Gary Swisher

Archive for the ‘sectarian’ Category

Ballot-Box Christianity

In Chrisitan Right, Christianity, evangelical, sectarian on August 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm

I wrote a few months ago of how strongly I disagree with the notion that God is a Republican and the United States is his kingdom on earth. The Christian Right seems to have married faith to politics and made being a Republican a prerequisite for the Christian life. Christians on the left often bemoan this tendency and rightly so. But could there a bit of hypocrisy involved when these same Christians proceed to line Jesus up with their party instead? If it is misguided to spout conservative politics from a Christian platform it’s just as misguided to answer the “What would Jesus do?” question with an endorsement for the Democratic Party.

A blogger I have enjoyed reading in the past, because of his non-institutional stance, apparently thinks you can better follow Christ if you lean toward the left, as he recently posted a tirade on the Tea Party. The writer positioned them just as the popular media do, painting this grass-roots movement as mean and hateful bigots. He then proceeded to rip them on numerous points from a “WWJD” perspective. It doesn’t seem right to use such broad-brushed and uninformed mischaracterizations. Conservatives don’t have horns, capes and pointy tails—at least not all.

It is easier to accept the worst impressions about a group and write them off, but wholesale rejections are often ill-informed. If you watch mainstream media you likely have a much skewed perspective as to what the Tea Party stands for. If you listen to political leaders on the left, you probably think they are terrorists. Fair disclosure; I am not in the Tea Party but I support their basic premise. An honest look at the matter should reveal that the Tea Party stands for fiscal responsibility and accountability of governmental leaders to the citizens who elect them. That’s a big tent, which can range from people whose main interest is selfish profiteering to those who simply hope for a fair shake and honest representation in government. The Tea Party is sounding the alarm on a government that is spiraling out of control and putting an entire nation on a path toward certain economic ruin.

Am I putting my hope in an earthly kingdom? I truly hope not. I think we can act responsibly in regard to our nation without giving in to worldliness and its escalating materialism. In my view, it is appropriate to see this as stewardship of the things God places in our hands. Having concern for the state of our nation seems no different from taking care of one’s family or any other moral responsibility. We cross the line when we become nationalistic or view our citizenship as an earthly endeavor. But whether one thinks the United States is God’s country or the Great Satan, I don’t know how we can turn a blind eye to dysfunction in any aspect of society, let alone our federal government. Dysfunctional government is wrong and will only become lethal to the people it is meant to serve.

The dysfunction of our government has become painfully obvious most recently. I’ll avoid the specific issue of the debt ceiling debate, since either side can argue that the others’ are at fault. To me the greater dysfunction is that we have allowed our debt to reach such an astronomic level. Both parties can take the blame. Does it even make sense to establish a debt ceiling since it is routinely elevated to accommodate more and more debt? Debt is a very destructive thing, and debt on the scale we see now has the potential to devastate the lives of our children’s children. A child born today owes $176,000 to Uncle Sam before he or she even has a Social Security number. Our children will be forced to live under enormous debt due to such fiscal irresponsibility. And it won’t just be the rich kids who lose out.

Our current obligations for entitlement programs are completely unsustainable, and will probably be our undoing. Our government borrows 43 cents for every dollar it spends. Does the U.S. government deserve a AAA credit rating? If credit companies looked at our national debt and obligations the way they look at consumers applying for credit, the U.S. government would have no credit at all. Vladimir Putin is right in saying the U.S. is a parasite on the world economy. The richest country in the world is running up a tab of trillions to pay for entitlements that its own citizens cannot afford. So we continue to borrow from other nations and put world markets on edge. Only 50% of our citizens pay taxes, the rest are receiving government assistance. We have become a nation of entitlement addicts.

I have a neighbor on public assistance whose able-bodied grandson (now in his twenties) lives with her, rent-free. She has encouraged him to go out and find work but he sees no reason to. His words to her… “Why should I go out and get a job when I have what I need without working?” He prefers to sit around and while his days away with, seemingly, no purpose in life. I overheard him say how Obama’s election would provide more handouts and a better deal for him. Remarkably, since Obama’s election, even the outlook for African-Americans has declined. Since the beginning of 2009 the disparity between black unemployment and white unemployment figures has steadily risen. What’s more, legitimate charities are being penalized by the loss of tax incentives for their funding. There is no logic behind this but to increase reliance on government and undermine the role of charities.

