“The Powers That Be”

We had an interesting sermon on Sunday morning; it seemed so appropriate for these troubled times, so I thought I’d share a bit of it with you. The initial thoughts were about our current pandemic and the rules and regulations that have sprung up in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The caution we need to exercise, the masks, the social distancing.

So what position should we take as Christians with regard to these new rules and regulations? Pastor Con B quoted from Romans Chapter 13, which starts out with “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers…” and went on to explain that these new requirements are not violating any principles of our faith, so we should submit to the law without fussing, as we’re instructed in different places in the New Testament.

For interest sake I’m going to do a little paraphrase, trying to catch the spirit of verses 1-10 and our Sunday morning sermon. Please take time to read these verses for yourselves, but here’s my version:

Verse one encourages us to submit to the government of the land, because these “powers that be” are ordained of God. No, He doesn’t elect them or choose every law the government enacts, but God is behind the whole principle of law and order. Yes, even if our Leader’s a Nero. We may not be able to support every law, but nowhere does the New Testament give Christians an okay to get involved in sedition. This is the example Jesus left us. He could have called ten thousand angels to deal with this injustice, but He submitted to the Roman authority, even to accepting a death sentence.

Verse 2-3: Whoever resists the power (government of the land) resists the ordinance of God. And any of those who resist (engage in sedition, verbal or literal) will receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not to be feared if you are doing good works, but those who do evil have good cause to fear the laws of the land. If you do that which is right and good, the rulers will rather respect you and be thankful for you as citizens. “Thou shalt have praise of the same.”

Verse 4: The rulers are God’s means of administering law and order; by and large God does use the laws of the land and a stable government to protect you from criminals. But if you do that which is evil, commit crimes and defy authority, you need to be afraid of the law. It’s there for a reason and God will use the laws of the land to punish you. Every sin will receive a just punishment – in this world or the next.

Verse 5: So you should be subject to the law, not only because you fear the punishment for breaking the law but to keep your conscience free. You want to do God’s will in this life and it’s God’s will that you submit to authority. If you fuss about the laws, you’re ultimately fussing about God’s plan.

Verse 6: Pay your taxes – they exist for a reason, for the good of the country – and follow all the laws as much as possible. God is using the people who carry out these duties to fulfill his plan for your land, and ultimately for your own benefit.

Verse 7-8: So pay what you need to pay to your country and give everyone the respect due to their position. It is God’s will that you treat all people, and every authority, with proper respect. Those you should fear, fear them; those you should show honour to, honour them properly. Don’t be debtors in this regard, but you need to demonstrate love and respect one for another, for all of you who show love toward others is fulfilling the law of God.

Verse 9: Remember his commandments, “Thou shall not commit adultery; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; thou shalt not covet.” And if there be any other commandments given, they can be summed up (in the words of our Lord Jesus): “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Verse 10: Love is kind and patient; love doesn’t envy or speak evil of others; love works no ill to his neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law of God. (See I Corinthians Ch 13)

The teachings of Jesus and the writings of the apostles contain many similar instructions to Christians: Honor the laws of the land and give due respect to your rulers. What they require of you, do it – unless you’re asked to do something that truly violates your Christian beliefs. And don’t try to stretch “violates my beliefs” until it covers “I don’t want to.”

Moreover, with all the elections this fall, it’s vital to realize that “I don’t like the party in power now,” is no excuse, either. Sneering at those in authority grieves our heavenly Father.

“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.”
— II Peter 2: 9-10

Peace in a Troubled Worldt

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is UNPERTURBED

My first thought with regard to this prompt was The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.
“Go placidly amidst the noise and haste…”

This isn’t the easiest thing to do; we do have emotions and sometimes we must react. But it’s a goal to aim for. We can remind ourselves to stop, take a deep breath, and rmember how today’s troubles will look much smaller in the rear-view mirror. And with regard to all the pointless noise around us — oh, for the wisdom to tune it out!

