Sunday, June 18, 2017

Bernie Vs. The Believer

Is it unloving to believe and then proclaim that those who reject Jesus as their Lord and Savior will be condemned by God? Does holding that belief make a person incapable of demonstrating love and fairness to the individuals he or she believes currently stand condemned?

These are the issues that Russell Vought was faced with during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill recently. President Trump nominated Vought to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, but it has not been a smooth transition thus far.  

Vought is an alumnus of Wheaton College, which in 2015 suspended a tenured professor who declared that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. In response to the professor, Vought wrote a blog stating, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

Various groups latched on to Vought’s statement about condemnation and questioned whether his beliefs allow him to be capable of serving all Americans fairly. At Vought’s confirmation hearing, Senator Bernie Sanders repeatedly questioned Vought about his faith, and strongly insinuated that Vought’s beliefs make him Islamophobic.

So, Is Sanders right? Is it hateful to believe and proclaim that those who reject Jesus as their Lord and Savior will be condemned by God?

Let’s begin to answer that question by taking a simple look at perhaps the most popular passage of Scripture in the New Testament. 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. – John 3:16-19 ESV

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle John clearly wrote that those who do not believe in Jesus stand condemned. In fact, verse 18 was specifically cited by Vought in his blog post. To be sure, there are Christians who don’t agree with Vought’s choice of words. But if they are ashamed of his statement that all are condemned apart from faith in Christ, they are actually displaying that they are ashamed of some of the most foundational words of Christianity.

The Apostle John later testified that the words of his gospel are true and have been recorded so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name. Therefore, it is more than reasonable to conclude that one of the most loving things we can do is testify to others about their dire need to receive Christ.

What about Sen. Sanders’ second assertion? Is it impossible to demonstrate love and fairness to those one believes currently stand condemned in the eyes of God?

To be fair to Sanders, historically speaking, the merging of the cross with the State has neither been beneficial for the lost nor the Church. The first recorded act of homicide committed by a Christian against a nonchristian did not occur until after 380CE, when Roman Emperor Theodosius virtually made it illegal to not be a Christian. A few decades later, Augustine began to develop a theory of Just War, by which a Christian could feel justified in slaughtering pagans.

But that is not how it was in the beginning.

Early Christian writer, Irenaeus, was the Bishop of Lyons throughout in the mid-late 2nd century. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. What we find in the writings of Irenaeus is a man who unashamedly testified to the simple words of Christ, and also a man who, like Christ, would lay down his life for the salvation of his enemies. 

First, let’s take a look at Irenaeus’ interpretation of John 3:18.

And for this purpose did the Father reveal the Son, that through His instrumentality He might be manifested to all, and might receive those righteous ones who believe in Him into incorruption and everlasting enjoyment; … but He shall righteously shut out into the darkness which they have chosen for themselves, those who do not believe, and who do consequently avoid His light. For it was fitting that the truth should receive testimony from all, and should become [a means of] judgment for the salvation indeed of those who believe, but for the condemnation of those who believe not. …  Wherefore did the Lord say to His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no man comes to the Father but by Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” – Irenaeus 180CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 781, 783-784 [CD-ROM]

There was no dancing around challenging doctrines with Irenaeus and the early Christians. If the Jesus said it, they believed it. Therefore, when the Scriptures spoke of the Holy Spirit empowering followers of Jesus to love our enemies and walking as Jesus they believed that too.

From the Lord’s advent, the new covenant which brings back peace, and the law which gives life, has gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and He shall rebuke many people; and they shall break down their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, and they shall no longer learn to fight.” … The word of God, preached by the apostles (who went forth from Jerusalem) throughout all the earth, caused such a change in the state of things, that these [nations] did form the swords and war-lances into ploughshares, and changed them into pruning-hooks for reaping the corn, [that is], into instruments used for peaceful purposes, and that they are now unaccustomed to fighting, but when smitten, offer also the other cheek. – Irenaeus 180CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 859-860 [CD-ROM]

Christians being put on trial and persecuted for their uncompromising, nonviolent faith is as ancient as the days following Pentecost in the book of Acts. So we should not consider it strange when similar events unfold before our eyes in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, it is rare these days to see Christians who will literally turn the other cheek. Who will literally bless their persecutors. Who will literally refuse to repay evil with evil. Who will seek to do good to all people. And at the same time, who will boldly proclaim the truth that all who reject Jesus Christ will face eternal destruction.

So, we need to pray for Russell Vought to remain faithful, courageous and hopeful during this trial. And finally, pray Senator Bernie Sanders as well. Pray that that the eyes of his heart will be opened, he will turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that he may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Jesus. 

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