Posted by: gmscan | February 21, 2016

Is He a Christian?

I started writing this long before Pope Francis’ comments on Donald Trump

It is a question that is often posed, not only about Trump, but about Barack Obama and other political and even religious leaders. For that matter, it is something we wonder about other people who attend our churches but behave in ways that seem to undermine Christian values.

The politically correct answer to this question is usually, “Who am I to judge what is in his heart? He says he’s a Christian and that’s good enough for me.”

But, while there is plenty in Scripture cautioning us against judging other people, there are also admonitions that run in the other direction. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians —

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13 ESV)

Paul also wrote to Timothy,

“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. “(1 Timothy 5:20-21 ESV)

So, it seems pretty clear that Christians have a responsibility to hold each other accountable for their actions. If someone who claims to be a Christian is engaged in sin, he should be publicly chastised, and shunned if he doesn’t correct his ways. But this does not apply to non-Christians. They are not bound by the standards of Christian behavior.

Now, Paul also says:

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (Romans 14:1-4 ESV)

This instruction seems to be more about internal church practices: how communion is served, who is eligible for baptism, the order of liturgy, and the like. These are cultural preferences, having little to do with the tenets of faith. Some people like praise music, while others prefer traditional music. Some churches hold communion every week, while others have it less often. Some worshippers are staid, while other like to whoop and holler. We shouldn’t “quarrel” over these matters, but should welcome each other as fellow believers.

Of course, there are many who show-off their religious practices more for public consumption, to make themselves look good to the community, without much actual faith behind it. Jesus recognized these folks –

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6 ESV)

These cautions apply to all of us as faithful believers. But there are additional warnings for people in leadership positions. These leaders can lead the faithful astray with false teaching, sometimes knowingly, other times simply because they have other agendas and misinterpret Scripture to suit their political or social preferences. Jesus called them false prophets —

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20 ESV)

Peter spoke of this, too –

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV)

And Paul added –

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” (Romans 16:17-18 ESV)

So what are we to make of all this? To identify such a false prophet, we obviously have to use judgment, or if you don’t like that word, call it discernment. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, it is expected of us. Faithful Christians cannot allow people who claim to be brothers and sisters to mislead, by word or action, other people who may be on the fence about Jesus. We have to be willing to boldly declare that this person is not speaking the truth.

Now this gets complicated because none of us are perfect. We are all sinners and hardly in a position to lord it over others. We are often charged with hypocrisy because we cannot live up to the standards we have set for ourselves. We have to ask for forgiveness on a daily basis and (try to) “go and sin no more.”

Our relationship with God is private and personal. It is in our room with the door shut. We cannot tell what another person is doing in his room with his door shut. But we most certainly can tell what that person is doing and saying when he comes out of his room and is acting in public. If those actions and words do not comport with Christian standards, we are expected to call him on it publicly.

If such a person flaunts immoral behavior and brags about never asking forgiveness, we need to speak out and say this is not Christian behavior. He cannot be allowed to continue to mislead people by calling willful defiance of God a Christian act. Jesus warned about causing others to stumble: “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:6 ESV)

Pope Francis got it wrong about Donald Trump. It isn’t his position on immigration that should make people question his Christianity, but his declaration that he never asks for forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. Thank you, Greg. Solid thinking, and references.

  2. Is he a Christian? I thought you were wondering about the Pope.
    In the interchange with Nicodemus, it was necessary to be born of the water and of the blood as the first birth of the flesh and the second of the spirit.
    Poor Nicodemus; he started out with flattery, “we know you are a man come from God,” but he was told that he could not even see the Kingdom of God unless he was born again. ie. he did not know what he was talking about. I would be more concerned that the Pope is born again than I would Trump.
    Gerald N. Yorioka, M.D. (Jerry)

  3. Greg, some of your comments follow conventional American wisdom on the nature of faith (personal, private, etc) and some of it is orthodox (ability to ask for forgiveness is captured in the Roman Catholic Sacrament of Confession), but fundamentally, at its root, a Christian is one who is a disciple of Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ was not a wall builder. This is not the Gospel. This aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was captured theological by the tearing of temple veil at the moment of his Death, tearing down the symbolic separation between God and Humanity.

    (In fairness, that story has multiple meanings, my favorite being that it represents God Himself rending his garments in a show of mourning at the Death of His Son)

    It is indeed ironic that the Vatican is surrounded by a wall, and no Roman Catholic Mexican would challenge it. But Pope Francis has broken the traditional walls of separation between his office and the people. He clearly tries to live his belief that the Gospel is much more about building bridges than about building walls.

    As far Donald Trump calling himself a Presbyterian, the fundamental premise of Presbyterianism is a form of Government called “Rule by Council”. I doubt very much Trump believes in “Rule by Council”.

    In that regard, he reminds me much more of Benito Mussolini.

