Posts tagged ‘Bible’

A Camel Controversy

Camels 1And you thought it was it only impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

As it turns out, threading camels isn’t the only thing that’s impossible according to some archaeologists.  Domesticating them before the tenth century B.C. also turns out to be quite the trick.  Writing for the New York Times, John Noble Wilford provocatively declares, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis.”[1]  Wilford explains:

There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

How does Wilford know that camels had no role in the era of the biblical patriarchs?  He cites a study, recently published by two archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, which employed radiocarbon dating to test some camel bones found in the Aravah Valley.  This study found the bones to be from the last third of the tenth century B.C., which, Wilford notes, is “centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible.”  So there you have it.  Thanks to some late breaking bones, Genesis is discredited – at least the parts that talk about camels.

Now, before we fall prey to camel chaos, a few things should be noted.  First, the Tel Aviv archaeologists, by declaring that camels could not have been used in the way Genesis 24 describes them, are making an argument from silence.  Their assumption runs like this:  because we do not have domesticated camel fossils dating before first millennium B.C., there must have been no domesticated camels before the first millennium B.C.  The Bible must be wrong.  But a lack of evidence does not necessitate a lack of existence.  One need to only think back to 1961.  This was the year the “Pilate Stone” was discovered at Caesarea Maritima.  It had an inscription dedicated to the emperor of Rome at the time, Tiberius Caesar:  “To the Divine Augustus Tiberieum:  Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea has dedicated this.”  Before this stone was discovered, because there was no hard archaeological evidence of Pontius Pilate, many assumed that Pilate was a fictional character, made up out of the sacred authors’ over-active imaginations.  Whoops.  So much for that argument from silence.

It should also be noted that the archaeologists who discovered these bones do not even have complete silence in favor of their argument against camels during the time of the biblical patriarchs.  They only have archaeological silence.  There are extra-biblical references to domesticated camels prior to the first millennium B.C.  Titus Kennedy, adjunct professor at Biola University, notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating anywhere from 1950 to 1600 B.C.  In an interview with Christianity Today, Kennedy explains:

For those who adhere to a twelfth century B.C. or later theory of domestic camel use in the ancient Near East, a great deal of archaeological and textual evidence must be either ignored or explained away …

[Israel] doesn’t have much writing from before the Iron Age, 1000 B.C. … So there aren’t as many sources to look at. Whereas in Egypt, you have writing all the way back to 3000 B.C. and in Mesopotamia the same thing.[2]

Kennedy concludes that there were not only domesticated camels at the time of the biblical patriarchs, but before the time of the biblical patriarchs.  Thus, the biblical record is quite believable.  There is no reason that Abraham could not have acquired “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels” (Genesis 12:16), just as Genesis says.

Ultimately, the difficulties with the premature conclusions drawn from this discovery reach much deeper than simply whether camels were around in the second millennium B.C.  These difficulties are summed up in Wilford’s conclusion:

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”

In other words, the Bible cannot be trusted to get its facts straight – at least not all of them.  When reading the Bible, then, skepticism must be given preference over faith.

Finally, if I assume camels could not have been in Genesis based on an argument from paleontological silence, it is only reasonable for me to assume that a Savior cannot rise from death based on medical science.  After all, doctors have long known that dead people tend to stay that way.  Thus, Jesus’ resurrection must have never happened.   But if this is true, then my “faith is futile; I am still in my sins … [and] I am to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19).  Wow, that’s a downer.

Let’s hope the archaeologists are wrong on this one.  After all, I don’t really like to be pitied.


[1] John Noble Wilford, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis,” New York Times (2.10.2014).

[2] Gordon Govier, “The Latest Challenge to the Bible’s Accuracy:  Abraham’s Anachronistic Camels?Christianity Today (February 2014).

February 24, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Michael Sam Makes It Public

Credit: cnn.com

Credit: cnn.com

“Does the NFL have any gay players?” my wife asked me last Sunday.  She was watching a Hallmark Valentine movie where one of the characters, an NFL quarterback, came out as homosexual.  “No, sweetie,” I responded.  “The NFL does not have any openly gay players.  There have been some players who have come out after they left the NFL, but to date, no players currently in the NFL are openly homosexual.”

It didn’t take long for that to change.

The next morning, while I was working out and watching ESPN, there was Michael Sam, former Missouri Defensive End and candidate in the NFL draft, coming out on national TV as a gay football player.   “I am an openly, proud gay man,” Sam told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”  Granted, Sam is not an NFL player…yet.  But his prospects are good.

I am surprised – pleasantly so – by how muted the negative response to Sam’s announcement has been.  Some journalists have hinted that responses could turn negative, but to date there is no swell of detractors decrying Sam as a dangerous degenerate.  By the same token, those who are writing and speaking about him are hailing him as a hero.  Brendon Ayanbadejo, a former linebacker who is currently a free agent, was effusive about Sam’s announcement, comparing him to Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks.  To cap off his feelings concerning Sam, he said, “To borrow from Neil Amstrong, this is one small step for gay men and one giant leap for the LGBTQ community.”[1]  Juliet Macur of the New York Times wrote a manifesto demanding that an NFL team draft Sam.  She begins by writing, “It’s time,” and ends by declaring, “Sam must be drafted. It’s time to move forward. The teams and the league are on the clock.”[2]  For Macur, Sam’s status as a future NFL star is not a matter of his talent, but of a moral imperative that says the NFL must have an openly gay player.

For orthodox Christians, all of this can be hard to sort out.  On the one hand, there is something to be celebrated here.  It is refreshing to see so many display a measured sensitivity to and deep compassion for those with same-sex attractions and those in same-sex relationships.  The gay slurs, gay jokes, and gay bashing of yesteryear have drastically dissipated and, for my part, I say, “Good riddance.”  Such speech is diametrically opposed to the biblical command to love, which Paul says is the fulfillment and summation of all biblical commandments (cf. Romans 13:8-9).  On the other hand, Christians cannot pretend that our society’s sexual free-for-all, which demands not only the toleration of, but the celebration of sexual practices that are far from biblical standards for human sexuality, is nothing more than an issue of civil rights.  Whether it’s Michael Sam touting his homosexuality or Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin exchanging texts about how many women they have slept with and the use of prostitutes,[3] the spacious sexual ethic of our society is simply not something Christians can endorse.  Partly because it’s immoral and Scripturally forbidden, yes.  But also because it hurts, belittles, and objectifies people, which, in and of itself, is tragic, no matter what your ethical worldview.

