What Are the Issues?
Reforming the World -- Sermon #1
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©2000
One month from now we will know who our next president will be.
Sometimes people get tired of the whole process. It can get tedious, mean and confusing. But, ready or not, on November 7th some Americans will cast their votes for their national leaders. Those who don't vote, leave their freedoms and our children's future in the hands of those who do.
The church has an obligation too. Not to tell its people who to vote for. But, to help each believer make a responsible and God-honoring choice that will be good for his own conscience before the Lord, and helpful in bringing God's blessing down on his nation.
I remember how exciting it was, when the voting booth would arrive at election time. It was a gray, wooden cottage-like structure. I suppose it was about 8 by 15 feet in size. Part of the excitement was that it was pulled along by horses! and that wasn't real common in Buffalo in 1956.
The voting booth rolled along slowly on logs. As the booth rolled off the log in the back, men would carry the log to the front, and the booth was rolled forward a few more feet. They would park it on the side of the street extending over the curb to the sidewalk, usually in front of a vacant lot. It had an IN door and an OUT door on the sidewalk side. Inside there were tables where the precinct workers would check registrations, and several curtained booths where people would cast their secret ballots.
That was the first presidential election I was old enough to understand. I was 9. Campaign signs started to appear in the neighborhood, and there was a lot of talk about who we should vote for. It was an exciting time. There was a good mix of Democrats and Republicans in the neighborhood. Of course we were just kids -- we wouldn't really vote. But, oh how we argued about who would be the best president, as seriously as about baseball.
We had no idea about what the real issues were. But we thought we did. Just as some of us in Buffalo liked the New York Yankees, and others the Brooklyn Dodgers, we were some for Ike (Dwight Eisenhower) and some for Adlai Stevenson.
We heard our parents comment about the candidates as stories appeared in the newspapers. Basically we each thought that our candidate would save America, and the other would destroy it. Well our republic has survived all sorts of political parties. Its been stronger than what one elected official might do or not do.
But as kids, we trusted the opinions of our moms and dads in such things. (Not perhaps about bedtimes, and vegetables - we had strong personal views about those.) But when it came to running the free world, we were in over our heads.
Most voters are in over their heads when it comes to the technical issues of state. We often hear debates about our choice between: a minimally regulated free market economy, or a closely regulated federal one. Or, what moral standards we all need to use in making policy and to live by, and how those standards are best promoted in our diverse society.
We have a great advantage, who treasure our Bibles as God's truth revealed in love. God has given us that authoritative standard to help us judge the issues. His word sets the boundaries. There is a lot of room to debate within those boundaries. But there is no liberty to cross those boundaries at any time.
God tells us that all civil leaders should follow this same standard as their guide: In Deuteronomy 17, God gave instructions for any King who would come to rule the people ...
- Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.
- And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes,
The word for King is melec. It means anyone who becomes the leader of a nation. It would apply to presidents, monarchs, prime-ministers, emperors, or dictators. The chief executive's duty is to represent God's rule in the authority he has over his country. The are different systems of government, but one standard for all. The king shall make a copy of God's law to be with him all the time.
But today, when we open our Bibles to find God's principles for government, we are often told that you can't legislate morality, and that religion has no place in government. They speak as if anyone could really separate morality from what should be illegal, and as if anyone could really keep his beliefs about God out of his governing decisions.
But aside from the impossibility of those statements, God didn't see it that way. Leaders are commanded to read God's law every day and to live and rule according to it.
The words here for God's word are law, statutes, and commandments. These words include the promises and truths about what God is. The whole of Scripture is included, not just certain legal parts of it. Notice the verbs -- the things the leader is commanded to do with the Scriptures:
- he is to keep it with him all the time
- he is to read it all the days of his life
- he is to learn to fear (or respect) the LORD by it
- he is to carefully observe all of its words
This means that its right and necessary to look at how candidates for our highest offices, measure up against God's word on the issues facing us today.
The news is filled with talk about what the problems are we need to deal with as a nation. Each special interest group has its wish list of laws to have passed or repealed. The political campaigns give their spin on things, and use the concerns we perceive as ways to get us to vote for their candidates.
But the real issues are not the way our moral principles are applied or enforced. The real issues are those underlying principles themselves. We are in a very serious moral crisis as a nation.
