Thursday, August 18, 2005

Scorecard on Justice Sunday II

My thinking about what Steve Camp calls "Evangelical Co-Belligerence" had been challenged by reading posts from his websites, CampOnThis and AudienceOne. Camp is certainly impassioned (to make an understatement) on this subject, and believes that not only are evangelical events such as Justice Sunday II misguided and wrong-headed, but its leaders are actually sinning, because according to his arguments such events:

1- use an approach to fighting evils in society not endorsed by Scripture.
2- use the pulpit to make political points, but such points are not being made in the context of worshiping God and instructing the congregation biblically about how it should engage culture.
3- distract the Church from being true to its primary calling of preaching the gospel and bringing its members to full maturity as disciples in Christ.

It was with such thoughts running through my mind that I sat down to watch the broadcast of Justice Sunday II on TBN this past Sunday evening.

The event was held at a church (Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, TN), and on a Sunday, so it does seem that at least for this particular night, the church's evening service was being co-opted and turned into a political rally. Apparently, the evening opened up with praise and worship singing, such as would happen at a typical service, but this was not broadcast. In any case, what followed was definitely more a political event than a worship service. Here Camp's criticism seems valid. Is it right to turn the evening service of a church into a political rally?

There were calls to prayer made by various speakers at JS II. Yet it was my impression that the overall challenge was to political (call your Senators, call the White House, write letters, etc.) rather than spiritual action (pray for your leaders, repent, submit to authorities, etc.). Political activity must be part of the solution to America's woes, but is it not far more important that believers should first pray for their leaders as instructed, and be led by example into such prayer by their leaders? For the ultimate solution is not in political activities, which can only change laws, but in the gospel, which alone brings about transformation of the heart. So prayer, together with a clear presentation of the gospel message, must be central to our efforts to engage and change culture. Here again the JSII score card is mixed-- though there was some prayer and calls to prayer, the context emphasized praying for the political stratagems regarding the immediate issues at hand (John Roberts' confirmation to the Supreme Court; a Federal judiciary that should interpret the Constitution, rather than legislate from the bench). But if our nation's primary problems are spiritual in nature, then the Church should first be calling itself and the United States to repentance. As for the gospel, why did one not hear it presented throughout this evening?

Most of the speakers were given only a few minutes each to make their points. I understand the thinking behind this is probably that including as many speakers as possible at this type of event will help convey that this "fight for justice" has a broad range of support, but the limitations on speaker time was conducive to superficiality of commentary. I would have liked to have heard a deeper analysis from these leaders as to the problem, and a clearer presentation of the biblical and theological rationale for their solution. But mostly there was only time for "sound bites", though some of the speakers were more effective and eloquent than others. James Dobson (participating via a taped video) spoke articulately about recent Supreme Court decisions to justify why Christians need to be involved in the political process; Chuck Colson referred to a passage of Scripture from the prophet Amos to effectively make points about Christian involvement in justice, and I thought Senate House Majority Leader Tom Delay gave a good speech that challenged listeners, "it's never enough to stand on the sidelines and watch history pass you by."

Unfortunately some of the other speakers weren't as good. Bill Donahue of the Catholic League came across as angry (though trying to be humorous) as he named names and called one of them a bigot. In contrast to Chuck Colson, who had earlier said that we must suppress the temptation to get angry at the opposition and instead demonstrate Christian love towards all, Donahue's speech seemed petty, an "us vs. them” type of speech.

Zell Miller, the former Senator, is a rousing speaker and had one of the more memorable points of the evening. He asked why is it that government makes sure to post “No Smoking” signs near gas pumps as a warning of physical danger, yet removes the Ten Commandments from public places-- which gives the even more urgent warning about the dangers of a sinful life.

As I was watching here in NY, there was a storm raging outside, affecting my satellite television reception. So I seemed to have missed portions of the broadcast, including the remarks of Phyllis Schafly and Cathy Cleaver Ruse, which I understand from the live bloggers I've read were part of the evening. I also did not see the performance by musician Jett Williams (perhaps all these were edited from the broadcast)?

Political rallies such as Justice Sunday II probably have their place in helping to galvanize Christian awareness and action on important current issues, but I am uneasy about the mix of religion with politics, and agree with Camp and other critics about the potential for compromise of the gospel message and its priorities. Also, such an event should be able to take place without substituting for a church's scheduled evening service.

On the other hand, I agree with the need and call for action that evangelical co-belligerents challenge us to. Still the warnings of Camp and others like him seem need to be taken seriously in the light of the scorecard of Justice Sunday II: no presentation of the gospel, no prayer for leaders, little biblical rationale presented for action, a church service turned primarily into a political rally.

