Thursday, July 29, 2010

Judge Bolton's Decision and the Bible

“Soon after Judge Susan Bolton's decision was announced, a spokesman for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said the state will appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Thursday, asking the appellate court for a swift decision to lift the injunction and allow the blocked provisions to take effect,” reports

This decision was made despite escalating home invasions, private property damage, drug-related crime, kidnappings, and murder in Arizona and other border states, all traceable to an out-of-control problem and a Federal administration dead set on doing next to nothing about it.

Mounting frustration is heard from others who complain of cut fences, escaped animals, stolen farm items, and damaged barns and watering troughs. Excess litter also spreads across the border landscape: water bottles, empty canteens, diapers, plastic bags, and clothing—just to list a few items. One rancher interviewed by Insight Magazine claimed that three of his steers suffocated from ingesting plastic bags.

Additionally, there is the cost to human lives and dignity. Amid temperatures as high as 122 degrees, both American and Mexican authorities routinely search for Mexicans feared lost and dying in the scorching desert terrain. In 2001, twelve illegal immigrants perished as they tried to traverse barren Arizona desert in 115-degree heat. It was the largest number of illegal immigrants to die at once in the Southwest desert in recent years.

Incentives for migrating to the U.S. include the availability of low-skill jobs, higher wages (a third of the Mexican people live on $2.00 a day or less), better standards of living, and expectations of welfare-related benefits. Expatriate communities furnish an attractive support network that fuels the migration northward. Additionally, keeping the flow of immigrants moving is an elaborate and lucrative smuggling network that is estimated to garnish millions of dollars each year. For example, “coyotes” or smugglers charge as much as $500 a person for a ride to the U.S. border and another $1,500 a person from the border to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Before we look at a possible solution to the Mexican problem, let me ask, “Does the Bible teach that people have a right to emigrate?” Yes. In obedience to the call of God, Abram and his family went out from Ur of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran in upper Mesopotamia (Genesis 11:31). The likely explanation for the move is that the extreme paganism of the Chaldean countryside posed a threat to God’s long-range plan of using Abram to raise up a godly seed that would bless many nations. The choice was therefore made for him to emigrate.

Like Abram who found it difficult to obey God in the face of surrounding paganism, people down through the ages have faced the same challenge, but in the form of pagan governments. Biblically, governments are established to defend its citizens from any hostile force that would impede the free exercise of their Creator-endowed rights. To the extent that a government fails to carry out its mandate to punish evildoers and reward the righteous, it is the right of the people to abolish that government and enact a new one. But often this is easier said than done. This is why the Pilgrims followed Abram’s pattern and emigrated. When a government is not only idolatrous, but also the “system” to bring about a new government is given to idolatry, men are responsible to seek liberty for their families by emigrating. The right of people to build a better life under God’s law cannot be abridged by the state.

The Great Commission presents a second model, one that reverses God’s call upon Abram (Matthew 28:18-20). Rather than call men to cross national boundaries in order to flee idolatry, God calls the Church to go to the covenant-breaking nations of the world with the gospel. The clear implication of the Great Commission is that the right to emigrate for the purpose of discipling nations supersedes any interests of the state to the contrary.

For example, in the Church of the Holy Trinity v. U.S. (1892), the Supreme Court sided with a church in New York City that had contracted with a minister in England to perform services as its rector. At issue in the case was whether or not the church’s action violated an Act of Congress, which prohibited the importation of foreign unskilled persons to perform manual services. The Court reasoned that the minister in question was a “toiler of the brain,” not a manual laborer. Justice Brewer wrote in his opinion, “These, and many other matters, which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation” (Justice Brewer in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 226 [1892]). The effect of the court’s decision was to say that the Great Commission takes precedence in U.S. immigration policy.

Both biblical models above demonstrate that the free expression of religion should act as the cornerstone of a nation’s immigration policy. Typically, the pattern in Scripture is that people emigrate in service to the kingdom of God. The Hebrews emigrated from Egypt to the Promised Land (Exodus 12f). Ezra journeyed from Babylon to Jerusalem “to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:1-10). And Nehemiah left Babylon and came to Jerusalem to help rebuild the city wall (Nehemiah 1-2).

