Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I’m writing to you with a heavy burden on my heart. Even though I am writing with this lovely view (every day I get a great start – coffee, the Word, Sibbes, prayer, the Psalms and this view!) there is something has been weighing on my spirit for some time. I share it with you here because I’m not sure that it is appropriate, or would be accepted, in some of the other publications I write for. I have found myself understanding and empathising with Paul when he writes to the Galatians: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” (Galatians 4:19). Paul was so pained by the backsliding of the Galatians that he described it as being like childbirth! Later on, in chapter 5 he says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (v. 6). Every professing Christian would say a hearty amen to that. But he then goes on to add “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough’. I am confident in the Lord you will take no other view”.
I have seen that individual Christians stumble and fall in ‘the race’, (and indeed had the joy of seeing fallen Christians restored), but what lies heavy on the heart is when any part of the church heads down the road to hell. I could give you a long list of churches which have fallen by the wayside…and organisations which started off so well – as evangelical organisations, but then they.. oh, so slowly but surely… turn away from their sure foundation. As Paul experienced, this is something that has always happened. In recent weeks I have watched as the decay in the Western church continues – especially in the UK and the USA. Now we have to be really careful here – we are not talking about Christians who have disagreements with one another about secondary issues, or those who go through hard times, fears and doubt. There is an extremist point of view which sees every disagreement as apostasy, and every doubt as denial; but that in itself is a negation of the Gospel – because it adds to it. However, what I am concerned with here is those who take away from the Gospel and turn it into ‘another Gospel, which is no Gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7).
What brought this to mind was this article on the Premier Christian website. How Joe Biden’s Christian faith will change America. Feel free to read the whole article, but it really shook me to see it published on an Evangelical Christian website.
It wasn’t the political bias, the mockery of Trump, the repetition of unevidenced gossip and the contrasting the good saintly Joe Biden, with the evil, wicked President Trump. That has become so common on some Christian websites (as is the reverse position on others), that it is unremarkable. What really struck home was the headline and tenor of the article that a Christian president has now been elected, whose Christian faith will change America.
We are assured that ‘faith will play a larger part in Biden’s presidency than Trump’s’. Apart from the cheap jibe about Trump, using an unsubstantiated piece of gossip, the ‘evidence’ that was offered to substantiate this claim was, to say the least, weak.
“together, on eagle’s wings, we embark on the work that God and history have called upon us to do, with faith in America and each other”
The claim is that Biden is a man of deep faith whose Catholic faith has sustained him. The evidence for this is that he carries rosary beads around with him and cited the hymn Eagles Wings by Michael Joncas. There is no doubt that Biden has ‘faith’ but whether it is Christian faith or not is highly debatable – at least on the evidence given in this article (and everything else I have read by and about him). The author cites this as evidence of the Christian faith that will change America. “together, on eagle’s wings, we embark on the work that God and history have called upon us to do, with faith in America and each other” (That’s a long way from Psalm 91 – on which Eagles Wings is based)…
We are told that ‘faith’ has carried Biden through. But it is not faith in God, Christ or his Word. It is “faith in America and each other”. This is the faith he wants to spread. A Christian faith has faith in Christ….not faith in a country (that’s what we call religious nationalism – and its consequences are usually dreadful – whether from right or left), nor in ‘each other’ (that’s a meaningless soundbite, which, if anyone actually believes it, will result in disillusionment and disappointment). In fact, the whole statement is an example of a Messianic and arrogant hubristic view which is guaranteed to end in failure. Repentance, humility and faith in Christ have no room in this kind of ‘Christian’ faith.
Even more astonishingly we are assured that Biden’s Christian faith which will change America will have no impact upon some of his policies – not least abortion. Biden says he isn’t “prepared to impose a precise view that is borne out of my faith on other people.” But the author tells us that it is Biden’s Christian faith which informs his other policies – and in these he is more ‘pro-life’ than Trump. Biden also says his “idea of self, of family, of community, of the wider world comes straight from my religion”. The author says that it is this faith which comes across time-and-time again in his major policy departures from Donald Trump. Why the inconsistency? Why cite your Christian faith when it supports policies you hold, but ignore it when it goes against other policies you advocate? And why would any Christian fall for this nonsense, let alone advocate it?
Doctrine from Hell
But then came the real descent into Hell. Biden says he believes that human life is “convened at the moment of conception” but says he won’t be “ruled by his beliefs”! This is an astonishing statement. I can understand people who think that the baby in the womb is not really a baby saying that they support abortion – after all to them, it’s not taking human life. (I can understand them – but deplore their fundamentalist anti-scientific, inhumane ignorance). But what is far worse is someone who says that the baby in the womb IS human life, but they are prepared to sanction the State taking that human life because they don’t want to be ruled by their beliefs! It reminds me of Groucho Marx’s “these are my principles, but if you don’t like them, I have others’!” Mr Biden believes that slavery and racism are wrong – but apparently, he does not want to be ruled by his beliefs – so on what basis does he think racism and slavery should be banned? Indeed, on what basis does he make policy – political expediency?! Remember that Biden’s policy is to have state funded abortion on demand, for any reason, up to full term. One Catholic priest even courageously and consistently refused him communion on the grounds that “any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching”. Just think about what the writer of this article is commending as Christian faith – someone who believes that the State taking innocent human life is fine!
