WHAT IS THE POINT OF LIMITED AND SECULAR GOVERNMENT?

Christ among the doctors by Cima da Conegliano, 1504. (from here)
Christ among the doctors (Luke 2:41-50) by Cima da Conegliano, 1504. (from here)

I’ve never understood how God could expect his creatures to pick the one true religion by faith — it strikes me as a sloppy way to run a universe. — Robert A. Heinlein, in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) (from here)

Should we be able to select the one true religion? I think so, but I don’t think it is just a matter of faith. I do, however, think making the choice requires reasoning we find difficult.

  • We must admit we need God, not an idol of our own making, but our Creator. That requires humility.
  • We must believe our reasoning is sufficient to know God and that God wants us to know Him. We need that belief to give us hope.
  • We must have the courage live by our choice. That’s why faith is required. To exercise the courage to live by the choice our reasoning dictates, we must have faith in God.
  • Most of all we must believe God loves us, and we can love Him.

Still, we make such a large variety of religious choices that that quote above from Heinlein seems to prove something, but what? I expect it shows how much we need God. Without our Creator’s help, we do not make good choices. We do not make good choices about much of anything.

That’s what makes America so remarkable. Ours has for the most part been a happy, productive, and prosperous land because for the most part Americans have made good choices, far from perfect, but generally good.

Why good choices? Consider that the Bible contains wisdom revealed by our Creator. Until we choose to read the Bible and strive to understand it, we cannot know how much our Maker loves us.

Americans once cherished the Bible. They actually read it.

Why did Americans care about the Bible. America is a product of the Protestant Reformation, the lessons from bloody wars in Europe, and the English Enlightenment.  Our notions about classical liberalism and freedom of religion in particular come from those experiences.

  • The Protestant Reformation cracked the intercessory control of the Roman Catholic Church between man and God.  Prior to the Reformation, most of Europe accepted the Catholic clergy’s claim to speak for God. Subsequent to the Reformation, many Protestants believed they need no intercessor except Jesus.
  • The Protestant Reformation resulted in the multiplication of Christian sects and violent disputes over articles of faith. Therefore, in addition to the usual excesses that set off European wars, men fought and persecuted each other over their religious differences
  • The Protestant Reformation also resulted in the opportunity for people to study the Bible in their own languages. In fact, we can attribute both the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment in particular to the invention of the printing press. When people studied the Bible, the Word of God, for themselves, they could not find a command from Christ Jesus to spread the Gospel by force. Instead, many agreed that Jesus commanded His disciples to forgo violence and love their enemies.

Who settled America? Some came to America for riches and glory, but more came just for the hope they could live as they chose. Pilgrims, Puritans, Catholics, Quakers and others came so they could practice their religious beliefs in peace. Others came to just avoid debtors prisons.  Still, those who came were generally Christians, just different kinds of Christians. In the vast land of America, these different kinds Christians separated themselves into different communities, focused on their local governments, and experimented in new ways of governing.

Eventually, the American colonists tired of the rule of a faraway tyrannical king. Eventually, the American colonists decided that self-defense and the regulation of commerce required a federal government, but what kind of government? What would be the proper goals of an American government? To answer those questions, the American colonials considered the fruit of their experiments and turned to a political ideology we now call Classical Liberalism.

Classical liberalism is a political ideology that values the freedom of individuals — including the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and markets — as well as limited government. (continued here)

Why a limited government that values individual freedom? Because they had diverse societies, the American colonials did not share exactly the same beliefs or  worldview. That is, they had limited set of shared values. Therefore, particularly with respect to the Federal Government, the colonials thought it best to limited the scope of government powers. Even then, because they feared Federal powers would be abused, the colonials insisted upon a Bill of Rights.

Consider the first words of the First Amendment.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Because we are are Christian nation, we have some shared values, but we also have huge differences. What is Christianity? Some people — not all — say Christianity is what the Bible says it is.  However, the Bible is a large work. So even Christians who uphold the Bible as the inerrant Word of God emphasize different parts. Therefore, we have a problem we don’t know how to solve. Who has the wisdom to decide  for everyone else what God would have us do?  Hence, the First Amendment says religion is a matter the Federal Government should leave to the states and the people.

Because of the First Amendment, we now have something that prior to the rise of the United States as a world power was almost unheard of, a secular state. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans did not want the government to establish a religion or to interfere in the free exercise of religion (see Establishment of Religion and Free Exercise of Religion at heritage.org).

Unfortunately, the freedom of religion clause in the Constitution no longer works quite the way the framers of the Constitution intended. That’s because:

  • We no longer have a limited government. When the government has so much power, power mad politicians and the religious sects they represent find it tempting to impose their own beliefs.  Currently, various manifestations of Human Secularism have combined to pose the greatest threat to religious freedom. Thus, the budget for health, education, and welfare programs has exploded, and Christians, even though the Bible says no such thing, are suppose to support health, education, and welfare programs because its what Jesus would do.
  • The 14th Amendment requires the application of the Bill of Rights to state governments. As originally envisioned, all the Bill of Rights did was keep the Federal Government from sticking its nose where it did not belong. The 14th Amendment, however, allows the Federal Government to impose “religious freedom” upon the states. That added complexity has made it possible for Human Secularists to twist the law. So now many insist we equate the free exercise of religion with freedom of worship. That is, to keep the freedom from religion people happy, we are supposed keep our religion to ourselves and let the state indoctrinate our children in various “isms” including Human Secularism. Then we are supposed to loudly proclaim we still live in the land of the free.

