It’s always so enlightening when people who have totally rejected God feel the need to tell people of faith how to act. The latest advice came from The New York Daily News after the shootings nydn
and murder in San Bernardino, California. Apparently, according to Rich Shapiro and any who agrees with him, prayer doesn’t work and God refuses to do what they want Him to do. Any one who says they are praying for the victims of a tragedy are wasting their time and should get off their couch and actually DO something.

What’s funny is, any of the candidates cited for praying for the victims actually HAVE ideas for combating violence in America. I guarantee it. Guess what, Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him – you can do both. You can pray, believing God works in our society and still create laws to protect ourselves, which is the main purpose of government.

for he (civil government) is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:4  

Our unbelieving world needs to understand that Christians feel deep heartbreak when calamity strikes. Like David, we weep at the violence and injustice around us. And, like David, our faith and dependence on God is questioned.

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”  Psalm 42:3

Here are a few thoughts for you, Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him – you have no idea what tragedies have been withheld from us because of the righteous prayers of faithful people. Prayer is not passive – it is a first-resort activity for those whose faith tells them God is intimately involved with His creation and hears the prayers of those who desire Him. He may not choose to stop all bullets, even though we want that. But that’s where trust takes over, a trust in His wisdom that is far beyond ours. So get over your delusion that you understand who is actually in ultimate control of our world’s circumstances. Hint: it’s not you or any other human.

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115:2, 3

Second, the problem is not guns or our policies about them. The problem is not waiting periods. The problem is not automatic versus semi-automatic. The problem is the heart of people, many of whom have been told their whole lives that God should be marginalized or removed from the public square altogether. We have made policies that discourage prayer. We punish a coach because he prays with his team. For Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him, it may seem like too many people pray during times of hardship, but they can not deny that our nation has systematically shut down the idea of prayer for years. If there has been an escalation of violence recently, what does that tell you?

America has rejected God for decades and the consequences we are reaping are not due to an indifferent or absent God. The consequences we reap, that we weep over, that we tire of hearing about day after day are solely due to our country’s rejection of God and devaluing of life. You simply cannot sanction killing millions of innocent babies, mainly for convenience and sexual freedom, and float along happily without paying the consequences. You cannot limit the freedom of people to worship and express their faith without paying the consequences. You cannot enslave the poor in a failing system and not pay the consequences.

And what about the day when some in America realize maybe they got this whole thing wrong about prayer and try to turn to God? It may be too late at that point.

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. Psalm 66:1

So, Mr. Shapiro and any one who agrees with him, beg for God’s mercy. He will hear you and forgive if you truly repent of unbelief. Be glad there are people left who acknowledge Him and believe in the power of prayer. Realize the heart of people is the problem and no human or political action can change that. Exchange your puny, pathetic, anti-God, anti-faith, anti-prayer, anti-life worldview, which by the way, hasn’t produced any earth-shattering solutions to our problems, for the freeing gospel of Christ before it’s too late.

You want the problems of our world fixed? As long as men reject God, it won’t and can’t be. But there is a time coming when all will be made right. Not because people fixed it, but because the God all nations should seek will do it. In His time, in His way, without our help. Until then, we mourn and pray. We enact laws that protect our innocent. We punish wrongdoers. But above all, we should humble ourselves before and obey the One who controls all things for His glory. The stakes aren’t just dealing with the next instance of terror – the stakes are eternal.

Flag of France (1)This weekend has seen another outpouring of heart-wrenching sympathy for those who have been slammed by the hateful fist of terrorism. All the political disagreements have bubbled to the surface again, as they always do after senseless violence, with little headway toward true solutions. All it seems we can do is brace ourselves for the next attack, wondering when and where it will occur. Coping in this era of a globally-conscious, 24-hour stream of tragic information, uncertain of tomorrow’s headlines, proves to be a challenge. Yesterday it was France. We don’t know who will need peace and comfort when terror strikes next. Social media, though, has emerged as a way for many to respond to our violent world, and as I read posts from this weekend, I’m left wondering a few things.