These Bible verses speak of trust in God as the source of peace:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.”
Psalm 46:1-5

The poem, IF, by Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) also gives
a good picture of a person who lives an unperturbed life.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

A Cascade of Adjectives

Fandango’s One-Word Challenge today is FRUGAL. A much more…well…frugal word than some others he posted this week. When I saw the provocative words Inexorable, Doleful, Deviate, Extraneous, Vehement, and Elucidate pop into my In-box, I really wanted to concoct some suitable responses. However, I seemed to be otherwise occupied all week – and/or my muse has headed down the garden path chasing a tale. Stay tuned…

Reading various articles this week, especially a comment from another blogger about “pastors ranting about..the need to promote the new Cyrus: Trump” – my mind started to form a picture…

Have you ever stood close to a thundering waterfall and tried to hear yourself think? Now, add to the turbulence of the waterfall a bunch of doleful, croaking frogs, several flocks of vehement gabbling geese, throw in the extraneous cry of a distant loon – and then try to listen to someone giving a speech. How much will you get?

Fast-forward to today. An author has written a book about the current presidential candidates and would like some feedback. I won’t mention the title, which would give the game away, but I read his blurb on Amazon elucidating his preference and I messaged him that it sounds like he’s doing some fiery preaching to the choir.

There’s a lot of that going on.

Often with politics there’s a whole lot of noise and few people who are actually listening in an open-minded way. Especially when I read the current US political scene, I envision two roaring streams of opinion coming from opposite directions, ending in two cascades of adjectives hurling themselves at each other and splashing onto the rocks below.

Cement-headed, fanatical, xenophobic, fascists and rednecks versus closed-minded, anti-American, neo-Nazi, self-serving opposers of law and order. One comment: “If said party chose a maggoty dead skunk as their candidate, I’d vote for the skunk.” With all these acrid opinions frothing about, the ultimate winner is clear: the English language, Adjectives branch.

The frogs could be a bunch of journalists analyzing the chaos; the geese may be various extremists on either side trying to make themselves heard. And the loon, dare I say, yet another prophet trying to fit current people and affairs into the grand scheme of end-times prophecy?

There’s always been speculation about people and events. J.N. Darby believed in the 1880s that the end of the world was very near. At the start of WWII, I’m told, evangelical Christians were thinking Mussolini was the anti-christ. My husband remembers speculation that David Ben Gurion would turn out to be the messiah. He also recalls a general alarm among evangelicals about the US electing JFK, a Catholic president! Then Henry Kissinger being pegged as the anti-christ.

Dear Christian friends, please don’t go there. The noise is already so loud; the chances of reading the signs wrong is so great. Isn’t it time to abandon all the adjectives and rather seek the “prayer closet”? “Be still and know that I am God.” There will be elections in several Canadian provinces this fall, too. I honestly believe we’ll accomplish more for the good of our nations by spending our time in prayer.

Planet Earth: Future Haze

As I sat down to write more about the subject of pre-millennialism, I asked my husband how he remembers this and that. So he’s handed me several books on the subject of prophecy. About a weeks’ worth of reading. 🙂 Prophecy is so complex and so much could be written, but I’d really like to keep this simple for those of you who are interested in reading it.
Let’s start in the dim distant past….

The Dormant Pre-millennial Doctrine Starts to Grow

According to Dave MacPherson in his book, The Incredible Cover-Up – © 1975 by Logos International – there was some pre-millennial thinking in the US colonies before 1830. It did rise somewhat during the mid-1800s with currents blowing in from a mini charismatic revival in Scotland and England, together with J N Darby’s teachings. It really began to take hold during the Civil War and by the 1870s folks were starting to say this was the only biblical understanding of the end times.

John Nelson Darby has had a huge impact on evangelical thinking in various ways. Born in 1800, Darby became a priest in the church of England in 1826, but after a time was burdened about the dissatisfaction he felt in his own Christian life. He had an experience where he came to understand that salvation can never be earned; it comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. Feeling like he’d been cleansed and set free, he began an attack on the Church of England for not guiding him aright.

According to Frank’s book, Christians of that era – especially in the US – were upbeat, seeing the Christian church as an army “marching forth triumphantly to spread the gospel and inaugurate the millenium.” As in the song, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Evangelicals were right ready to trample those grapes of wrath: slavery, booze, and whatever other sins they saw as drawbacks to the coming kingdom.

