Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Christian Manifestos and Evangelical Co-Belligerence

I recently posted links to two articles, one, a 1982 address titled A Christian Manifesto by the late Presbyterian minister and author Francis Schaeffer, based on his well-known book of the same name, and the other, a more recent manifesto by Christian philosophy professor/author Doug Groothuis, titled Christian Apologetics Manifesto: 17 Theses, which outlines how apologetics ought to be pursued by Christians. I posted these because together they are a galvanizing call to action to the Christian community. Both authors say that Scripture compels Christians to act; Schaeffer also argues that bringing a historical perspective to the times we are living in is critical to understanding what we face and how to respond accordingly. I think that in calling Christians to action both rightly follow the mandate of Jesus Christ that we are to function as "salt and light" to the world (Matthew 5: 13-16). Nevertheless their manifestos need to be evaluated carefully in the light of Scripture, to see if all their conclusions and recommendations are indeed biblically accurate.

Then last week, I came across Steve Camp's excellent blog CampOnThis, and also his website AudienceOne, and was challenged by many of his articles to more deeply consider my own position and thinking on a central question brought out by these manifestos: what is the biblical mandate given to Christians for engaging the world and culture? Steve Camp's websites post a number of articles that warn of the The Dangers of Evangelical Cobelligerence.

What is evangelical co-belligerence? Co-belligerence is a term that describes when individuals or groups band together to wage war against a common enemy. Each member of such an alliance is a co-belligerent. Co-belligerents may not share the same beliefs and may not ordinarily have a close and "friendly" association with each other, but they band together on the basis of shared points of agreement and their goal to defeat a common enemy. Thus, evangelical co-belligerence describes when evangelical Christians get together with people of various denominations (or even unbelievers), to pool resources, intelligence and energies as they fight for the betterment of society on a number of different causes (abortion, prayer in schools, defending traditional marriage, who gets on the Supreme Court, etc).

The articles by Mr. Camp have challenged me to re-examine Scripture to determine Christian strategy for reaching our world. I believe that Schaeffer was right when he said that evangelical silence during the latter half of the twentieth century was culpable for allowing a humanistic system of thought to infiltrate and become dominate in our educational system, the media, the law and other aspects of society. Thus Schaeffer's manifesto calls for Christians to make their voice known, and to fight for the Christian worldview, through "every appropriate legal and political governmental means". The article by Groothuis states "the fundamental issue for apologetics is not how many apologists one has read, or what apologetic method one embraces (although that must be worked out). Rather, the fundamental issue is whether or not one has a passion for God’s truth—reasonably pursued and courageously communicated—and a passion for the lost because of the love of God resident in one’s life." His emphasis on being motivated by the passion for the lost that derives from God's love expressed in and through us is excellent. But is it true that the apologetic method we embrace is not also fundamentally important? It is clear that Jesus does want us to affect our society for the good, but the question of what are appropriate means for doing so has been frequently debated.

Well-known Christian evangelicals such as Al Mohler (see his article in Touchstone), Chuck Colson, James Dobson and others have followed the co-belligerance model, forging alliances with those who have the same attitude towards problems like abortion or protecting marriage, and using a campaign that seems dominated by political strategies to attack these problems.

Camp makes a powerful and, I think, biblically sound plea, that the focus of Christian activism must not become politics, legislation, and forging alliances based on the cause at hand. Camp points out how Paul's strategy to reach the extremely morally corrupt city of Corinth did not involve using political means, but focused rather upon preaching Christ forcefully and boldly, and making sure that the church was becoming mature as it repented from worldliness.

He says, "If in that sinful city, which is seldom if ever rivaled in our day, the Apostle would not stoop to co-belligerent moral political tactics, then by what justification do the Evangelical Co-Belligerents of today function and strive? Paul never 'focused on political moral intervention'; he focused on the Lord, he focused on the faith, he focused on the gospel, he focused on the church, he focused on the cross, he focused on repentance; he focused on the Word, and he focused on the ministry ".

I have talked elsewhere of how I think Billy Graham's compromises with doctrinal purity came about through his alliance with Roman Catholic and liberal churches in his ministry, and has seemed to lead him down a path of doctrinal murkiness even in his own thinking (as evidenced by recent interviews). The co-belligerence principle seemed to have been applied in his ministry. Graham's goal to reach as many as possible with the gospel, led him to take the pragmatic approach that he could get more workers on his team by working with churches that-- in the early stages of his ministry-- he seems to have recognized as doctrinally deficient. Nevertheless it seems that for him, the "ends justified the means", and it was more important to build a consensus of like-minded believers working to achieve the same goal (evangelism and getting people back to church) than to contend for sound doctrine.

But God does not work that way. When we work for Him, we are to use His means and methods, because these must be suited to His purposes, if His goal is to be the one we accomplish (1 Peter 4: 11, 1 Cor 3: 11-13). I have not yet worked out all of these issues in my own mind, but I believe that Mr. Camp is on the right track. I am thankful for his humbly stated reminder that we ought to function as "Bereans" as we examine these issues: "When it comes to matters of faith--matters of eternity, ... believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should.. examine, investigate, research, and study the claims of anyone who sets themselves up as a teacher of God's Word by word or song (including yours truly too) when they say they speak for God and represent His truth and gospel".

And we would do well to remember the words of the Apostle Paul:

"For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1: 22-24)",

"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor 2: 1-5)".

And to remember, most of all, the words of our Lord:

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28: 18-20

Since our primary commission is make disciples, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach others to observe everything that Jesus has commanded, Mr. Camp is on the right track when he says that our focus in trying to affect the world should not be shifted over to political strategems. Lives truly changed by the power of God working in the lives of fully submitted believers is the best and most powerful testimony the world can experience. Such believers truly can turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6), just as the early church did.


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