August 20, 2013

Jesus' Activism Example is Quite Relevant Today

A lot of Christians have been taught to believe that it is "more spiritual" to intentionally avoid engaging in political issues altogether. On a very basic level, however, this opinion runs contrary to what scripture teaches and is against the examples of the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ.

Three Myths About Christian Activism and Biblical Politics

1. Jesus was never involved in politics.
2. The Apostle Paul never engaged in politics.
3. The Bible commands full submission to all government authority.

Christians are specifically called to be salt and light in an increasingly corrupt and dark world (Matthew 5.13-16), and the implication is that we are to have a positive influence on the society around us. Jesus was involved in political issues in his day and the Apostle Paul only had a minor account. We can learn from their examples.

By living for the truth, justice, and ethics outlined in scripture, Jesus was in opposition to Rome.

Jesus did not call for an armed insurrection against Rome, something that the Jews had hoped their "real" Messiah would do. But Jesus operated on a day to day basis in the community standing for truth and justice wherever he went. And in this manner, Jesus was a threat to the political establishment of Rome because he refused to bow to and worship the system and the Caesar that led it (something that would get countless Christians martyred). And Jesus also upended the social order by honoring the poor with equal respect, honoring lepers, honoring women, marriage, and so on. Jesus did not have just a religious effect, but also a social and political effect.

Sam Schnake's blog offers an example of the kind of social activism Jesus promoted: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14)

That was a very radical message at that time. The Jews then believed lepers and sick people were cursed of God due to a problem of sin somewhere in the family line. Unlike Jesus, the Church tends to simply follow along with the status quo patterns of society without holding firm to Christian ethics as they inform all of the society. Because God is the ultimate reference of valid ethics, lives of Christians should be examples of valid ethics, simply by living our faith publicly and not in secret.

Jesus lived out his faith publicly and constantly upset the status quo order. He did not just accept ideas because political leaders or religious leaders made claims or demanded obedience. He did not simply follow status-quo patterns. He was willing to challenge his local political leaders, if and when they became unethical, and Jesus associated with lepers, prostitutes, and other people that the system had rejected.

Sadly, cable TV is the main social influence in many Christian's lives. And many of the ideas and ethics in the news and in programs are not questioned. I've met Christian leaders, for example, who believe that waterboarding is perfectly acceptable if the government decides it is necessary. When pushed for justification, the Christian leader brought up Romans 13 as a justification for this opinion and also raised a Marxist defense of the "ends justifies the means" ticking time bomb scenario. Jesus did not follow humanistic ethics, he did take anything or anyone for granted, and he based all things on the eternal principles established and presented in scripture.

Jesus opposed the corrupt Sanhedrin, who were also political judges and not just religious figures.

Tired of having their corruption pointed out and their profits decreased, the political leaders of Israel had it in for Jesus. Jesus was officially arrested, tried, and sentenced to a criminal's death by Jewish religious-political leaders prior to the official sentence of death administered by the Romans. The Sanhedrin ruled over both spiritual and political decisions. In handing Jesus over to Pontius Pilat, the Sanhedrin stated the following:

"'If he were not a criminal, 'they replied, 'we would not have handed him over to you.' Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.'" (John 18.30-31 NIV). This verse underscores that the Sanhedrin were not just religious leaders, but also political leaders. Since Jesus did, in fact, oppose their opinions and decisions on many occasions, this renders the typical Christian interpretation of Romans 13 as inadequate. Notice that the Sanhedrin had their own "court" and "officers" - referencing a legal and political system: "But Peter followed him afar off, unto the court of the high priest, and entered in, and sat with the officers, to see the end." (Matthew 26.58 KJV)

Wikipedia outlines the dual spiritual and political nature of the Sanhedrin: "By the end of the Second Temple period, the Sanhedrin reached its pinnacle of importance, legislating all aspects of Jewish religious and political life within the parameters laid down by Biblical and Rabbinic tradition." Wikipedia also notes the presence of the Sanhedrin at the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7. This chapter is usually entitled, "Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin"

It's possible to respect the position while opposing the principle.

