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.

declaration of independenceIn America, independence is part of our heritage, our background, our worldview, our approach to life.  That’s a good way to be… most of the time.  When a person chooses to follow Christ, declaring independence is NOT a good thing, though.  The Christian life is a life of DEPENDENCE – on the Lord…on each other in the Body of Christ.  We shouldn’t see “dependence” as a weak word and “independence” as a strong word.  Dependence must be valued and practiced if we are to be strong believers.

“…without ME, you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing…” Romans 7:18

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”  Proverbs 3:4

“Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in HIM and HE will do it” Psalm 37:5

“for it is GOD who is at work in you, both to will and to work for HIS good pleasure” Philippians 2:13

Psalm 77 was written by a man named Asaph who struggled with the decision to depend on God.  This chapter shows us what happens when a person declares independence from God, what consequences they face, learns their lesson and comes back to a place of dependence. Here’s the psalm in an outline I’ve preached from in the past:

I.  ASAPH’S TRYING TIME (1 – 6)ps 77

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me.

In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.

When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah

You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

I consider the days of old, the years long ago.

I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search:

II.  ASAPH’S CONFUSION CONTINUES (7 – 9)

“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?

Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time?

Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

III.  ASAPH’S FOCUS FOUND (10 – 12)

A.  Mindset Reversed (10)

Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

B.  Miracles Remembered (11)

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

C.  Mightiness Reviewed (12)

I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.

IV.  ASAPH’S WILLING WORSHIP (13 – 15)

A.  The Perception of God’s Difference (13a)

Your way, O God, is holy.

B.  The Proclamation of God’s Deity (13b)

What god is great like our God?

C.  The Performance of God’s Deeds (14a)

You are the God who works wonders;

D.  The Power of God Displayed (14b)

you have made known your might among the peoples.

E.  The People of God Delivered (15)

You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

V.  GOD’S SPECIAL SHEPHERDING (16 – 20)

A.  In Extraordinary Conditions (16-19)

When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled.

The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side.

The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook.

Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

B.  In Everyday Circumstances (20)

You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

So for all the celebrating we Americans will do today and for all the words we look back to with pride (independence, freedom, revolution, etc.), we as believers in Christ have to remember something else daily. That is that we are needy. Spiritually, we cannot afford pompous or rebellious attitudes which rely primarily on us for our good. Spiritual freedom is available, but only to the extent that we are willing to bow to the will of our Father. Asaph knew it. Reading passages like Psalm 77, so should we and declaring our dependence is the way to true liberty.

 

founders

John Trumbull's painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence

I have spent the past hour reading through an interesting discussion forum from Focus on the Family’s website which asked whether the American Revolution was a biblical response by our founders and what position Christians should have taken.  It caught my eye because I recently started the DVD of HBO’s biographical series on John Adams, chronicling the same story and ethical issues.   How one answers this question determines his outlook on a believer’s political involvement in today’s world.

You can find the discussion here.
 
Block out some time and get some coffee in advance.  It will take awhile.
 
My first observation of the forum has to do with sources.  I saw references to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the writings of Francis Shaeffer, Norman Geisler, Dave Barton, et al.  I read about principles of civil disobedience taken from Scripture in the stories of the Egyptian midwives, Peter and John in Acts 5, even Jesus’ approach to leaders of His day.  There were comments on Old Testament political situations in the examples of David and Saul, Moses and Pharaoh, et al.  I noted points made from other historical periods of rebellion to authority, including the Reformation, the French Revolution and the post-World War II establishment of an Israeli state. 
 
These made for a fascinating and lively discussion, but I found myself looking hard for other texts.  In fact, the texts that should have been consulted first were barely, if ever, mentioned.  There was little attention given to passages such as Romans 13:1-7 or 1 Peter 2:13-17 or 1 Timothy 2:1-4 or Titus 3:1,2.  I saw the Matthew 5 concept of “salt and light” mentioned once, but only in the context of establishing liberty in human government.  The word “gospel” was nowhere to be found.  “Witnessing” was mentioned briefly by someone who had an opportunity to share Christ in prison after being jailed following an Operation Rescue protest.  The Church’s ostensible priority of making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) was conspicuously absent.
 
Actually, Geisler’s idea that Christians submit to government, even a corrupt one, held little water in the thread.
 
A second unavoidable topic was the pathetic state of the church and pastors in contemporary society.  There were plenty of laments that the pulpits of America have capitulated to the government, more concerned about keeping their tax-exempt status than promoting candidates or preaching against political issues of the day.  There seemed to be agreement that a revival is needed in the church before any change will happen in American moral culture, but no real definition of what that revival should look like.
 
I would suggest that the American church’s impotence in affecting its world is found in the lack of conviction and enthusiasm that Christ’s Great Commission is actually our priority.  Justifying the spiritual legitimacy of deists and their writings got more space in this forum which was the original topic, I’ll admit.  But when Christians take so much time and mental energy discussing such an important subject, would we not be better served to search the relevant scriptures rather than recommend the opinions and views of men?
 
Also, should we accept everything the founders wrote without question?  They get quoted more quickly than other sources by many American Christians, so we’d better be sure, don’t you think?
 
The title of the discussion was “Were the Founding Fathers Traitors?”  Maybe a better question is “Did the Founders Follow the Scriptures?”  Then we might be able to get at the heart of what we as believers are commanded to be, not only in 21st-century America but in any culture at any time.