Saturday, March 16, 2013

People Are Crazy

Dispensationalism in the Public Square

C.I. Schofield

 The refrain of a country song goes, God is great, beer, is good, and people are crazy. From time to time, people seem to go out of their way to prove at least the people are crazy part, especially when they act to cover the naked public square with the skirts of religion.

 My first PCA pastorate was in Union, Mississippi, from 1973 – 1977. I was sitting in my study one day, probably not doing much studying but minding my own business when the phone rang. The call came from someone in the office at the local public school. She said, “Brother Smith, we need you to come up to the school.” When I inquired what the need was, she responded with something along the lines of, “We are having spiritual emphasis week, and we showed a movie, and some of the kids are upset.” It turned out that the movie had to do with the coming of the Lord, the rapture of Christians, and fate of those left behind.  Apparently the kids did not want to end up singing, “I wish we’d all been ready.”

I went to the school as asked. I remember being in a classroom with some students, but I cannot remember what I said. It was probably along the lines that the most important thing was to be trusting in Christ, and all would then be well when the end came. What I know is that, while I could have, it would have not be helpful in that circumstance to say, “Don’t worry about it. This is all a bunch of bunk. The Bible doesn’t teach this stuff. There ain’t gonna be no secret rapture, or a 3 ½ or 7 year tribulation once the Christians are gone.”

I have thought of that incident many times through the years as I have reflected on the efforts “to put God back in our schools.” The issue is alive again in Mississippi as this week the Governor signed a bill adopted by overwhelming votes in the state legislature to allow student led prayer in the public schools.

Assuming this bill stands the inevitable ACLU court challenge, the question remains, “What God? How will be he addressed? What will students say in prayer? Will they pray in Jesus name?”

Today we live in a much less homogeneous society than existed in the time when prayer was routinely offered in public schools. The religious culture then was predominantly American Protestant civic religion. Now, in a much more religiously diverse country, we might well have students praying to Allah, or Mary, or the Spirit in the Sky, or some other higher power or inner influence. May forms of prayer include meditation? May a mantra be used? (To tell the truth, when Ole Miss and Mississippi State play football, the students already engage in antiphonal imprecatory prayer before the game starts. Let the Mississippi reader understand.)

But, if prayer is going to be offered, what about religious minorities in Mississippi like, for instance, Presbyterians? We will be asked to uncover and bow our heads and to close our eyes, while some student prays, “Dear Lord, we just want to thank you for giving us all a free will to follow you, and we just want to ask you just now to let us just hear that inner voice that will guide us to know your will and be just really happy. And we just want to thank you that we just live in this free country where we all worship and pray just as we please. We know our troops are fighting for that right now. And, Lord, we just want to ask that you will let us all have just a good time tonight as we enjoy the abundant life you want us to have. And now we just want to ask you to help all the players do their best, and keep them safe from just getting injured. Amen. Go Patriots!

I know I speak just for me and other 2Kers, but I’d just rather not.

Now, just yesterday (beware the ides of March), we have another instance of why it might be better to leave the public square naked. This time it is a case, not of the mixing of religion and schools but the mixing of politics and religion. 

Just so you can know I am not making this up, here is the story as reported in the capital city’s newspaper Saturday (March 16):

The Mississippi Senate adopted a resolution Friday to support Israel but first engaged in nearly an hour-long debate about the nation’s borders. 
The debate began when Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, offered an amendment that would have removed language from the resolution, which said Israel’s lands come from the “oldest recorded deed, as recorded in the Old Testament,” and that “Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the land of others.” 
Bryan said the resolution’s language presumed to define the country’s borders, which have changed several times. He argued that Israel does occupy other land.
“I think all of us support Israel, but it is not for us to hold forth as to what the boundaries of the country ought to be,” Bryan said. 
Discussion of the amendment quickly turned into a history lesson about how Israel’s borders have changed over time. Bryan pressed Sen. Nancy Adams Collins, R-Tupelo, to tell him whether the Sinai Peninsula should be included in Israel’s borders or whether borders should be defined as they were drawn in 1948. 
“You, having read the Bible, cannot tell us if it includes the Sinai Peninsula or not,” Bryan said.
 Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, said the resolution would be relevant to schools that want to teach the Old Testament as a historical document.“We will continue to be able to look at the testament as a historical document from whence all of us derived our beings,” Hill said.
 Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, asked to delay a vote on the amendment until Bryan and other senators could present more information, but Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, urged the Senate to get the vote over with.
“It’s a simple vote up or down. I urge you to vote for the resolution,” he said.Ultimately, Bryan’s amendment was defeated, but the resolution was adopted. 
Still, Bryan asked his colleagues: “Is this what the people sent us down here to do?”
Note three large assumptions:

1. Israel Today = Old Testament Israel. The nation in the Middle East that was established by United Nations action in 1948 is the same nation as Old Testament Israel.

2. Since Israel today is the same as Israel of old, the rightful borders of modern Israel may be determined by consulting the Bible. The Bible establishes what land God intends modern Israel to have today.

3. Since the borders of modern day Israel are established by Scripture, any land Israel may take and settle within those borders is not occupied by Israel, as this territory belongs to modern Israel by divine grant.

While some classic pre-millenialists may agree with the above assumptions, the assumptions are associated mostly with dispensational pre-millienialism which holds to two purposes of God, one for the Church, another for Israel, with the purpose for Israel being foremost. All the promises of God made to Israel and the Jews in the Old Testament are in effect today and will be fulfilled literally for that people and nation. The return of Jews to the land is a fulfillment of those promises. Israel today has the promise of the land which God gave Israel in the Old Testament, including the temple mount where the temple will soon be rebuilt and the sacrificial system renewed.

The problem is that none of this is true. Modern day Israel is not Old Testament Israel. The Scriptures do not establish the rightful borders of the nation called Israel today. Israel does not have a right to take and occupy land that legally belongs to other nations or peoples.

The Church is the Israel of God. Anyone, Jew or Gentile, who wants to belong to the people of God, must believe in Christ, be baptized, and join the Church (though not necessarily in that order).The nation of Israel today is just another nation in the world.  Political policies in relation to that state should not be determined by consulting the Bible as the Bible has nothing to say about what these policies should be.

The Church is promised in Abraham that she will inherit the whole world, which promise will be fulfilled with the coming of Christ and the establishment of the new heavens and new earth. Christians will occupy that kingdom of God as it will be their everlasting dwelling place.

All this ought to make a 2Ker of everyone. But, of course, it will not – because the kingdom is not yet. In the meantime, welcome to Mississippi, y’all.

1 comment:

Curt Day said...

The mixing of politics and religion has mixed results. During the times of the reformers, Luther wanted society to punish the Jews for their unbelief and Calvin consented to burning at least one heretic at the stake.

On the positive side, the changes promoted by the actions of Martin Luther King was a positive blow for mixing politics and religion.

I believe that when the Church tries to use society as a supplemental source of discipline or when tribalism reigns, then mixing religion and politics causes some to blaspheme God. However, when religion is used to promote equality and justice, though it might be strongly resisted, it eventually glorifies God.

Curt Day