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Today is the National Day of Prayer, regardless of the controversy wherein a judge ruled the day unconstitutional. If you’re upset about that ruling, you can write a letter to an elected official. Your letter may or may not get r…
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Glenn Beck told his listeners to check their church websites for the words, “Social Justice,” and if they find them, to run away. Well, for the first time, they now appear on our site, as of this post, the words n…
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Earlier this week, a man scammed several churches in Akron by sending fake utility bills to them. When reported on TV, the reporter commented that the churches must now choose between justice and forgiveness.
But that reporter didn’t understand that churches (and Christians in general) need not draw this distinction and can (and should) choose both.
We live in two kingdoms at the same time. God’s Kingdom of Power, also known as “The Kingdom of the Left,” includes lawful government. Government is called on to carry out justice for the benefit of its citizens. This means punishing criminals to deter crime and protect the law-abiding citizens. The government’s job is to see to it that people get what they legally deserve.
But the church is God’s Kingdom of Grace, or “Kingdom of the Left.” The church’s job is to forgive, to love, and to share God’s undeserved love. We support the lawful government and let it do its job, and at the same time, we love even those who seek to do us harm.
How does this play out in real life?
While the churches need to press charges, they also need, in whatever way they choose, to say, “We believe that you need to face justice and learn to avoid that sin in the future, but Jesus died for your sins, too.” If the man is jailed, members or the pastor should visit him in jail if allowed. They should invite him to attend their services or other events and go out of their way to get to know him and make him feel loved. Let him know that, yes, sin is serious business, but God forgives.
But this applies to our lives, too. Who has wronged you recently? Is this something that you’re in a position that you should correct it somehow? More importantly, how can you reach out to that person in love and forgiveness the way God has reached out in love and forgiveness to you through Jesus? We tend to care more about the justice end of the equation, but even justice, in our personal lives, must be loving. But thank God that He has not only modeled that love to us, but given it to us in forgiveness through His Son!
The Cleveland City Council has fallen under fire for beginning each meeting with a Christian invocation or prayer, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have called foul, claiming that the council is endorsing Christianity through their actions. While this has happened in many cities and small towns and even in the United States congress, the debate rages as to the role of religion in politics, especially in our nation that guarantees religious freedom.
Not being a constitutional lawyer, I can’t address whether the council has the right to do so, but I can address the question whether they should.
As Lutherans, we understand God’s Kingdom to come in three ways, as His Kingdom of Power, Grace, and Glory.
God’s Kingdom of Power exists everywhere. (Psalm 103:19) He created all things and has established not only the laws of nature, but the natural law of morality that He has written on all people’s hearts. He has also put in place earthly governments to protect us, and in our nation, our elected officials act on His behalf to execute justice. God places them there out of love, and, recognizing them as God’s representatives, we respect the positions they hold. (Romans 13:1-7) Note that the state’s job is to carry out God’s justice, not His mercy.
Grace means “undeserved love,” and God’s Kingdom of Grace refers to that place where He displays His grace most clearly: in the forgiveness of sins that He gives through the sacrifice of His Son for us on the cross. (Romans 14:17, Colossians 1:13-14) The responsibility to pass on this message rests with the church. (Matthew 9:38) Prayer, which is only heard through the worthiness of God’s Son on our behalf, rests firmly in the Kingdom of Grace, so using the Kingdom of Power to promote the Kingdom of Grace confuses these two, however well-intentioned. (Matthew 22:20,21)
God’s Kingdom of Glory refers to heaven and the New Creation that we will all see on the Last Day at Jesus’ return at the Resurrection. (Job 19:25-27) There, the other two kingdoms will merge, and we will all acknowledge Him and know the truth once and for all.
So should our elected officials pray before and at their meetings? We should pray at all times! (Ephesians 6:18) Should they force others in attendance to pray, especially when they may not believe in the God being addressed? No.
Instead of insisting that all of our elected officials include public prayer at their meetings, let’s encourage them to pray privately throughout as they make decisions intended for the good of the community, and spend our time praying for them, that the Lord would guide them to seek justice for all people.
Michael Moore, famous for movies like Fahrenheit 9/11, has made the claim in his upcoming film, Capitalism: A Love Story, that Jesus would consider capitalism sinful. The hypocrisy of Moore’s net worth (gained from capitalism) aside, it seems worthwhile to ask the question, “What form of government does God prefer?”
In a recent Bloomberg interview, Movie Critic Rick Warner asks, “Several clergymen in the film say capitalism is anti-Christian and that Jesus would have deplored such a dog- eat-dog system. Yet you hear from the right that capitalism and Christianity go hand in hand. Are they reading different Bibles?” to which Moore responds, “The number one thing in the Bible is redemption. The number two thing is how we treat the poor. All the great religions talk about this. The right wing hijacked Jesus 30 years ago. It was all a big ruse, but people fell for it. I don’t think people are falling for it so easily now.”
Moore got the first point right, absolutely. The focus of the entire Bible is redemption: God paying for the sin of the world by sending Jesus to the cross on our behalf. The entire Old Testament lays out God’s preparation for His coming, and the entire New Testament focuses on that singular event and its repercussions.
Is Moore right about how we treat the poor? Yes. “All the great religions” may be an exaggeration if you consider the Hindu caste system, but yes, Christians all should agree that we need to help the poor as much as possible.
But the question comes down not to “whether,” but to “how.” In the United States, the Democratic Party holds essentially that we can best help the poor by giving our taxes to the government, which can then redistribute the wealth where it’s needed. The Republican Party doesn’t generally trust the government to do this properly or efficiently and prefers to encourage people to give of their own free will according to their consciences as they see need.
Of course, both systems, because they’re designed by sinners, fall short of perfection. “Wasteful government spending” is a household expression, so kudos to the Republicans. On the other hand, every time I refer someone in need to a government aid organization, I think of the Democrats. Plenty of other smaller political parties have other ideas which would be best.
So what form of governmental economy would Jesus endorse? If we were to only look at the Bible for governmental advice, we see only monarchies, but even those don’t get God’s stamp of approval. (1 Samuel 8:7-21) In fact, when Chronicles evaluates the various kings, their economic policies never enter into the equations. Rather, their faithfulness to the Living God is the sole scale by which they’re judged.
The Bible, rather than endorsing a specific form of government, focuses on hearts, not legislation. God wants us to help the poor, but out of love, faith, and gratitude, not compulsion. (2 Corinthians 9:7) We can debate about how this can best be done, but God will stay out of that discussion until the last day when He raises the dead and gives us the riches of His Kingdom because of the poverty of Christ. Meanwhile, we rejoice that He has given us the riches of His undeserved love and the promise of eternal life as we live as citizens of both heaven and earth.