Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What's Happened to Orthopraxy?

Is It Time?

March 19, 2010

As I pen these words, the U.S. House of Representatives is poised to use duplicitous parliamentary maneuvering to essentially put into law the version of healthcare passed by the Senate in December and advocated by the Obama Administration. If passed under the so called "deem and pass" legislative sleight of hand, the initiative would be the single largest entitlement ever enacted by the United States government, overshadowing both the New Deal initiatives of President Roosevelt and the Great Society measures put into law under the Johnson Administration.

Practically speaking, the legislation will lay the foundation for fundamentally changing the landscape of American life as we know it. Most are simply not aware of the odious aspects of the bill that would seriously impinge upon individual freedom; mandatory compliance, with associated penalties for failure to comply, an astounding concept to consider given our history; hordes of new officers to "swarm and harass" (echoing the language of the Founding Fathers in the Declaration) the citizenry; the increase of an already oppressive and unbiblical tax burden, and the willful funding of abortion in the name of preventive care, just to name a few. At the risk of sounding trite and anachronistic, let me take a moment to respectfully proffer how we got here and what we now must consider next, neither one of which is pleasant to ponder.

First, how we got here:

The American Experiment with liberty was not developed in a vacuum. Concepts of freedom, individual rights, democratic capitalism, rule of law, consent of the governed and republican structures didn't just drop out of thin air as many are led to believe. Sadly, many Americans hold to the notion that modern freedom began in 1776, in some sense disconnected from the history that preceded it. Nothing could be further from the truth. The facts of history speak plainly to anyone objectively desiring to understand the origins of our experiment in freedom. The freedoms bequeathed us were the fruit of a particular worldview, one shaped, refined and centered upon biblical formations of thought. In short, the Founders imbibed the ideas of Western Christianity and put those ideas into practice in throwing off tyranny and establishing a new outpost of freedom. Many of the worn out arguments around this center on which Founders were Christians and which ones were not - that is not the point. What is clear is that they shared a common worldview that had been shaped, yes, in part, by Enlightenment thinking, but also heavily by Christian thought.

Sadly, over the past several decades (gradually over a much longer period of time), American life has become captive to humanistic thinking and has moved away from the dominant worldview that existed during our country's struggle for independence. All the while, the Church has been complicit in this shift, albeit not intentionally in most cases, but through the propagation of a seriously deficient and truncated theology expounded from the pulpit. No one spoke of this more forcefully and cogently than the late Francis Schaeffer. In his classic work, The Christian Manifesto, which diagnoses our dilemma in an eerily prophetic manner, Schaeffer opened with these profound words:

"The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so,in regard to society and in regard to government, is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals."

His point was that Christians for the most part have tried to battle on particular fronts, i.e. prayer in school, abortion, breakdown of the family, etc., in isolation, without realizing that these were but symptoms of the seismic worldview shift away from biblical thought and toward a worldview that would inevitably produce opposite results. He said this had happened because most of Western Christianity had adopted a defective view of the faith that relegated it to matters pertaining to "spiritual" things and neglected "material" things. Don't think this is true??? Think about the vast majority of sermons you have heard lately. In fact, I dare say, think about the majority of sermons you have ever heard! In the heartfelt tradition of pietism, virtually most will simply speak to the need for salvation, forgiveness of sins, accepting Jesus as Savior, prayer, bible study, etc. Now don't get me wrong; man's greatest need is having his sins forgiven, something only Christ can do. Yet most don't consider that we, as Christians, are not only saved from something (our sins), but are saved to something as well. For what purpose are we saved ??? The typical evangelical response to this question usually takes the form of, "we are saved solely to tell others about Jesus." May I submit that this is seriously deficient? Again, telling others about Christ and his redemptive work is vital for the Christian, yet it is not the whole story. Christ saves us and restores us to do what he originally intended for man to do in the beginning: take dominion over every area of life for His glory. This means that the faith can't be relegated to the inner life; all of life is spiritual! How I work and play, eat and drink, make love to my wife, educate my children, what vacations I take, what books I read and movies I watch, all of these things fall under the Lordship of Christ, for His claims are total over a man. As Schaeffer said so eloquently, our faith does not reside in one story of the house (what he referred to as the Upper Story), with the rest of life lived out in the other story (Lower Story).

