What on Earth? How can man save God or His people?
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
Authors Note: I woke up this morning, like many of you, to the headline that the son of the President of the United States, Eric Trump, had made the claim that his father had: “Literally saved Christianity” in an interview with a radio station in Utah. In keeping with this websites code of conduct, I will not address Eric directly, but will address this idea that Christianity needs man to save it.
Eric Trump Says His Father Literally Saved Christianity was one of the first things that popped up in my newsfeed when I logged into Facebook this morning. Of course, I had to fact check this because it is the internet, but you can find the audio clip here. My first reaction is to sit back and wonder what on earth is going on here, but as a Historian and Theologian that is a question that answers itself. Ideas can be many things, good or productive, bad or destructive. But the idea that a man, any man, with any political party, can “save Christianity” is not just bad and destructive, it is heresy, as is the idea that God would “disappear” if the Democrats would win or that we should fix our eyes anywhere but on Christ to get through the trying times our nation is facing.
There are several reasons for this: 1. It uses Christianity as a utility, 2. It makes religion dependent on government and government officials and 3. It denies the Word of God and even twists it to make it say what it does not. Let us address all three of these problems.
Before we do though, I want to make my “Political Positioning” clear. I was a member of the Republican Party until 2016 and contributed to campaigns during the 2016 Primaries. I was a supporter of then Ohio Governor John Kasich. Raised by Fiscal, Small Government Conservatives, I believe in a small central government and strong state and local government. I do not believe someone living in Washington understands what I am dealing with in Buffalo Center. I was disillusioned with Republicans during the massive bailouts in the mid 2000’s. I disagreed with much of Obama’s policies and positions. I consider myself a hard-line centrist who leans right on some issues and left on others. I have seen how “universal healthcare” can work when done right after living in Massachusetts, an acknowledge the reality that the personal stimulus of the CARES act was extremely helpful to the economy. I also think the Department of Ed should be abolished, as well as the FED because they are imposing rules that ignore the people living in the areas, they are making rules for. I will very likely vote Republican down ballot, but am a member of the Libertarian Party because they’re the only party left that seems to support small government and individual freedoms. As a disabled American I cannot support the Pro-Abortion Platform of the Democrats. I also think we can respect and honor our police officers, military and first responders while hearing the cries of the Black Community and working to reform the system so that it works towards the flourishing of both the communities and the Police that keep them safe. I studied Burke, the father of conservativism and agree that a society conserves the people by conserving the institutions, but status quo change is required, that is reforms are required, to ensure the flourishing of everyone involved. As a Church Historian I think that care for the poor and homeless, reconciliation between Ethnic groups and even medical care should be the purview and priority of the Church and recognize that when we abandoned those responsibilities to fight foolish culture wars was the beginning of the substantial rise of secularism in this country. I am also willing to hold in tension seemingly contradictory views, that is okay with me.
But now to the problems listed above:
It uses Christianity as a Utility: My Faith is not for sale, nor is it an object to be used for the gain of the people in power. I know we have played this game since Constantine, but Church History has proven repeatedly that every time Christianity is wielded as a sword by government officials it has not ended well for the Christians. I have noted that here, and here, and here and here. There is here, a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Christian Religion is. We are, the adopted people of God, making up the body of Christ here on Earth, “the continued presence of God” on Earth, as Philip Schaff noted. We are not a faith, so much as a people of faith that carry with us Organic Unity created by the Holy Spirit. A Kingdom, within Kingdoms, spanning the entire globe. I was reminded of this during a Rend Collective Concert at Gordon College where they respectfully asked us to consider that Evangelicalism is not a strictly American Phenomenon and what American Evangelicals do effects evangelicals around the world.
Christians do not believe in Christianity; Christianity is a socio-religious category that comes down to us via an insult by our Roman persecutors in the 1st and 2nd century. The term “Christian” was first used as a sneering insult to the members of the Church at Antioch in Acts 13. Later, to be a “Christian” was a legal charge of sedition that carried the penalty of death under Nero, Domitian and most other Roman Emperors through Constantine. Christianity is not something to be used then, but something to be lived out based on our Holy Scriptures, the Word of God made up of Old and New Testament. We believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, lived our life, experienced our pain and hurts and temptations but did not sin, died on the cross for our sins, was dead, buried and rose again, being seen to prove that he was alive he then ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father and will one day come again to judge the living and the dead. He was put to death by the governments of his day, both the Jewish and the Roman, and his followers were persecuted, hunted, killed and maligned, but persisted until this faith had spread throughout the entire world, despite the governments attempts to stop it.
