Monthly Archives: October 2016

On Comparisons between King David and Presidential Candidates

Several years ago a church in our area went through a very nasty split. The pastor had been caught in serious sin but refused to let go of the church or give up the pastorate. This pastor, and those devoted to him, warned detractors that they faced the judgment of God if they went up against the “Lord’s anointed.” His call was not from men, but directly from God. When other leaders in the church objected that his sin disqualified him from ministry he compared himself with King David and thus only accountable to God. The church eventually expelled him from ministry (and is doing great as far as I can tell) and this pastor planted a new church, right around the corner from my house. While this whole thing was going on a friend asked me to weigh in on how the comparison between the role of pastor and the role of King of Israel. As a response I wrote the post “Dear Pastor, You are Not King David”, which is still one of the most viewed posts on this blog.

I’m seeing this same comparison to King David a lot recently. This time it’s not in the context of the role of pastor, but the role of President. I have seen this comparison used, so far exclusively, to defend Donald Trump. I really do understand why some reasonable people feel as though it is responsible (though messy) and necessary (though painful) to vote for Donald Trump in order to prevent Hillary Clinton from appointing judges who will set back both religious liberty and abortion laws for decades. I disagree with this argument (as stated here and here) but I can understand it. But what pains me as a pastor is when I see sloppy, and dangerous, interpretations of Scripture, used purely for political reasons. I have become too numb to try to argue with anyone to vote or not vote for a particular candidate. But I am still passionate that Scripture not be abused for political reasons. If I had seen this argument once I would have ignored it, but it has become prevalent enough to warrant a response.

Allow me to restate how the argument is framed: God has used all kinds of people throughout history to carry out his will, even people who were morally sketchy. He used David, who committed adultery and murder. He used Samson who was hot tempered and easily seduced. Maybe God is using Trump in the same way. Trump has good policies (so the argument goes, though I personally have serious issues with some of them) and his character is not great, but God has used people of poor character in the past so we shouldn’t worry about Trump.

Let’s see what’s wrong with this argument:

First, it ignores the big differences between Israel and America in terms of government and selection of leaders. Israel was a theocracy. God ruled the nation through the king which he directly appointed, first through the prophet Samuel and then through family succession. In America, we have a democracy selected by the people. In Israel, the individual people took no responsibility for the selection of its leaders. In America, we do. We are called to act responsibly, seeking to love God and love our neighbors.

Second, and relatedly, it confuses God’s sovereign will with God’s moral will. Since these are theological terms, I will take some time to explain. In short, God’s sovereign will is what he actually does in history.  One of those things is the establishment of authorities. God established David and Solomon. He also established Barack Obama. I know that God set up Barack Obama as the president because that’s what happened in history and God is sovereign over history. If Trump becomes President, then that’s who God made president. If it’s Clinton, then a Clinton presidency is within God’s sovereign will. In accomplishing God’s sovereign will he will sometimes establish good leaders and he will sometimes establish bad leaders. Sometimes it’s a blessing for the nation. Sometimes it’s an act of judgment. (It’s hard to not view this election in terms of God’s (well deserved) judgment on our nation.) We don’t know God’s sovereign will until it happens.

God’s moral will, on the other hand, is what God wants us as humans to do. He wants us to love Him. He wants us to love our neighbors. He wants us to obey his commands. God has revealed his moral will to us in Scripture and he commands us to live in accordance with his moral will. To do this requires discernment and wisdom. We have to act on what we know is right and wrong and we have to act during times of moral ambiguity. Sometimes we have to think “what is most likely to occur?” or, perhaps, “what from Scripture tells me what I should expect will happen?”

Let’s bring this back around to the comparison between Donald Trump and King David. The comparison points to God’s sovereign will – God has, throughout history, used morally suspect leaders for a good purpose. This is, of course, true. And we should thank God for his mercy. But the conclusion – we should not worry about morally suspect leaders – does not follow. We should instead be asking the question – what from Scripture should we expect will happen if we elect a wicked person?