The Republican party is not alone in failing to deliver on its own principles. For those on the left, government is seen as a means to social justice. I don’t doubt that many supporters of the Democratic Party sincerely desire to help the less-privileged, oppressed and down-trodden. But the policies that actually get enacted are ultimately harming those they intend to help. Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty close to fifty years ago, yet the welfare state has only perpetuated the problems of the poor. Social justice is not being accomplished by entitlement programs. Consequently, economic ruin has become the greater threat for all. Here is where we have to be willing to see the inherent corruption of all human institutions.

When we condition people to rely on someone or something else to constantly meet their needs it sets them up for failure. It gives them a fish for a day and never any more than that. It creates co-dependency between the people and the agencies that serve them. When advising people on career changes, I have heard stories about social service agencies that foster such a culture of dependency. An agency’s funding is based upon how large a population it serves, so anyone employed there who truly tries to get people to be more self-sufficient becomes frustrated by an  agenda to keep them in the system.

One more life example. When I was growing up there was a woman in our church who, prior to her conversion, had two children out-of-wedlock. She seemed to have reformed her ways but after a few years she became pregnant again, still unmarried. It came to light that this pregnancy was no accident but a strategic move on her part. By having another child she got a bigger welfare check and increased her expense-to-income ratio. The system taught her that bringing on more dependents increases profitability. The sad part is that many children grow up without fathers because of such incentives.

Competing for the Christian “endorsement” in public politics is wrong. No party deserves it because human institutions are inherently corrupt, whether they are greedy corporations or greedy government institutions. Both are apt to hoard power and money  and exploit the masses. There can never be a wholly Christ-like party because Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Religious hypocrisy may be the outcome for anyone who brings Christianity into the political arena. It seems unavoidable. My vote is not for the most seemingly Christian candidate. Appearances certainly deceive and every role model will disappoint.  Neither do I make religious hypocrisy my standard for voting ‘no.”

We can’t create a Christian society through the ballot box. When Christians use the name of Christ to support their politics, or to condemn the politics of others, they profane His name. Amazingly Christians end up dividing along the very same party lines as the rest of the world, and look no different. We should conduct our debates without dragging His name through the mud. We need to look honestly at each candidate’s merits and shortcomings, debate the issues fairly and support the leaders whose policies benefit the common good—even in spite of their apparent religious hypocrisy. We can do this from a Christian perspective, as salt and light, without trying to put Jesus on our political platform, or putting other Christians on public trial–to our own shame.

Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benmcleod/17518034/

Ties that Bind (3)

In Christ, Christianity, church, denomination, evangelical, sectarian, unity on March 27, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Christ prayed that his believers would all be one. It is apparent today, with numerous divisions and such rigid walls about us, that we are opposed to this purpose of Christ. If we are not minding what Christ desires, it suggests that our flesh is in the way, because the flesh is enmity with God and cannot please him. Most of Christendom has forsaken unity in Christ. Instead, Christians emphasize their beliefs in the areas where they differ. May I reiterate that? Christians focus and build their identity on their points of disagreement! I am of Apollos… I am of Cephas… I am pre-millennial… I am Trinitarian… I am A Capella… I speak in tongues…And yet another says I am of Christ–as if to say all the others are not.

Wrong as they are, factions exist for a reason; they have a purpose in the body. Paul said that heresies must come in order to reveal those among us who are acceptable, or approved (1 Cor. 1:19). He doesn’t expand on this statement, but it seems clear that developing or adhering to factions puts us at odds with Christ’s purpose to have and behold one body that cannot be individuated. Individuating is another way for us to understand heresy, because our individual nature is the fuel. The lexicons say that engaging in heresy is choosing or taking for oneself. It is to choose or prefer some particular thing above others.

