Friday, November 21, 2008

Defining Christians and Republicans (part two)

(concluded from part one)

Why say you is, when you ain't?
Why, then, would anyone want to call himself a "Christian" when he isn't one, when he doesn't embrace the core convictions that define what it means to be a Christian? Many reasons are possible. Here are four:

Wolf-in-sheep's-clothing phenomenon. Particularly in the case of leaders, clergy, or missionaries, if they want to fleece the flock, they won't get in if they appear in their true colors. Sheep One will say, "Dude! Wolf!" — and the sheep will go bleating off. So a cagey leader throws on a few cottony tufts, learns to say "Baa," and stuffs his silverware and A-1 into his pockets.

Social respectability. When a writer from a newspaper interviewed me, as a new pastor in a new town, I mentioned that I had not been raised as a Christian. My dear, late mother was very offended. To her (born 1916), in saying this I implied that I had not had a moral, civilized upbringing. I meant no such thing, of course; I simply meant I had not been raised in the Biblical, Christian faith.

But Mom represented an America in which to be an American was to be a Christian, which is to say a decent, moral, nominally-religious, vaguely "God"-fearing person. "Unchristian" had no doctrinal referent; it simply meant crude, rude, uncharitable, ill-bred.

So I think particularly in the case of politicians, there's enough of a civic memory of this time that it looks better to be a "Christian" than, say, a Hindu or an atheist. It gets you ten points in the Moral-O-Meter, and provides a nice "cover." (But only if you're not a fanatical about it. You can be a Jack Danforth "Christian," a Jimmy Carter "Christian,"a Bill Clinton "Christian,"a Barack Obama "Christian"— certainly not a Sarah Palin Christian.)

Many like to say they're Christians because they don't really understand the Gospel, but do like perceived benefits. Their notion doesn't include truths and implications such as Luke 9:23, Romans 6 and Hebrews 12. But they like their (mangled) understanding of gauzy themes such as forgiveness, acceptance, eternal hope. Their perversion of it is that they can live like Hell and hope for Heaven, and own a "Get Out Of Guilt Or Accountability" card, if they just say they're Christians. (See under Clinton, Bill; or, nauseatingly, the Gutless Grace subset of dispensationalists — who have much to answer for.)

Deeper down, though, lies suppressed God-consciousness. Paul says quite bluntly, that all men naturally "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). They know God, but choose not to honor Him as God (v. 21). So at bottom, they know they should be Christians; they want the comfort that comes from being a Christian. They like (as I said) the notions of being forgiven, of having hope, of thinking that that whole death-thingie has been taken care of, and All That. Plus, there's usually no immediate price to pay, in our culture, for saying you're a Christian. So, just say it, and all these wonderful prizes and parting-gifts are yours to keep.

So... can you say who is a Christian and who isn't?
Yes, and no.

That isn't nearly as wiggly as it sounds at first glance, so hang in with me.

When the GOP calls itself a "big tent," I always think, "But even the biggest tent still has walls." So where are the walls on a political party? I honestly don't know. I know where I think they should be — but in a party that equally has been home to Ronald Reagan and William Weld, Tom Coburn and Arlen Specter, I just don't know where they are.

At root, though, that is in large measure because the political party has no defining document, no transcendent and objective authority. This is not the case in Christianity. We have both: the Bible, and the triune God who inerrantly inspired its authorship. (NOTE: what follows is considered and condensed, not intended for skimming.)

The "yes" part
You'd think a religion called "Christianity" should have something to do with Christ, wouldn't you? And so, in a sane world, it would. Christ said: "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46 NKJ). Two critical truths at least are highlighted in this dominical bombshell: (1) confession of Jesus' Lordship is foundational; and (2) such a confession must be followed by acceptance of and obedience to His words.

Confession of His Lordship. Jesus Himself put this confession as foundational to the church. Confession that Jesus is Lord, Christ, God incarnate is the foundation-rock on which the church must be built (Matthew 16:16-19; cf. Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 3:11). This is the confession that the Holy Spirit inspires (1 Corinthians 12:3b). It is both goal and result of His death on the Cross, and bodily resurrection (Romans 14:9).

Obviously Jesus is Lord in the sense that He is the absolute authority, both supreme teacher and supreme master. Jesus clearly has this in mind in Luke 6:46. But "Lord" is also a common title for Deity throughout the Old Testament — that is, for God. And indeed the Christian confesses Jesus as both his Lord and his God (John 20:28).

This actually all forms a sort of endless (but constructive) do-loop. Anywhere you start, you get to the rest of it. That is, if Jesus is God, then He is Lord; if He is Lord, then He is God. How? Jesus affirmed that no less than the Father Himself demanded that the Son receive honor equal to the honor paid the Father (John 5:23). If He is Lord, then we are to believe what He says; if we believe what He says, then we must believe that He is God.

In either regard, to accept the foundational conviction that Jesus is Lord and God necessarily pays off into...

