Saturday, September 26, 2020

Voting (2) Illegitimate Authority

I did not participate in the charade of voting in government elections, because it legitimises false authority. I do not recognise the authority of human governments as legitimate.

The people elected to parliament will say that the other people who voted gave them the authority to govern me. That is absurd. Another person cannot give someone else authority over me. God made me a free person, so I am the only one who can give someone else authority over me. Anyone who imposes their authority over my life without my permission is a bully and a thug, whatever they pretend to be.

I only recognise the authority of one person. That is Jesus. He earned his authority by dying on the cross, rising from the dead and ascending into heaven. God has made him king of heaven and earth. Any other person or group who claims authority over me is a usurper or rebel against Jesus. I do not acknowledge their authority.

I can see that the power of the parliament is real. They have the power to take a significant share of the money I earn, and spend it how they like. They can make me do things that I do not want to do, and they can impose serious penalties, if I refuse to do them. I unwillingly recognise their power, and give in to their power, but I do not acknowledge their authority as legitimate.

I am not going to freely submit to them, or give their power system credibility, by voting for any of them. I am not going give them authority by voting for them.

Voting is a lie. The politicians pretend it is a process for the people to have their say, but voters do not get to say anything. Voting is actually a process for giving authority away. The voter is saying to the candidates, “you can have authority over me”. When we vote, we are agreeing to submit to the people who win the election, regardless of who they are. By submitting to them we are giving them authority over our lives. For someone who has given allegiance to Jesus that is an unwise move.

We are told that voting is a way for me to choose my government, but that is not true. I do not get to choose my government. When I vote, I am actually giving other people, whom I don't know, and whom I am unlikely to agree with, the power to choose the govenrment that will control me. That is a foolish thing for a follower of Jesus to do.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Voting (1) Dangerous Allegiance

I do not vote in any election for a human government. The main reason is that I am unwilling to give my allegiance to the spiritual powers that control them.

Human governments are part of the kingdom of the world that are opposed to the church and the Kingdom of God. Each government is controlled by principalities and powers (government spirits) in the spiritual realms (Eph 1:12). So, when we submit to a human government, we are submitting to the spiritual powers that control it. I refuse to submit to them by voting. I will not give my allegiance to a system that increases their influence and control.

When the people of a city or nation submit to their political leaders, they give them authority over their lives. If the powers of evil get to control of the people at the top of the political hierarchy, they gain authority over all the people submitted to them. Concentration of political power leverages the authority of the powers of evil.

The spiritual powers of evil have gained enormous power on earth through government-spirits that control political leaders (Eph 6:12). Some, like the Prince of Persia, take the name of their nation (Dan 10:20). They have immense authority on earth, despite their defeat on the cross, because people submit to the leaders controlled by them. Political leaders have legal authority over their people, so attacking them gives government-spirits control over cities and nations.

Focussing on individual people is a very inefficient way for the powers of evil to use their shrinking power. If an evil spirit gains control over one person, it can make that person’s life miserable, but that is all. By getting control over a political leader, the same spirit can make an entire nation miserable. The powers of evil amplify their power by attacking people with political authority.

The power of evil is mostly an illusion, but concentrating on a few powerful people has allowed the forces of evil to magnify their pathetic power. Controlling human political power has amplified their authority out of proportion to their strength.

In the modern world, political power has been centralised and consolidated as never before. The leader of a modern democratic nation has greater power and authority than an emperor in Old Testament times, because they can control every aspect of life in their city or nation. This gives government spirits that control nations immense power.

When we vote, we submit to the political powers of our nation. We are saying to them, “You can rule me and the rest of the nation”. At the same time, we are legitimising the power of the government-spirits that control them, which gives them authority in our lives. Voting gives them power.

I refuse to submit to the government-spirits that control this nation, by voting for the political leaders that they manipulate and control.

Voting does not change the situation in the spiritual realms. The same government-spirits will be in control after the election as were in control before. This is why things usually carries on the same after the election of a new government.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Messiah and King

For my daily readings, I have been working through Paul’s letters in NT Wrights translation of the New Testament called the Kingdom New Testament. One thing that I find really refreshing is that he does not use the word “Christ”. I like this because “Christ” has become a contentless name for English-speaking Chrisitans.

Wright translates the Greek word “Christos” (which is not a surname) as “Messiah” or “King”. Both the words are much closer to the real meaning of christos.

Reading passages about King Jesus or Jesus the Messiah in Paul’s letters really heightens their meaning. It puts quite a different slant on his gospel and explanation of what Jesus achieved.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Dealing with Injustice

An injustice has two parties: the victim and the perpetrator.

When dealing with injustice, the church too often assumes that it has to go after the perpetrator and require them to make restitution to the victim. That often does not work, because perpetrators are full of excuses and not yet convicted by the Holy Spirit.

The church should remember that it can provide justice for victims of injustice, even if the perpetrators are unwilling. When followers of Jesus recognise that a person has experienced an injustice, they can make restitution to them by giving income and resources to the victim to compensate them for their loss. God’s people can provide restitution to victims of injustice by blessing them through giving and sharing of their resources (and from the unrighteous wealth).

In many situations, the best remedy for injustice is giving and sharing, because it works for the victim, even if the perpetrator of the injustice refuses to buy in to the process.

That leaves the perpetrator owing a debt to God, which is not ideal for them.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God did not begin when Jesus arrived on earth. It does not begin in the future when he returns.

The Kingdom of God began when God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt and placed them in a new land that he had chosen for them.

He gave them his laws to obey in the land. He was King over his people. King, territory, people and law. That is all that is needed for a kingdom to exist.

The problem was that the people could not obey God’s law, because they had not yet received the Holy Spirit in fulness. They submitted instead to the spiritual powers of evil, who undermined God’s kingdom and enslaved them again.