  1. I wonder, when someone says something like, “My prayers are with ______ tonight”, exactly what that means. I am all for prayer. One of the main goals in the ministry I have is to encourage people to pray, so when I see so many offering their prayers for those in need, I know that’s a right response. It just seems possible that prayer can be a culturally acceptable activity (or claim of an activity) after senseless murder. It can make us feel better, but wouldn’t we want to make sure our prayers are actually effective when offered? The Scriptures make it plain that some prayers are effective and some are not.
  2. I wonder, for some of these responding to tragedy with prayer, where their desire for God is in the rest of their lives. God is the only right and true Judge of the heart and of the validity of these prayers, not me. But if one’s worldview and promotion of values is opposed to what is clearly revealed in the Bible, why pray at all (or say that you do?) I would hope that if we see the need to pray in times of loss and suffering, that the pressing need for prayer would be a regular soul-response. If God is worthy to be sought, He is worthy constantly, not only in time of need.

“pray without ceasing” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

Francois Hollande, President of France

Francois Hollande, President of France

3.  I wonder, as we pray for families who have suddenly lost loved ones to terrorism this week, if our prayers include the leaders of nations who must make crucial decisions to try to protect their people from future attacks? Since protecting citizens is a God-ordained purpose of government, do our prayers include wisdom for the right policies from our leaders?

“for he (the human authority) is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:4

Our prayers should be with the people of France right now. And Syria. And other places that have been touched by terrorist acts in recent days. We should be praying for repentance from those doing the killing. But prayer is never meant to be exclusively a knee-jerk reaction to disaster. It is meant to be communion between people and God, done His way with His guidelines. We don’t get to make those guidelines. And if we reject the true path of prayer (taught at length all through the Scriptures) we do it at great peril to ourselves. No matter how therapeutic it might make us feel.

baltimore policeThe beginning of Romans 13 describes the protection-design God gave societies when He instituted government. Right now, there are some in Baltimore (in government leadership and in the normal populace), who are in violation of this design. If individuals would understand, then act on the truth in this passage, the problems they are facing right now would take a major step in the right direction. But as it stands now, people don’t feel safe and (without the backing of superiors) the police don’t feel authorized to keep people safe.

What follows are the phrases you’ll read in the first four verses of Romans 13. (Keep in mind, if you believe your governmental leaders don’t deserve your submission and obedience, that Paul’s first-century government was the Roman Empire, led by Nero – not exactly a friend to the Christian or Jewish communities.)

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. – This is true of Baltimore and any other municipality. Governments are established by God for His purposes of safety and flourishing of the people. For that to happen, governmental leaders have to understand their God-given responsibility to keep order, rewarding and punishing depending on people’s behavior.

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. – There may have been abuses of authority by some Baltimore law enforcement officials, but mostly in America we should be grateful for those who risk their very lives to keep us safe. To watch the news or hear interviews of some citizens of Baltimore, the police are to be defied. There is judgment promised to those who defy God-appointed authority; one of those judgments should be consequences for such rebellious behavior. The problem for Baltimore right now is that the police are not arresting folks at the same rate as before, an unintended consequence for not supporting law enforcement as it should be. The mayor, police chief and state’s attorney bear responsibility for this judgment. During the riots, they coddled those who would destroy and terrorize.  

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. – If you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t have to fear any reprisals from law enforcement. Police need to keep this in mind as they serve. 

But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. – There’s a good and right reason police carry tasers, night sticks and sidearms. It’s not in vain and has the sanction of the One who ordained governmental authority in the first place. If you get in a police officer’s face and/or try to take away said weapon, you might get hurt. That’s common sense and is a given. No monument needs to be erected to commemorate the life and death of one who foolishly violated this simple principle.

For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. – Government leaders and law enforcement officials should be God’s representatives to us for our good, keeping us safe by carrying out judgment on wrongdoers. That can only happen as their authority is properly recognized, respected and obeyed.

Police who respond to calls are being surrounded by mobs of 30 – 50 people threatening them. Political leaders have sided with criminals. The result? The very protectors of Baltimore’s safety that God has provided have been reduced to unrecognized authorities. You have negated God’s very instruments of your peace and now you can’t leave home without fear of being shot. When those in your communities embraced near anarchy, fueled by perceived injustice, what did you expect?

