Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Steve said... (Comments on CHRISTIAN AMERICA blog):

"Bill, rage on.

But isn't it reasonable that those who are Christian and Americans feel such a strong sense of ownership in both that they blur them together? Isn't that kind of a sweet thing in an innocent sort of way?

So if they do good things with this undergirding value, supported by the myth of a Christian America (meaning USA of course, but let's not quibble in the face of such sweet good will....) hey, isn't that great!

If they do bad things, we'll probably get farther by meeting them on their ground, in the midst of their myths, than by asking the dear people to flush a cherished myth down the drain...."
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Steve, I love your comments. Thanks. I have to confess that it took a few minutes for their meaning to sink in. I’m slow when it comes to satire.

Truth trumps myth. Webster’s 9th Collegiate Dictionary defines “myth” as “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the worldview of a people or explain a practice, belief or natural phenomenon.” We who are followers of Christ do not need to build our worldview on myth, but on the truth, whether the truth of the Scripture, or genuine historical facts.

The first great commandment, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5), referred to often by Jesus (Matthew 6:37, 38) leaves no room for any other worship. And I believe that our blurring God and America or putting them both on the same level is false worship. We put flags in our church sanctuaries, right along side the cross. We sing patriotic “hymns” in our worship services. We regard the laws of our country as God’s laws and its leaders as God’s leaders. We regard America’s wars as though they are God’s wars.

It is sad when those who are Christian and American “blur them together.” Do I dare says it’s sinful? Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and will despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). The Hebrew prophets “raged” against idolatry, not only blatant worship of false gods, but also false worship of the true God, as well as syncretism, when Israel (literally) was “hopping between two branches” (1 Kings 18:21), when they apparently felt they were worshiping both the LORD and Baal.

I love my country. I try to be submissive to the government. But my country has no place as first in my heart and should have no such place in the heart of any disciple of Jesus. And I believe we whom God has placed in positions of leadership have an obligation to “ask the dear people to flush a cherished myth down the drain.”

Thanks Steve, for stirring me up.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


For most of my life as a Christian, I have heard tales about a mythical land called “Christian America,” a country which was founded by God, or at least by Christians, to be a special nation. I have heard, however, that this nation has left its course, strayed from its original purpose, and is or almost is, no longer what it was intended to be.

Occasionally I hear or read laments about the loss of this mythical land and expressions of desire to see it restored. I hear that it is our responsibility to act (often, but not always, politically) toward this restoration, to “take America back for God.”

But is this restoration desirable or even possible? I contend that it is neither. First of all it is impossible to restore “Christian America” because it never existed. This mythology runs counter to both history and the Bible.

It is true that a great number of the early settlers of this land were Christians fleeing persecution for their faith in other lands (mostly “Christian Europe”) and wanted to set up, as the early Puritans said, “a city on a hill.” However, many of the early settlers did not come here with so noble a purpose, but were opportunists, looking to make their fortune. And even those who came for religious freedom were often only desirous of that freedom for themselves and others of the same persuasion. They denied freedom, to and sometimes became persecutors of, those who thought differently than they did.

Though our founding fathers were definitely influenced by the Bible and biblical morality, they were also influenced by Enlightenment thinking. The references in the Declaration of Independence to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” are not exactly references to the God revealed in Scripture. The God of the Declaration is closer to the God of Deism. This is to be expected since its author, Thomas Jefferson, was not a Christian (except by a very loose definition), nor were many of the others. The fact that they often quoted Scripture simply tells us that they read the Scriptures.

The morality of early America was influenced by the Bible but that doesn’t mean it was biblical. Though our present age has its share of evils, the early nation had its share as well: slavery, mistreatment of native Americans, violence toward one another. Dueling was an acceptable way of settling a dispute. According to some statistics, church attendance was extremely low.

But the strongest argument against the concept of Christian America is biblical. The Bible leaves absolutely no room for this idea. God is sovereign in setting up ALL nations, according to Daniel 4:17, “ … In order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm (Kingdom) of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men.” (See also Daniel 4:32, 34b, 35; 5:21b.) God sets up all nations, not just America. That means He set up Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, Nero’s Rome (Romans 13:1), the USA and its current government, as well as Iran and North Korea.

America is one of “the kingdoms of this world,” or more specifically, it is a part of “the Kingdom (singular) of this world.” It is not part of “the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15). These are two separate kingdoms and will remain so until Jesus Christ returns in glory to make “the Kingdom of the world” into His Kingdom.

We are told by Paul in Philippians 3:20, that “our citizenship is in Heaven.” Peter tells us we are “resident aliens” in this world (1 Peter 1:1). As residents of this world we have obligations to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesars” (Matthew 22:21). We are to pray for all those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1, 2), to submit to authorities (Romans 13:1-5), pay our taxes (Romans 13:6, 7), but we are to do this primarily because we are citizens of Heaven.

So, if this country is not, never was, and never will be, “Christian America,” we who are followers of Christ don’t need to waste our time and efforts on restoring it to what it never was. We need not long for some golden age of America’s past. We are also free to deal with sinners as sinners in need of a Savior and not as evil conspirators trying to take away our country.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


This past Sunday I drove right past a panhandler on my way to church. I barely noticed him. I went right on to church, worshipped, listened to a good sermon, fellowshipped with my brothers and sisters. But I have to confess that I didn’t really practice my religion as I should have.

I suppose many – maybe most – of my fellow middle-class Christians would have done the same as I did. Some, if asked, could have come up with very good reasons for ignoring a panhandler:

-- “He’d probably spend whatever you give him on booze!”
-- “He could get a job if he wanted to!”
-- “How did he get that way anyway?”
-- “I work for a living, why can’t he?”
-- “I’d never, ever ask anyone for a handout!”
-- “People like that are what’s wrong with our country!”

