A Biblical Case Against Passivity

Active/Passive directional image

In a small Canadian town, city officials gather to discuss shutting down an innocuous leadership event because of its alleged association with certain Christians who have traditional views of marriage and sexuality. Even though they were aware that these issues were not to be part of the event, its slight association with such organizations and/or individuals was sufficient reason to cancel a legal contract just three and a half days before its start. The event and the persons involved were deemed by these officials as criminal, hateful, and divisive. The motion to cancel was passed by an overwhelming majority without hearing from the sponsors or organizers because, as one official stated, these were not just Christians, but “strong Christians.”

This is not the stuff of fear-mongering conspiracy theorists, but the real happenings in the lovely British Columbian town of Nanaimo in early May over Leadercast (http://leadercast.com). The motion established the council’s role of being the conscience over the use of all city-run or -funded facilities, thus banning any or all events that might have even a slight connection with anyone possibly holding to traditional biblically based values (see Page 3, Section 7 here).

Nanaimo Waterfront

Nanaimo Waterfront

I am happy to report that this is not the end of the story. Last Thursday evening, two months later, the same Nanaimo city council voted to rescind this motion, but why? People did complain. Christian leaders in Nanaimo spoke up. The federal Member of Parliament for that region, James Lunney, wrote to the city council urging them to reconsider. But, it appears that the key force that made the difference was conservative social commentator and host of Sun TV’s “The Source,” Ezra Levant. About two week ago, Levant dedicated an entire show to this story and rallied support through various means. At one point the council issued a statement of regret, which Levant analyzed on his show, demonstrating its half-hearted uselessness. So he continued speaking up about the issue until, as I mentioned, the council finally backed down.

Ezra Levant headshot

Ezra Levant

This is not the first time Levant has stood up for what he deems to be discrimination against Christians and their views. Some years ago Stephen Boissoin, a Canadian youth pastor wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper in an attempt to expose his understanding of the gay agenda. Boissoin was taken to the Alberta Human Rights Commission and lost. After untold grief and expense Boissoin was vindicated, partly due to Levant’s involvement. When I first read what Levant was doing I was brought to tears, not simply because I was grateful for his support, but because no one else to my knowledge was doing anything to stop this overt injustice (read an op-ed that covers much of the Boissoin story.

Currently Levant is fighting on behalf of Trinity Western University (TWU), located in Langley, British Columbia, near Vancouver. TWU is a private, Christian-based, institution that has recently established a law school. More than one provincial legal association across Canada has already decided not to recognize TWU’s law graduates, thus barring them from practicing in those provinces, citing TWU’s Community Covenant Agreement’s inclusion of a statement that calls for the abstention of “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”. They are doing this even though guaranties under the Canadian constitution, in particular our Charter of Rights and Freedoms include freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; and freedom of association (for more information, see Trinity Western University takes legal action to defend religious freedom).

Trinity Western University, Langley, British Columbia

Trinity Western University, Langley, British Columbia

There is a good argument to be made that such freedoms are well grounded in a biblical understanding of society, especially since the Charter’s preamble states, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”.

Ezra Levant somehow understands how the issues surrounding the TWU law school, Stephen Boissoin, and Nanaimo City Council, threaten the foundations of Canadian society. And whether Levant is aware of it or not, he is standing up for biblical values.

The Nanaimo situation is not the first time I have wondered why believers are not doing more to stand up to growing totalitarianism in Canada and elsewhere. Depending on our theological perspectives, many believe that either evil has the upper hand, and there is nothing we can do about it; or that evil has the upper hand, and we shouldn’t do anything about it. The reasons we have for either of these two vary. It may be due to our understanding of God’s sovereignty, our ideas about the end times, what we think about faith, or a narrow definition of evangelism that doesn’t include societal issues. However we look at it, many are convinced that we are to be passive with regard to the current spiritual and moral decay.

But is this passivity biblical? There is a wonderful story in the Hebrew Scriptures that may suggest it is. When King Jehoshaphat prayed to God about an impending threat, God said that they would not need to fight (see 2 Chronicles 20:1-23). They should stand their ground and he would rescue them. The next day the army went out, Jehoshaphat appointed some to sing to the Lord, who then caused Israel’s enemies to destroy each other.

So are we to take from this, that whenever we face adversity or injustice of any kind anywhere, we are to sing to God, and he will take care of whatever it is? That should be our conclusion if there is any indication in this passage or elsewhere in the Bible that this is to be standard procedure for God’s people. I can only think of one other similar occasion, when God killed off the enemy army while Israel was sleeping (see 2 Kings 19:32-37). There are other situations where the Lord directed his people to perform unusual acts such as putting lamb’s blood around their door frames before the final plague before the Exodus, marching around Jericho before its walls collapsed, and Gideon’s army’s lighting torches and blowing ram’s horns to defeat the Midianite army. But in each case there were things for the people to do albeit out of the ordinary. Be that as it may, most of the time when Israel faced battles, they fought in a conventional manner. God helped them to overcome, but they fought. Israel was correct to begin with the assumption that their response to threats was to actively engage their enemies. From time to time God gave unusual directions to follow. He very rarely called them not to engage at all. But standard procedure was to fight.

