31 May 2013

Politicizing the Gospel, Apostasy and Embracing the Kingdom of the Lie

A discussion about wisdom and worldliness, apostasy and witchcraft, the Temple of God, the various ways to speak of the Church, why we are Christians, and how we define victory.

Politicizing the Gospel. What is meant by this? It's a term I frequently use but I don't know that it's clear to everyone what this means.

Wisdom means that we try and examine things with honesty and integrity and in a non-partisan and non-factional way. We're determined as much as is possible to set aside pre-commitments to tradition, denomination, and cultural bias. This is by no means easy. It's a process that we have to keep working on. I believe this is the renewing of our minds and a key part of our sanctification. Pre-commitments, allegiances, and pre-suppositions will cloud our judgment and shape our thoughts and if we're determined to be Biblical in our understanding we have to be willing to set these things aside and surrender our minds and hearts to the teaching of God's Word.

This is going to lead to an embrace of nuance and a willingness to acknowledge that some thinkers though contrary to you, might have some things right.

What will seem at times like compromise, ambiguity or equivocation will in fact represent a degree of humility in admitting that some of these issues are more complicated than we can even grasp. Sometimes context and motive come into play and force our thinking to be broader and less pointed.

When the gospel is wedded to politics all these things go out the window. Truth isn't the paramount concern anymore. All that matters is to win. You must have a specific agenda. Nuance doesn't help the cause. Granting anything to another camp gives them fuel, an audience and harms your ability to dominate. If the truth calls for you to take a position that straddles factions or demands a new paradigm, it must be rejected. The politicized Gospel is a rejection of wisdom and the embrace of a strategy to win.

The only information you seek is that which is useful. The only information you give to your followers is that which serves the agenda.

This is true not just with those who have tied the gospel to a political cause. It can prove equally so with those tied in with denominational power.

Politicizing the gospel is dangerous because it leads the sheep astray. They become focused on different things and for a different purpose. It re-shapes your ethics. If you're primary goal is to win, then admitting something is wrong or that someone from your faction (past or present) is wrong will invite defeat. So deliberately or perhaps subconsciously you excuse the wrong and re-cast it so that it is right.

Ultimately the problem is a spiritual one. It's an embrace of anti-wisdom. And I think that it can lead to dire spiritual circumstances.  Paul speaks of a great falling away, a great apostasy. Dispensationalists sometimes argue this verse refers to the Pre-Tribulational Rapture, but the Greek word is apostasia...apostasia. We get our word apostasy from this. This apostasy leads to damnation...

"because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness."

(2 Thessalonians 2.10-12)

The Man of Sin which seeks to overthrow the Law of God is at work in the Temple. This again is a stumbling block for Dispensationalists who refusing James' interpretation of Amos 9 (found in Acts 15) argue this refers to a rebuilt Jewish temple in the modern state of Israel.

The Temple as Paul demonstrates so clearly in 1 Corinthians 3 and 6 as well as 2 Corinthians 6 and Ephesians 2.21 is the Church of Jesus Christ. John continues this throughout Revelation and in chapter 21 when speaking of the New Heavens and New Earth we read:

22 But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26 And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. 27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Christ is the Temple. The Church being His body is the Temple. The Church on earth even in its imperfect form can still be spoken of as the Temple. Like Israel in Romans 9.6 it contains many in it who are false... but even in this outward form, it can still be spoken of as The Temple. Not everyone who is of the Temple is of the Temple. Not everyone who is in the Church is 'of' it.

There's an outward sense that we can speak of the whole body of people that profess some attachment to Christ as the Church. And yet we know the vast majority of these people are not holding anything approaching the Truth. If we speak in a true or actual sense, they're not part of 'The' Church. Sometimes terms like invisible, vital or eschatological are used at this point and they're all accurate. When we're in glory and we will actually see the Church in a completely full and accurate sense...they won't be there.

At this point it is often argued... if they're not 'true' Christians we shouldn't call them the Church. That can also be true. Let me try and explain the distinction.

That's also true, in a sense. They're not. But here's the catch. In terms of individuals, none of us can know for sure if someone else is a Christian or not. We can't see people's hearts. We can only see their fruit. And none of us knows what their end will be. God may yet work something in their hearts. So it's not helpful to try and make that judgment.

