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Today, October 7, 2012, is Pulpit Freedom Sunday. In 1954, the Johnson Amendment was passed which asserted the federal government’s right to set limits on what could and could not be preached from the pulpit. On this Lord’s Day, over a thousand American pastors are going to be preaching in defiance of that regulation, in hopes of obtaining a court case that can be used to challenge the constitutionality of that law. The issue is one of jurisdiction. There are partisan things that would be inappropriate to declare from a Christian pulpit, but the policing of such things is not up to the civil magistrate.
“But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go” (Acts 17:5-9).
Summary of the Text
The preaching of the apostle Paul was effective in Thessalonica—so effective, in fact, that it provoked opposition, coupled with a slander. The opposition preceded the political slander, and was an opposition in search of an argument, which was found soon enough in a political claim. The unbelieving Jews gathered up “lewd fellows of the baser sort,” meaning first century blog trolls, and they were able to set an uproar going (v. 5). When they couldn’t find Paul, they grabbed Jason and some others, and hauled them in (v. 6). First, they noted that the preaching of Christ had turned the world upside down (v. 6). Jason was a friend of these people, and received those who acted contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there was an authority over Caesar, one Jesus, king of all things (v. 7). They troubled everybody with this set of accusations (v. 8), and after Jason posted bond, they all went home (v. 9).
No Ethereal Jesus
We believe that Jesus has been enthroned at the right hand of God the Father. We do not believe that He has been vaporized and projected up into the upper reaches of metaphysics. Here is the difference. We believe Jesus has been given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, over all peoples, nations, and languages” (Dan. 7:14). We believe it to be an everlasting dominion. We believe that of the increase of His government on earth there will be no end (Is. 9:7). We believe that all kings and presidents, congresses and parliaments, have a moral and true obligation to bow down and kiss the Son, lest He be angry with them (Ps. 2: 12). We believe that Jesus told us that our marching orders were to disciple all the nations of men, teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded (Matt. 28: 18-20). We are not secularists, with a Christian corner in our hearts. We are Christians in public and private, with no authorized secular corners in our hearts. Whenever we find such a corner of impudent autonomy, we confess it to God the Father as a sin.
So Non-Partisan Is Not Neutrality
It is no better for the Christian church to be co-opted by a secular political party than it is to be co-opted by a secular state. This is a standard we have held to in this church for many years. But when a particular man of truth is a candidate for office, and he fears God and hates covetousness (Ex. 18:21), as for, example, Gresham Bouma does, what principle would be violated by saying so in church? And even if such an endorsement were offered in error, what business is it of our federal government—which does not fear God at all and is the walking embodiment of covetousness—to set up shop as the arbiter of these things?
How We Got Here
Fuzzy thinking is one of the characteristic sins of our age, and one of its marked features is that of trying to have it both ways. We tend to look back at those eras when God blessed us as a nation—which He did —and we try to pretend that He is still blessing us in that way. But withholding His judgment, although a blessing after a fashion, is not the kind of blessing we should be seeking out. At least that, obviously, but why are we not hungry for much more than that?
How bad would it have to get before we started to question some of our erroneous assumptions? How many babies would we have to kill? How many dollars would we have to soak in kerosene and set off with a match? Our ruling elites obviously hate the future. When they are not killing those future citizens, they are taxing them into a staggering slavery. When are we allowed to observe and say how much they hate the future? And if we can see and say it, then why can we not say it from the pulpit?
Wisdom declares that everyone who hates her loves death (Prov. 8: 36). Secularism is unbelief, and unbelief is always fruitless (Jude 12). How fruitless? As fruitless as a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic. As fruitless as a sodomite wedding on the court house steps. As fruitless as an argument with someone who wants unbelieving godlings to be able to ascend to the sides of the north, and create wealth out of nothing.
So it always comes back to Jesus. If He did not assert His authority over these United States by coming back from the dead, then go find another religion. Get another altar to light candles on. Call yourself something else. Go count some pagan beads. The Lord Jesus is one who—if preached biblically and in the power of the Spirit—will always unsettle the bramble men of this age. If He is declared as crucified, buried, risen, ascended, and ruling the nations, then Jason and friends will always find themselves down at the courthouse posting bond. And if He is not declared in that way, then how is it possible to pretend that you are still preaching the Christian gospel?
If you don’t like eating the devil’s beef, then stop smelling his gravy.