Keeping It Simple

After a few days have gone by, I finally got around to watching the clip of Ted Cruz addressing a dinner hosted by “In Defense of Christians” (IDC). I had seen it referred to in various ways, but with some online calling it a despicable stunt on the part of Cruz.

I saw the entire clip, and not just the part where Cruz left the stage. And I have to say that my respect for Cruz has gone up significantly. It was not a stunt at all — but rather a plain statement of simple principles that ought to be unexceptional .

Having written on Israel fairly often, I believe that I am on the record with regard to the usual and necessary disclaimers. You can read some of that here or here. Zionism was a bad idea. Jews without Jesus need Jesus, just like everybody else. Israel is part of the secularized West, and fully partakes of all the corruption that this entails. This means that I am not shilling for anybody. If you find me something appalling that Israel has done — and this is not a hypothetical — then I will denounce it as appalling. For example, Israel’s tolerance of abortion is as despicable as our own.

But what we are talking about — what Ted Cruz was talking about — was the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Plight is too mild a word for what they have been going through, and Israel is a natural ally to them. And it will not do to point to what Israel has done to those Christians who have been used as human shields. The evil there is done by those who put up such a shield — Israel does have a shield in their Iron Dome, by which they protect their children. There is quite a difference between protecting your children with your weapons, which Israel does, and protecting your weapons with your children, which Hamas does.

It also will not do to point to the Muslim Kurds as friends to the Christians, as they have been. But those same Kurds, for the same reasons, are not hostile to Israel the way the radical jihadis are. There are 200,000 Jewish Kurds living in Israel. And the Kurds who have been providing safe haven for refugee Christians were trained by Israel.

There is, of course, more to say, but that will do for the present. A well done to Senator Cruz.

Due Process, or Do the Process?

Some, like myself, believe that coercion without warrant from Scripture is a very bad thing. For others this category of coercion is largely invisible. It just appears to be part of the way things are.

In this installment, I want to explain how unlawful coercion is a very real characteristic of our governmental system, and also explain why it is so destructive. This is important for us to grasp because the “powers that be,” to use Tyndale’s phrase, are entrusted by God with the lawful power of coercion. They do not bear the sword for nothing (Rom. 13:4). At the same time, these authorities, who may lawfully coerce, can also cross over a particular line and become abusive and tyrannical. If we don’t know where that line is, or how to police it, then we are naifs, babes in the woods, tyros, despot-fodder.

Such a good question . . .

Such a good question . . .

I have been working off the phrase in the Declaration that says that men have certain inalienable rights, including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This was a more elegant and poetic way of saying “life, liberty, and property” — a phrase that comes up in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. No one may “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Incidentally, while on this subject, the “due process of law” referred to here prohibits administrative agencies from doing a number on us. When an administrative agency (say, the IRS) conducts an inquisitorial investigation, finds against the one investigated, and levies a fine, it is acting like a prime example of the kind of government our Constitution was expressly designed to prohibit. Our current form of government is profoundly illegal. But while we are here, on the point of “due process,”  we can also point out that the word choice of unalienable in the Declaration was not strictly speaking accurate. The word means “impossible to take away or give up,” and what was meant — as the Constitution made clear — these rights may not be taken away without due process in each individual instance. It did not mean “impossible to take away.” A man may lawfully be deprived of his life, his liberty, or his property. That is what criminal courts do to felons.

Now recognition by the government that the right to life, liberty and property are rights that are given by God, and not by the Congress assembled in their majesty, is the first step toward the government doing its appointed job of guarding and protecting these rights. In effect, when the government recognizes that these rights are God-given, it means that the government is in a position to perform its God-given function, which is to protect the citizenry from being murdered, enslaved, or robbed. When the government does not recognize that these rights are God-given, this means that they are actually first in line to be the abusers of these rights.

When men who rule do not fear God, the people mourn (Prov. 29:2). To take these three categories as representative, our godless government is responsible for the murder of 50 million Americans (abortion), the enslavement of a million others Americans (our demented prison system), and the pillaging of millions of children yet unborn (our rapacious and absurd national debt).
The authorities that exist are charged by God to reward the righteous and punish the wrongdoer, and these categories are defined by the standard of what God tells us in Scripture. And when it comes to our own cases, we all know what these standards are. We know and protect our own right to life, our own desire for freedom, and our own stuff.

I want to argue that our right to these things is the right to the same things regardless of whether the one threatening them is a thug in an alley, or a bureaucrat behind a desk. Life means the same thing in both instances. So does liberty. This being the case, property refers to the same thing as well. What a mugger takes and what the IRS takes is, at bottom, the same thing — my hard earned cash.

The key difference is found in that a government official may possibly be doing what he is doing legitimately.

Now it is a funny New Yorker cartoon, but Charles the First actually tried it.