The power in Christianity is not in the name of the religion, but in Jesus Christ out Lord. N.T Wright has said that we do not know what true power is, that God’s power defies the conventional wisdom of the world and is stronger than the powers of governments. Christianity was never meant to be an instrument, but a lifestyle rooted in and reflective of the person and work of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, power and influence come first and foremost through service and love, especially to those we do not like. Christianity did not spread because of the Roman Government, it spread despite it, and it will again, which brings me to my second point.
It makes Religion dependent upon government and government officials: With all due respect to the opponents of Christianity Joe Biden is not threat to God or Christianity. The left may be hostile to Christians and their policies hostile towards Christians, but the idea that Joe Biden or the Democrats are a threat to God or even Christianity is absurd, and fearmongering. Since Christianity, by its nature, has nothing to do with geographical boundaries and God himself is not limited to the United States of America there is little use in even making this claim. This is to make Christianity little better than the Pagan Religions of Antiquity, where the gods of the people were determined by the geographical location, the leaders of the city-states and the temperament of the people. Can the left enact persecution against us? Can we be stripped of religious liberties? Yes, but religious liberty is not the norm worldwide and not the norm in Church History, it was granted by man, and man can take it away. By constantly claiming that Christianity will suffer if “so and so” isn’t elected president is to make it a religion of the state. Jesus tells us clearly that we are not to fear man, but God because God can destroy both body and soul in hell. What our overactive religious imaginations are doing is leading to what could become a “self-fulfilling prophesy” where we cry wolf as Christians have been doing for 100 years and when the wolf actually comes he does all the things we claimed he was doing beforehand because we gave him the ideas and no one wants to listen because we spent 100 years crying wolf.
Government and Government leaders are appointed by God, not to protect Christianity, but to keep us from our worst depravities that come out when Anarchy is imposed. Government can also be used as a judge of Christians or a refiner of Christian faith through judgment and persecution of the Church. Keep in mind that Paul wrote Romans 13:14 before Nero was beginning to breathe his threats against the Christians. Christianity would be refined in the coming decades by the persecutions that Jesus promised us. Since Jesus promised us these things would happen, it is abnormal then to live in a society where Christianity is not persecuted, as many of our siblings around the world live under today. If Christianity could not be snuffed out under Nero in the first century or Communism in China today, what makes us think our survival depends on an elected man? Christ tells us to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and God what is God’s” (Matt 22:21) precisely because Christians don’t belong to the governments we live under, but to God because we bear the image of God. Christians can be protected or persecuted by governments, but faith can be wiped out by governments. We may need to evaluate our idea of “Religious Liberty” in the United States, to make suer we are not holding it as an idol. As Brad Stine once said: “you’ve been given the right, and it can be taken away.”
It denies the word of God and even twists it: This is a broader critique of Christian Nationalism in general. I am alarmed, but not surprised, when I hear passages like Hebrews 12:1-3 or Revelation 13:1-10 used and twisted to fit a Christian Nationalist agenda. The Vice President is on record from August 27th saying: “let us run the race marked out for us, let us fix our eyes on Old Glory…and let us fix our eyes on the author and perfector of our faith and our freedom.” This is, of course, is idolatry, heresy and blaspheme, it violates Jesus injunction against changing scripture in Rev 22 and if you follow the grammar rules for the original text, it makes “old glory” the “author and perfector of our faith and freedom.” Jesus is the only one who our eyes should be fixed on, “Old Glory” is an object, a piece of clothe that represents our nation. I have not problem singing the National Anthem, but when you start placing American symbols where Jesus should be, when you take your eyes off Jesus and onto the nation, when you look for the nation to save you, you are expressly denying the word of God that tells us the nations cannot save us, they can only uplift or judge us. You are also blaspheming the Holy Spirit which in Mark 8:28-30 Jesus tells us is an “unforgivable sin.”
Other believers are also guilty of such heresy and blaspheme, a popular Christian writer and radio hosts tweet about the president leaving the hospital which evoked the words: “Who can fight against him” from Revelation 13 to the president’s claim of defeating COVID-19 is to make the claim that is made of the first beast. “Who can war against it” is exactly what the people of the earth say about the first Beast which Blasphemes the name of God and persecutes His followers. This is not something I would even want said about me and proves that we should be much more careful when applying biblical passages to real world situations. What was said about the Roman Empire and Nero eventually leads to destruction (14:1-11) for those who follow them.
