Romans Lesson 134 - Missing the Mark
A president once challenged Americans to ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. But what should we as Christians be doing for our country? Should we try to reclaim the culture through political activism? Should we fight against immoral government sanctions? Find out now as the Apostle Paul talks to us about Politics.
“Missing the Mark?”
The very beginning lines of our pledge of allegiance was written in 1882. Francis Bellamy, a socialist, who also happened to be a Baptist minister was heavily influenced by a relative who had written that utopia within any society was possible given the dedication and unity of mankind.
The original pledge was written to celebrate the anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. It was published in a children’s magazine and was intended to stress the unity of the states as it declared, “I pledge allegiance to my flag, and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
25 years later, with growing concern about the many immigrants who wouldn’t know what “my flag” stood for, the wording was added in 1923 to read, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States.” And one year later, “of America” was added so that the pledge now read, “I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Then again, 30 years later, in an attempt to differentiate America, with it’s belief in a Creator, from the spreading communism and atheism of other nations, the words, “under God” were added.
After those words were ratified, President Eisenhower wrote, “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and schoolhouse this . . . patriotic oath and public prayer.
Mark those last words . . . it was unapologetically conceived as a prayer.
Now 60 years after Eisenhower applauded the new pledge,
It is becoming the center of a growing controversy over that very issue – it is, undeniably an oath and a confession . . . a public prayer . . . a declaration of the sovereignty of God – and if you were an atheist, you would not want to say it either.
That’s why atheist Michael Newdow, the father of a 3rd grader, challenged the state of California for allowing a teacher to lead his daughter’s class in the pledge of allegiance. And the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with him and declared such an act as unconstitutional.
But then, in June of 2004, the Supreme Court reversed that decision, but in the process, the Supreme Court sidestepped the issue of separation. They overruled the lower court, because they held that the father of his 3rd grader had no right to speak for his daughter since he was presently involved in a custody dispute over her, with his former wife. The Court rather neatly begged off on addressing the weighty issue of church and state as it relates to the pledge of allegiance.
There isn’t any doubt that we are living in days of great erosion as it relates to issues of church and state.
What do the apostles mean when they tell us to live in quietness (I Timothy 2:1,2); to be submissive to rulers and authorities (Titus 3:1) and to be subject to every human institution, including the emperor and governors. (I Peter 2:13).
What does Paul mean when he writes in Romans 13:1.
Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
- What does this text imply about the role and authority of the government and the role and authority of the church?
- How does the state and the church live in co-existence?
- Are their unique roles for each – evidently, Paul believed the government of Nero was ordained by God.
- How do we apply that perspective in the 21st century?
Do you really think I’m gonna answer all these questions today?
Before we even get to the answers, I want to raise the questions.
In fact, I expect to trouble you some; to provoke your critically thinking faculties to ask questions about the contemporary church age we live in.
I will never forget my former professor, Howard Hendricks, saying this statement in class one day; he said, “In every generation, the church at large has missed the mark somewhere.” Then he pointed his finger at us and asked, “Do you know where it is missing the mark today?”
I am personally convinced that one area in which the church is missing the mark, is in its relationship to government. Specifically, in its desire for political influence in hopes of stemming the tide of immorality and evil.
Frankly, we have arrived at a point in our country’s history where the state is deeply confused over its relationship with the church!
What has become known as the wall of separation between church and state had nothing to do with our founding father’s intentions. What our founding fathers intended to create was protection of the church from the state – from state imposed religion.
Instead of protecting the church from the state, the amendment is interpreted to pull the drain and wash away the influence of the church. In effect, the slow riddance of religious expression. It has become the separation of state from church; the separation of state from God.
So, today you can use the constitution to defend someone’s right to look at pornography in the locker-room, but not the Bible in a classroom.
One elementary girl in Virginia was told to stop reading her Bible on a school bus, because it violated the separation of church and state.
Today, the constitution is being twisted to defend the right to all sorts of things . . . you have the right to use profanity, but not the right to mention God respectfully. So, in Decatur, Illinois, a primary school teacher who discovered the word God in a phonics textbook was able to order his 7-year-olds to color over it so that it couldn’t be seen.