It may seem strange that though the Bible has much to say about the poor, It never condemns them for being that way. It condemns those who ignore or oppress them.

God is concerned about the poor. There are at least eight words in the Hebrew Old Testament and three in the Greek New Testament for “poor” or “poverty,” besides the words for needy groups or persons such as widows, orphans and aliens. There are literally hundreds of references in the Bible, nearly all of them dealing with the need to care for the poor.

Throughout the Law of Moses there are instructions concerning care for the poor and underprivileged. Leviticus 19, for example, the chapter in which we find the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (vs. 18) also contains commands about relationships with “the poor,” “the stranger,” “the hired man,” “the deaf” and “the blind” (vss. 13-15, 33, 34). Deuteronomy 15, however, contains some of the clearest commands for taking care of the poor. In fact, it states that “there will be no poor among you” (vs. 4), if they follow God’s commands. Specifically this chapter deals with the laws concerning remission of debts every seven years, but it also deals with generosity to the poor (vss. 7-11). Paradoxically this chapter also states that “the poor will never cease to be in the land.” This is the verse that Jesus alludes to in Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7 and John 12:8, which unfortunately is often ripped out of context as an excuse for not caring for the poor.

The prophets spoke severely against mistreatment or neglect of the poor, not only by denying them material care, but also by denying them justice (Amos 2:6, 7; 4:1; 5:10-12, 15, 24; 8:4-6),

There are many passages in the New Testament dealing with care for the poor and it may be difficult to place them all in a neat system.

1. The coming of Jesus was especially related to salvation for the poor and in need. See Mary’s song in Luke 1, especially verses 51-54. Also see Jesus’ sermon which Luke uses to introduce Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:18, 19; quoted from Isaiah 61).

2. In His Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Luke 6:20, 21, Jesus pronounces a special blessing on the poor and the hungry. This is a contrast (but not a contradiction) to Matthew 5:3, 6 where He says “poor in spirit” and “those who hunger … for righteousness.” Perhaps these are two separate sayings, or perhaps Jesus is implying that material poverty often leads to humility.

3. Jesus, in His prophecy of His judgment on the nations specifically, homes in on their treatment of the poor and those in need (Matthew 25:31-46).

4. James tells his readers that the poor are the objects of God’s choice (James 2:5). Paul agrees with this, reminding his readers that God has chosen “the foolish … the weak … the base … the despised” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). We tend to exalt the wise, the rich and the powerful, but God does not (see also James 2:6, 7).

5. Paul’s ministry, though mainly involving evangelism, church planting and discipleship, also devoted time to the care of the poor (Galatians 2:9, 10; Acts 20:34, 35). He organized a collection for the poor believers in Jerusalem and personally carried it to them (Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8, 9).

6. “Pure religion” is defined by James as involving two things: care for “the orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). Paul especially lays on the rich “to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

So, what is our responsibility? Many of my middle-class Christian friends try to ignore the issue of poverty, perhaps because it’s an issue that defies simple solutions. We cannot pass a law or a constitutional amendment abolishing it. We cannot just find a place to picket. We cannot just give counseling. In fact the Scripture condemns counseling alone. “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15, 16).

Some suggestions for our thinking:

1. We need to recognize that all that we have is from God. We do not deserve it. It’s all grace. “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

2. We need to develop an attitude of contentment and an attitude of generosity. “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10; also see verses 17-19).

3. We need to develop a compassion for those in need. “ … put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12), following the example of our Savior. (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32).

Some suggestions for our action:

1. We can give more money to organizations that minister to those in need. There are Christian organizations that minister to both the body and the soul.

2. We can give away some of our “stuff.” Many of us have garages, attics and sheds, full of things that are useless to us, but which could be useful to others.

3. We can put a buck in the bucket of the panhandler with no questions asked.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I found a four-page ad in the center of my latest issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. The first page of the ad said in bold headlines:



That got my attention! The second page, however, was slightly more assuring. It only threatened a drop from 34% to 4%, and that only among evangelicals, others not being counted.

This was an ad for a campaign (series of seminars) aimed at reaching evangelical youth. It is endorsed by many evangelical leaders, many of whom I respect. I’m sure that it will be effective and that God will use it.

But do we have to manipulate statistics, history and what’s worse, theology to promote our programs? I won’t say much about the statistics given, except to quote an old proverb (source unknown): “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”

From a purely historical perspective, I find it hard, even impossible to believe that Christianity only has ten more years left in this country. Christianity has survived under the most ruthless regimes throughout history. It is even surviving in totalitarian states today.

But what I find most offensive about this ad is its totally human-centered (should I say humanistic?) views of the fate of Christianity. I’d say it borders on blasphemy.

God is sovereign in history. He is the absolute and sole Ruler of the universe. He does what He desires.

“But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

“Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth and in all the deeps” (Psalm 135:6).

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

God uses us because He chooses to, not because He needs us. It is our privilege to serve Him. The apostle Paul refers to our abilities to serve as “gifts” – God’s gifts to us, not ours to Him. He referred to his own “office” of apostleship as a “grace” – a favor that God had done to him. (Romans 1:5; 12:3; 15:15, 16; etc.)

I believe that what this ad shows is that we, the church, have bought almost totally into the world system. We base our thinking on statistics, pop psychology, sociology, and politics, rather than on the biblical revelation. The threat in this country may not be against Christianity as much as against our particular style of doing Christianity.

Perhaps the ad could be revised:


That might not be so bad!

Bill Ball