Based on my teaching to the
singles ministry at
Cherry Hills Community Church,
Highlands Ranch, Colorado, on November 22, 1998.
(Don't be scared by the length of this. It took about 35 minutes to deliver.)
II. The Theology of the Constitution
III. Christianity and Freedom
IV. Can Government Make Us Better People?
V. Have We No King But Caesar?
VI. Can We Elect a King?
VII. The Way of the Dirty Hippy
Thank you very much for joining us. We are going to be discussing a lot of contemporary and political issues today. So before we go to work, I would like to mention three subjects we will not discuss. At the risk of sounding super negative, I hope this is a welcome relief.
First, we will not be discussing abortion. The issue is so emotionally charged that if we get just the wrong question, it will derail this entire teaching. Second, we will not discuss party politics or elections. I am not going to tell anyone who they should have voted for in the last election, or who they should vote for in 2000. I am not even going to mention my own party affiliation.
Third, we are not going to talk about that man in the White House. (This is how a lot of Republicans referred to Ranklin Fineo Doosevelt.) We are not going to talk about his policies or his scandals. Furthermore, we will not even mention his name. In the event that we have to refer to him, we will do this by one of two names. The first may be familiar to you if you listened to Oliver North's old radio talk show. Colonel North frequently referred to him as Our Beloved POTUS. POTUS is an acronym for President Of The United States. The second name we will use is His Royal Bubbness. This is very obviously a play on His Royal Badness, whom I cannot call by name anymore, because he does not have a name anymore.
Please turn in your Bibles to I Samuel 8:4-20.
"So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, 'You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us such as all the other nations have.'
"But when they said 'Give us a king to lead us,' this displeased us Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: 'Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them, but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.'
"Samuel told all the words of the Lord to all the people who were asking him for a king. He said, 'This is what the King who will reign over you will do: he will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.'
"But the people refused to listen to Samuel. 'No' they said. "We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and to fight our battles.' "
Many years ago, the famous comedian W.C. Fields suggested a contest in which the winner would receive one week in Philadelphia. The second place prize would be two weeks in Philadelphia.
I was reminded of this earlier in the week when I was writing this. I do not have an exciting story for you. Rather, I have two rather boring stories.
The first took place in England in December 1932, when King George V went on the BBC to deliver the first Royal Christmas Broadcast. When he was delivering this message, he coughed. This caught the attention of many people. One of these was a reporter for the Spectator, who wrote that, "A king who coughs is certainly a fellow human being."
The second took place about 38 years later in Washington, DC. Charles Colson tells this story in his superlative book Kingdoms in Conflict. On a rather brisk December evening, Colson, who was then special counsel to President Richard Nixon, was walking across the White House lawn with the president, who was offering up some views on leadership. President Nixon said, "The people really want a leader a little bigger than themselves, don't they, Chuck?" Colson agreed. "I mean someone like (the French President) de Gaulle. There's a certain aloofness, a power exuded by great men that people feel and want to follow."
Both stories illustrate points about our attitudes toward our earthly rulers. We are always somehow refreshed when we see our president playing golf, or riding horseback, or buying a box of Girl Scout cookies, or, as happened last week, losing a bet to his VPOTUS in the aftermath of the Tennessee-Arkansas football game. At the same time, we want our president to be somewhat above the fray.
Both attitudes about the presidency are off base both in terms of Scripture and in terms of the Supreme Law of our Republic, the United States Constitution. Even if you see the with hatred for this guy, and your sole political focus lies in getting him out of office, your attitude is misguided.
It may seem as if I am digressing here, but please hang with me. God's finger prints are all over the United States Constitution. It is a flawed document, as it was written by mortal men. However, it is the most ingenious political document in the history of the world.
It combines the Founders' acknowledgment of the need for some government with their profound fear of the potential for abuse of power by those who wield it. If there is one thing that is certain in this life it is that man is a sinner. The greater power he has over his fellow man, the greater temptation there is for abuse of power. It is important to remember that the Constitution was written not long after the ouster of a "tyrant" who taxed his subjects at the rate of about five percent.
Therefore, it does not empower the the federal government to proactively create a perfect society, or even a Christian society. Rather, it severely restrains government so that we may live in a free society.
It restricts the power of the government in two ways. First, it places very strict limits on what government can do. Article I, Section 8, which spells out just about all of these activities, consists of 18 clauses and 431 words. There is no authorization here for a social security system, a welfare state, a federal role in education, or a federal role in medicine. There is no constitutional authorization for a war on drugs, a minimum wage, a federal commission on gambling, or for national parks. There was no direct taxation of the American people until the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913.
