Striking A Christian Balance Between Government And Religion

Pastor David Schultz shares a lively discussion with LCMS Texas District President Michael Newman and Dr. Rev. Gregory Seltz, Executive Director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty, on the role of religion in governance and support for those working to protect religious liberty.

Transcript

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Greetings from evangelical life ministries, Dave Schulz, your host for this particular day got two wonderful gentlemen, both on my right and my left, uh, who are going to talk about some very important theological matters. Uh, pastor Mike Newman, president of the Lutheran church of Missouri center, Texas district, and, uh, Greg Zelt, um, Lutheran center for religion, freedom out of Washington DC. Some time ago, I ran across a young pastor. Well, maybe he was younger than bill and myself, uh, who, uh, who had just come back from a convention. He said, guess what? The last resolution was at the convention of our church body. And that was to, um, eliminate all Jesus from everything that's written.

Wow.

And he said, that's, that's not a good thing. He said, I couldn't believe this. Wow. But he said, it's it was happening. And he said, so therefore I removed myself from the church, which is

Understand not our church,

A convention of another

Different church body. That was good

To make that clear.

Yes. Thank you.

We have something to offer. And my question to you is what our church or what our nation really needs from the church. And this is your time to express this with joy and Thanksgiving. What do we need?

Well, let Greg start on that

One. Well, I mean our work in DC, just so people understand, you know, we're not going to DC to, to Christianize it or things like that, but we're, we're talking about the fact that we do believe we're supposed to be public Christians. Um, so our nation needs us to be that. So the work we're doing in DC is to actually ensure our ability to be public Christians. Cuz there are some nefarious things going on today where people are saying, you can't be a Christian here. You can't be a Christian there. So again, that's the point because I do think our church needs us to be our robust people of God that are out in the mix of all these issues. Um, um, putting our temporal liberties to work if you will, for the sake of the eternal liberties of Christ cuz as our, um, good DP knows it's really ultimately the gospel that saves, but we want to be publicly engaged so that people do hear that good news of the gospel.

And we're good at being public Christians. Aren't we, we have a history, a track record don't we?

We, and, and we, yeah, I was gonna say we, I mean, it's funny to me because in some sense I'm, I'm rekindling some work that had been begun long, you know, but like Walter Meer days, yeah. People forget that this guy, Walter Meyer at one time was a public figure, unlike any, uh, LCMS figure we've ever had in America. And I would love us to be that kind of figure again, he could engage these, uh, what we call left hand kingdom, social cultural, civil issues, but he always had a clarity about how they related to the proclamation of the gospel

And that really takes some theological rigor. Doesn't it? Yeah, I think so today it seems, we're almost tempted the Christian Church in our nation. I think we can include our own church body too. We tend to slide into some of the 24 hour news cycle type of rhetoric or divisiveness. And, but it takes some theological rigor to really in civil discourse. Doesn't

It? I think so. And what people, you know, we try to be clear on these things. In fact, we're, we're talking about that today. You know, our efforts never do the things of Christ Christ actually works through us or the message of the gospel can work through us. But this idea of the, the civil discourse and, and the cultural issues, we're supposed to be in the mix on that. But it's, that's usually a civilizing, um, temporal justice trying to make it our place, a decent place to live so that we can, what continue to hear the proclamation of the gospel freely. And that's hard work. Both of those things are very hard work, but you gotta differentiate. Those works. Does the nation care about what we have to offer?

Well, that's, that's a great question because one of the things I wonder is what happens beforehand to reestablish a trust, to open listening ears posture, does the church need to take in order to get a hearing from the state, from the culture?

Well, now I've got, I haven't developed this in our time, uh, this morning, but um, one of the concepts we're working with is called the concept of being a spiritual first responder. I think that's really getting to the heart of it because if you think of a first responder, like a fireman or a policeman or whatever, they have this rigorous training, they have an orthodoxy that they have to, you know, so they gotta know all the stuff they have to know and be willing to die for it. What's that be willing to die. And not only that, but all that training, everything they have is for who it's for the people that are gonna go safe or the people that are gonna go serve. So a first we value that first responder because they run into the fire of other people's lives. Um, and they know the fire's wrong.