The only thing that ever brings any change in this politically correct culture which intentionally shuns God, is a war – or an act of terrorists. And suddenly our leaders on both sides of the aisle, from the most powerful to the least influential are calling America to pray and assuring grieving loved ones that they are in our prayers.
The state is deeply confused about it’s response and it’s relationship to the church.
On the other hand, the church is equally confused. And I am convinced that the greater problem – the greater danger – the greater loss is not the degradation of our society that loves not God or the Bible. The greater danger is not the erosion of values; it isn’t even the desire or our country to strike God from textbooks and courthouses; it isn’t even the slouching of our country toward Gomorrah, as one author put it (Bork).
Greater than the degradation of society’s fall from grace into greater and greater evil, is the distraction of the church and the diversion of the church’s resources and manpower and objectives.
It is the church that has left its first love . . . a church that seems to believe that making disciples, one at a time, is not enough of a victory. That’s too slow . . . as if Jesus Christ then was a failure after nearly 4 years to have only 11 men and a handful of women who believed what He said. If He were planting a church today, or starting a mission outreach today, He would be considered a dismal failure.
The church has also become deeply confused in regards to it’s relationship with the state . . . it’s position and posture toward the issues of our day.
The greatest loss in our generation is the perspective and purpose of a church that has come to the erroneous conclusion that a strong America is the same thing as a strong church.
- Or that a moral culture is necessary for the church to have a spiritual impact.
- That a conservative victory on some level is equal to a Christian victory.
- Have we actually forgotten that our relationship to society is not to reform it, but to redeem it, one person at a time.
- Have we forgotten, in our power push for moral activism, that a man with good morals will die and go to hell as quickly as man with bad morals.
Romans chapter 2 already delivered the shocking news that the man with a taste for religion and proper morals is as much on his way to hell as the man in Romans chapter 1 who has a distaste for God and a love for perversion.
Ladies and gentlemen, the church’s mission is not to make bad people good, or good people better. Our mission is not moral reformation, but spiritual reformation.
Politics can never achieve that end . . . the state does not have the equipment to bring about lasting change, only the gospel delivers a new nature. The courts do not have the tools to bring about spiritual change.
A classic case of this in the last 200 years was the church’s role in prohibition – the efforts of wonderful people, many of them women and pastors and Christian leaders who succeeded in outlawing alcoholic beverages . . . only to create an incredible opening for crime to organize and reap millions of dollars filling the void. Popular opinion eventually reneged and the church lost twice.
This may shock you, and if I were living back then, preaching what I am preaching now, it would be shocking to them – but I would say it anyway . . . the goal of the church was never to make drinking illegal – though I would be glad if the state so moved. But the mission and energy and investment of the church was not then and is not now to clean up the evils of society, but to evangelize society.
Think about it . . . what if homosexuality was illegal, abortion outlawed, sexual relations outside of marriage unacceptable; what if prayer was back in the classroom and the 10 commandments re-hung in the courtrooms. What then? Are people going to heaven? Has the mission of the church advanced?
Suppose we could turn the clock back to the good old days: with shared boundaries of morality; a basic respect for God; a basic underpinning of absolute truth. A time when there was embarrassment over adultery; when sexual acts and aberrations were kept in the closet.
Would we breathe a sigh of relief then? What if we had our every way in Washington – evangelical counsel was the only counsel accepted; every piece of legislation we cared about passed in our favor – would we wipe the sweat off our brow?
I believe the church today would – because the church at large has forgotten the nature of our battle.
We are sweating over good things, but the wrong cause.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t care what society does! Given our current freedom, we vote against evil at every opportunity and rejoice when the court reveres moral purity. For those called into civil service, you utilize that framework to shine as a light and influence those around you just as a college student seeks to influence his roommates.
At the present time, the church has vast privileges. But a privilege is not a prerogative.
The church in America has turned privileges into purposes.
