Why Uncle Sam Shouldn’t Play Santa

As a child, I believed in Santa. As my age rose into the higher single digits, I began to realize that something wasn’t adding up with the Santa Claus story. I don’t remember my age, but it was definitely before age 10, when I realized that Santa had some parental help. Here is how it happened.

I got a super sweet Daisy pellet gun on Christmas morning. That gun may have been my best present ever. More than 3 decades later,

1914 Santa Claus in japan

1914 Santa Claus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I still have it, and it still works. But on the package that Christmas morning, I noticed something which confirmed a suspicion I had long held: There was a West Brothers Dept. Store tag on the box, and it read $24.95. Either Santa Claus shopped at the same store as my parents, or my parents were really Santa.

I settled on the latter, simpler explanation and learned a lesson which has stuck with me to this day—a lesson which half the adults in America may not fully grasp: There are no free gifts. Somewhere behind the Santa charade someone has worked and earned the money needed for gifts to be given away. This is true under the Christmas tree, and it is true when monthly checks are distributed by the federal government.

Our system of government is currently corrupt and not very compassionate. It “feels” compassionate to double the welfare rolls and promise free medicine to all people, but it is not. True compassion comes from empowering people—not from enslaving them to a political voting block of government dependency.

Take, for example, the injunction of the Apostle Paul:

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

Paul was not some crass, big-wig Republican Wall Street type. He was a well-educated, but poor tentmaker because he gave away all his money and spent his time and energy working for the kingdom of God, working with his hands by day so he could preach by night and travel to the different churches he was planting.

In giving this injunction to force people to work, Paul was affirming a principle of freedom. God originally created human beings to exercise dominion over the earth, to cultivate the earth, to work the ground and receive the rewards of their labors. There is righteousness in working hard and reaping rewards. Equally, there is poverty and bondage if this natural order is not followed. Making people dependent on the government is the opposite of compassion: It is enslavement. It is bondage. And it is calculated to create a voting block—not to genuinely improve the human condition.

Consider the results of welfare programs in the black community: In the 1960’s, nearly 80% of black families in America were intact families, with both father and mother living at home. Today, 70% of black children in America are born into homes without a father. As a result, poverty has increased. Families have been broken and destroyed by the dependency culture that came about through the “War on Poverty,” which was a political scheme instituted by Lyndon Johnson to get blacks to vote Democrat. In that sense, LBJ’s scheme worked. Blacks do typically vote Democrat. But the results have been disastrous for the black community. (See Star Parker’s testimony below).

The truth is, freedom comes from expecting people to provide for their own families. Freedom comes from empowering people through opportunity to succeed. If someone is unwilling to work, that person should not be fed by the federal government. America was founded on this very principle, and our liberty has been dependent upon maintaining it.

This lesson was, in fact, one of the first lessons learned in the American experiment. In Jamestown, the early colonists had a communal system in which all people were given equal shares of food, irrespective of work performed. Captain John Smith was forced to enact the biblical principle mentioned above in order to increase the work ethic and, thus, provide the food and goods necessary to keep the people of Jamestown alive. Over time, William Bradford came along and instituted private property rights, which not only expected people to grow their own food but also taught them to enjoy the full reward of their labors by owning, improving, and increasing their property (and hence, their prosperity).  Smith and Bradford ended up succeeding because of instituting the real-world solution of work and its reward.

There is no such thing as free food. And gifts whether they are given by fat-cat politicians or by bearded men with big bellies—all the same—they cost someone his wages.  As it turns out, the Daisy pellet gun I got as a kid is worth far more to me now because I know how hard my parents worked to give it to me. It cost them money they didn’t have to throw away. It was a sacrifice of love and now is a greater gift to me than it was then.

But when the government “gives” money away to people who will not work, they are not giving sacrificially like my parents gave. They are giving to a voter who will, in turn, vote for them. In a word, they are buying votes by taking money from all working Americans to create a voting block of Americans who are getting the “free” benefits of other’s labors.

It is not a legitimate defense of this practice to claim that it represents the compassion of America. Compassion is the task of individuals, of churches, of non-profits. The government cannot legitimately take on the role of compassion because the government neither produces its own wealth nor receives it voluntarily.  The government takes wealth from others. It should be free to take wealth only to the extent that it needs funds for defense and infrastructure. When Uncle Sam becomes Santa, all Americans lose wealth, freedom, and prosperity. There is no compassion in government spending. None.

To summarize the point: My parents did show love and compassion when they worked hard, earned their own money, and spent it sacrificially to give a good gift to their son.  If my parents had strong-armed their neighbors, taken money from them, and agreed to pay the rent for their other neighbors in exchange for some service, then my parents would not have been compassionate. They would have been criminals. Vote-buying and dependency building is not compassion. It is criminal.

Why Christians Should Care About Who Is Elected in November

For more than a century, Christians have been stretched by the tension of a fundamentalist strand on one side and the evangelical strand on the other, each pulling backwards against the other like a rubber band being pulled apart by two opposing hands.  The result has indeed been tension.

