Saturday, April 30, 2011

An international thief for president?

All right, I am now officially nervous about a Donald Trump presidential campaign. Actually, "nervous" might be too mild a description. "Frightened" is perhaps more accurate. I'll be scared to death if it looks like he might possibly win.

Why the fear, you ask? The reasons are many. But here's one that ought to scare everyone:  he is a thief at heart.

Let me explain.

The power of eminent domain is a power the government has to appropriate private property for public use provided the owner is compensated according to the market value of the property. The power is mentioned - and limited - in the Fifth Amendment. By "public use" we should understand use by the government in carrying out its duties as enumerated by the Constitution. But in recent years, as we have moved further and further from the original meaning and intent of our founding documents, eminent domain has been used to transfer private property from one private citizen to another for the purpose of economic development. The Donald has attempted more than once to use this power for his own personal profit.

And now for the scary part. Last week he was a guest of Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, who asked him about Obama's doings with respect to the goings-on in Libya. Did the President do the right thing in authorizing the cruise missile strikes? Should the U.S. do more to help the rebels? What would he do if he were president?  
“I would go in and take the oil — I would just go in and take the oil. We don’t know who the rebels are, we hear they come from Iran, we hear they’re influenced by Iran or al-Qaida, and, frankly I would go in, I would take the oil — and stop this baby stuff."
What in the world is he thinking? On what grounds should we "just go in and take the oil"? It doesn't belong to us. To "just go in and take it" would be nothing less than an act of thievery on an international scale.

And another thing. Would he first seek to gain Congressional approval before going to war? He seems to assume that if he were president he could simply act on his own. But the Constitution requires a declaration of war by Congress before the president commits troops for war (Art. I. Sec. 8).

I have been astonished at the enthusiastic support he's received as a potential GOP presidential candidate. He's currently tied with Mike Huckabee for first place in a CNN poll. My hope is that his rising popularity has more to do with his blunt manner of speaking - which I have to admit I find rather refreshing in an age when candidates can blather on for hours and leave you wondering what they actually mean - and less to do with who he is and what he stands for. I just hope that with the 2012 elections so far off there will be plenty of time for people to actually consider what a Trump presidency would mean and why it would be a disaster.

Friday, April 29, 2011

What portions of the OT Law are still binding?

I have heard you say before that God requires us to keep the commandments of the Old Testament. But does he expect us to keep all of them? If not, what commandments are we supposed to keep, and what commandments are no longer necessary, and how do we know the difference?

This is a very good question. Let’s begin making our way toward an answer by suggesting a basic rule of thumb for properly applying the Old Testament today, which is this: We should assume that whatever God once required of his people is still required unless he has altered the requirement in some way. In other words, our operating assumption ought to be one of continuity between the Old and New Testaments. Everything God required of his people in the Old Testament should be assumed to have an ongoing obligation for us today unless the New Testament teaches us otherwise. This is implied in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount when he says:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:17-19).
Here we find the assumption of continuity with a hint that portions of the Law and the Prophets may be “accomplished” in such a way as to make them no longer necessary for God’s people to observe. What portions might these be?

When we read the Old Testament law carefully it becomes apparent that not all the commandments are of the same kind. Some of the commandments clearly have a moral purpose, which is to say, the behaviors they require or forbid are inherently moral or immoral. We say that these commandments are a part of the “moral law.” What commandments might these be? Briefly, they are laws that require us, first, to do our duty to God, second, to do our duty to men. Let me give a few examples.

Commandments that have to do with our duty to God are those that require us to love, trust, and obey him, and give him our ultimate and exclusive allegiance. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5), and so on.

Commandments that have to do with our duty to men are those that forbid us to harm our neighbor. “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him” (Lev. 19:13). Also, commandments that require us to help our neighbor in his time of need whenever it is in our power to do so. “If…one of your brothers should become poor…you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need” (Deut. 15:7, 8). Here’s another, “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother” (Deut. 22:1).

These commandments that speak of our duty to God and men are rooted in our nature and relations to one another as moral beings; and as long as our nature and relations to one another remain what they are—which is forever—they can never be done away with.

But there is another category of law in the Bible besides the moral law. We call it the “ceremonial law,” and it is no longer required of God’s people. The ceremonial law has to do with the various rituals and observances associated with the temple and the priesthood and with Israel’s separation from the nations. These include such things as:

(1) Sacrifice and offering—we no longer have to bring animal sacrifices to a temple

(2) Purification rites—the various sprinklings with blood and washings with water

(3) Dietary restrictions—in Mark’s Gospel we read of how Jesus declared all foods clean (Mk. 7:19)

(4) Laws associated specifically with Israel’s possession of the land (laws governing the sale of land and land returning to the original owner in the year of jubilee, etc.)

In sum, all of these laws that do not have a clear moral dimension but have to do with rituals associated with the temple and with marking Israel off as a distinct people are no longer binding. But those laws that command our obedience to God and our just and equitable treatment of our neighbor are still in force.

