Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Question About War, Peace, and the American Church

A question for you today:

In light of Jesus Christ's emphasis on peace, why do most Christians in the USA almost always quickly support the government in going to war?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Why I Could Never Serve in the Military

I could never serve in the military. I will never serve in the military. Even if the United States was to go to all-out war (such as in WWII), I would not join up. Even if we were invaded, I would not take part. If the draft was reinstated and I was selected I would not report (I'd even go to jail first if need be).

Through the years I've given this issue a great deal of thought. I used to be a gung-ho patriot of the United States and its military. However, as I look in the bible I don't see any calls upon Christians to take part in any form of violence on the part of a nation state. Instead, we're expected to be peacemakers in the name of Jesus Christ. As Christ-followers, we may suffer and even die for the cause of the gospel. That's our real mission.

God is the author of life. He creates it. Because of that, I have no right to take it. My citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Only secondarily am I a citizen of the USA. I love the kingdom of God, but I do not love the USA. My service is to my Lord and Savior, not to a secular state.

The United States is not a new Israel. Its soldiers do not fight for God. Rather, they fight for political freedom and the American way. The problem is that God has not called upon his followers to kill-or-be-killed for political reasons. He is much more concerned with freedom from the bondage from sin than freedom from political oppression.

I cannot imagine joining the military, training for combat, and then being faced with killing someone. It flies in the face of what Jesus has called us to do. Our Lord instructs us to lovingly serve others to the point of dying for them. Why in the world would I take lives just to supposedly advance the cause of the USA?

I do not stand in judgment over Christians who have joined the military. This is certainly a difficult issue. Additionally, I suppose that it is possible to be part of the military without taking part in killing (chaplaincy for example).

As for defending my family from invaders (foreign or domestic), that is a different issue. In that case, I would not hesitate to kill someone who is threatening to kill my family. As head of my household I believe God demands that I defend them (not that I would take any pleasure or satisfaction in it). God does not, however, expect me to defend a secular political state.

On Memorial Day I always have mixed emotions. I'm glad to live in a country where I have semi-religious freedom. At some level I'm thankful to those who died defending that freedom. Despite this, on principle I don't support the killing of other human beings for political reasons.

The cross is not wrapped in the American flag.

Jesus Christ could have come to earth as a political conqueror to throw off Roman occupation of Israel. However, he had a bigger and more important mission to accomplish. He gave his life as the gospel. Those of us who call Jesus Lord have been commissioned by him to take this gospel to the ends of the earth. Like many others before us, we may be called upon to die in doing so.

The Great commission is too critical to waste our time defending our country's political aims via the military.

Ultimately, it is because the gospel is so important that I could never serve in the military.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Unity and Missions: United in One Person

At the most foundational level, we as the church are united in one person: Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the one and only Head of his church. He is its author, and therefore has complete authority. Jesus, the head, has one body: his church. He does not have many separate bodies. This is an impossibility. The image of the body that we read about in the bible is always singular in nature. Many bodies with one collective head is nonsensical.

Jesus is the basis for our faith. We live for him because of what he has done and what he continues to do. Since we are all part of the family of God, we are one in him. He is the linchpin of our belief system and worldview. He holds all things together. All things are for him.

Colossians 1:15-18 sums it up well, "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."

Jesus has united us together in himself. We have no choice but to be united. A divided church is, in essence, an impossibility. And yet, we often live as fractured bodies, strewn about with our different little views on less than critical issues. Christ has made us one and demands that we be so. We haven't exactly been given an option in this.

As we think about our one mission together, we must keep in mind that it is Christ who unites us. We don't ultimately do it ourselves. However, this means that we must live united, putting forth the effort to make it occur on a daily basis.

The beauty in all this is that Jesus has given us all we need to live united. He has sent us the Holy Spirit to guide all we do. He has provided us with ample instruction in scripture. He has changed our hearts to look to the good of others before ourselves.

The unity of the church ought to be a given. It certainly is not an option.

Let's look to Christ as our sovereign head as we band together to get the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Unity and Missions: United in One Practice

Despite all our differences, the church can find great unity in taking the gospel to the lost. Jesus Christ has united us in one mission, with one gospel, and as one people for one people. Additionally, our Lord has brought us together in one practice. That practice is gospel proclamation.

We tend to make things too difficult by over analyzing them. I'm guilty of this all the time. In thinking about missions, some of us dwell on the details of it (and argue over these details) so much that we end up paralyzing ourselves. We think about the "how to" so much that we fail to do it.

Let's just be proclaimers as the Spirit leads. There is no reason to divide over this issue as long as it is the biblical gospel that is being sounded forth. We may emphasize things somewhat differently than other Christians do, but this is no reason for division.

We've got plenty of people to reach with the good news. Let's come together around our goal of all people hearing.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Unity and Missions: United as One People and for One People

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of salvation. Jesus has given us (his church) marching orders to take this gospel to all peoples. We should take careful note that our Lord has given this commission to one people and for one people.

Jesus has commissioned his entire church. In this sense, he has instructed one people - his church - to work together to take the gospel to all the peoples of the globe. Jesus did not tell some of his followers to be concerned with this task, while telling others to ignore it. Rather, he clearly expects all to be involved. This may look different from person to person, but in the end all are united in accomplishing the task. John chapter 17 is one passage among many where Jesus emphasizes the importance of the unity of his people.

