Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Widgets

Unholy Alliances or Shrewd Coalitions?

Back in October, I wrote about a situation in which I forged a working arrangement with a non-Christian military chaplain:
Now for the hard part ... our chaplain, I soon learned, was a member of a non-Christian cult, but classified and assigned to us as "Protestant" by the military. What to do? After all, Christ said, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters." (Luke 11:23) How could I work alongside one who is working against my Lord?

I did so, in short, by turning back two chapters in Luke: "... whoever is not against you is for you." (Luke 9:50b) Notice the contrast--one may be against Christ, but not against you--he or she may in fact be a useful ally in your mission! This chaplain was a bearer of a false gospel, but he was also providing me the avenue by which I could minister the true gospel to my fellow trainees.
I've been thinking about this in light of a couple of recent developments in our country and in the life of this blog.

Last week Senator Arlen Specter changed his party affiliation Democrat, after it became clear that his constant wandering off the Republican reservation had cost him the backing of his erstwhile allies:
In the Washington Examiner, Timothy Carney suggested that Specter's defection was prompted by the intention of Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina to back Specter's challenger, which DeMint had confided to Specter about five days before Specter switched. DeMint expressed no regrets: "I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don't have a set of beliefs," he said. The fact that 30 senators cannot make policy didn't deter him at all.
Meanwhile, our favorite Evangelical Catholic, Rich, bid us a public farewell:
I like to think this kind of cross-cultural dialogue gives the Holy Spirit room to break down the walls that divide us, to show us we really are more alike than we are different.

But, for the most part, things continue as they have for centuries. Few listen to each other. Fewer still are willing to consider Catholics are not fallen, and Protestants are not schismatics.

Frankly, I am weary of it all.
Now the political differences between movement conservatives and Arlen Specter are large and a source of great angst. There is a temptation for Republicans to say "good riddance", especially when Specter's defection was so blatantly unprincipled and self-serving. Yet uneasy coalitions are the stuff of successful political parties.

The theological differences between Protestants and Catholics are likewise real and important, and can't merely be waved away by glib appeals to unity. Yet there are times where we need to draw different lines. In the defense of the public defense of marriage and the unborn, for example, Evangelicals are wise to join together in a "coalition of the willing" with Catholics, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, etc.

Likewise, in World War II, faithful Christians were more interested in defending the human rights of the Jews than in "being separate" from them. Among the most memorable was recounted by Corrie Ten Boom in her landmark book, The Hiding Place:
She tells of an incident in which she asked a pastor who was visiting their home to help shield a mother and newborn infant. He replied, "No definitely not. We could lose our lives for that Jewish child." She went on to say, "Unseen by either of us, Father had appeared in the doorway. 'Give the child to me, Corrie,' he said. Father held the baby close, his white beard brushing its cheek, looking into the little face with eyes as blue and innocent as the baby's . 'You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family'".
For the purpose of defending innocent lives against Nazi atrocities, Corrie's father had more in common with his Jewish allies than with this pastor, who was at least nominally his brother in Christ.

So where is the line between shrewd coalitions and unequal yokes? When should we accept help from the like-minded and when do we need to "come out from them and be separate"? In general, it seems to me that the line lies at the place where those we are allied with (yoked to) begin to pull us away from a right relationship with God.

7 comments:

  1. God has a lot to say about political collaborations with non-believers. He warned Israel over and over not to join with anyone who did not worship Him as the one Sovereign God. In fact, I believe we are warned not to be our own protectors or providers but to "do only what we see our Father doing". Standing apart spiritually with integrity means often standing apart physically and emotionally and intellectually; surely it looks to the world like arrogance, intolerance, political incorrectness, and folly because the world is not following God. Our position as Christians is as outsiders to the world; light and salt, not fitting in. That certainly is painful and maybe "destructive" in a world culture arena. Unequal yokes is easy: does the person accept Jesus as the Christ? That He was born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, dead and buried, rising again on the third day? That God is Father, Son and since Pentecost, Holy Spirit for us here on earth? that He is Sovereign and we are the followers, seeking Him and Him alone? The God of the Word I follow is NOT tolerant. He is Sovereign.

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  2. Years ago, as a Salvation Army officer operating a soup kitchen, I had one such "uneasy alliance". Jews and Mormons regularly volunteered to help serve the meal. We were like-minded in wanting to serve hungry people, obviously something Christ clearly commands in Matthew 25 as well as again and again in both Testaments. But I was conflicted about "what message I'm sending" by allowing these volunteers -- was I legitimizing their beliefs in the eyes of the needy?

    After much thought, I finally decided to let them in -- with one caveat, that the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" name badges had to go. They were welcome to volunteer representing the Salvation Army, not representing the Mormons. They quickly agreed.

    The result of this was that the Mormons and Jews got to listen to my evangelical devotional at the beginning of the meal for three years, and I was able to have lively and engaging discussions with all of them in the kitchen while people were enjoying their meals. All of us -- myself included -- were forced to analyze WHY we believe the way we do. Proof-text, easy answers were stripped away as we dug deep.