In terms of a congregation, denomination, sect, or tradition, well, there we can draw some lines. Some are clearly in a state of apostasy. That is they proclaim to be Christian but have clearly rejected Christ's Word as their authority and thus as a consequence have embraced lies. There's no way to put that nicely. We can't ignore them. They (right or wrong) proclaim the name of Christ and in that sense fall under the umbrella as it were. And yet, we can condemn them as apostate. Now what's happening with the hearts of individuals within that camp? We don't know. There's bound to be a wide spectrum. There are likely some believers mixed in.

The Temple label is applicable to the Church. The apocalyptic language itself from the Old Testament hints at this and the New Testament clarifies it. And we can speak of the Covenant people, both Old and New in terms of a greater outward affiliation, and yet distinguish that from those (only known to God) who have a real and vital relationship with Christ, those who have a new heart or as the Old Testament put it, circumcised heart and have been regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit.

This distinction between the Invisible and Visible Church has often been misunderstood. In addition when joined with the doctrine of Constantinianism it adds another layer of confusion because now the Visible Church is basically identified with a society, nation or civilization.

Here's how I make the distinction.

We have the Visible Church. Some congregations and individuals are faithful and some are in a state of apostasy. Those in a state of apostasy still belong to the larger 'church' question but they're no longer viable churches. Their congregations and the individuals in them are in a state of sin. Just like in the Old Testament, they're still in some sense part of the Covenant but they're in sin and in the grip of idolatry.

Then we have the Invisible Church and all that term means is that only God can see who is really and truly part of it. We can't see other people's hearts. The Invisible simply describes those who are True Christians.

Many have criticized the doctrine of the Visible Church and pinned a great many evils onto it. I would argue that first, the evils have stemmed from the abuse of this doctrine. Much of what they're complaining about is not due to the doctrine itself but in how it is combined with Constantinianism or Sacralism.

Second, to try and build the Church from the invisible standpoint is folly if not impossible. Don't misunderstand me. We still try. That's why Church Discipline is so critical. We don't want unbelievers in the Church. There's nothing more destructive. If people are not continuing in the faith, if they're not manifesting the fruits of repentance and belief, then something is wrong. When a congregation is filled with unbelievers then the Word is not being preached. I believe when the Word is preached it does not return void. People will be chafed, offended and in time leave. They will rebel against it and their sins will become known. A complete denial of the faith is another way the term apostasy can be applied.

Or, they will respond and be converted and grow. Stagnation or lukewarmness is a sign of no gospel being preached, no presence of the Holy Spirit.

But even then people will fall away. Not all will continue and endure to the end. Some master the art of hypocrisy and others think they are serving God when in fact they've given themselves to evil. We must strive to keep our congregations pure but in the end must acknowledge this greater concept that in the end the True/Actual/Final manifestation of the Church will look a little different than we may think. And, that there's a sense in which we can speak of all those who profess Christ as being the Church...just for the most part in a state of apostasy.


Cal said...

This is where a question of what separates 'Christian' from 'Non-Christian'. I'm not talking about obvious denials.

This gets down to the fundamentalist controversy and tokens of orthodoxy: where do we draw the line? Are we fretting beyond the juncture Paul gives: If you believe that God rose Jesus from the dead in your heart and confess it with your mouth, you will be saved?

I want to say no, but I can imagine the Apostle giving me a smart look. With the proto-gnostics and Judaizers, I don't think Arians or Pelagians would have caught Paul off guard. Maybe its the very human terror that unless we do something, build some sort of wall, then the whole thing will collapse.

Scripture provides the knowledge necessary, and perhaps while phrased in different and helpful ways elsewhere, it is complete. That is, while Nicene may give me a good christology, good christology is in the Scripture anyway. Still it's frustrating.

However, and this is me thinking outloud, maybe we're letting the big issues take precedence. What I mean is that yes, if someone denies the divinity of Jesus, in Arian fashion, well that's clearly something to talk through. But when someone looks at Jesus' humanity as a bloodless, unmoved philosopher, or Jesus becomes a mild, let's-get-along, proper Victorian, well, that's also bad. No fancy heretic title to pin, but they're missing the Face of God.

In the end, even in this, there are no chains, but instruction. I think we're afraid of hard work. Discipleship means slowly working through issues, step by step, and, quite frankly, we lack patience. Perfect love casts out fear? So much for believing that the Holy Spirit leads into all truth. We get Rome and mini-Romes with horrifying curia and doctoral terror.


