Friday, March 23, 2018

Is There A Connection Between Humility and Freedom?

ON TUESDAY JANUARY 30, 1649, in London, an event occurred that changed the course of history. Charles I, King of England, was tried and executed by his subjects. The crime? Treason! 

As Charles climbed the steps to the scaffold, a crowd, estimated at 10,000, gathered to watch. The King spoke quietly to his chaplain, Bishop Juxon. He forgave the executioner, turned his thoughts to God, knelt and laid his head on the chopping block. The axe fell, and  following the tradition of the time, the executioner lifted the bloody head by its hair and proclaimed, "Behold the head of a traitor!" The crowd did not respond with the usual raucous cheer. Instead, "up from the people went a great deep groan, a groan, said an eye-witness, 'as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again.'" 

Charles last words were "a subject and a sovereign are clean different things." Antonia Fraser sums up his attitude this way. "A sovereign went to his death at the hands of his subjects, proud and unrepentant on that interpretation of government whose inflexibility had brought about his downfall." (Cromwell, pg 291). 

The rule of law is the foundation of our freedoms. It replaces an ancient concept known as the Divine Right of Kings. The two are incompatible. A nation not ruled by laws will be ruled by kings. (Think President, Dictator, Fuhrer, Prime Minister, etc. The title is irrelevant). Therefore, protecting the rule of law is vital. But, we are not doing that. The rule of law is collapsing, and to the degree that it does, we will revert to the Divine Right of Kings, the conviction about government for which Charles died. 

The Divine Right of Kings exalts the king above the law. Under this system everyone must obey the law except the king . His accounting is to God, not the people. Needless to say, this privilege is usually abused. For example, the king might impose a new tax which everyone must obey except the King. He might create a law against land theft, which applies to everyone except himself. According to "the Divine Right" the king is above the law. 

This concept began to die with the beheading of Charles in 1649. It was a great historical turning point, and like most historical turning points, no one understood it at the time. 

Charles fervently believed in the Divine Right of Kings. The Puritans, impacted by the Bible, fervently believed in the Rule of Law. The Puritans and Charles fought a Civil War to decide the issue. The Puritans, and the Rule of Law emerged victorious. Their conquest cost Charles his head. Inspired by this Puritan precedent, our founding fathers revolted against Britain in 1776. They wanted a nation ruled by law, not kings. 

To the degree that men are ruled by laws they are free. Our founders understood this. That is why the United States is a nation of laws. Everyone, homelesss or mighty, must obey the law. No one can agree with Charles that "a sovereign and his subject are clean different things." No one is free to disobey or ignore a law because they don't like or believe in it. Instead, we obey the law, even laws like Rowe V. Wade that we abhor. In the meantime, we work to change them through the legal mechanism provided by the constitution. 

In recent years the Rule of Law has been increasingly ignored. Leaders, acting like Charles I, place themselves above the law. This is a prescription for tyranny. For example, President Obama refused to enforce laws because he didn't agree with them. He refused to enforce RFRA, (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act), because it conflicted with his drive for same sex marriage. The States of Washington and Colorado recently passed laws legalizing Marijuana, despite the fact that it contradicts Federal Statutes criminalizing Marijuana usage. Now California refuses to enforce federal laws restricting Hispanic immigration. The examples are numerous and ominous. 

Unlike Charles, humility confesses that the political leader and his subjects are not different things. They are both human, both fallible, and both subject to God's law and God's final judgment. Therefore, humility submits to the law whether it likes it or not. By contrast, arrogance ignores laws it doesn't like. It lifts itself up above the law. 

This should concern us because the general thrust of the left is lawlessness. Although it would never confess it, it is sympathetic with the "Diving Right" of some (uniquely gifted) to coerce others. It tends to ignore the constitution and the laws it produces. (Think of the leftist courts willingness to usurp the judicial and legislative functions). The general thrust of the right is to honor the constitution and the laws it has produced. It is not unfair to say that political pride characterizes liberalism, whereas political humility characterizes conservatism. 

We are engaged in a great war of ideas, a war of World Views. Who will win, the Rule of Law or the Divine Right of Kings? That is the crucial question. Upon the culmination of this contest our freedoms rest. 

As always, your comments are greatly apprecitated. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

How To Be A Church that Offends People Effectively!

JUDY AND I ARE in southern Arizona enjoying the dessert sun.  Last weekend we attended a Gospel Coalition/9Marks church in the local area. The people were sincere and kind. We were graciously and effectively greeted several times.

But the church exhibited an all-too-common problem. The church culture offended us, but there was nothing in the message that would have offended an unbeliever. God wants the local church to do the opposite. God wants the gospel to offend the pride of Believers and unbelievers, but he doesn't want the church culture to offend. In the case of this church, the result was predictable. There was no sense of gospel joy. The congregation was elderly. There were few young families. It was a dying church.

By church culture I mean its music, website, demographic, bulletin, PowerPoint slides, etc. Had I been a non-Christian visiting for the first time, I would have never gone back, and not because it lacked the "cool factor." I am sixty nine! So, what was so offensive?

First, the music. The songs were from a by-gone era. Old songs are not necessarily bad. Many are still relevant, but not these. The lyrics were saccharine, sweet, and sentimental. Of greatest concern, they had little to do with the biblical God or the gospel.

The musicians were not especially talented, but that was not a problem either. Many relevant worship teams are not especially talented. It was the choice of songs, and the lack of congregational engagement.

One of the songs was the the theme from the movie, The Shack. The congregation wasn't liberal, nor would they have agreed with the theology of The Shack, but by using this song the leadership implied empathy with the movie and its message. At best it was confusing.

The second offense was the PowerPoint slides. Faded out behind the lyrics was the iconic picture of Jesus, with long wavy hair and a robe falling to the floor. He was knocking on the door. The whole experience said irrelevant, never mind the second commandment prohibition of images.

The last offense was the preaching. It was not offensive, and it should have been. Good preaching makes God big and people small. It confronts us with our sin and God's awesome mercy. It reminds us of our unworthiness and God's grace. We leave humbled, hopeful, and longing to worship the God who is now bigger than when we walked in the door. In biblical language, the sermon fills us with the fear of God, and where the fear of God is there is joy.

But that is not what happened. The preacher was organized and articulate, and, I am sure, very sincere. But the content was morality. The text was Micah chapter six. "And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (6:8). The preacher exhorted us to try harder, to be moral. He missed an opportunity to remind us that God commands justice, mercy, and humility, but we can't do it consistently. We must look at Jesus! He did it, and now, because we believe the gospel, his perfections are imputed to us. Therefore, throw we can seek to obey. We can seek to do justice. We can love kindness, and walk humbly with God. And, when we fail, there is a river of mercy and grace flowing from the throne of God.

I longed for him to turn my attention from myself, and my failures, to Christ and his all sufficiency. I didn't want to leave discouraged by my inadequacy, but encouraged by God's grace trying even harder to lead a life pleasing to him.

So, how about you and your church? What offends, the gospel, or your culture? God wants it to be the former, and when it is, God's joy will permeate your congregation. People will spontaneously give. They will reach out to the lost in the pew next to them. Your church will gain a reputation for friendliness, joy, and cheerfulness.

That is how God wants us to offend, not with our culture, but with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.