By Jonathan David Faulkner
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7
One of the tactics used against me by the pastor who spiritually abused the church I attended in High School was to tell people that “God could not possibly be laying something on your heart if you were not sure of your salvation.” This did a lot of damage to my own family members as well as to my already damaged Psyche. Sad as it is, questioning the salvation of others is an earmark of Authoritarian Leadership. “You are not a Christian if you do X” is a common line or “God cannot use you unless” or “God cannot use you unless” and of course “You are not a Christian if you…”
So when the radical fundamentalist and the leader of the “Facebook Church Movement” Joshua Feuestien comes out and says “You cannot be a Christian and vote for Hilary Clinton” my immediate reaction is to reject the idea completely. While it is true that there are moral issues with voting for Hilary, God’s Heart does not dispute that, nor is this an endorsement of Hilary. We take issue with saying someone is not a Christian because of who they vote for. Or saying someone is not a Christian in general.
In some ways this is also a pushback against things that I myself used to stand for. I have ruined my share of Christian Walks with the legalism I used to practice with great zeal. However, as I have grown and done ministry for myself and as God has redeemed the church and His word for me and redeemed His people, as the spirit has taught me, I have grown to reject those former things. I suppose it is the natural progression of the Christian to maturity, though I am far from mature and far from worthy of being called such.
It came down to having to question myself. “If I claim to be a believer but do such and such, but condemn that act in someone else’s life, calling them non-Christian, how am I actually a Christian?” The radical revelation of our changed condition in Christ thus gave me an answer. “Who are you to say anyone who claims to be a Christian is or is not a Christian, is God not working in them just as He is working in you?”
Who am I to decide if a person is a believer or not? Yet we do, as recently as last month the Pope called Trump an unbeliever. Some Christians have even questioned the faith of those Conservative Evangelicals who have thrown their lot in with Trump, who by the way, professes to be an Evangelical.
We do, also acknowledge, that American Christianity has largely grown illiterate, Biblical Literacy is at an all-time high as anti-Intellectualism sweeps through the laity. It is hard to practice the wisdom given us in 2 Timothy 1:7 when we do not know what it says and preachers preach on Opinions instead of building up the flock to stand firm as people of God.
Still, I am not qualified to judge them as unbelievers, I can look at their fruit (Matt. 7:15-20), I can discern an action or a thought to be in line with the Gospel or error or false teaching or even Heresy. But I cannot say for certain if an individual who professes faith in Jesus Christ is a believer or not. They could simply need guidance, direction, spiritual wisdom, discernment. They may just need to be shown their error lovingly and lovingly led to repentance. That has ben the way shown to me by those who have helped to rehabilitate me as a member of the Body of Christ. Had someone come to me and told me “You are not a Christian because you are a legalist” I would have laughed at them. Which is why we refuse to say that Feuestien is not a Christian, only that his teachings depart from Christian Orthodoxy, into Gnostic Heresy.
As the verse from 1 Samuel 16:7 states: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” God said this to Samuel while as he was looking at David’s brothers, considering their height and strength and physical appearance. But David, who was the youngest and not initially present for Samuels arrival, and certainly not a weakling himself. Was chosen to replace Saul as King of Israel. God calls David a “Man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22) despite the terrible sins of adultery and murder he committed.
Matt Chandler points out in a sermon series on James that “David would not be able to get a job at our church.” And he’s right. Were David alive today we might say “He is not a Christian, look at this horrible thing he did.” Yet David, when he was confronted by his sin repented and God kept his Covenant with David and if was from the line of David that Christ came into this world and now sits enthroned forever.
We are all being Sanctified, we are all being lovingly corrected by the Holy Spirit, learning how to live Righteously and sometimes that is a slow process. We must allow for it, we must also recognize our need for others to come alongside us and speak life into us and most importantly we need to recognize the constant and eternal presence of the Triune God and the Trinity’s role in our lives. Living in accordance with Scripture, becoming refined into the likeness of God while acknowledging and encouraging our identity as one body in Christ.
Friday morning, I released the following post of Facebook after seeing Feuerstie’s indictment against believers who vote for Hilary. I pray you will consider these words prayerfully and with a grain of salt: “It is not a sin to vote for someone in an election. And it is extremely foolish to tell someone they are not a Christian for voting for a candidate. However, we do need to look at the fruit of those who are running. Whether it be Hilary, Trump, Kasich, Cruz, Bernie or Rubio. We have to prayerfully discern through the lens of Scripture the course each Canidates platform could take us and look at the fruit of their past actions and come to a conclusion based on that, a conclusion that should be informed by the Spirit. But we also must not judge our brothers and sisters, calling them Non-Christians for voting for any particular candidate.”
We should not be divisive with our words, participating in foolish talk that causes quarreling among the saints (2 Tim. 2:23). Rather we should seek to build up, exhort and encourage one another. Wisely admonishing our brothers and sisters and joining together to worship God as one body of Christ (Col 3:10-17). Living in the spirit of “Power, Love and Self-control” (2 Tim 1:7) we have found in Christ. Praying for all people and living “Godly and upright lives before all men. For God desires that none should perish” and come to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus (1 Tim 2:1-5).
So let us stop focusing on who is a Christian and who is not. Let’s stop saying “you are a believer, and you are not a believer.” Let God judge the hearts of man and let us look at the fruits we bear and pray that we might produce the good fruit as we are commanded. Not dividing, but uniting, vessels of grace and love that bring people into the Covenant relationship with God that we daily enjoy.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry