Many Christians in North America are convinced that it is right and proper to own guns as not only a form of self-defense but potentially as an effective way to challenge and protect against an overbearing government. Many who hold this opinion quote Jesus when he urged his disciples, if they didn’t have a sword, to “sell your cloak and buy one.” Chuck Baldwin, described as an American politician and founder-pastor of Crossroad Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, has expressed his opinion in no uncertain terms: Jesus plainly and emphatically told Simon Peter and the others to arm themselves. So emphatic was Jesus’ command that He told them if they could not afford to purchase a sword they were instructed to sell their clothes if necessary and buy one…The First Century Roman sword was the most efficient and lethal personal defense weapon in the world at the time. It is no hyperbole or injustice to language to say that the Roman sword was the First Century equivalent to a modern AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. It was designed to kill swiftly and efficiently. And Jesus commanded His disciples to buy and carry one!
In Singlish, Jiak Kantang literally means to eat potato. It is, however, a less than flattering way of referring to Chinese Singaporeans who aspire to be more Western than Asian. For those proud of Chinese culture and history, the motives of those ‘guilty’ of Jiak Kantang may be questioned and their words, opinions, and faith rejected on that basis alone. In the words of Kong Hee, pastor of City Harvest Church in Singapore, “when we [Chinese] become Christians, somehow we are made to feel like we have forsaken our Chinese roots, that we have abandoned our Chinese heritage and culture.” Western churches and missions have, for centuries, remained faithful to Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations; however, by allowing culture, patriotism, and politics to infiltrate our faith, we are in danger of being perceived as purveyors of Western culture and not sharers of the gospel message.
The holiness, or ‘apartness’, of God is very evident in the Bible. His names tell of his eternal existence, his creative power, and his sovereignty. He is the God of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. Yet, as pointed out by Arthur Pink in The Attributes of God, “a study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.” The holiness of God demands judgment against sin, because sin is, by definition, what God is not.
Driving recently by a small country church, I was struck by the message displayed on the church sign: “Marriage is between a man and a woman.” Clearly, church leaders were protesting recent statements made by political leaders in support of gay marriage. While the message is sound teaching within the context of the church, what purpose does it serve when posted for those outside the church to see? Does it invite the spiritually needy to come hear the good news of Christ, or does it turn them away?
When we read in the news about the ayatollahs of Iran, they are often labeled as intolerant, oppressive, and reactionary. When religious leaders of any faith, though, become embroiled in politics or assume power in government, tolerance and understanding are often their first victims. Pope Nicholas V, for example, authorized European nations to condemn Muslims and others to perpetual slavery. The personal excesses of the infamous Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, caused many a death and brought shame to the world of Christendom. Pope Paul IV oppressed the Jews and trampled on their human rights, forcing them to live within the walls of Ghetto. Sadly, religion and politics often don’t mix.
Imagine that you are living in war-torn France during the Nazi occupation. You are hiding a Jewish family, providing them with food, shelter, and safe haven from those who seek their destruction. One morning, you answer a knock at the door and find yourself face to face with armed German inquisitors. They ask whether you are protecting a Jewish family. If you lie to them and their quarry is found, you will be executed. How would you answer their question?
Victoria Barnett, author of Bystanders: Conscience and Complicity During the Holocaust, has observed that churches in mid-20th century Europe viewed positive values as ‘Christian’ while negative developments were attributed to ‘Jewish’ influences. Ominously, in the German Evangelical Church, “allegiance to the concept of Christendom was linked to a strong nationalism.” Such opinions may have led many Europeans to turn a blind eye to anti-Semitic attitudes and policies. Some Christian leaders declared publicly their opposition to Jews while others saw no reason to risk their reputation and personal well-being by helping them. “While innocent victims throughout Europe were being brutally murdered, Christian leaders were debating points of doctrine.”
Last night, I happened to watch the boarding process for an international flight bound for Europe. At one point, a group of Muslim men arrived at the gate wearing traditional white caps and robes. All sported thick black beards, and most were obviously Middle Eastern. As they handed their boarding passes to the gate agent, a couple of homeland security guards rushed to the gate and pulled two of the men aside. In full view of other passengers, the men were subjected to many minutes of intense questioning. Eventually, they were released and allowed to board the flight.
A few days ago, 30 people were killed when insurgents in Afghanistan shot down a helicopter carrying American troops belonging to the unit that killed Osama bin Laden. Sadly, many religious people in the region will be praising God for his justice. Last year, the prominent atheist Christopher Hitchens was struck down with esophageal cancer. Sadly, Hitchens has been inundated with hate mail from supposed Christians who claim that the disease is a manifestation of God’s judgment. Recently, I heard a sermon in which the speaker, a talented and knowledgeable man, suggested that Britain lost its empire as a result of backtracking on the Balfour Declaration. When a nation turns against Israel, so the explanation goes, it faces the curse of God.
One of the previously excluded scenes restored in Amadeus Director’s Cut suggests the lengths to which Mozart’s wife, Constanze, might have gone to progress her husband’s career at Emperor Joseph’s court. Having been led along, less than subtly, by Salieri, she begins to remove her clothes in his private chambers – only for the court composer to ring for his servant to throw her out. Constanze tries to hide her shame as the servant arrives: In an instant, guile is transformed into guilt.