Staying Close to Christ While Away from Your Home Church

Post graduate life in the present day sees a lot of transitions. It is not uncommon for my classmates in medical school and me to move around the United States in search of a school, rotations, and residency interviews. It can feel difficult to feel rooted in any one particular place because of the way the American medical educational system seems to structure itself around positional flexibility. Also being a minority in post Christian America can add further challenges in forming healthy social relationships with local peers.

Having grown up close to the San Gabriel Valley, I took for granted the large Asian American community. Having at my disposal many Hawaiian poke bowls, Vietnamese pho, Taiwanese hot pot, Korean BBQ, Japanese ramen and sushi, Chinese dimsum, boba milk tea, and many other Asian supermarkets and restaurants felt normative. In moving to other states, I found that I lived in areas that do not have as many Asian American restaurants available, or if they are, they are relatively out of the way for me to go on a consistent basis.

However you can still usually rely on some common American companies being present: Rite Aid, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Taco Bell, Chipotle, Starbucks, Panera Bread, McDonalds, etc. Yet I also find that many states have their own regional specific restaurants and supermarkets such as In n out and Stater Bros in California, Culver’s and Publix in Florida, Tim Horton’s and Wegman’s in Pennsylvania. Thus you get the feel that even within the same country, each state has their own personality.

The Bible sees Christians as “sojourners and exiles in the world.” (Leviticus 25:23; 1 Peter 2:11)

The LORD called Abram out of his country and his kindred and his father’s house to the land that He would show him. He would be the vehicle of blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-2). The LORD later tells Abram his offspring would be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years (Genesis 15:13).

Joseph, the son of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, was sent to Egypt after his brothers sold him into slavery by Midianite traders (Genesis 37:28). Jacob and his family move to Egypt to survive a famine (Genesis 45:9-11). God sent Joseph to Egypt and in his stay there he blessed the house of Potiphar, blessed the house of Pharaoh, and provided for his formerly estranged brothers, and reunited with his father.

Even the plagues that God inflicted upon Egypt for Pharaoh’s enslavement of His covenant people was meant to have an evangelistic purpose. After the 10th plague, the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked (Exodus 12:36). Also a mixed multitude went up with the people of Israel (Exodus 12:38).

Then many centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah writes a letter to those in Babylonian exile: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)

Daniel is a great example of this instruction. He stayed true to his Jewish heritage, resolving that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank (Daniel 1:8). Even so, Daniel and his three friends sought to bless the Babylonians and submitted to their educational system: to learn the literature and language of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1:4). His steadfast loyalty to YHWH led Nebuchadnezzar to praise his God as the King of heaven and the Most High (Daniel 4:34, 37).

Throughout the Scriptures, God has a number of ways of sending His people to the nations to bless them: calling them out of their homes with Abraham, letting them be sold into slavery like Joseph, drawing them into Egypt through a famine, sending them out after great plagues of judgment on Pharaoh, exiling them into Babylonian captivity.

In the modern era, people still move around for similar reasons: war and famine. For others, we could move around places because of jobs and education. But no matter the reason, for Christians, our purpose is to hold fast to the LORD and bless the people to whom God sends us.

Abraham, Joseph, the people of Israel before the Exodus, and Daniel did not have the temple to which they can travel to offer up sacrifices and worship God. But they held fast to their faith and submitted and interacted as best they could to the local authorities without compromising their faith.

Jesus is the ultimate example of a sojourner. He enjoyed the worship of thousands of angels, but left His throne in heaven to tabernacle among the people He made in His image. Even though He was the God who created the heavens and the earth, He submitted to the Sanhedrin and the Roman government insofar as it was obedient to the Father’s will. He did so to bring many people to glory with Him.

Likewise, in light of all this biblical insight, I need to embrace my identity as a sojourner and exile in this world. I do my best to find a local church who hold a high view of Scripture and desire to stay faithful and obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ, and fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. The local culture of the places I find myself in may be quite different than the one I was born and raised in, but I learn to adapt to them.

I can be flexible in my external circumstances because I have God is my rock, refuge and strength. In other words, you can deal with variables when you have a constant you can fall back on. Thankfully, Bible reading and prayer are portable actions, so I can do these things wherever I go, and these two means of grace should inform and shape the actions and decisions I make. In addition, social and communication technologies such as Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, phone calls, and emails help compress the world, so distance is not always an obstacle to staying close to home, but the priority should be placed on focusing on the local people.

Since the United States is a multiethnic, multifaith, and multigenerational country, there are quite a different number of cultures and backgrounds that we will interact with. It definitely helps to be confident in your own culture enough that you know how to engage with the cultures of others.

Every now and then, I would have some colleagues or patients ask what is my heritage. Sometimes the way the question is asked makes me feel like I’m an alien in a foreign land, even though I was born and raised in the States, but other times, I can hear that the question is just a curious inquiry to help make conversation. I cannot control how other people think of me, but I can control the way that I react and converse with them. The attitude I strive to maintain is to seek the good of others, even when they may not always reciprocate that kindness, knowingly or not.

I have met people in the LGBT community in my medical school, and I have met people who are Zoroastrian and Muslim. I always welcome hearing their stories and their struggles, and I do my best to model the gospel through these relational channels. I build relationships with my peers as best I can, but if the activities involve alcohol or drugs, I am more reluctant to participate. Sometimes it is difficult to show peers that rejecting these activities is not rejecting them as friends, but they can still take the rejection personally.