...acceptance of and obedience to His words. As Lord, Jesus expects me to take His yoke upon myself and learn of Him (Matthew 11:28-30), and to do what He tells me (Luke 6:46). It is not a peer-relationship; the Christian life is not a negotiation. So it follows that, if Jesus is my Lord and my God, I will learn to love what He loves and hate what He hates; to cherish what He values, and spurn what He despises. My convictions and values, and my choices and actions, will be progressively brought into conformity to His.

That is why the NT requires, imposes and provides tests. We see the apostles extending "a judgment of Christian charity," which is to say that one's profession of faith is accepted, unless other considerations make that profession impossible to accept. Note: both halves of that statement should receive due weight. The predisposition is to accept a professed brother as such; but equally, disqualifiers do, in fact, disqualify.

Jesus Himself set the stage for this, by depicting many as falsely expecting to be welcomed to Heaven, when instead they'll be banished to Hell (Matthew 7:21-23).

So, similarly, Paul says he doesn't care who preaches a different Gospel, that person is justly damned and doomed (Galatians 1:8-9). No honest reader could doubt that Paul's Gospel had definite and distinct form, shape, edges. He lays it out as crucial and foundational, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Paul paints the Gospel as requiring the affirmation and embrace of certain events and their meanings as assigned by Scripture, including the penal, substitutionary death of Christ, His burial, and His bodily resurrection. In that section as well, Paul stresses the need to cling to this Gospel precisely as given; salvation is to be found nowhere else.

Likewise the apostle John gives a cycle of three tests of eternal life (cf. 1 John 5:13). They include correct doctrine (cf. 4:1-4; 5:1, etc.), obedience to the written Word of God (2:3-6; 5:2-3, etc.), and love for the brothers (3:11-18; 4:7-12, etc.). He goes over these three themes, these three tests, again and again, from different angles.

So it isn't surprising that, in contrast to modern "Anything-goes/Whatever" evanjellybeans, we frequently find the Bible referring to false brothers (2 Corinthians 11:26; Galatians 2:4), false prophets and false teachers (2 Peter 2:1), warning against deceivers (Colossians 2:4, 8, 16-22; Jude 4), and both commanding and commending the exercise of close discernment (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; Revelation 2:2). Christians say they're Christians; but saying you're a Christian doesn't make you a Christian.

So yes: it is possible to trace out the parameters of Christian profession and practice. And it is possible that someone's words and/or life indicate that he hasn't the right to claim to be a Christian.

The "no" part
Many of these tests are meant for me to use on myself, primarily — not (primarily) on others. I am to test myself (2 Corinthians 13:5), and apply John's threefold tests to see if I have eternal life (1 John 5:13). They are not primarily given that I might go around with a big red C and a big red P, stamping Christian or Phony on anyone I meet.

"Primarily," I say. However, HSAT, I am urged to apply discernment and judgment, as we've seen (cf. Matthew 7:6, etc.). Christian leaders in particular are responsible to identify, deal with, and warn against false teachers and false brothers (cf. Titus 1:10-13; 3:10-11, etc.). The church is to echo this judgment (cf. Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15).

But I can barely know my own sick, deceptive heart (Jeremiah 17:9), let alone another's (1 Corinthians 2:11). So I must be humble and cautious, must stick with what I can see and hear, must not overreach, and must leave the ultimate decision to God.

Plus we must factor in truths such as Romans 7:14-25, where even the apostle Paul himself said that what he did (and failed to do) was not always right. He did what he shouldn't; he didn't do what he should. His life, unlike Jesus', was not seamlessly perfect and "there" (cf. also Philippians 3:12-13). So even the Christianest Christian we'll ever know will have lapses, failings, weaknesses — sins.

So humility and grace are definitely called for.

However, HSAT, I not only can, but must say that certain words and deeds and concepts and beliefs are not Biblical, not Christian, not pleasing to God — when I have the revealed mind of God on those matters. And I can extrapolate, and warn, rebuke, reprove, exhort. And I can (and must) warn that a pattern, a path, if not repented of, will lead to Hell.

Though a Christian may sin, he struggles and fights against his sin (Galatians 5:17). He regularly puts to death the deeds of his body (Romans 8:13). He does not continue in sin (1 John 3:3-4, 8-10). That distinguishes a Christian: he isn't floating downstream towards the waterfall. He fights the current.

And mark this: there is no sentence, word, nor syllable of Scripture meant to give comfort to anyone willfully continuing in unrepented sin.

So: if someone's confession of "Christ" is heterodox and out of step with Scripture; if his value-system bears no mark of the yoke of discipleship in the school of Christ; if his closest associates despise the Lord and His word; and if he stubbornly resists all attempts to point him to Christ, and to the word of God — then we would be faithless towards God, and loveless towards that man or woman, to imagine or hold out any basis to believe him or her to be a Christian.

At the very least, we can and must certainly say something like,
"What you are saying/doing is offensive to God, and condemned by God. I can't see your heart, but I can see what comes out of your heart. Jesus says that the mouth speaks from what fills the heart (Luke 6:45), and our actions come from our hearts (cf. Proverbs 4:23). These are not the actions nor words of a heart that believes and loves God, and that worries me terribly for you. I implore you, repent, bow the knee to Christ as Lord from your heart — or you have no reason to hope that you have any part in Him or His kingdom."
It's what Jesus would do (Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3, 5; Revelation 3:19).

