Every election year there’s drama. This year is no exception! What has been unexpected is the evangelical polarization over how to approach elections. Here’s my take on the two main approaches:
1. Elections are holy (character and issue absolutism). This group is in severe mourning over the lack of Christian character in both parties’ candidates. Their voting strategy is to vote for the most Christian candidate and if our political parties don’t nominate one then write one in or don’t vote in protest of immorality. The candidate analysis equation here multiplies character by issues, and no doubt this year despair is the only conclusion. (Check out Al Mohler for a sample of this perspective).
The problem with this view is that elections aren’t holy. Our government, although founded on freedom of worship and a broadly Christian worldview, is not explicitly Christ centered and does not exist to make and mature disciples of Jesus. As Kevin DeYoung said,
…we should realize that if we vote at all we are voting for less than our ideal candidate. As long as Jesus isn’t on the ballot every Christian is voting for someone less than our perfect candidate.
In every single election we could write in a candidate with better character than the given options.
2. Elections are unholy (functionalism or pragmatism). This group says, essentially, we shouldn’t expect a Christian candidate, so we should vote for the lesser of two evils. It has been accused of being pragmatic and de-emphasizing character. Nonetheless, some theological heavyweights have landed here (check out Wayne Grudem’s post).
The problem with this view is that elections are holy. Our Christian faith should influence how we vote. Character does matter.
Perhaps we’re missing another set of Biblical truths to help us wade through this moral crisis. In the Bible we find not only the character requirements for followers of Christ, but also God’s purposes for government. The New Testament passages that touch on government assume that said government will be filled with rulers who do not have faith in Jesus. Yet such a government can still fulfill God’s purposes for government in general.
When we understand God’s purposes for government, we can ask the most important question of a candidate: will they effectively lead our government in fulfilling these purposes? It is possible that the candidate best capable to lead our government to this ends is not a Christian.
From the Bible, we learn that government exists to:
1. Foster Good for Society (Romans 13:3-4a)
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.
2. Enable Worship (1Tim. 2:1-2)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, or kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
3. Punish the Wicked (Romans 13:4)
But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
4. Uphold Justice (Micah 3:1)
Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice?
5. Protect the Weak (Ps. 82:3-4)
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
I would be thrilled if the best candidate was a legit, born again disciple of Jesus. I would love for our president to be a person of high integrity, and a role model for our children. Would a Spirit filled Christian be ideal to lead a government in fulfilling those purposes? Absolutely. Yet, as you know, most of the time those candidates aren’t nominated.
Nonetheless, every election is an opportunity to nudge our government, by small degrees, towards God’s purposes. So, rather than take my ballot and go home, I choose to cast my vote for the candidate I believe will best lead our country’s government in fulfilling God’s purposes for government.
In the end, elections are both holy and unholy. As we vote, we must remember to trust our sovereign God with regard to his plan for the universe and these United States:
Today we enjoyed an excellent American worship service… 4,000 miles from the United States. The church body at High Point Baptist in Vilseck is filled with young families (mostly military). We had a great time worshipping with them. Kelli, Sarah, and Lindsay gave their children’s church workers a break for the week.
As you think about Keith and Diana, here are a few prayer requests:
Pray for continued transition to life in Germany. The first year transitioning to life in a cross cultural ministry context is usually the most challenging. Please pray for the Edwards family as they adjust to life in Germany. Two of the Edwards family, Molly and Caleb, are in college and high school (respectively). Pray for their continued success at school.
Pray for the start of a Word of Life Bible Club on base. Keith and Diana have secured permission to operate a WOL club on base. This is a great opportunity for outreach. Pray as they get this club up and running.
Pray for outreach to local Syrian refugees. By God’s sovereign grace, many refugee families have been housed in former US military housing. God has brought the nations to the gospel once again. Pray as High Point considers how to reach out to these families.
Pray for possible expansion of their facilities. Currently they rent their meeting space and have 2 services. They have several options, and they need God’s wisdom as they consider what to do in the future to make room for their church body.
Keith and Diana expressed how perfect the timing of our trip was for them. We were their first ministry partners to visit since arriving in Germnay last December. They send their greetings to the church at Green Pond.
Speaking of which- we miss the saints at Green Pond and Highlands! Even so, we praise God for the making and maturing of disciples of Jesus at High Point.
Today we spent some quality time with Keith and Diana Edwards visiting Flossenburg Concentration Camp, one of the primary forced labor camps the SS used during World War 2. This was where German pastor Deitricht Bonhoeffer was hanged for his refusal to support the Nazi regime and his participation in rescuing Jews and a plot to assassinate Hitler.
Bonhoeffer once wrote,
Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.
This radical discipleship, for which he was famous, cost him his life. Tragically, he was executed two weeks before the US Army reached Flossenburg. His legacy is a call to that kind of commitment to Christ and his kingdom. On a personal note, this theme has resonated strongly with me.
It has been refreshing to consider what undistracted discipleship looks like. How many Christians do you know who are ready to be hanged rather than compromise their fidelity to Jesus? How many distractions do we face that make it difficult (or nearly impossible) to put Christ and his kingdom first?
Today was a sobering day. I hope that I left Flossenburg a more devoted disciple of Jesus.
After a day of rest and a day of travel, we arrived safely in Vilseck, Germany (near Nuremburg). We left Italy the day before the recent earthquake, and we have been in touch with the Fiores and Shaasfmas in Milan. They are far from the epicenter, and asked us to pray for those in mourning.
