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"Thought for the Week" by Elder James Horan (Rock Springs)
April 15, 2017
This week’s lesson from the “Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide”, is titled “Social Relationships”. Many good lessons to ponder in this week’s study. Monday’s lesson has us consider the relationship between “Masters and Slaves”, Tuesday’s lesson on “Wives and Husbands”, Wednesday’s lesson on “Social Relationships”. I would like to focus on Sunday’s lesson on “Church and State” and on Thursday’s lesson on “Christianity and Social Order”.
Sunday’s lesson has us ponder the relationship Christians are to have with our government. In a modern democratic society, we have little problem conforming to governmental rules and involvement in our lives. In the US, our officials understand they are responsible to us, the electorate. So it’s easy to see the connection between being a dutiful, trustworthy citizen and being an authentic, trustworthy Christian and holds little controversy… yet. But what of totalitarian regimes? What of governments that have you violate your own conscience (even here in the “land of the free”)? The day we need to decide between the laws of the government and our own convictions will come for us all. May we stand for our convictions as did Christ. In a way that will not compromise our convictions but will also be respectful. Firm, yet polite. Truthful and loving to all.
Which brings us to Thursday’s lesson on “Christianity and Social Order”. I know several Christians who are captivated by righting social injustices. Even the righting of environmental injustices. As stated above, a democratic system of government allows all of us to promote our beliefs and to convince others of them. To even become part of the “majority” that have their own way in our society… to have government use their power to right the “wrongs”. But is this the method Christians should use? As I listen to these Christian political activists, I am often caught off-guard by their approach. It seems to me that as important as any social injustice may be, using the government to intercede and right this wrong may be fraught with many issues that can mislead a Christian activist and misrepresent Christ to non-believers. When on earth, Christ never resorted to political means to right any wrongs. He used a different method.
By definition, governments have no authority over any individual’s motivation, their “heart”. Governments can only enforce behavior. As the noted English philosopher and physician, John Locke said so wisely in the 1700’s, “The care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate because his power consists only in outward force. But true saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. I may grow rich by an art that I take no delight in; I may be cured of some disease by remedies that I have not faith in; but I cannot be saved by a religion I distrust and by a worship that I abhor”. Hence, the energy, time and effort spent on political activism may produce a desired external outcome. But does it affect the “heart” of people? “For out of (the heart) are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
Christ came to show us the Father. As such, the cross is the supreme revelation of Him. God Himself identifying with us and our sin. God Himself living unto us, not living unto Himself, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). It is true that “without the shedding of blood (dying) there is no remission of sin” (Hebrews 9:22). Without our dying to sin and self with Christ our God, there is no release, no cessation, no suspension, no purging, no termination, no turning-back (no remission) of sin and self. There is no other way. Only “having died to sins” with God is there any escape from self. And only in rising to newness of life with God is there any way we “might live for righteousness” on our part. Leading souls to make a commitment to die with Christ and rise to newness of life with Christ is to be the Christian’s goal. We are likely missing the entire “boat” when we become distracted by political activism. We are focusing on what we want to achieve rather than how it is achieved. Relieving societal ills is not the goal. As Christians we (you and I, not the government) need to seek to relieve suffering and save the lost. Coming into intimate contact with others, not merely letting them come into contact with an impersonal “government”. In so doing, we are introducing souls to God as we, His ambassadors, offer ourselves to them in love. And then through us, this allows Him to so change them that they, too, become the loving agent for change in others. They become the very ones who seek to relieve suffering and save the lost as they work in union with God… and union with us, too. Voluntarily submitting to God’s leading and authority. Being inwardly persuaded, not externally forced by government (or any entity, or anyone else for that matter).
So as you study and ponder, consider the difference between “what” is desired and “how” it is achieved. The “how” has always been the real mission of Christ. It was never enough to change behavior (the “what”). He came to change the wellspring of behavior (the “how”) and thereby, behavior is changed by the inward conviction of the individual in union with God. Political activism and authoritarian dictates mandated by the majority accomplishes outward conformity very nicely. But does it change the “heart”?
With brotherly love,
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