Can I remind you, as I continue my introduction of Romans 13, which is about all your gonna get today . . . that you can bring a pig inside your house, give him a bath and put a bow around his neck and marvel at how good he smells. There now, Mr. Pig . . . this is the right way to live. And Mr. Pig grunts back in agreement. But the minute you take him out for a walk, and you pass a mud puddle, that pig is going to do a high dive right into the middle of it, isn’t he?!
The problem was you cleaned the outside of the pig up, but not the inside. You changed his environment, but not his nature. You brought him into your home, but you didn’t change his heart.
That’s the problem with the distraction of the church today that has bought the logic that if we can just keep sodomy illegal, we will have won a victory.
That depends on how you determine victory.
Victory is not changing the behavior of our culture, unless we have first changed its belief about who Jesus Christ is and how He alone transforms.
Spiritual transformation does not happen from the outside in, but from the inside out.
And the hope for Washington and our culture is the same thing needed for the guy who works in the cubicle next to you – Jesus Christ’s saving gospel, and a transformation of his hearts by way of the cross, so then his voting decisions and moral parameters; his vocabulary and goals will be radically reversed by the renewing of his minds as a result of the penetrating, life-changing word of God.
When Paul entered the Las Vegas of the ancient world, known as Corinth . . . a city so wicked and so decadent that by the time of Paul, if you wanted to say a woman was loose you would say she was a Corinthian girl.
The church in Corinth would be composed of former embezzlers, homosexuals, adulterers, idolaters, drunkards (I Corinthians 6)
Paul never started a campaign to clean up the city’s morals; he didn’t organize voters to fill government positions with Christian friendly officials. No doubt, Christians would speak their mind about pornography, prostitution, gambling, adultery, homosexuality, idolatry and every other sin that plagued Corinth. But their mission was not to clean up Corinth, but to deliver the gospel to people who would become new creations in Christ.
Paul would write to officials who served in Caesar’s household. Not a word of undermining or influencing Caesar. Not a whisper of conspiracy, like Bonhoeffer who made the mistake of Peter and drew his sword in plotting with others to assassinate Adolph Hitler. No word of secret meetings to overthrow Rome.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I do not find anything in the New Testament letters to the New Testament churches about mounting a cultural war.
That’s the error of Peter, who determined that the political views regarding Jesus Christ had reached a point of no return and they were about to arrest and lead away an innocent man, the God-man, no less. And so Peter drew his, what? His sword!
He said, in effect, “I will fight this cultural digression with the same weapons they are using against us.” I’ll match sword with sword . . . political muscle with muscle.
And he drew blood. And an ear fell to the ground. And I can just imagine silence . . . and Jesus Christ reached out and healed that man’s ear, immediately stopping the pain of the one who had come to bring Him great pain. And then Jesus looked at Peter and said, “Have you forgotten, that if I wanted to, I could call 12 legions of angels?” (Matthew 26). Peter, if we wanted to fight them using their weapons, I could snap my finger and call to my side 72,000 angels?”
When Paul wrote to the Roman believers there wasn’t a record of any Christian on the Roman senate. There was no Christian political lobby, no watchdog committee to make sure that the interests of the Christians were being addressed.
There were no courts where false accusations against Christians could be resolved. In fact, when the barbarians sacked Rome, the Romans decided that it was the Christian’s fault and persecution intensified.
When Paul wrote the Book of Romans, we have no reference or, much less, encouragement, to overthrow Nero . . .
Instead, he writes a text of scripture that probably confounded them.
Romans 13:1 clearly declares two things:
1) Submission to government is the command of God.
Paul writes, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.”
This is not a suggestion, this is a command.
Other passages will deal with responding to government when they demand that we violate the clear command of God. Then we say with the Apostles who were told to stop spreading the gospel, that they would not.
2) The institution of government is the creation of God.
Paul goes on in verse 1 to write, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
We’ll dive in deeper to discover what Paul means, but one thing’s certain.
If Paul was talking about Nero . . . and Rome . . . and his godless culture, propped up by idolatrous leaders, what could that mean for us?!
Let me make 6 observations as I introduce this passage:
- The Christian is to obey the civil laws of government, regardless of that governments response to the gospel.