Here in Vilseck, Keith and Diana serve at High Point Baptist Church, an English speaking congregation that serves the many Americans who live in this area due to the US Army base here. Upon arriving in Vilseck, Diana picked us up and we headed straight onto the base where Keith was refereeing flag football. This is one of his ministries where he is able to get to know active duty soldiers.
The ministry here reminded me of ministry to English refugees in Geneva in the 16th century. The Edwards serve a chunk of English speakers as a subculture in the local German community. Almost everyone is either active military or works at a job related to the US Army being here. For that reason, there is an extremely high rate of turnover. Essentially, the church is “new” every 3-4 years.
This brings many challenges both in developing leadership and maintaining ministries that require volunteers (e.g., youth staff). By God’s grace, both Keith and Diana have experience in the Army and understand well the unique challenges of military life. We are looking forward to worshipping with the church body on Sunday.
As we depart Milano, we felt even more united in spirit and mission with the Fiores and Schaafsmas. Their ministries at Punto Lode and Punto Luce are simple: glorifying God by making and maturing disciples of Jesus. Although they make many creature comfort sacrifices to serve in Italy (and have for decades), their strong church family more than compensates. Such love for the Lord! Such joy! Such passion! Here are a few takeaways:
Need for workers/interns– While these churches are filled with active believers who are effectively sharing the gospel, there is a great need for help with discipleship and practical ministry needs. They just don’t have enough people to effectively build relationships and share the gospel with the population. It’s not a cliché: the harvest is ripe, and the workers are few.
Radio station– Many of you will be familiar with the ongoing saga surrounding Radio Vita, the only Christian radio station in northern Italy. Punto Lode and Punto Luce own the radio tower and maintain it. The legal battles over this radio frequency are ongoing. By God’s grace, the courts have consistently ruled in favor of Radio Vita. Pray that this would continue, and that the opposition would concede defeat. Check out the photos of us “inspecting” the tower.
Punto Luce building needs– Punto Luce is a church plant sent out from Punto Lode. It’s their “Highlands Campus.” The have completely filled their building space, and literally have no room for growth. They are researching options to rent new space or possibly buy a building. Please pray specifically for wisdom for Punto Luce as they make plans and decide how best to continue the mission.
One final note. The day we arrived in Milano, Michael and Nina had dropped off their two sons to head to college at Wheaton in Chicago (their daughter was already there). Nina shared with us that she was sad, as any mom would be, and prayed for encouragement. When we arrived, I shared that our main goal was to encourage them. I had no idea God sent us as a specific answer to prayer. His ways are far beyond our ways!
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one…
After 2 more days with the believers here at Punto Lode and Punto Luce, here are some of my observations:
1. We are one. In both churches on Sunday we looked at Ephesians 2:14-18 and how Jesus has made peace for us with God and peace with each other. The end result is the creation of the church- a united body of believers from all people groups. We have felt the unity of the body with the believers here in Milan.
Joan Fiore (right) with Giusy and Dominico.
2. A glimpse of what’s to come. Italian culture is post Christian, with a healthy dose of Roman Catholicism. The evangelical church here stands in stark contrast to the culture. This is both a challenge and a blessing. It’s a challenge because life and ministry can seem like an uphill battle. But these believers are strong in their faith. It’s a blessing because there’s greater clarity on who is a follower of Christ and who isn’t. There’s hardly any middle ground. I believe this is where the culture in the US is headed, and we can learn much from these Milano believers.
Some of the believers from Punto Luce.
3. The nations are here. Chalk this one up to ignorance re: Milan, but we worshipped with believers from: Italy, Romania, Brazil, Nigeria, Peru, England, Argetina, Ecuador, and the good ole US of A. Not represented were a recent influx of people of Morocco, a ripe field for the gospel here in Milan. We also heard that others from Bolivia, Egypt and more were out of town. Talk about a great chance to make and mature disciples !
Sam Fiore explaining the Roman Catholic practice of praying for the dead and praying to the saints to Sarah and Lindsay.
Me and a faithful brother and elder Giorgio who translated. The word on the street is he improved my sermon quite a bit.
By God’s grace we safely arrived in Milan after successfully catching the train from Zurich. Sam Fiore and Michael Schaafsma welcomed us in typical Milano fashion: with a cappuccino.
Joan Fiore and Nina Schaafsma met us at the Schaafsma home, and we enjoyed a fabulous Italian meal with them. We immediately caught up on ministry matters, and the fellowship was even better than the food (which is saying something, don’t get me started on real Parmesian cheese and legit prosciutto).
After dinner we shared the encouragement cards from GPBC with both families, and we all were brought to tears. God’s timing, as usual, was perfect. The strength of past relationships with the saints at Green Pond was evident. The body of Christ truly is worldwide.
The two churches we will be with here are called Punto Lode (Point of Praise) and Punto Luce (Point of Light). These churches are lead by a plurality of elders, with Sam and Michael providing pastoral leadership for each.
One remarkable fact: only 7% of the population of Milan were born here. It’s a city of immigrants both from within Italy and outside of Italy. Punta Lode is a church family made up of Italians, Peruvians, Romanians, Brazilians, and recently Nigerians, to name a few. God has brought the nations to Milan, and as a result of the ministry of the Fiores and Schaafsmas the gospel is being exported to some of these nations.
After dinner Michael read Colossians 1 and we had some impromptu worship time, which was a great way to end a loooong day of travel and a great evening of Christ centered fellowship.
More ministry updates to come. Needless to say, God has sent us to the right place at the right time. Please continue to pray for the Fiores and Schaafsmas as they minister.