In the Christian walk, it is difficult to maintain that balance between faithfulness to Christ and building friendships with others. Many times, you can be as friendly and as welcoming to others as you can be but your faithfulness to Christ can and will drive others away while it also draws others in.

Staying close to Christ while being away from home is difficult, but possible. It involves knowing your faith well enough that you can stand on your own. Joseph and Daniel are two examples of this. They were relatively separated from like-minded peers in a community that was alien to their faith, yet they held fast to YHWH and blessed their peers. The Spirit should be reshaping your desires such that you want to please and honor Christ in all that you say, think, and do. He does this through Bible reading, prayer, and the local church. The primary purposes of these is to relocate your local experiences in the context of a covenantal relationship with YHWH. Christians live under His reign and seek to proclaim the glory of His name to our neighbors. I can stay close to Christ wherever I go, because He is with me wherever I go. I can face the variables of life because He is my constant.

Some Thoughts on Birth Control

Birth control is not necessarily wrong. Condoms and intrauterine devices do separate sex from conceiving children. Married couples could use these devices to help plan when and if they have children.

Sex is a human activity.
But it deserves context.

Biblical standards mandates that sex be done in a marital relationship. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4)

All humans are made in the image of God. Since sex is part of our humanity, God has the right to decree how we exercise our sexuality.

Therefore having sex outside of marriage would be considered rebellion against God because it goes against the design He has for our sexuality and such an offense would rightly be punished by Him. Sexual sinners have two choices: repent and believe in the good news of Jesus who was crucified and risen on their behalf or face Jesus for their sins at their deaths or Judgment Day.

Ideally, humans should find someone of the opposite sex that they love and take the time and effort to commit to that person in spite of the inevitable flaws and mistakes that they see in one another.

However, God shows common grace to all. If people reject the authority and rule of Yahweh, it would not be expected that they would obey His moral teachings regarding human sexuality. That being said, sexual sinners could still use birth control to help mitigate the consequences of their actions like sexually transmitted diseases.

There is also the issue about using tax money to subsidize birth control for women.

I generally believe that women should pay for their own birth control, just as anyone else would pay for their own physician visit. People should not have to pay for the costs of other people’s decisions. Sex is voluntary: it takes both the man and the woman to agree to sexual relations. If it does not involve consent, then it would no longer be sex, but devolving into coercion and rape.

Ultimately, sex is a blessing when it is done in the marriage covenant, a grace for unrepentant sinners and redeemed saints. Birth control helps married couples plan if and when they have children. It also protects those engaged in premarital sex from sexually transmitted diseases even as we hope and pray that the Spirit might regenerate their hearts to solve the deeper issue of their rebellion against God.

Beto O’Rourke, the Gospel, and the Law

Christians submit to the authority and reign of the crucified and risen King, Jesus of Nazareth. People usually find our ways and customs to be contrary to the moral culture of a secular, post-Christian America.  Biblically speaking, same-sex marriage is not a marriage in the eyes of God just as gods made with hands are not gods.  The Supreme Court of the United States currently recognizes same-sex marriage in the eyes of the law just as the city of Ephesus recognized Artemis as a goddess to be venerated and worshiped in the eyes of Roman law.  

Since we are made in the image of God, God has a right to determine our worship.  He commands that we have no other gods before Him but to worship the LORD alone in Christ by the Spirit.  He also decrees that we exercise our sexuality in a way that honors Him.  We either pursue marriage to a partner of the opposite sex or abstinence.  Failure to honor God in this way merits His wrath. 

Thankfully, God provided His Son Jesus to die and rise in our place so that those who repent of their sins and come to Jesus as their crucified and risen Lord and Savior will be saved.  Not only that but the Spirit comes to regenerate and purify our hearts so we would not delight in our former sins but delight in God, in whose presence, is fullness of joy.

Christians ought to agree with Paul in saying “The sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  But we also hope with Paul that God will wash, sanctify, justify some of them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.

The gospel message speaks against people in the LGBTQIA+ community just as it did against the idolaters and magicians in the apostle Paul’s day. Yet Paul did not advocate for Roman law to change such that idolaters and magicians would be prosecuted and put to death, but rather those among them who did listen and respond to his message of faith and repentance gave up their practices willingly while those who disagreed with him were free to continue as before.  Neither did Paul advocate for people to bully, harass, and call idolaters and magicians with derogatory names. 

The church, just as Paul did, works through the power of persuasion.  Laws, just as Roman law did, carry in them the power of the sword, or the power of coercion.  We teach others the moral standards of God, but we do not force them to submit to God by the law when it comes to sins that do not carry a threat to life and property as murder, abortion and theft do. 

Idolatry was the law of the land in Paul’s day just as same-sex marriage is the law of the land in America today.  We do not need to change the law per se, but we faithfully preach the gospel, in the hopes that God will change the hearts of those who are His, so even though sin may be enshrined in the law, they will give up their old sins willingly and return to God in Christ Jesus. 

That all being said, Beto O Rourke’s statement to make religious institutions like colleges, churches, and charities lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage is concerning.   He would be acting as the city of Ephesus did, in bringing the law down on Christians to force them to be in alignment with a moral order that stands in opposition to YHWH. 

