October 29, 2006 Commentary:
"A Christian View of Government" (Romans 13)
With all the talk these days, you'd think the Bible was a blueprint for nation-building. Liberals and conservatives disagree about a lot of things, but they seem to be united by the conviction that if we can just build a coalition, get the right people elected, and pass the right laws, we'll be on our way to realizing the kingdom of God on earth. Sure, preaching and sacraments are still part of things; we still think people should come to church, after all, how else will they get their marching orders? But the real business of the church these days, it seems, is to lead the way in the culture wars. Churches in America today are less divided by who they say Jesus is than by whether they're Democrats or Republicans. According to the current president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Evangelical movement is sufficiently broad theologically to include everybody from Benny Hinn to R.C. Sproul, but should be sure to back President Bush. Listen to the Evangelical Left and you'll hear basically the same message. That which the church used to think was most important is now secondary to making political pronouncements and amassing political movements.
It might surprise us all to discover a glaring absence of a Christian worldview in Paul's epistle to the Romans (or anywhere else). To be sure, he had very definite views about Christian doctrine, as well as how the churches were to be organized and to conduct themselves. He talked about how we're to care for each other and witness to the world. But there's nothing about how to run a country. Although he was a Roman citizen, and was well-read in secular literature, Paul's applications of Christian teaching to the social sphere are pretty sparse, not because he was against culture, but because that just wasn't part of his commission as an apostle of Jesus Christ. It was his vocation as a citizen, but not as a herald of the gospel. So unlike the situation today, Paul had very definite positions on the faith and practice of the churches, but when it came to politics, he simply said, "Obey your rulers." Or, as Jesus answered the culture war of his day, "Render under Caesar what is Caesar's, and under God that which is God's."
We've seen how Paul makes this transition in Romans 12 from the doctrine of the gospel to its application in the everyday relationships of believers to their neighbors. Now, in chapter 13, Paul brings the point home in very concrete terms, although probably not in the way that either side of the culture-warring church wanted to hear. This is our discussion - a Christian view of government, in this edition of the White Horse Inn.
Romans 13 (ESV)
Submission to the Authorities
 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,  for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Fulfilling the Law Through Love
 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
October 22, 2006 Commentary:
"Living in Light of Grace" (Romans 12:3-21)
In this program, we're taking a look at Romans 12, verses 3 through the end of the chapter, "Living in the Light of Grace." In our last program, we focused on the challenge that is often put before us these days of "deeds, not creeds." In this program, we want to ask if it is possible to have a church with creeds, not deeds. It's certainly possible to have deeds without creeds, or at least without the Christian creed. There are quite decent people all around us throughout the world, because of the law written on their conscience and God's common grace which fans the embers of civic justice and morality in fallen humanity, adherence of other religions and of no particular at all are found at mass refugee centers in Sudan handing out blankets and food, inoculating children in Cambodia against small pox, ministering daily comfort to dying AIDS patients in New York City. Christians are among them. Motivated not only by the eradicable effect of being created in God's image, but by being forgiven and conformed daily into the image of Christ, believers will have all the more reason to invest their lives in their neighbors. Now it may not mean an end to hunger but working hard to feed one's family and care for extended relatives in need, contributing time, talents, and treasures to brothers and sisters in one's own local church and giving time and resources to non-profit service agencies that may or may not even be identified with any one particular religious cause. Caring for our neighbor's welfare in this life is a human vocation - not necessarily the work of the church, which is entrusted with the commission of receiving and spreading through Word and sacrament the good news of what God has accomplished in Christ.
So if deeds without creeds is possible, how about creeds without deeds? While it is certainly possible to have a church which is formally committed to Christian doctrine, even in the form of creeds, confessions, and catechisms, without exhibiting any interest in missions, or the welfare even of those within their own body, I would argue that it is impossible to have a church that is actually - not just formally - but actually committed to sound doctrine that lacks these corollary interests. In view of God's mercies, Paul says, present your bodies as living sacrifices which is your reasonable service. God has given us everything in Christ by grace alone, so our only reasonable service is to love - to love our neighbors, to serve them, to give to them out of gratitude for that inexhaustible gift that we've been given. In other words, there is no such thing as dead orthodoxy. And I take that to be the point that we find in James' letter. He doesn't say that faith without works is incomplete, or insufficient for justification, but that a faith that does not bear the fruit of good works is dead. In other words, it isn't really faith at all. And so that's why Paul, if he came to one of our churches today that's supposedly dead orthodox, would not I think, begin with the practical suggestions and exhortations; he would start all over, as he does in his epistles, with the doctrine. Doctrine leads to doxology which then yields the fruit of good works in love and service toward our neighbor.
