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Friday, July 28, 2006

Painting the Outside of the Tomb

I want to talk about a very touchy, emotional issue for a lot of people. I know this will be difficult to talk about tactfully, but I really feel like I can't hold back my opinion on this much longer. It has to do with the idea that it is the responsibility of Christians to make sure that morality is enforced by our government.

Now, I do realize that I have a couple of non-USA readers, so I want to apologize ahead of time to them for this decidedly US-centric post. But since I'm a citizen of the USA and I live here in the USA, and most of my readers...well, you get the idea.

Let me start with a little story. Last November or December, I was speaking to a Christian brother about someone we both knew who was unsaved. This third party also happened to be an admitted homosexual. The comment that my Christian brother made to me was with regard to trying to witness to this other person. He said, "How do you tell someone, 'Hey, I'd like you to worship my God, and oh, by the way, He totally disapproves of your lifestyle'?"

My response was rather simple: You don't. You witness to the Gospel, and you let the Holy Spirit do the convicting (John 16:8). Yet it seems that so many Christians in America are determined that we must make sure that sinners know that God hates their sin. And to make sure they know, we want to fight to pass legislation that makes it illegal for them to participate in their sin. And if they do choose to participate, we want to make sure that they get no civil or social benefits from their open rebellion against our God.

And this is where I fear we have missed the mark. In my opinion, legislating morality amounts to painting the outside of a tomb. It looks real nice on the outside, but it's still full of dead bones. And meanwhile, we have succeeded in telling people what we (and God) are against, without really sharing the Gospel with them to begin with.

Don't get me wrong. I believe the Bible when it says that homosexuality is unnatural behavior. But as some homosexuals have pointed out, why aren't we, as Christians, campaigning as actively to make divorce illegal as we are to make homosexual marriage permanently illegal? This is, in my opinion, a valid question.

Recently, I caught a snippet of Chuck Colson (I believe it was his Breakpoint program) commenting about the consitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and how we need to make sure that amendment still gets pushed through. He stated that we needed to stop this "attack on marriage".

Likewise, when I was discussing my thoughts about this with some other Christians, they said, "So you think we shouldn't stop gay people from getting married? What are you going to do when they tell you that your marriage is not legal anymore because it's a heterosexual marriage?"

Well, my response to that is quite simple, too: I don't depend on the government to tell me that my marriage to Christy is legitimate. My marriage is something that is valid in the eyes of God. In the same way that I won't stop worshipping with my fellow believers if Christian worship ever becomes illegal in the United States, I do not put my trust in the government to "protect my marriage".

So what should we be doing as believers in our culture? This is not an easy question to answer, because it's not really a simple question. Recently, one of my blogging friends, Brad (aka Broken Messenger), talked about the issue of politics, and in reading some of his other thoughts, I came across an article he wrote last November about politics in the life of the Christian. In this very thought-provoking article and resulting discussion, Brad wrote:

...[I]n the wake of each of [the apostle]’s lives the face of the Roman Empire was changed without a single piece of legislation passed, a single election won, a victorious revolt or the successful expulsion of a single ruler or senator of the establishment. The apostles sought after the hearts of men for Christ by living Christ, and their legacies changed the world.
Now, to be sure, Brad does make certain to point out that he's not saying we should not participate in the political process (i.e., vote based on our conscience, etc.), but makes a very true statement when he says, "No one has ever [found] or will ever find eternal life through the passing of a ballot measure."

Even more recently, Raborn Johnson wrote about the differences between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. In his post, he concludes with a very challenging question:

Could it be that we have overestimated the power of fleshly ideas to change the hearts of people, while underestimating the power of God's love shown through believers corporately, and individually to accomplish the same purpose?
I think the answer is "yes". As Christians in America, I fear we have swung so far to the side of political action, even to the point of using church services to rally people around certain legislative actions. I find this incredibly concerning.

May the Lord give us wisdom to know how to live our lives within our culture in such a way that men are drawn to the flame of the Holy Spirit burning within us. If that becomes the case, we will see true, genuine change take place in our culture in a way that no legislation could ever accomplish. Let's put our faith solidly in the power of God to change lives through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then true life will reside within those whom we attempt to reach, and we will not merely have a freshly-painted tomb.