Mr. O’ Rourke states, “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone – or any institution, any organization in America – that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. So as president we’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing on the rights of our fellow Americans.”

The gospel message would be seen as speaking against the full human rights and the full civil rights of those who identify in the LGBTQIA+ community, which would be true in the way Paul spoke against the idol worship of his day. But to say that we are infringing on the rights of our fellow Americans would be false, because we do not seek to bring the law down on people to force them into submission with our moral standards. Paul did not infringe on the right of idolaters to worship their pagan gods, as they were still free to worship them as they pleased, but he did speak against these idols as he strived to lead people to God in Christ Jesus.

A Response to Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah gave this speech on his talk show.

After the recent outbreaks of gun violence in Dayton and El Paso, our lawmakers in Congress thought of a few policy ideas.  Republicans passed new red flag laws which would enable courts and police officers to take guns from people who show signs of threatening behavior.  Democrats advocate for universal background checks, renewing the assault weapons ban, and getting high-capacity magazines banned.

2nd Amendment

Noah notes that in Dayton, Ohio, the gun the assailant used could fire a hundred bullets.  He is disappointed in people who say that they need guns to hunt, because he feels no hunter needs a 100 bullets to hunt a deer. 

There is some truth to this statement, but guns are also used for self-defense.  The founders of this country originally provided the 2nd amendment so citizens could have some measure of protection for themselves against a government that did not have their best interests at heart.  The 2nd amendment also provides protection for women, both young and old, who wish to better protect themselves against any assailants.

Religion

Noah characterizes the Republican platform as, “Shootings have nothing to do with guns,” and that we need not fewer guns, but more God.

He provides an excerpt from someone saying that the common denominator to mass shootings is “not the weapon, but the hate inside the heart, the loss of morality, and disconnection from God who values all people.”

Noah summarizes the position as the problem in America is not access to guns, but a lack of access to God. In other words, if people were more religious, then they wouldn’t do bad things.

I would not frame the phrase in the way Trevor Noah does.
The position is better stated as “When people obey Yahweh, bad things would not happen.”

Noah notes that everyone seems to have a different idea of what God is saying. I agree with this observation, which is exactly what Old Testament prophets, Lord Jesus, and the apostles kept rebutting several times in their respective ministries.

He puts forward the premise that God and evil never mix, and so if you have God in your heart, you’re a good person.

He then goes on to list examples of history in which people have a zeal for God which led to destructive ends.
-In the Middle Ages, Crusaders said God told them to kill people in the Middle East
-In 1960s America, white evangelicals said that God told them black and white people shouldn’t mix.

Noah rightly observes that people pick and choose when and how to use God. To this I would say, yes this event does indeed occur, which is why bad theology is so dangerous and that is what the Old Testament prophets, Lord Jesus, and the apostles were fighting against for most of their time with their contemporaries.  Some theological positions are better supported by the Bible than others and lead to better outcomes than others.

Trevor Noah then jokes, “God’s just so far away, He’s hard to hear.
Love thy neighbor and people are like, “What? Black people should be slaves?”

Lord Jesus in 1st century Rome quoted Isaiah, the prophet who lived in 7th century BC Israel, saying, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lip, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:7-9)

The apostle Paul would put it this way: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:3-4)

Humans have been mischaracterizing Yahweh since our beginning. Satan led Eve astray by making her question what God actually said to her in the Garden of Eden, and humans have been following suit in similar ways ever since.

Noah notes that people who are close to God still do really bad things. King David literally walked with God all the time. That did not stop David from killing a guy just so that he could sleep with his wife.

To this Richard Baxter would say, “If you are so foolish or malignant, as to pick quarrels with God and godliness for men’s faults, (Which nothing but God and godliness can reform,) you may set up your standard of defiance against heaven, and see what you will get by it in the end.  For God will not remove all occasion of your scandal. There ever have been and will be hypocrites in the church on earth. […] The falls of good men are cited in Scripture, to admonish you to take heed. […] If you will make all such the occasion of your malignity, you turn your medicine into your poison, and choose hell because some others choose it, or because some stumbled in the way to heaven.”

Trevor Noah concludes religion is not going to solve America’s mass shootings, but again I would say, with Baxter, nothing but God and godliness can reform men’s faults.

Family

He then moves on to the possibility that more parents will solve the problem.

He agrees that it helps young men to have a stable family life, but it would be hard to have a stable family life if your dad is getting gunned down at a Walmart.

He agrees that it would be nice if every young man in America had a perfect upbringing that helps get rid of their rage. He naturally asks, “How you’re gonna achieve that?”

You can write laws that will regulate guns, but we can’t write laws forcing people to have a good family life.  This statement of Noah’s reveals the biases in an American liberal worldview.  Almost every social problem needs to be solved with more government intervention and laws in their mind.  They give very little attention to creating a culture around a stable nucleus family and personal responsibility. 

Strategic placement of guns

Noah moves on to the next possible solution that it’s “Not too many guns, but not enough guns.” Some policymakers are suggesting the following:
-Secure the perimeter of schools with retired police and military
-Equip every school and every mall with metal detectors
-Create an instant response opportunity

To this position, Noah responds that guns are everywhere in America.
-Parkland had an armed guard but he was afraid to go in.
-Country music festival in Vegas had armed guards, but the guy was shooting from the window of a hotel.