Romans 12:3-12 (ESV)
Gifts of Grace
 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,  so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Marks of the True Christian
 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
October 15, 2006 Commentary:
"In View of God's Mercies" (Romans 12:1-2)
In this program, as we resume the Romans Revolution, we turn from what is often called the doctrinal part of Paul's epistle to the Romans to his application. And his way of making that transition is through doxology. At the end of chapter 11 before he gets to chapter 12 and the big transition, he says, who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has ever given anything to him that he must pay him back for of him and to him and through him are all things to whom be the glory forever and ever (Rom. 11:34-36). It's not just that we move from doctrine to application, but we move in that direction through doxology. That is, through praise. Right doctrine leads us to gratitude, and that gratitude leads us to service.
Now, in our day, we're getting a lot of attention given to deeds over creeds. In fact, I've referred to Rick Warren's call for deeds over creeds a couple of programs ago, in a recent article in the Orange County Register, we read this: "The Saddleback Church pastor has a peace plan which aims to propel a second Reformation of works, not words, for his changing Christian church. He is famous - some say infamous - for retiring the fire and brimstone formality of his Southern Baptist forefathers. In its place, he pioneered a sunny, laid back, Californian relatability, transforming church from an old fashioned penance into a contemporary celebration. 'Faith,' he tells the crowd, 'springs from making manifest the Christian message of redemptive love.'" Notice that faith springs from works, essentially. "He is here," we read on, "to reveal the peace plan. His missionary movement, if not to save the world, then at least reshape it. He calls it a new Reformation in the church of God and a new church awakening in our world." The reporter goes on to say, "In Warren's version of Christianity, past arguments over doctrine are subsumed by agreement on incontrovertible causes. The divisiveness of words gives way to the unity of works."
I remember, a number of years ago, meeting with the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. He told me that the old World Council slogan, "Doctrine Divides, Service Unites" had actually proven unworkable after many decades. Actually, he said, it's the other way around. Even when we reach agreement on the meaning of the Apostles' Creed, unanimity falls apart when we talk about political, social, economic, and cultural causes. We know where the World Council has ended up, although it began as a trans-denominational, evangelical missionary movement attempting to wed evangelicalism to social concerns. Despite its good intentions, the assumption that continually makes evangelicalism a seed bed for liberalism is that doctrine is made secondary to life. Today, evangelicalism is far less divided by doctrine, which is generally treated with indifference than by the particular ideology that cultural transformation should take. "Deeds, Not Creeds" has already been tried many times over and has simply led to ungodly strife and divisions over secondary issues about cultural transformation. While church history and contemporary experience exhibits evidence of wrangles over doctrinal precision that do not lead to the peace and purity of the church and its mission, the church has also demonstrated that it can find plenty of other things to fight about when it looks away from Christ. In this program, we're talking about how looking to Christ actually brings us to the point of praise and doxology that will lead to good works, to love and service to our neighbor. But we cannot take that gospel for granted. Paul puts it this way: "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, in view of what he's done, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (Rom. 12:1-2)
Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)
A Living Sacrifice
 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
October 8, 2006 Commentary:
"Christianity Confronts Islam (Part 2)"
We're talking about Christianity and Islam, and to do that we're continuing our discussion with Sam Solomon, one of the leading experts on Islam. Sam himself was a Muslim scholar. He was trained as a jurist in Islamic jurisprudence, otherwise known as Shari'ah Law, and he was - after conversion - forced to flee his country on pain of execution, he went to London, and has now come to us to be on the White Horse Inn. It is a real pleasure to have him on the program.
Mike: Sam, in Islam, how does a person make it to heaven and avoid hell?
Sam: Well, first of all, Mike, heaven and hell are Christian concepts in Christian/Judeo-Christian understandings. That's just biblical vocabulary. It does not carry in Islam. Islamic understanding...To them, heaven is a very foreign concept. It is a paradise, not "heaven," where they will have pleasure. In paradise, according to the Koran, there are rivers of alcohol, rivers of wine, rivers of milk -
Mike: -- making up for not having it on earth?
