A Church that Holds Together Differences

In my message on Sunday I quoted D. Martyn Lloyd Jones’ rationale for not using his pulpit as a public platform to rail against communism in the 1950’s, one of the urgent social questions of the day.

a…The business of the church is to preach the Gospel and to bring the message of salvation to all…  If the Christian Church today spends most of her time denouncing communism, then it seems to me that the main result will be that communists will not be likely to listen to the preaching of the Gospel. If the church is always denouncing one particular section of society, she is shutting the evangelistic door upon that section… (But) if we take the New Testament view of these matters then we must believe that the communist has a soul to be saved in exactly the same way as everybody else… And, thank God, communists can be… saved. (135)

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones thought that it was misguided for the church as the church to “intervene” in political, economic and social policy debates.  He was insistent that this was not the church’s “business.” The church’s business, he said, is to preach the Gospel (evangelism) and to teach everything that Christ has commanded (discipleship).  Now, I think that under the mandate of teaching everything that Christ commanded that there are going to be some important principles derived from Scripture that have important political, economic and social implications about which the church must be clear.  I have long thought that the Evangelicals for Social Action Publication – “Can My Vote Be Biblical?” – does a pretty good job of identifying some of these principles that follow pretty closely on the heels of the confession that Jesus is Lord and that can be shown to be the clear and consistent teaching of the Scriptures –

1.      The family is a divinely-willed institution.

The family, not the state, is the primary institution for rearing children. Christians must resist the growing tendency of the state to usurp the role of the family (Genesis 2:23-24; Matthew 19:3-9). Legislation such as tax rates should help create a climate conducive to the best Christian understandings of marriage, family, and sexuality. Legislation and public funds should discourage, not promote sin.

2. Every human life is sacred.

Every person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Since God “desires all to be saved” every person in the world is immeasurably valuable. The great value and worth of each individual is totally independent of their social usefulness. People committed to interpreting Scripture well cannot remain silent when modern society forgets the value of each individual human life—as when it neglects the mentally challenged and aged, practices ethnic or sexual discrimination, or does not work to reduce abortion.

 3. Religious and political freedom are God-given, inalienable rights.

Throughout the Bible, we see that even though people rebel against God, God continues to provide the necessities of life (Matthew 5:45). The state should not impose civil penalties for unbelief. The church and state should be separate. Every individual is valuable in God’s sight. Further, sinful, selfish people regularly abuse power that lacks checks and balances. Therefore, freedom of expression and political liberty are crucial rights.

4. God and his obedient people have a very special concern for the poor.

In literally dozens and dozens of places Scripture teaches that God has a very strong concern for justice for the poor and oppressed (Ps. 35:10; Ps. 103:6-7; Ps. 146:6-9; Jer. 22:1-5; Amos 4:1-3; Amos 8:4-8; Luke 4:16ff) .  Therefore God also empowers his people to have a deep concern for them and to work with them to change structural injustices (Deut. 27:19; Ps. 41:1-2; Ps. 82:1-5; Prov. 14:21, 31; Prov. 22:22; Is. 32:1-3; Lk. 14:12-14; Matt. 25:31-46:1; John 3:17). A genuine solidarity with the poor and a strong commitment to seek justice with them ought to be a central concern of politicians who seek to take scripture seriously. “If a king judges the poor with equity, his throne will be established forever” (Prov. 29:14).

5. God requires just economic systems in society.

 The starting point of all biblical thinking on economics is that God is sovereign. God is the only absolute owner of all things (Ps. 24:1; Job 41:11; Leb. 25:23). God wants the earth’s resources to benefit everyone. The Bible condemns both those who are lazy and those who become rich by oppressing others (Is. 3:13-16; Jer. 5:26-29; Hosea 12:7-9; James 51:1-5). Throughout the Scriptures, God has commanded and guided his people to implement programs of economic sharing that reduced unjust extremes of wealth and poverty (Lev. 25:10-24; Deut. 14:28-29; Deut. 15:1-6; Acts 2:43-47; Acts 4:32-37; 2 Cor. 8:8-15). In fact, God cares so much about economic justice that he destroyed both Israel and Judah for two basic reasons: idolatry and economic oppression (Hosea 8: Amos 2:7; Amos 6:1-7; Amos 7:11, 17; Is 10:1-4; Jer. 5:26-29) The one who is sovereign over economics requires economic systems that enable all people to earn a just living in fulfilling work.

