What does America Need?
What does America need? But wait. The first question is, what does the church need? Why do we ask what America needs first? Too often, when we divide religion from the state, the state seems to become preeminently important and religion is left impotent, lurking in the shadows of unimportance.
Today's message is a warning. It might be unlike anything you have heard of or thought of before. You may not immediately agree.
All I am asking you to do is to listen, to consider the message as fairly and rationally as possible, and be willing to rethink things. That is all I am asking.
I'm not going to sneak up on you. I'm going to tell you straight out what I'm asking you to do and not do. I'm warning you against becoming politicized. I'm suggesting that the fate of the United States is in God's hands, and that you can make your most important contribution to the well-being of the people of America in a way that is different from voting, different from participation in secular political party politics.
But you say, "Pastor, surely you realize that one candidate is better than the other, and that if the other candidate wins, a terrible, terrible state of affairs will come on us as a nation." I'll be honest with you. Yes, I have a preference. Yes, I think there are good reasons to prefer one candidate to the other. But I also think that the most patriotic thing I can do, is found in Matthew chapter six. Let's turn there. I'm looking at Matthew 6:33:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.\"
Matthew 6:33 reminds us to seek God's kingdom first, and His righteousness. If 335M americans all did this what would be the result?
The problem, fundamentally, is that we are being sucked into the political sewage pipe. We have failed to grasp who we are.
Seeking a Homeland
Are you a stranger, a pilgrim on earth? Are you seeking a homeland? Is America your homeland? Before you answer, to Hebrews 11:13-16. Yes, it's the faith chapter.
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
These heroes of faith had places where they lived, built up families and homes, planted gardens, and buried their dead. How did they regard the relation between where they lived their earthly life, and their spiritual aspirations? Hebrews 11:8-10 answers:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
If you remember, he had divided the land with Lot, and Lot, full of self-interest, selected the better for himself. But God returned to Abraham and told him that, in fact, He was giving all this land to Abraham. But in his lifetime Abraham never received the land. He did, indeed, live in the land, but never in that portion of his life ever saw the complete fulfillment of the promise. And so Abraham, who is the father of us all (Romans 4:16), dwelt in "the land of promise." He lived in a land which God promised to give him but which indeed he never in his life received in the way God promised he would. In other words, it is after the resurrection and in the new earth, that Abraham will at last dwell in the land promised and not in the land of promise.
You and I are children of Abraham by faith. His land will be our land. But today, as Abraham in his day, we, wherever we are, dwell in the land of promise. We, as Abraham will, will dwell in land given us by God when Abraham does, in the new earth. We do not dwell at present in the land promised us. We are sojourners and strangers.
But, you say, I was born in America. I am an American citizen. You say, I am proud to be an American, this special land of liberty, from sea to shining sea. You appreciate the two foundational principles that made America great: (1) its republicanism, that is, that it is a representative form of government where rather than being ruled by kings and tyrants, we the people elect leaders to serve in a government machined with careful checks and balances to its power. And (2), we appreciate the principle of Protestantism, of freedom of religion, a church without a pope, a nation with no established, privileged, state church form of Christianity.
Those two principles are the two horns of the lamblike beast described in Revelation 13:11. It has two horns like a lamb but it speaks as a dragon. Those who came to America did their utmost to establish this nation upon the broad foundation of civil and religious liberty. But there is a striking contradiction between these aspirations and actual practice. A day is rapidly approaching when faithfulness to our God-given conscience will require us to refuse to obey a merely human enactment. What merely human enactment? Any governmental enactment which constrains us to violate God's blessed and holy Sabbath, no matter what a president or a supreme court or the senate or the house of representatives or a state governor says.
Conscience vetoes them all.
Christians are the manifestation of God's kingdom. We are ambassadors wherever we are, not citizens. In Ephesians 6:2 Paul views himself as an ambassador for the kingdom. He says it again at 2 Corinthians 5:20:
Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God.
Who ever heard of an ambassador to the United States being a Republican or a Democrat? But you know that you are an ambassador to the people of the United States. And who are we ambassadors for? Not for Canada or Namibia or Michigan. We are ambassadors for God's kingdom. This is why the longstanding Seventh-day Adventist practice of standing outside of politics, being apolitical, is so important. Because we are representatives of something higher.
But Romans 13
I'm sure some are thinking that God sets up all the governments and so Romans 13:1 and following: "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God."
