So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trichotomy: Why I’m A Conservative, Part Two

            So that’s my proposition, which is pretty much the understanding of thoughtful Christians over the last 2000 years: God’s created and maintained 3 institutions, and each of them has a distinct set of responsibilities that he’s given them.
            Here’s where this understanding comes into my politics. Now, granted, I’m moving from what the Bible explicitly says to my own understanding and what I see in the world, but here goes: When one of the institutions tries to do the job of one of the other institutions, it does a really poor job at best, does it very inefficiently, and usually makes a complete hash of what it was trying to do.
            What do I mean by this? Well, let’s take one that just about every Christian could agree on: It’s the state’s job (according to the Bible) to keep the basic rule of law and civil peace and seek to prevent gross injustice. If we’re invaded by a foreign army, it’s the state’s job to provide for our safety and to defend us. The founders of this country believed, and I happen to agree with them (although for other reasons besides the Bible) that the government is also supposed to protect certain rights which the Lord’s given us, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
            This is not the church’s job. The church doesn’t have a police force, or jails, or judges to whom we have to submit for judgment, etc., and none of us would want it to.
            One of the church’s primary jobs (according to the Bible) is to share the Good News of Jesus with the lost and lead them to Christ, using the word, prayer, and persuasion. That’s not the state’s job. I don’t want some government bureaucrat seeing it as his job (in his official capacity) to present the message of Jesus to the lost. We might have a debate about the propriety of public official prayers before city council meetings or in other settings, but hopefully we can all agree that the state shouldn't be telling people to come to church on Sunday. When it comes to expanding Christ’s Kingdom, we advance through the word, through prayer, and through persuasion. We don’t use bullets, bombs, or ballots.
            With me so far? Ok, now I’m going to start stepping on some toes. It’s the parents’ job to raise up our kids in the training and instruction of the Lord. The primary people my kids should be learning about the Lord from is me and my wife, not a Sunday School teacher or a VBS worker or a youth minister. I’m grateful for the supplemental and cooperative efforts they put into helping me and my wife perform our duties, but I’ll be hanged if I’m going to pass off my God-given responsibilities to anyone else.
            OK, I’ve delved a little into politics with the “church and state shouldn’t try to do each other’s jobs” thing, but here’s where I’m going to part ways with the pacifists whom we discussed recently: If I join the police force or military, my responsibilities under that aegis are different from my obligations as a member of the church of Jesus Christ. I’m forbidden from avenging myself or from retaliating if someone harms me. But if I’m a soldier or a police officer, I might be obligated to take a life in the performance of my duties, and that’s not a sin. On the contrary, that’s performing a vital role under the auspices of Romans 13:1-4. It’s always regrettable whenever any human life is taken, but sometimes it’s necessary for the preservation of society. For more on why it’s OK for a Christian to be a member of the police or the military, see my arguments here.
            And here’s a biggie, probably the most controversial one: When someone’s in need, their first resort should be their own family. If their family’s unwilling or unable to help, then they can go to the church for help. There’s no biblical precedent for a non-theocratic government to help people in need. You might say “But they were ordered under the Old Covenant to help people in need! That was the state helping them!” Yes it was, at least in some sense. But that was under the Old Covenant in which the state was (theoretically) run by the Mosaic Law, in which you had a theocratic government. I think we can take some principles of how—as individuals and as the church--to help people by studying the Torah, but I don’t think we can go to the Old Testament and find any mandate there for a non-theocratic state to help people in need (for my arguments on this, see here). And in the New Testament? It was written to Christians who had little to no voice in their government, and Romans 13 really is the closest thing we have to a systematic theological treatise on how a N.T. government is supposed to function. You won’t find anything in there that specifically addresses how a non-theocratic government is supposed to deal with its poor and needy.
            But you do have plenty of instructions on how individuals and the church are supposed to deal with those in need.  And one of the most neglected verses on this subject? “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” If someone isn’t willing to work, don’t feed them! It’s not being obedient to the Scriptures, and it’s not showing love to the person you’re supposedly helping. How is that compatible with our current welfare system as administered by the government?
            Now, am I opposed to all government assistance? Well, in principle, yes, with a couple of exceptions. It might sound self-serving, but I’m in favor of taking care of military vets. And if a city is hit with a flood or an earthquake, I might be persuaded that it’s OK to render government emergency assistance, although I have some serious constitutional qualms about it.
            But in general, I’m opposed to government handouts to the poor. After decades of welfare, the verdict is in: They tend not to help in the long term. They disincentivize hard work and earning your own living when you’re capable of doing so. They promote dependence and a victim mentality.
            To be sure, honesty forces me to concede that I’m largely arguing from silence. Are there any Scriptures which forbid the government from helping people in need? No, I can’t find any there. The New Testament doesn’t really address that question. But in the few passages which would address it, that’s never mentioned as something which the Lord intended the state to do. When it comes to taking care of the poor and those in need, he has plenty to say to individual believers and the church as a whole.
            It seems pretty clear to me, however, that if the biblical pattern were followed (family first resort, church second and last resort), then the need for government charity would be vastly reduced if not altogether eliminated. If someone’s unable to work, then of course they need to be helped, and if it came down to it I’d rather see someone get a welfare check than starve. But if someone is unwilling to work—especially if they're not working because they can't get their ideal job right now—then Paul instructs to let them go hungry until they change their mind on that score.
            So what does this have to do with politics? Well, I think a lot of confusion arises when we advocate one of the institutions doing the job of one of the others. Leftists see passages of Scripture where God's people are commanded to take care of the poor (and there's a plethora of them) and translate that into voting for leftist policies in which the State takes on the responsibility of feeding the poor. It's somehow the State's job to lead people out of dysfunctional lives into being productive citizens. I don't think that's the State's responsibility. That's the family's job, and then the church's job. Or they see verses given to individual Christians about how we're supposed to not resist an evil person and turn the other cheek, and they translate that into pacifism (in which the State doesn't use any physical force).
            I think that if we keep the responsibilities of these institutions straight and distinct, then that will lead naturally into political conservatism and away from Leftism. 
            I used this aphorism so much on the TAWG Blog I’m sure lots of people got sick of it, but it summarizes so much in so little: No one in the history of mankind ever did things God’s way who ended up regretting it. That goes for individual believers, for the local church, for the church universal, and even for our larger society as we influence it towards doing things God’s way. My friends, this really does work. 

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