 6. God requires Christians to be peacemakers.

Christians look forward to the time when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Micah 4:3). Until the Lord returns, unfortunately, persons persistently resort to wars and rumors of wars. Many Christians believe they should, as the lesser of two evils, engage in just wars for the sake of preserving some order in a fallen world. Other Christians believe that war is contrary to the teaching of Christ and that he calls us to overcome our enemies with suffering love rather than with the sword. But all should agree that Jesus’ words “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9) are urgent in our time and should commit themselves to Just Peacemaking practices. We must live out Jesus’ call to peacemaking in a world that devotes to military expenditures each year an amount equal to the total annual income of the poorest one-half of the world’s people. President Dwight Eisenhower reflected a biblical concern when he said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, theft from those who hunger and are not fed.”

 7. The Creator requires stewardship of the earth’s resources.

The earth is the Lord’s (Ps. 24:1), and humanity is to exercise wise and careful stewardship of it (Gen. 1:28).  Such a high calling requires each generation to protect the environment and preserve the quality of life for future generations. We are stewards of God’s good gift.

 8. Sin is both personal and social.

Consciously-willed, individual acts like lying and adultery are sinful. So too, according to the Scriptures, is participating uncritically in social structures that are not just (Amos 4:1-2).  In one breath the prophets condemn both kinds of sin (Amos 2:6-7; Is. 5:8-11, 22-23; Ezek. 22:6-11).  The Bible denounces laws that are unjust (Is. 10:1-4; Ps. 94:20).  Politicians with a biblical perspective will have a deep concern to correct social structures that are evil.

 9. Personal integrity is vital.

 The scriptures demand honesty and personal righteousness. Dishonesty in public affairs undercuts the democratic process. A politician’s personal and family life should be a good model for the rest of society. Government leaders ought to be humble and honest enough to acknowledge mistakes. Knowing that we all err, we should forgive those who offer forthright confession. Personal religious belief which fosters a profound sense of God’s sovereignty over all nations and a sharp awareness of God’s passion for justice help prevent the abuse of political power for narrow personal or nationalistic purposes.

 10. God loves the whole world, not just the United States of America.

 Although candidates for office tend to speak and act in the tradition of American exceptionalism, we know that God is equally concerned for citizens of every nation and state throughout the world. We should take seriously Scripture’s deep concern for ‘foreigners’ and immigrants.

I would argue that it is part of the church’s job of teaching everything that Christ has commanded to be clear about such principles. Where the church must exercise great restraint, it seems to me, is in the application of these political, economic and social principles to actual political, economic and social policies.  For instance, it seems to me that Principle #6 – “God requires Christians to be peacemakers” – can be affirmed in practice by pacifists, just war theorists and even by those who favor pre-emptive military action when the situation requires it from their point of view.  None of these policy applications begins from the viewpoint of being against peace. In fact, each one begins with the argument that the policy embraced is the very best way to ultimately serve the interests of peace.  And so, starting with the very same principle, equally conscientious and committed Christians can wind up supporting very different policy positions, and while we can and should argue the merits of our own particular policy positions with each other, we must not make the mistake of thinking or saying that just because you disagree with me at the point of the policy implementation of a Biblical principle that you are somehow less of a Christian than I am because of it.   Deny or ignore the Biblical principle and we may very well have a crisis of faith to address.  But disagree with the particular political, economic or social policy that I support because I conscientiously think that it’s the best way to act on the principle, and what we have is a difference of interpretation, and that’s something to which I have a “right” as a Protestant – the “right of private interpretation.”  And this was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ caution.  He didn’t see it as the business of the church to get mixed up in policy debates.  But he did see it as the business of each and every Christian to decide for himself or herself which policy and party he or she was going to support, and to make the decision as being the best expression of our shared Biblical principles.  This is a matter of freedom and conscience, what in our interpretative tradition as Disciples would be called an “inference.”  Thomas Campbell, one of “our” founders, explained “inferences” like this –

That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the Church. Hence, it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church’s confession. (Declaration and Address – 1809)

In other words, as individual Christians we are going to have our private opinions on any number of political, economic and social matters, but for the sake of the Gospel, those opinions must not be allowed to become matters of ultimate concern for the church.  Only a deeply Biblically informed commitment to Jesus Christ is a sufficient center for the life and work of the church.  This is why D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones didn’t preach against communism in the 1950’s, and it’s why we must be very careful not to let our political, economic and social concerns, passionate as we may be about them, get in the way of our highest commitment as a church to Jesus Christ and the mission of knowing Him and making Him known.  DBS+

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1 Comment

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One response to “A Church that Holds Together Differences

  1. Jo Ann Charron

    I agree the message of the Church needs to be Salvation through Christ. When the world and its views interfere with that message the church becomes divided. Church needs to be about God welcoming all. Conviction of sin is God’s responsibility, if the church does its job well and instructs and teaches God’s word the congregation will grow in His grace, love and walk in the light.

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