Ultimately, the loose sexual standards of our society are nothing new.  The path of sexual salaciousness is well worn – not only in twenty-first century America, but in all the societies that have come before her.  But we can choose a different path.  We can choose the path of sexual commitment in marriage while walking “humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).  I pray that we do.  For when we do, we not only live out God’s sexual standard in our commitments, we show God’s lavish love by our humility.


[1] Mike Foss, “Ex-NFL player: Draft prospect who came out is like Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks,” USA Today (2.10.2014).

[2] Juliet Macur, “It’s Time for the N.F.L. to Welcome a Gay Player,” New York Times (2.9.2014).

[3] Adam H. Beasley, “Texts shed light on relationship between Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito,” Miami Herald (2.5.2014).

February 17, 2014 at 5:15 am 2 comments

It’s Not Tricky … It’s Really Not

Hebrew Text 2It seems like it’s been happening to me a lot lately.

The other day on the radio, I heard a commercial for “The Biblical Money Code,” a program that claims to be able to make millions for the person who follows it:

Imagine if you had a secret code for making money … a code buried deep within biblical text.  A code that certain investment titans have quietly exploited to amass billions.  And what if this code could be used by you, today, to unlock vast amounts of wealth — safely and ethically.[1]

Now, forget the fact that what the Bible has to say about money is about as straightforward and sharp as it can be.  For instance:  “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).  Forget the fact that God nowhere promises that you can or will amass billions.  Forget the fact that the Bible doesn’t even find it particularly desirable that a person would amass billions.  All of what’s in this program has to be in the Bible.  You just have to unlock the code.

But that’s not the only biblical “code” I’ve run across recently.

The other day, I received an email from a friend claiming the prophet Muhammad was identified by name in the Old Testament.  Where?  Song of Songs 5:16:  “His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely.  This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”  How does this refer to Muhammad?  The Hebrew word for “altogether lovely” is machamadim, which sounds like “Muhammad.”  Now, forget the fact that, in context, this is a statement by a wife about her husband.  Forget the fact that machamadim is a Hebrew word and Muhammad is an Arabic name.  Forget the fact that there is nothing in this verse that would indicate this is a prophetic statement.  These two words sound similar, so they must be related.  You just have to unlock the code.

But that’s not the only biblical “code” I’ve run across recently.

I remember a conversation I had with some Mormon friends about the kingdoms of glory in the afterlife.  “We can enter a telestial, terrestrial, or celestial kingdom,” my friends explained.  From where do they get this?  1 Corinthians 15:40 (KJV):  “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.”  Now, forget the fact that Paul’s point here is not to talk about afterlife destinations, but to speak of the kind of body we will receive at the resurrection of the dead, as he makes abundantly clear at the conclusion of his argument:

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

Forget the fact that this verse doesn’t even mention telestial bodies.  Forget the fact that no one in the Church interpreted this verse in this way before Joseph Smith.  Paul has to be talking about different afterlife destinations.  You just have to unlock the code.

With so many so-called “religious experts” peddling so many biblical codes, it is worth it to remind ourselves of the principle of perspicuity.  Perspicuity is from a Latin word meaning “clearness.”  And classically, the Church has ascribed this characteristic to Holy Writ.  The Lutheran dogmatician Francis Pieper summarizes biblical perspicuity thusly:  “The perspicuity of Scripture consists in this, that it presents, in language that can be understood by all, whatever men must know to be saved.”[2]  Pieper goes on to note that Scripture testifies to its own perspicuity in places like Psalm 19:7:  “The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.”  One can be simple intellectually and still gain wisdom from Scripture, for Scripture is clear.  Understanding the Good Book does not take a Ph.D. in theology.

Now, this is not to say that every verse of the Bible is equally easy to understand.  No less than the great preacher Chrysostom explains that some parts of the Bible can indeed be difficult to interpret:

Let us suppose … rivers … are not of the same depth.  Some have a shallow bed, others one deep enough to drown one unacquainted with it. In one part there are whirlpools, and not in another … Why then art thou bent on drowning thyself in those depths?[3]

Chrysostom compares different parts of Scripture to different rivers.  Some parts are shallow and easy to navigate.  Other parts are deeper and more difficult to wade through.  But though some parts of Scripture are richly deep, none are nefariously tricky.  In other words, the biblical authors are not trying to hide things from us with a code, but reveal things to us under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

The long and short of biblical perspicuity, then, is this:  finding codes, mysteries, and secrets that cater to our sinful lusts like greed, play “sound like” games with words across languages, and rip words out of a text and shoehorn them into meaning something which, contextually, they clearly do not and cannot mean are not only not biblical, they’re evil.  God wants us to understand and follow His Word – not be confused by it and misinterpret it.

So the next time you open your Bible, don’t pull out your decoder ring, pull out your reading glasses.  They’ll work much better.  And you’ll be much more edified.


[1]The Biblical Money Code,” newsmax.com

[2] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, vol. 1 (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1950), 320.

[3] John Chrysostom, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, series 1, vol. 13, P. Schaff, ed. (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 507.

January 13, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

When A Little Is A Lot

Mustard SeedIt has long struck me how God can do so much with so little.  A little bit of water and the name of God spoken over us in baptism – and we are brought into the family of Christ.  A little bit of bread and a little bit of wine – and we receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  It doesn’t take much for God to do great things!

I was reminded of this point once again as I was teaching Daniel 10.  In this curious chapter, Daniel receives a vision of “a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around His waist.  His body was like chrysolite, His face like lightning, His eyes like flaming torches, His arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and His voice like the sound of a multitude” (Daniel 10:5-6).  The characteristics of this man are strikingly similar to those used to describe Jesus in Revelation:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me.  And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest.  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (Revelation 1:12-15)

Daniel, it seems, is having an encounter with the pre-incarnate Christ.

What is Christ doing before His incarnation?  What He does after His incarnation:  fighting the forces of evil.   He says, “I will return to fight against the prince of Persia” (Daniel 10:20).  Many scholars take this reference to “the prince of Persia” as a reference to a fallen angel and not to the human leader of Persia at this time, Cyrus.  After this prince of Persia, Jesus says, will come the king of Greece.  And then, Jesus ends the chapter by saying, “No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince” (Daniel 10:21).

It is verse 21 that especially struck me.  It is just the Son of God and His archangel Michael against the many and varied forces of darkness and evil.  Daniel 11 goes into detail concerning those many and varied dark forces.  It’s two forces for good marshaled against a countless number of forces for evil.  It’s a little against a lot.  And yet, good carries the day:

At that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:1-2)

Evil is consigned to everlasting contempt.  The redeemed of the Lord enjoy everlasting life.  The seemingly little forces for good defeat the massive forces of evil.