Another biblical justification for passivity is a particular view of Jesus. He is often regarded as the great passive victor, as if he simply allowed evil to have its way with him, with the result being his vindication by God the Father through his resurrection. But is this an accurate picture? Certainly under the Messiah we see the people of God transition from a fundamentally military posture to that of preachers and teachers. While there was a time when Israel was commissioned to bear literal swords in the conquest and retention of the Land, the Messiah commissioned his followers to bear the sword of the Word (see Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus in the Gospel accounts is anything but passive. He confronted and engaged follower and foe alike. He let nothing simply be as it was. He even regarded his death as active, for he said “No one takes it (his life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18).

But doesn’t the rest of the New Testament call us to focus solely on evangelism and personal and congregational spiritual issues? We don’t seem to find the kind of social critique and activism as demonstrated by the likes of Ezra Levant. But if we took the time to think through the social implications of what we find in Acts and the Letters, we would discover that submitting to God’s Word necessarily results in the call to confront ungodliness at every level of life, personal, family, congregation, and social. The Bible’s teaching on the vulnerable alone is sufficient to take a stand against injustice (Psalms 82:4; Proverbs 24:11-12; Isaiah 58:6-7; James 1:27). Once someone gives themselves to the teaching of Scripture, how could they just sit back and allow anyone to undergo the abuse, defamation, and discrimination those associated with the Nanaimo Leadercast were subjected to? Or TWU. Or Stephen Boissoin? The heart of God for justice, truth, and goodness cries out in the streets. Thank God for Ezra Levant! But what about the rest of us?

This is why I support what some of our children our doing. This week our daughter Devorah is leading a team from the Canadian Centre of Bioethical Reform (CCBR), reaching out to people on the streets of Ottawa to consider the truth about abortion. Babies are being saved from slaughter, because these activists care enough to not be passive.

Devorah doing "Choice Chain"

Devorah doing “Choice Chain”

Our son, Daniel, among his other activities, recently started a ministry called “Porn Fuels Rape Culture”, helping people to see the real roots of pornography. How so much of it is actually sexual abuse and is used to fund some of the worst sex crimes on the planet. With sexual addiction and abuse on the rise and destroying so many lives, how can we be passive?

Daniel

Daniel

I am not saying that every single person should join activist causes like these for the same reasons why I wouldn’t encourage everyone to adopt King Jehoshaphat’s methodology. The correct biblical standard is obedience to God. But however God leads, he calls us to be an active, not passive, people. We need to be actively listening, actively aware, actively obedient.

Toward A Biblical Understanding of Israel & the Middle East

Map of IsraelWhile deserving of a much fuller discussion, I offer here an overview of what I understand to be the Bible’s perspective on the people and Land of Israel.

Brief biblical overview of Israel and the Land

The nation of Israel (as a people) was specially and purposely formed by God (Isaiah 43:1; 44:2).

The granting of the Land of Israel, as defined in Scripture, is an essential aspect of God’s unconditional eternal promise to the people of Israel.

  • God’s promise of the Land to Abraham is unconditional (Genesis 12:1-2; 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:5; 15:17-21; 17:8; 22:17).
  • Moses prophesied the restoration of Israel to both God and the Land (Deuteronomy 29-30).
  • Restoration of Israel to the Land is affirmed by the Prophets (Isaiah 11:11-12:6; 27:12-13; 43:5-7; Jeremiah 16:14-15; 23:3-4; 23:7-8; 31:7-10; Ezekiel 11:14-18; 28:24-26; 36:24; Amos 9:14-15; Zephaniah 3:18-20; Zechariah 10:8-12).

Israel’s covenant relationship with God as established through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not dependent on their descendants’ obedience to God (Jeremiah 31:35-37; Romans 11:28- 29).

The Abrahamic and Sinai covenants are related but distinct (Galatians 3:15-18). The Jewish people’s lack of faithfulness to the Sinai (Old) Covenant resulted in the promise of a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), which was established the Messiah (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). Both the Old and New Covenants are rooted in the Abrahamic one. Neither abrogates it (Romans 11:28- 29; Galatians 3:17-18).

Under the Sinai Covenant, restoration to God and to the Land was based on the unconditional Abrahamic covenant, not the conditional Sinai one (Leviticus 26:40-42).

