Monday, July 18, 2005

Toward A Systematic Christian Political Philosophy

I recently set out to find or formulate a consistent and systematic Christian political philosophy. I cannot even begin to describe what I discovered in my searching these last few weeks without making the understatement of the century, “Overwhelming!” The search and research has consumed my free time, my sleep, and nearly every free waking moment. Besides being tired, frustrated, and a lot better informed than I was a few weeks ago, I feel like I have accomplished little or nothing. This explains much of the reason why it has been such a long time since I last posted.

My methodology and guidelines were relatively simple. I would start out by evaluating existing political ideologies / philosophies and determine which best aligns with Scripture and attempt to discard those which were clearly not Christian. From there the problem snowballed, I found that there were so many systems and subsystems that overlapped and internally contradicted themselves logically that I was more confused than when I started.

Regrouping from the frustration it all, I then tried to determine if there were more basic questions that needed to be answered in order to break the problem down into a set of simpler problems.

What is the most Biblical “form” of government or political system? What spheres of life does government impact and what limit or extent is the Biblical role in each sphere? Are these spheres impacted differently by different levels of government? What is the Christian’s proper role or involvement in the political process? Over the coming weeks I hope to deal extensively with each of these topics. This is a learning process for me, please leave comments. I will start by trying to “narrow the field” to those forms of government that are the consistent with the Christian faith.

What is the most Biblical “form” of government or political system?

Does the Bible prescribe a preferred form of government? In seeking biblical wisdom on this topic I looked first in the Proverbs.

Consider Proverbs 28:
Reading Proverbs 28, there is no particular indication of what form of government is preferred in the teachings to the "ruler", it only deals with the “righteousness and holiness” of the ruler. This seems to be a consistent theme through the entire Bible. If God had an overwhelming preference for a particular form of government, it seems that He would have specifically prescribed it in scripture in some place. Even if you go searching for such a prescription for governmental systems in scripture, the closest you will find might be some sort of a benevolent monarchy. I certainly don’t believe that is the most Christian form of government (as you will see below), but it demonstrates my point.

Consider Colossians 1:15-18 (also 1 Peter 2:13-14)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Again, it is obvious that God’s concern is not so much with the form of government, but rather that the leaders of whatever form of government that exists are subject to Him and holds Christ as preeminent. This fact in itself, while not prescriptive, does give us an idea about the form of government is best. It MUST be one in which the leader may hold Christ as preeminent. Clearly, any authoritarian religious based system (excepting a Christian Theocracy) would never allow the rulers to be subject to God and hold Christ as preeminent. [Note: While I do not favor a Christian Theocracy, it must be granted that it passes this test.] There are many forms of secular humanist authoritarian governments, which should be considered "religious based" and can be eliminated right along with Islamic and any other religious based authoritarian government.

Secondarily, any form of government that might be selected by Christians must consider the fundamental state of human nature. It is my belief that the founders of the United States established our form of government not based directly on some Biblical prescriptive, but rather upon a proper understanding of what the Bible says about the fallen nature of mankind. And since men have a fallen nature, they are inclined to preside over corrupt governments. They chose our system because it provided the checks and balances that minimizes the abuses of power that are inevitable of fallen men who are also in positions of power. Most governmental systems themselves are not inherently corrupt; it is the men that rule that are inherently corrupt.

What forms of government might satisfy both the primary and secondary tests I stated above? Are there any other Biblical tests that need to be applied?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Christian Anger

To be "An Angry Christian" begs readers to ask these questions: Isn’t anger a sin? Is it possible to be angry without sinning? Are the terms "angry" and "Christian" contradictory?

First, in order for a Christian to even begin to claim that anger is an emotion that we might validly hold, we must first ask if it is an attribute of God which we might share with Him since we are created in His image.

Certainly, it is clear that among God’s own attributes, most of which we consider by most men to be beautiful, is also the attribute of anger or wrath. The Old Testament is filled with manifestations of God’s anger and wrath both on the Israelites and the Gentile/Pagan nations alike. The New Testament demonstrates Christ Himself becoming angry with the money-changers in the temple and also insulting, chiding, cajoling and scolding the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and Priests. The grand finale of the New Testament is Revelation which speaks of the Day of the Lord, also called the Day of God's Wrath (Rev. 6:17; 14:10; 15:1; 16:1, 19:15). Even the great Jonathan Edwards spoke of anger as an attribute of God in his famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

While it is clear that anger is an attribute of God, who also possesses the perfect righteousness and holiness that enables Him to act justly and show mercy in His anger, does that mean that Christians are also capable of the same?