Throughout the Bible, evil constantly seeks to gain power using sheer numbers.  The Psalmist writes about how “the kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One” (Psalm 2:2).  But no matter how many forces evil may be able to marshal, evil is no match for the goodness of God.  The quantity of evil foes is no match for the perfect quality of God’s goodness.   As Luther writes in “A Mighty Fortress” of God’s power against the devil and minions:  “One little word can fell him.”  One little word of God can destroy vast army of evil.  And that little word has already by spoken from the cross:  “It is finished” (John 19:30).  From the cross, Jesus sealed Satan’s fate with just a little word.  For “It is finished” means “Satan is finished.”  This little word defeated great evil and saved us.

So never overlook the little things of God.  A little can do a lot.  After all, what the world thought was nothing more than an insignificant execution on a cross wound up offering salvation to all humanity.  From a little cross flows big hope.

February 18, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Decisions, Decisions

It’s almost become a Keystone Cops routine.  Every Sunday following worship, my wife Melody and I try to decide where to go out to eat.  “Where do you want to go?” I ask my wife affectionately.  “I don’t know,” she responds.  “Where do you want to go?”  “I don’t know,” I fire back.  “That’s why I was asking you.”  After fifteen to minutes of pondering all the different places at which we could eat, we usually decide that neither of us are really in the mood for any of it and so we head home to eat leftovers.  When it comes to eating out, we have a hard time making decisions.

Perhaps we’re not alone.  Perhaps you have a hard time making decisions too.  Maybe it’s when you make it to a restaurant and you have to decide what dish to order off a menu that is twelve pages long.  Maybe it’s when you’re out clothes shopping and you have to decide:  the blue outfit or the gray one?  Maybe it’s when you’re car shopping:  the sedan or the SUV?  Life’s choices are endless.  And even seemingly simple choices can sometimes feel overwhelming.

One of the glories of the gospel is that it relieves us of the responsibility of choosing that which is most important.  From the Bible’s beginnings, we read of a God who makes and clear and decisive choices when it matters most so that we don’t have to.  Consider the following:

  • “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him” (Genesis 20:18-19).
  • “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
  • “Rejoice before the LORD your God at the place He will choose as a dwelling for His Name” (Deuteronomy 16:11).

Time and time again, God chooses.  In fact, the gospel assures us that God has chosen us to be saved through faith by His Son.  As Jesus Himself says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16).  And as the apostle Paul writes, “For God chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Ephesians 1:4).  God chooses us.

Sometimes, people take umbrage with God’s choice of people for salvation.  They want to be able to choose God for themselves.  They want to be masters of their own eternities.  But were our eternities left up to our own choices, we would most certainly make the wrong choices.  We read example after example in the Scriptures of people who choose the wrong way of sin rather than the right road of salvation.  The ancient Israelites choose apostasy through idolatry.  The first century Pharisees choose arrogance through self-righteousness.  And we choose our own desires over God’s command.  When it comes to choosing God, left to our own devices, we will always and only say, “No.”

Blessedly, God does not allow our choices against Him and for damnation to stand.  Instead, He rescues many people from their bad choices through His righteous choice!  And if I can’t even decide where to go to lunch, I sure am glad that I don’t have to decide on my salvation.  Aren’t you glad too?

September 3, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Pastoral Statement on President Obama’s Endorsement of Same-Sex Marriage

Dear Friends in Christ,

The issues of same-sex marriage, or gay marriage, and the broader topic of homosexuality are not only “hot” topics in our society, they are also tender issues that reach to the heart of many families and individuals.  These are issues laced with personal and familial experiences that strike at the basic need we all share to love and be loved.  As a result, it is difficult to discuss these matters objectively.  Our desire is to do that very thing – to present these issues from a loving and compassionate perspective that seeks to share Biblical truth without compromising our desire to love all people (as Christ has loved us) without regard for their sexual orientation.

The Christian Church is often painted as “the enemy” of homosexual people.  Unfortunately, this picture has often been exacerbated by poor and confusing communication from the Church. We, however, see this characterization as a misunderstanding of the Church and its role.  Christian people are called to commit themselves to God and His Word.  In doing so, we are called to love all people unconditionally while also standing firm on the truths expressed in the holy Word of God.

In response to many questions and concerns expressed over President Obama’s recent statements regarding gay marriage, we have prepared this statement.  On the surface, this may seem a clear-cut issue to people on all sides of the argument.  However, it is our belief that this issue is complicated and worthy of careful consideration.  As a result, this statement is lengthy.  Please take the time to work your way through each of the topics and consider each point.  Please also, as time allows, take the time to consider the additional resources listed at the end of this document.

Finally, as you read this statement, know that we, your pastors, love you and your families.  Our passion to share God’s love and encouragement with you, your families, and all people is deep and compelling in our lives.  If you have concerns or questions about this document, please contact us.

God bless you!


Bill Tucker, Senior Pastor
Concordia Lutheran Church, San Antonio, Texas
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com

A Summary of the Statement

This past Wednesday, in an interview with ABC News, President Obama expressed his support of same-sex marriage. In response to the widespread questions over the president’s comments, we thought it would be helpful to address the biblical stance on same-sex marriage in a four-section statement, prepared by the pastors of Concordia Lutheran Church.  Because we know that not everyone will have the time or the inclination to read the full statement, what follows is a brief summary of the major points of the paper.

Compassion and Conviction
As Christians, we are called to address every sin and every sinner with both compassion and conviction.  This is also true when it comes to the sins of homosexual activity and same-sex marriage.  We must speak compassionately to those in homosexual lifestyles, calling to their attention Jesus’ offer of salvation for those trapped in sexual sin (cf. Matthew 21:31).  At the same time, we must also speak with conviction concerning the sinfulness of homosexual activity specifically and all sexual immorality generally (cf. Romans 1:25-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-12).

The Marriage Model
Our society is losing respect for the biblical model of marriage as a lifelong covenant relationship between one man and one woman until death parts them (cf. Matthew 19:4-6).  The passage of no-fault divorce laws in many states, the prevalence of adultery, pre-marital sex, pornography, and marital abuse all demonstrate this.  President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage is merely the latest example of an affront against the biblical model of marriage.

Civic Policy and the Divine Order
Christians can stand against same-sex marriage not only on the basis of the Scriptural witness, but also on the basis of natural, moral law.  Because certain moral mandates are written on the heart of every human being (cf. Romans 2:14-15), our society adheres to a broad moral standard, derived from the natural order of things in our world.  This is why murder, stealing, lying, and the like are punishable by our civic system.  If we follow the natural order of things on these moral issues, why would we abandon this order when it comes to same-sex marriage?