They know the fire's bad. They don't wanna just sit there in the fire, but they, so all of their orthodoxy, all of their teaching, all of the things that they've been taught, it's always for the sake of another. And I think that's really the church's view of itself. All of our teaching, the gospel, even the moral teachings of the scripture, everything we have when it's all said and done so that we can run into people's lives, uh, and be with them for the, and for, and so we pray to God lead us, not in the temptation, but deliver us for me. Well, I think that's Lord make me a spiritual first responder as teach me how to be the kind of person that can be your person and run into the lives of others. And I think that'll start to change the view of how people see us as a church, because we may not always like the police. We may always like the firefighters, but we love 'em when we have a fire, we love 'em when there's danger. And to some degree, the church I think can begin to become something in the culture where they go. I'm not sure about those Christians, but, you know, gosh, when, when all this craziness gets going, they're sure good folks to have around because they seem like

Michael, do we have a training camp that enables young people today who are ministry training to think along the first transponder responsibility?

Well, you know, the beautiful thing I, Jesus is such a great example. Spiritual first responder that's incarnation impressing into every realm. I think sometimes we, we, Jesus just, well it happened when he was alive, the Ferris was trying to pull him out of the context where he ate with sinner's friend of sinners, all those things. And he was unafraid. And this is the one thing, you know, has spiritual first responders. So you go in unafraid, right? You've been equipped. You have the, you have all you need, it's not gonna fail. You're there to fight the fire, do whatever you need to do, meet the medical emergency, the life task. And, but I think sometimes we've become so afraid that the gospel isn't enough. God, isn't enough. Well, that's

The key though. Yeah. Yeah. When you, you know, that's, I mean, again, like I said, when the work I'm doing in DC now that's, that's preserving the public space or the church can be the church, but when it comes right down to it, the gospel is enough. I mean, what, you know, when we were in urban ministry, um, I used to tell people you're gonna get stripped down sometimes where all you have is Jesus. But when you find out that that's enough, you become, there's a confidence that's, that's born in you that it just because you don't all the accruments that we say that we need, no, those are helpful. Those are beautiful. But all we need is the good news of the gospel when it's all said and done. But does the church really believe that? I guess

Yeah. Heavy, heavy word.

Well, I like what you said about confidence and this is the thing at the very least worst case scenario, the Christian Church, Jesus is a great influence on the culture at the very, at the very least. And we can be confident of really being robust believers, followers of Christ, because we know at the very least, people are just gonna be better for it. Right. But there's so much more the fact that we lose the confidence though, that even we can't even make Forry into the public square and say anything because, oh, what if people don't like us?

Yeah. And, and the funny thing about it to me is that in all the work I've done, whether it's been an urban ministry now in DC, I found out that when you start to, when you have the confidence to stand there and you know that you're standing there, not for yourself, but you're a first responder for others, then people say, well, thank. And then they hear what you finally are saying, which is, I'm no big deal. I'm just like you, but this Jesus is amazing. And his teaching's amazing. And God's ordering of the world is amazing too, by the way, which is another discussion topic, then they go, wow, we never heard that before. That's that's great. So I just think our message is, is, is so powerful. A hundred percent sinners mean I'm no different than anybody else out there who have a hundred percent gospel message that is for all, all. Um, we just have to have the, the confidence to stand there for the sake of others. That's that responder mentality. And then our job is in DC is to protect your right to, to have that voice.

You

Know, it seems, you know, as I began ministry many years ago, is that, um, you had to be a first responder.

Well, just, I see this is stuff that I honestly, I don't think this is new stuff I'm talking about. I guess maybe it's new cuz maybe we've kind of forgotten.

So I think we have, I think we have, we forgot it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It it's something. Uh, so this posture, this posture of the church in Texas, uh, for Ash Wednesday, we just, yeah. Also had a day of repentance. It's something Walter used to do long ago was in the old European agendas a day of repentance. It was a different time in the church year. But one of the thoughts behind it was if the culture, if anyone's gonna hear us, if everyone's gonna even give us a chance and if we are gonna give an authentic presentation witness to the culture, the first thing we need to do is just have a posture of repentance and come before the Lord and say, wow, you know, we, we failed in our faith and trusting that God really is who he says he is and what his promised really are. And we've also absorbed some of this egotistical self, uh, selfish type of, uh, mood of the culture where we're forgetting about loving our neighbor. We're forgetting about really caring about who they are. And like you said, being a first responder says, Hey, it's not about me. It's about saving that person. And so this posture of repentance to regain some trust, to show some authenticity and to really reflect ultimately who Christ is and he was able to move into the culture.

Right. And I, I think you're right. And so we, again, I also have to temper my work out in DC. Now when I'm done, all I've done is said, okay, you have this public space and in the public space has been protected again. But then what are we doing in that public space? And so, yeah, they know that we're Christians by our love. They know that we're because we, we treat each other different. We strive to actually keep our families together and to raise our children. And you know, the honor of the Lord, we try to be servants in the neighborhood. That's finally what actually draws people to Christ. So as I said, even if we do our work great out in DC and get all the laws passed, we think we're supposed to be passed. Uh, the work of being the church has just begun.