There is an old bit of wisdom any good doctor knows.

Do no harm. — (contracted form of the Hippocratic oath, from here)

When we try to engineer our society to “fix” it, we are effectively trying to heal other people (if our motives are good). The problem is that the operation of a society is quite complex, and we are not qualified to play God. Hence, we must respect the right of our fellow citizens to make decisions that more appropriately belong to them. That’s why for any people who want to remain free limited government is not optional.

Other Views

Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church!

Pastor Randy of “Kingdom Pastor” has an excellent series going, 10 thoughtful posts on what is killing our Savior’s church in America. I have read items 10 – 7 and look forward to taking the time this weekend to finish reading the rest of his series. If you care about the state of the Christian Church in our nation, you may wish to do the same.

Note that we, including Pastor Randy I suspect, tend to think of the Christian Church as a phenomenon of the West, that is, the Americas and Europe. In truth the Christ’s Church is declining in the United States and Western Europe, but that’s is not the case elsewhere. That’s why I say Pastor Randy’s series is about the Christian Church in America. It’s the church we know, and it is that part of the church our Savior gave to us to fulfill His Great Commission.

Kingdom Pastor

top-10-ppc

This morning I had another one of my moments of random thoughts.  It is a condition I am afflicted with regularly and I am learning to use it in ways that would be both inspiring and challenging.  This morning’s random thought came out of a conversation I had in 2016 with someone at church.  Our conversation emerged from that Sunday’s message that was about the question of human sexuality.  If you are a member of or are following the news in our Tribe, it is a hot topic button.  My point was that God calls us to love and care about others and that homosexuality is not the worst sin, and we needed to stop treating it that way.  We need to bear witness to the truth of Jesus through our lives and give the Spirit the opportunity to change whatever needs to be changed in our life.

This member…

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WHO IS THIS MAN? by JOHN ORTBERG — PART 6

The Marriage at Cana by Maerten de Vos, c. 1596 (from here)
The Marriage at Cana by Maerten de Vos, c. 1596 (from here)

This is the sixth installment in a review of John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man? The previous five installments can be found by clicking on the links below.

Chapter 11 explains how Jesus popularized what we now think of as traditional marriage. Chapter 12 tells of Jesus’ extraordinary passion, how His passion inspired what has become a worldwide movement.

The Invention Of Traditional Marriage

When we speak of traditional marriage, we often speak as if the Christian ideal of marriage has been around forever. We forget Jesus initiated the Christian ideal of marriage. Using what Judaism taught about marriage as a starting point, Jesus, a man who never married, taught us how to behave as Christian men and women. He taught us to use the intense love we should bring to a marriage as a model for how we should return the love of God.

Consider this observation.

In the ancient world outside of Israel, sex was not regarded as an activity restricted to marriage for moral reasons. It had little to do with religion, although some fertility cults practiced temple prostitution because they believed human fertility made nature itself fertile. Lack of self-control was disdained by some philosophers. But for most part, the sexual motto in the ancient world was carpe diem.

At least if you were a man. (from Chapter 11, pg 137 of Who Is This Man?)

Jesus changed that. He taught men to love their wives.

Ephesians 5:25 English Standard Version (ESV)

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

Did you marry for love? In ancient times, people married for what they thought more practical reasons.

He Offers Us The Most Inspiring Vision

John Ortberg wrote his book, Who Is This Man?, to show us Jesus is the most remarkable man who ever lived. In Chapters 1 -12 Ortberg shows us how what Jesus taught changed the course of history. Why is that important? Consider this question from a commenter who shall for the time being remain anonymous.

I do have a question though. Perhaps if you prefer not to address an answer to me you might consider wring a post?

While we will always likely disagree over issues pertaining to evidence and the veracity of scripture etc, these are details. However, if I might ask, exactly what do you consider is at stake for you personally if you do not accept Jesus as your savior?

How do I answer that question? What inspires me to accept Jesus as my savior? Chapter 12 focuses on that inspiration.

When we look at the life of Jesus, we cannot help but be astounded. Jesus was not just a good and wise man. He inspired a revolution in the ancient world. Hence in Chapter 12 Ortberg speaks of what Jesus inspired people to do: artwork, charity, social reform, martyrdom…. In fact, Ortberg ends Chapter 12 with a poem Dietrich Bonhoefer wrote just before the Nazis executed him.

Bonhoefer’s poem is excellent addition that makes Chapter 12 well worth reading. Nevertheless, even though some uncertainty exists about the authenticity of the quote (See here for a more complete version with an evaluation of the authenticity.), I will end this section with a quote not included in Ortberg’s book. Should you decide to read Ortberg’s book, I hope this quote will provide an added perspective.