In describing the fruits of the spirit and those fruits contrary to the spirit (Galatians 5:16-25 and Romans 1:28-32), anger in and of itself is not mentioned. Therefore, while anger is not a usually considered fruit of the spirit, it is also not contrary to the spirit. What we have to be careful to observe is that anger very often leads to a lack of self-control or "outbursts or fits" which is contrary to fruits of the spirit. We can see that there is a very fine line between anger and the sins that often come forth from anger.

Some Christians maintain that if we are truly spiritual, we will never become angry, or never express it if we do. However, the Bible approves of anger in some instances, but with warnings about it.

Jesus was angry on occasion, but also warned about it. When people were watching him to see if they could accuse him of healing on the Sabbath, he "looked around at them in anger," was distressed about their attitude, and went ahead and healed the man (Mark 3:1-6). However, he also said that people angry at someone (perhaps without cause) were subject to judgment (Matthew 5:22).

Both Old and New Testaments tell us, "In your anger, do not sin." (Psalm 4:4; Ephesians 4:26). Paul to tells the Ephesians to get over their anger soon, and continues on telling them to "get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger" (4:31).

Both Old and New Testaments point out the importance of being "slow to anger." Jonah lamented the fact that God was slow to anger. James notes that we should be "quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" if we want righteousness (James 1:19).

Anger is one of those things that may be sinful at some times and not at others, so we must be very careful of the danger of falling into sin when we become angry.

What is needed is neither complete suppression nor unbridled expression, but a controlled expression. Rather than the result being bitterness or rage, anger can result in appropriate confrontation.

When Paul tells us, "Be angry, but do not sin," (Eph 4:26) he indicates a legitimate kind of anger. We can think of times that we have lost our temper. But we also know, almost instinctively, that there is such a thing as righteous anger, that we should be angry about certain things.

The inability to become angry about injustice — about abortion, racism, or child molestation for example — indicates a soul lacking any sense of truth and morality.

So when is anger sinful and when is it not? How should we manage our anger such that it is constructive controlled expression and not unbridled passion? These questions are probably best answered by prayerful contemplation of the scriptures. Here are a few verses to get you started:

2 Corinthians 12:20, Psalm 4:4, Psalm 37:8, Psalm 103:8, Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 22:24-25, Proverbs 27:4, Proverbs 29:8, Proverbs 29:11, Proverbs 29:22, Proverbs 30:33, Ecclesiastes 7:9, Matthew 5:22, Ephesians 4:25-27, Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8, 1 Timothy 2:8, James 1:19-20, Romans 12:19

With this in mind, let us consider our own anger. As a passion, anger is not always wrong except when it strays from right reason. The problem is not that we grow angry but that we do so about the wrong things (traffic, sports, and schedules) and in the wrong way (insulting remarks and even physical harm). More often than not our anger proceeds from pride and is directed toward our own convenience: what we want, when we want it, how we want it, etc. Rather than seek the good of others or the glory of God.

Oddly enough, the same culture that has produced "aggressive drivers" and anger management seminars seems unable to grow angry about the right things. We should be furious about the spiritual devastation all around us: the lies about sexuality, the deceit of the young, and the neglect of God. We should be angry that God is offended and that souls are in danger. Such a well-ordered passion would prompt us to resist boldly the evils around us. Instead, we take offense at what inconveniences us and ignore what offends God. It is a sign of disordered passions when a man can lose his temper over traffic but sit by calmly while innocent unborn children are slaughtered by the truckload everyday.

In summary, the important things to remember are:

A Christian might become legitimately angry about sin and injustice in the world, but should not remain perpetually so. A Christian must remember that anger may very easily lead to sin and should constantly guard his conscience against it. A Christian must always learn and practice self control lest even anger born in righteousness quickly deteriorate into an abomination before the Lord. A Christian must always remember that vengeance is the Lord's and we have no right to exact vengeance, ever.

Much of the modern so-called Christian subculture has often become so impotent that nothing angers them. Without righteous anger, nothing moves them to become involved in culture; the salt has lost its savor. On the other hand, modern existentialist and anarchistic subcultures wallow in a hopeless and nihilistic rage that consumes them in despair.

We should not strive to be another Christian sub-culture like so much of modern Christianity --- which is really just another current moving in the same direction as the cultural river that leads to hell. No, we need to be part of THE true counter-culture. There is only one true counter-culture and that is the culture of authentic Christianity. We should be "Contra Mundum" – against the world. We are legitimately the antithesis of a post-modern culture and should seek to live each day "Coram Deo" – before the face of God! We should strive to live the proper balance of SALTY and HOLY. Imperfectly to be sure, but nonetheless our eyes are set upon Christ and Him crucified.