Baltimore – leaders and citizens – need to quit treating Romans 13 like it is something you can just take or leave. Right now, many are walking away from following its principles, and that is proving to everybody that it’s a disastrous decision.

baltimore protestYou’ve seen the riots. You’ve heard the news conferences. The past week in Baltimore has been marked by the tragic death of a 25-year-old man triggering protests that have been building for decades. And now the marches are spreading across the nation. Disenfranchised communities are speaking out and have a large megaphone available with hundreds of microphones and cameras pointing directly at them. They’re angry and everyone seems to be trying to put their collective fingers on the reason why. But, as is so often the case, fingers are landing on the wrong answers.

We need more jobs. We need better schools. We need economic opportunity. We need the police to stop profiling.

In other words, our government has failed us.

The political solutions are complex, there’s no question about that. But the conclusion that government is the ultimate answer fails to go deep enough. But going deeper for answers will cost us something as a society.

  • It will cost time – The real solution will not happen overnight. Actually, since we have rejected the real solution for so long, the time to undo the damage would take years. How many? I don’t know, but many.
  • It will cost will – We (by that I mean a lot of us who want positive change) would really have to want this. Enough to accept a major shift in thinking and action.
  • It will cost submission – People would have to subject their natural inclinations to the will of someone else.

I see news reports that show churches and faith-based groups trying to serve during these protests. Prayer circles are forming. Food and water are being shared. This is good, but a larger message, a deeper message must also be sent. Not a temporary message of help during a city’s outrage, but a life-changing message that will last for eternity. Baltimore, and everybody else, needs to hear:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.   – Psalm 118:8, 9 –

Quit looking to government to ultimately help with all our problems. Turn to God and His ways. His Son, Jesus, offers the answer to our most foundation need of forgiveness and acceptance.  His Word holds answers to solving the confusion and chaos in our world. Submitting to Him and His plans will heal families. Parents will be more likely to stay together, kids will be happier, families would be stronger and communities healthier. That would immediately alleviate some of the economic woes, but again, the political answers would still have to be grappled with. But if citizens and lawmakers were committed to God and His path first, better answers would be found by our leaders.

Statements like this one by New Orleans Saints’ tight end, Benjamin Watson, must be heard and embraced. I hope you’ll read it. And keep praying for Baltimore (and everywhere else).

benjamin watson

pulpitLast week, five Houston area pastors were told by the courts to produce sermons and other communication that referenced HERO (the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance). This law protects, among other things, the right of any man or woman to use whatever public restroom they want, depending on which gender they identify with. The mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, a lesbian herself, tweeted “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game…” This brings up several thoughts here at Rotunda Reflections, since this has caused such a firestorm of criticism by many in the religious community.

Annise Parker Mayor of Houston

Annise Parker
Mayor of Houston

1)  The first thought was, “When (not if) this happens in Maryland, what will be the response of pastors and churches?” The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill last March (the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014) guaranteeing the same rights to transgenders. The governor signed it into law in May. California is the only other state with such a law on the books.

2)  Any fair-thinking person, liberal or conservative, should be able to see the unconstitutional nature of this subpoena of sermons. By the way, the original subpoenas were amended to demand the pastors produce speeches instead of sermons. This was surely due to the public outcry over the clear violation of the pastors’ first amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion. And isn’t a pastoral “speech” just a sermon anyway?

3)  Christians began immediately opining what they thought the pastors should do. It’s still early, but if Houston moves forward with the demand for these sermons (which are public anyway), those who follow Christ will have to come to terms at some point with what they believe – the dilemma of this issue may be in our backyard next. I’ve seen some believers say the pastors should comply and be grateful their sermons will be read. Others say defiance is the way to go. It’s not a cut-and-dried answer since the Scriptures give us both ideas relating to interfacing with government. Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13 speak of submission to governing authorities. Also, 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 point us toward an attitude of quietness and peacefulness regarding government relationships. But there are also examples of civil disobedience that clearly show there are times to refuse obeying government’s demands. The three Jewish youths disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:12), Daniel prayed when it was forbidden by Darius’ decree (Daniel 6:7-10), and Peter and John kept preaching when they were commanded to stop (Acts 4:18, 19). So, which is it? Quietly submit or defy authority?