It's what we should do.


Charbo said...


Another great, amazingly concise, thoroughly biblical post.

I am in frequent conversations with free grace proponents who are confused on this very issue. They demonstrate the fruits of regeneration but have such blasé' attitudes toward corruption in the lives of professed believers. I think their motives are honorable but their use/understanding of the scriptures is poor. Today's post will prove helpful in ministering to these folks. I've been using the catch phrase, "grace works". The oxymoronic combination of grace with works has helped to provoke discussions with them. Sad that "free grace" actually works so little - not the grace the bible reveals.

I appreciate your ministry. Thanks.

DJP said...

Thanks, Charbo, and amen.

Being a Calvidispiebaptogelical, it's grievous because of the assumptions people make. You say you're a dispensationalist, and they think, "Antinomian," or they think of the Hodges insanity. Which has no more to do with the kernel of dispensationalism than Harold Camping's doctrinal rabies has to do with Calvinism.

But I think worse is the false assurance it gives lost people. Christianoids today are so concerned that they'll offend someone, or seem narrow. They're okay with sending someone off to Hell with false assurances, so long as they themselves don't look judgmental or narrow. Me, me, me.

Me, I'm more okay with provoking a genuine Christian to take a serious look at himself, than with leaving an unconverted person saying "I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart" (Deuteronomy 29:19).

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Amazingly Great BACK-TO-BACK posts! The "Slave" post on TeamPyro and this one.

Really, really, truly inspired exhortation, counsel, warning, edifying, posts that exemplify the best of what it means to speak the Truth-in-Love.

Keep preaching and fighting the Good Fight!

NoLongerBlind said...

Mister Dan:

"What you are saying/doing is offensive to God, and condemned by God. I can't see your heart, but I can see what comes out of your heart. Jesus says that the mouth speaks from what fills the heart (Luke 6:45), and our actions come from our hearts (cf. Proverbs 4:23). These are not the actions nor words of a heart that believes and loves God, and that worries me terribly for you. I implore you, repent, bow the knee to Christ as Lord from your heart — or you have no reason to hope that you have any part in Him or His kingdom."

One of the most excellent - in a sense! - examples, of properly blending grace and truth, speaking the truth in love, that I've heard or read.

Thank-you for this ministry!

NoLongerBlind said...


One caveat to my comment--the tone with which the above is said would obviously be crucial to the grace and love aspect of it!

(submitted by Captain Obvious)

RT said...


My prediction was correct. Your balanced, thoughtful approach is flawlessly supported by irrefutable logic and thoroughly grounded in scripture. Much appreciated.

Coming as I do from a hierarchical church I have a tendency to just shake my head internally and think, well, that's up to God and the bishop - none of my business. Of course, I am also pretty busy pulling the log out of my own eye such that I have little energy or time to be concerned with the pecadillos of others. But your post has caused me to consider that, where salvation itself is concerned, we have a responsiblity as individual Christians to observe, exhort and warn. A responsiblity that simultaneously goes hand in hand with a rigorous and ongoing process of self-appraisal, repentance and amendment. I cannot help arguing, though, that a higher responsibility in this area belongs to the church itself, however its authority is structured. I mean, after all, is it not important ultimately that the organization of the church be self-policing? That it define, with "bell, book and candle" if necessary who belongs and who does not? The Episcopal Church obviously excommunicates very few of its heretics, possibly for fear of there being no one left to press the altar linens, but I actually attended such a ceremony many years ago and it was pretty impressive as a rather final statement of the church's authority to bind and loose.

DJP said...

Thanks, NLB.

DJP said...

Thanks, RT.

Well yes, you're absolutely right. It is one of those church ministries which, were it functioning as it should, would be led and supported from both sides of the pulpit, as it were.

Written as it was against the backdrop threat of apostasy. Hebrews actually gives a lot of instruction in this. I already noted the leaders' responsiblity to keep watch over and give account for the souls under their care (Hebrews 13:17).

But no less striking is the call of Hebrews 3:12-13, "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." That is addressed to the congregation at large, and enjoins a mutual watchful care.

Even more striking is Hebrews 12:15 — "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled." The three words "see to it" translate the one Greek word episkopountes, which (A) means to exercise a watchful oversight, and (B) is actually used in 1 Peter 5:2 of the exercise of pastoral ministry.

All that to say — nobody's off the hook! (c;

But as in all things, leaders do bear greater accountability before God (cf. James 3:1).

NoLongerBlind said...

Actually, I prefer this!

CR said...

I really liked the part about examining ourselves and your tests. The Bible clearly states we should examine ourselves and the best time to do it is prior to the Lord's Supper.

John MacArthur has an excellent booklet on 10 tests for biblical salvation. It's available free online at his website also.

Mike Riccardi said...

we would be faithless towards God, and loveless towards that man or woman, to imagine or hold out any basis to believe him or her to be a Christian.

That's a great point, Dan. Great point. It's the most apt response to folks who think it's not loving to announce/proclaim the reality of condemnation to people.

Some of these posts over the last month and a half have just been altogether spot-on. We need to get you on national TV or something... lol.