“Israel” in the New Testament is never made synonymous with “The Church.” [1]

The “mystery of the Gospel,” which is the incorporation of the Gentiles into the spiritual blessings anticipated by Israel through faith in the Messiah is no reflection on the continued relevance of the covenant promise of Land to the people of Israel (Ephesians 3:6).

Individual salvation for Jewish people (as is true for all people) is only through faith in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 4:12).

The church has a special responsibility to pray and work towards the spiritual restoration of the people of Israel (Romans 9:1-5; 11:30-32)

Israel’s covenant relationship to the Land is not undermined by the New Testament.

Gentile domination of Jerusalem is regarded as temporary (Luke 21:24).

  • When the apostles expressed their expectation of a literal kingdom, Jesus cautioned them regarding the timing, not the essence of their inquiry (Acts 1:6-8).
  • The New Jerusalem is intimately associated with physical Israel (Revelation 21:12-14).
  • While exile from the Land and/or non-Israelite rule over the Land is a sign of God’s disfavor over the people of Israel, God has never given the Promised Land to any other nation as a “possession” (Luke 21:24).

While God chooses from time to time to judge the people of Israel via foreign domination of and exile from the Land of Israel, unfaithfulness to God on the part of the majority of the people of Israel does not disqualify them from resettling the Land.[2]

Reflections

God’s covenant relationship with physical Israel is primarily about the people of Israel. The Land constitutes only one aspect of God’s promises to the people of Israel.

We can expect that through the Gospel and in the name of the Messiah, the people of Israel will be restored to both God and the Land.

There are no prophetic events that must necessarily precede the restoration of Israel to God and the Land.

The essential nature of faith in the Messiah for individual salvation does not undermine or lessen the reality of God’s purposes among the people of Israel, the Land of Israel, or the nations.

The concept of a modern Jewish national home within the boundaries of the Promised Land is biblical.

God’s covenant relationship with physical Israel doesn’t automatically justify the current return to the Land, Zionism, or necessarily endorse the policies of a particular Israeli government or Israeli political party.

Insofar as it is proper for believers in Messiah to speak into the policies and social issues of any nation (Matthew 28:18-20), so it is proper for godly people of good will and wisdom to speak into the policies and social issues of all the nations, organizations, and individuals involved in the current Middle East conflict.


[1] “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) need not mean “The Church”; “But a Jew is one inwardly” (Romans 2:29) is a reference to authentic spirituality, not a redefinition of “Jewish” that includes Gentile Christians.

[2] The return from Babylon occurred, not because of increased faithfulness on Israel’s part, but because the predetermined 70 years were completed. The whole second temple period was marked by foreign rule and oppression except for the Hasmonean period (140 – 37 BC).

Sorting Out My Online Presence

Online presence imageI am sure there are people out there whose online presence is more complicated than mine, but I would like to take this opportunity to list the various ways you can follow what I am doing online. Feel free to engage any or all of these.

Email lists

Currently I have two email lists. I produce a D’var Torah (word from the Torah), called TorahBytes. This is a short “thought for the week” based on the annual synagogue reading cycle of the Torah (the Books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible).

I also send out a monthly newsletter, which usually includes a lead article on a biblical topic and an update of my teaching and writing services. From time to time, I will use this list to inform my subscribers of urgent matters that I deem of interest.

You can subscribe to both or either of these lists or update your current subscription, by clicking here.

Note: This has nothing to do with the new Canadian anti-Spam legislation. If you ever want to be removed from either or both of my lists, there is an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of every email.

Facebook

I have both a TorahBytes and personal Facebook pages. I post my weekly TorahBytes message in both locations. I post other TorahBytes-related items on the TorahBytes page, while reserving my personal page for a wide assortment of personal and ministry-related items.

To access my TorahBytes page, click here.

To access my personal page, click here.

Note: You need to be a Facebook member to access the above pages.

Twitter

I have two Twitter accounts. @torahbytes is for TorahBytes-specific tweets (usually the weekly message). @alangilman for ministry tweets that are broader in scope. I do not tend to tweet personal news.

To access my TorahBytes account, click here.

To access my ministry account, click here.

Note: You do not need to be a Twitter member to access Twitter pages.

Web Sites

My ministry site is www.alangilman.ca. This is where you will find information about my teaching and writing along with access to audio and video resources and more.

www.torahbytes.org is dedicated to TorahBytes. This is where the weekly messages are displayed and stored (text and audio).

Blogs

You are currently reading http://alangilman.wordpress.com, which I will be using for general blog posts on a wide variety of topics.

http://torahblog.com is an alternate site for posting my weekly TorahBytes messages and allows for comments. My intention is to also include posts supplemental to the weekly messages.