The kingship distorted the understanding of kingdom, even though some like David, Hezekiah and Josiah were good kings, because intermediary kings were inserted between God the King and his people. When they served a human king like the other nations, the people forgot that God was actually their King.

Jesus solved the problem by rescuing us from the spiritual powers of evil and sending the Holy Spirit to be the true intermediary between God the King and his people. This was a restoration and extension to Gentiles of the existing Kingdom, not the inauguration of a new Kingdom.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to enable his people to expand his kingdom into the world. The church has failed to enter into God’s kingdom in two ways.

  • A human priest or pastor has been imposed as an intermediary between the people and their king, instead of the Holy Spirit.

  • A focus on weekly worship and preaching has left Christians living mostly in the kingdoms of the world, with a worship service on the side.

The Kingdom of God will expand as Jesus gradually takes new territory as the gospel is preached in the power of the Spirit and people are rescued from the spiritual powers of evil and taught to obey the Holy Spirit's leading.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Political Power

The date for the NZ general election in October has been set. Many New Zealanders seem to be a bit bored by it, but Christians are really stirred up about the election. Most see it as an opportunity to use political power to push back on the Big Four Social issues. The big four social issues are:

  • Abortion
  • Euthanasia
  • Marijuana
  • LGBTQ
These issues are symptoms of the state of our society; they are not the cause of these problems. Focussing on political power to push back on social change is a a distraction for followers of Jesus that stops them doing what is really important.
  • The reason that evil is spreading in our society is that sin has become widespread. The reason that sin is widespread is that we have not shared the gospel of Jesus effectively. We cannot blame the world for sinning, if they have not heard the gospel clearly. We must not blame the world for failing to obey a God they don’t know. We should not expect sinful people to behave responsibly, if we have not shared the good news of Jesus with them.

  • The majority of the NZ population is not Christian, so we should not expect them to elect Christian MPs. If the majority of MPs are not Christian, we should not be surprised if they change laws in a way that Christians don’t like. Politicians follow the way of the world because that is the pathway to power. Forcing them to apply Christian principles is not an option. The solution is to change hearts by proclaiming the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • The gospel of Jesus and political power do not go together. Political power is coercive power. The state has the ability to force people do things that they do not want to do. Jesus refused to use force and coercion to get his will done. He wants people to be free, so his followers cannot use coercion either. The Kingdom of God comes by the Holy Spirit changing hearts; it does not come by coercion (Luke 22:25). Jesus does not want his people "lording it over" the rest of society, so we cannot use political power to advance the kingdom. Those using coercive political power to advance the kingdom are serving the devil, because he is the master of domination and coercion.

  • Using laws to outlaw behaviours that we do not like is “salvation by law”. Christians know that salvation by law does not work, and they do not believe in it, so it does not make sense that they are trying to use political power to bring social change. Advocating salvation by law is wasted effort.

    The church has an amazing gospel, and the Holy Spirit. These together are far more effective for bringing social change. The gospel can transform human lives and society. The gospel and the Spirit are effective tools for changing lives and transforming society. They deal with causes, rather than just supressing the symptoms.

  • A law does not make people good. A law does not stop people doing bad things. Rather, a law provides for people who do bad things to get punished. When Christians push for laws that punish behaviour that they do not like, it gives people the message that the Christian’s God does not like them and wants to punish them. This undermines the gospel, because when Christians say that their God loves people and will forgive them, it does not ring true. That is sad, because when people put their trust in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, they stop doing the things that upset Christians.

  • Using the power of the law to force people to stop doing things that Christians claim God does not like makes people hostile to God, which make it hard for them to receive the message that Jesus loves them.

  • Christians hate it when secular politicians pass laws that force them to do things that they believe are wrong. Christians want freedom to live according to the standards of their religion, but they do not seem to want other people to have the freedom to live according to their beliefs. This is hypocritical.

  • The “moral horse” has bolted in New Zealand. Society has already decided where it wants to go, and it is going the other way. Most people are glad that the shackles of religious constraints have been thrown off. They do not want to go back to the old world of religious condemnation and shame.

  • The four big social issues are often used to sucker the church into supporting right-wing political parties. They will use these “wedge issues” to entice voters to gain power, but will give very little back. Political power will always be a trap that brings disappointment for the church.

  • God does not care about the big four social issues as much as Christians do. He is sad when people reject his love, but he is not surprised when they sin or do evil. The big four social sins that concern Christians so much are normal in societies that have turned away from God. The solution is proclaiming the gospel in the power of the Spirit, because God’s heart is to rescue lost sheep, not to punish them.

In the New Testament, Jesus did not challenge the religious and political powers to bring in laws to eliminate abortion, euthanasia and sexual immorality. Instead, he went around proclaiming the good news and demonstrating God's love by healing the sick and casting out demons. Paul explained to the Roman Christians that increasing sexual immorality is the normal in a society that has rejected God's presence (Rom 1:23-27).

With thousands of Roman soldiers tramping around Judea, unwanted pregnancies would have been common in Jesus time. Many young women would have been seduced or raped (people assumed that Mary had been in a liaison with a Roman soldier). A secret abortion would have been the only way for a Jewish family to avoid terrible shame and ostracism. Homosexuality was common amongst soldiers too.

Jesus did not agitate for the Roman senate to pass laws that would stop these practices. Instead of advocating changes to the law, he urged his followers to preach the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that people's lives and society would be transformed.

Jesus was far more concerned about a different set of sins. He was particularly concerned about the sins of religious people and religious leaders than the sins of the world. When challenging sin, Jesus focussed on:

  • Unrighteous wealth (Luke 6:24-25; 16:13).

  • Religious leaders colluding with political power (Mark 3:6; Luke 23:2: John 19:12).