- We are not to believe that a moral government or nation is necessary to have a thriving church.
When Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, the culture was at it’s most depraved level. There were no sexual norms – heterosexuality was considered prudish; the emperor publicly married both a man and women; pedophilia, adultery, idolatry was rampant.
This was the century Christ determined was the century in which to plant the living church. And the church thrived.
- It is not necessary for the church to have influence and freedom in order to be faithful!
The church in China is surprising the free world with it’s incredible growth!
- We are not commanded to been told to battle cultural immorality or even expected to diminish it; but to demonstrate purity.
Have you ever noticed that a lighthouse never once calmed a storm! It never redirected a hurricane. It never calmed the rolling ocean.
The church is a lighthouse. We shine brightest when culture is darkest.
- We have never been told to depend upon God and at the same time, pin our hopes on reversing cultural trends.
The moment we believe that , we will disband the purpose and mission of the church to make disciples and focus on giving society a bath . . . trying to put a bow around it’s neck; trying to convince it that, “There, isn’t this better?”
Take down the 10 commandments and the church refocuses their energy on getting a secular courtroom to house the 10 commandments – which everyone in their right mind knows they should, simply because the laws of God form the very basis of our judicial system.
But what caused our society to reach the point where the 10 commandments were no longer wanted? That’s the issue!
But well meaning brothers and sisters in Christ are saying, we must keep the 10 commandments in the courtrooms or all is lost in this culture war.
If there ever was a verse to restore the mission of the believer in our times, it’s this verse, it’s Paul’s direction to Timothy.
Listen to what Paul wrote Timothy, a young pastor trying to keep the church on course, during a time when the church naturally wondered how it should live in face of an ungodly world; Paul wrote, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men. 2. for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a peaceful and quite life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior. (I Timothy 2:1, 2)
You will not find the slightest suggestion that we fight government with the same weapons they use – to fight power with power. To attempt to stem the digression tide of perversion with coalitions and boycotts and sit-ins and marches and the like. Our weapons are not the weapons of the world.
We were never given a Biblical expectation to wield political power and settle political appointments.
Go back in history when Constantine made Christianity the religion of his culture . . . when baptisms were politically correct and allegiance to the church expected. The result? The church became as corrupt as the world it tried to reach.
God hasn’t called the church to replace or repair or revive government. According to Romans 13, as we’ll see in detail later, God has ordained the governments of this world for a purpose, and the church has been ordained for another purpose.
The truth is very clear however from verse 1 – God is sovereign over the governments of the world. Jesus Christ is in control of the nations of this world – not one day, but now!
Paul made that clear as He preached to the Athenian leaders in Acts 17:26. He said, “God has made . . . every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation.”
In other words, it was God who had created their boundaries, their borders, their might, and the length of their existence as a nation.
That hasn’t changed in the 21st century.
God is not in heaven wringing His hands over the future of America. He isn’t breaking a sweat over the turmoil in the Middle East. He isn’t concerned with the ever present menace of Russia, or the growing antagonism of China. He isn’t wondering which country will do what, next.
Nor is God hoping the Supreme Court in America will protect the church.
Have we forgotten . . . God is sovereign ruler over the nations.
And God has never been elected! And He is not up for re-election any time soon!
And we, who are citizens of heaven, belong to the royal family of the coming King.
We’re about to learn in Romans 13 that we should be model citizens of whatever country we belong to; praying for our leaders, acting as salt and light, shining in the darkness and creating a thirst for God.
But our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We finally and ultimately pledge allegiance to heaven.
Does that mean we can’t pledge allegiance to our country? Certainly we can . . . in fact, while it remains a confession of the sovereignty of God, I recommend you pledge as often as you can and when you get to the part where it says, “one nation under God.” you talk louder!
Just remember that your ultimate allegiance is to another country.
