Saturday, March 25, 2006

Neither Right Nor Left--Nor on the Fence

Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
Proverbs 4:25-27

This is sound advice in our day, when Right and Left, Conservative and Liberal, moderate and fundamentalist are constantly jostling for position as the correct view of reality. Especially since such competition, if you will, is not limited to politics, but is rampant in the "loving, unified" Body of Christ.

Let me make it clear right from the start that I'm not proposing some kind of "middle ground" "on the fence" position that tries to accomplish the impossible by combining and reconciling these diametrically opposed viewpoints. Far from it. Nevertheless, it has often been said that there are two ditches, one on either side of the road, and Satan doesn't care which one you fall into, just as long as you are off the road. I am afraid that many Christians, for fear of sitting on the fence, have forgotten that they are on a road, and have ended up lying in a ditch, which is far worse. In this case, the two ditches are called "Liberalism" and "Conservatism", or "Left" and "Right," respectively.

This was brought out to me in a strong way as I was reading some articles on the Christian Worldview Network recently. [Now don't get me wrong. I highly respect this excellent apologistic and evangelistic resource, and use it often. To tell the truth, I lean more strongly to the Right on most issues than to the Left. Still, both sides have some serious errors that cannot be overlooked, which is why I do not consider myself either Right or Left. I'll explain more later.]

I noticed a link to an audio interview with a well-known leader of the liberal Emerging Church movement, Brian McLaren, and decided to listen. I was saddened and somewhat frightened at what I heard, though not entirely surprised. Saddened that something like this could actually be considered a part of the Church of Christ, and frightened at the positive reception it is having even among evangelicals [just read some of the responses at the link above]. Among other things, Hell is said not to exist [or at least not as we traditionally believe], Jesus is just one of a large number of good examples of a life of love and self-sacrifice, sin is primarily a failure of humans to get along with each other, our primary goal is to fulfill God's will for us here on earth [eg, feed the poor, protect the environment, ensure good health care for everyone] while eternal things aren't as important [eg, salvation, witnessing to the lost], and we should not be as exclusive in our Christianity and think that this is the only way. Listen to it for yourself. Or, if you don't have time, read this shorter critique by Jason Carlson on the CWN.

The Christian Worldview Network, and similar conservative organisations, do a good job of pointing out the kinds of errors that liberals get into. They can show why such teachings are unbiblical, or even heretical. But at the same time, they have their own blind spots.

Take, for instance, the article by Jan Markell entitled, "Should America Kick Out Muslims That Want to Live Under Islamic Law?". The author favorably describes the banishment of Muslims who want to practice Islamic Law from Australia by the government, and encourages America to do the same. She also implies that such Muslims should not be allowed to hold "high political offices". The general attitude that comes through is one of hostility, almost hatefulness. How different from Jesus' command to "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;" (Matthew 5:44) Or to "Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-21) We are to love those Muslims and share the good news with them, not thrust them out in hostility. That is precisely what we criticize them for doing in their own countries. Even apart from Jesus' teachings, whatever happened to freedom of religion that Conservatives care so much about? Or does that only apply to Christians? Of course, if someone has known connections to terrorists, or is actively planning violent acts against the government, they should be watched and dealt with accordingly. But to banish an entire group of people simply because of their religious beliefs is not very "Conservative", not to mention Christian.

Another example is the article, "Was Jesus Political?", by Mark Creech. While acknowledging that Jesus' ministry was primarily spiritual, the author tries to find secondary political "corollaries" or ramifications for many of Jesus' teachings. It is true that many of the principles Jesus taught could be and have been applied in the area of politics, but to assert that Jesus was including secondary political meanings in His spiritual teachings seems to me to be stretching it a bit. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and the Apostles stressed that the Kingdom of God was not of this world, and neither should its citizens be.

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." 1 John 2:15 "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord," 2 Corinthians 6:17 "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." Romans 12:2 "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:33 "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26 And on it goes.

We are to forsake everything--our possessions, our family, our rights, our very lives--and yield complete and total allegiance to our new King. How then can we cling to the kingdoms of this world?

Furthermore, the laws of the Kingdom of God and the laws of the kingdoms of this world are almost always in direct contradiction. We have to obey the one or the other. We cannot obey both. Herein lies one of the chief errors of the "religious right". If the Constitution and the laws of earthly kingdoms were the final authority, they would be right on in most cases, and I would be one of them. But the laws of the Kingdom of God are the ultimate universal authority, and I must abide by them, as must all Christians.

These laws are often quite different from the principles Conservatives hold dear. In fact, Liberals are sometimes much closer to them than Conservatives are. For instance, as mentioned above, we are to love our enemies, yet "When the United States ponders going to war, nowadays 'Bible-believing' Christians are invariably the ones who are the most adamantly in favor of military action," as David Bercot points out in his book The Kingdom That Turned the World Upside Down. [(Texas, USA: Scroll Publishing, 2003.) 68.] How can we love our enemies and be in favor of killing them at the same time? Conservatives often try to "legislate morality", but the Bible clearly teaches that a person, and also a society, must be changed from the inside out. The Church is to use the Spirit to impact society, not the State. The Apostles and early Christians did not petition Rome to allow Israel to be a free country once more, nor did they try to influence the Empire through politics to follow their beliefs. Rather, they put their zeal into spreading the gospel of the higher Kingdom, one that is without geographical boundaries or political parties. They obeyed and submitted to some of the worse dictators in history, without complaining that they were losing their tax exempt status. [Bad illustration, but you get the idea.] Patriotism is another area in which these Christians were noticably lacking. Paul said that "my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." (Romans 10:1) Not, "that they might be free from the Roman Empire" or "that they might regain their original territory", but that they would be saved. And in the end, that is the best kind of patriotism a Christian can have.

So what am I saying? I guess what I'm trying to point out is that God's Kingdom is not made up of Conservatives or Liberals. It is made up of Christians. Not those who stick to a particular ideology, or even theology, but those who know Jesus Christ personally, and live it out in their everyday lives. Rather than crusading for a particular viewpoint, we should be witnessing for Jesus and living out the Kingdom life according to Kingdom laws.

The liberals miss this by denying the King. Jesus is the only Way, Truth, and Life. The Conservatives miss it by denying the laws. Jesus' Kingdom is not of this world. Rather than falling into either of these ditches, we should take heed to Proverbs and stay in the middle of the road. After all, the road is very narrow, and the way dangerous. But if we are truly seeking, God will lead us in the right way.

Whatever ditch you are in, get out. Start walking the narrow path, with Jesus and His Word as your guide, not some man-made ideology or creed. Forget about being a Liberal or a Conservative. Be a Christian.