This principle of respectful disobedience was demonstrated by Christ when he was questioned by the chief priest at his initial trial, Jesus spoke peacefully to the priest and basically underscored the unjust nature of the proceedings:

“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” (John 18.23 NIV)

At the final stage of his earthly life, Jesus did heavily criticize the authorities because he knew that all things must be fulfilled in his unjust trial and crucifixion. However, prior to this time, there are many instances where Jesus did not just follow along with whatever the authorities wanted, as would have been the case if the popular interpretation of Romans 13 is true.

Both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., two incredibly influential activists, attributed their effectiveness as activists to the teachings of Christ. Were they off? Did they misinterpret scripture? Or were they operating in accordance with the actual teachings of Christ? I would offer that their activism was in keeping with both the letter and the spirit of the words of Jesus' teachings, and was very effective. Jesus often took a stand in the name of truth and justice for the sake of others, despite the fact that this put him on the blacklist of the governing body

The Apostle Paul stood up for justice in a political context.

Paul stated, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."  (1 Corinthians 11:1) And Acts 16.37 describes an incident when Paul was illegally imprisoned and the officials wanted to pass it off quietly and forget about it. And what was Paul's response?

"But Paul said to the officers: 'They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.'" (NIV)

Paul was not afraid to engage in matters of political justice. Because Romans 13 is so often used as an excuse, let's consider what it says. Romans 13. 1 states, "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established." A lot of Christians believe that, because of this verse, they can pass the buck, so to speak, and abrogate their own personal moral responsibility simply because we are to be "subject to" governmental authorities. But, obviously, Paul was not just following along with whatever he was told to do by the Roman government. Paul was guided by his conscience and the Spirit to be salt and light in that situation.

The key is to differentiate between the position of authority and the laws representative of that position. It is possible to respect a person while at the same time disagreeing with him or her and standing for justice. So often, however, pastors and Christians, in general, do not make this differentiation, but simply use Romans 13 as a complete and total cop out. The Holy Spirit is our guide as to what situations, in particular, God may desire for us to take a stand for justice.

Many people don't even notice Christians today because we tend to blend right in with the scenery, not making a peep regarding extreme corruption, torture, indefinite imprisonment without a trial, the remote control bombing of non-combatant civilians, and so on. This is perhaps one of the main reasons that the Church (in the biblical sense) is often seen as fairly irrelevant today in society. Don't get me wrong, I understand that the main reason Christ came was to bring salvation to the lost. However, if you look at the many effects of Jesus' life on society, you'll note that women became more respected, marriage was elevated and became more honored, the poor and the sick became viewed as valuable human beings, and the corrupt were openly rebuked by Christ in public. All of these changes came to pass because Jesus was not afraid to question social norms, status-quo political activities, and greedy practices of fraud. When I refer to activism or political influence, I don't mean mindlessly cheering for the Democrat Party or Republican Party. I am simply using the word activism in a broad sense, in simply acknowledging that Christians are to be involved in society, to have active compassion for others in society, and to be an influence for the betterment of society, not just people in their local church, to whatever degree the Holy Spirit might guide.

There are many poor excuses for avoiding politics altogether

Many pastors teach that we are to quietly submit to the government without question, because of Romans 13, so long as we are not personally called to break any obvious biblical laws. But even if you take this position, there are many ways in which Christians are being pushed to affirm and support morals that are explicitly forbidden in the Bible. For example, the increasing demand to positively "affirm" and not just "tolerate" LGBT marriage. Not only is LGBT marriage denounced in scripture, science outlines that gender is based on biology and not mere feelings.

The Church today is often encumbered by preconceptions about political issues, such as "the separation of church and state" and the desire to maintain tax exempt status. In this respect, we are following government rule more than Christ's rule, even though our collective conscience may be telling us that things such as censored freedom of speech, political waterboarding, and pre-flight molestations at TSA screenings are not quite right.

You may attend church regularly, but how does your affiliation with church affect your ability to understand ethical issues towards being more equipped to be salt and light in the world in a practical sense? Are you being conditioned to stand up for light and truth as you are being taught in your church? Or is the opposite true? Are you being more strongly conditioned to avoid thinking about issues related to justice? I see more of the latter today, by far. Nevertheless, Scripture shows that we should follow our conscience in terms what God is calling us to do in keeping with scripture:

"Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than human beings!" (Acts 5:29 NIV)

Another example that Christians often use as an excuse for not talking about political issues is Matthew 22, the time when Jesus was questioned regarding paying taxes to Rome, specifically Caesar: "So tell us what you think. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Yes or no?" This little episode is described in Matthew 22:17-22 (ERV).