Authority and Autonomy
Our society has a tendency to make moral judgments based not on absolute truth, but on shifting popular opinion.  President Obama himself exemplifies this method of moralizing when, in his interview, he references practicing homosexuals he knows and has known as justification for his endorsement of same-sex marriage.  As Christians, however, we cannot embrace the shifting sensibilities of our culture or our personal preferences to form our moral stances.  Instead, we must turn to the one and final standard of morality and goodness:  God Himself, revealed through His Word (cf. Luke 18:19).

We encourage you to read the full statement to learn more.  As Christians committed to the witness of Scripture, this is most certainly an issue worthy of our time, attention, and thought.

A Pastoral Statement on President Obama’s Endorsement
of Same-Sex Marriage

This past Wednesday, in an interview with ABC News, President Obama expressed his support of what is commonly referred to as same-sex marriage, or gay marriage:

I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.[1]

President Obama’s comments mark a major milestone in presidential politics.  Never has an incumbent president called for the transformation of one of society’s foundational institutions.  Not surprisingly, a fury of political, sociological, and theological punditry has erupted around the president’s statements.

In response to the widespread questions over the president’s stance, because of the rampant confusion over homosexuality and its morality, and because this issue is not merely theoretical, but also relational and personal for many people, we thought it would be prudent to briefly address the biblical stance on this topic in four sections.  These sections include:  (1) The importance of speaking with both compassion and conviction about homosexuality and to homosexuals; (2) Reiterating the biblical model for marriage; (3) Understanding the interplay between the civic, political realm and the natural, moral realm; and (4) Submitting to Scripture’s authority while recognizing the dangers of our rampant cultural autonomy.  Let’s address each of these areas briefly.

Compassion and Conviction

Holy Scripture is clear in its command:  we are to show compassion to those caught in sexual sin, including homosexual sin, and we are to show and share the hope and forgiveness of the gospel with all sinners.  Indeed, Jesus was known for His compassion toward those mired in sexual sin and even opened His kingdom to them.   He says to the religious leaders of His day, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31).  People caught in sexual sin are included in God’s kingdom through faith in Christ.  Such is the compassion and grace of our God.  When a woman is caught in the act of adultery and the religious leaders seek to stone her, Jesus sends her accusers away and says, “I [do not] condemn you…Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).  In an act of extravagant compassion and grace, Jesus forgives this woman’s sin and saves her life.  It is important to note, however, that while Jesus offers His deep compassion, at the same time, He refuses to compromise His core conviction concerning the immorality of sexual sin.  He calls this woman to repent of her sin and not to return to it.  Thus, Jesus holds His compassion and conviction in perfect tension.  This is why the Bible says that Jesus comes to us “full of grace [i.e., compassion] and truth [i.e., conviction]” (John 1:14).  Both conviction and compassion are needed in a Christian’s response to homosexuality.  This means that our homosexual neighbors, friends, and family members deserve both our love and kindness as well as our candid thoughts and concerns.

With this in mind, just as we are compelled by Holy Scripture to show compassion toward those trapped in homosexual sin, we are also compelled by Holy Scripture to state our conviction that homosexual activity is sinful.  The apostle Paul writes pointedly:

[People have] exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:25-27)

Please notice two things about Paul’s statements, inspired by the Holy Spirit, concerning homosexuality.  First, at the root of the sin of homosexual practice is the sin of idolatry.  The apostle argues that homosexual relationships exchange “the truth of God for a lie” and worship “created things [i.e., sexual desire] rather than the Creator.”  Sexual sin, along with every other sin, tries to do no less than dethrone God and crown our own desires as supreme, regardless of and in contradiction to God’s will!  It is an affront against the First Commandment:  “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).  Second, Paul clearly sees homosexual activity as morally unacceptable.  Words such as “indecent” and “perversion” in verse 27 make this clear enough.  Moreover, in verse 24, Paul calls homosexual activity a “sinful desire,” “sexual impurity,” and “degrading.”  Scripture’s conviction on the practice of homosexuality is unequivocal:  it is sinful.

The Marriage Model

President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage is merely the latest in a long line of attacks resulting in the slow erosion of respect for the biblical model of marriage.   Skye Jethani of Christianity Today explains:

The church was silent when state after state passed no-fault divorce laws.  These bills essentially removed the state from any interest in preserving or defining marriage.  No fault divorce laws defined marriage as an agreement between two individuals that may be entered or dissolved as the individuals desire without state interference or prejudice.[2]

The final sentence is key.  For if marriage is defined civically as merely “an agreement between two individuals that may be entered or dissolved as the individuals desire without state interference of prejudice,” the state is stripped of its ability to offer any definition of who those two individuals are and the kind of commitment those two individuals make.  Is marriage between a man and a woman?  A man and a man?  A woman and a woman?  Is it entered into under the assumption that it will be a lifelong union?  None of this is defined à la our states’ no-fault divorce laws.  Thus, so-called gay marriage is merely a consequential progression of the ambiguous marriage laws already on the books.

The Bible is not nearly so ambiguous.  Its stance is clear:  marriage is meant to be a life-long covenant relationship between one man and one woman until death parts them.  This is part and parcel of God’s created order: “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  This created order is reiterated and reinforced by Jesus Himself:  “Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

The desire of Christians, then, should not be only to stand against same-sex marriage while loving homosexual people, but to stand for biblical marriage, being defined as the union between one man and one woman.  This means that we ought to raise the alarm not only over same-sex marriage, but over adultery, pornography, divorce, abuse, and anything else that impugns the biblical model of marriage where one woman and one man commit to each other, become one flesh through sexual intimacy, and serve, honor, and love each other.  Indeed, every married Christian should strive to attain this model in his or her marriage.  Marriage is God’s gift to us, bestowed in love, and is intended to be both an example of His love for us (cf. Ephesians 5:31-32) and an opportunity for us to experience the blessing and joy of loving each other.

Civic Policy and the Divine Order

When President Obama made his comments supporting same-sex marriage, more than one evangelical Christian rushed to his defense.  Consider this from an evangelical blogger:

Supporting gay marriage is not supporting sin. I know it is hard to grasp, but this matter has nothing to do with whether or not homosexuality is a sin. If it does, then you are probably being inconsistent since there are lots of things that Christians consider “sinful” that they do not legislate against. For instance, if God wants us as a nation to live by His laws, why are we okay supporting the freedom of religion? Shouldn’t we be out trying to ban other religions? If we are okay with freedom of religion, which is a law that basically mandates that our country allow for idolatry (according to the Christian), aren’t we being hypocritical?[3]

At first glance, some may find this argument compelling.  If we support legislation against gay marriage because of our Christian belief that homosexuality is a sin, what other legislation are we required to support?  Is insisting on a federally mandated Christianity an inextricable consequence of supporting a traditional definition of marriage in our civic law as this blogger suggests?