Jesus said, “…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matt 16:18

Darby disagreed. “The church is in ruins,” he said. The established church was broken beyond repair and believers who wanted to carry on the true Christian faith should abandon churches and assemble as small groups of believers without a formal organization or title. Calling themselves “Christians gathered in the name of the Lord,” the group has become known as the Plymouth Brethren.

The Church As the Spiritual Successor to Israel

This was a commonly accepted belief prior to Darby’s time. Pre-, Post- and A-millennialists were agreed: Israel ceased to be God’s people when they rejected Christ and the Church became the spiritual successor of Israel. Theologians and preachers taught that all believers are now the people of God, both Jews and gentiles. As the Apostle Paul writes:

“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Colossians 3: 11-14

Darby nixed this belief, too. Rather, he claimed that the Christian church is God’s heavenly kingdom and Israel is still God’s earthly people. Even though the Jews were unfaithful in keeping the laws of Moses, Darby said, God will still follow through with his promise to make Israel a great nation. Someday. We just need to understand the time frame for this.

“The Only Credible Explanation of Scripture”

Analyzing and “rightly dividing” he came up with the doctrine of dispensationalism. This doctrine divides history into six different eras, or dispensations. The Bible, to scholars who embraced his ideas, became like a jigsaw puzzle with various verses neatly divided and reconstructed into “easy-to-understand” eras. My grasp is hazy; a real Bible scholar who follows Darby’s thinking wold have this down pat.

The time of Adam & Eve and their descendants is one; the time of Noah and his ark is another; The Israelites of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob’s time is another. When Israel settled in the Promised Land and became a country is another. I think Jesus time on earth is part of that era, but then we have the Gospel era – the time since Christ – which, according to these teachers, is an interruption of God’s plan. The future “Thousand Year Reign of Christ on earth” is counted as another. I may not have these all as they are taught today, but you get the general idea.

Here in North America a theologian, minister, and writer named Cyrus I Scofield caught the vision of dispensationalism. He felt it was the only credible explanation for many Bible passages and set about to publish it. His annotated Scofield Reference Bible, with its explanations and cross references, became a best-seller and dispensationalism was widely accepted by evangelicals in North America.

The Rapture: Secret or Open?

Will cars crash, planes fall from the sky, teachers, workers, students disappear in a poof? According to the “secret rapture” thinking, Yes. According to other interpretations of prophecy, No. When Jesus returns to this earth, everyone will know it.

The a-millennial view has been that when Jesus returns in the clouds, the archangel will sound the trumpet and all Jesus children will be gathered up to glory with him. The Rapture will be a one-time thing, open for all to see. At that time the earth and the sea will give up their dead and those responsible for crucifying him “Will look upon him whom they have pierced.” Those who have rejected him will be so dismayed and afraid, they will, “will cry to the rocks and the hill to cover them” from his face.

As to the “time of great tribulation” foretold by Jesus, that mainly took place at the destruction of Jerusalem. The Christians of that day did forsake the city, as Jesus warned them to, when they saw the Roman army gathering around it. (To some extent this tribulation has been going on since, as Christians have been persecuted and many still are.)

The post-millennial idea is much the same. When Jesus comes back “every eye shall see him.” They understand from various scriptures that he will return to earth at the end of a period of great tribulation (which is going on now) and set up his kingdom, but they say it’s the church herself that will usher in this millennium of peace. As I said in an early post, that theory has about disappeared.

The Pre-Millennial Theory: Four Different Camps

According to Dave MacPherson, there are four positions re: the millennium to come:
— those who espouse the “pretrib” theory say there will be a secret Rapture where all Christians drawn up from the earth to meet Jesus before the time of tribulation comes, so that no Christians need to suffer through the natural disasters and war that will befall this earth.
— those who think “mid-trib” see the Rapture coming somewhere in the middle of these seven years of tribulation.
— Those who espouse the “post-trib” theory sees the Rapture as coming at the end of the seven years of tribulation
— partial rapturists who believe there will be more than one Rapture, which may occur at several points before/during/after the time of tribulation.