    Did I make any converts after three years? Sadly, no. I earnestly hope someone else came along and watered those seeds I planted so God could bring the harvest.

    Do I regret having engaged? Not on your life. The alternative would have given me no chance at all to influence them for Christ.

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  3. Looking at my bookshelf, I'm wondering which book it was that recounted the reaction of some evangelicals as the scriptures were made available to them during the Reformation: They cried with joy at the opportunity to sing the Psalms in their own language for the first time. A response like this shows a hunger for God and for fellowship with Him in Christ that seems to me to be pretty rare today.

    So, as we pray that God would give wisdom to our magistrates, thereby preserving the culture in which we preach the gospel, and work with allies to promote legislation and practice that honors His precepts, shouldn't we should pray and work much more fervently that the gospel we preach would bring forth that kind of response? As we raise our children to be "good citizens", shouldn't we be much more eager to let them know that the "authority figures" who are teaching them these things are miserable sinners, saved by grace? This list could go on.

    In all of that, I guess my point is that the first "coalition of the willing" we need to seek is one devoted to promoting the purity of the Gospel of Grace. After that, participation in other coalitions will simply fall like fruit from a "tree made good". Without it, I wonder if the Lord has much more use for our iPods and nuclear generators, and wonder too if our best efforts to ameliorate social ills will count for much.

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  4. We need each and every day to lay down our lives to be open to The Holy Spirit and to know the truth of His word,so we can work with those who don't know the true Jesus Christ.AND LOVE LOVE AND MORE LOVE. Amen.

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  5. As believers we are to be in the world but not of the world.

    In the world means that we live and exist in our society. Of the world means that we do not participate in the evil and sinful practices of society.

    In the world means that we participate in the political process. We work on jobs and have a social life. However, we do not cheat, lie,and steal. To be of the world is to adopt ungodly practices and principles as a means of social advancement. Thus the line is drawn.

    To be a Christian does not say that I can't have friends or hang out with my friends. To be a Christian says that I will behave in a godly manner at all times. My godly behavior will convict me and tell me when to walk away from any situation that is ungodly.

    Friends may not like you for saying no and walking away, but those same friends will greatly respect you when they know your are serious about your salvation.

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  6. My understanding of your blog post is that 4 partnerships are being addressed:
    (1) Partnering in ministry with those who promote a false god and/or does not abide by the teachings of Jesus:
    (2) Negotiating and Compromising and coming into agreement between political parties and or nations - also - switching parties and/or national citizenship.
    (3) Catholics and Protestants on faith differences.
    (4) Christians and Jews agreements on human rights.

    Regarding the first one, I think the Bible is clear that this is the worst sort of partnership of the four so I'll just address that.

    Being a spiritual ministry partner with a person who is actively engaged in making sure others go to hell via propagating a lie to them in the form of a false gospel is serious, and one joins in their sin by partnering with them in any spiritual ministry aspect.

    Most, if not all, Churches in the New Testament were house churches so bringing someone into your house who was a minister of another religion and allowing them to propagate a false religion was a serious no no. We should be beyond reproach in these matters and not allow anyone to "mistakenly think" we allow for or accept such false gospels.

    2 John 1:9-11 "9Anyone who goes too far and does not "abide in the teaching of Christ", does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds."

    2 Corinthians 11:4 "For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted.."

    In your Lk 9 reff., Jesus is talking about the idea that if a person is not a part of your group/denomination yet is casting demons out of people (defeating the devil's work) by the power of God then they are not against you for they are indeed doing the Lord's work even though they are not in your group.

    1 John 3:8 .." The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil."

    Therefore a person that is doing the legitimate works of Jesus should not be rejected just because they are not part of your group/denomination as we see with the Apostle Paul and the others etc.

    Galatians 2:8,9 "8for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles, 9and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be )pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised."

    In Lk 11, as you reff, Jesus is talking about those who are actively promoting that Jesus was not who who claimed to be but instead was of the devil because He was casting demons out. Those who are against "Jesus and his work" - including Jesus as Messiah Son of God, as well as his work on the cross and defeating the devil - are against Jesus and scattering rather than gathering people for God.

    2 Corinthians 11:13-15 "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness,whose end will be according to their deeds."

    Conclusion, if one is for a false gospel then they are against Jesus and by joining with them one also becomes a partner against Jesus and an enemy of Jesus.

    There is no room for any Christian to partner with a nonChristian in doing "spiritual ministry work" - Scripture is clearly against it as is Jesus and the Apostles in their ministry practice. (Gal 1:6,7)

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  7. I agree with everything that has been said, and add only one specific: outside of the ministry example---if you choose to join yourself in a "world" circumstance, as with a business partner, romantic partner or political alliance to an unbeliever, you will pay a price as you will not be "walking in agreement" at some point.

    I agree with James that we are not to separate ourselves socially (except in the ungodly behavior examples James uses). We are show ourselves separate in our behavior choices, and by our speech---by acting always in love. God wants relationship above all things.

    I firmly disagree with includes initiating partnerships of any kind with unbelievers.

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