I’m reposting some comments I left over at Justin Taylor’s blog:
Defining a cult is less important than defining Christianity. While Mormonism can be legitimately classified as a cult (indeed, a paradigmatic cult), it’s more important to explain why Mormonism isn’t Christian–not even close.
What exactly are you referring to? Do you object to the pastor saying Mormonism is a non-Christian cult? Do you object to his endorsing a candidate? Do you object to his vouching for the piety of a candidate?
Actually, Paul’s position on pagan statecraft (Rom 13) would be offensive to Jewish insurrectionists.
Keep in mind that politics is not irrelevant to the freedom to evangelize. That, itself, is a civil right. A right which the state may revoke if Christians desert the political sphere.
“The first line here is true, but the rest doesn’t follow. The Gospel flourished under the world-wide domination of an Empire who not merely suppressed Christian voting, but killed you for not bowing before its leader. And the Gospel’s chief messenger also prospered greatly in his efforts to spread the Gospel despite never having petitioned Rome for better living conditions or equal rights.”
The problem with citing historical precedent is that it’s easy to cite counter precedents. For instance, Christianity hasn’t flourished in Muslim countries. It didn’t flourish in communist E. Germany.
“Paul never threw his weight behind a senator or would-be Emperor.”
Actually, we’d be in no position to know one way or the other. All we have is a sampling of his letters to a few churches.
“His love was for the Gospel, not the protection of political freedoms.”
That sounds nice when you confine yourself to an abstract phrase like “political freedoms,” but what about concrete issues like abortion, euthanasia, homosexual adoption, indoctrinating students in public schools, &c.?
“I think we need to get Christians out of politics and into the Gospel and let the geo-political chips fall where they may…”
Like the way the chips have fallen in N. Korea, Maoist China, Stalinist Russia, Romania under Ceauşescu, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, &c.?
“…that is to say, we need to trust that God will allow political systems rise and fall as he sees fit as we continue the work of the Gospel.”
That’s a hypercalvinistic quietism, as if our efforts somehow impede God’s efforts.
“Except that the letters we have from him are now part of the inspired cannon, and clearly you’re forced to presume he was political via an argument from silence.”
i) When I explicitly say that we’re in no position to know one way or the other, that carries no presumption in either direction.
You’re the one who’s drawing inferences from silence, not me.
ii) But as far as that goes, give the fact that Paul held dual citizenship (Rome, Tarsus), it would hardly be surprising if he were involved in the civic affairs of the empire. That would also explain his political connections with Roman officials (i.e. the Asiarchs).
“Yet his letters clearly tell us about the horrible suffering he endured for Jesus’ sake, and his letters stretch from his conversion to just before his death. You’d think if he was political he would have said something, or at least have something political included in Scripture.”
Paul also said nothing about Christians farming or raising livestock. Therefore, by your logic, Christians should expect God to feed them manna from heaven.
“Except that I didn’t just cite any historical precedent did I?”
So you’re now dropping historical precedent?
“I cited what the apostles did and didn’t do based on the Gospel itself. And clearly the Gospel shows us how obsessed the apostles were with advancing Christ’s kingdom, rather than personal freedoms in an age when there were none.”
i) You need to learn how to draw an elementary distinction between what Scripture prescribes, proscribes, and permits.
ii) In addition, apostolic example has obvious limitations. That was a special calling. Christians don’t have that unique vocation.
“What about them? Didn’t Paul have infanticide in his day? How about the common treatment of women in the first-century? And we can only guess about the depth of atrocities and idolatry that was taught in Roman schools. Paul didn’t ignore these things at all, instead he taught a better a message. He taught a message that transcended the mere appeal to a human institution, and instead preached a Gospel that eventually changed the face of the greatest empire on earth.”
Paul also discussed the rule of law (1 Tim 1:8-10).
“It’s hypercalvinistic only if you insist that your ideology supplants real Gospel-centered evangelism, Steve. Jesus wants you to preach him, not limited government and better tax rates. He wants you to trust in his Word, share his Good News, and to stop worrying about whether a President who shares your political views (yet who likely cares little to nothing about the Gospel) attains the White House just to obsess all over again about keeping him in there for another four to eight years.”
i) It’s funny how you appeal to apostolic precept, but then ignore the fact that the apostles never enjoin every-member evangelism.
ii) Preaching the gospel is not the only Christian duty. For instance, Christian family men have a standing duty to protect and provide for their dependents (1 Tim 5:8). If someone breaks into your home and threatens your wife and kids, you have a duty to defend them. If a mugger assaults your wife, you have a duty to defend her.
You also have a duty to protect your livelihood, since that is how you provide for your dependents. If you were a rancher in the Old West, you’d have the right to protect your herd against cattle-rustlers. That’s how you put food on the table. If you own a mom-and-pop store, you have a right to protect your store against an arsonist. That’s what pays the bills.
If you have a duty to protect your family against rapists, muggers, murders, and arsonists, then politics is no different, for gov’t run amok can also pose a threat to your family’s wellbeing.
“This is what I was talking about earlier, Steve. You intimate that he did do these things and you have to assume that he did when you have no proof.”
You disregard the reason I gave.
“What the apostles did do is encourage their followers to risk everything (houses, families, livelihoods) for the name of Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel.”
i) That’s not all they did. They also encouraged Christians to lead normal lives.
ii) There’s also an elementary difference between being prepared to risk everything and failing to take rational precautions. The Bible also commends prudence.
“Nice try, Steve. But we’re not talking about farming or livestock or just sitting on your hands waiting for the rapture.”
You’re the one who acts as though it’s improper for Christians to do something without explicit apostolic authorization. So by your logic, Christians shouldn’t farm or raise livestock. They should devote full-time to evangelism and expect God to feed them manna from heaven.
“We’re talking about mixing ideology and faith – specifically, an obsession with ideology over faith.”
Reality isn’t compartmentalized the way you’d like it to be.
You also have a bad habit of resorting to hyperbole. Since that’s a straw man, it fails to prove your point.
“You seem to be suggesting that not being political is tantamount to doing nothing, and that seems to suggest you don’t believe that the Gospel alone is all that powerful or worthy of your trust.”
The Bible isn’t confined to evangelism. The Bible is also concerned with personal and social ethics.
“Yes, but what is that supposed to prove? Do you think that Christians putting an emphasis on the Gospel in their lives, even wholly in lieu of politics, is to ignore the rule of law? I can think of several martyrs and saints of old who would disagree with you here.”
You’re the one who drives a wedge between “gospel” and “ideology” or “politics.” Well, the rule of law is political or ideological. St. Paul had “ideological” or “political” concerns over and above evangelism. He didn’t share your dichotomies.
“Steve, I don’t know where to begin with your non-sequiturs here and I don’t have the time to unravel them.”
You’re using adjectives to do the work of arguments.
“But I’m not so paranoid to believe that devoting my time and energies towards preaching the simple Gospel, instead of making sure that a Republican defeats our current President next year, is somehow tantamount to hypercalvinism and allowing an arsonist to ‘burn down my store.’”
You’re not making a good faith effort to engage the argument.