Until next time,

steve :)

16 comment(s):

Good point. There are murmurings of another Reformation on the horizon. Some would argue that it is already here, but in either case, something is brewing in the churches of America today.

If, and I'm sure this will rile up certain people, the Emergent Church movment is that Reformation, then I would agree that a second Reformation is happening.

But there is a far quieter shift of people out of the mainline traditional churches into the house church movement.

Honestly, I don't think either of the movments matter. They are both just a rehashing of a traditional 'church' service. Whether it invloves meeting is someone's house or using paint and prayer stations it is still just a regular service under all the layers.

This is relevant to your post because there are battle lines being drawn. The traditional church thinks it is battling the world, when in fact its beating on the drums of war are sending its ranks looking elsewhere.

Those who are leaving are already being called heretics. Just look at some of the blogs that are spewing out theology by the boat load while the absense of any love mars their retoric.

By Blogger Saabinmike, at Friday, July 28, 2006 11:44:00 PM  

Steve, great post! I find it interesting that, as far as we know, Jesus rarely spoke of the Roman government. As a matter of fact, the only reference I recall is about Caesar's inscription appearing on a coin; a passing remark not aimed at the government. I believe that alot of our thinking about God and government finds it's roots in the Old Testament Law, rather than in the New Covenant. Instead of being "ministers of reconciliation", the Church many times sees itself as "teachers of the Law". It seems to me that we have focused so much energy and time on "fixing" our broken culture that we have forgotten that what mankind really needs is "new creation". I'm with you--I think that we need to quit painting the tomb and start raising the dead man inside!:)

Saabinmike, bingo!
The traditional church thinks it is battling the world
I think that the Church has seen unbelievers as the "enemy" for far too long. We have had a hard time showing each other love and respect, much less giving the same to the world. I have grown tired of "truth" that is given at the expense of love.

Steve, thanks for a safe place to ask the hard questions!

By Blogger Raborn Johnson, at Saturday, July 29, 2006 1:02:00 AM  

Steve,
Great post! Unfortunately, it works both ways. Many in the church assume that the US will become a Christian nation through legislation. At the same time, they equate being a good Christian with being a good citizen of the US. Thus, we have "believers" demanding their rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" instead of death to self, service of others, and the pursuit of holiness.

By Blogger Alan Knox, at Saturday, July 29, 2006 8:00:00 AM  

saabinmike, you've raised some interesting points. Any theology without love is worthless. I think 1 Cor 13 makes that abundantly clear!

Raborn, yes, the OT influences a lot of Christian thinking. Consider the way many try to apply OT prophecies to the USA, thinking that we are "God's nation". That kind of thinking seems to miss the teaching that Jesus gave on the Kingdom of God.

Alan, I'm with you. What do you think the appropriate balance is? I'm still working through this.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Saturday, July 29, 2006 8:42:00 AM  

Steve,
I have never considered the question of the "appropriate balance." My initial response would be that we are called to be salt and light in the world - specifically among the people we live with. It should not be my desire the change my world (US in this examlpe) through legislation, but to see my world changed through the power of God. We should live as citizens of the kingdom of God, regardless of which earthly kingdom we inhabit, or the laws of that earthly kingdom. Thank you for the question... I'll continue thinking about it.

By Blogger Alan Knox, at Saturday, July 29, 2006 1:52:00 PM  

Steve,
I can appreciate your point and the tone with which you make it. There is a danger for believers to think the church

I would however, respectfully make two distinctions. One between the complementary realms of spiritual and civic responsibility, and the other between the duty of the church and the individual.

I am first and foremost a citizen of heaven. As such, it is NOT my responsibility to "legislate morality" from without. It is only the Holy Spirit that can do the work of spiritual transformation from within.

That being said, I am also (secondarily) a citizen of the US. As long it does not conflict with my heavenly citizenship, I am a loyal citizen. I obey the laws, enjoy the protection, pay the taxes, and participate in the government of my country.

Consequently, such participation will be influenced by my primary citizenship. I vote for candidates (not necessarily Christians) who best effect my values, I support legislation that (IMO) follows the moral foundation laid out by our founding fathers, etc.

Therefore as a Christian American, I believe it is entirely proper to work to make sure that my government does not place its stamp of approval on same-sex marriage.