  • Imposing legal burdens on people to solve problems without doing anything about the underlying causes (Matt 23:2-4).

If the church persists in agitating on the big four social issues, there will be a harsh and hostile reaction. Persecution will be persecuted quicker than expected.

If pastors push hard on these issues in the lead up to the election, there will be a backlash from the media and activists that see them as a threat to their agenda. They have political support, so the fight could get really nasty. The social activists who have pushed these causes are tired of being pushed around and put in their place by the church. They feel like they have escaped that pressure in recent years, and they will do anything to avoid losing the ground that they have gained.

Dark clouds are rolling in from the sea and over the land.
The season of favour and privilege has come to an end.
A season of hostility, hatred, harm and harassment is beginning.

A sword of persecution will come against preachers
who go hard against sin with salvation by law.
When church leaders campaign hard against their freedom,
the people of the world will react with hostility.
Preachers will be accused of stirring up hatred and hostility
towards those who are hurting and helpless.
Pastors will be labelled as lacking in kindness and compassion.
If fear, anger and hatred squeeze out their love and empathy,
the world will react with hostility.

When church leaders use the sword of the state against sinners
and forget that sin carries its own punishment,
they will find that sword turned back against them.
A sword of persecution will rage against preachers
who go hard against sin with salvation by law.
A sharp division will come between political leaders and church leaders.
Hostility will rise up between them and feed into hatred and harm.
Some facilities will be closed to voices speaking loudly against sin.
Some Christian leaders will be hounded from their position.

When their pastors fall,
sheep will be scattered across the city,
afraid to return to big meetings.
After an explosion of anger and hostile threats,
some Christians will be afraid to come together in crowds.
When the sheep hide together in their homes,
something amazing will happen.
The Holy Spirit will make his home amongst them.
He will heal those who are sick and broken
and many people will choose to follow Jesus.

God will raise up helpers from within their homes
to watch over them
to teach them the way of Jesus
and to bond them into his body.
They will gather to love and support each other in their homes.
Elders with balanced giftings will arise from within their midst to watch over them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

No Intermediary

A common belief is that God needs a human government to act as his intermediary on earth. Many Christians believe that the Kingdom of God will come when key political positions in their nation are held by Christians and the elected law-makers pass laws that align with the scriptures. They believe that by voting for a godly people to get elected to political power, they are helping bring in the Kingdom of God.

The more power that the person elected has, the more important it is to get a good person elected. This is why Christians get stirred up about elections for President or Prime Minister. Christians believe that if the wrong person is elected, then the Kingdom of God will be shut out. They also believe that if they can get the right people elected, the Kingdom of God will be advanced.

Most Christians just assume that when the Kingdom of God comes to fulfilment in their nation, the political system that has been established in the nation will be an important part of it. Whether they have a republican presidency of a prime minister ruling under a monarchy, they assume that they already have God’s form of government. They believe that they just have to tweak the existing political system by getting Christian politicians elected for the Kingdom of God to come.

Although this view is widespread, it is wrong. The Kingdom of God does not come by political power. The political system uses force, coercion and compulsory taxation to achieve its objectives. Jesus refused to use political power because his kingdom is totally different from the kingdoms of the world. His kingdom is advanced as the gospel of Jesus is proclaimed in the power of the Spirit and people choose to love him and bring their lives into alignment with his will. The only government needed in the Kingdom of God is voluntary judges applying God’s law.

In the Old Testament age, Israel chose to have a king like other nations, but this was not God’s plan for them. He allowed them to have a king as a concession to human weakness, but the king was not essential for his kingdom. Old Testament kingship was a second-best option, so it is not a justification for modern political power/People in the Old Testament struggled to hear God, so they needed prophets and priests to act as intermediaries on their behalf. Now, God has given has sent us his Holy Spirit to act as an intermediary between him and his people.

Jesus announced the priesthood and kingship of all believers (Rev 1:6). We can enter the presence of God through Jesus and hear him speak through the Holy Spirit, so we do not need a priest to act on our behalf. We can give our allegiance to Jesus and serve him by obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit. We do not need a king to tell us what to do.

God does not need a king or other human government standing as an intermediary between him and the people. The Holy Spirit can tell people what he wants them to do. His laws still provide the best possible basis for resolving disputes between people.

The idea that God needs a human government or a holy roman empire to act as a king and establish a kingdom using military and legal power is nonsense. Human governments rely on force and coercion, so they cannot be part of the Kingdom of God. Their love of power allows them to be controlled by government-spirits in the spiritual realms, so they are part of the kingdom of darkness. God cannot use them to bring in his kingdom, because it is totally different from the kingdoms of the world. His kingdom is expanded by love and serving in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Age of Disorder

Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid says that the world is entering an Age of Disorder.

Economic cycles come and go, but sitting above them are the wider structural super-cycles that shape everything from economies to asset prices, politics, and our general way of life. In this note we have identified five such cycles over the last 160 years, and we think the world is on the cusp of a new era – one that will be characterised initially by disorder.

Not all disorder is 'bad'. Indeed, if the themes of the world economy swing like a pendulum, then it may be that some have swung too far from a 'sensible centre' and are due to revert. This can have a cleansing effect. What is worrying, though, is that several themes appear poised to revert at a similar time. This is the point – that simultaneous changes to structural themes will create a level of disorder that will define a new era.

So, the Age of Disorder is likely upon us. In the years ahead, simply extrapolating past trends could be the biggest mistake you make.

The article is worth a read.



Monday, September 14, 2020

Three-Agent Universe

In a previous post, I explained that the Old Testament perceives a two-agent universe in which every event is an interaction between two agents: God and humans. The New Testament explains that we actually live in a three-agent universe. Events on earth are a struggle between God and the spiritual powers of evil with humans caught in the middle. Understanding this contest gives us a much better frame for understanding what is happening on earth.

