Sunday, August 14, 2005

Justice Sunday II

Tonight was Justice Sunday II, hosted by Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. "God Save the United States and this Honorable Court!" This announcement that is made when the Supreme Court sits in session was the theme for JSII.

Joe Carter of the Evangelical Outpost blogged live from the event. Here is one of my favorite comments from his report:

5:50pm -- After thirty years as an American evangelical you'd think I'd be used to seeing an American flag in the church. But while I respect the symbol of our country, I've never been comfortable with an object that inspires patriotism sharing the stage with the symbol of our Savior's sacrifice. So I feel a bit uneasy seeing the two flags flanking a cross with a plaster statue of the Ten Commandments centered in front, used as the backdrop for the speakers. The cross is sufficient for salvation. Why is it not sufficient for the church?

Why indeed?

I met with others for worship tonight, so I was not able to tune in for the show. Other than what I read at the EO, I do not know how the program came off.

These kinds of events strike me as David trying to combat Goliath by using Saul's armor. He had sense enough to realize that it wouldn't work. Many evangelicals seem to think that encouraging churches to engage in political activities in order to attain desirable moral goals is a wise strategy. I think it is wrong-headed and self-defeating.

The church has been given a mission and it has nothing to do with exerting political pressure. Impact on culture and political structures has been most signiificant when it has come as a by-product of that mission being pursued with zeal and passion. If evangelical Christians want to see the moral degeneration of our culture reversed then they must become more serious in preaching and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their churches.

The best thing that the church can do for the world is not to try to influence who gets appointed to the Supreme Court but to be the church. Well-ordered, Gospel-saturated, Christ-centered churches are a far greater need in our country than are the right kind of judges.

I am not at all suggesting that Christians should not care about the political process. I am suggesting that a church as a church should never allow itself to be confused with a political action committee. Hosting a political rally does exactly that.

Our churches are filled with people who give no signs of regeneration, who cannot even recite the ten commandments, who do not know the Gospel and who do not live any differently from their unconverted neighbors. What we need is biblical reformation. Political activism is much easier and may well rally and excite the masses of unregenerate people in many churches, which means that the success of such theopolitical efforts may prove more deadly than their failure. Anything that keeps us from facing up to our greatest need, no matter how much "good" it may apparently accomplish, is spiritually deadly.

That is one of my greatest fears in all of this: that JSI and JSII and all the future JS gatherings may actually be politcally effective. If they are, then look for more of the same which will mean that we will continue traveling further and further from what Christ has called His church to be and do.

9 comments:

Tony K. said...
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Tony K. said...

I think you are in the minority on this issue. Even Dr. Mohler spoke at the first Justice Sunday. Some argue that Evangelical engagement with culture is an implication of the Gospel. What about being salt and light?

Your point was well made when you said, "Well-ordered, Gospel-saturated, Christ-centered churches are a far greater need in our country than are the right kind of judges."

I would add second to churches. Well-ordered, Gospel-saturated, Christ-centered families are also greater need than need than right-wing, politically distracted, religious gatherings.

GeneMBridges said...

I was bothered by several things.

1. It usurped a set meeting of the church's worship. Why did they meet in a church on a Sunday night? Is a Convention Center or Hotel Ballroom not enough? Why a Sunday night worship service? Was it for the snappy name, "Justice Sunday?" The irony here is that, just as you say, the best thing the church can do is be the church and, in a denomination having the conversations we're increasingly having about, well, the nature of the gospel, usurping even one worship service is not a good idea.

2. The church is pastored by our First President. That's a wee bit too cozy with politics for the SBC leadership to be seen. Tom Delay was there. He's a polarizing figure in politics in general. Having him there adds fuel to the fire. I fear this kind of theopolitical environment commits us to a course doomed to failure if we persistent in our current soteriological melange as a Convention. I'm also very concerned that, by comporting with polarizing figures (much less Romanists), we're making enemies of the very unregenerate ones we hope to reach in the US in general, and, in comporting with Rome, we're making friends with those whom we'll be more prone not to discuss "divisive" issues with (Rome) in order to further our political goals, which makes us look wishy-washy to our own people as well as damages our evangelism of Roman Catholics.

3. The movement itself is worrisome. Steve Camp, at the SBC meeting in Nashville, tried to get some brochures on the biblical basis for this kind of thing from some of our SBC folks. He was told that they had none available...and we've "rediscovered" the Bible?! Yikes!

4. Personally, I read the new BFM when it says, this:

All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

as including Romanism in that last part. I can't see any of our Founders letting a Roman Catholic into the pulpit for any reason whatsoever. Dr. Mohler does stick his neck out in this theopolitical movement and he does speak up about the gospel, but that can't be said for Dobson, who brushes aside Brother Al's stand on Roman Catholicism as one of those things he expects a Southern Baptist to say and nothing more. These moralistic crusades tend to morph into ecumenical causes and compromise the essence of the gospel on one or more levels. To me this violates the BFM's statement in those concluding words.

5. The BFM also reads:

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends.