And this is ‘the Christian faith that is going to change America’? We are then told that Biden is the ‘pro-life’ candidate on every other issue. Although admittedly by this point the words ‘pro-life’ have become devoid of meaning. The author cites policies on poverty, immigration, climate change as ‘Christian’ policies. Whilst I may agree with Biden’s policies on these issues, I don’t think I would have the nerve to claim them as having divine warrant. Christians will all agree that we should care for the poor, look after the refugee and steward the planet – the question is ‘how’ we do that. Someone who believes in national borders is not necessarily less Christian than someone who doesn’t. Someone who thinks that climate change is not best dealt with by more windmills and getting rid of the oil industry is not necessarily a Christian heretic! According to Biden there is a special preference to the poor. If it was as obvious as that, one has to ask why did so many working-class people vote for the millionaire Donald Trump and not for the millionaire Joe Biden? Is this an example of the middle-class paternalism and virtue signalling that thinks the poor are too stupid to know what is best for themselves?
Distorting the Gospel
My problem here is not with the politics. Whilst I think it is unwise and foolish for a Christian organisation to endorse or support a particular political party or leader – that’s not a first order issue. What is a first order issue is when the Gospel is changed in order to accommodate political views. I have already argued that it was wrong to refer to Donald Trump as the Christian president. Whilst many of his policies will resonate with most Christians – it would be foolish not to recognise that his support of these was largely a matter of political expediency designed to win votes – not a matter of personal conviction.
Yet the author of the article says that Biden’s faith is Christian faith. And that’s what really got to me. This is not about faith in Christ. It is at best a works religion with little to do with Jesus, at worst a horrible substitution of the Christian good news of salvation through faith in Christ, to a George Michaelesque ‘you gotta have faith’. It is a caricature of real Christianity (as is Paula White’s Prosperity Gospel that so appeals to Trump).
Twitter have taken to putting warnings on Donald Trump’s tweets with comments like “This claim about election fraud is disputed”. I wish that we could put these articles out with a warning stamp ‘this article’s claim to represent the Christian gospel is disputed’.
If a Christian magazine published an article justifying racism and stating it was a ‘version of the Gospel’ then it would rightly be denounced. When an article like this is published, is it not an indication of how little we value or know the Gospel? When Premier ran an article about the ‘faith’ of Kamala Harris it was a much more balanced and Christian article. Click here to read about the faith of Kamala Harris
We are back to where we came in. Why care about this? Why not just shut up and get on with life? The trouble is that when you write an article like this, people immediately see it as a kind of turf war – unnecessary arguing and disputes. We tend to avoid these like the plague – and so we speak in code or just shrug our shoulders and walk on by. But this is necessary because it is about the One thing necessary. It is about the turning of the beautiful good news of Christ into something ugly. Of course we should care. This IS life. This is eternal life. And we are Pro-Eternal Life! Christ is real – everything else without him is surreal.
Christ is beautiful. Christ is the Messiah. Christ is the Son of God. Christ is the prophet, priest and king. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the lion of Judah who rules it. He is the one who came into the world, to give his life for the world, that we might be saved. He calls us to repentance and faith – in Him. When we do then we are given new life and we seek to live for him and his glory – not ourselves. The consequences and fruit of this are not just renewed personal lives, but a world turned upside down – social justice, education, family, care for the poor, and for the planet and so much more. When we turn the fruit into the root – and think that we can get it without the root – we distort, deceive and destroy the Gospel. That is why Paul was so strong against the Galatians. He praised the Corinthians – despite their tolerating sexual immorality in their church. He praised the Philippians – despite the factional division amongst them. The only church he does not praise in any of his epistles is the Galatian church. Why? Because they were deserting the Gospel.
We have been far too tolerant in the evangelical church of those who distort the Gospel (whether legalists or liberals). We copy the world and play political power games which result in nothing but our own glory (and destruction). We need to be much more discerning – and radical about what we support and promote. Sometimes the Christian church, media and institutions have been our own worst enemy. I like Premier and have benefited a lot from some of their work. Sam Hailes is a good editor of the magazine and Justin Brierly is one the best presenters of a radio show (Unbelievable) that I have come across. But heresy usually comes into the church through our friends, not our enemies. As Paul warned the Ephesian elders it was from their own number that “men will arise and distort the truth’ (Acts 20:30). He called such men ‘savage wolves. It is the job of the shepherd to protect the flock from such wolves – not to open the gate! Paul felt so passionately about this, that for three years he warned them day and night with tears. Such passion! I wonder what we are passionate about. I suspect that some of us have wondered so far that we have expended more passion over the election of an American President, than we have in seeking God’s elect!
Come, Lord Jesus….!
Just as many are looking for a day when we will have a vaccine and Covid 19 and its restrictions will be no more, so as Christians we long for the ultimate day, when sin, death and disease will be no more. That will be a day when the church is no longer in the agony of birth, and the pangs of growth, being attacked from outwith and within. It will be a day when the Bride is perfect. Until that glorious consummation, we battle on – knowing that the gates of Hell cannot prevail against Christ’s church.
See you next week,