On the one hand, the fundamentalists have sought to protect the purity of the gospel against outside attacks. This fundamentalist tendency seeks to shield the church from outside influences but also has the rather unintended effect of shielding those outside from the church’s influence. Not only is the church protected from the world, but the world is also “protected” from the church.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, have sought to establish the necessity of salt stinging and light shining. So, under the theological influence of Carl F.H. Henry and the Billy graham evangelical vs fundamentalistpopular influence of Billy Graham, the evangelical movement sought to engage the culture, taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ.  Henry would initiate Christianity Today magazine and Graham would begin the practice of meeting with Presidents.  Evangelicals clearly won the debate, but the tension still abides. There are still Christians who wish us to “stay out of politics.”

Because our culture feels so “politicized,” many would prefer we not to get mixed up in politics. Surely, it would be easier if we didn’t have to deal with the deceit and obfuscation made popular by modern magistrates. Even though withdrawing would be easier, I don’t think it is the faithful course for Christians to follow. Here is why.

In Deuteronomy 17, the Lord gave instructions to Israel before she took possession of the Promised Land.  In these instructions, Israel was taught about the proper function of authority (the king).  In effect, the king’s role was to institute the righteousness of God.  A primary function of government, then, is to administer and uphold justice; upholding justice demands following the commands God has given. This was true for ancient Israel, and it is true for us today.

Obviously, we do not live under the rule of a Davidic king in the land of Israel, but the basic principle of Deuteronomy 17 still holds. Paul explains (in Romans 13) that government is to approve of what is good and punish what is evil. No doubt, Paul understands that good and evil are established by God, not merely by man. Thus, government still exists to uphold the righteousness of God (which is good).

Christians have an obligation to do their very best to uphold the righteousness of God in every aspect of life—including public and governmental aspects of life. Such upholding of righteousness in the face of injustice is at least a part of what it means to be salt and light in an otherwise dark and decaying world.

Practically, this upholding of righteousness means Christians must participate in public debate, must participate  by voting, and must care about what happens in the greater world of government and civic life. To withdraw from these responsibilities is not to care more about God and the gospel; it is actually to care less about the gospel and about people in general.  Listen to how St. Augustine explains it,

st augustine politics authority governmentFor both the physician is irksome to the raging madman, and a father to his undisciplined son,—the former because of the restraint, the latter because of the chastisement which he inflicts; yet both are acting in love.

In other words, Augustine understands that doctors and dads must intervene if they care at all for their patients or their children. Love compels their engagement—even if their engagement is taken as a negative or unpleasant intrusion.  Augustine explains further,

But if they were to neglect their charge, and allow them to perish, this mistaken kindness would more truly be accounted cruelty. For if the horse and mule, which have no understanding, resist with all the force of bites and kicks the efforts of the men who treat their wounds in order to cure them; and yet the men, though they are often exposed to danger from their teeth and heels, and sometimes meet with actual hurt, nevertheless do not desert them till they restore them to health through the pain and annoyance which the healing process gives,—how much more should man refuse to desert his fellow-man, or brother to desert his brother, lest he should perish everlastingly…

If the Christian cares at all for his fellow human being, he will not withdraw or be silent on matters which others have politicized. The greatest commandment is to love God with heart and soul, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. These two great loves compel our engagement in “political” affairs such as the protection of human life and the honoring of the institution of marriage.

In my opinion, then, each Christian should take up the shaker of the gospel and sprinkle its salt of truth into the world on issues important to the day. Likewise, each individual Christian should both live and act in a righteous manner to shine the light of truth for others groping in the darkness to see. That’s the way things look to me (and to Augustine).  Your opinion, as always, is welcome.

A Biblical View of Election

I am known as a Calvinist, and the church where I pastor is known as a Calvinist church.  This phenomenon is interesting to me because I don’t use the term Calvinist in my preaching, and the church I pastor is Cedar Grove Baptist Church, not Cedar Grove Calvinist church.  I think the reason folks want to hang the title Calvinist around our necks is that we speak of things like election and predestination.

We speak of election and predestination not because we are from the strange planet Calvin and, thus, somehow alien to real Christianity here on earth.  No, we speak of election and predestination because these concepts are clearly taught in the Bible.  I often hear people saying that they “don’t believe” in predestination.  I encourage them not to say that; it only proves a level of ignorance regarding what the Bible teaches.

The Bible speaks of election and predestination.  In Matthew 24:30-31, Jesus teaches that at His return, He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.  Clearly, the language of the elect is used, and it is used in reference to a particular people and their salvation.

Other passages which speak of election include Mark 13:20, 27, which speak of Christ shortening the days of trial for the sake of His elect.  In fact, Mark 13:20 clarifies what it means to be one of God’s elect; it means those whom He has chosen.  In Romans 8:33, the elect are promised an unshakable security.  If God holds no charge against the elect, then who is going to be able to condemn them?  No one.  Surely, many Christians cling to eternal security, but the Scriptures tie such security to God’s grace in election.