Protoprotestant said...

I don't draw lines when it comes to individuals. You'll appreciate this story. Friday night we were at my niece's graduation. It wasn't in the programme but after the opening piece by the school band they broke into the National Anthem. There's a big flag mounted on the wall of the gymnasium. We (my family of 6) were in the 2nd row, I was sitting on the middle aisle with everyone to my right. We were on display to a big chunk of the group.
The whole place turns faces the flag and everyone is taking hands off, putting their hands on their hearts etc...
We all sat down and just flipped through the programme notes and stared at the floor. I hadn't prepared my kids and since they've never gone to school they're not used to the whole routine. But they knew what was happening and why I sat down. They didn't need to ask. To them it's as plain as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refusing to bow before the idol...just a cultural difference....standing as disrespect in Anc. Near East v. sitting in modern west.
Anyway on the way home my youngest daughter was asking about the putting of hands on the heart etc... So I explained. Now what was disturbing to my kids is that all around us were family members who profess Christ and other people we know who profess Christ.
Obvious question (from a kid point of view)....are those people false Christians?
Answer- Some of them probably are, some of them probably not.
Thinking about that group I have no doubt there are some sincere believers there. I had to explain to my kids how we just grow up with that from the time we're very young and then later as you grow up in the Church you're taught that kind of devotion (a blatant act of worship, even my kids could see that) is actually THE Christian thing to do. Most people never even think about it. It's just something you do.
I remember many years ago sitting in that Anglican Church in Rome (that I told you about) on Remembrance Day and everyone breaking out into God Save the Queen. And I remember thinking...oh....should I be singing this? Why would I?
I ended up singing it because I enjoyed be there and I'm a bit of an Anglophile at times. But I remember thinking, it's okay in the civil sphere but this doesn't belong in Church. Of course such a statement within an Anglican Church is kind of absurd.
I understand why the lost make such idols. It makes perfect sense, but eventually I came to realize I don't even want to do that outside of Church. I don't want to do that at all.

Protoprotestant said...

1Cor. 10 talks about how the Hebrews were 'our' fathers. Paul's telling the Greek Corinthians who had become Christians that they were the descendants of the Hebrews. That's 'our' history. Of course I can point to many more places that teach the same...Galatians 3, Ephesians 2.11-13
We're part of Christ's Kingdom. We are the people of God. That's our nation. Like Abraham and Sarah in Hebrews 11.15....we could go back to the countries we came out of but like them we desire a better, a heavenly country.
When we embrace Christ we turn our backs on all that.
My kids and I talked about how when we have friends come from other countries...what do they think about that? Are they wrong not to want to participate? Should everyone feel that way about their country? Most American Christians of course would say no. I asked a guy about that the other day regarding France. I asked if you were a French Christian (based on his argument) should you patriotic. I guarantee you he'd never thought about it. It miffed him though. His response was he'd leave France because it's socialist and the Muslims are taking over. Deep wisdom there.
So while I won't say that all who worship at patriotic high places are immediately lost...I won't do it with them...which usually leads them to think I'm lost. Patriotism a sign of orthodoxy? You bet.
But in terms of the church...no I won't attend one where that's going on. In fact I may go so far (depending on the degree) to say...that's not a church at all. There's some individual Christians there, but they're worshipping at a high place. Perhaps whole congregations are high places? Perhaps they're akin to the Dan/Bethel shrines? Those Christians need to repent and leave those congregations.
I don't think we can hard lines but a tree is known by its fruit. I've had Sacralists tell me they are very offended at my anti-patriotism and then they're quite surprised when I say I'm very offended that a professing Christian thinks it's appropriate to glorify war and death. I find it revolting that what they've derived from the teaching of Christ is violence is legitimate when you hide behind social consensus, when you wear a uniform. I find it revolting that Christians are almost brought to tears standing on the National Mall or visiting Arlington Cemetery. I can be moved to tears visiting any cemetery but for different reasons. For me it's a John 11 scenario.
It's just interesting though how this complex of ideas becomes so deeply ingrained and so hard to penetrate and the response to criticism is so visceral as to preclude any kind of reasonable discussion. That alone exposes its idolatrous nature.