A serious problem with a “two-agent universe” is that humans assumed that all their problems were problems with God. They saw their sin as upsetting God and believed that to put things right, they had to appease God. This understanding was wrong. Sin created a bigger problem for humans than for God. Sin produced shame, which made people feel like they had to hide from God. Worse still, when they sinned, humans gave authority in their lives to the spiritual powers of evil, which enabled these evil powers to dominate events on earth.

The people of the Old Testament assumed that they had a problem with God. The revelation of Jesus confirmed that our problem was not with God, but with the spiritual powers of evil who held humans captive. Jesus set us free, by defeating them on the cross. As a bonus, he dealt with our shame at the same time.

A good example of the two-agent universe view is out understanding of Genesis 1-3. The writers saw this as a two-agent problem. Many preachers claim that Adam and Eve’s sin created a barrier between them and God. God hated their sin so much that he cannot look on them. They came under his wrath and anger and need to appease him before they can be at peace with him. One preacher described this as “one strike and you are out”.

If we read the passage through a three-agent lens, we get a totally different view of what is happening. The reality is that when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, his attitude did not change. He still came into the garden to meet with them, and he spoke to them in the same way as he did before. There is no evidence of hostility towards them (Gen 3:8). It was Adam and Eve who had the problem. They felt shame for the first time and tried to hide from God. This is the human problem. Sin causes us to feel shame, so we run away from God.

God asked some tough questions as any father would do. Where are you? What have you done? Who tricked you? God was establishing that the spiritual powers of evil were the problem. They had tricked the humans into submitting to them. This gave the spiritual powers of evil authority over the earth.

God did not angrily pronounce a judgment on the humans for their failure. He was not punnishing them for their disobedience. Rather, like a good father, he sadly explained the consequences of their disobedience. They had submitted to the spiritual powers of evil, so bad things would happen. The women would be dominated and sometimes abused by her husband. The spiritual powers of evil had gained authority over the earth, so they would mess up God’s creation with nasty weeds and climatic events.

God was not cursing humans. He was simply explaining the consequence of human actions. They had submitted to the powers of evil, so things would go wrong for them and their descendants. God was explaining that they had lost his protection, so the outcome would not be nice.

There is a serious difference in tone between Gen 3:23 and Gen 3:24. If we take a two-agent view, we miss the distinction.

Gen 3:23 explains God’s action.

The LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.
This is very calm. He simply sent them out into the earth, which was always the plan. God never intended Adam to stay in the garden. Once they learnt how to care for the garden, he intended that they would move out into the rest of the world and establish his garden there.

God’s name is not used in Gen 3:24, although many translators included it. The tone of the verse is blunt and harsh. I believe this explains the event from the devil’s perspective.

He drove the man out and stationed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:24).
The devil drove humans out of the garden because he hated them and wanted to destroy them.

Readers assume that God put a guard around the tree of life, but the translation of this verse is not certain. The word translated flashing back and forth is "haphak". The primary meaning of this word is overturn or pervert. The message of this verse may be that "perverted" cherubim had seized control of the tree of life when human submission gave the spiritual powers of evil authority on earth. Much of what happened in Old Testament times was the work of the powers of evil. If we miss that we end up blaming God for evil that he did not do.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

God of the Age

Government power is the god of our age. As faith in God has declined, faith in human government has grown massively. They will not admit it, but many Christians have more faith in the ability of political power to transform and restore society than in their God. Very few believe that society can be transformed by the gospel and the spirit without a massive intervention of political power.

Whenever a problem arises in modern society, people say, “The government should do something about it”. When people are in trouble, they expect the government to rescue them. I remember during the Christchurch earthquake, very few people looked to God, or his church, for solutions to their problems. They expected the government to come up with solutions.

The situation is the same all over the world. Government power is the spirit of the age.

We take this for granted, but it is not normal. For most of history, governments did very little for their people. They mostly looked after their mates and protected their own power. Doing things for ordinary people was considered wasted effort. Ordinary people relied on God, their family and friends to deal with the crises of life.

During the last few generations, this has all changed. People began to expect their political leaders to solve all their problems. Politicians were quite happy to respond to these demands, but in return, they demanded the power they needed to do what people wanted. We have been caught up in a spiral, with people demanding more and more from the political system and the politicians grabbing more and more power in order to fulfil their role. The result is more and more laws and massive numbers of regulations; so many that people can’t know them all.

We have now arrived at a place where governments hold powers far beyond their wisdom to use it. People are still disillusioned because their needs are not being met, despite massive government powers. People in business are frustrated as governments impose massive constraints on their ability to operate, but they still want the government to solve the problems in society that concern them.

No one seems to understand that the problem lies with political power itself. Both those who are disillusioned because their needs are not met, and those who fear government control, still believe that the solution is changing the government. They believe that getting better people into power will make things better. Actually, the problem is faith in modern government.

The only solution is for people to lose faith in government (that is happening) and put their trust in God and begin living by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. People will have to get together with other followers of Jesus and learn to support each other through the crises that lie ahead. When God’s people start doing this, the Kingdom of God will come closer.

When Christians attempt to gain political power so they can restrain evil or transform society, they are aligning with the spirit of the age. The New Testament explains that human governments and political power are controlled by principalities and powers in the spiritual realms (Eph 6:12). I call usually call them government-spirits to make their role clear. When followers of Jesus engage in political activities to bring change, they are submitting to the government-spirit that controls the government in their nation. While they are endeavouring to bring about change, they are actually strengthening the kingdoms of this world. When the government changes everything remains the same because the same government-spirit.