But this text has been misused. Adolph Hitler, the democratically elected ruler of Germany from 1933 to 1945, commanded both Catholic and Protestant Christian leaders to preach 'unconditional subjugation' to himself under the pretence of the Bible. The basis of the command? Romans 13 was used over and over again. And so, when Hitler's aim was to disarm Germany's citizenry, Christian leadership obediently presented to their congregations Romans 13. When Hitler's aim was to abduct dissidents in the quiet of the night without due process, again, Romans 13 provided justification. When the burning flesh of their lawful neighbors made the air unbreathable, the answer was Romans 13.
But let's do something. Let's include in our reckoning Romans 13:8-10. It goes like this:
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not kill,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not brar false witness,' 'You shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
We must not take one verse or one passage in total isolation from other Scripture. Eberhard Arnold preached the following four paragraphs in Hitler's Germany in 1934. He reads Romans 13:1-7 but continues:
But now comes the absolutism of God in love (verses 8--10). In the absolute sphere of love there is no active part taken in the force of the state. In the absolute sphere of God, there is no order of police and military. There are two regions. The one region is that of evil and of political power. The other region is that of love and of the Holy Spirit, without active participation in state power.
Paul means to say here: If you are in the church, you are in the realm of love. Accordingly, you will not do anything evil. In the cause of love, you can never kill but only be killed.
There are two worlds, then. One is the world of evil, though instituted by God. The other is the world of pure light and pure love. It has nothing to do with violence. The church serves but one Spirit. Every state, by contrast, serves two spirits because it belongs to evil. On the one hand, it serves God's order, on the other hand, the devil.
For if we speak of the divine origin of the state, seen relatively, we must also speak of the devilish origin of the state, seen relatively. Though the state is instituted by God, it is also an instrument of the devil. It is in relationship with evil, and like anything that mixes with evil, must turn from God to Satan [quotes Revelation 13!] . . . . Hitler, then, is a God-appointed lord of hell--just as Pharaoh, too, was an instrument of God: an instrument of God's wrath (Eberhard Arnold, sermon excerpt, 1934).
But you may be thinking of Jeremiah 18:7f, which we commonly mention in our evangelistic meetings.
The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.
Sometimes we assume that every leader and every nation is God appointed. After all, God sets them up and God takes them down. But be careful. Does God set up and take down every kingdom? Or do some leaders arise without God's endorsement? And does He sometimes choose, in His own divine wisdom, to permit them to rule for a time?
Psalm two says that the rulers of the earth unite in rebellion against God and against His annointed. So does Acts 4:25-27. But here is one we haven't spoken about: Hosea 8:4:
They set up kings, but not by Me; they made princes, but I did not acknowledge them. From their silver and gold they made idols for themselves--that they might be cut off.
Some kings and princes and nations do not have God's endorsement. God left Saul and would not even speak to him via prophets. Another example is found in the attempted coup of David's son, Adonijah, in 1 Kings chapter 1. David was old and sick and Adonijah exalted himself and proclaimed himsef king in David's place. It looked all but settled, but at the last moment David was able to abdicate and proclaim Solomon king in his place. In times where there is ambiguity, times of potential coup, what is our duty as Christians?
Hear my warning. Secular politics is a siren song, and authentic moral change is not going to happen by means of secular power. Be very, very careful.
America has come a long way and it is a long way in the wrong way. Recently an important poll was taken. Did you hear the results?
Survey results show that 58% of Americans believe that no absolute moral truth exists and that the basis of truth are factors or sources other than God. (https://www.christianpost.com/news/us-christians-increasingly-departing-from-core-truths-of-christian-worldview-survey-finds-238324/?fbclid=IwAR0HFZLlmGAmIxUTLWE_jXN_RJM2RmDt-xcJnbormyZZ2rPJpLhBSX-FjRA, accessed 2020-10-02).
If the majority of the population doubts even the existence of absolute moral truth, how can they be expected to make sound moral decisions about who should lead the nation? Or, how can we expect they will choose the correct side if the losing side attempts a coup?
Excerpts from George Washington's Farewell Address: Avoid Political Parties!
Did you know that at the founding of the United States of America, there were no political parties? Did you now that George Washington was never the member of an American political party? At the close of his service as the first president, hear these four paragraphs from his farewell address. He warns urgently against the development of political parties.
Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual, and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it (September 17, 1796).