When we address the issue of factions, it is vitally important that we learn to discern between conformity and true unity. Conformity is based on numerous points of alignment. There is a mandate to agree in order to be included. Surely we can get along with those who share all of our vital views and practices. In this sense our churches are no more based on love than a political party. Agree to all the right issues and you’ve got support! When all doctrines are in sync in your group, fellowship seems more based on “right thinking” and conformity. How easy it is to love those with whom you have no conflict. Without differences to challenge our unity, how do we know we have the kind of agape love described in 1 Corinthians 13, remembering how this love surpasses knowledge? Doctrines are sourced in knowledge. Knowledge is needed, but without love it becomes divisive and legalistic.

So how do we define the body of Christ? Are we to rely on our complex doctrines, separate denominations and movements, perceiving the security of our faith to be found in a statement of beliefs, a list of practices, or our forensic approach to scripture? Or, should we take up the ecumenical approach? I doubt that the multiplication and combination of every religious tradition will move us any closer to the simplicity of Christ.

Jesus said to Martha that she was distracted by many things. Mary, on the other hand chose the one thing. It is the one thing that should be the focus of all believers. Otherwise they will continue to divide and create doctrines of their individual choice. Churches do not seem to mind the one thing. They are concerned and troubled about numerous and diverse things.

So then, if there is any comfort in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, fulfill my joy, that you think the same, having the same love, one in soul, minding the one thing, doing nothing according to party spirit or self-glory, but in humility, esteeming one another as surpassing yourselves; (Phi 2:1-3, LITV)

I like how this version puts it; minding the “one thing.” That is a very literal translation. There is simplicity in Christ. There is a singular focus. There is “one thing” in the Christian walk.  “There is one body and one Spirit…  one Lord, one faith… one God and Father of all…”

What does scripture have to say about the one thing? In regard to doctrines there is one faith. In regard to divisions there is one body. In regard to submission there is one Lord. In regard to unity there is one Spirit. In regard to our provision there is one God and Father of all. “For if you should have myriads of teachers in Christ, yet not many fathers; for I fathered you in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1Cor. 4:15 ). This is the one thing.

Ties that Bind (2)

In Christianity, church, denomination, evangelical, sectarian, unity on March 25, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Part 2

Every wind of doctrine tosses about and disorients those inside and outside the church. The world doesn’t see a unified church under the simple headship of Christ. One denomination forms in order to fellowship exclusively with those who believe in worshiping on Saturday. Another movement holds that Christians are legitimate only if they speak in tongues. Still another group says you must be baptized three times; once each, for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A different movement holds that imitating New Testament patterns of practice are essential to maintain acceptance with God.

Many expectations are placed on believers, beyond the simplicity of Christ and the essence of the gospel. You must keep the Sabbath. You must seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Churches even go so far as to name themselves according to their divisive doctrines. Not to pick on any in particular, but consider the name, Free-Will Baptist Church. It is named after not one, but two doctrines. Or consider the Church of God, Anderson and the Church of God, Cleveland. These are not names of two local churches but actual denominations where there was once one.

Down through the years Christians have been exiled, persecuted and imprisoned, or worse, by other Christians for holding different views on various issues. John Calvin wished death upon one who held a different position than he. Anabaptists were murdered in droves by so-called Christians for their practices. We don’t kill other believers in this age. But we belittle them, condemn them to judgment or at the very least write them off and cast them aside. We are convinced that our opinions are correct because of our sound reasoning and better proof texts. We always see scripture as taking our side. Surely, we think, God holds our view.

We seek to fully explain, diagram and dissertate on any mystery left unresolved by scripture. Well-intentioned scholars and centuries of debate have not brought the church closer to true unity. Christianity only continues to divide. Even when many churches do agree on what has been deemed “orthodox,” as with the Nicene Creed, they still draw lines of separation to keep their organizations apart.

Wherever the Bible is unclear, it tends to invite iron-clad opinions. Where the Bible offers vagueness and lacks certainty, the human mind designs clarity through systematic theologies, constructs and belief statements that leave no room for variance. Such a mindset does not create unity but disunity (Rom. 15). Christians bind on others with 100% certainty the doctrines which often seem to have the least clarity. In the process they diminish the one thing which should bind us together. There are people dividing themselves, for example, into camps of belief (pre-trib, post-trib, etc.) based on the most difficult and veiled book in the Bible—Revelation. Why are camps formed around such uncertainty?

Part 3 coming soon…