There another aspect of inspiration that Napoleon Bonaparte observed. What amazed Napoleon was Jesus’ unrivaled capacity to inspire people. What astounded Napoleon was not the fact that Jesus inspired his followers but how much. Thus, Napoleon Bonaparte gave this testimony to General Bertrand (one of his generals) during his exile at St. Helena, where he died (1821).

Napoleon’s Testimony to Christ at St. Helena

1889 319 Certainly the spirit of that child of revolution and scourge of Europe before our day was not with Christ in his bitterness against those whose duty it was to hold him fast, as well as the powers that authorised it. But such as it is, it may interest some, as said to the unbelieving companion of his exile, General Bertrand:

“I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and every other religion the distance of infinity.

“We can say to the authors of every other religion, You are neither gods nor the agents of Deity. You are but missionaries of falsehood, moulded from the same clay with the rest of mortals. You are made with all the passions and vices inseparable from them. Your temples and your priests proclaim your origin. Such will be the judgment, the cry of conscience, of whoever examines the gods and the temples of paganism.

“Paganism was never accepted as truth by the wise men of Greece, neither by Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, Anaxagoras nor Pericles. But on the other side the loftiest intellects since the advent of Christianity have had faith, a living faith, a practical faith, in the mysteries and the doctrines of the gospel; not only Bossuet and Fénelon who were preachers, but Descartes and Newton, Leibnitz and Pascal, Corneille and Racine, Charlemagne and Louis XIV. [But hear Christ in Matt. xi. 25, 26.]

“Paganism is the work of man. One can here read but our imbecility. What do these gods, so boastful, know more than other mortals? these legislators, Greek or Roman? this Numa, this Lycurgus? these priests of India or of Memphis? this Confucius, this Mahomet? Absolutely nothing. They have made a perfect chaos of morals. There is not one among them all who has said anything new in reference to our future destiny, to the soul, to the essence of God, to the creation. Enter the sanctuaries of paganism — you there find perfect chaos, a thousand contradictions, the immobility of sculpture, the division and the rending of unity, the parcelling out of the divine attributes, mutilated or denied in their essence, the sophisms of ignorance and presumption, polluted fêtes, impurity and abomination adored, all sorts of corruption festering in the thick shades, with the rotten wood, the idol and his priest. Does this honour God, or does it dishonour Him? Are these religions and these gods to be compared with Christianity?

“As for me, I say no. I summon entire Olympus to my tribunal. I judge the gods, but am far from prostrating myself before their vain images. The gods, the legislators of India and of China, of Rome and of Athens, have nothing which can overawe me. Not that I am unjust to them; no, I appreciate them, because I know their value. Undeniably princes whose existence is fixed in the memory as an image of order and beauty, — such princes were no ordinary men. I see in Lycurgus, Numa, and Mahomet, only legislators who having the first rank in the state have sought the best solution of the social problem; but I see nothing there which reveals divinity. They themselves never raised their pretensions so high. As for me, I recognise the gods and these great men as being like myself. They have performed a lofty part in their times, as I have done. Nothing announces them divine. On the contrary there are numerous resemblances between them and myself, foibles and errors which ally them to me and to humanity.

“It is not so with Christ. Every thing in Him astonishes me. His Spirit overawes me, and His will confounds me. Between Him and everyone else in the world there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by Himself. His ideas and His sentiments, the truths which He announces, His manner of convincing, are not explained either by human organization or by the nature of things. His birth, and the history of His life; the profundity of His doctrines which grapples the mightiest difficulties, and which is, of those difficulties, the most admirable solution; His gospel, His apparition, His empire, His march across the ages and the realms, everything is to me a prodigy, a mystery insoluble, which plunges me into a reverie from which I cannot escape, a mystery which is there before my eyes, a mystery which I can neither deny nor explain. Here I see nothing human.

(continued here)

How do we explain Jesus’ capacity to inspire people to change their lives, to devote their lives to following His teachings? What inspired so many? In the next and last installment in this series, we will consider Ortberg’s presentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Made to Love

The comment from the police officer at the end of this post should bring a new perspective. Whether black, white, yellow, or red; whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist,…; whether male or female; each person we meet is unique. God made them, and He made them for His own glory,

Before we belong to a race, creed, or sex, we belong to Him who made us all. God made each of us so He could love us and we could love Him and each other. Even though it may be difficult to love someone for some reason, it is wrong to hate that which our Lord has made.

This is a continuation of our discussion on Bridges.

Please join in the conversation.

Reblogged from susanirenefox.com

January 6, 2017 · by Susan Irene Fox · in Bridges, Christianity ·

glassofwaterJesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Think about this: rather than love our neighbor with the same amount of love as we love ourselves, what if Jesus meant for us to love our neighbor from the same Spirit who allows us to love ourselves? The same Spirit who allows us to forgive, offer grace and receive spiritual wisdom?

After all…

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