When emigration is carried out within the context of the spread of God’s kingdom it has the material effect of elevating the cultural and economic conditions of nations. However, the Mexican immigration crisis demonstrates the opposite effect: most migratory movement from Mexico to the U.S. is conducted within the context of economic motives, resulting in the exploitation of illegal aliens by political progressives to further undermine America’s Judeo-Christian foundation.

There are examples in Scripture of people emigrating for economic purposes. Abram moved his flocks and herds into Egypt to escape a severe famine throughout Canaan (Genesis 12:10). Jacob and his family also went to Egypt to escape a famine in Canaan (Genesis 37). However, in these instances, the emigrant took his means of subsistence with him, whereby he became both a spiritual and economic blessing to the new land.

It is said that most illegals are here to work, and indeed many are. Point of fact, “Remittances from Mexican immigrants in the United States to their families back home are a major source of income in Mexico, second only to oil and surpassing even the tourism industry. Money sent back in 2004 totaled $16.6 billion, a 28 percent increase over the previous year (Frontline World, 2005,

However, it is also true that the U.S. welfare system encourages immigrant dependency. As far back as 1995, George Borjas and Lynnette Hinton noted that immigrants, including illegal aliens, receive cash and non-cash welfare benefits at higher rates than native Americans (George J. Borjas and Lynnette Hinton, “Immigration and the Welfare State: Immigrant Participation in Means-Tested Entitlement Programs,” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper, no. 5372 (December 1995). Not only does welfare participation increase among immigrants over time, but also some immigrant groups appear to assimilate into welfare. The net cost of immigrants on the U.S. welfare system is estimated in the billions per year, with certain states bearing a disproportionate burden.

Now how can we work toward a biblical solution to the illegal alien crisis?

First, we Americans need to focus on ourselves; to do a little spiritual house-cleaning. Understand the real source of the illegal immigrant problem in the U.S. It is an astounding fact that ancient Israel practiced open borders. It was on the strength of Israel keeping her covenantal oath that any external threat posed by a foreign nation was destined to fail. The key to Israel’s success over hostile nations did not lie in the capacity to change their behavior, but in changing its own; in remaining true to Yahweh.

However, Joshua revealed what would happen if Israel rejected the covenant and sought after the gods of the surrounding nations. Those nations would become a deadly snare. “Know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they shall be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land, which the Lord your God has given you” (Joshua 23:13). On the whole, America has also rejected God’s commandments and has turned to idols. Is it any wonder that the U.S. is experiencing the same discipline as ancient Israel? The Bible teaches us that America’s ability to safeguard her national borders and interests does not depend ultimately on "sealing the border" though this is needed, but upon the spiritual sanctions we as a people place upon ourselves.

Second, let's think biblically about loving our border neighbor as ourselves. The problem in Mexico is not only economic, but also spiritual. U.S.-based churches and mission’s agencies need to do more to evangelize Mexicans (Great Commission) with the goal of discipleship in a biblical worldview of economics and related issues that can change Mexican culture and hopefully stem the tide of illegal aliens (Cultural Mandate). If biblical emigration is in service to the kingdom of God, then more Spanish-speaking American missionaries with backgrounds in economics need to move to Mexico to live and teach. Organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ International can help facilitate your call to Mexico.

Lastly, the American church must do more to reach Mexican immigrants with the gospel and a biblical worldview while they are in America. It is estimated that up to one-third of United States immigrants eventually return home. This means there is a wealth of potential indigenous Mexican missionaries in our midst. Mexican immigrants in the U.S. number over 12 million. Let’s assume that the return rate among Mexican immigrants parallels the return rate among all immigrant groups. If 4 million (1/3) return home, and of that 4 million only half of one percent were to return as Christians with a plan to reach souls and Mexican culture with the gospel, then almost 20,000 Mexicans would be sent to Mexico as Christian missionaries! This is in addition to native-born American missionaries.