Sam: Yes, because on earth you need to be sober. You need to pray five times a day. But in the drink in paradise, may be not intoxicating...there will be rivers of alcohol, rivers of pure water, rivers of milk, rivers of honey, and they will be flowing. Every kind of meat a man can desire, freshly cooked, everything - fruit of every kind, and of course they will have virgins - absolutely beautiful virgins, and they will always remain virgins; they will always remain pure; and they are there to appease the faithful ones. And these are called hol, and they are specially created for the faithful ones. Added to that, the Koran says, perpetually fresh, young boys - not exceeding the age of 14 at maximum, are there for the enjoyment of the faithful ones. Allah apparently understands an alternative lifestyle. So that is as far as how to "make it," of course this is all Koranic. In fact, some people, even Muslims, would find it difficult to bear that. But a very famous author and famous preacher in Egypt - he was a graduate of Alazer, the very best and ancient Islamic seminary in the world - he wrote a book on the issue of homosexuality in particularly the boys in paradise. That book was banned by the Egyptian government. He went to the supreme Islamic court, and at the court all the scholars gathered together to examine this book, and they said everything described in that book, in terms of paradise, and how, and what way they will have their sexual relationships, it is all valid as far as they were concerned. This is the highest Islamic authority; it is indisputable, and that is the final word from them. So, there you go. As far as coming back to your question, how does one make it? Even if you repent - because it isn't covenant theology, because Allah doesn't make any covenant, he isn't going to change you. In fact, it is a Koranic verse, "Allah does not change, will not change the condition of a people until they change it themselves with their own souls." It is a self-effort. It has nothing to do with Allah; Allah doesn't change a man. He will not touch anybody. Allah hates those unbelievers; he's not the God of the Christian faith who will seek the lost.
Mike: So when Charles Finney, the great 19th century evangelist in America, preached his famous sermon, "Sinners Bound to Change their Own Hearts," and roundly challenged Calvinists for teaching that God had to convert people, once again there won't be very much Christian resistance to this side of Islam when we have to confront it, if we follow that cheery view of human nature.
Sam: Indeed, if you deny the work of the Holy Spirit, then you are going to deny that aspect of our faith and you will rely on [Christianity] as a self-help program. You see, that is denying the whole of biblical theology. It may sound that repentance and conversion are a simple issue, well why can't we overlook that and walk together in unity and worship - after all, we are all Christians? No, that is the core of the faith; that is the centrality on which all our faith is based. How? Who converts you? Faith is a gift of God, according to Ephesians. It is a gift of God; it is not of you. We were children of wrath, and therefore depravity of man cannot be ignored. The work of the Holy Spirit cannot be overlooked, must not be ignored, because otherwise there is no difference, then, between Islam and the Christian faith that people claim to have.
For the rest of this interview, tune in to this week's broadcast.
October 1, 2006 Commentary:
"Christianity Confronts Islam (Part 1)"
We are taking a little bit of a break from the Romans Revolution to talk about something that really is actually quite relevant to that series, namely the relationship between Islam and Christianity - at the theological level. While everyone else is talking about dropping bombs and wars on terror - very important subjects for us to discuss and debate as citizens - we're focusing on the theological crisis, the spiritual crisis, the interface between Muhammad as a false prophet and Jesus Christ as the prophet, priest, and king. Everything that we're talking about in the Book of Romans, everything that we emphasize on the White Horse Inn - knowing what you believe and why you believe it - is pointed up again and again in our discussions of the crisis, really, in which Christian churches and Western cultures find themselves in the face of Islam. Romans and the message it offers us is exactly what we need most to re-energize, re-invigorate, and bring maturity to the church in the face of this incredible crisis. Speaking for myself, I thought I knew just a little bit about Islam until I met up with our guest, Sam Solomon.
Sam Solomon is an expert in Shari'ah Law - that's Islamic jurisprudence. He spent 15 years studying Shari'ah Law to become an Islamic jurist. Upon his conviction he was given 48 hours to leave the country and since then he has been in London where he is a consultant with parliament, as he as also been with our United States Congress, but more than that, he is a witness to Christ in the Muslim world. We are greatly privileged to have him on our program. After you hear him on the program I think you'll agree with me that there really is a desperate need for Christians today to what they believe and why they believe it. It's not going to be wars on terror, and it's not going to be missiles; it's going to be the Word of God that is able to stand up against the gates of hell.