Many more passages in the New Testament speak of predestination.  Acts 2:23 states that Christ was turned over for execution according to the predetermined plan of God.  In 4:27-28, the text is even more plain in stating that everything Herod and Pilate (and the Jews and the Gentiles) did was according to the predestined purposes of God.  It is worth noting that the statement on predestination in 4:28 is made during a prayer for confidence.  The disciples were being threatened, and they needed to know that their trials were not outside of God’s control in order to speak boldly in the face of such threats.

Perhaps the best known verses related to predestination and election are found in Romans 8:28-30.  These verses are known as the “Golden Chain” of salvation because they lay out the entire chain of events which lead ultimately to the believer’s glorification with Christ.  First in the chain is foreknowledge, then predestination, then calling, then justification, then glorification.  They all hang together as one chain forging together the links of salvation.  The chain, of course, is anchored in Heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Beyond being the golden chain of salvation, this chain is also the chain of security for the believer, anchoring him to Jesus forever.

Two issues usually arise at this point in the discussion.  First, there is the issue of foreknowledge.  Once folks see the numerous texts related to election and predestination, they realize there must be some explanation for these texts.  They may hope that an explanation will make the discomfort of predestination go away.  So, for instance, when I was a Sunday School teacher teaching through Romans, I went to my pastor and asked about the predestination mentioned in Romans 8:30.  His reply was that the term meant simply to say that God knows who will choose.  I was placated, but not satisfied because the text clearly uses both terms: foreknowledge and predestination.  It makes better sense to say (as Ephesians 1:4 does) that foreknowledge refers to the concept of God’s choice of individuals to predestination.  In other words, God has the individual in His mind, then He predestines that individual to Christ.

The simplicity of this understanding of foreknowledge is made even more plain by the Apostle Paul later in the book of Romans.  Romans 9:10-16 is clear that God’s choice of an individual comes without reference to any merit in the ones who are chosen.  In this passage, there are 2 twins in Rebekah’s womb, Jacob and Esau.  Verse 11 states that before either one had done anything good or bad, God made his choice of Jacob over Esau to receive the covenant blessing.  And, to make perfectly clear what is intended, the text goes on to say that this dynamic was put in place “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”  In other words, election is a matter of God’s choice, not ours.

At the conclusion of the matter, Romans 9:16 summarizes, “So that it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”  So clear is this message communicated that your response to it is anticipated by Paul.  He replies, “You will to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault?  For who resists His will?’” (Rom 9:19).  On the contrary, Paul says, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?”

The text is clear.  It is our wounded pride that gets us so confused.  We know all the good we have done.  We know that we made a decision.  We know that we made choices.  We know how much better we have fared since deciding to follow Jesus.  We know how poorly life has gone for our friends and family who have rejected Christ.  And we are right about all of these things.  However, God has not left us in a place of boasting—even in the least little bit—for any of these things.  We were as dead spiritually as any sinner who ever lived.  We must see that the only distinction between us and any other poor sinner is grace.  God is the difference (See Ephesians 2:4-5).

Some will still insist on our  merit—at least a little bit.  They will insist that God chooses us because He knows that we will choose Him, thus negating the whole notion of God being free to exercise His will.  Understanding foreknowledge as being related to our foreseen merit is an undermining of the gospel of grace.  Ephesians 1:3 – 2:10 is written to make the point that God is the author of our salvation: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Don’t be afraid to admit that you do not in any way merit salvation.  Admit it freely.  You are not saved by any foreseen merit in you.  You are saved by grace without any merit.  You don’t deserve it. No one deserves it.  It is given by God.  That way, no Christian gets to boast that he made the right decision and chose the wise course.  Any wise choices we made toward salvation are the outgrowth of God’s grace given to us.

Second, the assertion is often made that election is tied to nations, not individuals.  While it is true that the Lord said to Rebekah that there were two nations in her womb (Genesis 25:23), it is emphatically not the case that his choosing Jacob over Esau had nothing to do with salvation or the covenant (as some scholars assert).  The truth of the matter is that Esau was made into a nation, but he was not chosen for the covenant promises to Israel.  In fact, he traded his birthright claim to the covenant and could not later find repentance for that sin.  His heart was too sin-hardened (Hebrews 12:16-17).  The writer of Hebrews views Esau—the individual person—as rejecting something of high value and failing to repent for it.  Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews view Jacob and Esau as individuals, not nations.  The election of one and not the other had clear implications for these individual men.

So, the biblical doctrine of election gets right at the heart of the gospel and speaks a message to us from Genesis through Revelation.  God has people who will be saved.  They will be saved through the preaching of the Word (as in Acts 13:48).  Therefore, we are to preach the Word to all nations because Christ has purchased people from all nations with His blood.  Their future is certain, as is ours, by the will of God.

I understand that such teaching may literally rock your world and shake your foundations.  Please do not fear.  When the world shakes—and even crumbles—it allows you to see the solid rock of Jesus on which you are actually standing.  The more clearly you rest in Jesus Christ alone, the more unshakable you will become.  I am convinced that God has revealed such glorious truths to us so that we can stand, unshakable and immovable, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Take your time to think through, pray through, and study through these things.  If I can answer questions for you, I will.  At least, I will try to answer them.

Salvation is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9).