By (guest writer) Bob Meyer:
Recently a Community Column writer for a local paper wrote an opinion piece denouncing conservative politicians for not complying with the “Red-Letter” teachings of Jesus. Among other things, he was referring more specifically to Ted Cruz’s call for evangelical Christians to help his political bloc to defund Obamacare. This claim is worthy of careful examination.
Emphasizing the authority of one portion of scripture while ignoring all others isn’t a principle of historical normative Christian theology. As the Bible declares of itself “…All scripture is given by inspiration of God…“ Red-lettering was first conceived in 1899, and it first appeared in Bibles in 1901. So from the time when the canon of scripture was closed, until the turn of the 20th century, there was no special theological emphasis on colored printing. The Bible declares of itself that all scripture is given by inspiration of God. Red print may be a helpful resource, but there is no hint anywhere that the red printing is more important than the black printing.
“Red-Letter Christians” emphasize the red print in the Gospels to amplify social justice themes while deemphasizing the moral instruction found in the Pauline epistles. This is an illicit gambit, essentially pitting Jesus against Paul, because it fails to recognize that different audiences are being addressed in the two different portions of scripture. The idea that Paul’s revelation is subordinate to Jesus’ teaching is not a valid interpretive principle.
In the Gospels, Jesus addresses Roman occupied Israel existing for centuries under the moral convictions of Mosaic law, thus Jesus primarily addresses moral infractions that stray from the spirit of the law. In the Epistles, Paul chiefly addresses Gentile converts to Christianity, who are steeped in pagan traditions of Greco-Roman culture, thus requiring significant doctrinal and moral correction. This explains why “Jesus never said anything about…” on a host of moral issues.
In Christ‘s message, we see help for the needy is accomplished directly through personal charity. Nowhere are we told to accomplish this indirectly through governmental wealth redistribution by proxy. The Good Samaritan helped a wounded man with his own resources. He did not petition the Roman government to create a healthcare program.
Jesus tells us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s. Proliferation of governmental redistribution policies actually take things belonging to God’s sphere and move them to Caesar’s. This, in effect, deifies the state, while minimizes the cultural influence of the church. Red-letterers want more “economic justice,” but societies trending toward socialism and accomplishing that objective through forcible egalitarianism via governmental mandate, wind up becoming functionally godless. In addition, placing all distribution of wealth under the thumb of the government replaces an attitude of gratitude with a posture of entitlement, and diminishes concentration on personal responsibility.
Many in the red-letter crowd emphasize but a few texts of scripture rather than the whole of the red-letters. These people tend to be theologically shallow and would feel uncomfortable to discover some of the harder sayings of Jesus. For example, Jesus made more statements about eternal punishment than any other biblical figure. In addition, how do red-letterers account for their selectively when faced with the numerous citations Jesus makes from the Old Testament, or the red-letter print appearing in the book of Revelation?
Secularists and atheists who ordinarily mock and impugn religious faith, tend to agree with red-letter principles. If my theological position concurred with unbelievers, I would question whether it was orthodox, or merely secularism under a religious flag.
While some contend that emphasis on morality obscures the Gospel message, this is actually more the case when the focus is economic social justice. The end result is that people are filled with discontent, envy and dwell on economic disenfranchisement, rather than focusing on the need for repentance and forgiveness. Christ’s spiritual message of redemption vanishes in the haze. During a media interview, Christian apologist Greg Koukl correctly pointed out that the assertion of conservative Christians worrying only about abortion and expansion of marriage is largely perpetuated by the media themselves..
As case-in-point, I could use anecdotal evidence regarding the priorities of my own church. Among the people who voted, I know of nobody in the congregation who admits to having voted against the Wisconsin Marriage Amendment. Nor do I know anyone there who supports legal abortions. Yet during worship services, there is normally a report on our mission in Haiti, requests for prayer needs, worship music, expository Bible teaching, and periodic collections taken for special needs. To the extent that the aforementioned abortion and marriage issues receive attention in my church, or the Christian community at large, it’s because those contemporary issues are fronts on which the integrity of the created order happens to be most vigorously undermined.
The writer concluded by referenced conservative politicians as “haters,” because of their “uncompassionate policies.” It’s amazing how often the most impassioned vitriol comes from the folks making the accusations, though. Concerning the social safety net, conservatives reverence the biblical principle of financial stewardship along with sustainability. If we attempt to place 120 people in a lifeboat intended for 60 it will sink or capsize the vessel and all will perish. If used as intended, at least 60 will be saved. Ask yourself which is more compassionate?
Though conservatives are accused of cramming their morality down people’s throats, it is most often progressives who shamelessly politicize Jesus.
© Copyright by Bob Meyer, 2013. All rights reserved.