I agree, my marriage is valid in the sight of God irregardless of the government's endorsement. But I don't want my government to give that same endorsement to homosexuality, and while I have the opportunity to do something about it, I will.

Sure the early believers didn't pass any legislation, but they couldn't. The difference is, they had no voice in their government. We do.

By Blogger Cameron Cloud, at Saturday, July 29, 2006 3:07:00 PM  

I apologize for the length of the previous comment. I hit publish (meaning to hit preview) before I could reduce it in size, so if it seems disjointed in thought... :)

By Blogger Cameron Cloud, at Saturday, July 29, 2006 3:10:00 PM  

Cameron, no need to apologize for length. It was fine! I'm not sure what the end of your second sentence should be, though, so maybe you can complete that statement for me! :) There is a danger for believers to think the church ...?

Other than that, I think you and I are probably in agreement on the generalitites of this issue. I'm mulling over your statement about not wanting the government to give the same recognition to homosexual marriage as it does to your own. Maybe I'm being a bit too apathetic on the topic, so I'm taking your comments to heart here. Thanks!

Alan, you wrote:

[It should be my desire] to see my world changed through the power of God. We should live as citizens of the kingdom of God, regardless of which earthly kingdom we inhabit, or the laws of that earthly kingdom.

To which I merely say, "Amen"!!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Saturday, July 29, 2006 4:45:00 PM  

yes... This is incredibly accurate, I think. Even without all the "detail" ironed out. Thanks for your thoughts. Being part of a house church, and a somewhat "emerging" church - if we want to lable it, I have to agree much with saabinmike.

By Blogger ReneeM, at Saturday, July 29, 2006 4:52:00 PM  

Renee, thanks for stopping by here as well as my HSB blog. I was just about to respond to your comment over there to point you to this blog for more information about our simple church fellowships, but you found your way already by yourself!

Welcome!
steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Saturday, July 29, 2006 4:56:00 PM  

Steve,
I can't remember the exact words I had in mind at the moment, but it was essentially that there is a danger for Christians to think we can bring "revival" to America through political activity.

While I think we should be active, I have no illusion that we will make America a "righteous" nation by doing so.

By Blogger Cameron Cloud, at Saturday, July 29, 2006 8:22:00 PM  

Ahhh, Cameron. Well said. I agree!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Saturday, July 29, 2006 9:36:00 PM  

Steve -

I am enjoying reading your blog ... I think that we think alike. I am in with agreement with you and have long tried to figure out this particular issue. Legislating morality is not the answer ... Christ is!

The body of Christ puts too much faith in this government, too much faith in this little piece of land that we live upon on this earth. It reminds me of how much it bothers me when people get all googly over patriotic songs in church (i.e. on the 4th), but those same people don't seem to care when we're singing about Jesus ... our Redeemer and King!

Again, I do believe this is just a product of people's complete misunderstanding of Scripture. Go back and read all the laws that used to be when people first came to America (no kissing on Sunday, for instance). There is, after all, nothing new under the sun.

Blessings!

~Heather

By Blogger Heather, at Sunday, July 30, 2006 5:45:00 AM  

Heather, great to see you over here! I've enjoyed your comments on Spunky's blog. I agree that it seems like people put too much faith in this government. I'm trying to find the balance that I mentioned a couple of comments above where I live as a good citizen of this country, but even more so as a good citizen of God's kingdom.

Thanks again for reading and commenting!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Sunday, July 30, 2006 8:15:00 AM  

I thoroughly related to your last paragraph in this post. It is time for Christians to understand the gospel is neither the creed of any denomination nor constitution of any state including the nation-state we know as the US. It is a message not of the current fallen world, regardless of the rhetoric that surrounds the institution speaking. We are by our Christianity, residents of heaven and in so understanding ourselves as aliens here, recognize that we are Christians without borders.

By Anonymous ded, at Monday, July 31, 2006 7:31:00 PM  

What a great post, Steve! Thanks for being bold on issues that seem to be so touchy. I do sometimes feel like you've been hanging around our kitchen, eavesdropping on the conversations my husband and I have. Have you been listening???

Barbara

By Anonymous Barbara K, at Thursday, August 03, 2006 8:12:00 PM  

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