People may be happy about the economy, and their perceived ability to get what they want. But we are in a moral decline. Its more than a moral recession. Its an outright moral depression.
The idea that "you can't legislate morality" is a misleading statement. Its true that laws can't fix our heart or change evil thoughts into good. That's the work of the gospel and the gospel alone. Until Christ changes hearts, they will not really change, regardless of the laws, the programs, or the money spent on a problem.
But its also true that God expects civil leaders to use his law to govern the land. Romans 13 -- spells out the duties God gives to our local and national leaders:
- For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same;
- for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.
Every law has to do with something we judge as immoral behavior. The question is, What standard do we use to know what should be punishable by law?
- There are those who say we should base our laws on what ever is accepted by society.
- Some say we should base our laws on the rational wisdom of some elite scholars.
- And others say we should have no laws. Everyone should answer to his own conscience.
But the law built into our world by the Creator stands above all our political opinions. The word of God must be the foundation, if our nation is to be blessed. And God's word is quite comprehensive!
Certain basic moral principles must be preserved in a God-blessed society. Sadly -- these are violated more and more, as we fall deeper into a moral depression. They are reflected in some of the family issues we hear a lot about in the news:
One issue is abortion.
It kills our unborn children by the millions. The Bible, without any confusion shows that abortion is wrong. Human life in Scripture is always said to begin at conception. There is no privacy right that allows women to choose to kill their unwanted babies. We are only permitted to take a human life when another life is in danger, or when the government executes properly convicted capital offenders. Leaders who defend the right of a mother to abort her baby, are not submissive to God's law.
But its easy to blame the problem on the supreme court, or on our national leaders. Until society is truly outraged about abortion, no law will fix the problem. And that will only change as the gospel changes hearts.
More than waiting for elected leaders to change the law ... there are things we all can do to promote respect for human life:
- Love our children and babies tenderly as gifts of God.
- Be compassionate to mothers and fathers to be. Help them even if they have been immoral.
- Respect all humans for the image of God they bear, even if they bear it in rebellion. The humanity of people can be honored even when we strongly disagree with one another.
- Never promote or support entertainment or literature that degrades human life.
- Explain the gospel, and bring people into the church where they can come under Bible teaching. Welcome others into our spiritual family to grow together with us in Christ.
- Vote for leaders willing to work against abortion to the greatest degree possible.
Another issue is marriage
Marriage has been reduced in our modern world into being a mere romantic notion with legal protections. God established marriage to reflect our special union with Christ as his church. Its the only place where our sexual needs are to be satisfied. And its a solemn obligation for life that can't be set aside morally.
- We need to promote marriage and proper dating in ways that preserve sexual purity.
- We need to oppose the degrading of sex in pornography,
- We need to avoid the out-of-marriage-sex presented as acceptable in the entertainment media.
Another issue is homosexuality
This is gaining respectability as our laws protect and promote it The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin. Its not bigotry to agree with God's word. There is no freedom to choose a lifestyle that violates God's law. There is no confusion about it. The Bible openly calls homosexuality an abominable sin against God.
But there are things we should be doing about it as individuals:
- We need to compassionately present the life-changing gospel to homosexuals we may meet.
- We need to help young people develop healthy and biblical sexual attitudes as they grow up.
- We need to stop supporting entertainment that passes this sin off as normal behavior.
We will look at other major issues in our next studies. But these illustrate the principle that ... God's law has important things to say about what's wrong with society today.
If the government is to be a minister of good, then our leaders ought to know what that good is, and be willing to obey it.
Though its hard, we must make a responsible choice as we vote for our leaders. Its not easy to find out where candidates really stand on these biblical foundations.
Sadly, many people look to television news or the daily papers to digest the facts for them. But there is a heavy bias in most of the media against the principles taught in Scripture. Just considering the issues we mentioned a moment ago, the Lichter-Rothman study of leading reporters of all the large media outlets shows:
- 90% believe in abortion rights
- only 25% believe that homosexuality is wrong,
- and less than half say they see anything wrong with adultery.
Walter Cronkite admitted in 1996, "Everybody knows that there's a liberal, that there's a heavy liberal persuasion among correspondents."