It is important to understand that legislation supporting traditional marriage is not theologically identical to federally mandated Christianity.  The difference between the two can be found in the distinction between general revelation and special revelation.  General revelation is that which can be known apart from Holy Scripture simply by observing God’s created order and the moral implications of this created order.   Another name for this is “natural law.”  Many of the Ten Commandments fall under this category of natural, moral law.   For instance, our society still recognizes that murder runs contrary to natural, moral law.  Likewise, lying, stealing, and (before the no-fault divorce laws cited above) even adultery has been considered by society-at-large to run contrary to this law.  Thus, one does not have to be a Christian to accept and adhere to natural, moral law because this law is written on the hearts of all people apart from Scripture and faith in Christ (cf. Romans 2:14-15).  In light of the universal character of this law, there are (and always have been) legal consequences in our civic system for actions which contradict natural law.

Homosexual practice and its immorality fall squarely within the realm of general revelation and natural, moral law.  Consider again Paul’s argument against homosexuality in Romans 1:

Women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:26-27)

Once more, note Paul’s language.  He speaks of “natural” and “unnatural” relations.  “Natural” relations are those within heterosexual marriage while “unnatural” relations are those that are homosexual.  In this passage, then, Paul does not argue against homosexuality using a divine command, but using creation’s natural order.  Thus, same sex marriage is contrary to natural, moral law.  And if we as a society honor natural, moral law in instances such as murder, stealing, lying, and the like, why abandon such a precedent when it comes to marriage?

Special revelation is a different matter.  Special revelation refers to that which can be known only through the Bible and has to do with God’s specific and special plan to redeem humanity from its sinful condition.  General revelation, then, encompasses all people while special revelation is found exclusively in the Old and New Testament Scriptures and declares a specific message of salvation through Christ.  Thus, though Christians can support legislation that is broadly moral and applies to all according to the divine ordering of creation, we put ourselves in a precarious position when we demand civic laws that are specifically Christian in nature because faith in Christ cannot be coerced by legislation, it can only be shared by our witness.  This is why, while standing against same-sex marriage, Christians do not demand legislation that forces people to worship the Triune God.  Worship of the Triune God can be brought about only by faith in the gospel and not an edict of the government.

Authority and Autonomy

The way in which the news media has reported President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage has been quite telling concerning the way many of us often craft our moral views.  Consider the following from CNN:  “A Gallup Poll released Tuesday indicated 50% of Americans believe same-sex marriages should be recognized by law as valid, with 48% saying such marriages should not be legal.”[4]  Many will cite polls like this one to make the case for the moral acceptability of gay marriage, making morality a mere function of democratic enterprise.  Indeed, President Obama even cited a democratic acceptance of homosexuality, albeit in an anecdotal way, as part of his reasoning for endorsing same-sex marriage.  Consider again his statement:

I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.[5]

President Obama’s reasoning for same-sex marriage is simply this:  because he knows many people who are practicing homosexuals and are in committed relationships, same-sex marriage must be allowed!

As Christians, we must recognize this kind of reasoning for what it is:  the expression of an individual moral autonomy that has influenced the thinking of President Obama as well as many in our society.  This autonomy refuses to believe in any authority outside of itself.  Blogger Rod Dreher summarizes:

This is the fundamental problem we face when we argue over gay marriage, abortion, contraception, and so forth. It’s not about rights, not really; it’s about what it means to be a person, and what is the ultimate source of morality.[6]

The fact of the matter is, for many people, “the ultimate source of morality,” as Dreher calls it, is nothing more than an individual’s own sensibilities and sensitivities.  In other words, there is no standard of morality external to each individual.  All morality is merely a personal construct, erasing absolute truth.  This view of morality, of course, runs directly contrary to the Christian moral imperative which sees moral standards as external, rooted in the divine order and, finally, in God Himself!  As Jesus says, “No one is good – except God alone” (Luke 18:19).  God is the one and final standard of goodness and morality.  And He reveals His standard to us through His Word.

Moreover, when our culture’s autonomous morality is coupled with a selfish hedonism, the results are predictable.  Many people cannot imagine a God who would not want them to be happy.  If homosexual activity brings them such happiness, the argument runs, such activity cannot be wrong.  Statements such as, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25) are either ignored or rejected as impediments to personal fulfillment and happiness.  Denying personal and sinful desires in deference to Christ and His call is clearly out of step with our prevailing culture autonomy.

As Christians, we are called to witness to the vanity of such hedonistic pursuits.  Even when denying oneself is difficult – especially in the arena of sexual desire, be that heterosexual or homosexual desire – we are called to declare the message that pursuing any desire in a way that is not consistent with God’s design will ultimately lead a person into choices that violate both divine law and basic moral constraints.  True fulfillment and satisfaction, along with the strength to overcome our old, sinful nature, can be found only in Christ.  As Paul writes, “My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).  And as Jesus promises, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  Everything we need for fullness of life is found in Christ!

It is our prayer that this statement serves as a guide to clarify both the biblical record and its natural, moral law corollaries on same-sex marriage.  We believe such a stance is foundational and necessary to the decent order and function of society-at-large.  We hope, as well, that this statement can be of help to those seeking to share with others a charitable Christian perspective on this issue.  We remain committed to both the biblical conviction against same-sex marriage and the biblical mandate to compassionately share Christ’s love with all people regardless of sexual orientation.

Additional Resources

If you would like additional resources which address President Obama’s statement endorsing same-sex marriage from a Christian perspective, you can consult the following:


[1] Rick Klein, “Obama Declares Support for Gay Marriage” (5.9.12), http://news.yahoo.com/obama-announces-his-support-for-same-sex-marriage.html.

[2] Skye Jethani, “Obama Endorses Same Sex Marriage – Now What?” (5.10.12), http://www.outofur.com/archives/2012/05/obama_endorses.html.

[3] Jared Byas, “I Still Stand as an Evangelical for Gay Marriage” (5.9.12), http://jbyas.com/2012/05/09/i-still-stand-as-an-evangelical-for-gay-marriage/.

[4] Phil Gast, “Obama Announces He Supports Same-Sex Marriage” (5.9.12), http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/09/politics/obama-same-sex-marriage/index.html.

[5] http://news.yahoo.com/obama-announces-his-support-for-same-sex-marriage.html.

[6] Rod Dreher, “Same-Sex Marriage & Post-Christianity” (5.8.12), http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/2012/05/08/same-sex-marriage-post-christian/.