What would happen to the Mexican immigration crisis within several years of the implementation of this plan? Just perhaps it would be well on its way to being solved.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Problems with Social Justice Theory

In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls (1921-2002) argues from a goal-oriented or narrative ethic for an egalitarian form of liberty, in which individuals are guaranteed the greatest liberty compatible with the liberty of others, and also in which inequality is justified to help the poor and disadvantaged, which under the rule of fairness, ought to be established for all. According to David Miller, Rawls’ theory, known as “Justice as Fairness,” argues that the “Parties in the original position are supposed to be  guided not only by a rational desire to promote their interests but also constrained by norms of reasonableness to ensure that they do not propose principles that some will be unable to accept” (David Miller, Principles of Social Justice [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999], 57). 

There are problems with Rawls' approach. Rawls cannot base his notion in any objective standard, but only in raw subjectivity. Perhaps more importantly, Vacek notes of systems such as Rawls’ that society often confuses justice with love. He says, “Respect for ‘humanity’ is mistaken for ‘real, personal love’” (E. C. Vacek, op. cit. 161). What motivated the Good Samaritan was not social justice, but love for God and neighbor. Under the constraints of social justice theory, as espoused by Rawls, the neighbor is to be turned into a stranger when Jesus says to turn the stranger into a neighbor. Modern advocates for social justice would have us treat our neighbor with a universal impartiality that places him on the same level as someone we do not personally know or feel affection for.  

We are reminded of the many instances in which nations that partition biblical principles become egalitarian. They want to help everyone by promoting for the general welfare and too often look to forms of socialism as the tool. Such powers are like an electric fence. An electric fence affects everyone who backs into it equally. What is the upshot? Governments seek to enforce the redistribution of wealth even in the face of widespread resistance to the idea. But the fence is an impersonal force, incapable of heart-felt love or real discernment. Justice as fairness, especially as state-mandated policy, dulls society’s sense of personal charity and replaces individual compassion with abstract equity. 

Let us consider this alternative. What the world calls social justice, God calls loving our neighbor as ourselves. We are in fact commanded to love God and neighbor. But love of others ought not to be interpreted as "barren duty." In redemption, we are changed to love God and others as ourselves; from the heart, such that the life of Jesus is now manifest in our mortal bodies. Just as Jesus laid down his life for his friends, he sends us to do the same. He said, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). The "least of these" ought to be front and center in our love-mission (Matt. 25:33-40).

The cross is the standard for our mission. At the cross God simultaneously loved those whom deserved justice and he met the demands of his justice by love. Distinct from humanity's tendency to confuse respect for people with love, at the cross God brought love and justice together in a single act of atonement. By bearing our own crosses before a sin-sick world the same rare combination of love and justice is displayed to the world in palpable ways that have a transforming effect on the culture.

We can look at this idea differently. To be "one" with Christ includes more than mystical union with him. It means that the intercessory nature of Jesus’ earthly ministry is ours as well. By loving in this Christ-centered way the Church not merely finds its place among the advocates of social justice, but defines it. Indeed, redefines it! All other secular answers are effete by comparison. People are not as Rawls would have us believe: abstract concepts in need of universal impartiality. People are our neighbors in need of real and heart-felt compassion. This compassion is not secularized "tolerance." It is always according to the law of Christ. If we are to think in terms of “social justice” let us start here.  

Friday, July 23, 2010

Every Christian Responsible for Evangelism?

Dr. Henry Krabbendam taught for many years at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain Tennessee. He is a scholar and one of the most committed evangelists I know.

For years, "Dr. K" has taught that every Christian is responsible for evangelism. One of the passages of Scripture upon which he predicates his idea is John 7:37-39. He ties together this text with Jesus' teaching that he is the "water" of life (John 4:10). The logic is this: if Jesus is the water of life and rivers of living water are to flow from our innermost being after we become Christians, ergo, Christians are to be conduits of the drink of eternal life to others.

I have always found this interpretation of Jesus' words in John 7, a stretch. But then to my amazement I found this quote by the eminent theologian J. I. Packer.