Jesus offered the famous reply, "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. And give to God the things that are God's." In this case, Jesus did not offer any protest or resentment regarding paying taxes, even though he had the opportunity to bring up possible reasons. Based on this verse, many Christians will state things like, "Jesus always avoided politics, Jesus never opposed Rome, Jesus followed the separation of church and state..." and so on.

However, when you consider the sum of Jesus' life, Jesus' engagements with the government of Rome were very brief in comparison with his engagements with the governing authorities of Israel. Though subservient to Rome, and though also religiously affiliated, the Jews had retained their own functioning political system. During his trial, Jesus was passive and accepted his destiny to be crucified. During his teaching ministry, however, Jesus was frequently engaged in a confrontation with the immediate political leaders of his community, the Sanhedrin.

When Jesus turned the tables, he was confronting political and spiritual leaders.

Most Christians are familiar with the account of Jesus turning the tables in the Temple. Obviously, this was not a legally sanctioned act. It was quite illegal and extremely offensive to the Sanhedrin, who received a cut of the profits from the money changers and sometimes held their meetings in the Royal Stoa close by. The Encyclopedia Urantia website describes the occasional Sanhedrin meeting near the money changers:

"At this time the Sanhedrin itself held its regular meetings in a chamber surrounded by all this babble and confusion of trade and barter."

A recent email update from Chuck Missler included the following statement by Thomas DeMont:

"The truth is that the leadership of the church must take a stand and change first. Where were all the pastors in Germany during the systematic gathering and slaughtering of Jews? Where do our pastors stand today? My prayer is that many voices will cry out of the wilderness and not worry about offending others or being politically correct."

As the church, we embrace timeless principles of justice and morality. This is not something to be embarrassed about, but something to embrace with confidence. Truth can be disseminated in a spirit of love and compassion to a world so in need of a moral wake up call. The fact is, the secular atheists who promote moral relativism do not have logical arguments to support their moral positions. But we do have strong logical arguments in favor of Christian ethics, as shown by William Lane Craig.

Today, Christians are dominating in global debates on philosophical questions of ethics and justice. So why does the Church seem afraid to speak up and take a stand on the issues?

Peter Singer, the leading ethicist at Princeton, employs flawed logic in attempting to prop up his extremist secular moral views. The work of Sam Harris, another leader in the realm of secular ethics, has been ripped apart by both Christians and secularists. The Christian apologist William Lane Craig, however, does quite well in defending objective Christian ethics against secularists, to the point where top academic secularists shun the thought of debating him publicly and being exposed for embracing illogical and untenable propositions. Instead of hiding our truth and light, we as Christians should be able to stand for it today now more than ever with the assistance of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

So what are we supposed to do? 

The first important thing to realize is that all of us believers that have a true born-again relationship with Christ have the indwelling Holy Spirit that can help to clarify God's perfect will for our lives. I'm not saying that God communicates with us in an audible voice, but that God can put things on our conscience that he wants us to do or to become involved in. For one person, God's perfect will may be to pray for a spiritual awakening that sweeps through society. If you think about it, a democratic society is only as strong as the ethics of its people. And evil people will simply elect evil representatives in the democracy of an evil society. The best possible solution is not political but is a widespread spiritual awakening.
 
An important step for many is probably to simply turn the cable TV off for a little while and take a deep breath. It may come as a shock to many, but cable TV news is often highly censored, biased, and does not actually represent a lot of the important issues in society today. Many are living in a bubble of false information while there are alternative news sites offering much better information. Because the Millennial Generation is Internet-savvy, there is more openness towards knowing what is going on and perhaps becoming a change for good. And whatever we see and hear needs to be taken in context with the body of scripture.

A lot of what Jesus did as he interacted was simply to spontaneously bring justice to unjust situations, in keeping with this verse: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8 NIV)

If we are sincere in our desire to follow God and seek his will for our lives, he will show how little or how much he wants us to become involved in issues of justice and mercy in society. The term "social justice gospel" has a negative connotation because sometimes people see doing justice as an alternative to understanding the gospel and living by it. It's really not a valid substitute, though. And while social justice is not a substitute for the gospel, embracing the gospel does not cancel out all acts of justice, either. Again, these questions refer back to our personal relationship to God.