May 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm 2 comments

A Pastoral Response to Mormonism in the Public and Political Square

With the election cycle kicking into full gear, politicians, pastors, and pundits are beginning to offer endorsements with regard to who they would like to see elected President of the United States.  At the Values Voter Summit, in an endorsement for Rick Perry, a Republican candidate for president, Robert Jeffress, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, asked, “Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or do we want a candidate who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?”[1]  Following his remarks, Pastor Jeffress was asked to clarify his comments and explain specifically what he thought of Rick Perry over and against another frontrunner candidate, Mitt Romney, to whom he seemed to allude when he spoke of a “good, moral person.”  The pastor replied, “Rick Perry’s a Christian.  He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.  Mitt Romney’s a good, moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity.  It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”[2]  These remarks sparked a firestorm, with many voters and reporters alike indignant that the pastor would designate Mormonism as a “cult.”

Because of the attention and ire that Pastor Jeffress’ comments have drawn, we have received many questions concerning the Mormon Church[3] and its relationship to mainstream Christianity.  In light of these questions, we thought it would be appropriate to briefly address the teachings of Mormonism theologically, the status of Mormonism religiously, and the duty Christians have as voting citizens vocationally.  Here is a broad overview of what is to follow.

First, we will discuss how Mormonism cannot be considered a part of historic, orthodox Christianity.  Its teachings concerning the Trinity, the nature of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are far removed from biblical and historical Christian teaching.  Mormonism does not confess the Trinity nor does it believe that a person is saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone.  Rather, Mormons believe they are saved by grace and their works.

Next, we will tackle the question du jour, “Is Mormonism a cult?”  Theologically, we can say that Mormonism is a cult, for it claims new, advanced, divine revelation in addition to the Bible. Psychologically and sociologically, the validity of calling Mormonism a cult becomes less clear.  A cult, as the word is used in its secular sense, denotes a body which is explicitly psychologically and sociologically subversive.  Mormonism does not necessarily bear this hallmark of a cult.  Thus, when we call Mormonism a “cult,” it is important that we define the term.

Finally, we will ask the question, “May Christians vote for a candidate who is not a Christian?”  In this section, we will discuss how because those in political offices rule in the kingdom of the world and not in the Kingdom of God, they can be competent to rule even if they are not Christian.  Christians are free to pick the most competent candidate, even if he is not a Christian candidate, for political office.

With this overview, we now move to discuss each of the above points in more depth.

The Teachings of Mormonism

First, we turn to the teachings of Mormonism from a theological perspective.  As stated previously, theologically, we must understand that Mormonism cannot be considered a part of historic, orthodox Christianity.  Indeed, Mormonism explicitly rejects claims that it is part of the Christian tradition.  Mormonism teaches that before May 15, 1829, there was no true Church on earth.  It was on this day that John the Baptist allegedly visited Joseph Smith and conferred upon him and his friend, Oliver Cowdery, the Aaronic priesthood.  Before this prophetic encounter with John the Baptist, Mormons claim, “There was no one living in mortality who held the keys to this Priesthood.”[4]  In other words, before this time, Mormons teach that no one had the priestly pedigree to be a part of true Christianity.  It had been completely lost from the days of the apostles.  Thus, according to their own statements, Mormons claim to be the restoration and repristination of Christianity and not a part of the history or orthodoxy of the Church over the past two thousand years.  Therefore, we should take Mormons at their word and not call them “Christians” in any historic or orthodox sense.

A brief survey of Mormon beliefs reveals that Mormons are indeed far removed from traditional and foundational Christian doctrines.

The Trinity

To begin with, Mormons reject the doctrine of the Trinity which states that there is one God, consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal persons:  “Latter-Day Saints reject the doctrines of the Trinity as taught by most Christian churches today.”[5]  Mormons also have beliefs about the individual persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that are at wide variance with traditional Christianity.  For instance, they teach, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”[6]  It should be noted that this flatly contradicts the Scriptural witness that “God is spirit” (John 4:24)[7] and “a spirit does not have flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39).  Moreover, Mormons teach that God was once a man:  “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”[8]  This, of course, denies the immutability and the eternality of God (cf. Malachi 3:6, Psalm 90:2).

Christology

As for Christ, Mormonism teaches that Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer.  Mormons espouse that when the world was in need of a Savior, both Jesus and Satan presented their cases before the Father as to who would make the better Redeemer.  Then, “after hearing both sons speak, Heavenly Father said, ‘I will send the first.’ Jesus Christ was chosen and ordained to be our Savior.”[9]  Certainly this fanciful meeting between the Father, Son, and Satan is far outside the pale of biblical Christianity.  Jesus is consistently referred to as God’s “only Son” (John 1:14, 3:16, 18, 1 John 4:9) and, as such, was not chosen to be the Savior over any other Messianic contenders, especially Satan.  Instead, God planned our salvation in Christ from “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).  Salvation in Christ was God’s original and eternal plan.

Salvation

With such a skewed Trinitarian theology and Christology, it is no surprise that the Mormon gospel of salvation is really no gospel at all.  For Mormons, salvation is two-fold.  First, salvation is a person’s personal progression to divinity.  That is, Mormons believe humans can become gods.  Joseph Smith explains:  “Here, then, is eternal life – to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves…To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of God, and ascend the throne of eternal power.”[10]  This is not only an untrue statement, but resonates all the way back to the Garden of Eden where Satan tempted Adam and Eve to believe they could usurp God’s position and prerogative.  This is why he says to Adam and Eve, when he is trying to entice them to eat God’s forbidden fruit, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).  Mormons jettison a fundamental distinction of Christian theology:  the distinction between the created and the Creator.  They imagine that creatures can become like the Creator.  This is flatly false.

Second, Mormons teach that salvation is ultimately a product of a person’s moral progression.  Though Mormons believe that humans are saved by grace, they do not believe they are saved by grace alone.  A famous and oft-quoted passage from the Book of Mormon makes this clear enough:  “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”[11]  Contrast this with the apostle Paul’s famous words concerning God’s grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this isnot your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Jesus’ work on the cross for our salvation is complete.  There is no work we can do to contribute to our salvation.

