Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Different Kind of Liberation Theology

Most of the church would agree that what is known as Liberation Theology is really premised on political ideology clothed in religious terms and is by no means an accurate presentation of the Gospel.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is not even truly a Christian idea.  It may invoke the name of Jesus and use Christian terms, but it applies the teaching of Scripture in novel and Biblically unsustainable ways.  That said, there is another kind of Liberation Theology that is taught by those who generally reject what we commonly associate as Liberation Theology.  We may not call it by the same name, but it is just as much using political ideology to hijack Christianity to create a political change.  While I may agree with them politically in most of their beliefs, we can not attach it to the Gospel.  Today I want to talk about what I would call Conservative Liberation Theology and I will start with a Scripture they love to hate and even write entire books on how to twist the plain meaning of this one Scripture.

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

One of the most vocal progenitors of this idea is Pastor Chuck Baldwin.  Let me preface this by saying that I have a lot of respect for Pastor Baldwin and I agree with him politically in most areas.  Where I disagree, though, is tying it to Christianity.  He wondered out loud in his column last week as to how many pastors across the nation were preaching against gun control from their pulpits.  He bemoaned that many were not.  Of course, one could ask home how many times he presents the Gospel in his weekly column, but I digress.  He seems to feel that we all have some Christian duty to stand up for gun rights, smaller government, Constitutional idealism, and political freedom and liberty. 

When I look at Jesus and the writings of the New Testament, I can not find anywhere where these ideas are taught.  Even more, when those epistles and Gospels were written, Christians (and even Jews) were living under a level of tyranny we could not even begin to comprehend in America.  Think about it, Jesus was literally humiliated, tortured, scourged, and nailed to a cross and left to die for committing no crime.  He was killed for who He claimed to be.  As for the rest, we know Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel, tradition tells us that Peter was crucified upside down, John the Baptist and others were beheaded, and as the church grew martyrs suffered such horrific deaths as being boiled in oil, torn to shreds by wild animals, and burned alive just to name a few. 

In other words, back when the instructions to the church were written, Christians did not even have the right to be Christian and many paid the ultimate price for their faith.  In that context, let us examine how they were told to react through their persecution to help us understand how we are to react in what we call persecution.  This lesson starts with Jesus and His instructions in the Sermon on the Mount.  I begin there because Jesus gives a very direct example of government persecution and what our reaction should be.

And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  Matthew 5:41 NKJV

When Jesus spoke this verse, it was legal and common practice for a Roman soldier to compel any Jewish person for any reason and at any time to carry his stuff for a mile.  Just imagine going about your day and a soldier comes up to you and says "Carry my stuff."  and you were compelled to stop whatever you were doing at a moment's notice to do so.  I am sure we would write letters, have protests, complain about not enough Christians preaching about it, etc, but Jesus tells us something different. He tells us to not only comply but to do more than what was asked.  If this does not sting at the pride of any man I do not know what will.  However, that is what Jesus tells us to do.  We are not to resist oppression, but subject ourselves to it as a means to preaching and witnessing the Gospel.  Jesus makes that abundantly clear when he makes this statement:

But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  Romans 5:44-45 NKJV

Will we be used, taken advantage of, trampled over, and persecuted as Christian?  Yes, we will.  Our reaction, though, is not to resist it, but to live with it.  We not called to fight back (in fact, Jesus just got done telling us to turn the other cheek), we are not called even to work to change the laws.  We are called to preach the Gospel.  Nothing is ever more important than that.  Let us now look at an example of how the apostles responded when they faced persecution:

And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten [them], they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  Acts 5:40-41 NKJV

When the apostles suffered for Jesus, they did not complain, start a campaign, run for office, start a political party, or preach change of government.  What they did was rejoice.  They rejoiced in that they were worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.  This is a far cry from how many of us respond to today's "persecution." 

