Sunday, October 31, 2004

Reformation Day 2004

In light of the 487th anniversary of beginning of the Protestant Reformation, I thought I would post the lyrics from the song "Return of the Revolution" by the OC Supertones. The words were written by Matt Morginsky and Tony Terusa, and the song appeared on their 2000 release "Loud and Clear." I think the lyrics are a challenge that the evangelical church as a whole, and professing Christians need seriously to hear.

There ain't no stopping us now
I'd like to say that from the outset
Not up in this business just to get what we can get
But bet that
We gonna bring it to you loud and clear
But I know a solution
Bring back the revolution
The revolution comes and we all stand as one
Rises from the darkness and shines like the sun
As the sun gets higher , our church catches fire
Down from our our pride and up from the mine
It's a dream that I've had and I hope it comes true
I forgot to say the revolution starts with you
See wisdom and knowledge is one thing that we lack
You've been a Christian how long and you're still on Similac
So I call on Martin Luther and all the reformation back
Then the common people couldn't read God's revelation
You had to be a monk or a priest or read Latin
That was all before the revelation happened
But the fire cooled down ever since that generation
We put down the Bible and pick up play station
And we can't defend our faith 'cause we don't know
We say we love His word but pick a funny wy to show it
The world walks by and we don't have a thing to say
I call 'em as I see 'em
And thats what I see today

The revolution returns
The reformation lives on
The great awaking is now
Sleepers open your eyes
A war is on, our rally cry is no compromise
No compromise, yeah, no compromise
A war is on, our battle is no compromise
So throw your fist up and pray the revolution rise
A war is on, our rally is no compromise

Our hearts have grown so cold
And we've such numb souls
But shirts and bumper stickers
Man we got 'em by the truckload
Is true religion what you have around your wrist
What does the scripture say of this

They honor me with words
But their hearts are far away
A call 'em like I see 'em
And that's what I see today
So i call on John Edwards
Who preached us all awake
We try to be emotional but here is our mistake
As a church we lack receptance and we lack true affection
Not only in our minds but in our hearts need correction
And man that's true religiong, resignation and contrition
To love each other so much that'd we die before division


So what about you
Will you join us
Will you admit that the waters around us have grown
You better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone
Do you stand with us or do we stand alone
It's time that we stand up, enlist for war
I've tasted battle and now I want more
I've known the truth and been cut to the core
But I'm back in the game to even the score
And I mean to go out with both my guns blazing
Amazed at a God who's truly amaing
To triumph in battle as the spirit enables
Can't turn back the clock but we can turn the tables

Friday, October 22, 2004


It has been hard to ignore the tone of the current presidential campaign. In many ways, this is not surprising, since the mudslinging seems to escalate with the office. However, as the debates have made clear, both candidates claim to be Christians. Does the profession to be a Christian affect the manner in which a candidate should run a campaign? Of course the question much be answered in the affirmative.

For any conservative, evangelical Christian, the inconsistencies in Senator Kerry's profession are glaring. The most recent edition of John Armstrong's Weekly Messenger has outlined many serious concerns for any Christian based on the Senator's record or practices. What is surprising, is compared to the President, Senator Kerry himself has run a halfway decent campaign.

For evangelicals, President Bush is a breath of fresh air after the former President whose moral laspses were so obvious and public. The President's profession of faith is reasonable, which seems rare in a politician; and his positions and record are consistent with such a profession. It is no wonder that evangelicals seem to have given an such enthusiastic and almost univocal support to the President. However, while I do not intend to deny the President's profession, or to belittle the important issues where he upholds the Biblical precepts; I question how his Christian profession effects his campaigning. Several issues have stood out to me in observing the campaign and in watching the debates. The first, and more concerning to me is the issue of honesty. For a Christian, a lie is not only defined by saying something that is untrue, but any speech that is not forthright and deceptive. While it is the hallmark of politicians to speak half-truths, a Christian politician ought to hold himself to a higher, to the Biblical standard. It is wrong for the President to misrepresent the Senator's voting record; it is dishonest to take the Senator's statements out of context in order to use against him. Discuss the central issues, and leave aside the deceptive rhetoric. It is not lying to be incorrect, but it is dishonest to continue to hold and to state those errors once they have been pointed out. Both candidates have been guilty of this, from Kerry's statement that the cost of the war is 80 billion more than it actually is; to the President's consistent claim that Senator Kerry has voted to raise taxes 97 times, when the actual number of votes is far less. Shouldn't the Christian candidate hold himself to a higher standard when it comes to accuracy and the truth? Second, the President's tone during the debates, particularly the first two, and on the campaigning trail are infamous. It was hard to miss the conclusion reached by many that the President is arrogant and impatient. Shouldn't a Christian candidate method of speech be characteristically distinct, shouldn't the Biblical admonition "Let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone?" Finally, it is concerning to see how blind the President and other Christian to some vital moral concerns. For too many Christians, the moral issue which matter for this election revolve solely around abortion and homosexual marriage. This is concerning because other issues which should also be of concern are ignored. One does not have to spend much time reading the Old Testament prophets to see God's concern for the widows, the poor, the oppressed, society's "disenfranchised." However, where is the Christian concern over these issues? Isn't James clear, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress." Are these concerns to "Democratic" to merit attention; or are we at times distressingly indifferent in our generally affluent suburban environments, blind to the dire needs of others in the inner city or poor rural areas? A Christian cannot ignore moral issues which are directly under attack such as the sanctity of life or the purity of marriage; but a Christian must never lose sight of other vital moral issues he is called to defend just as vigorously. If a Christian is concerned to vote on Biblical principles, issues of social justice must also be considered.