This is only a small sampling of the false teachings promulgated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Other teachings, as well as the historical and moral veracity of Mormonism’s sacred writings, are highly suspect as well.[12]  Therefore, whatever one may believe about Mormonism’s moral value or theological worth, it cannot be said that Mormonism is “Christian” in any traditional sense of the term.  Albert Mohler summarizes the problem with Mormon theology well:

Mormonism borrows Christian themes, personalities, and narratives. Nevertheless, it rejects what orthodox Christianity affirms and it affirms what orthodox Christianity rejects. It is not orthodox Christianity in a new form or another branch of the Christian tradition. By its own teachings and claims, it rejects any claim of continuity with orthodox Christianity. Insofar as an individual Mormon holds to the teachings of the Latter-Day Saints, he or she repudiates biblical Christianity.[13]

In short, Mormonism is not Christianity, nor is it a branch or part of Christianity.  If you’d like to learn more about Mormonism and its theological teachings, you can find a wealth of resources at http://www.evidenceministries.org.[14]

The Status of Mormonism

Having addressed the teachings of Mormonism theologically, we now move to discuss the status of Mormonism religiously.  Pastor Jeffress called the religion a “cult.”  Is it?

In its original context, the word “cult” did not carry with it the negative connotations it has today.  The word comes from the Latin cultus, originally describing merely the worship of a deity.  Today, however, this word carries with it a wide variety of definitions, many of them sounding sinister.  For the sake of brevity, we will examine two definitions of this word – the first being theological in nature and the second being psychological and sociological in nature – and evaluate the status of Mormonism as a cult accordingly.

Theologically, a good definition of a “cult” can be found in the book, The Future of Religion:  Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation.  In this work, sociologists Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge define a “cult” thusly:  “The cult is something new vis-à-vis the other religious bodies of the society…The cult adds to that culture a new revelation or insight justifying the claim that it is different, new, ‘more advanced.’”[15]  According to this definition, Mormonism clearly qualifies as a cult.  It is a new revelation and religion which objects to the historic, orthodox Christian position as something corrupt and apostate.  Indeed, the very byline of The Book of Mormon, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” is a claim of additional, peculiar, and advanced revelation.  In this sense, then, Pastor Jeffress is correct.  Mormonism is considered to be a cult by most major evangelical denominations and is often called a cult within our own church body, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.[16]

Psychologically and sociologically, we can use a definition of a “cult” from Louis Joylon West:

A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc.) designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders.[17]

According to West, a cult is that which is explicitly psychologically and sociologically subversive.   It brings to mind people such as Jim Jones and David Koresh and their movements rather than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.[18] Much of the outrage in the media over Pastor Jeffress’ words calling Mormonism a cult would seem to stem from defining the word “cult” psychologically and sociologically rather than theologically.

As Christians, who are called to think theologically about issues such as this, we can indeed call Mormonism a “cult” because of its claim to additional revelation apart from and outside of Holy Scripture which results in the maligning of Christian theology.  This designation, however, does not necessarily imply that Mormonism has all the psychological and sociological hallmarks of a cult.  A Christian’s designation of Mormonism as a cult is primarily a theological rather than a psychological and sociological one.

Our Duty as Christians

Lastly, we move to consider how we, as Christian citizens, can respond to this controversy vocationally.  The word “vocation” is from the Latin vocatio and means “calling.”  The doctrine of vocation states that all Christians have been called by God to serve in different stations in life – whether that be the station of an employee, an employer, a husband, a wife, a mother, a father, a child, a volunteer, etc.[19]  One of the vocations, or callings, God has given to Christians is that of “citizen.”  On the one hand, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom by faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19).  On the other hand, we are also citizens, either by birth or by naturalization, of a particular country.  This earthly vocation of citizen, in turn, comes with both duties (e.g., Luke 20:21-25) and privileges (e.g., Acts 22:25) as determined by governing authorities which are themselves instituted by God.[20]  One of the duties and privileges United States citizens carry is that of voting for the country’s president.  As Christians, the question arises: “How can I vote in a way that is faithful to God while also seeking to elect a person who will do the best job leading the country?”

It must be noted that there is no easy – or singular – answer to this question.  Nevertheless, there are some guiding principles which can help us cast an informed vote.

First, it is important to understand that, while we, as Christians, live in two kingdoms – the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man – the leaders we elect rule over only one kingdom – the kingdom of man.  Thus, our primary concern should be with their competence to lead in this kingdom.  This means that when we vote, we should consider a candidate’s familiarity with our Constitution and laws and his ability to navigate the intricacies of our legislative process.  If he is inept in either of these areas, this should give us pause.  A public official’s inability to operate effectively inside our nation’s governmental system can spell disaster for our public policy and welfare, for the official will be unable to execute the demands of his office.  Competence is key.

Second, we must also understand that some of the spiritual concerns of the Kingdom of God are part of the natural, moral law which God has placed in this world and thus pertain to the political and public policy making of the kingdom of man.[21]  Issues such as abortion, which pertains to the natural, moral duty we have to uphold human life (cf. Exodus 20:13),[22] homosexuality, which goes against the natural design of creation (cf. Romans 1:26-27), and care for those who cannot care for themselves, to which we are naturally inclined despite our depravity (cf. Matthew 7:9-11), ought to be taken into consideration as we decide for whom we will vote.  If a candidate runs a platform contrary to natural, moral law, this too should give us pause, for this candidate can potentially do harm to our nation’s citizens.

With these two criteria in mind, then, we have a Christian duty to vote for candidates who, on the one hand, are capable and competent to rule in the kingdom of man, for this is what they are called to do, while, on the other hand, are at the same time aligned with those concerns of the natural, moral law of God which pertain to the political and public policy making in the kingdom of man.

All of this is to say that a candidate does not have to be Christian to be a suitable candidate for public office, though we can certainly be thankful that there are Christians in public and political offices. Ultimately, Luther would advise us to vote for a competent candidate, even if he is not personally moral or Christian:

The reasonable question has been put whether it is better to have a good but imprudent ruler…or a prudent but personally bad one.  Moses here certainly calls for both [ref. Deuteronomy 1:13-16]: a good and prudent ruler.  However, if both qualifications cannot be had, a prudent ruler who is not personally good is better than a good one who is not prudent, because a good one rules nothing but is only ruled – and only by the worst of people.  Even though a prudent but personally bad ruler may harm the good people, he nevertheless rules the evil ones at the same time; and this is more necessary and proper for the world, since the world is nothing but a mass of evil people.[23]

Because a politician rules in the kingdom of man, his competence to do so should be the primary criterion used in discerning his fitness for office.  If he is a Christian, great!  If not, it is better to have a competent ruler who is not a Christian than an incompetent ruler who is a Christian.

Finally, Christians, out of theological conviction and consecrated consciences, can and do vote for different candidates.  Because we live in a sinful and fallen world and, as such, we vote for sinful and fallen candidates, Christians come to differing conclusions as to which candidate would best serve in a particular public office.  Christians’ consciences need not be unduly bound in such decisions.  The pastors of Concordia believe that, given the choice between two candidates of equal competence, if one is a Christian and the other is not, wisdom instructs us to vote for the Christian candidate because he will not only serve his country skillfully as a politician, but faithfully as a Christian as he seeks God’s guidance.  This guidance will make his leadership in public office all the more effective.

