Monday, November 21, 2016

Reconciliation

by Tony Thomas

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV)

The Presidential election of 2016 has caused a great deal of division in the Body of Christ. The old wounds of racism have been reopened due to troubling statements made by the Republican candidate during the campaign. As a result, many African-American Christians are very concerned and even frightened because over 80% of white evangelicals reportedly voted for the President-elect. Even some respected Christian leaders sided with a candidate who used troubling code-words and “dog whistles”, thus emboldening those with a racist agenda. Since the election, racist incidents are on the increase and the situation seems unlikely to improve in the coming months. This is a tense time in our nation and a time of great trepidation and uncertainty. Should Christians be concerned?



Dark Shadows from the Past

If you study history, you will find that many in the Christian church were on the side of slavery during the Civil War. To their shame, some even exhibited overtly racist attitudes during this period and the reconstruction that followed.

Consider the words of the brilliant Presbyterian theologian, R. L. Dabney, whose theological works are well-respected and studied to this day:

“It is well known, that, as a general rule, [Negroes] are a graceless, vagabondish set, and contribute very little to the support of the State by which they are protected. They are not citizens, never can become citizens, and wherever found in large numbers they are an expense and a source of trouble…” [1]

“The black race is an alien one on our soil; and nothing except his amalgamation with ours, or his subordination to ours, can prevent the rise of that instinctive antipathy of race, which, history shows, always arises between opposite races in proximity…” [1]

“When the generation of freed-negroes, which works feebly, has passed away, can the white people of Southside Virginia endure the pilfering of a body of negroes more numerous than themselves, who will work not at all? And when the white people are at last driven to the end of all patience by intolerable annoyances, and the blacks are determined to live and not to work, collision cannot but ensue. What shall we do with that generation of negroes “educated” to be above work? I see no other prospect, humanly speaking, except the beginning of a war of races, which will bring back the provost marshal, and the government of the bayonet, and will, indeed, make us eager to welcome them…“ [2]


It is difficult, though not unimaginable, to believe that such words came from the pen of a man with such a deep knowledge of theology and the Bible. As some have said, somewhat apologetically, ”He was a man of his time“. But, is history repeating itself? Are there deep-seated racist attitudes still harbored by white evangelicals that produced this current crisis? I certainly hope not.

What was really troubling was the lack of repudiation of the blatant racism, misogyny and xenophobia during the Republican campaign. As many on the left were screaming wildly in protest, there was a deafening silence from much of the evangelical right. At the same time, the opposing party received scathing rebuke.

And while it is true that most white evangelicals voted for a platform and not for a man, and were primarily concerned with issues such as the right to life for the unborn and future Supreme Court appointments, this brings little comfort to those who are feeling oppressed.


The Way Forward

We simply cannot tolerate division within the church.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, 1:10 (ESV):

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

The true church of Christ is composed of people of all races, languages and ethnic backgrounds. We will all stand together before God’s throne (Revelation 7:9-10). They are our true brothers and sisters. Because of this, the church should be at the forefront of promoting racial reconciliation within the Body of Christ. Sadly, I see far more of this from liberal Christians, who deny much of the Bible and its doctrines, than I do from the evangelical church.

Christians must first be reconciled to one another before they can reconcile others to Christ. We cannot allow politics or social issues to destroy our unity in Jesus Christ! The devil has used them to divide us for far too long!

The Greek word for reconciliation is “katallage“ and it means “the exchange of hostility for a friendly relationship“ [3]. As Paul wrote in the passage cited at the beginning of this article, God has given us all the ministry of reconciliation.  First, there must be reconciliation to God, among ourselves, and then of the world to Christ. We are all to be bridge builders.

Next, we need to realize that because of these divisions and our loyal alignment with political parties, the evangelical church is losing its moral authority, its Gospel witness and its prophetic voice. Satan told Jesus that he could give Him all of the kingdoms of the world if He would just bow down and worship him. Is the true Church now bowing down to politicians and this evil world system to avoid persecution and scorn? Are we increasing the barriers between ourselves and a dying world?

Finally, we need to understand that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against evil forces of darkness as it says in Ephesians 6. The so-called "Christian Right" has always demonized and marginalized their opponents. This is wrong! We must see them as people made in the image of God for whom Christ died. They are not our enemies. They are our mission field.


[1] From:"A Defence of Virginia", R. L. Dabney.
[2]  From: "The Negro and the Common School", R. L. Dabney.
[3] BDAG: Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick W. Danker. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Christianity, Politics and Government - Part 2

by Tony Thomas

The election of 2016 is one of the most tumultuous of all time. Tempers are red hot. Polarization is the norm. Even heated debates are going on between Christians as to which candidate deserves our vote. However, no matter who wins the upcoming election, Christians have the duty and responsibility to both honor and submit to the authority of our new President.

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7 ESV)


The Apostle Peter provided a similar message:

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV)

These scriptures give Christians zero “wiggle room”. All authorities that exist have been instituted by God as His servants to punish evildoers and to maintain order. If you resist them, you will incur judgment. We are to fear God and honor our leaders. It is that simple. The only exception is, if the authorities force you to do something that is contrary to God’s Word, you have the right (and the obligation) to disobey them and suffer the consequences. (Acts 4:18-21)

Paul wrote the book of Romans circa 56-57 and Nero was on the throne. Nero was one of the most diabolical Caesars who ever lived and he blamed the Christians for burning Rome and came up with terrible punishments for them. The Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote:

“...Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”

You will notice that Paul demanded Christians to honor and to submit to the authority of an evil and sadistic emperor. We are to do the same, no matter how evil the leader is or how much we may dislike him or her. If we do otherwise, we will bring reproach upon Christ and His church. For Jesus told us to love even our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44-45).

I sincerely believe a time of trial and testing is imminent for all followers of Christ. Yet, we must continue to realize that God is on the throne and He alone is Lord of all.
And we should remember Paul’s words from Romans 8:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 ESV)