That brings me to number three. These comparisons cherry pick David and forget both the consequence of his sin and the history of Israel. Israel’s history is a pretty bleak one. The nation was quickly divided and conquered by outside forces. Why? What happened? Again and again the nation was ruled by kings who turned away from God and thus incurred his judgment. They were idolaters. They were wicked. They were proud. And they caused the nation to fall. And where did that seed of wickedness and judgment begin? There were seeds of it already in David. Does this in some way nullify God’s sovereign action? Am I saying God made the wrong choice? By no means. What I’m saying is that the moral character of the leaders of Israel contributed to its ultimate downfall.

I think we have reason to expect the same thing in this case. Let’s consider two more pieces of Scripture. First, take note of a pair of Proverbs in chapter 28. Verses 12 and 28 basically say the same thing: “when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding.” Why do people go into hiding when the wicked rise to power? Because wickedness leads to injustice, and injustice to suffering. There is a direct correlation between the wickedness of the leader and the fear of the people. Second, it is wise to note that there are qualifications given for elders and deacons and that those qualifications have to do with the character of those being selected for leadership. Why are those qualifications in place? Because for a church to survive it needs leaders who have character. A wicked church leader guts and destroys a church, even if his theology is otherwise excellent. He will bully the flock. He will take advantage of it. Can God still use such a man for good purposes? You bet, and he has, but God has given his church the responsibility to act in accordance with his moral will.

But, you say, we aren’t looking for a pastor (or elder or deacon), we’re looking for a President. We don’t need someone who is a choir boy. Those qualifications for elders/deacons don’t apply here. You’re right. Those qualifications don’t apply. But the principle still applies. Character matters in leadership. Maybe there is a different set of qualifications, but character still matters.

Fourth, these comparisons are inevitably paired with a minimization of sin. I don’t think they necessarily have to, but they always are. Trump’s language isn’t abusive and lewd, it’s “locker room talk.” He’s just not PC. He can be “a little rude,” or “a little crude.” He “has faults.” He’s “not polished.” Sorry, but this minimization of sin is not becoming for believers in the gospel. Vote for him if you must but at least be honest. It’s a harsh conclusion I know but from my judgment Trump is a “wicked” man. He is a bully. He is full of pride and arrogance. His sexual liaisons and speech prove not only that he is unfaithful, but that he is a “fool” in the biblical sense of the word. He is a chronic liar. Friends, let’s not minimize this. If we seek to justify him because he has the “right policies” then we lose our credibility and prophetic voice, and we desperately need both of those. We’re called to speak truth to the powerful and the weak, to our enemies and our allies. Let’s do that. Let’s not cover up what is going on here.

As soon as these comparisons happen (either for pastors or Presidential candidates) I see Christians turn off their moral radar and begin justifying sin. Every time. Either it’s that the sin isn’t so bad (he just fell once, we need to show mercy, let he who is without sin cast the first stone) or it suddenly doesn’t matter because we’re not dealing with an ordinary individual. We’re dealing with God’s chosen. We’re dealing with the “anointed.” We’re dealing with someone who is called be God to sweep in and save America from evil Hillary.

Yes, those were words I read, and they were written without a hint of irony. Trump took the place of God in Isaiah 40. Trump became, for this “Christian” writer, the one through whom God would save, through whom God would reign. Friends, such words are borderline blasphemy. Our anointed Savor and Lord is none other than Jesus Christ and Him alone!

So, where does that leave us? I believe that character matters. Must the President be perfect. No, I don’t think so. But we need to use wisdom and judgment to ask, what characteristics are necessary for him to act in such way that will provide justice for my neighbor. I think honesty matters. Faithfulness. Humility. A teachable spirit. Fairness. Care for others. A willingness to be wrong. Coolness under pressure. Etc. All of these things will affect how a President leads and thus whether or not such a presidency would be good for my neighbor.

Judge for yourself. We are in difficult times and the situation is complex. Search the Scripture and search the heart of God. But whatever you choose, seek God’s moral will. God will handle his sovereign will. Thanks be to God that he can use anyone for any purpose. But make your decisions based on his revealed Word.