The Kingdom of God is different. Jesus brings in his kingdom by changing hearts. People will choose to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit because they love him. There is no room for coercion or control in the Kingdom of God. Political power has no place in the Kingdom of God, because it relies on force and coercion to achieve its objectives. The Kingdom of God expands as Jesus followers love and serve the people living around them. As they hear the good news of Jesus, they will be drawn into the kingdom. I explain how this will happen in my book called Government of God.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Baptism

On Script has a good interview with Alan Street about his book called Caesar and the Sacrament.

Alan Street explains that the word sacramentum was the oath of loyalty of a Roman soldier. He pledged allegiance to Caesar unto death. Christians borrowed the term and applied it to baptism.

Baptism was an act of resistance. Not overthrowing the Roman government by violence, but saying that I am giving my allegiance to the Kingdom of God and therefore resisting Rome’s agenda.

Baptism is a political act, not just a spiritual once. By making baptism a religious rite, we have devalued it.

This interview is worth a listen. The message is a good companion to Mathew Bates Gospel Allegiance.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Crisis-proof Church

God didnt create the coronavirus, but he has used the Covid19 shutdowns to expose inability of the church to operate through a crisis. Failure to learn what he is trying to teach us will leave the church in a dangerous place.

The enforced shutdown has been a fairly trivial crisis, but the church has been fairly ineffective through it, because its people are so scattered that they can only relate to their neighbours one-on-one. The lockdown should have been a time of opportunity when many people were shaken and fearful, and some were feeling the pain of losing their jobs, but most Christians did not know their neighbours well enough to share openly with them. And their neighbours could not see the body of Jesus functioning, because that only happens when the church meets on Sunday.

God is using the current bad situation for good by giving the church a trial run of hard times (without being life-threatening for most people). Here is a truth that we cannot afford to ignore. A church that can only meet by people driving to a church building once a week will not be viable in hard times. The irony is that most Christians believe that there could be hard times ahead, but they ignored their fears and opted for a good-times-only church.

The Covid19 shutdown has demonstrated that the operating model of the modern church is only viable in good-times. The current crisis is a mild, temporary trial, but the church has struggled to function effectively. The crisis has not produced a flood of new believers or healings from sickness. Pastors have used information technology to keep preaching to their people, but this at best, has only been a holding action. They are exhausted, but they feel like they are barely holding ground. Most Christians feel cut off and alone and are frustrated with watching a church service on their television.

The Covid experience confirms that the good-times model of doing church is extremely fragile. If it cannot cope with a relatively short shutdown, how could it cope during a serious persecution or deep economic crisis. Leaders of the church would be foolish to ignore the warning and carry on as if it has not happened.

Most are hoping that the crisis will soon be over, so that their church can go back to normal, but they are missing what God is saying in this season. Any expectation that the situation will return to normal is a false hope.

Things will not return to normal.
This is not a new normal.
It will not even be a new normal adjusted.
We are returning to an old normal
where life is uncertain,
as it is for most people in the third world
and was for most of human history.
We are returning to the old normal
where the world was wrecked by frequent epidemics
that get ahead of human efforts to control them.
The new normal will not return us to good times.
When this crisis ends, life will not go back to normal. The problem in the western world is that we have lived through seventy years of relative peace and quiet. The modern church operating model functioned quite well in that situation, but our peace and prosperity has given us a false sense of security. It has also been an effective tactic for the spiritual powers of evil, because it has produced a complete lack of awareness of their evil activities and the influence of events in the spiritual realms.

In many western nations, this lack of awareness has been made worse by the large number of people that have turned away from God. Over the last fifty years, there has been a massive decline of faith. Things still seem to be OK on the surface, but as God has been squeezed out, the spiritual powers of evil have been inadvertently allowed in. They are getting greater freedom and ability to work evil in this part of the world, so they are unlikely to stop.

Unfortunately, the spiritual powers of evil are not content with distracting people from God. They love to steal, kill and destroy, so they will have a go at achieving this whenever they get an opportunity. They were behind the GFC and the coronavirus, and have noticed how effective these events were for hurting people and disrupting society. These were not by any means their best efforts, so I expect that if there is a return to “peace and security”, it will not last long, because they will have another crack at destruction and harm.

From their perspective, the coronavirus has been really successful, so they will try it again when the time is right. They might try something different first, but they will try an epidemic again sometime, and it will probably be worse.

Assuming that when we are through this crisis, everything will go back to normal is serious a mistake. The bible teaches that trouble and tribulation are normal for the church. Jesus said,

In the world you have tribulation (John 16:33).
If Jesus said we will have tribulations, why would be happy with a way of doing church that is only viable in good times?

Persisting with a church model that is only viable during “peace and plenty” is naïve. No serious business would develop a product that can only function under perfect conditions. Rather they design products that can operate under adverse conditions. Christian leaders should be thinking in the same way. We urgently need a way of being church that can cope with good times, hard times and tribulations.

All church leaders should be asking the following questions:

  • Could the church that I lead function in a serious epidemic (we haven’t had one yet)?

  • Could the church that I lead function through a really serious economic depression?

  • Could the church that I lead continue to operate effectively through serious state persecution with pastors being arrested and church buildings being locked?

  • Could the church that I lead function effectively through a period of social and civil breakdown, or a serious collapse of law and order?

If they cannot answer these questions honestly with a “yes,” they should think seriously about how well they are preparing their people for the future.

The first disciples who were trained by Jesus were able to operate effectively through periods of persecution and social disruption. Maybe we should look more carefully at the church model that worked so effectively for them.

Our way of doing church can be disrupted by something as simple as having to stay at home, so a really serious crisis would cause terrible difficulties. I suspect that future troubles will bring serious economic, political and social disruption. Therefore, it is more sensible to prepare for the worst, and be pleasantly surprised, than to “hope for the best” and be caught short.