As for the instant response opportunity:
-Police in Dayton, Ohio responded to mass shooting in 30 seconds, but still 9 people were killed.

For these examples, I believe Noah is guilty of the nirvana fallacy, where a solution should be rejected because some part of the problem would still exist after it were implemented. It’s an example of black and white thinking, in which “a person fails to see the complex interplay between multiple component elements of a situation or problem, and, as a result, reduces complex problems to a pair of binary extremes.”  In addition, even though guns do not always protect people, we still have them in place.  The POTUS still has a Secret Service, and the Hollywood Academy Awards have paid armed security.

Basically Noah’s argument is “More guns are not going to work. People are still going to die no matter what.” The rebuttal to this argument would be “Complete eradication of deaths due to gun violence is not the expected outcome. The goal is reduction.”

He pleads with the audience to think about the issue the right way.
He says, “Mass shootings can happen anywhere.” I agree with this statement.

If we need armed guards in every Walmart, every movie theater, every synagogue, every mosque, every church, every office building, every bar, every nightclub, every concert, and every garlic festival, we’d all have to become police. There is some truth to this.  The 2nd amendment provides a legal enablement for private citizens to assume some of the responsibilities and privileges that police officers hold in the sense of having guns available for the defense of themselves and others. Our government could remove gun-free zones and encourage conceal carry weapon laws so private citizens are legally allowed to protect their neighbors should the occasion arise.

Noah states, “I don’t want to be a policeman. I don’t.”  This is perfectly fine. But it does not follow that you have to force the rest of our neighbors in America to follow suit.  It seems quite likely that we do have a few private citizens who are willing to undergo training to help protect their neighbors from unwarranted violence, but Hollywood, the mainstream media, and some Democrats do not give the appropriate attention to these things.

He goes on to say that if we are protecting American freedoms, how can that be if everyone in America is forced to live in a world of perimeter fences, metal detectors, and armed guards in every hall?  Would it not start to feel like society’s living in a prison, and the only thing that’s free is the gun?  This is an interesting picture that Noah paints for America. 

But we live in a post 9/11 world.  I still remember the days when my cousins could still see my family and me off at the airport up to the departure lounge before 9/11 happened.  Ever since that day, we had the introduction of the TSA and security clearance gates, so now we have to say our goodbyes at the baggage check-in area instead.  Evil exists in this world.  It comes from anyone and at any time, and we have to make the necessary adjustments to the reality of it. 

The Gospel and Hate Speech

Lord Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The apostle Paul says something similar, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (1 Corinthians 10:24)

The prophet Jeremiah, on telling his neighbors to repent, says to God, “Remember how I stood before You to speak good for them, to turn away Your wrath from them.” (Jeremiah 18:20)

One of the ways Christians seek the good of their neighbors is to look to their eternal well-being and thus help them be saved from the wrath of God against unrighteousness.  

We are unrighteous when we exercise our sexuality and express our gender identity in ways that go against God’s design for them, because we would be insulting His authority and creativity.  God has a right to punish us for sexual sins, just as He does with other sins, because they all oppose His glory.  All sins are considered rebellion against Him.  However, He gave us an opportunity to amend our ways and return to Him so we could instead enjoy the blessings of His presence. 

Hate speech is broadly defined as “speech that attacks a person or a group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

Homophobia is defined as a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Preaching the gospel could be seen as speech that attacks a person or a group on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  The gospel could also be seen as generating negative attitudes and feelings towards the LBGTQIA community.  But this broad definition is unhelpful because it is not placed in a proper and specific biblical context.  It gives the impression that the gospel is just meant to make people feel bad instead of helping them enjoy a reconciled relationship with their Creator.  

In other words, even though hate speech and the gospel both attack a person and group on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, they have very different purposes and goals in mind. 
-hate speech seeks evil and destruction against its audience
-the gospel seeks the eternal good of its audience

The Bible sees adopting certain sexual orientations and gender identities as rebellion against God, who then sets His wrath against these things among many other things that are done against Him.   However, He sent Lord Jesus to be our substitionary atonement.  Jesus took the death penalty and absorbed God’s wrath on behalf of everyone who would trust in Him to be their personal Lord and Savior.  When we covenant ourselves to Him, God sends the Holy Spirit who then regenerates our souls and works upon our disordered desires so we begin to enjoy Jesus as our treasure.  Instead of looking to our broken sexuality for satisfaction, we look to King Jesus. 

All of us are born sick, born with disordered desires and emotions.  We have a choice to either allow our desires free reign or to regulate them for the good of ourselves and others.  We have a choice to either follow the desires of our heart into sin or to submit them under God’s authority for our good and for His glory.    

Loving someone as yourself does not mean never making them feel bad, it means helping them understand the danger that they are in, so they could find joy in salvation. 

Hate speech just leaves people feeling bad and unwanted, but the gospel ultimately helps people find true joy and acceptance in God. Hate speech is a sharpened knife that kills you, but the gospel is a sharpened knife that saves you. 

Calling same-sex attraction and transgenderism a sin is not hate speech.  To say otherwise would be misleading our neighbors into trusting a lie, and preaching rebellion against God.  Calling a sin a sin is part of a process by which we seek to speak good for our neighbors, where we can turn away God’s wrath from them. As unpleasant as the topic of God’s wrath is, it is a reality that can be seen in the way God punished His covenant people with Babylon for their sins in 586 B.C.