If you simply start with the Ten Commandments and their logical implications, you’ll do all right.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Judge not?

When Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” does he mean that we are never to find fault with other people’s behavior or try to correct them?

No, he doesn’t mean this at all; but it doesn’t stop people from quoting the verse in a such a way as to imply that we must never say one thing is better than another morally—one behavior versus another; one lifestyle versus another; one culture or civilization versus another; or one religion versus another.

To make judgments of this sort, we are told, violates Jesus’ command. And it’s ill-mannered, to boot. When our opponents quote this verse, they think it is sufficient to put a stop to the debate. They think they have used the one unanswerable argument against us. But there are a couple of ironies here.

In the first place, if the verse means what our opponents say it means—that we shouldn’t make any moral judgments whatsoever—then their quoting the verse is self-defeating. Those who use the verse in an attempt to put a stop to our making moral judgments are themselves making a moral judgment that moral judgment making is wrong.

The second irony is this: the people who use the verse in this way are people who don’t use the Bible as their standard for anything else but this!

Now, the notion that Jesus’ command, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” means that we are to make no moral judgments at all is, frankly, absurd because it’s impossible.

God has made us in his image, which includes, among other things, the ability to make moral judgments.

He has given us the ability to think, to reason, to perceive truth, to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil. It’s impossible to think and not form moral judgments.

As creatures made in his image, we can no more not form moral judgments than we can not think. Try not thinking sometime. You can’t do it! And just as you can’t not think, you can’t not make moral judgments when you think.

So much of Jesus’ instruction, both in the immediate context of the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, proceeds upon the assumption that we will (and we should!) make moral judgments.

For example, in the immediate context, Jesus commands us not to act like hypocrites (6:2, 5, 16). He is teaching us both by example and by precept to make a moral judgment concerning hypocrisy and those who practice it.

Consider also what Jesus says just a few verses after he says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” In Matthew 7:6, he says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do now throw your pearls before pigs.” He is saying that there are people who are worthy of these titles—worthy to be called dogs and pigs—and Jesus expects us to judge them as such, that is, to come to the conclusion that that is the kind of men they are.

You make moral judgments concerning people all the time. Let me give you just one example: when you choose a babysitter for your children. You evaluate whether a potential babysitter is a good person or a bad one. I pity your children if you don’t!

In Matthew 7:15 Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets.” But how can we do this if we are to make no judgments?

In Luke 12:57, he says, “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right [and by implication, what is wrong]?”

When Jesus himself was misjudged concerning how he kept the Sabbath, he didn’t say, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” No. He said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (Jn. 7:24).

God calls us again and again to make moral judgments. Scripture teaches us that it is a mark of maturity to do so. The writer of Hebrews says, “Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:12). It is a mark of maturity to do this!

“Judge not, that you be not judged,” is undoubtedly one of the most widely misunderstood passages in the entire Bible; and I dare say that it is precisely because it is so widely misunderstood that it is also one of the most widely loved and quoted verses in the Bible.

People who wouldn’t be able to quote any other verse of the Bible to save their lives, can quote this one. They can’t tell you where to find it, but they know it’s there…somewhere. And boy, are they glad it’s there, too, because they think it gets them off the hook of moral accountability.

People use it as a means to create an atmosphere of moral ambiguity, which is to say, an atmosphere in which the distinction between right and wrong is not clearly maintained.

And there are people who have a vested interest in keeping things this way. Evil thrives in an atmosphere of moral ambiguity.

It is not true that all human choices are equal, and therefore to be equally affirmed. It is not true that all religions are equally valid; that all people are equally virtuous (or vicious); that all civilizations are morally equivalent.

We must never fall into the trap of believing that Jesus endorses this nonsense when he says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Is the national debt a moral problem

As Christians we’re concerned about the moral issues of the day, but shouldn’t we also think about the national debt as a moral issue?

You’re exactly right. We have done well for several years to recognize that we simply cannot be silent concerning the great moral issues of the day, whether it’s abortion, which is by far the greatest moral issue of our time, or the redefining of marriage so as to include same-sex couples, or any one of a number of other issues that we have rightly understood to be at their root moral in nature.

What we have been slow to realize is that the national debt is also a moral issue. Most people think of it as merely an economic or political issue. But it is at its very core, a moral issue.

The U.S. national debt now stands at over 14 ¼ trillion dollars. We can’t even properly conceive of how much money that is. But let me try to give you at least a little perspective.

God created the world about six thousand years ago. How much money do you suppose one would have to spend each day for the last six thousand years to equal 14 ¼ trillion dollars? Are you ready for this? Six and a half million dollars a day, every day, for six thousand years. That’s a pretty big chunk of change!

If you divide the national debt by the number of citizens, each citizen owes $45,000 dollars. That’s every man, woman, and child. But here’s the kicker: if you divide the national debt by the number of taxpayers—because not every citizen pays taxes—each taxpayer owes $128,000.

