Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Out of context

It seems to me that Jerry Haas's column represents everything that troubles me today about the meshing of religious belief and political views. Granted, I think one's faith should have a great impact on the attitudes, opinions and biases of the voting public and our elected officials, but that doesn't necessarily translate into some blanket interpretation or adherence to one set of political values.

Now, socialism is an ineffective economic system largely because existing evidence suggests that. However, I don't recall there being a decry from The Good Lord in the Bible with regard to what political or economic philosophy God-fearing Christians should follow.

Take the out-of-context use of the verse Haas uses to justify his political beliefs ... 'If anyone isn't willing to work, he should not eat.' This is drawn from the third chapter of 2 Thessalonians and is meant to address the idleness of some oin the church there.

Paul wrote this letter because many felt the second coming of Christ was imminent and, as a result, they opted to simply not continue with the work of ministry pertaining to the church. It wasn't the political situation that led them to cease their ministrial activities, but a contentment that they'd be reunited soon enough.

'No need to spread the Gospel because Jesus is coming back ... like tomorrow!'

Their excitement in awaiting Christ's return resulting in them 'working not at all, but being busybodies.' As a result, they devoted their time to meddling in the affairs of others rather than focus on the work of building the church.

This is a letter about the need for active ministry, not a condemnation of a political system.


Blogger Polusplagchnos said...

Paul labored throughout his ministry as a personal testament to separate himself from the other first century itinerant preachers. The regular practice of Stoics, Cynics, mystery preachers, Peripatetics, &tc was to go around the countryside, preach the message they had of good morals or right living, and in exchange for these teachings and preachings the people would give them food, goods, or other services. While one might think of a Benny Hinn or a Joel Osteen as an example of this today, it might help more to think of a Tony Robbins. Essentially, the traveling preacher made his wage through the preaching.

What Paul wanted to do differently was work so that even the Gospel message itself was not a product or a commodity given in exchange for food or housing. The Gospel for Paul was not just a message about a gift, it is itself a gift. This new understanding of the role of the apostle, as distinct from the role of the wandering preacher, was even a startling innovation for the early and primitive Christians, and it took everyone some time to get used to. You see this especially in how Paul had to constantly defend himself against the accusations of superapostles (2 Corinthians) or stern legalists (the Judaizers of Galatians), for whom the preacher was either due the privileges of his stature or was nothing of note.

But if you want another verse to consider what the motive of hard work is, there's always Ephesians 4:28:
"He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need."

Not "may have." Not "would have." The language is clear: work so that you will have something to share. It is not for personal profit that one works, but all of our labors and works are love, and love seeks not its own. Likewise, giving away all that one owns without love "profits nothing" (1 Cor 13). The balance in the biblical language is struck where one works to give, and gives with love.

8:35 PM  

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