Isaiah’s Sign: In Isaiah 7:8 the prophet has a problem. Ahaz is troubled and worried about an alliance between Rameliah of Syria and Rezin of Israel. In fact, they had even come to attack Jerusalem and were having very little luck doing so and so in hear he wonders how to save Judah. Isaiah, of course, knows that this fear is foolishness and essentially asks the King who he is going to trust. The options before him are God, the father of creation and Abraham, the one who has called the people out and consecrated them to himself. Or letting that fear cause him to pursue other means such as Egypt, their former enslaver and Assyria’s nightmare, something Hezekiah would eventually do. Isaiah even tells Ahaz that the Lord would send a sign that he was with Ahaz and would protect him, a woman would conceive and give birth to a son, not long after Isaiah’s wife conceived and gave birth to their second son: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, meaning that God would be swift to plunder and quick to destroy Damascus and Syria. Before the boy was weaned, Syria and Israel would be desolations, which they were thanks to Assyria. One of the continuous themes of the book of Isaiah is how trust in and obedience to God leads to life, and trust in the world and disobedience to God brings death to His sanctified people. He wants genuine repentance and faith, not religious devotion.
It is fitting we find ourselves looking towards Advent because that sign, a virgin becoming pregnant and giving birth to a son who will be called “Emmanuel, King of Kings and Lord of Lords” is precisely what we reflect on, and Christ’s return as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” is something we look forward too. The question is the same to us today, who are we going to trust? God who has never failed us through persecution and regime change. Who has not let his People be destroyed for 17,000 years, or are we going to trust man who is fickle and fallen and who uses our faith as a utility, tries to make us depend upon him and twists scripture to meet their goals, who use fear of man, not fear of God, to make you act a certain way. I know who I am going to trust, and it is not man.
A Remnant Will Remain: For those who are not comforted by the above thoughts, or who still think fear of man is appropriate, Isaiah has another lesson for us. No matter how bad things get, God always keeps a faithful remnant of His people. He does not leave or abandon us. Cultural Christians, or Cultural religionists, always fall away when things get hard, but God always keeps for himself a faithful remnant who He then works through to reach the people around them. This is true of Israel in the Old Testament and it is true in Church History. Europe is currently a good example of this, Europe is now thoroughly “pre-Christian” even though it was once the global center of Christianity. When Christianity became unpopular in Europe, many Christians started seeking power, such as the Lutherans in Nazi Germany, thinking this would restore Christianity’s influence and prestige. The opposite happened, and the church in Germany is just now beginning to grow again. In the Czech Republic 95% of the population identifies as Atheist and yet, the Church there is vibrant and growing.
We can also take a lesson from the New England Churches, even though in New England the secularization pattern is to the left of the political spectrum, the New England Churches have retained their Orthodoxy and are, in fact, thriving despite only 3% of the population attends a church of any kind. The only place in the country where less people attend Church is the region in which I grew up, Appalachia where only 1.5% of the population attends Church. Appalachia is still considered part of the “bible belt” even so. In New England, as in Europe, a remnant remains, and that remnant faces persecution, soft in New England and hard in some European States. The governments in those states have sometimes even taken hostile tones and enacted policies that contradict Biblical Doctrine and belief, but the New England Churches continue to thrive. The same can be true of the Midwest where Secularization patterns are mostly to the right of the political spectrum (The Blue Wall MI, WI and MN the exceptions) where the remnant is only starting to form (though the Pandemic is speeding up that process). We had a Church Planter from the Anglican Communion of North America (ACNA) with us in August and they were excited to go an plant a church in Spokane because Spokane is “Post-Christian” everyone knows the terms and people, but only the aberrations of them the secular world gives them.
Church do not be afraid of what is going on in our world, Jesus told us we should expect such things and then reminds us that these are not yet the end. God is still with us, no politician can shut him down or save Christianity. Only Christ can do that, and we need him to renew and transform our minds and hearts after His image. You want to see Christianity begin to grow again? Put Christ back at the center, reject the idols of this world and the people who claim to be able to save us, but who can only hasten our demise. The heart of Christianity can only be restored through Christ Jesus, the true author and perfecter of our faith, to him to be all glory and honor forever and ever, amen.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center