God wants his people to be prepared, so they can continue to be effective in sharing the gospel and expanding his kingdom, regardless of what is happening in the world. God has promised to establish his kingdom on earth, but it will likely have its greatest advance during tough times. He needs his people to be prepared for crisis and equipped for victory.

I explain how a church can be strong and effective during a crisis, yet also able to cope with victory and rapid growth, in my book Being Church Where We Live. For the next three days, the Kindle version of this book is available in the Kindle bookstore.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Galatians and Righteousness (7) Old Testament

The theme of righteousness is common throughout the Old Testament. There are three main uses of the concept.

  1. The Old Testament has a strong emphasis on the righteousness of God. He is different from all other gods, because everything that he does is righteous.

    Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,

    you who have done great things.

    Who is like you, God (Psalm 71:9?

  2. The kings of Israel were expected to implement justice and righteousness for their people.

  3. The mighty King loves justice. You have established fairness; you have administered justice and righteousness in Jacob (Ps 99:4).
    A good king makes decisions that are righteous. He provides justice for everyone who has suffered from injustice.

  4. Righteousness was fulfilling the law to receive blessing.

    If only you had paid attention to my commands.
    Then your peace would have been like a river,
    and your righteousness like the waves of the sea (Is 48:18).
    The Torah provided spiritual protection for the children of Israel. God had rescued them from physical and spiritual slavery. To remain safe, they had to continue obey the law. If they rejected God by forgetting to obey the law, the spiritual powers of evil would be able to attack them. These are the curses described in Deuteronomy 28.

    This righteousness was not a better standard of goodness. Rather it was a way for sinful people being kept safe from evil by remaining under God’s spiritual protection.

This full series can be read here.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Galatians and Righteousness (6) Works of Torah

In Galatians 2:15-16, Paul explains that no one can be justified by works of the Law.

A person is not justified by the works of the law
but by faith in Messiah Jesus:
even we ourselves have believed in Christ the Messiah,
so that we might be justified by faith in the Messiah
and not by the works of the law,
because by the works of the law no human will be declared righteous.
This raises an important question. What are the works of the law (Torah) that the Jewish believers were relying on for their righteousness?

The works of the law cannot be the entire Torah, because it was a document for a community of people, so much of it cannot be practised by an individual, especially an individual Gentile Christian.

  • Laws for the punishment of crimes have to be carried out by a community, so they cannot be practised by an individual Christian.

  • Tabernacle sacrifices provided spiritual protection for unrighteous people. They had to be implemented by priests in a holy place, so they could not be practised by Gentiles in Asia Minor (although they were still being offered in Jerusalem at the time when the letter was written).

  • The laws about sexual immorality in Leviticus 18 and 20 described things to avoid for spiritual protection, so they could not be practised by an individual Christian, although hopefully the evils described will be avoided by people who are being led by the Holy Spirit.

  • Much of the law is expressed negatively, giving penalties for things that are wrong. These laws cannot be explicitly practised as works by Gentile Christians.

These cannot be the works of the law that Paul was referring to.

The works of the law have to be positive commands that tell people under the Torah things that they must do.

Many of the guidelines for economic life were expressed positively. They were the kind of things that loving people could do to strengthen their community. They do not seem to be what Paul was talking about as works of law to be avoided, because he seemed to continue fulfilling most of the guidelines for economic life.

The other group of positive commands are the cultural markers designed to keep the Jews separate from the nations for their spiritual protection. There were three main cultural markers.

  • Circumcision
  • Sabbath
  • Food laws.
Note: Eating separately was not a requirement of the Torah, but the food laws were used to justify this common Jewish practice that marked them off from Gentiles.

Under the Old Covenant, being in the right came through birth into the chosen people. The people who entered the promised land had been born in the wilderness after their parents escaped from Egypt. Moses' covenant applied to everyone born as an Israelite. Paul understood this well. He was born into the tribe of Benjamin as a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Phil 3:5). This gave him a “legalistic righteousness” (Phil 3:6).

In this context, demonstrating that you were part of the chosen people was really important. Circumcision and Sabbath were the key cultural markers that Jews relied on to show that they were part of God’s elect.

The Jewish Christians challenging the Galatians were concerned about proving their righteousness. Naturally, they focussed on the aspects of the law that would mark them out as being born in the right nation, ie circumcision, food laws and sabbath. These were the works of the law that they required the gentile Christians to do, as marks of the righteousness that came through having born again into God’s people.

The Jewish Christians thought that the Gentile Christians needed these external markers to show they were no longer part of the world. Paul explained that there was a far better way for followers of Jesus to show that they no longer belonged to the world. The first was the gift of the Spirit. They should be full of the fruit of the Spirit, so people would know that they were different (Gal 5:22-26). The other sign that demonstrates that followers of Jesus are not part of the world is their love for each other (Gal 6:2).

Paul explained that external symbols that mark out believers are a waste of time. The things that should mark of followers of Jesus are their love for each other and the presence of the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:2,14). Christians only need external identifiers like different haircuts or clothing, if they have forgotten how to love one another and lost the gift of the Spirit.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Galatians and Righteousness (5) Human Problem

Humans have two main problems.

  • The first problem is shame. Our sinfulness causes shame that makes us afraid of God, so that we hide from him, when we should be seeking him. Proving ourselves righteous does not deal with shame. The solution to shame is forgiveness. If we know that God has forgiven us and accepted us as we can draw near to God with confidence.

  • The second problem is that sin gives the spiritual powers of evil control over humans. We become slaves of sin, death and unrighteousness. This is the problem that Paul worries about most. The good news is that Jesus delivered us from their power by his death and resurrection. He has rescued us and set us free to serve God in the power of the Spirit.

    The spiritual powers of evil try to retain their power and control, by accusing us before God and demanding our punishment. But Jesus has dealt with that problem by his death on the cross. His shedding of blood means that they can no longer accuse us and claim the right to inflict a curse on us. Jesus has set us free from both their accusations and their control. This is the good news that Paul was so excited about.