“Pre-trib rapture” was unheard of before Darby visited a fifteen-year old Scottish girl who, in 1830, had a vision about Jesus’ return. From her vision of a select group of Christians being carried away secretly, Darby built his “pretrib” teaching. According to Douglas Frank, Darby came to North American seven times between 1862 and 1877 to share his doctrinal system with evangelicals and it caught on. Christians were glad to hear that they’d be removed before the coming woes.

Back home in England, any of his fellow Plymouth Brethren who didn’t agree with him over these doctrines were threatened with excommunication and eternal punishment. For all that, over the years the Plymouth Brethren have had various schisms resulting in PB 2, PB 3, PB 4, etc. We once met a couple from Plymouth Brethren Four, and that was a very strict group. For one thing, services every evening — and you’d better be there!

Dave MacPherson, a preacher’s kid and preacher’s grandkid, grew up hearing prophecy discussed. However, he found that Bible teachers weren’t very open to viewpoints other than their own:
“In my Bible institute days I learned the hard way that there are sharply disagreeing schools of prophetic interpretation. I would discuss prophecy at various times with other students and bring up viewpoints differing in detail from the school’s official position.
This finally resulted in my dismissal.”

Did Jesus Fail to Establish the Kingdom God Intended?

Some of this premillennial thinking is built on the idea that Jesus planned to set up the kingdom, but when he was rejected, that plan was scrapped.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” applied to Jesus first visit to Earth.
But… “He came unto his own, and his own received him not…”

So, according to pre-millennial thinking, when the Jewish nation rejected Jesus and had him done away with, he went back up to heaven and Plan B kicked in. Or was Plan B always the real plan because God knew Jesus would be rejected? Depends on the Bible scholar that’s teaching this.

Plan B – which again varies according to who’s explaining it – is that Jesus will return twice – or maybe three times before his work on earth is finished. He’ll come for his church (secretly or not, once or twice.) Seven years of severe tribulation will befall the earth. Then he will come again openly, bringing all the saints with him, and set up his headquarters in Jerusalem. He and his saints will rule over all the earth. Israel will be a great nation again. All the people of earth will obey him.

In 1919 J.C. Masee wrote:
“I am not looking for an immediate residence in Heaven. I expect to be there only a little time and then I am coming back with him to live in a redeemed earth, and rule here with him in the earth. I would regret to believe that I would have to spend my thousand years in heaven. The reward of the saints is to have the privilege of coming back with Jesus to reign here over the nations with him.
(Philadelphia School of the Bible)

At the end of the thousand-year reign (the Millenium), there will be a major satanic-led rebellion and Jesus will totally crush this. Then will come the great Judgment Day. This present earth and heaven will pass away; in a new heaven and earth Jesus will take his rightful throne and “the government will be on his shoulders and his kingdom will be an everlasting one.”

For Lo! The Kingdom of God is Within You.

As you can guess, I don’t accept the pre-millennial thinking of our day, nor do I put a lot of faith in prophetic speculation as a whole. I’m far more concerned with TODAY. What will come, will come. I believe many Christians feel somewhat the same: it’s interesting to speculate, but so many verses can be understood in different ways, literal or figurative. The most important thing is, “What do I need to know to live my Christian life today?

And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. – Ezekiel 36: 27

Religion and Politics: A Curious Home Brew

In this post I’m going to deviate somewhat from my discussion of prophecy and give you a glimpse of my own upbringing. Maybe you’ll understand more clearly where I’m coming from as I post these thoughts.

My Religious Instruction

When I was a girl, Mom F told me, “If you ever have to go to the hospital, or any other time someone asks you your religion, say United.”

Because this is what we were. Period. Not that we ever attended church. I can recall going to a couple of services with my Mom F, and once, when I was in my late twenties, my Dad actually came with us to an evangelical church service for some special day. Dad & Mom Vance (my birth parents) never attended church as adults, to my knowledge.

