Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Anyone who has read this blog would know that I have a lot to say about politics. But I don’t believe I have expressed many political opinions here. I have tried to be a-political and may even appear to be anti-political.

This is because I believe that somehow we have confused our Christianity with politics. And I believe that we the church in America have compromised our witness and our mission by doing so. Let me illustrate.

A number of years ago, when I was pastoring, a woman from our church came to me with a complaint about something that was going on in town. I honestly can’t remember what it was, but it was something that struck her as a terrible evil; some blasphemous movie or something like that. She wanted to organize a group to picket. I told her that if she felt that’s what the Lord wanted her to do, she should go ahead.

“Nonono!” she said, “this is something the church should do.” I tried to explain to her that I didn’t think the church as the church should be involved, but that she was perfectly free to do so herself and to talk to anyone else about being involved.

“But isn’t that the church’s task – to fight sin?” she asked. My reply was, “No, the church’s task is not to fight sin, but to rescue sinners.” She left in a huff and I don’t think I ever saw her again.

Did I get it wrong? I don’t think so! I don’t see the New Testament church “fighting sin,” at least in this way.

It’s not that the New Testament doesn’t have a lot to say about sin. It does. There are lists of sins and vices throughout, and strong exhortations regarding sin. However, these passages generally fall into three categories.

First, there are the passages that tell of the sins of the world “out there”; passages that clearly show that mankind is fallen, lost and in need of Christ. These passages are not given as a club to use to put people down, but to show them that they are sinners in need of a Savior. They are there to show people their need. Romans 1:18-3:20 is probably the longest. It shows that “all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is immediately followed by God’s remedy for sin in the work of Christ.

Second are the passages much like those above, but these are given to show the Christian what he has been rescued from, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is one such passage. It lists a number of vices and then tells the readers “ … such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.” We’ve been rescued from this, Paul tells his readers and, in a sense tells them,” … now live like it.”

The third group of passages speaks of dealing with sin in the church. “If your brother sins” says Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17, this is how to deal with him. Paul tells his readers how to deal with a sinning brother and why. It’s to maintain a pure church and to restore the brother (1 Corinthians 5:1-8; Galatians 6:1, 2).

I see very little, if anything in the New Testament about “fighting sin,” except in the life of the believer and the church. Yet that seems to be a major concern of much of our preaching and political action.

Am I saying we are not to speak out about present day evils “out there”? No I’m not. I believe we are to speak out, for the above three reasons and also as part of our duty as citizens of a representative democracy. If we are members of that “government of the people, by the people and for the people” then we are obligated.

But we are told that “ … our citizenship (Greek: politeuma) is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). We have a dual citizenship. Our first responsibility is as citizens of Heaven, not as citizens of America. We can claim our citizenship in America, as Paul did his citizenship of Rome (Acts 16:35-38; 22:25-28), but even here we should remember that our primary responsibility is to (literally) “ … conduct ourselves as citizens (Greek: politeuomai) in a manner worthy of gospel of Christ … ” (Philippians l:27).

The danger is when we confuse our responsibility as citizens of Heaven with our responsibility as citizens of America; when we confuse the church with America; when we see sinners as enemies of the state rather than as people in need of a Savior; when we seek political solutions first, rather than cleaning up our own act.

There are sins and evils in this nation that need to be dealt with. But while I believe we can do many things to limit their effects, we will not see them eradicated before the second coming.

And by politicizing these sins we may be cutting off our opportunities to point people to the Savior.

Bill Ball

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Our local newspaper this morning carried an article with the headlines: “Angry atheist books sell, revealing public angst over faith.” The article’s introductory paragraph said: “Militant, atheist writers are making an all-out assault on religious faith and reaching the top of the best-seller list, a sign of widespread resentment over the influence of religion in the world among nonbelievers.”

It gave a list of books by prominent atheists, none of which I have read. The titles, however, tell a lot: “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”; “The End of Faith”; “Letter to a Christian Nation”; “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.”