Now it is a funny New Yorker cartoon, but Charles the First actually tried it.

Even though it is possible for the government to behave coercively without being unrighteous, we have to recognize the potential for abuse here. Because of that potential, the burden of proof is on the government to show that they are not acting like thieving scoundrels. A high threshold, I know . . . So this is what due process means. In order for the government to be doing the right thing when it seizes property, and to be known to be doing the right thing, it is necessary for the laws to be grounded in God’s moral order as revealed in nature and Scripture, to be understandable in principle, to be published beforehand, to have been established by representatives of the people, and to be enforced even-handedly in open courts of law, and not by star chambers or high commissions. Our current form of government does not meet these standards.

And anything else is called stealing.

Sam Adams

Samuel Adams: A Life (New York: Free Press, 2008)

I really enjoyed this one. I had never taken a close look at the contribution Sam Adams made to our liberties, and this fine biography shows that the contribution was extensive.

Here are a couple of favorite moments. One adversary said, after Adams’ death, that his politics were derived from “two maxims, rulers should have little, the people much” (p. 259).

In another apt application, Stoll refers to Adams’ religious tranquility, and notes the odd juxtaposition — a tranquil revolution. He then applies Perry Miller’s wonderful assessment of the Puritan character — of which Adams was a prime specimen — a characteristic “most difficult to evoke,” that being the “peculiar balance of zeal and enthusiasm with control and wariness” (p. 265).

If you are like many, and need some gaps filled in with regard to your knowledge of Samuel Adams, this would be the place to start. Did you know that the redcoats likely went to Lexington and Concord because they were looking for Sam Adams and John Hancock, who were on the lam?

My Seventies Bride

I have recently been uploading family photos and organizing them via Evernote — which I heartily recommend by the way — and I came across this one. It is one of my favorite pictures of Nancy, taken as a snap by a friend as her Dad was walking her up the aisle. Some day, if I am feeling up to it, I will show you a pic of what she, for some mysterious reason, was walking toward.

 

One of my favorite pictures of Nancy, taken as a snap by a friend as her dad walked her down the aisle.

Stuff Inviolate

I have been arguing that property rights are human rights. I have been insisting that it is not possible to love your neighbor without respecting his stuff. I have been saying that the commandment thou shalt not steal presupposes the institution of private property in just the same way that the prohibition of adultery presupposes marriage. And in the same way, I cannot honor the command not to covet my neighbor’s wife if I cannot come up with a definition of “wife.”

But there has been some surprising pushback on this simple idea, so let us dig a little deeper.

So what do I mean by property? Within the boundaries of the law of God, property entails the authority to retain or dispose of material goods without the permission of another. If you are renting something, or leasing it, you do not have the right to dispose of it in the same way you would if you owned it. When you rent a car, you are answerable to someone else for the use. When you own a car, you can paint the passenger door turquoise if you wish.

This means that all property is ultimately God’s. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10), and the earth is the Lord’s and all that it contains (Ex. 9:29; Dt. 10:14). So God is the only absolute owner of property, and in reference to Him, we are all stewards. We will all give an accounting to Him for what we have done with the goods He has entrusted to us.

So my argument does not neglect this relativization of property in the sight of God, but merely insists that no creature — especially including kings, parliaments, congresses, and presidents — may usurp and supplant God in this role.

This is why Jesus can tell the rich young ruler to give all his goods to the poor (Matt. 19:21), and if he did not do it, he was stealing in the eyes of God. At the same time, he would not be stealing in the eyes of man — any more than a lustful man could be charged with adultery in our courts, or a spiteful man with murder, despite the words of Jesus (Matt. 5:28; Matt. 5:21). We must, always and everywhere, maintain the distinction between sins and crimes.

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings” (Mal. 3:8).

Tithes went, in part, to the poor. The same thing would be true of offerings. And offerings were entirely voluntary — but a man could rob God by refusing to offer them. He would be guilty before God of the sin of theft (greed, covetousness, and so on). But he would not be guilty of the crime of theft. Consider the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1). Peter told them that they could have sold their land, kept all the proceeds at home, sitting on top of the pile cackling like Scrooge McDuck, and they would not have bought the farm, so to speak.

“Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:4).

After he sold it, was it not within his power? Yes — as far as the authority of fellow creatures could reach. But could he do whatever he wanted with it, and not have to answer to God? No, of course not.

And this is what I am arguing. When any creaturely entity assumes the prerogatives of the Deity, assuming the power of control over the property of others, that entity has become lawless and wicked. And the Bible does not say, “Thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote.” The Bible does not countenance the notion that two coyotes and a sheep can form a rudimentary democracy, and then vote on what’s for lunch.

