This week we will look at disagreements that exist within the Christian community as to ‘right’ interpretation of the Bible and how that can be used to influence or fail to influence the Christian impact on our government. While it would probably take books to cover all the intricacies of Biblical confusion within our society, this will only touch on a few of them as examples.
Among interpreters who take the whole Bible to be the trustworthy Word of God, there is no significant disagreement over the fact that, according to the Bible, murder is morally wrong (Exod. 20:13)…’murder’ defined as the taking of innocent blood; coming out of the heart as the result of anger…, adultery is morally wrong (Exod. 20:14), stealing is morally wrong (Exod. 20:15), and bearing false witness against your neighbor is morally wrong (Exod. 20:16). There is also widespread agreement about the fact that God established civil government for our benefit, in order to restrain evil and promote good (Rom. 13:1-6; 1 Peter 2:13-14; Gen.9:5-6), and that there should be a distinction between those things that are governed by the church and those under the authority of civil government (Matt.22:21)…i.e. speed limits are in the authority of civil government. In general, these should be enough to show that there is widespread consensus throughout the world among evangelical interpreters regarding the most significant principles that affect a person’s view of the Bible and politics.
Then, of course, there are also those areas where Christians disagree about the meaning of the Bible as it applies to government. For example, there are disagreements over the theory of a ‘just war’, the death penalty, government responsibilities with respect to poverty and wealth, question of abortion, definition of marriage, and freedom of religion…separation of church and state, for example.
Respectful arguments continue over time, eventually one viewpoint or another has the more persuasive arguments and then the majority of pastors, seminary professors, parachurch leaders, and other opinion leaders, and then the vast majority of evangelical believers, come to be persuaded about that viewpoint, and the opposing viewpoint is marginalized and persists among only a small minority of Christians. For example, acceptance to the validity of charging interest (“usury”) gradually developed throughout the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
It is extremely difficult for the Church to have meaningful impact on the government when it can’t within its own confines come to agreement. Satan and the liberal, secular world feed off of this confusion. Without a concerted, unified position held and expressed by the Christian community, it is left up to politicians to listen to the opinions and dictates of small but very well organized groups and make decisions that sometimes appears to be putting government in the place of God. Our nation becomes confused, disoriented, and divided. Theologically liberal critics of the Bible are not a good guide to right interpretation of the Bible. They take the position that the Bible is not the divinely authoritative and entirely trustful and trustworthy Word of God, and that it consist of merely human writings with many mistakes and contradictions. They have a habit of tossing out a rapid list of verses taken out of context and interject questions that seem to make it impossible to follow the Bible at all. Here is an example written by British author A.N. Wilson, in criticizing American Southern Baptists:
It seems…as impractical as it is undesirable to try to recreate ethics and behavioral patterns of a vanished age…[do] Southern Baptists condone slavery (as Paul does in his Epistle to Philemon)? Do Southern Baptists pool all their property and hold everything in common, as the first Christians did? Do they condemn giving money upon usury…and if so, how do they manage to invest in the stock market, put savings into pensions or even have a bank account? How do Christian fundamentalists in America today keep the Jewish dietary laws? How many of them would approve the stoning of adulteresses? Yet all these things are part of Biblical morality. Paul advises his followers not to marry at all. The early church was consistently hostile to family life. A true Biblical faith recognizes that the Bible is not a book of answers. It’s the story of the human race getting it wrong, over and over again. Even Saint Paul frequently contradicts himself. [A.N. Wilson, “The Good Book of Few Answers”, New York Times, op-ed page, June 16, 1998]. Here are six things that Wilson says are part of Biblical morality: (1) slavery, (2) communal property, (3) forbidding the collection of interest on loans…usury, (4) Jewish dietary laws, (5) stoning people for adultery, and (6) discouraging marriage. Strange but no leading evangelical denominations and parachurch organizations advocate those things, nor do any commonly used ethics textbooks in evangelical colleges and seminaries. Wilson is simply distorting and misrepresenting the Bible. It is always possible for a hostile reader to lift Biblical statements unfairly out of their context and announce that this is what the Bible teaches. This is done with no attention and no awareness of the place of specific verses within the broad sweep of historical development throughout the Bible. Wilson’s objections are designed to lead people to conclude that nobody can obey the Bible today. A ploy that Satan just loves.
Today there are hundreds of millions of evangelical Christian believers throughout the world who earnestly seek to obey the Bible , rightly understood, in all areas of life. Seeking to follow the Bible daily is not at all impossible. When the Bible is understood rightly and obeyed wholeheartedly, it leads to a joyful, fulfilling pattern of life that knows frequent blessings from God. This applies to the Bible’s teaching on civil government as well. These teachings can be understood and to the extent that they are followed, can bring many benefits to a nation. It is most appropriate for the Bible’s teachings for our personal lives and for that of government to be spoken of from the pulpit. What a grand opportunity to impact humanity. But first we must come together as Christians in strength as our founders did.
Next week we will take a look at Biblical support for significant Christian influence…after all we are looking to restore our government.
– Bob Munsey