The article goes on to describe the phenomenon, with quotes and viewpoints from all sides. Apparently the militancy of religious groups bothers these authors, and I can’t blame them, even though I do not share all their views. It seems from this article that these authors are attacking on at least two fronts, which are sometimes apparently confused.

The first is the old attack, that of reason and science: the Bible tells “fairy tales,” it is contradictory to scientific evidence, such as evolution, etc. This is the standard case for atheism. They really believe that the evidence disproves the existence of God.

But the second seems to me to be a new attack, and that is an attack not on the evidences for the existence of God, but an attack on religion. It seems that if religion can be discredited and disposed of in some way, then God can also be disposed of.

The authors point out that religion is bad. As one of them says, “Religion kills.” Certainly a case could be made that religious people have been involved in some of the worst atrocities ever committed, even right down to the present time. One does not have to be too well-versed in the news to see that. Islamic militants seem to be out to destroy not only non-Muslims, but Muslims of different “denominations.” Jews and Muslims killing one another. Hindu militants in India. Buddhist militants in Myanmar. Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. I’d have to agree that religion is often, perhaps usually, toxic.

But does that make the case that we should throw out religion and God along with it? Not so!

First, we should note that not all atrocities are committed in the name of religion. What about the Nazi holocaust? What about the Stalinist purges in Russia? The killing fields of Cambodia? In fact, a case could be made that the non-religious have done a better job of imposing terror than the religious have.

We should also note that many of the religious conflicts are really that in name only. Nationalism, tribalism and racism often lie behind them.
If the conflicts and atrocities prove anything, it would seem that they prove the depravity of man, or original sin, which as one theologian said, is “the one Christian doctrine that is empirically verifiable.”

Having said all this, I must go along with the atheist who said “religion kills.” I have to agree that religion is bad. We even have evidence of this in the Bible. Jesus Himself told His followers, “ … an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). So what should we expect?

But the follower of Christ should be different. Though history demonstrates that evil is often done in the name of religion, even in the name of Christ, it ought not to be this way.

If to many people the evidence of God’s existence is proven or disproven by the behavior of those who profess Him, we’ve done a pretty poor job of proving. But not always. If we look around we can find plenty of people who not only ask “What would Jesus do?” -- but do it!

Shouldn’t that be true of all who name the name of Christ? That would be evidence enough.

Bill Ball

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Pascal, my favorite philosopher (see WHAT HAPPENED), seems to have said it best: “What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of what there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.

He only is our true good, and since we have forsaken Him, it is a strange thing that there is nothing in nature which has not been serviceable in taking His place; the stars, the heavens, earth, the elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, serpents, fever, pestilence, war, famine, vices, adultery, incest. And since man has lost the true good, everything can appear equally good to him, even his own destruction, though so opposed to God, to reason, and to the whole course of nature.”

When we observe the history of man, when we observe our own nature, our acquaintances – even ourselves, we see how correct Pascal was.

I think of the story in John 4, of the woman who met Jesus at the well in Samaria. She had needs and she had a need. Though her physical and emotional needs were real, Jesus keeps pointing her to her deeper need – a need that only He could fill.

She came to draw water. Jesus pointed her to Himself, the One who could provide her with living water (verses 7-10). She had had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband (verses 16-18). When Jesus pointed this out to her, He wasn’t trying to put her down, wasn’t trying to show her what a sinful person she was, He was trying to show her that she had a need that she had been trying to fill and couldn’t. She was religious (verses 19, 20). Jesus pointed out to her that her religion couldn’t fill the need either (verses 21, 22).

And then He told her about God. That the worship of God goes beyond forms and places. God is to be worshipped in spirit and truth (verses 23, 24). And He told her that God is seeking such people as His worshippers. God was seeking this woman. God doesn’t need us, but He seeks out people who know they need Him.

And He pointed her to Himself (verses 25, 26).

