What Does the Church Have to Do with Judging Outsiders? Politics, the Gospel and Whose Side Is God On?

Paul said, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?”

Paul said, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (1 Cor. 5:12) This is where my mind went when I watched An (Un)Civil War: The Evangelical Divide posted online recently by CBS News. The next question in mind was the question Joshua asked the commander of the army of the Lord: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13)

If you know the answer to Joshua’s question, think about it for a moment. The subject here is the modern form of evangelicalism that is highlighted in the CBS piece linked above: hyper patriotic, nationalistic and political. I will come back to the angel’s response to Joshua before I conclude.

I hardly watch the news anymore, and CBS is certainly not my “go to” news source. I don’t have one. The portions of the CBS piece that are ringing in my head are the clips of the evangelical leaders preaching and explaining themselves in their own words.

I do understand that these clips are selected and don’t represent all that these leaders stand for or all that they might say. What they reveal, though, is enough to move me to write.

The clips show various preachers unapologetically “speaking the truth” from the pulpit, which the commentator calls “sermonizing a brand of social conservatism defined by conspiracy and apocalyptic rhetoric”. The words of the commentator are not what catch my attention, but they should be noted for the way they are perceived.

The piece focuses on a what is described as a “power struggle” in evangelical circles. That is how the world sees the difference in opinions by evangelicals: a power struggle of Christians “at war within itself”.

One firebrand pastor (Greg Locke) touts the amount of support for his position, seeming to affirm the perception that it’s all about power and influence.

In the world of politics, the number of evangelical constituents (over 1 in 4 Americans) is a matter of power and influence to political pundits. Locke’s comment and the concern expressed in the media piece align on that basis.

One pastor is heard saying, “But we shouldn’t talk politics in religion. Says who? Satan?! That’s the only way they control us!”, he says. “To get us to be silent.”  

Indeed, power, influence, and control are at the center of this phenomenon.

At the same time, Locke claims that the Bible is the issue, “Here is what the Bible says. Boom! We’re going to go with it!” He views himself as fighting for the Bible, fighting for ‘God and country”, trying to wrestle the United States out of the grip of the left and Satan.

But, is that really what is going on? What about the Bible? Are they just preaching what the Bible says?

There is so much to be said here, but I want to focus on just three things: 1) what the Bible says; 2) what the message of the Gospel is; and 3) whose side God is on in this struggle.

Continue reading “What Does the Church Have to Do with Judging Outsiders? Politics, the Gospel and Whose Side Is God On?”

The Plans God Has for Us – Part III

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him. 

I


n the previous two blog posts on The Plans God Has for Us, we considered the fact that the often-quoted verse about the plans God us for us – plans to prosper us and to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)[1] – should be viewed in historical context. (Part I) That historical context was the 900-year history of disbelief and disobedience of God’s people ending in 40 years of warning of impending judgment that culminated in the judgment coming to pass with the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and exile. (Part II) In this post, I will try to draw some conclusions in the application of this verse and relevance to our modern lives.

This letter was the message of God through the prophet, Jeremiah, to God’s people that He gave them at the very beginning of their exile. In this letter, God tells them that they will remain in exile for 70 year![2] In fact, this shocking statement – you will be here 70 years – is the statement that immediately precedes the famous verse we all know:

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

In a sense, God is telling them, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have imposed my judgment on you, and it will last 70 years. But the good news is that I have plans for you, good plans to prosper you and to give you hope and a future.

70 years! In an age in which the average life expectancy was about 35 years, that’s two generations! For the vast majority of the exiled people, this meant their lives would end in captivity. What kind of hope and future is that?!

The exile was the judgment God warned them about. God’s people had been so disbelieving and disobedient that God virtually banished them from the very land He promised them about a millennium before.  But even in the midst of this judgment, we need to look carefully at what God is saying. Just before announcing that this judgment thing is going to last 70 years, God gives them instructions:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”[3]

Imagine the 40 years of warning and the weight of that impending doom on those who actually took it seriously. As with most things we fear, the fear is worse than the reality.

During this time of judgment in exile in Babylon, God says to them, basically, “Don’t despair! Go about your lives. Embrace the circumstances into which I have brought you. Live life. Make plans. Bless those around you, seek to better the those around you, and I will bless you.”

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him.

Continue reading “The Plans God Has for Us – Part III”

How Can God Judge Good People: Postscript

 (c) Can Stock Photo

(c) Can Stock Photo

I have attempted to explore the issue of God’s judgment in three previous articles, not from the viewpoint of a theologian, but from my own limited perspective. Much of what I write is simply exploring the boundaries of issues. I may or may not have it right, but I am striving for understanding and greater clarity.

