attitude that it is the freedom to do what we should do and not merely what we want to do, but even that freedom is something we strive for.  I do believe that desire for freedom is given to us by God.  That is why we want freedom from the law, freedom from sin, and freedom from condemnation.  It is also why tyranny is so hard to us to handle.  But as we watch our government become more and more tyrannical in our country, we really need to consider how we respond.  Do we rebel or preach about the Bill of Rights and Constitution?  Is the solution to our nation's problems found in the Federalist Papers or the Declaration of Independence?   No, that's not what we do and that is not where we find the answers.  When we are preaching about the freedom of speech or religion, we are not preaching the Gospel.  When we are talking about what this or that politician did, we are not preaching the gospel. When we are reading the Constitution or Bill of Rights to people, we are not sharing with the the inerrant Word of God but the fallible word of man. The answer is found in God's word and the solution is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

When we read about the times when God's people were held under tyranny, it was pretty much always because they were under the chastisement of God.  The book of Judges is a great example of this.  The people would forget about God and turn to foreign gods and God would send an enemy nation to put them under bondage.  It took time, but eventually the people got the point, repented of their ways and turned to God, then God sent them a deliverer.  The solution to our nation's problems is not to elect fallible men who promise to uphold some document written by fallible men, but for our nation to turn to God and build our individual lives on the foundation of the Word of God.  Until our nation turns to God, there is no political movement that can save us.  We will continue on our slide to tyranny. The only hope for our nation is for this nation to turn to Jesus. 

I will agree with the column I read on one point, and that point being that the saving of America begins at the pulpits.  I do not agree that it means preachers preaching a political message because all that does is remind people that tyranny is not fun.  It does not solve the problem.  Our nation is under the chastisement of God and the way to lift the growing burden of tyranny is to turn to God.  There is no document, no Supreme Court justice, no member of congress or the senate (even if their last name is Paul), no tea parties, and no president who can save us.  We will continue to receive the leaders that God thinks we deserve and we will continue to lose the freedoms that God chooses to allow to be taken from us.  God even empowers evil leaders to do His bidding on earth.  Just look at what the wicked Babylonians did to God's chosen people. 

What we need to do is stop complaining about the hardships we face.  I understand we are worried for our future, but is your future in Obama's hands or in God's hands?   But that is what we do, we complain and complain about this politician and that politician and whine about this law or that ruling.  I need to ask, though, as to where in the Bible it says that we should sit around complaining about our present circumstances.   It never does.  In fact, it says quite the contrary.  We are to rejoice in all things. We are to show the grace and joy that Jesus has given to our lives even in the midst of the worst of tyranny.  This is not our home.  We are merely ambassadors from a far away land.  We need to exist in this world, but it is not our world.  Our world is the world to come and our goal is to bring as many people there with us as we can. And not only is that what we should be doing for the kingdom to come, but it is the best thing we can do for the world we live in now.  We can not change the heart of America, but God can change the hearts of Americans.  If that happens, then there is no telling what God can do with this nation. 
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  2 Chronicles 7:14 NKJV

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