Tuesday 26 April 2022

Objectionable Adjectives and Voting

I took a swing at Andy Stanley earlier in the week here over what, on the surface, might seem like a trivial tweet.

He posted an image of a statement that said

"Christian is not an adjective. There are no Christian Republicans or Christian Democrats. #notinittowinit"

Which again, on the surface looks like a call for peace and understanding in hostile political times and one that is generally representative of a large swath of Christian thought when it comes to politics. 

This is all to say that Andy has likely done more for the church than most pastors out there. His ministry and content are in most churches. Andy is a Christian and an active one who is, however much people might want to disagree, contributing to the mission of God to see men and women saved. And has seen people saved, I know dozens of these people who found Christ through his work. None of that is up for debate here.

He is, however, wrong about "Christian" not being an adjective. It is. It's literally the first thing that comes up when you look up its definition in a dictionary. Because the word Christian is a literary device to represent the term "Little Christ's" that came to be a description (what adjectives literally are) of believers in Christ in the early church.

Before we start straining too hard at this gnat, I'd like to offer a principle to use. Let's "Use words like they are meant to be used."

It can be edgy and exciting to use a word in a way that is against the grain of the culture. Heaven knows that slang and colloquialisms add the spice of life that most of us enjoy. But words do in fact mean what they mean for good reasons and trifling with them only ever causes problems. Namely division. If the use of adjectives is now suspect like its cousin pronouns is in the public discourse, then eventually nouns will be under the control of anyone but yourself along with verbs as well. I think it was Doug Wilson that said it first but the culture war is going to be a war over the dictionary. And off-handed imprecise comments like Andy's will be the first shots and sabre-rattling.

The problem with saying "Christian" isn't an adjective but it being an adjective, is that republican and democrat are also adjectives but aren't losing their descriptive power alongside belief in Christ. Their scope of power and actions after a voter casts their belief in their platform, still affect the world in ways any rational person would hope their belief in Christ would also affect. 

We vote for change and stability and believe for the same reasons. So when we separate the descriptive power of belief for change we usher in a type of silent evil that we can all call good because descriptions no longer matter.

The bare minimum for the Christian faith is belief in Christ's sacrificial death for the sins of the individual doing the believing. Subjectively, Christian belief can mean care for the poor, the sick, charity, love, respect and joy. While there is a bare minimum there isn't a technical maximum in the Christian faith. When an adjective describes our faith it's placing a finite word on what will be an infinite life in service and worship of an infinite God. A bell curve that gets lost on the way up and never comes down.

But the left and right wings of politics are as finite as anything gets. You cannot be a right of center and believe that abortion is a moral good and you can't be left of center and believe money is a moral good. The issues that divide us here get stacked up and levied for political movement and clout and while each "adjective" of the political party or movement's name is descriptive, it's the issues that actually do the defining. Saying you're a liberal in Canada these days means saying you voted for what we witnessed happen over the last few years. Maybe you didn't want it, but you did vote for it. Saying you're a conservative means that you essentially just voted for Cretien a bit too late. 

And that's where Andy's post falls short because when challenged by some very real problems the church at large found out the things they described themselves by, really didn't mean what they said they meant. We had Churches across the board that claimed in their publically available statement of faith, that the church was the local gathering of the universal church and that such was how the bible was interpreted at their respective church buildings. These same churches closed their doors and claimed online church was equal to and sufficient in an unprecedented time like we had. Saying one thing and meaning another.

Or maybe it's put better this way. Ecclesia (the word we get church from) means "the gathered", but we decided it means "the connected" real quick, like inside a month once a government mandate landed on our doorsteps. Because you cannot gather online because online is not a place it is a thing. You can be connected online but connected is not gathered. The words mean different things.

So when it comes to the adjective nature of "Christian" as a word there's a very real problem with saying there aren't Christian liberals or Christian conservatives. Because the adjective Christian lines up to actions that can be observably applied as descriptions of a person place or thing. Only a major problem when claimed for actions that would contradict a claimed description instead of an accurate description. 

Matthew 7:21-23

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

English Standard Version

What if you can't accurately call yourself a Christian if you vote liberal and support a platform with left-leaning political views and policies. Sure the care for the poor lines up and the social justice too, but it takes a sharp left turn when abortion and sexual liberation rear their ugly heads. If reduced to simple fractions, is a Christian still a Christian if they are on public record as voting for 6 policies of which only 2 line up with Scripture, while the other 4 are objectively described as sin? (another adjective by the way.)

What if you vote the other direction on the political spectrum, and instead of the score reading 2-4 for sin's and gospel-alignment's teams, it reads 4-2. Is one party by default more Christian than the other?

And I think that is what Andy is addressing here in avoidance instead of confrontation. It's great to have a saviour that saves you from sins, so in the face of choosing between sinning 2 out of 6 times and 4 out of 6 times, why not allow for both and nail both to the cross. It's literally what Jesus did. 

But then like all principles in Scripture we find ourselves challenged and helpless when a guy like Paul comes along and says.

Romans 6:1-4

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

English Standard Version

We can stumble out of the baptism tank, with salvation in hand and sin in our actions, or we can wince with every step, as our sinfulness was atoned for as we work and wait for Christ's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

If it was only a matter of the lesser of two evils Andy might have a leg to stand on. But it's his indescribable faith of no adjectives that damns both the left and the right for the very same reason. It's the scandal of our need for sin's sacrifice that makes the left's need for abortion and the right's need for capitalist greed, both nails in our saviour's body. And it's only in the proclamation of Christian anything that the world begins to point toward Christ. 

So yeah, "Christian" is an adjective and that's why I wonder about Christian Liberals but wonder less about Christian Conservatives, but know both are a far cry short of what it will look like when all there are, is Christians, and a King named Jesus. Doing a better job than any party, president, and prime minister ever born, ever did. 

As he makes all things new. 

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