God bless,

Steve

Advertisements

Seven ways reading (and applying) Scripture contributes to spiritual growth

How does reading (and applying) Scripture contribute to spiritual growth? Here are seven answers from Scripture itself.

The Bible is a source of knowledge. The Bible is God’s revelation to us. The Bible does not give us everything there is to know, but it gives us what we need in order to know and please Him. While right knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to right action, right knowledge is necessary for right action. When we read the Bible we attend ourselves to the Source of all true knowledge.

The Bible is a source of light and guidance. The knowledge that we receive from the word has a particular quality – it is a light and guide in our lives (Psalm 119:105). In this journey of life there are many perils, many pits we can fall into, many ways we can get off track. The Bible lights the way. Instead of stumbling around in the darkness we can see clearly where we are going. Most importantly, we can see Jesus, the light of the world, and follow in his footsteps.

The Bible is a source of wisdom. Wisdom can be described as “applied knowledge.” The Bible doesn’t only grant knowledge but it teaches us how it ought to be applied. The psalmist says that because he meditates on God’s laws he is “wiser than [his] enemies” and has “more insight than all of [his] teachers” (Psalm 119:98-99). This wisdom gives us skill in living. It helps us see what is coming down the road. It gives us the long-term perspective, the eternal perspective, and, of critical importance, God’s perspective.

The Bible is a like a nourishing root system. Psalm 1:2-3 describes the righteous man as the one “whose delight is in the law of the LORD and who meditates on his day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose lead does not with – whatever he does prospers.” The tree is firmly planted. It is secure. It produces fruit. God’s word nourishes our souls and it keeps us firmly rooted in the faith, indeed by pointing us continually to the person and work of God it roots us in God himself. And, as we are rooted, we will bear spiritual fruit.

The Bible is a firm foundation. Ephesians 2:20 says that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” The apostles and the prophets are those who gave us the New and the Old Testaments, both of which point us to Christ. The emphasis in Ephesians 2 is on the foundation of the church, but what is true of the church universal is also true in our lives. The truth of Scripture gives us a firm foundation. Like the trees root system this allows us to survive the storms of life. If we neglect Scripture, as individuals or as a church, our foundation will begin to crumble.

The Bible is a means of resisting temptation. One thing will always get in the way of our spiritual growth – the “sins which so easily entangle” (Hebrews 12:1). So how do we throw off those sins? By reading and applying Scripture. The psalmist states, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I may not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

The Bible is an implanted seed. James 1 describes two kinds of birth and two things that grow. On the one hand there is evil desire, which grows and gives birth to sin, which in turn gives birth to death (James 1:14-15). On the other hand, God “chose to give us birth through the word of truth” (James 1:18). That word is also called the “word planted in you” (James 1:21). If we do what the word says, it will lead to freedom and spiritual blessing (James 1:25). When we read and apply Scripture it is like a seed growing within us which, by its nature, will bring about growth and spiritual fruit in the proper time.

 

Important note – Reading the Bible is not enough. When I was younger I thought of reading the Bible in an almost magical way. I assumed that as long as I read the Bible every day I would stop feeling tempted to sin. That didn’t happen. In fact, sometimes in seasons where I was reading the Bible the most the temptations were also the greatest, and so were my falls. At times, I became disillusioned and discouraged. But looking back I realized that I was doing what James warned about:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

I was assuming that listening was enough and so I was deceiving myself. I expected magic, when what God wanted was obedience.

Jesus gives the same warning in Matthew 7:24-27. Both the wise and the foolish man listen to the words of Jesus. But only the wise person puts them into practice. The foolish man hears, but fails to put it into practice.

So, if you want to grow spiritually, continue in the word. But know that just reading the Bible isn’t enough, it needs to be put into practice.