If I am walking down the street and encounter someone begging alms, and I have twenty bucks in my wallet, and I receive an unmistakable burden from the Lord to give him that twenty bucks, and I suppress the impulse and walk on, am I being disobedient? Yes. Am I robbing God? Yes. Am I robbing the beggar? No. For if I were, he would have the right to chase me down and take the twenty bucks.

If a woman had her purse snatched by a bicyclist, and fifteen minutes later she pulls into a drugstore parking lot, and that same bicycle is outside with her purse hanging on the handle bars — the thief having run inside to buy smokes with some of her dollars — is she stealing if she takes her purse back? Of course not.

We must learn to distinguish that which is sin in the eyes of God, and that which should be a crime in the eyes of man and God. Being a selfish pig is a sin, but must not be made a crime. If we outlaw “being a selfish pig,” I have ten dollars here that says that within two weeks this crime of selfish piggery will be vigorously policed (and fined) by tribunals made up entirely of selfish pigs.

When we make something a crime without scriptural justification, and penalize it, we invert the order of God. When we make property ownership a crime, and fine people heavily for being guilty of it, we have a society as corrupt and as mendacious and as greedy as . . . well, as our own.

If we love people, if we love our neighbors, we will consider their stuff inviolate. We will form governments that respect our neighbors’ property as much as we ourselves do. But as it is currently, we form the kind of government we now have because we the people have larceny in our hearts. We are governed by thieves who represent us well.

Idols and Tyranny

Introduction:

One of the reasons we have trouble dealing realistically with evil in this world is that we have drawn mental cartoons of the evil beforehand. When someone says “tyranny,” we think of goose-stepping armies, missile parades, and funny looking helmets. But then, when something genuinely bad happens in our own lives, and we see it with our own eyes, because it doesn’t match the cartoon we treat it as an anomaly, a one-off occurrence . . . a thing we don’t have a category for. But we need to have a category for something this common.

I am a child of the Cold War, and my first glimpse of an actual communist country taught me this lesson. Don’t fight the caricature—fight the real thing. In the early seventies the submarine I was on was pulling into Guantanamo Bay, and when I came topside I was astonished and taken aback because this commie land was emerald green. Bright green. But all my childhood images of communist countries resembled something like a grainy black and white newspaper photo of Budapest in the rain.

The Text:

“And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him, Take thy father’s young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it . . .” (Judg. 6:25–32).

Summary of the Text:

Earlier in this chapter, an angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and told him that he would be the instrument for saving Israel from the oppression of the Midianites. After his interaction with that angel, that same night the Lord spoke to Gideon and told him to use his father’s bullock to tear down his father’s altar to Baal, along with the grove by it (v. 25). The groves were part of the way the idols were set apart as holy. They would have been planted, and tended, and cultivated. Idol worship does not occur in fits of absent-mindedness.

The Household of Faith, Hope, and Love

One of the ways we diminish our understanding of the Lord’s Supper is through saying that it is just a metaphor. In the first place, the world is more mysterious than that and there is no such thing as “just” a metaphor. God created the cosmos by speaking, and words are not impotent little labels. But even using the common language of metaphor, the Lord’s Supper would be a complex metaphor, not a simple one. There are many things going on here—thanksgiving, proclamation, longing for the day of redemption, and more.

One of those elements is underscored by our practice of celebrating this Supper weekly. What this accomplishes—among other things—is the creation of a household. Households eat together. Companions are those who share bread together—the word panis, bread, helps to form the word companion.

The Soul of the Building

Scripture tells us to strengthen the things that remain—strengthen the things that appear to have some lingering stability. Shore up the permanent things.

But because of our penchant for idolatry, we sometimes make a grave mistake when it comes to this. We see churches and cathedrals built centuries ago, and we think that the stone and brick are what remain because they are still here. But those who built these structures from a vibrant and true faith are now with God, and they will live forever. They remain, while the world and everything in it do not. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord is forever.

The faith of the people is the soul of the building. The building itself, without living, evangelical faith—without songs pouring out of forgiven hearts, without a proclamation of truth that is piping hot, without prayers of honest and sincere contrition—becomes a mausoleum. When the people are alive, the sanctuary is animated and alive.

Nothing true will ever die. No sincere sacrifice to God has ever gone extinct. We strengthen the things that remain so that they will continue to remain, and this is all by the grace of the God who has said that whatever work He begins, He will complete.

The Holy Spirit does not build the kingdom in fits and starts. His work is purposive, all of it. Everything has a function. He does what He does in accordance with the counsel of His will. Some tools are used up in the course of His work—like a building—while other things grow increasingly useful—like you.

We are not the scaffolding for the building; the building is the scaffolding for the true church, the church that will stand forever. To the extent that the dead stones are a help to the living stones, we rejoice in their use. If they get in the way, it would be better to meet in places like this until the Lord comes. So let the stones cry out.