Jesus, as recorded in John’s Gospel, had already declared what this new ministry would involve. It would not be the world’s first acquaintance with the Spirit of God, who had already (so the Old Testament tells us) been active in creation, providence, revelation, gifting for leadership, and renewing of hearts. But this would be the opening of a new era, all the same, with the Spirit adding a new role to the work he was doing already. Jesus would send the Spirit as “another Paraclete” (Helper, Supporter, Counselor, Comforter, Encourager, Advocate—paravklhto" [parakletos] has a wider range of meaning than any one English word can cover), to be not just “with” but “in” his disciples for ever (14:16–17). Through his coming Jesus himself, now absent in body, and his Father with him, would come and reveal themselves to disciples in a personal and permanent way, in a communion of love (14:18–23). As teacher, the Spirit would enable the apostles to recall and grasp what they had heard from Jesus, and would add more to it (14:26; 15:26; 16:13). Thus the apostles would come to see the full truth about Jesus’ glory (16:14) and so be qualified to bear faithful witness to him (15:27). Then through that witness the Spirit would convince people everywhere of the Christian facts (16:8–11; 17:20) and bring them through new birth to the living faith in Christ that marks entry here and now into God’s kingdom (3:1–15). Hereby the Spirit would engender in life after life the joy and influence that Jesus pictured as “living water” in flow out of the believer as a temple of God (7:37-39, cf. 4:10–14; Ezek 47:1–5).
 Note the last thought that the new life in Christ is one in which "living water" will flow from us. This living water is, according to Packer, centered on the "joy and influence" one will have for Christ. Joy is certainly not debatable. It is the idea of our "influence" for Christ that many believers still struggle with.

Packer's inclusion of our "influence" for Christ as a manifestation of the resurrected life is compelling and deserves our full attention.

Packer's point is that once Jesus calls us to himself we are made vessels for his service. It is through us that the Holy Spirit now calls others to himself. This is part of our great influence in the world for Jesus. Our joy is Christ. But our joy is also tied to our influence: that we are commissioned by Him to go into all the world and allow the water of life to flow through us to others in the saving message of redemption.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Roman Catholicism's Dislike for the Renaissance

Recently, I had a discussion with some of my Italian study friends over why representatives of the Roman Catholic Church were unhappy not only with representatives of the Reformation but also with some of the men of letters of the Italian Renaissance. The reason has to do with the fact that Renaissance scholars had a way of exposing as fraudulent many of Rome's documents, some of which were said to establish the church's claim to large land holdings. A prime example is as follows...

Lorenzo Valla (1406-1457) was the author of the standard Renaissance text on Latin philology. The text was titled: Elegences of the Latin Language. He was primarily active as a secretary to the King of Naples.Although a good Catholic, Valla became a hero to later Protestants. His popularity among Protestants stemmed from his defense of predestination against the advocates of free will and especially from his expose of the Donation of Constantine, a fraudulent document written in the eighth century alleging that the Emperor Constantine had given vast territories to the pope.

Valla proved, beyond dispute, that the document contained non-classical Latin usages and anachronistic terms. He therefore concluded that the document was the work of a medieval forger whose "monstrous impudence" was exposed by the "stupidity of his language." The expose of the Donation was not intended by Valla to have the devastating force that Protestants attributed to it. He only demonstrated in a careful and scholarly way what others had long suspected.

Using the most rudimentary textual analysis and historical logic, Valla proved that the document was filled with such anachronistic terms as fief, and made references that were meaningless in the fourth century. The proof that it was an invention seriously weakened the foundations of papal claims to temporal authority. In the same dispassionate way Valla also pointed out errors in the Latin Vulgate, still the authorized version of the Bible for the Roman Catholic Church. Valla's work exemplifies the application of critical scholarship to old and almost sacred writings, as well as the new secular spirit of the Renaissance.

Such discoveries did not make Valla any less loyal to the church, nor did they prevent his faithful fulfillment of the office of Apostolic Secretary in Rome under Nicholas V. He revered the literal teachings of the Pauline Epistles. In his "Notes on the New Testament" he applied his knowledge to uncovering the true meaning to the letters which he believed had been obscured in the Vulgate Biblical edition.

Valla's discovery of the forgery lead to an increased interest in classical collectibles. It had now been shown that the way to discern the truth was to carefully examine the remnants of antiquity and one had to possess these to examine them.

The influences of Valla can be seen in the works of Erasmus who after reading Valla's "Notes on the New Testament" became convinced that nothing was more important than divesting the New Testament of its transcription errors. This in turn lead to Luther's crucial conclusions concerning the literal biblical meaning of penance.