Saturday, September 24, 2016

Honor the Muslims, submit to Obama?

The Sunday School class I attend uses a quarterly study guide in a series titled "Explore the Bible." This month we started a study of I and 2 Peter and Jude.

The lesson for Sunday morning is I Peter 2:11-20, and it is some difficult teaching for me to accept. I wonder what the other old men in the class will think of it. I am looking forward to some good discussion. It seems to me that it teaches Christians to be submissive and passive to our leaders and bosses in government and business. Taken literally, it even makes the Revolutionary War a great sin, it seems to me.

Here is the text in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (used by permission):

11 Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.

13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 As God’s slaves, live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.

18 Household slaves, submit with all fear to your masters, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel. 19 For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.

The Penitent Apostle Peter, Anthony Van Dyck
In verses 11-12, Peter refers to the believers in Christ as strangers and temporary residents. I presume what he means is Christians are not citizens of this world or any country but of the kingdom of God. They might be citizens of Rome, residents of one of the Near East or Asia Minor countries, but they are no longer really of this world. They are the Lord Christ's people. In fact, a few verses on down, he refers to them not as citizens of the kingdom but as God's slaves. As the property of God, they are expected to act honorably among the people of the world. Apparently, those non-believers were treating the Christians the way we treat the Muslims. They were suspicious of them, they spoke insultingly about them and figured the Christians were up to no good, likely worrying about what they would do as their numbers increased. Peter told the Christians to be good to those people and respect them and act honorably so they might be led to Christ. Maybe we need to treat the Muslims with a little more honor, give them the benefit of the doubt, in order to lead them to Christ.

In verse 11, he tells the Christians to refrain from fleshly desires. I  don't know what he means. I suppose he's telling them not to have sex outside of marriage, not to overeat and not to get drunk. He must have been the first Baptist or at least a member of First Baptist. (That's a joke, son. Just trying to keep it a little light.)

Now in verses 13-14, Peter puts up a real stumbling block for me. I despise the government, but he says I've got to submit to every level of the government because of the Lord! Because of the Lord? The trouble with this is, he was writing to people whose Dear Leader was Emperor Nero, or someone far worse than our own Dear Leader, President Obama, or our future Dear Leader, likely President Hillary, the way it looks at this time. It is awful damn hard for me to be submissive and accepting and uncritical of those two birds. Peter sees all government as good and from God because it gives structure to society. I wonder if he would have said the same if he were writing in Germany in the late 1930s and during World War II. I wonder what he would say to our Founding Fathers, who declined to submit to the authority of King George III. Would he say they were guilty of great sin?

In verse 15, he's saying that by being good followers of the Emperor and the government, the believers would lead the critics of Christianity to shut up. To top it off, he says it is God's will that they submit to the government.

Then in verse 16, he twists the meaning of freedom, it seems to me. He tells them that as the slaves of God, they can live freely SPIRITUALLY! He was telling the believers who were being persecuted for being believers that they were really spiritually free because of Christ, so don't forget it. And also, just because they were free from sin and sin's penalty (eternal death), they should not use that spiritual freedom to cover up their sins. I figure what this means is this: "OK, listen here, you are God's slaves so you belong to Him and that makes you spiritually free. Sure, you are being persecuted and life is hard, and you aren't really free now, but don't you dare get drunk to take away the pain of life under persecution. Trust in God. Eventually, it will be alright. After you are dead."

In verse 17, he says essentially this, "Honor and respect everyone, including the Muslims, the atheists, the abortionists, the married homosexuals. Everyone, whether you like it or not. Love all your fellow Christians, even the ones who aren't undergoing persecution like you are. Fear and respect God, for you are his property and he can do what he wants with you. Honor the emperor, the king, the president, the dictator, no matter who they are, because God put them in charge." Whew! That is hard teaching.

In verse 18, Peter tells slaves to bow down and submit to their slavemasters, no matter how much those sumbitches beat the slaves. And in verses 19-20, he says it is fine, mighty fine, to get whipped by the slavemaster as long as you are submissive and respectful, because that is a good Christian witness. It isn't a big deal to be submissive to a good slavemaster, but it is fantastic to say "Thank you, massah, I needed that beating" to the evil slavemaster.

As I said, that is some hard--to-take teaching.

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