We abide in God and we bear fruit when and how God directs. That's the ideal. If something is not done in relationship with Christ and in God's love, then it's not worth much at all. Dr. Martin Martin Luther King, Jr. aptly wrote that "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

What specifically God would have us to do with our lives is a question that we need to each personally ask God. Personally, I believe that raising people's awareness about God's love and the true basis of ethics is very helpful for society. And this can be applied thoughtfully to almost any political discussion.

Some famous examples of Christians that brought about a radical change in society are William Wilberforce, who helped stop the slave trade; John Wesley, who was effective in prison reform and abolitionist movements; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also extremely effective as a Christian in terms of helping to bring about better racial equality, and Jonathan Mayhew, a Congregational minister that advocated revolution against England and coined the phrase "No taxation without representation." And William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army, one of the largest distributors of humanitarian aid in the world. Booth lived from 1829 to 1912 and his quote is poignant for us today:

“The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell."

Booth's holistic approach to the Christian life seems to be a good example for today when society is increasingly compartmentalized and beliefs are privatized for fear of offending people. The essence of William Booth's "politics without God" is basically politics without any logical ethical foundation. What we are seeing in much of the chaos of society today is based on relativistic and reactionary ethics based on ethical illiteracy that has been encouraged in public schools, that has been carried on into adulthood, and is being exacerbated by sensationalist media that promotes the same day in and day out.

We should be true to our conscience, never stop learning and growing, and seek to know and fulfill God's perfect will for our lives.

Tags: Jesus as an activist, why the church is not seen as relevant today, taking a stand for truth, the last days Church, Jesus and politics, was Jesus political? Should Christians be involved in politics? What is the social gospel?

11 comments:

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad someone got something out of it. (:

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  2. In what sense of the word is christian morality "objective"?

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    1. As William Lane Craig teaches, morality is ultimately based on God's existence. Secular atheists, such as those promoting Rand's Objectivism, begin with a false dichotomy, or at least one that presupposes materialist atheism. They begin by stating there must be a primacy of existence or a primacy of consciousness. In the case of the God of scripture, God is both eternally conscious and eternally existent, so there is no dichotomy in God. And because God exists eternally, and morality is based on God's good nature, then morality has an objective basis.

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    2. "Rand's Objectivism, begin with a false dichotomy, or at least one that presupposes materialist atheism. "



      I don't see objectivists presupposing materialist atheism. The kind of end up there anyway more as a collateral consequence of other presuppositions of theirs, namely identity is existence as they say. That A is A. They are not going to waste any time on anti concepts that can only be described in terms of negatives.


      "God is both eternally conscious and eternally existent"


      Well if god is conscious it goes without saying that he exists but this does not address the question posed by the objectivists nor myself. Consciousness is not an entity onto itself, it is something an entity does, namely conscious ones. It is a process, an action, it has intend and it has content. So we can say for the sake of argument that god is eternal and as a consequence has an eternal consciousness. This however says nothing about god's relationship with the objects of his consciousness. What is the relationship between his own awareness and everything apart from himself that he is aware of. Is it objective or subjective. If it is subjective how can anything anywhere including morality ever be truly said to objective?

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    3. >They are not going to waste any time on anti concepts that can only be described in terms of negatives.

      - Rand did offer a concept antithetical to hers, though it is not describes "in term of negatives."

      There are a number of quotes under this heading:

      Primacy of Existence vs. Primacy of Consciousness

      http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/primacy_of_existence_vs_primacy_of_consciousness.html

      The paragraph sentence proposes a "maxim" that is loaded with atheistic philosophical presuppositions.

      "The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity."

      The statement "existence exists" is false. Existence does not "exist." Things exist. But existence is simply an abstract concept.

      The second point is a bald assertion, i.e., because things have identities then they exist independent of any consciousness.

      And, supposedly, If I reject the primacy of existence as a philosophical maxim then Rand states the following:

      "The rejection of these axioms represents a reversal: the primacy of consciousness..."

      No it does not. I ascribe to neither independently as holding metaphysical primacy. As a theist, I understand that God is eternally existent and eternally conscious. God's existence is absolute reality, not the existence of existence. And Rand has offered no basis for me to reconsider my position.