The reality is that, in the USA at least, the church is not united in the Great Commission. Various denominations and sending agencies work separated from each other in reaching the lost. Thousands upon thousands of dollars are spent on repetitive tasks that would be unnecessary if the agencies/denominations worked together. While many missionaries in the field do work together, their churches and agencies back home often do not. It would benefit the church greatly if denominations and non-denominations would make more concrete efforts to pool their resources, cut costs, and target unreached people groups more systematically.

Just as Jesus expects us to be united as one people, he also desires that we work together for one people. That one people is all the peoples of the globe. The gospel is not just for the Jews. The gospel is not just for Europe. The gospel is not just for large groups of people. The gospel is for all people. It would be easy to simply target some groups to reach with the gospel. However, the call is for all people - even those who may be violent, those who may be poor, those who may live in remote places, those who may speak languages that haven't yet been written, those who may not want to hear about Jesus, those who may eat weird food, those who may smell, etc. They all must hear.

We cannot as a church pretend that we lack information. Sites such as Joshua Project and People Groups provide bucket loads of data about peoples who have yet to hear about Jesus Christ. The real questions are whether or not we are willing to sacrifice and whether or not we are willing to work as one church to reach the lost.

In God's eyes his people are one people. Let's live like it while reaching those who are not yet part of his body.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Unity and Missions: United in One Gospel

Much news is easily accessible in this electronic/technological age of ours. Just turning to any news website floods our senses with all sorts of information. Much of the news is bad, while some of it is basically neutral. It's usually difficult to find any good news.
The reason for this is that there really is just one good news. That news is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Simply put, it is Jesus Christ and him crucified.

In I Corinthians 2:2 Paul writes, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." While profound in nature, the gospel is quite simple. Ultimately it comes down to the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ on behalf of his followers. It is him in our place on the cross.

When we talk about the gospel we can discuss various aspects of it such as the kingdom of God, the substitutionary atonement, the impeccability/peccability of Christ, God's sovereignty/man's responsibility, what faith means, the penal nature of Christ's sacrifice, OT prophecies fulfilled, the meaning of "It is finished!", etc. These are all wonderful things to understand and grapple with. HOWEVER, they are not things to divide over.

The gospel is a unifying, rallying point for Christ's church. We have a simple message to rejoice in and proclaim. We take deep joy in the truth that we have been saved from our sins by Jesus Christ. This is something that cannot be overstated. To ponder this is to be stunned. We have also been commissioned by Christ to take this good news to all peoples.

The task we have been given is immense. We will never succeed in proclaiming the gospel to all nations if we are fractured in doing so. there's no reason for any fracture to exist if we realize that we have one and only one message. As the body of Christ we can and should be able to come together quite easily around the gospel. When we grasp this fact, the details of our working together become just that: details. They are no longer stumbling points.

Let's embrace the good news of Christ crucified as a unifying factor for the church.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Unity and Missions: United in One Mission

As Jesus Christ's church, we can and should find unity in the fact that our Lord has provided us with one mission. Jesus has given us all the task of making disciples of all peoples around the globe. This, of course, is not all that the church should do. However, it is the church's primary mission.

Our Lord did not provide His body with multiple missions. He did not tell some to make disciples, but others to do other things. Christ is not a God of confusion; therefore, He has made things fairly simple for us to comprehend. Near the end of each of the four gospel accounts we read His charge to His followers. Although the wording is different in each passage, it should be noted that in each one Jesus is clearly sending them all out into the world.

The four gospel passages:

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)

Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." (Mark 16:14-15)

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:44-47)

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." (John 20:21)

Immediately following the gospels we read this at the beginning of Acts:

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Jesus is clear. He has given us one mission to take the good news of His salvation to the ends of the earth and make disciples while doing so. Since this mission is well-defined, there should be no confusion on the part of His church. This being the case, let's rally together around this disciple-making mission. Only when we work together will we be able to accomplish the unfinished task.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Church Unity and World Missions

Christ's church is fractured over many issues. Quite a few of these end up being discussed on this blog. I think we'd all like to see more unity in Christ's body. We've all got a long way to go to see improvement in this area.

As I think upon unity in the church, it's clear that at least one area exists where we should be united: world missions. This ought not be difficult. All in the body of Christ believe that the gospel is the only message of salvation. Every person in the world is either lost or saved. The lost are in desperate need of hearing the good news. We the church have the privilege of carrying this good news to all those who haven't heard. Even in this age of modern travel and technology there are still thousands of whole people groups who have never heard the gospel.

I can think of numerous issues within the church in which it might be difficult to find unity. Missions is not one of them. Since we agree on the gospel, it seems like it would be relatively easy to agree on most aspects of missions. I see much of this happening in the global body of Christ, but it could be happening much more.

Over my next few blog posts I'll be discussing the interplay between church unity and world missions. Despite our differences, we the church can be fairly easily united in spreading the gospel to all peoples. We need to take Nike's advice and just do it.

God's Sovereignty and Man's Responsibility

This simple comic does a nice job of showing the relationship between God's sovereignty over salvation and man's responsibility to actively commit to God. I see no reason for Christians to continue arguing about this issue. Instead, let's just rejoice in the truth.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

All Things To All People

Some people like beards, while others do not. In my own family my wife thinks my beard is a positive, but my kids, well, not so much. In the spirit of the Apostle Paul I shaved off half my beard last night. My hope is that this pleases all people involved. Additionally, I guess this makes me only a half-theologian.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Before He Speaks"

When I was a pastor I always tried to avoid using my wife as any type of sermon illustration. The ladies in the below video (which is a parody of this video) warn us: pastors' wives DO NOT take lightly being made fun of. Yikes!