A political liberal is one who tries to create programs and policies by what appears right rationally or emotionally at the moment, while rejecting any absolute standard that is always right and applies to all people. To them the Bible may be a good book, but it cannot be a final standard.
So while they say they don't like abortion, they defend the right to have one. While they may be married, they don't believe its the only place for sexual satisfaction for all. While they may not be homosexuals, they defend it as an equally right life-style.
None of these views are compatible with the Bible taken as God's infallible word.
We know the campaign commercials are of very limited value. They use words we like to hear, and show us images we love to see. They show us the ugly side of the other Party's position in words and images they know we don't like. This is nothing new. Its been the way campaigns have been run from the beginning.
Its most helpful to hear the candidates themselves. We need to evaluate their sincerity in what they say, and how well they are able to work with the other side of issues to move us closer to the most God-honoring position as a nation. The debates are among the most helpful ways to directly learn about a candidate, but we need to be careful about being influenced by how the media spins it after its over.
Its an awesome privilege and duty, to be able to choose our leaders in a free election. It comes down to some fairly basic matters that go beyond the impressions we get from the daily news summaries, from how the candidates seem to come across to us, and from how the campaigns present things.
We need to answer two fundamental questions before we vote:
1. Who will most advance us toward values that please God according to his word?
2. Who will be the best example for us and our children, by living by those same values?
We should never vote according to what material advantages a candidate may promise us.
But even more importantly: what we demand of our leaders must begin with us. No nation can be stronger than we, the people, who make it up. God blesses nations as he blesses the citizens and leaders united together. And God will not bless our lives and homes if we are hypocrites about his law.
Its "we the people" that make immorality profitable. Its our greed and selfish hearts that make a place for violence.
The "let government do it" attitude can distance us from our duties. Its our responsibility to live godly and compassionate lives. We can't be content with government programs that promise to fix things for us.
So what are the issues?
We could list dozens of policies that are promoted as important by the media and the parties. But at root are the moral principles, and the source from which we draw them. That source ultimately is our conviction about God's word as our foundation. The Bible alone must set the absolute boundaries for what is right and good.
But the Bible is not just for kings and civil leaders.
Every leadership responsibility should be guided by God's word.
Its the standard for leadership in our homes. Husbands and Parents should read God's word daily. They need to know what it says, and live by its principles.
Its the standard for guiding our churches. Elders, Deacons, Pastors, Sunday school teachers need to be well acquainted with God's word.
The Bible should guide us as we oversee others in our businesses. Bosses, managers, supervisors, and board members should consider biblical principles as they make decisions about their employees, customers and investments.
Even those chosen to lead sports teams, to head up clubs and societies, or to be scout leaders ... should make their first duty to be faithful to all of God's principles.
As Paul wrote, "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)
When you take charge, the whole of Scripture, not just certain parts of it ...
- should be kept with you all the time
- should be read all the days of your life
- should be studied so that you learn to fear (that is, to respect) the LORD
- should be carefully observed personally -- all of its words and lessons
In our next studies on this subject , we will examine from God's word how our personal lives should agree with what we expect of our leaders in caring for the needy and in dealing with dangerous elements around us.
On Reformation Sunday we will see how the Bible is a Sure Foundation in a Secular Society.
And on Election Sunday we will see how electing and being leaders, fits with remembering that God is the Sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords.
Today we've looked at some basic moral issues that rip the mask off of ungodliness, as it tries to wear the costume of false promises and counterfeit compassion.
But these lessons indict us too
We are fools if we think we can live ungodly lives, and our nation will still be blessed. Its a tragic hypocrisy to demand godliness of our nation, when we ourselves don't treasure human life and God-honoring morality.
But what a great hope we have, when we learn to make God's law our treasure. When we learn to love those things that are blessed and good. And be willing to set aside all else for what really counts for God's blessings.
Our children today may not see voting booths roll into our neighborhoods pulled by horses. But they will have memories that will shape them as future Christian citizens when we are gone. Will they remember apathy about who are leaders are? Selfish hypocrisy as we vote? Or will they remember us prayerfully considering God's blessing on our nation's future? Will they remember that we personally treasured the moral principles that God blesses? We are accountable for the future ... what kind of future will it be?