Humans do not have a problem with God. He is loving and kind and full of mercy. He is sad that humans have rejected him and allowed the spiritual powers of evil to control their lives, but he is not mad with us. His wrath does not need to be appeased.

The Jewish Christians who were worrying the Gentile Christians in Galatia were worried about God. They believed they need to prove their righteousness to him. Paul responded to their need by explaining that we are made righteous in God’s eyes by faith in Jesus. If we trust in Jesus, we are united with him in his death and resurrection. When God looks on us, he sees Jesus' righteousness and attributes it to us too. We are righteous before him.

This obsession with righteousness is the focus of Jewish Christians. Paul dealt with their concerns because they were a threat to his gospel, but demonstrating righteousness was not his primary concern. The was far more concerned about deliverance from spiritual powers of evil that sin has allowed into the world. Jesus defeated them, so Paul wants us to share in his victory of the powers that he has delivered us from.

Civilizational State

Bruno Maçães has interesting comments on the relation between nation states and civilisational states. He explains that in a civilization-state, cultural ties are potentially more important than the mere legal status of citizenship. A civilization-state is organized around culture rather than politics. Linked to a civilization, the state has the paramount task of protecting a specific cultural tradition. Its reach encompasses all the regions where that culture is dominant.

The world of the civilization-state is the natural political world. Think of how states are built and how they expand. If a state has developed a successful formula to organize social relations and collective power, it will tend to absorb its neighbors. As it expands and concentrates new forms of wealth, social life will become increasingly complex. Myths will be created, the arts and sciences will prosper. Within its dominion, some possibilities will be opened while others are irredeemably closed. A way of life — a way to see the world and interpret the human condition — will develop. Outside the realm, other states will offer alternatives, but because these alternatives are in turn different ways to think and to live, states are coextensive with civilizations and subordinate to the civilizational form.

The modern West broke with this mold. From the perspective of what had come before, Western political societies had oddly misplaced scientific ambitions. They wanted their political values to be accepted universally, much like a scientific theory enjoys universal validity. In order to achieve this — we shall have occasion to doubt whether it was ever achieved — a monumental effort of abstraction and simplification was needed.

Western civilization was to be a civilization like no other. Properly speaking, it was not to be a civilization at all but something closer to an operating system. It would not embody a rich tapestry of traditions and customs or pursue a religious doctrine or vision. Its principles were meant to be broad and formal, no more than an abstract framework within which different cultural possibilities could be explored. By being rooted in tolerance and democracy, Western values were not to stand for one particular way of life against another. Tolerance and democracy do not tell you how to live — they establish procedures, according to which those big questions may later be decided.

Since that is the very definition of a civilization-state — to promote and defend one way of life against all alternatives — modern Western political societies had to invent a new political form. The values being defended were meant to become universal, but in practice, the idea of a world-state was never very popular. After all, these universal values were sufficiently universal to leave ample room for differences of implementation. And they were so abstract that many questions were left open, needing to be decided in different ways according to local circumstances.

The concept of a nation-state allowed for some level of diversity, but universal values were still meant to provide the constitutional framework under which each individual nation ruled itself. These universal values stood for the negation of the civilization-state and affirmed the freedom to experiment with different ways of life. But if widely accepted, they could help build global institutions and rules, reducing the likelihood of state conflict. Over the last few decades, a world-state remained a utopia, but a world society seemed to advance.

But then the civilization-state struck back...

The return of the civilization-state poses a delicate problem for the West. Remember that to a great extent, Western societies have sacrificed their specific cultures for the sake of a universal project. One can no longer find the old tapestry of traditions and customs or a vision of the good life in these societies. Their values tell us what we can do but are silent on what we should do. And then there is this question, particularly acute in Europe: Now that we have sacrificed our own cultural traditions to create a universal framework for the whole planet, are we now supposed to be the only ones to adopt it?

Responses vary. There are those in Europe — the populists, to use a catchy term — who want to turn the clock back and recover the wholesome content of a traditional Christian society. But many more believe that the core of a modern, secular European civilization will remain valid even if the rest of the world takes a different path. The European Union is in the process of being reconfigured as a civilization-state, a political entity aggregating all those who live by a specific value system and using political tools to protect European civilization from the attacks of its enemies.

Europe may have been convinced that it was building a universal civilization. As it turned out, it was merely building its own. The recognition of this fact will be difficult and painful, but it seems inevitable. I first noticed this transformation when European politicians started to claim that Europe is the best place in the world to live in. Rather than defending universal values such as democracy or human rights, they increasingly defend one way of life against every alternative — a competition with winners and losers. The continent that hoped to move beyond the logic of civilization is very close to converting to it, as is America. When that happens, the triumph of the civilization-state will be complete.

The irony is that Europe and the United States were Christian civilisation-states before they embarked on the elusive pursuit of universal democracy, tolerance and human rights. Unfortunately, these values do not provide a unifying drive, so these cultures are actually flying apart.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Galatians and Righteousness (4) Law

People who worry about being right with God have missed the point. Those who rely on the works of the law to be right with God are totally wrong. Paul explained that the Torah cannot make people with right with God (Gal 2:16,21). That was not its purpose.

The Torah provided spiritual protection for the people chosen and called by God. The Torah also provided a way for them to live close together in relative peace in the promised land. The Israelites needed spiritual protection and guidance for living together because they were not righteous. If they were truly righteous, the spiritual powers of evil would not be able to attack them, and they would not need spiritual protection. They would be able to live in unity without needing laws to resolve disputes and deal with crime. They needed the Torah because they were not righteous.