How does this have bearing on the current state of affairs? Simple. Christians have adopted the notion that issues pertaining to government such as legislation and taxes are neutral. Sure, higher taxes may be bad the thinking goes, but there is no longer a basis to say they are unjust and immoral. The foundations are destroyed and we are left trying to argue with no footing to ground us.

This leads to my second point: What to do next?

This is tough and I must warn you it is not for the faint at heart. While we, as a country, have been slouching toward socialism for over a half century now, something totally and unequivocally contrary to the teachings of Sacred Scripture, we are now facing the real possibility of tyranny on a level previously unknown in our history. If you are one that thinks this is not the case, don't read any further - stick your head in the sand, keep reading your Max Lucado devotion, say your prayers before bed, and accept in practice now what you will be forced to confess down the road if things don't change - that Caesar, not Christ, is Lord. For the rest that are willing to move forward, things must begin with God's people in our time.

First, as a believer, stop relegating the things of the faith to the "inner" life. Understand that true spirituality covers all of life. I am not saying that we ever achieve this in perfection, but we must strive more and more to understand God's mind on every issue. Learn what the Bible says about the sphere of government, taxes, economics, athletics, leisure, entertainment, family, education and a host of other issues.

Second, encourage you pastor and church leadership to begin to address these issues from a biblical perspective. There are numerous resources available from many who have been fighting on this front for several years now. If they are resistant, suffer long with them and continue to encourage and love them. If (and only if) over a long period of time, they refuse to address these issues, consider, after much deliberation and prayer, linking up with a like minded community of believers who do understand the importance of not relegating the faith to a compartmentalized area of life.

Thirdly, and this is to Pastors, let me say with all humility and love, that, for the most part, you have failed your flock, and by extension, your country for your failure to preach, teach, and proclaim the whole counsel of God (I am not speaking of all pastors; many are faithful and this is intended as a generalization, but one that I believe is nevertheless true). You have accepted the dualistic model of the faith and focused your attention on the "spiritual" over the "physical," as if God Himself was not concerned about the wholeness of His creation. As a result, God's people are woefully equipped for the battles of the day. In years past, the pastor of a parish was consulted over matters not just pertaining to the faith directly, but on matters regarding every area of life. Thomas Chalmers wrote on finance and business; Abraham Kuyper laid out an economic recovery plan for the Netherlands in his role as Prime Minister. Repent of this failure and begin to discern God's counsel in all areas of life and teach the flock you have been entrusted with those very things. In addition to the above, begin to seriously formulate a theology of civil disobedience. Yes, you read that correctly! Schaeffer's book is a great place to start, but don't end there. There is an entire wealth of work to draw upon, from Luther to Calvin, Rutherford's Lex Rex and numerous other works. If you think there is no place for civil disobedience, then may I respectfully suggest that you have already, in one sense, forfeited Christ as Lord and replaced Him with Caesar. Consider what Schaeffer profoundly said at the end of The Christian Manifesto:

"If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in the place of the Living God."

Understand that I am not talking about anarchy and individuals taking the law into their own hands - that is patently unbiblical and totalitarianism would be far preferable to such conditions. I am speaking of biblical civil disobedience that draws attention to the repressive and unjust statutes that are arising and will arise over the next several decades. Be a part of the new "Blacked Robed Regiment" and emulate the previous one that was so instrumental in shaping the direction of the fledgling republic over two hundred years ago.

What might this look like??? Read beneath the headlines today of the healthcare debate and you will see that several of the State Attorneys General, such as our own in Florida, and the Attorney General of South Carolina, are already stating that their respective states will not implement the federal health care bill as currently configured, as they rightly believe that it is unconstitutional. As we recover the doctrine of sphere sovereignty (that different spheres have different responsibilities and jurisdictions), this will mean that lower elected bodies check and refute the overreach of higher bodies, which was the entire framework for the American War for Independence, which was not, as many believe, a revolution in the purest sense, but a just and legal interposition of one sovereign against another. We must begin to support such measures wholeheartedly, all the while holding local and state representatives accountable and continuing to seek change at the federal level as well to repeal unjust statutes.

Finally, if you think this is all academic, then, as I said earlier, crown Caesar as Lord now but don't scream for help when his so called "benevolence" enslaves you down the road. If you fall into another category all together and still think that the Bible doesn't concern itself with this, consider the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 94:20:

"Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous, and condemn the innocent to death."

The relevance for our day could not be more clear. Is it time to act? I believe that it is. May God help us!
Posted by Todd Leonard at 4:46 PM

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