With faith comes a degree of moral certainty. This is as it should be. However, a cause for deception arises when we confuse our moral certainties with political order. The temptation is to use the gospel as a vehicle for making laws to suit ourselves. We need to be clear; moral certainty must contain the good news of salvation for all of humanity. Political order has its own set of morals because it is for the governance of a broad mix of convictions and absences of convictions. The contrast between the two moral standards is found when we compare baptism with lethal injection. The one burial is submitted to through repentance and hope. The other burial is enforced through a society’s need for order. To avoid confusion, we might ask ourselves; Which burial should the church be focused upon? The burial of a sinner through baptism, or the burial of a convict after execution? Hopefully, when we eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine, our remembrance of Jesus holds thanksgiving for salvation. One might ask; “Aren’t the events of this world driven by such things as spiritual convictions?” No doubt. But do we want the church to rule society? Is that what faith is all about? When it comes to faith in Jesus Christ there is a stark contrast between it and, for example, Islam. Islam makes no bones about it, its religious directives should control society. This is why the Imams are in the wings of Iran, Syria, and other countries. Adulterers are executed in such countries, and dissent is met with brutality. It is the same mentality which burned witches in Salem, and promulgated the Inquisition against any position of faith contrary to the orthodoxy. That attitude was found in James and John when they expressed indignation against the Samaritans who would not receive Jesus; “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” That attitude might have fared well in a society where directives were given by God for conquering people and controlling territory. But Jesus rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” (cf. Lk.9:52-56) Therefore our faith in Christ must point our activities to a higher level than that of politics.
The watchword of Christ’s kingdom in the midst of world events is simple; “Repent.” As Paul spoke to the Athenians on Mars Hill: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts17:30-31) Repentance requires the free choice of every individual. This means the individual has been given by God the opportunity to freely assess and to freely decide what to do with their lives as they confront the gospel.
When religious groups presume to use legislation to promote their agenda, the call for repentance is compromised. In order for the church to truly sustain the call to repent, there cannot be any coercive force other than what comes from the hearer’s conviction. Is there any example of Jesus going beyond the message preached? One might say; “He drove out the money changers from the Temple grounds.” Well yes, that was coercion. However it was done in the house of God; “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” He went no further than that. Do we find this same activity directed toward the tax collectors, prostitutes, or the idolatrous Romans? The scribes and Pharisees received verbal “woes” from Jesus, but He did not stir up the multitude against them. Did Paul go to the city of Corinth with a torch to burn out the many dens of iniquity which existed there? When Paul was in custody at Caesarea, he spoke to Felix the Roman governor. “He reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come. .” (Acts 24:25) There is no Biblical record of Paul or any other disciple excoriating the sins of the Roman Empire and its citizens; perhaps because all have sinned.
One might say; “The church didn’t have the opportunities which we now have in our Democratic society.” Paul was a Roman citizen. As such, he had opportunities to influence legislation. Could not he have solicited funds sufficiently to call for a hearing in the Senate? In that process could he not have targeted some rank social injustice? Between Paul and Apollos, their inspired intellect and oratory would have made Cicero to appear an amateur. Rather Paul was true to this statement; “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (I Tim.1:15)