Not only do we seek to turn away God’s wrath from our neighbors, we want them to know and enjoy His love and joy.  If His well-deserved wrath is so terrible, think of how grand and amazing His love and joy can be for those who seek forgiveness from Him.  When we preach the gospel, we do it so we can share with our neighbors in its blessings that come from a reconciled relationship with God.

Now even though the Bible calls certain sexual orientations and gender identities sin, God does not expect people to punish them on His behalf.  Sins are things done against God, and so God has the right and authority to forgive and punish them as He sees fit.  Thankfully, God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins so those who trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior would not have to face punishment.  But punishment is still reserved for those who fail to amend their ways and return to Him.  Yet, before that Day of Judgment comes, God does not expect anyone to punish transgressors on His behalf as He once did under the Mosaic covenant.

Anyone who do so would be acting as a vigilante, and would be punished for exercising an authority that is not theirs to exercise. 

 Therefore States/governments should decriminalize homosexuality, and should no longer punish, imprison, or execute individuals who are charged with this.  Lynching, a premeditated extrajudicial killing by a group, would also be wrong.  Both judicial and extrajudicial punishment would be usurping God’s authority on a sin that He will punish Himself.  In the meantime, Jesus appointed evangelists who would save men from God’s wrath, without any coercive power, by the management of His powerful word upon their consciences. 

To look at the matter another way:
-God states the conviction of homosexuality and transgenderism as sin.
-He sentenced the death penalty for these sins. 
-The enforcement of the death penalty lies in His hands, not in governments. 
-He offered Jesus as the substitute for rebels who ask for forgiveness from Him.
-He gives people a chance to know of this means of forgiveness because He wants us to live
-He will punish everyone who still fails to surrender to Him.

As a Judge, God has to punish sin because that is what justice mandates, but His love as a Father motivates Him to seek our reconciliation more than our punishment. 

Calling homosexuality and transgenderism a sin, while true, is one thing.  Throwing LGBT kids out on the streets and abandoning them is quite another and contrary to what God desires.  Instead, we should be kind, forbearing, and patient, hoping that our kindness will lead them to repentance, so they can fully enjoy the blessings that God provides. 

Separation of Church and State

How does Christianity relate to the political?

In 1930s Germany, Lutherans followed a two-kingdom approach to Christ and culture, in which Christians are not to bring their faith into politics. This eventually led to the disaster of Nazism which led to state-sponsored eugenics and mass murders.

In South Africa, Reformed Christianity believed Christians are supposed to transform culture. An orthodox Reformed theology, invoking the views of Abraham Kuyper, created a civil religion that supported apartheid.

In Justin Taylor’s article, he states “any simplistic Christian response to politics – the claim that we shouldn’t be involved in politics, or that we should “take back our country for Jesus” – is inadequate.”

Mr. Taylor states, “In each society, time, and place, the form of political involvement has to be worked out differently, with the utmost faithfulness to the Scripture, but also the greatest sensitivity to culture, time, and place.” I completely agree with this sentiment.

I have heard one well-meaning American Christian say, ” Abortion is never good. But Christians need to remember this is not a Christian world and not all have faith, and we’re called first of all to proclaim and to live the gospel, and not to make the laws of this world. Participate and be a voice of the Lord, yes, but to “rule”? – Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world” to Pilate, and His kingdom hasn’t changed.”

While it is true that Lord Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” He also prayed to the Father, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

If Christians always thought that they should not make the laws of this world, they would never have succeeded in abolishing the slave trade in Great Britain as William Wilberforce did, abolishing slavery in America as the abolitionists did, or ending segregation in the civil sphere as Martin Luther King Jr did.

But of course, as we try to make the laws of this world, we may run into issues as we did with the Prohibition of the manufacture, sale, and use of alcohol, and legitimizing apartheid in South Africa. Yet, the solution to these valid problems are not to excuse ourselves from the political sphere, but to take care in how we exercise our authority.

If we fail to exercise our responsibilities and authority properly, we should make apologies and appropriate amendments, but we do not excuse ourselves from the awesome reponsibilities entirely.

What is Sin?

Sin is any motive, thought, or action construed by God to be dishonoring to Him. Sins are crimes against the authority of God, and they would be punished as harshly as treason would be by a king. Romans 6:23 states “the wages of sin is death.”

The Two Covenants

Now under the Mosaic covenant, the covenant made by God with His people after He freed them from Egyptian slavery, God created a theocracy in which “church” was the state. He gave the people the authority to enforce the death penalty against sins such as idolatry, blasphemy, breaking the Sabbath, dishonoring your parents, sexual immorality, homosexuality, adultery, incest, kidnapping, and murder.

In Jeremiah 31, the LORD promised: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.”

With the death, resurrection, and ascension of Lord Jesus, the Son of God, the people of God are now under the new covenant that Jesus mediates.

“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”

(Hebrews 9:14-15)

Just as Americans were once under the Articles of Confederation before moving on to the Constitution, so too are the people of God were once under the Mosaic covenant but are now under the new covenant that Lord Jesus mediates.

Now under the new covenant, sins are still punishable by the death penalty, but now people have the option to believe in the Son to be their perfect substitute, where He died on the Cross for their sins or they may continue in their sins and eventually face due punishment from God.