An excellent and insightful editorial appears on this topic, by Tom Ascol, appears in The Founders Journal, titled Reformation, Revival and the Religious Right.

I quote from the article below:

<< It is not that the agenda of the religious right is too radical. It is not radical enough. They greatly underestimate the depth of the problem. We cannot "Christianize" culture. The nature of sin guarantees that. Neither are we called to try! Did Jesus or Peter or Paul ever try to organize believers into a voting bloc to "Christianize" any geo-political structure? Culture can and will be positively influenced when its participants are made disciples of Christ.

The moral crisis in our nation will not be solved by getting the right people in the White House, Congress, and on the Supreme Court. Society will not change until people change. And the only way that people can be changed is by the sovereign power of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Consequently, proclaiming that gospel in the power of the Spirit is the task to which churches must give themselves. This constitutes the only great commission which we have received from Jesus Christ.

The moral decadence of this generation has a spiritual root. As long as evangelical churches overlook this fact or fail to absorb its implications, they will continue to be seduced by worldly wisdom in their sincere but misguided efforts to "make a difference." Alexis de Tocqueville was prophetic when he warned that if America ever ceased being good, she would cease being great. But why has America lost her goodness? Is it because we have elected the wrong people? Because we outlawed prayer in the public schools? Because we have passed immoral laws? No. These are symptoms, not causes. The reason, very simply stated by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, is that "America has forgotten God."

But we must push the question even further. Why has America forgotten God? Whose job is it to speak for God, anyway? Not the schools; not the government; not the culture. That responsibility has been given exclusively to the Church. The sad reality is that the Church--including Bible believing evangelicals--has been derelict in her duty. Our nation is in a mess because our churches are in a mess.

I don't think the choice we as Evangelicals face is between engagement and non-engagement. As my brother Daniel has said on this, "we cannot simply run and hide behind our religion". Unlike the church in New Testament times, we live in a democratic republic that allows us opporunity to speak out for the Christian worldview.

I quote here Francis Schaeffer in his speech titled A Christian Manifesto, on true spirituality:

<< ... what I have been talking about, whether you know it or not, is true spirituality. This is true spirituality. Spirituality, after you are a Christian and have accepted Christ as your Savior, means that Christ is the Lord of ALL your life -- not just your religious life, and if you make a dichotomy in these things, you are denying your Lord His proper place. I don't care how many butterflies you have in your stomach, you are poor spiritually. True spirituality means that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord of all of life, and except for the things that He has specifically told us in the Bible are sinful and we've set them aside -- all of life is spiritual and all of life is equally spiritual. That includes (as our forefathers did) standing for these things of freedom and standing for these things of human life and all these other matters that are so crucial, if indeed, this living God does exist as we know that He does exist.

We have forgotten our heritage. A lot of the evangelical complex like to talk about the old revivals and they tell us we ought to have another revival. We nee another revival -- you and I need revival. We need another revival in our hearts. But they have forgotten something. Most of the Christians have forgotten and most of the pastors have forgotten something. That is the factor that every single revival that has ever been a real revival, whether it was the great awakening before the American Revolution; whether it was the great revivals of Scandinavia; whether it was Wesley and Whitefield; wherever you have found a great revival, it's always had three parts. First, it has called for the individual to accept Christ as Savior, and thankfully, in all of these that I have named, thousands have been saved. Then, it has called upon the Christians to bow their hearts to God and really let the Holy Spirit have His place in fullness in their life. But there has always been, in every revival, a third element. It has always brought SOCIAL CHANGE!”

The problem with the current Evangelical Co-Belligerence movement is that while it emphasizes actions we can take in response to problems such as judicial activism, abortion, gay marriage, etc., it has not yet helped to usher in that great reformation and revival of heart in the Church that would bring about the deeper social impact that Schaeffer writes about. It seems to "put the cart ahead of the horse", wanting true spiritual results without the prerequisite spiritual transformation. The movement seems to be superficial.

Again quoting Schaeffer, from his book True Spirituality, chapter one:

"The inward area is the first place of loss of true Christian life, of true spirituality, and the outward sinful act is the result. If we can only get hold of this -- that the internal is the basic, the external is always merely the result -- it will be a tremendous starting place."

So we have a responsibility first, to be good Christians: true disciples who love God with all of our hearts, souls, mind and strength; and second, who love our neighbor as ourselves. From the overflow of reformation and revival in the Christian community that comes through repentance in response to the gospel, we will be transformed, and that inner transformation will in turn move us to impact society in a more penetrating way.


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