It is most definitely a moral issue, and here’s why. Let’s say that I borrow $10,000 from you; but, not being able to pay you back myself, I go and forcibly take the money from someone else in order to pay off my debt to you. Would you say that this is moral or immoral? I’ve done right by you, haven’t I? I’ve paid back what I owed you, but I’ve robbed someone else to do it.

This is what we’re doing with our national debt. We are borrowing and spending money on ourselves and expecting our children and grandchildren to pick up the tab. In effect, we’re robbing future generations.

Proverbs says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Prov. 13:22). Judging by this standard we’d have to say that we’re not very good people because not only are we not leaving them an inheritance, we’re doing just the opposite; we’re saddling them with enormous debt.

Perhaps someone will say, “Can’t the government just print more money?” Well, yes it can, and yes it does, but this only compounds the problem. Whenever the government increases the supply of money—by whatever means it chooses, whether running the printing presses, lowering the fractional reserve, etc.—it has the effect of reducing the purchasing power of every dollar. This is why the dollar doesn’t buy as much as it used to. It has lost much of its value, and will continue to do so as long as we have an inflationary monetary policy, which (by the way) hurts the poor far more than it hurts the rich, because the poor don’t have access to the new money.

Our national debt is not only immoral because we are making future generations pay for our expenses, it’s also immoral because we are paying our creditors with devalued dollars.

All the way around our national debt is immoral. The only question is: Do we have the moral courage to reverse course? There are a few hopeful signs. But I fear it will be too little, too late. Let’s hope not. Let’s continue to put pressure on our leaders to cut back on spending; and if they won’t do it, let’s get rid of them. Let’s vote them out of office and vote someone in who understands the moral nature of the issue.

What's new about the New Testament?

Good question! But before I answer it, let’s be clear about what is not new: We do not have a new God. We do not have a new standard of righteousness. We do not have a new way of salvation.

We do not have a new God. This should be so obvious that it need not be mentioned. But I do mention it because many people seem to think that God has changed from the OT to the NT. They think in the OT he was all law, condemnation, and judgment; and that in the NT he is all love and grace and mercy. Not so. We have the same God, who is, on the one hand, both holy and just; and on the other, both gracious and merciful. This hasn’t changed. He eternally is what he is.

We have the same God, and he holds us to the same standard of righteousness, which is revealed in his Law. How could it be otherwise? The Law is a reflection of his own righteousness. How could he ever depart from it? His standard is the same in both Testaments.

Likewise, we have the same way of salvation. In both the OT and NT men are justified as a gift of God’s grace, received on the basis of faith. This hasn’t changed. It wasn’t by a different method in the OT.
When Paul discusses our justification in Romans, what does he say? Does he say, “This is a new doctrine,” “a new way of salvation”? Does he say that in former times men were justified by works, or by their obedience to the Law, but now they are justified by faith as a gift of grace? No, he points to the experience of Abraham, whom Scripture says “believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3; Gen. 15:6). In other words, Abraham was justified in the same way we are justified. We are justified as a gift of God’s grace, received on the basis of faith. All who have ever been saved have been saved in the same way.

So once again: we have the same God who holds us to the same standard of righteousness and offers us the same way of salvation.

So if none of these things are new, what is new about the NT? Several things.

First, the OT looked forward to a Messiah to come; whereas the NT looks to the Messiah who has come.
Second, the OT anticipated with types and shadows the person and work of the Redeemer; whereas the NT sees those types and shadows fulfilled in Jesus.

Third, in the OT redemption was promised; in the NT redemption is accomplished. Now here I want to be careful here so as not to give a wrong impression. When I say that in the OT redemption was promised, whereas in the NT redemption is accomplished, I don’t mean to suggest that men were not redeemed in the OT. Redemption promised and redemption accomplished has to do with the work of Christ in history. Men were truly redeemed, truly forgiven, born again, justified, filled with the Holy Spirit, etc., in the OT in anticipation of the work that Christ would in time perform through his death and resurrection. God was buying on credit, as it were. When you buy an item on credit, you take possession of the item now with a promise to pay for it in the future. This is how God dealt with the saints in the OT period. He purchased them on credit. He took possession of them, saved them, justified them, redeemed them, with a promise to pay for it in the future. The animal sacrifices in the temple were a token of that future payment. The payment itself was the death of Jesus on the cross.

So, in the OT redemption was promised; in the NT redemption is accomplished.

Another thing that is new in the NT—and this is BIG—is GENTILES. Gentiles as Gentiles are made fellow heirs with the Jews of the promises of God (Eph. 3:1-6). Good thing, too, because I would venture to say that nearly every Christian who is listening to me right now is a Gentile. The message of the NT is that because of Christ and what he has done, you don’t need to become a Jew—that is you don’t have to adopt a distinctively Jewish lifestyle—in order to be incorporated into the people of God. There is much to say about how understanding this serves as the key to understanding Paul, especially his argument in Romans and Galatians.