Pastor Jeffress has endorsed Rick Perry for President of the United States.  As a citizen, he is certainly free to make this endorsement.  As a pastor, however, he must be careful speaking on behalf of a political candidate in a public forum such as the Values Voter Summit.  For his primary vocation as a pastor is the faithful stewardship of the gospel.  Anything that jeopardizes this stewardship is to be rejected.  The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod explains: “The church is a precious institution for us, which dare not be jeopardized by immersion in secular politics.”[24]  We, as Christian citizens of this country, are also free to endorse and vote for our preferred candidates.  However, our preferred candidates need not be the same as Pastor Jeffress’.  Each Christian can come to his own conclusions concerning for whom he will vote.

As citizens of this country, we are free to vote for whomever we want.  As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are free to vote in accordance with our consecrated consciences.  Thank God for both freedoms.


[1] Robert Jeffress at the Values Voter Summit, October 7, 2011, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700186158/Video-of-Pastor-Robert-Jeffress-at-Values-Voters-Summit.html.

[2] Associated Press, “Perry Backer: Romney in a ‘Cult,’ Not a Christian,” http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/10/07/perry-backer-romney-in-cult-not-christian/.

[3] “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” is the official and legal name of what is colloquially called “the Mormon Church.”  Both names are used interchangeably throughout this statement.

[4] Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1922) 68.

[5] Daniel Peterson and Stephen Ricks, “Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity” (March 1988) http://lds.org/ensign/1988/03/comparing-lds-beliefs-with-first-century-christianity?lang=eng.

[6] Doctrine and Covenants, 130.22, http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/130?lang=eng.

[7] Scriptural citations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2001).

[8] Achieving a Celestial Marriage: Student Manual (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1992) 129.

[9] Gospel Principles, Chapter 3, http://lds.org/library/display/0,4945,11-1-13-6,00.html.

[10] Joseph Smith cited in R. Philip Roberts, Mormonism Unmasked (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1998) 55.

[11] The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1981) 2 Nephi 25:23.

[12] For instance, The Book of Mormon makes an inaccurate historical claim that Jesus was born in Jerusalem (Alma 7:10).  He was born in Bethlehem.  The Book of Mormon becomes morally suspect when one realizes that Joseph Smith plagiarized large portions of the King James Version of the Bible and inserted them wholesale into his work (e.g., compare Moroni 10 with 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, 2 Nephi 14 with Isaiah 4, and 2 Nephi 12 with Isaiah 2).  Moreover, Joseph Smith claimed to have translated The Pearl of Great Price, part of the Mormon canon of scriptures, from Egyptian scrolls which he explained, “Contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.” (History of the Church 2:236).  Egyptologists have since found that these papyri are nothing more than standard Egyptian funereal documents, speaking of Egyptian gods and goddesses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Abraham).  Richard John Neuhaus says of Mormonism, “There is…the surpassingly awkward fact that not a single person, place, or event that is unique to the Book of Mormon has ever been proven to exist. Outside the fanum of true believers, these tales cannot help but appear to be the product of fantasy and fabrication” (http://www.irr.org/mit/neuhaus.html).

[13] Albert Mohler, “Mormonism, Democracy, and the Urgent Need for Evangelical Thinking” (October 10, 2011) http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/10/10/mormonism-democracy-and-the-urgent-need-for-evangelical-thinking/.

[14] If you would like to know more about the religious worldview of the Mormon Church, click the third slide on the Evidence Ministries home page. This article was written by the Mormon Church and appears in one of their official teaching manuals. In the opinion of Evidence Ministries, it is the best thing a Christian can read in order to understand the clearly non-Christian nature of Mormonism.

[15] Rodney Stark & William Sims Bainbridge, The Future of Religion:  Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985) 25-26.  Surprisingly, the authors later assert that Mormonism is not a cult, even though they admit that, according their own definition, Mormonism qualifies to be classified as such: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints presents problems of classification.  Clearly it is not just another protestant sect….The Mormon Church has added so much novel doctrine to the Christian-Judaic tradition that it represents a new religious tradition in its own right, and there can be no doubt that this tradition is deviant….Clearly, Mormonism fits our definition of a cult.  However, because the Mormons succeeded in building their Zion in the empty deserts of the West, most Mormons do not experience life as members of a religious minority.  In Utah, Mormonism is the dominant religious tradition, and this feeling sustains Mormons in nearby states as well.  For this reason…we classified schismatic Mormon groups in Utah as sects, coding such groups as cults only if they developed outside of Utah” (245).  Stark and Bainbridge do not classify Mormonism as a cult simply because of the number of Mormons in some western parts of the country.

[16] For instance, Edgar P. Kaiser’s short book, How To Respond to the Latter-Day Saints, is filed under “Cults” in Concordia Publishing House’s cataloging system.

[17] L.J. West & M.D. Langone, “Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers. Summary of proceedings of the Wingspread conference on cultism, 9-11 September” (Weston: American Family Foundation, 1985).

[18] It should be noted that Joseph Smith was known to be quite coercive, threatening damnation on young ladies so that he could procure them as his wives (http://www.irr.org/mit/neuhaus.html).  In this sense, Mormonism, during its formative stage, displayed some cult-like tendencies as they are defined above.

[19] For more on vocation, see Gene Veith, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002).

[20] Lutherans have always affirmed a legitimate role for government in the kingdom of this world.  Accordingly, we ought to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).  For a good discussion on the government’s role in the Christian’s life, see Render Unto Caesar…A Lutheran View of Church and State, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (September 1995) http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=465.

[21] Whether or not a person is a Christian, the Bible reminds us that God has instilled in each human being a natural, moral compass:  “For when Gentiles [i.e., pagans], who do not have the law [of God], by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15).  These verses remind us that there are basic moral strictures incumbent on every human being whether or not they are Christians.

[22] Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder,” is one of the Ten Commandments.  Lutherans have classically understood the Ten Commandments to be an expression of natural, moral law.  “The Ten Commandments had spread over the whole world not only before Moses but even before Abraham and all the patriarchs” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 47, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, eds. [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999] 89).   “In some way human reason naturally understands the [Ten Commandments] (for it has the same judgment divinely written in the mind)” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Paul McCain et al, eds. [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005] Ap IV 7).

[23] Martin Luther, What Luther Says, Ewald Plass, ed. (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1959) 582.

[24] Render Unto Caesar…A Lutheran View of Church and State, 91.

October 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm Leave a comment

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