 

Conscience and voting for a pro-choice candidate

Some time ago Rachel Held Evans wrote a controversial article encouraging pro-life Christians to vote for Hillary Clinton. At the time I included a response (the post below) as an appendix to a separate blog post on what I mean when I say I will vote my conscience.

Now, as I watch my Christians friends react with horror – rightly – at Donald Trump’s latest words, I am seeing several of them openly consider a vote for Clinton. I can’t fault their decision to turn away from Trump. But, I want to caution against casting a vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate.

As always, I want to offer a few disclaimers: I am speaking in my personal capacity, not as a pastor. I am speaking for myself, not for my church. The issues are complex. I don’t know all – or even most – of the answers. I will not judge another’s conscience. I simply want to share my own thought process in the hope that it will be instructive and beneficial to others, and because I feel compelled to do what I can to protect and advocate for the unborn.

 

Why I can’t vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate: 

First, while perhaps some aspects of when exactly life begins are debate-able (fertilization/implantation) I think science and common sense, apart even from theology/revelation, puts it well before the baby actually exits the womb. And yet, Clinton doesn’t even oppose these late term abortions. The DNC’s shift left this year – including calling for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment – demonstrated that they are moving away from an “abortion should be legal but rare” position. This is disturbing.

Second, and related, while not every moral issue is a political issue, this one is. The fundamental role of government is to protect and promote basic human justice – including and especially the right to life. Abortion, then, falls into the scope of what governments are supposed to address. It also falls into the realm of what Christians should care about – concern for the most vulnerable of our neighbors.

Third, since abortion ends a human life, and since it is accepted culturally and protected politically, it falls into the realm of a systematic evil – much like slavery, Jim Crow, and institutional racism. It therefore needs to be opposed at the systematic, including the political, level. The laws surrounding abortion are unjust. We should advocate for the government to replace unjust laws with just ones, all while working the cultural and economic issues as well.

Fourth, voting for a pro-choice candidate – especially one as extreme as Clinton – is to offer at least my tacit approval to her position. In doing so I become a participant in the systematic evil. To do that, even if it serves some practical purpose, is dangerous and, for me at least, would not be done “in faith.”

Fifth, if my third point holds any water and abortion can be compared with slavery or institutional racism, then to argue that we should focus on the cultural/economic issues which make abortion in-demand is sadly comical. Can you imagine turning the same argument on slavery? (Well, since some Christians disagree about whether slavery is wrong – which they did at the time, shouldn’t we just focus on reducing the “economic necessity” of slavery? After all, racism is a cultural/moral issue and changing laws won’t “change hearts”).

As we see with this final example, and what I contend, is that when it comes to abortion, the issue is both cultural/economic/moral and political. Both are important. While Trump rules himself out on the economic/cultural/moral side of the equation. Clinton rules herself out on the political side.

What I was taught

Here’s what I was taught by my elders, by my spiritual leaders:

I was taught that…

character matters,

consistently bad character disqualifies you from leadership,

bad character in leadership degrades the institution being led.

I was taught that…

words matter,

lewd and sexually aggressive language is not funny or of little consequence,

our words reveal our character.

I was taught that…

women should be respected and held with esteem,

women should not be objectified, in word or deed,

how men treat women reveals their character.

I was taught that…

marriage is sacred and should be held in high esteem,

it is only the fool – in the biblical sense – who pursues another man’s wife,

knowingly inviting in the foolish king is unwise for a nation.

I was taught that…

if caught in a sin you don’t excuse it away,

you don’t minimize it,

you don’t redirect towards the sin of another,

you don’t “apologize if anyone took offense,”

you repent before God and before those hurt.

I was taught…

it is better to focus on doing right than justify the ends by the means,

it is unwise to ally yourself with someone who you know is wicked,

it is right to follow your conscience.

I was taught that…

God is sovereign over the course of history,

He is ultimately trustworthy,

and that those truths allow me to “seek first God’s righteousness” and leave history to God.

 

All of these things were true when I was taught them. They are true today. I will do my best to live according to these principles. Woe is me if I do not pass them along to the next generation.

God bless,

Steve