Monday, July 11, 2016

The church and the loss of truth

(I finished this post in the middle of last week but held it until now because of the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five Dallas police officers. This piece is not about that tragic subject, but I hope it proves helpful at this time of trial in our country.)

Hopefully, we, as Christ's followers, celebrated our country's independence last week with eyes wide open. Any celebration of America's birthday should be accompanied by the recognition the health of the republic, the dignity of its people and the governing ability of its office-holders are imperiled. Among all the many reasons we have for mourning America's decline is the loss of truth.

In May, The New York Times Magazine reported how Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security advisor, successfully manufactured a narrative to sell the nuclear deal with Iran to mislead American lawmakers and citizens. Last Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey told the public what surely nearly everyone suspected was true after observing Hillary Clinton for 25 years in the spotlight -- the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee lied repeatedly about her handling of classified emails as secretary of State. Meanwhile, the other major party's presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, has offered little evidence he can be trusted -- especially when his campaign positions clash dramatically across time.

This deceit by American office-holders and politicians is not new. It just seems to be worse than before. Too many politicians and their supporters believe their positions and the power to enforce them are ultimate. Telling Americans the truth has little value. The result among the citizenry is cynicism and distrust. In this environment, what reason do we have to believe anything many of our leaders say? How will we recover the trust that is needed for this republic to survive and its citizens to thrive?

Into this void steps the church of Jesus. The loss of truth and trust in America underscores the reality of the church as a community of truth and trust.

As in other areas, the church should be a thriving counter-culture in a dying culture. While the reigning culture denigrates truth, the church is to honor, guard and promote truth. No matter the loss of truth in the country, truth must rule in the community of Christ. We have the truth -- centered in God's revelation of Himself in His written Word (John 17:17) and His living Word (John 14:6). We are to live like those who belong to the Truth and are controlled by the Truth.

As the church, we -- as individuals or a body -- are to:

-- Tell the truth, even when it is harmful to our reputations or difficult for our listeners.

-- Repent and ask for forgiveness when we fail to tell the truth, whether that means before an individual or a group.

-- Hold to, confess, preach and teach the truth, even when it conflicts with the culture's current thinking and might cost us greatly.

We can lovingly speak truth and live lives marked by truth. In doing so, we can provide an appealing aroma in a decaying culture. Undoubtedly, we will do it imperfectly. But in His perfections, God will graciously bring to our covenant community those in whom He has planted a desire for truth.

* -- Photo credit.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Christian and the pledge of allegiance

Should a Christian pledge allegiance to the flag?

Our church discussed this issue in a corporate gathering last July 5. Since we again are nearing America's birthday and the patriotic celebrations that go with it, now seems like a good time to tackle the question.

Before I explain why I think it is appropriate for a Christian to pledge allegiance to the American flag, and why I have the freedom to do so, here is a point I believe to be the most important one I will make: This is not an issue Christians should divide over.

If your conscience does not give you the freedom to pledge allegiance to the flag, then you should not do so. We are Christians first, not Americans. No Christian should violate his or her conscience. A child of God may gain understanding in the future that frees that disciple to do something he or she previously did not sense the freedom to do. But until that time, it is best for a believer not to go against conscience.

If a Christian is convinced it is right to pledge allegiance to the flag, he or she should not criticize or be judgmental toward the brother or sister who does not. Neither should the disciple who conscientiously objects to making the pledge find fault with the one who freely participates in the act.

For me, the freedom to pledge allegiance to the flag is based on one primary reality that leads to a secondary consideration. For clarification, I am speaking of my practice as an individual American citizen who is also a citizen of a greater nation -- the kingdom of God. As a pastor, I would not lead the church to pledge allegiance to the flag corporately nor do I consider it appropriate to display the flag in a worship center.

As an individual, I say the pledge of allegiance because:

1. The pledge is relative. It is not absolute. It is not ultimate. When I place my hand on my heart, look at the flag and say the pledge, I realize it is not my primary allegiance. I like what David Mathis, executive editor with Desiring God and a pastor, wrote in a blog post three years ago on July 4: "If we are in Christ, joined to him by faith, all other pledges of allegiance have been relativized, whatever our nation of origin or naturalization." I recognize the pledge to the flag does not usurp my commitment to Jesus. When I say the pledge, I am acknowledging I have responsibilities as a citizen of the United States and I am grateful for the God-given privilege of experiencing the benefits of living in this country. But I am not saying the flag or this country is my Sovereign Lord. Only Jesus is my Lord.

No commitment we make in our lives matches or surpasses that to Christ. As Christians, we sometimes make pledges other than the one we make to the flag.

When a Christian takes the military oath or the oath of office to Congress, he or she makes a pledge, including these words: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same." A Christian can make that pledge of allegiance without compromising his or her allegiance to Jesus as Lord.

When a Christian makes a marriage vow, he or she is making a pledge that is relative in some sense. If a person threatens to divorce a Christian husband or wife unless the spouse recants his or her confession of Christ, the follower of Jesus is left with no option but to affirm allegiance to Him as Lord. In so doing, the Christian demonstrates the covenant with Christ overrules the covenant of marriage.

2. The pledge can be missional. Since I believe I am free to pledge allegiance to the flag, not to do so could hinder my opportunity to befriend, serve and evangelize my unbelieving family, friends and other neighbors. I am a follower of Christ who believes the Bible is authoritative in life and Jesus is the only way to God and eternal life. Those beliefs already separate me from the beliefs of many, if not most, Americans. I am not looking for questionable ways to separate myself from others and possible ministry to them. I don't want to set up unnecessary barriers to friendship with and evangelism of my fellow citizens.

(Since this issue came up within our church in a gathering of the whole fellowship last year, I am making a request of the parents of Covenant Community Church: If your children were present and heard various opinions expressed on this topic, I would like you to consider reading this post to them that they might be aware of their pastor's perspective. Thank you for considering my request.)

* -- Photo credit