A New Covenant Case Study

If we look at the apostle Paul’s case in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6, we see something interesting. Effectively, Paul acts as a kind of “Moses,” in his epistles as he explains to his respective congregations the terms of the new covenant that Lord Jesus mediates.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 5, Paul relates how the Corinthian church has a case of sexual immorality, where one of the congregants has his father’s wife. Instead of calling for the death penalty as the Mosaic covenant would dictate, Paul instead sentences the man to excommunication from the local church, and rightly so.

Paul later goes on to describe how the church should relate to “the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters.” He tells the Corinthian believers not to associate with any professing Christian if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:11)

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.

1 Corinthians 5:12-13

In the above passage, it would appear that Paul advocates for a type of “separation of church and state.” He is making a distinction between the community of believers and the outside world. If a professing believer acts like the outside world, then they should be excommunicated from the local church so they can join the world that they are acting part of.

Later on in the same letter, Paul states the following:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Here we see that actions such as sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, and drunkenness are denounced as sins. But instead of being met with the death penalty by the community of believers, transgressors are encouraged to place their faith in Lord Jesus to be washed, sanctified, and justified in His name and by the Holy Spirit.

Given that the surrounding 1st century Roman culture at the time of Paul’s letter approved of idolatry, drunkenness, homosexuality and other forms of sexual immorality like prostitution, the state probably did not carry out penalties for all these things that are considered sins. It was into this kind of world that professing believers, who sin in the way Paul mentions, would be excommunicated.

In other words, the State at this time had laws that permitted things that God, through His Word and His church, would denounce as sin.
But note that the sins that Paul mentions do not inflict grievous physical harm to your neighbor. Idolatry, homosexuality, adultery, and theft are sins just as much as murder, abortion, and slavery are, but the former are not as life-threatening as the latter are.

They all deserve punishment by God, but the State only punishes some of them, especially the ones that threaten the safety, physical well-being and life of its citizens.

A person guilty of idolatry versus a person guilty of murder would both deserve death for their sins, yet they can find forgiveness and redemption in the blood of Jesus, but the convicted murderer would still face the death penalty while the idolater would not be punished by the State.

It is with this distinction in mind that Christians should consider how we ought to relate to our unsaved neighbors with respect to the government’s role.

The government should play a role, through appropriately defined laws, when the issue at stake involves the safety, physical well-being and life of its citzens. This would act as a form of God’s common grace towards believers and non-believers.

We should outlaw murder, slavery, segregation, and abortion because they are a severe attack against humanity. These sins are crimes because they threaten the safety, physical well-being, and life of our neighbors. While unwarranted gun violence is also sin, guns should not be banned from private usage, because they can be used to protect your neighbors and yourself. They can and should be however, be regulated as sensible as possible on the federal, state, and local level. In contrast, same-sex unions, while still sin, are not as life-threatening as abortion and unrestrained gun violence.

Government is by definition compulsory regulation. As Christians, we have to think wisely and carefully about how such regulatory power should be used. We have to consider whether a given issue warrants regulation, and if so, then how much and how so?

For any given issue, we have options of banning it altogether, regulating/permitting it, or writing no laws about it.

Abortion is the intentional destruction of a growing child in the womb.
Generally we should seek to ban any destruction of innocent life just as we already do with murder. Yet as much as we strive to make the laws rigid, absolute, unyielding, and uncompromising, we can and should tailor them to fit them as best we can to the moral complexities of life. Given that pregnancy is where the child and mother are intimately connected with each other, complications can arise where saving one will lead to the death of the other, especially in light of limited or absent medical technology.

In cases such as ectopic pregnancies, saving the life of the mother will usually lead to the death of the child because we currently lack the medical technology to protect and nourish the child at that developmental stage after separating the child from her mother.
Laws should be written that take this into account, so healthcare professionals are free to take care of their patients without fear of prosecution from excessively oppressive laws.

Unrestrained gun violence is a danger to our neighbors. There should be sensible regulations in place to minimize the loss of life from those who wish to seek to do harm to others. Banning all automatic rifles would be too extreme, but asking for things like requiring licensing exams before possession of a gun, having gun safes at homes away from the reach of young children, and other similar measures would be great.

Slavery, while an affront to humanity, was not always as life-threatening as it was during the antebellum period of America. While slavery was not great for quality of life, at least the people were alive. The slavery back in the days of the Mosaic covenant and in the days of the Roman Empire were more like indentured servitude and employees.

God allowed slavery in the Mosaic covenant, but He regulated it to prevent and minimize it from becoming excessively cruel.

The apostle Paul had commandments regarding slavery, yet he asked Philemon to receive his slave Onesimus, “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16). At this time, Paul wanted Philemon to think like an abolitionist not out of compulsion but out of his own accord.

In the above case, slavery was evil and commonly practiced in the Roman Empire, yet Paul wanted Philemon to choose to free his slave in spite of the legality of the institution.

Here in America, we outlawed slavery. We are not simply regulating slavery, but we banned it altogether. While it would have been nice if the slavers in the Southern States chose to free their slaves on their own accord, the issue became enough of a problem back then, that it warranted government compulsion to protect African Americans from the cruelties that came with being seen as property in the eyes of the law.