Second, it limits government through the separation of powers. We have three branches of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. No branch has the upper hand. If one branch steps out of line, the other branches have a duty to say "No!" to it. If two branches of government simply cannot agree on something, this is fine! It will not happen.
Six or seven years ago, all the network talking heads were decrying all the "gridlock" in Washington, DC. The president wanted one thing, Congress wanted another, and they just could not agree on anything. The Founders would have loved this. The Founders could not get enough gridlock!
The point in all of this is that next to nothing should happen in Washington, DC.
The implications of this for Christians are PROFOUND.
Very often on Sundays, the person leading us in prayer thanks God that we live in a land where we can gather and worship without fear of persecution. To be sure, we should be extremely grateful for this. However, this must not be where our expression of our faith should end. It overlooks our call to practice our faith in all aspects of our life.
If our faith ends at the church door, it is reduced to the role of a coat hanger in a hotel room. Recently, I was on a business trip in Oregon, and I noticed that the coat hangers there were constructed so that they could not be removed from the rod in the closet.
Is this the level to which we want to relegate our faith?
It is only in a free society that Christians can ask God for His guidance, hear His call, and simply walk forward and do His will without having to seek the blessing of the secular powers that be.
You cannot do this in a regimented society. Today the United States is just as regimented as many of the countries which we ridicule as being socialist.
Christians are not persecuted here to the extent that they are in other countries. However, we are routinely ridiculed and harassed. There are numerous ways in which we can advance the cause of Christ and build a better society which are severely restricted by a government which has grown out of control.
Consider how we educate our children (Proverbs 22:6), help the poor people (Luke 10:29-37), build strong families (Genesis 2:18-25), provide access to health care, and stand firm against immorality (Matthew 5:14).
There is no constitutional authority for federal intrusion into these areas. And yet Christians are almost as eager as secular folks to demand massive federal involvement here.
In a free society, we could do all of these things according to God's calling without interference from government.
In a free society, school prayer would not be a political issue, because education would not be a political issue. In a free society, you would keep almost all the money you earned. You would be able to take your money and educate your children at the school of your choice. The same goes in the event of home schooling. If you were unhappy with the quality of your children's education or if the morals being taught in their schools were unacceptable, you could simply remove your children from that school without having to get anyone's permission. Changing schools would be no more difficult than changing grocery stores or auto insurance providers.
Until about 1930, more American children were in private schools than in public schools. Separation of school and state was the order of the day.
In a free society, you would be able to give far more to organizations which actually help the poor and the legitimate victims in society, because you would not be taxed into the pavement for what I believe to be a godless welfare system. The entire welfare state is based on several unbiblical premises. First, Jesus tells us that, "The poor you will always have with you." (Matthew 26:11) Second of all, it is based on theft and envy, which are contrary to the Eighth and Tenth Commandments. (Exodus 20:15,17)
The government can make you pay taxes to support the welfare system, but it cannot make you love your neighbor. In fact, I would argue that, because we are being taxed so heavily to pay for so many people who do not deserve charity, the welfare state actually increases resentment toward the poor. This is a bad thing.
Consider how our oppressive tax burden destroys families. How many families does it force to become two-income families just because it makes it so difficult to make ends meet. I have no problem whatsoever with women in the work force. However, this should be a matter of personal choice rather than economic necessity. In two-income families the husband goes one way, the wife goes another way, the children are left in day care and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep families together.
Some of you are no doubt asking, "but didn't Jesus say, 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's'?" (Matthew 22:21) Indeed He did. However, He did not thereby give Caesar a blank check to do whatever Caesar willy-nilly feels. In fact, to support God's Kingdom, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God wants a cheerful giver." (II Corinthians 9:7)
Consider the numerous Scriptures about healing the sick, and consider how our government hampers access to medicine. The argument has been made that the Food and Drug Administration is the deadliest agency in our government. Why? Because in an effort to keep bad drugs off the market, it also keeps a lot of good drugs off the market. There are numerous medicines which are available in foreign countries, which are doing wonderful things for people and are saving thousands of lives. However, these drugs are not available in the United States. If an American wants them, he must go overseas. If he wants to bring them back to the United States, he risks criminal prosecution.
The real crime here is that you can go to jail for trying to obtain medicine which could save your life. There is no Christian objective fulfilled here whatsoever.
Consider our stand against immorality. In 1987, there was a Christian woman in California who had a rental property. An unmarried man and woman wanted to rent this property, and, well, play house there. The woman who owned it said that she did not approve of this behavior and that she would not rent this property to them. She very likely could have had no political motivation here.
Little did she know that, because of anti-discrimination laws, she would spend ten years in federal court. A federal appeals court ruled against her, and the Supreme Court refused to hear her case.