The United Church of Canada would be about like the United Methodist Church in the US. In 1925 the Canadian Methodists, most Presbyterians, and the Congregationalists merged to form the United Church. This was the predominant church here in the West, with congregations in almost every town and city.

“The Social Gospel” teaching – “We need to fix this world!” – was spreading through evangelical circles at the end of the 1800s and the Methodists definitely picked up on it. In time the social gospel became the United Church’s main religious teaching, leading them to get involved in agitating for human rights, universal suffrage, fair labor laws, etc.
One time a cartoonist spoofed a United Church message board this way:
Sunday morning service. 10 am. Message: The Hell of High-Cost Housing
Evening service 7:30 pm. Message: God and the Minimum Wage
His “nail-on-the-head” humor makes me chuckle.

By the time I was an adult, United Church members needn’t accept the authority of Jesus or the Bible – or even believe in God, we discovered – but they HAD to be pro civil rights and against all discrimination, inequality in wages, etc. Attendance has dwindled, but this is still the position of the United Church.

As soon as I was old enough, and for half a dozen summers, Mom sent me to a week of Baptist Bible camp. So I did get some exposure to evangelical thinking and did call myself a Christian, but attending church services wasn’t for us. Only after I was married to I start.

The Politics of My Parents

(The other topic you’re not supposed to discuss.)
“We vote Conservative.” End of subject.

Informed voters? Not really. They knew who the Liberal, Conservative, and NDP candidates were, but at the polls there was only one party to support: the Conservatives. Because the Liberals were for the East, for the big cities, for the French. The New Democrats were for labor. Folks from a rural prairie background were dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives. I remember an election when I was twelve where every seat in our province – most of the prairie seats – went Conservative.

When I was a girl Mom told me about an old farmer here in the West who was watching a political broadcast on his television. He got so angry about the things Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson was saying that he got his shotgun and blasted the tv. Not a very well thought-out response. But perhaps it was for the best. Someone with that kind of a fuse is probably better off not listening to political speeches.

Politics Generates More Heat Than Good Sense

Actually, I suspect most people would be better off not listening to political speeches. It’s so easy to be swayed by charisma, promises, and wishful thinking — or the lack thereof. Not to mention the biased, sensationalist reporting of what was said and done, such as we get these days. Accusations fly freely, pro and con this or that, until no one actually sees clearly anymore.

My folks didn’t have enough concern about religion for it to have much impact on their politics. They knew they hated Liberals; otherwise politics wasn’t a topic often discussed. In the United States, on the other hand – according to Douglas Frank’s book* – religious views and prophetic theories often motivated Protestant Evangelical Christians in their political choices. The unique blend of religion and politics we see in the States seems to the rest of us like a curious home brew. Sadly, non-evangelicals are finding it – maybe have always found it – bitter.

Did evangelicals in the past simply ignore the complaints until they got too loud to ignore? But then Prohibition was a major disaster; divorce laws were challenged; Roe versus Wade cracked the abortion laws open, the LGBT community pushed for acceptance. Like the veil in the temple, the US status quo was rent from top to bottom.

Reading various comments these days, I get the impression that – in spite of current religious stats – evangelicals still hope they can bring America back to the Christian nation they believe they once had. I often see PEC’s quote these verses God spoke in reference to Israel:

“And the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice. If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

It seems to me that PEC’s, like all of us during this pandemic, are wishing for a return to “the good old days.” They’re saying America could be fixed if everyone would turn back to God – but people aren’t listening. Perhaps they wish for an Enforcer, a Messiah of sorts with the political clout to bring back all those sensible rules that once held the country together as a Christian nation? (While it appears non-Christians, led by the media, are fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure that doesn’t happen!)

And now, here comes Donald Trump. Fixer? Enforcer? Nightmare? Disaster? Wildly varying opinions are being expounded – and, oh, the animosity!

You could say I’m a bipolar observer here: I tremble to think what may happen if he wins, and I tremble to think what may happen if he loses. 🙂

*LESS THAN CONQUERORS
How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century by Douglas W Frank.
© 1986 by William B Eerdmans Publishing Company