Next we have same-sex unions. Should our government outlaw or at least refuse to recognize it? If we outlaw same-sex unions, would that mean dissenters would be thrown in jail or pay a fine? Personally, I would prefer that the State just simply refuse to recognize the unions. People seeking to be married to a same-sex partner would not be punished by the law, but they would not have a formally recognized civil union.

Same-sex marriage is a sin, but it is not as threatening to life in the way that murder, abortion, gun violence, and slavery are. It is much more similar to the idolatry of Paul’s day, where it was a sin that was practiced and recognized by the ruling State. Here I believe Christians can make a pragmatic compromise and let the world act like the world.
Same-sex marriage is considered legal, but we can still share the gospel with our neighbors and by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit can then transform the desires of our neighbor’s heart where they will choose to reject same-sex marriage in pursuit of holy joy in God.

In Paul’s case, he asked Philemon to voluntarily free his slave in spite of the legality of slavery.
In our case, we can share the gospel with our neighbors and hope that they will voluntarily reject same-sex unions in spite of their legality.
It may be argued that there should not be government compulsion involved in the case of same-sex marriages.

The case might be comparable to how God hates divorce, but still permits it because of people’s hardness of heart. He allows the dissolution of a legitimate union, and perhaps we could allow as a society the formation of an illegitimate union. If God was willing to allow divorce for apparently pragmatic concerns, perhaps we could do something similar for our unbelieving neighbors.

We tried to prohibit the manufacture, sale, and use of alcohol, but that excessive regulation led to more harm than good. We now permit and regulate alcoholic beverages, but we encourage moderation and punish drunk drivers.

If we try to prohibit same-sex unions we may encounter the same problems as we did with Prohibition, so perhaps we should permit them for now and simply share the gospel with our neighbors and hope the Spirit changes the desires of their hearts so they reject the union on their own.

There should be government compulsion, however, in cases of abortion because we are talking about physical threats to the very lives of unborn children. Pro-choicers say, even if abortion is wrong, we should let mothers decide to reject that option on their own. But precisely because abortion represents such a large threat to the life of an unborn child, the government should get involved just as much as it already does in protecting its citizens from murder.

Below are my concluding thoughts:
-All sins deserve the death penalty from God
-God provided Jesus as a means for people to escape the due penalty of their sins and find forgiveness and eternal life in Him.
-Some sins, especially those that are life-threatening are punishable by the State, but some others, such as those of sexual natures, are not.
-In Paul’s day, we could see that all crimes are sins, but not all sins are crimes as in the case of idolatry for example.
-For Christians then, we should strive to make laws that protect and promote the safety, physical well-being, and life of our neighbors as we do for murder, abortion, slavery, segregation, and gun violence.
-In cases where life or quality of life is not as threatened such as availability of alcohol, contraceptives, and same-sex unions, we could make a pragmatic compromise and create laws that permit and/or regulate these in the interest of living peacefully with our unbelieving neighbors even as we seek their eternal well-being through the gospel.

A Biblical Welfare State?

A welfare state is defined as a system whereby the government undertakes to protect the health and well-being of its citizens, especially those in financial or social need, by means of grants, pensions, and other benefits.

For this system to work, you need three components:
1. Taxpayers or some other source of revenue.
2. Government Officials
3. Beneficiaries, those who receive the money.

The system is only sustainable as long as people are able and willing to pay into the system, and both government officials and beneficiaries do not demand and take more than the system can handle.

Venezuela built their social services of subsidized food, education, and welfare on profits from oil prices. Government officials were relatively faithful in their responsibilities in allocating money into their proper departments. The common people, for a while, benefited from these programs.

But when oil prices fell, the whole system collapsed and the people of Venezuela suffered from starvation and poverty. The money left in the system were seized by President Maduro, and distributed amongst himself, military officials, and political allies. All at the expense of the people that the programs were initially built for.

Social Security is where people have been paying into the system in their younger years and reap benefits from it in their retirement years, starting at around 66 years old, at least on paper. Because there is such a large number of potential retirement-age beneficiaries and few young taxpayers paying into the system, there is a danger that the system could collapse. To save the system, young people would have to pay more through higher taxes, or beneficiaries have to receive less money than promised, or the minimal eligibility age would have to be raised. There is also the concern that the government officials overseeing this program may have been pocketing money for themselves on the side at the expense of the expected beneficiaries.

In a nationalized healthcare system, everyone would have to pay more money than now through taxes, higher premiums, or health care plans covering services that they have no use for. Even if taxes are placed initially on companies making a lot of revenue, they may eventually have to cut costs elsewhere by closing down branches, letting go of employees, or providing low-quality goods and services.

The beneficiaries of a nationalized healthcare system are hospitals and doctors but if the government only agrees to pay a certain amount of money below market value in an attempt to make healthcare affordable, that policy effectively becomes a price ceiling. The overall outcome would be medical services demanded will exceed medical services supplied. In other words: an overburdened medical system.

Hospitals, doctors, and nurses would have triages to determine patient priority. Patients would have to wait long periods of times from months to years to see a family doctor. Basically, in an attempt to keep healthcare costs to a minimum, there will inevitably be rationing. There will be a shortage of medical services.