  4. Any more thoughts on the Donald? He seems well on his way to become the Republican nominee, defying all odds. If the trend keeps up, he might even be the next president.

    • Jodie, I should probably do a whole post on this topic. I didn’t support Trump in the primaries, but I will give him his due — that he won fair and square and I will likely vote for him in the general election. I agree with some of what he says, but agree with Hillary far less.

      I think Trump has tapped in to something that is infuriating the working class, both black and white, and the snotty condescending response from the elite (both Left and Right) is further infuriating these folks. I will post links to a couple of thoughtful articles from well before Trump’s rise that explain this —

      From Charles Murray — http://www.aei.org/publication/belmont-fishtown/

      And from Angelo Codevilla — http://spectator.org/39326_americas-ruling-class-and-perils-revolution/

      More importantly, though, looking to human leaders for salvation is never a good idea. All are flawed and will disappoint us in the end. It’s not that they are crooked or corrupt, but that they are (like us) fallen.

      So, I will cast my vote for Donald Trump when the time comes, but I will put my energy into working for the only one who can heal us. As 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” That is a promise we can count on.

  5. Hey Greg,

    Yes Trump is a populist demagogue and he is getting votes just like all other demagogues have gotten votes since the days of ancient Greece. But I am surprised to hear you say you are voting for him. Is that still true?

    I have been to Europe three times this year on business, and invariably over dinner drinks or on the airplane, some European will eventually ask me some version of “What is happening in the US? What is up with the popularity of this Trump guy? Have you all lost your minds”. I frankly don’t have an answer because I kinda see it like they do. They have heard from the likes of him before, and so have I.

    What really stuns me is that it’s not just the uneducated and disenfranchised who have gathered around him. His supporters include normal, rational, smart people like you. And I keep genuinely wondering how is that even remotely possible?

    So maybe, if you still feel the way you did back in mid May, I would love to hear from you what is his appeal to you. I get the appeal to the Jerry Springer fans, but you? How does that work?

    Jodie

    • Jodi, I want to reserve this blog for matters of faith. Are you on Facebook? I will answer you there. https://www.facebook.com/greg.scandlen

      • Greg,

        Sorry it took so long to reply. Many distraction this summer. All good.

        I don’t keep a Facebook account. My job makes it important to keep a low internet profile. You can still reach me on my Yahoo account.

        I think it is a matter of faith how we translate our values and beliefs into actions. Do we act out of faith? Courage? Self sacrifice? Do we pay forward the Grace that we have received? Egalitarian Democracy was invented from a matrix of faith. Faith that single individuals should not rule over the many, rather that Law should be mechanism of secular “rule” and that government was a matter of public service, based on the inverted pyramid teachings of Jesus, that those who would rule over all must become the servant of all.

        I think that compartmentalizing our values creates cognitive dissonance. I would vote for Hillary because I believe she believes in serving the public, and has the means to do so, whereas I would vote against Trump because I believe he believes in the public serving him.

        Against the values on which we founded our Republic.

        And even if he didn’t, he has clearly demonstrated he lacks the diplomatic, networking, and political skills and knowledge to do the job.

        But my choices start with the core of who I am, which is a disciple of Jesus. Its impossible to divorce the two.

        I guess that is why they say you should never discuss politics AND religion in polite conversation… They come hand in hand.

  6. Actually, re-reading my earlier reply, I still stand by that. Did you have a chance to look at those links?

  7. Very well written. I started following you after being sent the article titled “Like Most People, President Obama Gets The Crusades Wrong” which had a point included to which I don’t agree. This article, though, is spot on and speaks to a larger problem with the Body Christian as a whole. We’re being told to never judge and always forgive, even when forgiveness isn’t asked and repentance isn’t made. False teachers abound in the Christian Faith these days. As for my disagreement with part of the above mentioned article, see my comments at the site of the article…. or not…. your choice.

    • YIKES, James. There were a lot of comments to that article. Could you recap your criticism?

      • Hello Greg, thanks for asking. My only disagreement with your article concerning the crusades is you compared our bombing of targets in WWII equally to the annihilation of conquered populations during the crusades. That would equate to our having conquered Japan and Germany, then going into those countries after the fact and annihilating them, which is the exact opposite of our actions. Barbaric as all actions of WWII may have been, the actions of the allies after the war were heroic and commendable.
        Thank you for your consideration of my thoughts on this.

      • Right, I wasn’t saying it wasn’t the right thing to do. The point was more that modern man can be every bit as brutal as the ancients were — actually, even more so if we consider the Holocaust, the Soviet starvation of Ukraine, or the Cultural Revolution in China. The current obsession with avoiding civilian casualties is a vanity that will vanish when survival is at stake.

  8. Survival brings out the animal in me.

  9. And for clarification, I making tongue in cheek funny when I said at the end of my initial comment; “Your choice” as a lightly veiled reference to your Presbyterian doctrinal followings.

  10. “I was making”, not “I making”


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