      The universe is not necessarily all existence, as Rand implies in her quotes. She conflates the two as though she has already somehow demonstrated that God does not exist. She has not. She is merely offering her own presuppositions as so-called "maxims" with no philosophical logical arguments beneath them.

      In reality, maxims are principles that are beyond question and readily assumed. Rand hasn't arrived there. All she does is propose a straw-man alternative to her favored choice. Most serious philosophers consider Rand a hack. It's not hard to see why. It's pretty amazing that she still has so many devout followers today who attempt to defend her theories, and with little success.

      When asked some hard questions, her followers seem to digress to regurgitating Rand quotes that don't really address underlying problems and questions.




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    4. >What is the relationship between his own awareness and everything apart from himself that he is aware of. Is it objective or subjective. If it is subjective how can anything anywhere including morality ever be truly said to objective?

      - You have touched upon a subject that Randians have a bit of trouble with, that is, the distinctions between a person's nature and consciousness. In human terms, Rand believed the mind and body are one and the same, as noted, "You are an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness."

      http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/soul-body_dichotomy.html

      In one of my articles I offered two separate peer reviewed and documented cases where people left their bodies during medical work in a hospital and viewed the work from a perspective outside of their bodies. There is no accounting as to how it was physically possible for these patients to describe in detail what they saw and heard from the perspective they had while their bodies were either unconscious or sensory deprived. The links to the peer reviewed articles are at this link:

      http://templestream.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-identity-logic-and-physics-prove.html

      Getting back to your question, why do you assume that their is no distinction between God's timeless eternal nature and God's active consciousness?

      If morality is based ultimately on a standard of God's eternal, unchanging good nature then it is not subjective and there is no necessity for a primacy of consciousness with regard to morality.

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  3. ah, sorry I typed this in a hurry at work today and see that I made some mistakes. I meant to say "they" not "the" when discussing objectivists in reference to their presuppositions. Later I described consciousness has having intend and content. That was meant to be it has intent and content. Sorry for any confusion.

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  4. You insist that Jesus constantly engaged in social activism, but don't cite examples. The fact is, he offered an example, but did not protest publicly, nor insist that the whole of society do as he did.

    Remember this: "Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, (2)saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; (3)therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.…'

    He specifically advised his followers to do as the Pharisees SAID, but not as they DID. Note, however that he did not actively seek out the Pharisees to tell them of their hypocrisy. Activism presupposes actively insisting that others change their behavior.

    The fact is, the only time he is shown to have become angry was in response to the high priest profiting from the changing of money inside the temple, and the perversion of the sacrifice.

    You cite Paul, yet ignore this: 5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

    What social activist would speak that way in the face of slavery?

    I do not advocate in favor of slavery (obviously), nor do I suggest that we should ignore injustice. But your argument that Jesus was a social activist is simply incorrect.

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    1. Anonymous,

      You have made some good points.I should have devoted more text to defining the word "activism" and what it can mean according to different sources. For example, The Cambridge Dictionary states,

      "a ​person who ​believes ​strongly in ​political or ​social ​change and ​takes ​part in ​activities such as ​public ​protests to ​try to make this ​happen."

      When Jesus flipped the tables in the synagogue, he was expressing strong feelings. (check 1). The reason Jesus flipped the tables is because the status quo societal norm for giving offerings had become corrupted by those in power. He was challenging the political powers that be not for the fun of it, but to make changes (check 2). The definition uses "public protests" as a possible example of activism, but not as a necessary ingredient. Nevertheless, Jesus' act in the temple was very public and visible and actually likely illegal, according to the rules of order of the Sanhedrin. Whipping people with a small device and flipping tables didn't cause serious personal harm, but altogether I believe this would qualify as an act of civil disobedience (check 3).

      Likewise, when Jesus publicly spoke truth to power, in many other examples, which I should probably add, I believe this was a form of activism.

      I also will clarify that ultimately Christians are under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and there is no set formula of how any particular Christian is to minister in society and engage any given circumstances. God may call one to be like William Wilberforce, who was the prime force in ending slavery in England. One may call someone to be a stay-at-home parent investing in the education of children.

      Thanks for your comment.

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