I do not believe that the Christian has a clear cut choice in November, both candidates have areas which comport with a Christian profession, and both have serious shortcoming. As is so often the case, if one is going to make a choice between the two, some aspect of his faith will suffer in his vote.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Taxes and Ethics

Politics obviously consumes many people’s attention right now. While I have tended to focus on matters relating to theology or interpretation; I will spend the next few posts examining some issues where Christianity intersects politics. The focus in particular is on areas where I feel current discussion among Christians is less than Biblical. The first issue relates to tax policy; and I thank those I discussed this with and who helped me sharpen my focus, and hopefully better my argument.

John Kerry’s plan to pay for his social programs involves rescinding the tax cut to the top 2% of Americans who make more than $200,000 a year. Questions about whether this amount of money will actually be able to cover the expenses he proposes aside, is it right to tax the rich more than the rest of the population? I would answer that this reflects sound principles. As a basic principle, I hold that those who are strong are morally obligated to help those who are weaker than themselves, that those who are blessed with plenty should help those in poverty. A graduated tax system, not only make sense if we desire to fully fund without deficits all of our societies goals, but also reflects this general principle.

This principle is clearly in evidence in Scripture. Two examples will suffice from the Old Testament law to demonstrate this principle. First, Leviticus 23:22 commands harvesters to not harvest the edge of their field, or to pick up what the reapers dropped, in order to provide for the poor. The law had a built in requirement to provide for those less fortunate in society. Second, their was a “progressive” sacrificial system based on what the individual was able to provide. If, for example, an Israelite sinned, and was not able to afford a lamb, he could bring two pigeons or doves; and if he could not afford the birds, he was allowed to bring a tenth of an ephah of fine flower (Leviticus 5:7-13). This sacrificial system was not simply a religious institution, but a means of providing for the priests and Levites who ministered before the great King of Israel. One could say the sacrificial system functioned like an early graduated tax system. The principal can be observed in the New Testament also. Once again, two passages will suffice in demonstrating the presence of this principle. First, one of the reasons which Paul gives for work in Ephesians 4:28 is that one would have something to share with those in need. The purpose of money is not to selfishly accumulate capital, but to minister Christ’s love “as we have opportunity” (Galatians 6:10). James statement in his second chapter evidences the same concern. The reality and vitality if faith is evidenced by a believers works, particularly in relation to a brother or sister in need (verse 14-17). Many other text could be brought forward to demonstrate the basic principal that the strong have a moral obligation to help the week.

This principal is not limited to Scripture alone. The greatest thinkers of the past supported a similar principal. Most directly to this question, Aristotle write in Politics, “The true friend of the people should see that they be not too poor, for extreme poverty lowers the character of the democracy; measures therefore should be take which will give them lasting prosperity…[I]n the meantime the rich should pay the fee for the attendance of the poor at the necessary assemblies; and should in return be excused from useless public services.” Cicero similarly writes, “Without doubt, the highest privilege of wealth is the opportunity it affords for doing good, without giving up one’s wealth.” Baruch Spinoza wrote in his Ethics, “The care, therefore, of the poor is incumbent on the whole of society and concerns only the general profit.” Even the great father of modern capitalism, Adam Smith wrote in his Wealth of Nations, “No society can be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

Several objections arise. First, some could question the propriety of arguing from the Old Testament for twenty-first century nations. However, while it would be improper to directly apply Old Covenant laws, the moral principles, or general equity is still binding. The Westminster Confession states, “To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.” Second, there is a world of difference between one voluntarily giving to the poor verses its imposition by the state. While one could admittedly view this as forced charity, however, this does not appear to be the greatest perspective. No one complains about the tax relief offered to the 26% of Camden residents whose rent accounts for 46% of their monthly income. Somewhere this gap must be made up. Asking those who are rich and can afford it to grant relief to those who are truly needy in society is not only common sense, but expressive of social nobility. The goal of course of course is in the end, that those individuals who were beneficiaries of society’s charity would later become the benefactors. Third, it is objected that this policy unfairly penalizes the rich. This objection, however, reeks more of Western greed than sound, noble thinking. Having opportunity to help another, whether formal or informal, in not a penalty but a privilege. For the Christian, the offering aid in this manner to another is more than a noble deed, but a fulfillment of the second great commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness.” It is God who has freely and graciously blessed the rich with the talents and opportunities which account for his plenty. It is God who has preserved and prospered society; and it is God who will judge both the individual and the society for how His blessings are used.