Where Paul wrote to the Philippians that their citizenship was in heaven, the Greek word for citizenship is politeuma. It’s actually the word from which we get our word, politics. Paul is effectively saying our politics is in heaven. We lobby heaven for God’s cause on earth. We recognize our watch-dog committees are in the heavenlies . . . we speak and act as ambassadors of our heavenly country, Paul reminded the Corinthians, (2 Corinthians 5:20. “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ” – and here’s the content of your diplomatic assignment – “we beg you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Abraham Vema spoke in our staff chapel this past Monday. A native of India, a Ph.D. graduate from Dallas seminary, he has designed a ministry of meeting with the top 200 hundred leaders of nations in our world. He offers counsel and spiritual guidance to the ambassadors of the United Nations. He has been granted by the Lord, the gifts that allow him to stand before Kings and princes. He is acting in that arena as light – he said to us in chapel, “If I can lead a nation’s president to Christ, he will impact that nation for Christ. If I can win an ambassador to Christ, he will influence his arena for the gospel . . .that is ultimate victory.”
Abraham has given me a standing invitation to New York to have meetings with he and any ambassador I’d like to meet with. I’m not planning a trip anytime soon, but his purpose and perspective resonated with my study on this subject as I am preparing to answer questions that automatically come out of Romans chapter 13.
His perspective resonated with Paul; who encouraged our purpose to be entirely redemptive. To take the gospel to these heads of state – men and women, knowing that if their hearts are changed by the Spirit of God, their way of thinking will be changed . . . and their goals will be changed and their policies will be changed and their countries can be influenced to change as well.
It is change, from the inside out!
If we do indeed, then in the midst of our stormy world, hell-bent on swamping the church and dashing it to pieces . . . if we are indeed firmly fixed upon the rock, then we should not act as if we are clinging to our last piece of driftwood.”
Adapted from Erwin Lutzer, Where Do We Go From Here (Moody Press, 1993), p. 25
It’s time for the church to go back to the business of being the church . . . that doesn’t mean Christians can’t be involved in politics. Anymore than a Christian can be involved in building computers. If that’s the arena God has called you into – like Daniel of old, raise your voice for the glory of God in that administration.
For Daniel, two kings bowed their heads to the glory of Israel’s God. Three administrations were deeply influenced by Daniel’s character. He didn’t undermine Darius. He didn’t plot against Nebuchadnezzar. He didn’t raise up Hebrews against Belshazzar’s blasphemy against the sacred things of God.
He shone! And God chose to bless Daniel’s influence. Which included being thrown to the lions.
But don’t overlook the fact that at the same time of Daniel’s godly influence, God chose to bring an end to each kingdom and each administration – even after two of the kings trusted in the God of Daniel.
In fact, one underlying message of Daniel’s prophecy is that the kingdoms of this world will all pass away until we enter the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So, let’s not forget our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of darkness . . . don’t forget our battle is not cultural, it is spiritual.
Listen . . . if you haven’t caught it clearly enough yet, let me say it this way . . . this is my 6th and final observation in this introduction of Romans 13. We have not been called by God to save America – anymore than Paul was to save Rome; or Martin Luther was to save Germany; or Spurgeon was to save England; we have not been called by God to save America . . . we have been called by God to save Americans.
America will one day fall . . . heaven will not.
The city of man, Augustine reminded us, will one day be destroyed as God recreates a new heaven and a new earth . . . but the city of God will last forever.
In the meantime, for the last 2,000 years, this is the mission of the church – go into the city of man through whatever avenue God has allowed you – and make disciples for the city of God. Baptizing them and teaching them to obey what Jesus Christ commanded us to do. (Matthew 28:19-20)
It’s time for the church to become satisfied once again with obedience to this unique commission from God.
Think of it; we have weapons the world doesn’t have. We have power the governments of the world could not imagine.
We have power over death. We have power over the grave and hell itself; we have One who is living within us who is greater is he that is in the world.
We are standing on the rock . . . in the middle of a storm. So let’s stop acting as if we’re scrambling for a piece of driftwood in case the rock goes under. The church of Jesus Christ is not sinking . . . though they try, the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church. (Matthew 16:18)
We are ambassadors of the King – sent to introduce our world to the true gospel, which is true power – for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.
Let’s get back to the business of being the church!
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