Many will argue that they are only fighting for rule of law.  They will argue that the Constitution is the true government and Romans 13 means an allegiance to that document and not those sworn to uphold it.  There are two problems with that argument.  Romans tells us to be subject to people, not paper.  Furthermore, our Lord was tried and convicted at an illegal trial.  Did He complain or did He submit Himself to its outcome?  Another great example is Stephen.  It was illegal for the Jews to execute anyone (which is why even Jesus had to be brought before Pilate), yet Stephen was taken and executed without Roman involvement.  Did Stephen complain about his rights?  We all know that neither Jesus nor Stephen called them out on the illegality of their actions, but asked for God's forgiveness upon those who were persecuting them. 

And, before I close, I need to address gun rights.  I see nothing in Scripture addressing gun rights.  Surely there was no such thing as guns at the time the New Testament was written, but I see nothing about sword rights either.  In fact, the only example I can think of where a sword was used by a Christian was when Peter struck off the ear of one of those who came to arrest Jesus.  Peter was scolded for his actions, not commended.  Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, to love those who hate us, to bless and do good to those who hate us.  I do not see how shooting anyone can fulfill any of those commands. 

Perhaps you feel you have a compelling reason to own a gun.  Jesus did tell his apostles to buy a sword when going into the world to preach, but we must take that Scripture in the light of other Scripture.  History and Scripture tell is that the heroes of our faith did not resist persecution, but rejoiced in it.  Jesus already told us that we are not to resist an evil person, that we are to turn the other cheek, and that we are to love our enemies.  This idea that we are told to take a sword to kill others is not consistent with the teachings of Jesus or the examples given to us in Scripture of the early church.  One can perhaps make the argument that taking the ultimate action against another is righteous when defending your own life or the lives of others, but even that is an area in which we must be careful.  The defense of life is one thing but vengeance is an entirely different thing as we must be careful we are not crossing that line. 

The fact is that our commission is to make disciples of all the nations.  Everything we do must be done in that context.  There is no need for gun rights, constitutional idealism, limited government, or anything else for that matter for that to happen.  The fact is that we have the commandment to subject ourselves to government, even an oppressive government.  The only exception to that rule is when government tells us do either do something against our faith or forbids us to do something God commands us to do.  Even in those exceptions, the example in Scripture from Daniel through John was to accept the temporal consequences for our actions of faith.  Daniel went into the lions den, the three brave young Jews went into the fiery furnace, Stephen went out to be stoned, Paul suffered multiple and tremendous persecutions, and Jesus went willingly to the cross.  That is our example and one we would be wise to follow. 

Form of government is not important in fulfilling the Great Commission.  The Gospel has spread in tyrannical as well as free nations.  In fact, many times, the Gospel has spread even better in nations ruled under the harshest of tyranny.  While you may hold views on a political level, it is not a cause for the church.  Making it so only serves to make those who teach this as guilty as those who teach Liberation Theology.  I get that we all want freedom from government oppression, but we have to look at the Scriptural way of attaining that freedom.  God used tyranny many times as a tool.  This is especially true in Judges.  The people would stray and God would allow a tyrannical government to overtake them and rule over them.  When the time came again for freedom, the answer was not a political movement, a plea for constitutional idealism, arguing for gun rights, running for office, holding pickets and protests, writing their oppressors a nasty letter, or anything else political.  The answer was always repentance and turning back to God.  That was always what God was waiting for and always what turned God to remove that oppression.  That brings us back to where the church began.  Its funny, we try to add so much to the Gospel but in the end it always comes back to the Gospel.  We should not be preaching gun rights, civil rights, corruption, conservatism, liberalism, or anything of the like.  The answer to any perceived tyranny is repentance and the only way to repentance is Jesus.  In the meantime, as we live under a government that is ever-encroaching into our lives, the answer is not to resist but to remember the first command Jesus gave when asked what it took to follow Him.  That command was to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  As for government, let God deal with that, we have more important things to do. 

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, [and] giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this [is] good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  1 Timothy 2:1-4 NKJV

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