The title of the series is loaded. “Good” can be a relative term. When it comes to ultimate things, there is only one standard of goodness, and that standard is God. We do not measure up; therefore the question, itself, is flawed. We need to understand the problem so that we can begin to understand the solution.

The typical objections and issues people have with the notion of judgment and hell comes from not understanding the nature of God and nature of people.

God is good and God is love and God can be trusted. Challenges to God’s judgment misapprehend who He is. Everything flows from that.

Continue reading “How Can God Judge Good People: Postscript”

8 Important Points About Judging and Judgment

There is a great divide between the World and the Church, and it is getting bigger. The fracture is even dividing the Church. What Jesus said about judging and judgment is critical to understand in this time.

Judge Listening to Attorney --- Image by © Tim Pannell/Corbis

In a world that rejects the idea of sin, embraces moral relativism and demands that Christians tolerance everything (other than what we believe to be true), we naturally feel like we are being besieged; we are on the defensive. We know that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s righteousness, but our culture doesn’t buy into that idea, let alone any biblical truth that suggests a person shouldn’t simply “do what feels good”.

We tend to go to two extremes. Some of us get on our soapboxes; we get in the world’s face about sin and judgment. Some of us bow in deference to the current cultural norms of acceptance and tolerance. Neither one is a biblical response to sin in the world.  Continue reading “8 Important Points About Judging and Judgment”

The Great Divide

Grand Canyon


“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance[i].” (2 Peter 3:9)

People began talking about the second coming of Christ since soon after Jesus died. Jesus talked about it when he was alive. We still talk about it today.

I am not going to speculate or to suggest when the second coming will be. Jesus said that no man knows the day or the hour (Matt. 24:36), so I take him at his word.

I do believe that a God who could raise Jesus from the dead can cause Him to come again. It will happen. We will also all die as surely as we live. These things I take to the bank.

We do not like to talk about judgment or hell, but we cannot accept the Bible as true with any integrity without conceding those principles. Whether Jesus spoke more of hell than heaven or more of heaven than hell is beside the point; Jesus clearly and pointedly spoke of judgment[ii] and of hell[iii].

Jesus said that some people would end up in heaven with Him, and some would end up in hell without Him. We might call this the great divide.

The “slowness” referenced in 2 Peter 3:9 is God’s slowness in fulfilling the promise of the second coming of Christ… and of the Day of Judgment. (2 Pet. 3:3-8) the second coming and the judgment go together. That is when Jesus will separate the proverbial sheep from the goats.

In this context, Peter famously reminds us that one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day for God. (2 Pet. 3:8). Because God exists outside of time and space (always is, always was and always will be), time is not such a big deal for God as it is for us (limited, as we are, in the confines of space/time and finite).

The fact that “the Day” has not yet come speaks to God’s patience and His desire that none would perish. (See also John 3:16). God’s desire is that everyone would be “saved”. (1 Tim. 2:4) That God desires none would perish and all would be saved suggests that hell is a reality, and it is a reality that God doesn’t choose for us.

Some say that hell means primarily separation from God, but others make a good case that it means something else. (See for example Hell is Not Separation from God (eternal condemnation vs. eternal fellowship with God) or The Rich Man and Lazarus (death vs. eternal life)).

Regardless of what it might mean, hell is no place or condition God desires for us, and it’s not a place or condition we might desire for ourselves, all things being equal. Right?

God does warn of the dualism between heaven and hell. Primarily, however, He presents us with the choice between God and His way or other things and other ways; ultimately, it boils down to God’s way or “my way”. In that sense, the Frank Sinatra song, I Did It My Way, might be a good anthem for those who reject God.

God’s patience allows time for people to repent, to turn from their own ways, and to accept what God desires for us. God doesn’t make that choice for us. He won’t violate the free will He gave us a beings created in His very image.

We also do not dictate to God. God is who He is, and He does not change. The universe was created by Him and for His purpose, including us. The choice is ours to accept what God finds acceptable and to align with Him or reject Him and to seek what we want and align against Him.

For almost two thousand years since God became man, God has been patient, allowing time for repentance (“declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” Acts 17:31 & 20:21). Thus, the writer of Hebrews implores:

“Today, if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts….” (Heb. 3:7-8; quoting Ps. 95:7-8)

Continue reading “The Great Divide”