The law put people under a curse because it gave the spiritual powers of evil authority to attack anyone who disobeyed God (Gen 3:10-11). It does not make people righteous but exposes their unrighteousness. Fortunately, it also puts in place protection for those who are sinful, so the spiritual powers of evil could not destroy them.

Paul explained the law cannot make people righteous, because that was not its purpose. People who are worried about being righteous should rely on Jesus’ death and resurrection (Gal 2:21). The only way to be righteous in God’s eyes us to be united to the Messiah through faith, so that when God looks at us, he sees him. His righteousness becomes our righteousness, but it is his, not ours.

Abraham did not worry about trying to be right with God (Gal 3:6-9). I presume that he knew he had faults. Instead, when he heard God telling him to move to a new land, he obeyed that call, even though he did not know where he would end up. He trusted the God who spoke to him. That faith is what was counted to him as righteousness.

The law was provided for sinful people living before the time of Jesus to keep them safe from evil. It was not intended to make them righteous. Those who are looking for a demonstration of their righteousness, either in the law, or the gospel, are on a wild goose chase.

Balance of Power

Twenty years ago, Robert Cooper explained the relationship between nations states and the balance of power.

To understand the present, we must first understand the past, for the past is still with us. International order used to be based either on hegemony or on balance. Hegemony came first. In the ancient world, order meant empire. Those within the empire had order, culture and civilisation. Outside it lay barbarians, chaos and disorder. The image of peace and order through a single hegemonic power centre has remained strong ever since. Empires, however, are ill-designed for promoting change. Holding the empire together - and it is the essence of empires that they are diverse - usually requires an authoritarian political style; innovation, especially in society and politics, would lead to instability. Historically, empires have generally been static.

In Europe, a middle way was found between the stasis of chaos and the stasis of empire, namely the small state. The small state succeeded in establishing sovereignty, but only within a geographically limited jurisdiction. Thus domestic order was purchased at the price of international anarchy. The competition between the small states of Europe was a source of progress, but the system was also constantly threatened by a relapse into chaos on one side and by the hegemony of a single power on the other. The solution to this was the balance-of-power, a system of counter-balancing alliances which became seen as the condition of liberty in Europe. Coalitions were successfully put together to thwart the hegemonic ambitions firstly of Spain, then of France, and finally of Germany.

But the balance-of-power system too had an inherent instability, the ever-present risk of war, and it was this that eventually caused it to collapse. German unification in 1871 created a state too powerful to be balanced by any European alliance; technological changes raised the costs of war to an unbearable level; and the development of mass society and democratic politics, rendered impossible the amoral calculating mindset necessary to make the balance of power system function. Nevertheless, in the absence of any obvious alternative it persisted, and what emerged in 1945 was not so much a new system as the culmination of the old one. The old multi-lateral balance-of-power in Europe became a bilateral balance of terror worldwide, a final simplification of the balance of power. But it was not built to last. The balance of power never suited the more universalistic, moralist spirit of the late twentieth century.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Galatians and Righteousness (3) Pride

I presume that a desire to be justified before God is driven by human pride. Paul suggests in Galatians 2:17 that seeking to be declared righteous is sinful, even if it is by the Messiah.

If, in seeking to be justified in Christ,
we find ourselves also among the sinners,
doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin?
Absolutely not!
This verse is odd, because if we are justified by faith, then we are no longer counted as sinners. I suspect that Paul might be suggesting that it is sinful to worry about being justified. If we are forgiven then we do not need to be concerned about being justified to God.

Paul then asks if our seeking to be justified by Jesus makes him an agent of sin. The answer is an emphatic “No!”. Paul goes on to suggest that if he builds up his own justification, which he tore down to follow Jesus, he proves that he is a transgressor (Gal 2:18). If I am worried about my justification, the problem is mine, not Jesus’.

Paul declared that he had been crucified with Jesus. He no longer lives, but Jesus lives in him (Gal 2:20). Paul’s life does not count, so his justification does not matter. The only thing that matters is Jesus the Messiah, and being united with him.

Paul explained to the Corinthians that he is not interested in his own justification.

For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. It is the Lord who judges me (1 Cor 4:4).
Paul explained to the Romans that the Gentiles were not seeking righteousness, but they gained it freely. In contrast, the Jews pursued righteousness, but they failed to achieve it. Pursuing righteousness is pointless (Rom 9:30-31).

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Galatians and Righteousness (2) Antioch

Paul begins his letter to the Galatians by describing an event at Antioch where Peter was happy to eat food with Gentile Christians, but when James came to visit, Peter drew back and refused to eat with them (Gal 2:11-13). Paul challenged Peter in front of the church for not acting in accordance with the gospel and said he was forcing Gentile Christians to follow Jewish customs (Gal 2:14). The remainder of Galatians 2 is Paul’s recollection of his response to Peter.

Previously in his ministry, Paul had checked his understanding of the gospel with the so-called pillars of the church, Peter, James and John (Gal 2:1-9). They did not add anything to the gospel of Jesus that he was preaching. The circumcision group that pressured Peter when he came to Antioch was adding something to the gospel. They were saying that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and eat separately to be “right with God” (Gal 2:12).

Being justified before God was the concern of the Judaizers, not Paul’s. Paul was more concerned about being set apart and called by grace (Gal 1:15). He had no need to be justified before God. Paul’s other goal was freedom from the power of sin and the spiritual powers of evil (Gal 5:1). The circumcision group wanted to make a good impression outwardly (Gal 6:12). They want to boast about their noble birth (Gal 6:13). The only thing that Paul will boast about is the cross of Jesus, through which has been crucified to the world (Gal 6:14).

The other thing that Paul worried about was receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 3:2,14, he explains that the major benefit of the gospel is not being made righteous, but receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit. Being made righteous is of no value to us. Receiving the Holy Spirit can transform our lives, so this is the goal of Paul’s gospel.