We could definitely revise Pascal’s list to bring it up to the present, even though most of it already is relevant for the 21st century. Notice that most of the items in Pascal’s list are not evil in themselves. They are morally neutral. But as Pascal says they “are all inadequate.” They become sins when we try to fill the void with them. And the void can only be filled when we allow Christ to fill it through faith.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


I grew up in the days when everyone seemed to know who the good guys and the bad guys were. I loved the “cowboy movies,” as we called them then. Gene Autry and Roy Rogers were the good guys. They wore white hats. They wore clean (though gaudy) shirts. They were clean-shaven. They always caught the bad guys and could always whip them in a fight. The bad guys usually wore black hats and had black mustaches. We also could recognize the bad guys by the sinister sounding music that played whenever they came on screen.

America was at war. We were fighting the bad guys. And again, everyone knew who they were: Hitler with his little black toothbrush mustache and his straight hair draped over one side of his forehead; Tojo with his buck teeth and his evil looking squinty eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses; and, Mussolini with his huge bulging jaw.

Many of my contemporaries mourn the passing of those good old days, or at least the mentality of the times. I don’t.

For one thing, it’s just not that simple and never has been.

Yes, there are horrid acts of evil. Anyone could make a list of the unspeakable atrocities of our lifetimes, beginning with the latest horrible slaughter at Virginia Tech.

I think we kind of like that killer. He fits our idea of what a bad guy is. He seems to be the embodiment of evil – angry, vicious, two guns pointed at us in his pictures.

But there are others. Look at Timothy McVeigh, a gentle appearing, soft-spoken young man. Look at many of the suicide bombers: many of them look amazingly normal. Or the nice folks in Rwanda, who one day went on a rampage hacking up thousands of their neighbors. Or Adolph Eichmann, a bland looking bureaucrat. Or the Enron executives. Evil doesn’t always have an evil face.

Why is this? We’d like to classify people in two groups, the good guys and the bad guys. We’d like an “axis of evil” that sets them apart. But it’s not there. Alexander Solzhenitsyn has been quoted as saying, “The line between good and evil passes not between nations, classes and religions … but through every human heart.”

When I first became a believer in Christ in my late teens, my sweetheart (now my wife) gave me a Bible. I consumed it. Though I was familiar with many stories in the Book, I was a bit surprised at how flawed and human the characters in it were: Adam and Eve lying to excuse their disobedience; Cain who murdered his brother; his descendant Lamech glorifying murder in what may have been the first rap song ever composed (check it out: Genesis 4:23, 24); even Noah, who “found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 5:8), the man God chose to save the world, getting drunk, committing some perverse act and cussing out his grandson; and all that in just the first few chapters.

Then someone in our little church asked me to teach 5th grade boys. Our semester’s topic had to do with the heroes of the Bible: Samson, David and Solomon. But these characters weren’t heroes. At least not like the ones I grew up admiring. These guys would be analyzed today as having sexual addictions. Some would even be analyzed as having sociopathic tendencies.

What’s my point? There just aren’t any good guys. And there are very few totally bad guys. We are all tainted with what theologians call “total depravity.” Now this doesn’t mean that we are all guilty of the same atrocities that Eichmann or Jim Jones or Timothy McVeigh committed. But we are all capable of sins like theirs. Berkhof in his Systematic Theology, defines it thus. “ … Negatively, it does not imply: (1) that every man is as thoroughly depraved as he can possibly become; (2) that the sinner has no innate knowledge of the will of God, nor a conscience that discriminates between good and evil; (3) that sinful man does not often admire virtuous character and actions in others, or is incapable of disinterested affections and actions in others, or is incapable of disinterested affections and actions in his relations with his fellow men; nor (4) that every unregenerate man will, in virtue of his inherent sinfulness, indulge in every form of sin. … Positively, it does indicate: (1) that the inherent corruption extends to every part of man’s nature; … (2) that there is no spiritual good that is, good in relation to God, in the sinner at all, but only perversion“ (pages 246, 247). (Also see WHAT HAPPENED?)

Perhaps we want there to be “bad guys,” so that we look like “good guys.” But God doesn’t see it that way. “All have sinned and keep falling short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And when we admit that we are bad guys, then we’re able to take advantage of God’s free grace in Christ, the only Good Guy who ever lived.

Bill Ball