"Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony?" (Job 28:29)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Church and Governmental Politics

DEFINED AS expression of a person or entity’s position, whether called north or south, east or west, positive or negative, conservative or liberal.., personal politics becomes a sociological factor that is ideally found in any human society. In this vein, given that we are constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, we in the United States of America have a right and responsibility to voice our opinion in the public square. This is most evident in our free, Constitutional-guaranteed ability to cast votes in any public election.
Amid the fray, however, comes instances where public statements are needed. This was accomplished by congregation member and Viet-Nam veteran Lenny Anderson, and myself... as pictured below.

 Denominational allegiances found within the church, however, often use scripture foundations and traditions to justify any discipleship attitude of the church expressed also in the political process. Responses to political current flow from the church, therefore, may range from a full expression and financial support for any political participant or position... to a total withdrawal from any participation, Diverse opinion exists within the church then..., about whether a person found in authority, clergy or laity, may rightly participate or serve within secular government. Answers range from those entities that recommend active participation in “worldly” concerns in the public square, to those denominational expressions that wholeheartedly dictate to their adherents a reluctance to participate and influence governmental processes.
 In Reinhold Niehbur’s work “Christ and Culture”, the author classifies and describes our church participation according to denominational expression. Each class is derived from a particular theological interpretation of scripture and its accepted view of the world in salvation history. Herein lays the deciding factors within a church, each which holds its own internal measure of politics.
 Within Niebuhr’s pages we find positions portrayed… ranging from “Christ over Culture” wherein the church leadership is bound by divine right to oversee, guide and render judgments upon any political processes of a secular leader or government
 From this overseeing position, found primarily expressed in Catholic and Orthodox denominations, comes a political stance that attempts dictatorial speaking of divine will into the public square. This position is derived from such scriptural foundations as the exemplary prophets that chided ancient kings such as Saul or David.
 Other denominations, however, form quite different opinion. To many of these, the church is to maintain some level of either authentication, dialog or separation. For example, given its roots in English history, the Episcopal denomination is classified as “Christ and Culture”. In this vein, the church largely helps to establish and authenticate governmental position, especially on such matters in our own day as gay marriage and abortion. These are items that affect the very foundations of societal behavior.
 Midstream in the flow we find my own denomination. Lutheranism attempts to maintain a dialectical “Christ over against Culture” expression. We attempt a “push me, pull you” relationship as we participate in political process. As well, we find that many other Protestant denominations carry similar political stances. These include Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and other independent, but small Reformation offshoots of Calvinism.
 The last category we find in Christian expression falls subject to quite isolational theology. In their fundamental sway, found by some in Assembly of God and Pentecostal denominations, the church is not to have any discourse with the “sinful” hoi poloi of the world. With a definition that supports strict separation of church and state, this "us vs them" theological thought world leans heavily on dispensationally-interpreted writings found as such in the book of Revelation. Within this theology, the worldly and sinful shall be dealt with supernaturally, independently and prophetically by God… daily and most certainly in the “end times”.
 Carried to unhealthy extremes, however, this last theological stance carried into error may form a worldview that results in such tragedy as the cultic Jonestown or Davidian massacre of persons… or a cult that goes suicidal to hitch a ride on a comet.
 Here please know that within my own Lutheran faith expression carried out in the United States, I find keen agreement with my denomination’s “Christ and Culture dialectic”. In this expression, whether as a church leader or layman, Lutherans hold the right and responsibility to dialog at varying levels… and influence our governmental expression. With foundations in Luther and Melancthon’s opinions expressed in the Book of Concord and other Reformation era documents, and stemming from guidance found in the Augustinian “Two Kingdoms” doctrine, I conclude that God works within society through both church and government. In this, it is then the responsibility of the populace of the church to participate with, or hold office within government to endorse or reject governmental process, even to the point of civil disobedience. These molding attempts I see as according to proper expression of both Law and Gospel.
 The proper function of Law as encountered in commandments and legal structure is that the Ten Commandments are the immutable and unchanging dictates of the Almighty will of God. These constructs first convict humans of sinfulness and drive us to seek salvation in Christ. They are the “nomos” laws of the Torah that are so well communicated in the book of Exodus, The laws are repeated in scripture as recovered and published again in Leviticus, even though slight differences in stating of the Law exists between the two due to their historical time frame of retrieval.
 Scriptural study, however, reveals that a second quality of law is revealed as casuistically founded. This flows from Old Testament record. In "case by case" style, casuistic law flows to the Hebrews from the ancient scribal pens. In these laws we find that enforcement may find either foundation or adaptation, according to a “greater good” within a given society. In this way, we find such items as ancient dietary restrictions against eating pork and seafood to now be unnecessary in public domain. Many biblical scholars and theologians believe these were casuistically given to a mobile shepherd society, a society which often had no proper way to cook said providence. In this way the nomadic Hebrews acquired protection against death from trichinosis. This danger is no longer primary in our more sedentary society that is highly educated concerning proper food preparation. These dietary laws are thus relaxed in our society
 Scriptural law, however, has a third use. These are present additionally to regulate the fair doings of human society. But, with this last being said… we find that gross, unfair and harmful laws passed by a society are often counter-productive… passed with political sway and power struggle in mind. These are often made in the name of modernity. These laws are keen fodder for discussion and expression from diverse church venues. This is especially so in sensitive areas, such as those expressed in God’s Commandments that fomenting proper care for the elderly, the marriage union, and nascent, embryonic life.
 The unchanging Commandments are surely foundational for the over-against-ness positions voiced from such as my own denominational expression within the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). As a called NALC pastor, I strongly endorse the unchanging Commandment foundations of proper care and respect given to the elderly through Social Security, Medicare, and similar legal activities. Additionally on these grounds, I endorse the biblical definition of marriage strictly as being a state that can only exist between heterosexual beings. Lastly, my record shows strong opposition to the abortions of unborn infants. I believe to kill an embryo at the whim and will of the human politic is a bold affront to the divine will of God toward life. To do this horrid deed, though deemed necessary by society under such instances as certain medical procedures and life threatening malady, is surely murderous.
 The downhill slide caused toward greater sin sets up our society for such as focused abortion toward minorities and others who may be considered as genetic misfits. Such praxis was followed by Darwinistic social evolutionists within the Nazi regime of WW2, and are yet followed subtly in this land. This latter evolutionist concept is statistically found to be heralded by profit-seeking demonical organizations and money-mongering physicians. This is  particularly found in this decade focused toward black, female or Down’s Syndrome-afficted embryos that have been provided with nascent life in this nation.
 It is in this discourse that I find our church is surely needed as an expression of God’s intent for life and liberty in this society. But we have become lazy and timid and neglect our responsibility. I counter that we are called, encouraged and empowered in the Spirit to express opinion in the public square. If needed, write or call a Congress person about issues, or request Presidential attentions. Indeed, if need be we are called even to “lay down” our substance and our lives in right service.
 Be urged, therefore, by this article to call or write leaders in all three branches of government to amend the progress of unjust legislation or practices. Let us do so in the name of Jesus Christ, who overturned tables in the marketplace of the temple, and who therein confronted powers within both church and state during his ministry on earth. In this way, such appalling events as the blocking of entry for veterans to the WW2 Memorial may disappear from the American scene. So it should be written, and so it shall be as God wills it.

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