Someone asked me "what kind of government would possibly do this?" Well, I'll tell you. A dictatorship would do this. We do not live in Stalinist Russia, but we are slowly and calmly lurching toward a dictatorship in America.
The state can set up all kinds of behavioral standards, and threaten to haul us off to jail for violating these standards. However, all it ultimately has at its disposal is force.
There is no biblical promise that fine-tuning our political arrangements will make us better, more godly people. If the government could make us better people, the Prohibition of the 1920s would have ended alcohol use, the Drug War would have ended drug use, racial quotas and affirmative action would have ended racial strife, and gun control would have ended crime.
The sword that the state wields has a definite place when it comes to crimes like murder, rape, theft, and arson, as well as repelling invasions. This sword, however, is of little value when it comes to making us more compassionate and virtuous.
The sword that we Christians must rely on is wonderfully described in Hebrews 4:12-13. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double- edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit; joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."
This sword can be extremely powerful when it comes to our political and social affairs. This is not mere speculation. Consider the fact that it is perfectly legal for any of us to join the Ku Klux Klan. Why then is the Ku Klux Klan almost non- existent? Because so many of us have been convicted in our hearts that joining the Klan is wrong. We have been convicted that its history and philosophy are totally abhorrent.
In 1989, there was an highly controversial Supreme Court decision which struck down the flag desecration laws of 48 states. Yet, in a nation of over a quarter billion people public flag desecration happens only about 12 times a year. Why? Again, we have been convicted in our hearts that such behavior is stupid and juvenile. The prospect of social ostracism which would happen in light of such behavior is a far more powerful modifier of behavior than any law could be.
One hundred years ago, it was perfectly legal for a ten-year-old to walk into a drug store and buy heroin. And yet, we had nowhere near the drug problem we have today. Why? Because the church had a far stronger role in shaping our values, and people were convicted in their hearts that drug abuse was wrong.
Society places a fiduciary responsibility on the church to be salt in a world of decay and light in a world of darkness. We Christians are to be a beacon radiating God's light. We Christians are called to be a "city on a hill." (Matthew 5:13-14) It is also important to remember that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to a group of social outcasts and not to the National Prayer Breakfast.
Jesus never initiated force to achieve His objectives -- He had absolutely no political agenda. With this in mind, what makes us think that we can achieve our objectives through force? Especially in America in 1998.
The society in which we live is much like the society described in Ezekiel 12:2. God said to Ezekiel, "Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people." We live in a society in which millions of people simply do not care about God.
Oh sure, we can attempt to erect a political facade to make it look as if we are a godly society. But how much influence can we really expect to have through politics? Consider Isaiah 29:13 and Matthew 15:8-9. "These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is made up only of rules taught by men."
Governments can tell us what we should do and whom we should follow, but it cannot make us do what we do not want to do. Consider the examples of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist China, North Korea, and Cuber (as JFK called it). On a more polite level, we have seen the failure of Christian political activism, both left-wing and right-wing, here in America.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated political columnist, whose column appears in hundreds of newspapers across the country, including The Denver Post. He also appears as a commentator on CNN and CNBC. In the early 1980s, he was a member of the inner circle at the Reverend Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. In the last six years or so, he has written numerous columns expressing doubts about the ability of government to make us better people.
In one such column, he described how a First Century Roman official described the Christian community to the Roman Emperor Hadrian. "They love one another; they never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them; if they have something they give it freely to those who have nothing; if they see a stranger, they take him home and are happy as though he were a real brother."
Thomas continues: "There is power in that. Real power. The Church has the power to transform our nation into what most of us would like it to be. But it will not do so if it joins with another religious crowd that said almost 2000 years ago: 'We have no king but Caesar.'" (John 19:15)
Have we no king but Caesar?
I do not pretend to be morally superior to anyone here, but I often wonder how much emphasis we Christians put on our real King in our approach to social and political affairs.
In the year 2000, I will vote for the presidential candidate of my choice, I will encourage others to vote for this candidate, and I will send money to this candidate. However, I am under no illusion that, if elected, this candidate will have any ability to make me a better person, let alone make America a better country.
Over the next two years, Christians will join right in with the world and spend an outrageous amount of time, money, and energy trying to identify the candidate with the right tax policies, the right spending policies, the right education policies, the right social policies, the right foreign policy, and who will pick the right justices for the Supreme Court.
Well, in addition to limiting what the federal government can do, our Constitution similarly limits what the president can do. To be sure, the president can recommend laws, veto laws, and nominate judges and other federal officials. However, he can do next to nothing proactively without the approval of the House and Senate. He can recommend and nominate all he all he wants, but Congress has the power to reject all his nominees, and to refuse to pass into law any of his recommendations.
