Archive for the ‘Prophecy’ Category

Wrong Side of History? June 30, 2015

The Supreme Court has so ordered that, at least for those of us under the jurisdiction of the United States of America, history has shifted from its underpinnings: marriage now no longer has any meaning derived from God’s created order, but is simply a mutually fulfilling contract for happiness between any two (for now) individuals. This ought not be terribly surprising to cultural observers, as the pivot away from covenant marriage happened a long time ago. The ongoing unraveling of social conventions accompanying that order is simply proceeding apace.

As Christians, we are being told that it’s time to take some sexual immorality “off the sin list” and that we ought to get with the times or be left on “the wrong side of history.” With the celebrations still ongoing, ideas are being floated to roll back tax exemptions for churches and religious nonprofits, and other discussions about stamping out dissent are floating up as well.

Whatever comes, whatever is said, whatever is taken away,  don’t lose heart. The fight is not with flesh and blood (and not with men and women who choose to live in sexual sin), but with the power that has been since the Fall thumbing his nose at God and His creation. His doom is sure, and when the final draft is written, those who resist him and turn to Christ for mercy and life will emphatically be on the right side.

Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.‘ And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, ‘We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name. the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:15-18).

In the long haul, we ought not fear those who would marginalize and oppress Christians. We ought to weep for them and bear witness to them, even in faithful suffering. We can be on the wrong side of their idea of history and suffer for a season. Those who are on the wrong side of the Author of History will not be so blessed: “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.’ For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:3-9). Let us not revile, but pray. Let us not rage against the coming hardships, but joyfully endure as the Lord did. Our strength is in weakness, our life in death.

Remember, as Peter wrote previously, that we shouldn’t be surprised when we are on the outs with the surrounding culture “as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). There have always been and always will be aspects of the Gospel message that will get you ousted from cultural example. When the disciples first began spreading the message that Jesus had been raised, to claim that He was Messiah brought swift judgment from those who claimed to follow His Father. As the Church grew into the centers of power of the Roman state, to say that Jesus (not Caesar) was Lord was to invite punishment or death. In parts of the world today where nearly 1/4 of her people live, saying that Jesus is God’s Son and that Mohammed is not a prophet will get you into serious trouble with your family, your neighbors, and the authorities. It goes on and on. If, now, we are told that we can proclaim Christ as Lord and the one who saves us from our sins, but not call every sin what it is, we cannot shrink from the whole counsel of God any more than our brothers and sisters across time and space have in their particular contexts.

Take courage. “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them” (Ecc. 9:11-12). The victory is ours, let us treat those who are perishing with love, mercy, and the grace of Christ as taught in Scripture.

It has been so ordered. Ours is but to obey.

Posted by Justin Lonas.

Representation without Taxation? July 1, 2010

Last night,  I sat down briefly after dinner to watch a favorite cooking show of mine, and, while waiting for it to air,  ran across TBN  (whatever its goals were at its inception and whatever good it may have ever accomplished notwithstanding, in our house it’s known as The Blasphemy Network). The show of a certain religious television personality who trades heavily in end-times fearmongering and is known to be deeply involved in American politics was on, and the gigantic display of the U.S. and Israeli flags behind his pulpit caught my eye.

Curious, I watched as he began a talk on economic policy, the value of the U.S. dollar, and the ways our present government (and those of European nations) have colluded to destroy the world’s economy. This informational (and  politically charged)  lecture might easily have been  held in a classroom or  election rally and  seemed more prescient.  Whatever one’s personal feelings on the subject matter, I couldn’t help but wonder what place such discourse has as (presumably) the main sermon at a church service. I watched for ten minutes before any reference to Scripture or anything of a spiritual nature entered the lesson, and when it did, it was a passing remark about 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (”If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either“).

This spectacle got me thinking again  about an idea I’ve kicked around before–should churches be tax-exempt, especially when they engage in rhetoric and activities so focused on directing public policy? The TBN program is just one (extreme) example of this abuse of tax-free status. Many mainline U.S. denominations actively promote liberal causes and candidates from the pulpit; many otherwise theologically sound evangelical churches do much the same from the conservative side of the spectrum, though they tend to be more careful not to mention specific parties or candidates because of greater media scrutiny. It seems to me that any organization (with or without a spiritual/religious) pretext that seeks actively to influence elections, laws, and policy should be willing to pay their fair share for a “seat at the table” just like the rest of the individuals and businesses in the country.

Tax-exempt status is, and has historically been, a great blessing to Christians. It enables them to afford the costs of ministry; it provides further  incentive for faithful giving (through income tax deductions); it has helped boost the expansion of the Gospel message around the world by funnelling resources to tax-exempt missions agencies and parachurch ministries. As such, it should not be tossed aside lightly, but at the very least, there should probably be more severe penalties for those that violate the intent of tax-exemption by openly advocating (or denouncing) political positions and candidates. Churches should treat this status as the privilege that it is, and use its benefits to dedicate themselves wholly to the work of the Gospel, not to push the envelope of political involvement.

Biblically, you could make a decent case against any special treatment for Christianity from government. Jesus in Matthew 17:24-27, instructs Peter to pay the temple tax (and miraculously provides the means to do so), specifically seeking to avoid unecessary prejudice against His message by bucking a disliked law. In Matthew 22:15-22, Jesus thwarts the machinations of the Pharisees by  distinguishing between spiritual realities (the work of God in his people, who bear His likeness) and political/financial realities (the Roman tax, paid with money which bore Caesar’s likeness). We are told in Scripture to submit to government (Rom. 13, 1 Pet. 2), to pray for those in authority (Rom 13, 1 Tim 2), and to live within the law (1 Pet. 2), but never to desire power, to publically promote the government, or seek to overthrow it (I’ve witten more extensively about this subject here and here). This doesn’t mean that we should not oppose injustice and evil (whether or not it is sanctioned by government), that we should be uncritical of social  and cultural trends that lead people away from the Lord,  or that Christians who are so gifted should not live out their faith in public service. It does mean that the gathered Body of Christ should focus its attention on the Lord and His work and trust His hand in the movement of governments.

What do you think? Should the Church be tax-exempt? Why or why not? Would you trade the right to tax-exemption in order to speak openly about politics from the pulpit?

Posted by Justin Lonas

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