I need not quote the rest. Those last 2 sentences stand out to me. I'm concerned here that certain of us are using the BFM selectively. We're quick to use it against the non-inerrantists (and rightly so) in contexts where it can be used in such a manner (seminary faculty for exampe), but we're waffling on this bit. It's only 5 years old, and we're already paying it little heed. Either we believe it or we don't. If the gospel contemplates spiritual means ALONE, then why the incessant press for theopolitical involvement.


There's also a line about "the Church and state should be separate," yet I'm reminded of the back of the July 3 church bulletin from our denomination, which was reported in the Biblical Recorder as reading, in a verbatim quote from the associate editor at the ERLC, something about "those who prattle on about the separation of church and state." This doesn't help when we're trying to teach folks, among other things, Christian citizenship within a Baptist framework.

On this point...for the record, I'm not opposed to the existence of this sort of thing. I'm opposed to what it ends up becoming, and I'm opposed to the means by which it is done. In theory it's workable. In practice, it's not workable. I'm all for Christian voting, writing their congressmen, etc (I have even worked as a lobbyist in the NC General Assembly in the past)...I'm against it when worship services are usurped, when ecumenism takes hold, and when entire ministries get sucked into politics and the rest of us are told (as Dobson has) that we are somehow against righteousness in our nation if we don't cooperate with him and others like him, or when we're told "the greatest thing we can do as a Christian is stand against (insert name of hot-button political or moral issue here).

GeneMBridges said...

correction to 2 above. It should read, The church is pastored by our First Vice President.

Bill Moore said...

Such events as Justice Sunday do confuse the gospel with political activism. Consider this: we have reduced conversion to "deciding for Jesus" or "asking Jesus to come into your heart." Consequently, the attendees at worship in our SBC churches are, to a large extent, comprised of unregenerate religous folk. Christianity has been reduced to moralism, so political activism on the Lord's Day in church at an hour set aside for worship is a logical outcome. The popularly-espoused "gospel" of contemporary evangelicalism isn't doing much to change lives, so we have to resort to using the church to change external behavior.

Conservatives are simply taking a page out of the liberal playbook. We've decried the liberals' use of the church to bring about their social agenda, yet we are doing the same for our own agenda.

Don't misunderstand me---I am sympathetic to many of the concerns expressed in Justice Sunday. The mistake is mixing the church institutionally with politics.

Bill

Brian R. Giaquinto said...

Tom,
I think you are right on the money with this issue. The church has no validity as far as the political pundits are concerned. Any voice we offer is viewed with annoyance, even among the conservatives that we evangelicals credit ourselves with "getting elected." If the church wants a voice, then America will need another Great Awakening; otherwise, what we have to say is irrelevant to them. To see another Great Awakening, the church needs revival. Again, I envision us returning to the issue of conversion. If the numbers that the SBC touts were to be trusted (for sake of argument), we should naturally have more influence in society. Combine our numbers with other denominations (which are most likely over-inflated as well), then the political climate of our country should be a non-issue and very pro-Christ.

Yoder, in The Politics of Jesus, says: "A given government is not mandated or saved or made a channel of the will of God; it is simply lined up, used by God in the ordering of the cosmos" (pg. 202) "The choice that he [Jesus] made, in rejecting the crown and accepting the cross, was the commitment to such a degree of faithfulness to the character of divine love that he was willing, for its sake, to sacrifice effectiveness [political effectiveness]" (pg. 234)

The book concludes with a short latin phrase Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur. (Our Lamb has conquered; him let us follow.)

joethorn.net said...

Tom,

Really great post. This topic would make for a great discussion between some solid thinkers who approach this differently. Perhaps we can get you, Dr. Mohler, and a few others together.

Weary Crusader said...

Sir,

I would like to thank you. You have managed to put into words what I have always known, but could never seem to 'nail down'.

jl

David B. Hewitt said...

Interesting. I hadn't looked at it that way before, Bro Tom. I would agree with those who have said that they are sympathetic to the concerns expressed in Justice Sundays, and I also whole-heartedly agree with the truth that the Gospel will have the ultimate effect in reforming our society; indeed, only hearts and lives changed by Jesus Himself will be the real change in this country for anything, political or otherwise. I also agree that we should indeed take our part in the process of politics where we can (ie, calling Senators, voting for Christians, etc.). However, I will agree with the concerns one has said. Someone indicated a concern over the fact that that church's evening worship time was compromised because this was going on. I would agree, that would seem to indicate an inappropriate set of priorities.

It's a touchy subject to be sure, and whatever a person might think about the rally and what it may or may not accomplish for good, I cannot help but go back to something that Tom said that I have already alluded to in this post:

"The best thing that the church can do for the world is not to try to influence who gets appointed to the Supreme Court but to be the church. Well-ordered, Gospel-saturated, Christ-centered churches are a far greater need in our country than are the right kind of judges."

Amen to that, my brother. Keep up the good work and all glory be to Jesus!

A slave of Christ Jesus,
David Hewitt