If 218 congressman vote against funding for sending American troops to Upper Slobovia, well, American troops will not go to Upper Slobovia. If 218 congressmen are seriously fed up with the IRS, they do not need to hold these ridiculous hearings like we had a few months ago. They can simply vote to defund it tomorrow morning. And then break for lunch!
Congress does not just have the right to stand in opposition to bad presidential policies. Congress has a duty to do this.
Another thing: the president cannot rule by executive order. There is no constitutional provision for this. Presidential executive orders are by definition unconstitutional.
And yet Christians have been just like the world in blowing the importance of the presidency entirely out of proportion. They have been very instrumental in fostering the myth that getting the wrong guy out of the Oval Office and the right guy in there will solve all our problems.
There is no promise that this will happen either in the Bible or the Constitution. We are therefore foolish to believe promises which come from anywhere else.
In the United States, we are blessed with a constitution which makes secular government as irrelevant as possible. It allows us to avoid Caesar and go straight to God with our problems. (Isaiah 33:22)
Charles Colson, in his book Kingdoms in Conflict, says that the key objective of Christians should not be so much to rule as to be ruled.
This may sound a little corny, but in Christ's Kingdom (John 18:36), we do not have to wait two years or four years to elect a leader. Every day, we have the opportunity to elect a king.
In Christ's Kingdom, the capital is not in any kind of conventional capital, such as Washington, London, Rome, or Jerusalem. Rather, it is in our hearts. (Isaiah 9:6)
This King will not force His way in, like the general of some invading army or admiral of some invading navy. He will not kick in your door like a DEA agent on a raid. Rather, he will stand outside, knock on the door, and enter by invitation only. (Revelation 3:20)
Not only can every day be Election Day, every day must be Election Day. As readily as we can elect Jesus as our King, we can impeach and convict Him at the drop of a hat.
It is just not Christian to get caught up in the adulation of political leaders. The ultimate expression of this mindset has lead to positively diabolical results. Consider the legacy of Hitler (der Fuhrer) in Germany, Mussolini (Il Duce) in Italy, Mao Tse-Tung (the Great Helmsman) in Red China, and Stalin (the vozhd) in Soviet Russia.
A historical note about Stalin. Adolf Hitler was not even Stalin's league as a mass murderer. While Stalin lay on his death bed, he used the last energy he had to feebly shake his fist at Heaven in one last act of defiance. Stalin cannot be considered an atheist. He spent -- no, wasted -- his entire life trying to eradicate God from every aspect of life in the Soviet Union, as well as many other countries. Why would go to such extremes to do this if he did not see God and God's people as a threat?
Matthew Baldwin is a Ph.D. student in theology at the University of Chicago, and an ordained Baptist minister. He hosts a rather unique web page entitled "The Dirty Hippy's Liberal Christian Home Journal." In it, he makes a rather compelling case that, if Jesus were to return today, He would be dismissed as a dirty hippy, and not at all taken seriously by the Christian establishment.
Jesus was homeless and poor. He lived day to day. He was not big on ritual and formality. He stood in fervent opposition to the ruling authorities. In short, He had none of the trappings of the world. The Scriptural basis for all of this can be found in Isaiah 52-53.
Our generation is much like the Jews during the time immediately before Jesus. They wanted a political savior. Today, we want someone to burst on to the scene in Washington and redeem us. This will not happen until Jesus returns and establishes His Kingdom. (Revelation 19) Unless I have missed something very important this morning, this has not yet happened.
The King whom we need to get excited about was not a war hero like many of our presidents. He was not the president of an Ivy League university like Woodrow Wilson. He was not drafted by the Green Bay Packers like Gerald Ford. And He was not a Rhodes Scholar like His Royal Bubbness.
I am going to conclude today with something you may have heard before. The author is anonymous, although I certainly wish I had written it. It wonderfully expresses the "unworldliness" of this King, and how He overcame everything which stood in His way.
He was the most famous and successful man who has ever lived. His teachings are followed by hundreds of millions of people. He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. Until He was 30, He worked in a carpenter shop, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He wrote no books. He held no office. He never owned a home. He was never in a big city. He never traveled 200 miles from the place where he was born. He never did any of the things that usually accompany greatness.
The authorities condemned His teachings. His friends deserted Him. One betrayed Him to His enemies for a paltry sum. One denied Him. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of clothing He owned on earth: His coat. When He was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.
Nineteen centuries have come and gone, yet today He is the crowning glory of the human race, the adored leader of hundreds of millions of the earth's inhabitants. All the armies that ever marched and all the navies that ever set sail and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned -- put together -- have not affected the life of man upon this earth so profoundly as that ONE SOLITARY LIFE.
Thank you and God bless you.
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