Voting for the Lessor to Two Evils
Every time a presidential election rolls around, I hear the same thing; discontent with both major party candidates, and the depressing thought expressed that the person will have to make a choice when he votes, and vote for the lesser of two evils.
Did you know that in a two-party system like our own, that very often special interests make donations to both parties, both supposedly opposite candidates? Then, whoever wins is beholden to them. Look into it. You'll find it happens all the time. It is happening right now. Two parties effectively work out to one monoparty doing the bidding of rich donors, in our case, megarich corporations.
Now correct me if I am mistaken. But, if there are two candidates, and both are troubling, so troubling that you would think of them as evil men, and if you find yourself attempting to make a moral choice between two evils, and to vote for the one who is a shade less evil than the other, how are you going to do that as a Christian? A Christian cannot choose the lesser of two evils. He can choose no evil. But the Bible warns us that "evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:13).
Let me warn you, if you vote for the lesser of two evils, you voluntarily make yourself morally responsible in degree for what follows. By participating, you are validating. You are endorsing the idea that you will vote for evil. All the two-party system has to do is provide you two candidates to choose from, one of which seems more evil than the other. And they've got you. You are captured.
You cannot trust the government. Satan is the prince of this world even of the very best power. America becomes dragonic and engages in the destruction of personal liberty. Don't become surety for another. Don't become guilty of voting of the lesser of two evils. Don't compromise your moral high ground.
Perhaps you think I am suggesting a very strange view. But listen to how several men who were truly great thought. Try these provocative quotations:
The Christian endures government; he does not participate in it.
True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it.
Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance. It is also owed to justice and to humanity. Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.
Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.
A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.
To oppose corruption in government is the highest obligation of patriotism.
Patriotism is a religion, the egg from which wars are hatched.
It is during elections that the least enlightened citizens are activated.
When you joined the church of God, you placed yourself under the principles of a higher world. God's authority is higher than any earthly authority. The teachings and example of Christ are the guide for the Christian.
How to Really Change the World
Let's consider one more argument against the position I am suggesting. Here it is, presented by Catholic Bishop Fulton Sheen:
The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is itself a decision. It is a silent acquiescence to evil. The tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction, while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction.
Sheen wants us to choose a side. If we don't choose candidate A or candidate B, he says we are acquiescing to evil. So we are trapped in a box. We have to choose one candidate or the other, or we lack fire and conviction.
Of course he says that. We expect that. His is a Catholic position. Church members, say they, should vote, and employ the power of state to legislate morality. I can show you several confirmations for this position in the current Catholic Catechism. But consider the argument itself.
Yes, we should have strong moral convictions. But the question is how can we most effectively act on our moral convictions? Is it really at the ballot box, is it through our own attempt to impose morality onto the culture through government, or, is the best appointed place to help the nation be more moral at the personal level? At the individual level, at you, yourself?
I say it is. The way you can make the biggest difference for America, the most patrotic thing you can do, is actually simple: live the Christian life. You be an example of a moral person. Most people, the poll said, doubt even the existence of an absolute morality. It is difficult to think that they will change that view on the basis of the lives of the major political candidates. If you hold your breath for that, you'll be dead. No. You are the example. Nathan told David, "You're the man!" David was guilty of adultery and murder.
My belief is that God is saying to us, "You want to change the country? You're the man!" But He never called on us to do it by voting for candidate A or B for president. But He did call us to be salt and light in this world.
This is exactly how we can have the kind of effect we want to have on the nation. We need to be salt and light for them. Your vote may be thrown in the ditch by a partisan mail carrier. It's not your vote that is needed. It is your praying heart. Pray for leaders and voters (not that they will "win" but that their souls can be saved and that God will intervene to prevent them from bringing unnecessary trouble upon us). Pray for God to give us more time to influence souls for Christ and more wisdom for how to engage them.
America needs you as a Christian 1000-fold more than it needs your vote. My suggestion is, do not vote for political parties. Do not vote for specific presidential candidates. Voting is easy. Do something that is immeasurably more important. Be a Christian. Avoid politics. Do not fall into the political trap. Do not become politicized. Yes, I know, it seems like everything and everyone else is. But do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1-2).
Finally, a terrible question asked by Jacques Ellul continues to haunt me. Ellul asked, "Is the church in America capable of saying no to state?" We know the answer. It is not. The church in general is not. But my question is, can Christians in 2020 avoid becoming dangerously engaged in the political? Only you can answer.
Think about it. Pray about. And don't vote for any evil.
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