I would lean toward the latter, but not necessarily because of the examples above. Each of these examples were fairly extreme and don’t have a direct parallel to the Houston case. But for American Christians under the rights and privileges of the constitution, there seems to be a biblical precedent to stand up here. Paul, on several occasions, appealed to his status as a Roman citizen when his freedoms were threatened. And freedom of religion is such a basic right of those in our nation, it would be wrong to quietly let that right erode in small increments (because it won’t happen in one big reversal). Just as Paul reminded rulers of his rights and forced leaders to acknowledge them, we have a biblical and constitutional responsibility now and for generations to come to refuse our government’s inappropriate erasing of those rights.

The other part of this equation is that there may be consequences to pay for refusing the demands of government. Will we see the day that pastors are fined or jailed for preaching against homosexuality and same-sex marriage? I pray not. Even those who champion the homosexual agenda in America should fight against forcing anybody to think and act only as the government tells them to. Our core values and freedoms are at stake now. Let’s prayerfully move forward with a desire to submit, but be ready to challenge if that’s what we’re called to do.

So, if my sermons were subpoenaed, I would definitely pray hard, prepared to refuse Caesar’s overreaching and suffer whatever consequences might come.

But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” Acts 18:12-15

Politicians have mishandled and misunderstood Scripture for millennia. The problem in the verses above arose as Paul ministered in Corinth, sharing the truth of God’s Word (apparently with great success), to the consternation of the local Jewish leaders. When they complained to Gallio, the governor of the district, he responded as many human leaders have down through the centuries. Namely, saying the message of this man is just words, nothing more.

gwen moore

Rep.Gwen Moore

Fast-forward to last weekend when Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to deliver a one minute address regarding the possible government shutdown. Her first sentence was an admonishment taken from Galations 6:7, but with a revision. She started by saying, “Mr. Speaker, ‘Be not deceived, the people are not mocked.'” When political leaders throw around biblical quotes with their own spin and rewording,they show that their attitude toward these sacred words are the same as any other words – words that exist for the purpose of making their political point. It cheapens the Word of God and relegates His Word on a level with all others. Now Rep. Moore may have a point that the decisions made in Washington might have repercussions later when the people have their say in the next election, but can she not find another way to drive that home other than perverting a serious verse of Scripture?

Paul before Gallio

Paul before Gallio

The seriousness of this verse is that it is God who will not be mocked, because He is the ultimate Judge in all things. He is the one to whom we are all accountable. If leaders are concerned mostly for what the people can do to them, then their fear is wildly misplaced. Also, she left out the end of the verse – “for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (ESV)  God knows and keeps track of the millions of ways humans mock Him. One of those ways is not to take His Word seriously. Gallio did it. Today’s leaders do it still.

This serves as a reminder to us again to pray for these leaders, that they will be shaped by God’s Word rather than abuse it to obtain a favorable political outcome. Before you surf to another site, will you stop for a moment to pray for your local, state and federal leaders and for their worldview to be changed so they can clearly see God as He has revealed Himself?

roy costnerA video that is making its way around social media seems to be meeting with the approval of many Christians. In it, Roy Costner, the valedictorian of a graduating senior class in a South Carolina high school, stands to give his pre-approved speech, rips up the text and proceeds to share the importance of his Christian upbringing, including The Lord’s Prayer. All this despite the decision by the local school board to ban prayers from public meetings due to protests from atheists in the area. This resulted in applause from some in the crowd, drowning out most of the prayer itself.

I’m having a difficult time sharing the enthusiasm of fellow believers who give their approbation to this speech, calling it “courageous” or a blow to our enemies in our ongoing cultural battles. Christians have a responsibility to understand exactly what is happening here and respond. Based on the facts, here are three reasons I’m having a problem with this “prayer of protest”.

1) DECEPTION – It seems to me the atheists have the moral high ground in this situation. They worked within the system and shared their concerns. What does it say about a young Christian man who has his speech pre-approved, then discards it in favor of comments that are clearly against what he agreed to share? What does it say about Christian adults who cheer him on for his ambush of the administration? There are words that come to mind to describe actions like this, but “courageous” isn’t one of them.