Now naturally if the government paid more money into the healthcare system, hospitals and doctors would be able to provide better services, but the government has the authority and power to withhold money from us even when it is needed. Instead of giving taxpayers’ money to the hospitals that need them, government officials could be pocketing that money for themselves.

Even as hospitals may suffer from inefficiency because of being underfunded, the government could take advantage of this situationto ask the public for more money by raising taxes to help out. More money may go into the system, but still not help hospitals out, because the money just went to further enrich the government officials.

Additionally, precisely because the government is in charge of the payments and have the power and authority to punish dissenters, the hospitals and doctors would essentially have to tailor their services to government standards.

For example, you might have a doctor that only gets paid by the government if he performs abortions, performs euthanasia on an unwilling patient, or prescribe some other treatment that goes against patient wishes. The government could potentially authorize all of this in the name of saving healthcare costs. Ideally, we would have a government that would not do this, but I doubt we live in such an optimistic world.

As I mentioned before, a welfare state comprises of the following:
1. A source of revenue.
2. Government Officials
3. Beneficiaries

Biblically speaking, we do have an idealized version of this.

1. A source of revenue: voluntary donors

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

“Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.” (Exodus 25:2)

“You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.” (Deuteronomy 15:10)

“For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:12)

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

From the above passages, you can see that rich people should donate money to help the poor out, but this money given into the welfare system is a willing gift and not an exaction. Not only that, but they are able to give according to what they have, not according to what they do not have. Taxes, then, contradict the biblical model. Taxes are money given under compulsion. If you do not pay them, you get thrown into jail. Also, they may be set at a rate that exceeds the taypayer’s ability to pay them.

Should the super-rich pay their fair share? They are certainly encouraged to do so, but the government should not force them to do so. Ideally, the Holy Spirit would work in the hearts of the super-rich and give them a heart of generosity so that they would decide to give to the poor on their own. Barring that, they should still cultivate a culture of philanthropy where they invest in helping pay people’s medical bills, building more hospitals, and renovating existing ones.

Taxes would completely undermine this process, as the super-rich would be giving money under compulsion and sometimes at a rate greater than what they have available. If too much money is taken from them through high taxes, a super-rich individual would not be able to invest in philanthropy and even have to close up successful businesses, let go of employees, or provide low-quality goods and services.

2. Government officials

“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.” (Exodus 18:21)

“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” (Acts 6:3)

“Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:12-14)

From the above passages, government officials can and should play a role in the efficient redistribution of wealth to their appropriate beneficiaries. They should be trustworthy, hate bribes, be full of the Spirit and of wisdom, and collect no more than needed. They should not abuse the system and thus extort money from the common people.

Maduro abused the system and essentially extorted the people of Venezuela, enriching himself, military officials, and political allies at the expense of the people. The American government through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Affairs could also potentially do the same. The issue of corrupt officials is where Republicans and other conservatives have issues, and for historically good reasons.

When government officials simply keep tax money for themselves, then the beneficiaries the programs were designed for will suffer from poor or absent services.

Government officials should be content with their wages, but unregenerate human nature is greedy and will demand more. It is as true today as it was back in the days of John the Baptist with the Roman government through tax collectors and Roman soldiers.

3. Beneficiaries

“If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” (1 Timothy 5:16)

Beneficiaries ideally should be people who truly need the help that the program is designed for. They would be people who did not lie about their need for help, and are content with the money they receive.

Since we are talking about free money, it is easy for people to lie to government officials in an attempt to qualify for money that they do not deserve. In addition, beneficiaries may ask for more money than they actually need, thus putting pressure on the source of revenue, such as voluntary donors and taxpayers. For example, hospitals and other subsidized businesses may negotiate with the government to give them more money than needed at the expense of another hospital that provides higher quality services at lower costs. Another way pressure can be placed on the source of revenue is when the number of beneficiaries outnumber the number of people paying into the system, as seen in Social Security.

In conclusion a biblical model of a welfare state would comprise of the following:
1. Voluntary donors, including rich individuals, who are generous and give according to what they have.
2. Government officials or other leaders are trustworthy individuals, who do not exploit the system to take more money for themselves than needed, manage the money well, and actually give the money to benefit their intended beneficiaries.
3. Beneficiaries are those who actually need the money, and generally do not ask for more than necessary, and receive the money promised to them.

Perhaps social services programs, like Medicare for All, could work like the biblical model where taxpayers are in place of voluntary donors if tax rates approximate what taxpayers such as large corporations are able and willing to give. They could work if government officials use the money well and think like a consumer to seek low cost and high quality healthcare services. They could work if hospitals receive money close to market value, and use that money to improve services.

But Medicare for All would fail because it is difficult and undesirable for people to pay a lot of money into the system at a constant rate, government officials could take more money than they need for themselves, and use their authority and power to go against market forces and force hospitals and doctors into undesirable positions, and hospitals and doctors could take advantage of the system to obtain money that does not actually go into lowering costs and improving quality.

Ultimately, I feel a welfare programs can work if morally upright and effective individuals are in power. They can help a lot of people if used well. Otherwise, a lot of people can suffer. The programs are not inherently wrong, excluding the use of taxes, where people are forced to pay and sometimes at rates beyond their means. Right now, I am wary about taking a gamble and giving the government that much control over healthcare which could do a lot of good or cause a lot of harm for everyone. My thoughts could be concluded by this proverb:

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
(Proverbs 29:2)