2) THE NATURE OF PRAYER –  Right before Jesus instructs us to pray what has become to be known as The Lord’s Prayer, He revealed much about the place and motivation behind prayer:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:5, 6

There is a time and place for public prayer, no question. But is communicating with God something to be done as a protest? Even Daniel, who defied authorities who banned prayer, did not publicly protest. He continued his practice of prayer in his home. He was being told not to pray to God at all, which justified his civil disobedience, knowing that he would probably suffer consequences.

3) THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBMISSION TO AUTHORITIES – What is the goal of obeying governmental authorities?

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Americans swagger. We just do. But it’s hard to swagger and submit. Yes, you have God-ordained rights, but so do others who disagree with you, whether they believe in God or not. The command to submit to the local school board in a public event would not have caused Roy to sin. Using prayer as a “statement” does not meet the purpose of prayer.

Truthfully, I’m still thinking this through, but my spirit did not rejoice when I saw this video. If there’s something I’m missing, please comment and let me know why.

good and evilSeveral days ago, after the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing were hunted down, I shared these verses as a Facebook status:

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,  for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.    Romans 13:2-4

One comment a friend made under the status wondered what happens when the government and people of a nation call evil good and good evil. It’s the natural question that is begged when we read these verses. Things clearly do not always play out as they should.

The reason I shared the verses that day was because there had been a criminal act committed and as the suspects were being chased, more criminal acts were layered on top. The governing authorities had to use deadly force to deal with the suspects, killing one and severely injuring another who was eventually arrested. This was an example of God-granted governmental authority to “bear the sword” to bring judgment to those who do wrong. Simple as that. We should be grateful for law enforcement officials who carry weapons, sometimes actually using them to maintain safety and peace for our society to operate as it should.

But what about laws and leaders that do not reward good behavior, but elevate evil as something that is right? The verses from Romans 13 paint a picture of civil government as it ought to be, not as it always will be. In this passage, Paul calls on all to submit to governments, since they are God’s servants for our good. This is written by a man who lived under Roman as well as Jewish rulership in the first century, which would ultimately give him a death sentence for spreading the gospel of Christ. Not all decisions by government will fulfill God’s intended role of upholding right and punishing evil. After all, governments are composed of humans. Sinful humans who are in need of God’s wisdom and guidance. Wisdom and guidance that are often rejected.

A glaring example of this is from today’s headlines – President Obama’s speech this morning at Planned Parenthood’s 75th anniversary gala. Our government in America has sanctioned the destruction of millions of lives, many snuffed out by this organization. Not only do we have laws that allow this killing of innocent life, but we pay for it – our tax dollars funded Planned Parenthood with $542,000,000 in 2012 (that’s $61,836 an hour 24/7/365). Not only do we fund it but our president proudly promotes the mission of Planned Parenthood, which performs 320,000 abortions a year, by giving a speech of appreciation and encouragement to continue the job.

The bombing at the Boston Marathon displayed sin, evil, the intentional taking of innocent human life and a despicable devaluing of personhood. These very words may even show up in media reports as they describe the atrocity and follow-up on the victims’ stories. But what we won’t hear are the same words used to describe the work of Planned Parenthood and other abortion doctors who deserve to be characterized the exact same way. And we’ll never hear a follow-up on the victims.

What are we to do and how do we look at Romans 13? Prayer for the spiritual awakening of our leaders and nation is always the first step (1 Timothy 2:1-4). We should also pray for, work for and vote for people who know what good really is and what evil really is. Government cannot and will not carry out true justice until we have leaders who can tell the difference.

The shootings in Tucson last weekend left long-range, huge philosophical debates in its wake – unintended consequences far beyond the evil imagination of the twisted shooter.  He is now in a cell.  We are all now left to wander through the morass of opinion, doubt and confusion that inevitably arises when a senseless tragedy occurs in a society where absolute answers have long been rejected.  The main call right now is for civility in our public discourse.  Funny how we’re more concerned about what people say in public than what they are thinking in their hearts.

Bringing people together has been a desire for years in America and we look to our leaders to somehow pull it off.  To save us all some unnecessary frustration, let me just suggest that the sooner we let this “dream” go, the better off we’ll be.  We will never come together and be completely civil and unified because to get what we want in this world, we need power.  Power doesn’t come from civility or unity.  It comes from ripping it away from whoever has it – not a very civil process.

It’s an old problem.  Look at political cartoons from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Read about campaigns for office in which candidates were called every name in the book and family members weren’t off limits.  Incivility is our American birthright – a nation born in rebellion.  Adams, Jefferson and Jackson had to take it and they dished it out along with just about any other public figure who felt they had to “take a stand” or “take back their country”.

The problem really goes back much further.  One tree was forbidden in the Garden of Eden – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It was the tree that represented independence, of walking away from God’s plan. 

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.  Genesis 3:6

When Eve, then Adam made that break from submitting to God and His design, they declared themselves as gods.  In grace, God provided redemption, but the damage was done and humans have spent the rest of history up until today trying to be god.

But when many little god-declarers start to disagree on what should happen in society, there is nothing left but a power struggle and the way to gain power is to do whatever it takes.  Through the years, mankind has found that civility is a desperately ineffective means to achieve power.  Don’t expect it to happen now.  Don’t look for unity.  When we as a people gladly tossed God aside, we chose our fate – we want our independence from Him and what has been the price?

We pay for it every day in our relationships.  We pay for it in our economy.  We pay for it in our media.  We pay for it in education.  45 million murdered babies (and more) have paid for it while Americans with the most power approved.  We’re paying for it in Tucson.

We have to start with ourselves to place ourselves under God in obedience to Him.  Then pray for others’ hearts to change, not words.

This is the third installment in a series to encourage followers of Christ to rightly divide the Word of truth when using biblical support for policy statements.  The example we’re analyzing is the National Association of Evangelicals’ 2009 Immigration Statement.

Last time we considered the questionable use of historical migration examples from the Bible to apply to current immigration patterns.  In the same paragraph (citing biblical examples of people going to other countries), we find the following sentence:  “Peter referred to the recipients of his first letter as “aliens” and “strangers,” perhaps suggesting that they were exiles within the Roman Empire.”

This reference is found in verses such as 1 Peter 1:1  and 2:11.   Here is the wording of these two verses from the New American Standard Bible:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen(1 Peter 1:1) 

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

We can clearly see that from the first verse the believers were scattered.  There’s no question, so we don’t have to say “perhaps” like the NAE statement.  Constable says “Davids estimated that when Peter wrote this epistle about one million Jews lived in Palestine and two to four million lived outside it.” (1)   But does that tell us what “aliens” means?  No.

The end of that verse says they are “chosen”, a spiritual concept.  The second verse (2:11) is another reference to the inner, spiritual reality of being an “alien”.  In fact, the whole letter (especially the beginning verses of chapter 2) shouts out how believers should behave in and respond to a world that is hostile to them, not because of their ethnic roots or national origin, but because of their spiritual identity.

Maybe a parallel thought that Paul wrote gives us more direction:

“…remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world… So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,”  (Ephesians 2:12, 19)

This uses “stranger” and “alien” in the reverse sense.  Those who aren’t in Christ are spiritually exiled from Him.  The Ephesians were there at one time, but not when they got this letter.  Another Pauline hint to the meaning of “alien” is from his letter to the Philippians:

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;” (Philippians 3:20)

When these words (aliens and strangers) are used in New Testament epistles, the idea of citizenship is overwhelmingly spiritual, not earthly.  The context of Peter strongly relates to the believers’ new heavenly citizenship, not where they happened to find themselves after the diaspora.  In fact, his aim in the letter is to ready the church for suffering.  As new immigrants, should they have demanded better treatment from the governments of Pontus, Galatia, et al?  That doesn’t seem to be Peter’s advice at all.

How interesting, though, that even though his readers were living outside of Palestine, he reminds them to obey human authorities and submit.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.  Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Next installment:  “Immigration and Romans 13”

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(1) Tom Constable. (2003; 2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (1 Pe 1:1). Galaxie Software.