It's true. But you know what, even protecting that public space is a selfless posture. Exactly where the culture looks and says, who does that? Yeah. Who cares so much about us? We don't care about the church. We don't care about Jesus. Who cares about us though, to protect our public space too. Yeah. So that in itself, cuz ultimately, uh, all things, the earth is the Lord, it's a full thereof. Right? All things will serve the gospel.

Yeah. You know, it's funny, Bernie Sanders actually said, if you're a Christian, you can't be a public servant. You know, I dunno if you remember hearing that cuz you believe that Jesus is the only savior. And honestly, if you take our two Kings properly, we're the only people who can love both sides of the equation because the saviors just talk is for outside of the political talk and it is interesting cuz everyone else is partisan. They love who they love cuz they love what they love. We love, uh, as Christ loves us and we're willing to then engage even the left hand kingdom to work for the sake of those who disagree with us. And, and again there, tell me another way of another group that thinks like that. Do you have

To work at protecting the public square or is the erosion taking place?

Oh, there's, there's tremendous erosion and there's reasons for that. I mean, we can't get into all that right now, but the point is, is that just so people understand we're pushing back, we're not trying to get the public square to do what we want or to give us, uh, you know, uh, to bless us beyond our, what, what we deserve. We just want equal access and we want those opportunities cuz we think we have a message that really blesses everybody.

Yeah. And there really is no neutrality maybe, you know, in the minds of some there's neutrality, but really there's E someone's worshiping somebody all the time. Right. And so if there's a push against Christianity saying, well you, you you're partisan, uh, you're not neutral, but we're neutral. Well, that's not really true.

Yeah. And that's why I said even the moral discussions, every discussion is moral. So there's a sense where even if you say, well, yours is religious, I'm saying no, mine's a moral position. And yours is a moral position. Let's talk about why I think our position's better for more people or for all of us. So don't be afraid of engaging that. But again, even when you engage those discussions, it's always for the ultimate purpose of sharing, the good news of Jesus eventually,

You know what I, what I love about listening to you and what you're doing, Greg is, uh, you, you are crafting and giving language to something we really need in our country. That's what the church really needs. And even, uh, trying to push some of the rhetoric. As I mentioned before, out of the picture, that is it's entertainment news, really entertainment TV 5, 4, 7. Yeah. Trying to get ratings, trying to get commercials. And you're saying, wait a minute, let's put language to real discourse that can do the best possible thing for our country, which you're being a, a follower of Christ, a Christian who is truly saying, let's lift up the state in the right way. I love how you're doing

That. Yeah. And I think that, thanks first of all, because it's tough work cuz there's not really any language out there for us cuz most of the language is Crusader. And, and if Lutherans are anything we understand God's at work two different ways in the world to preserve and to save well ative work is not crus sadistic. Uh, in fact, the only crusade that we're on is to tell people about Jesus, cuz that's the true crusade, but all this stuff about the left hand kingdom work and the moral and public realm kind of stuff, it's lesser of two evils. It's this is a little bit better than that. There's always trade offs. And so we actually dial down the language, we try to bring more people to the table. We try to come up with the best thing we can do or the better thing we can do. Cause we're probably never gonna be able to get the best. And, and you'd be surprised at how that really winds up blessing a a, a lot of folks. And so I think that coming up with that language, because I think today there's crus sadistic Christians and there's crus, sadistic secularists. And I think the pietism of our culture is what we're up against.

Yeah. And those are charged words these days, especially, but what you're doing, and this is really a great thing. It's, it's just the same thing where Christians really can make the best scientists.

I think so

Christians can make the best people in the political realm because you're saying let's pull back that crus, sadistic mentality. And let's look at the constitution, let's look at the American experiment. Let's look at our ideals who we are. And let's just lean on that because this is a unique context for this kind of conversation, isn't it?

Right. And, and I think even when we look at that, like I said, when, when James Madison that said Martin, Luther's the, the Forner of the bill of rights. I mean, there's a lot of Luthers who have no idea what he's talking about. That'ss sad because there's a sense where he's talking about how just this Christian worldview that, that came out of the, the Western tradition created the idea that there's such a thing as a citizen, not a subject. Well, so many people today think that citizenship is just something, everybody experiences all around the world. It's just not true. And so again, to, to thank God for that, but then to realize, to put it in proper context, that's not, God's saving work. That's a blessing, but it's supposed to be used ultimately for, uh, his eternal liberties and Christ.

How do we move from being people who set in their hands and just wait for something to happen to make it happen?

Yeah. That's a good question. Great. Answer that one.

I'll tell you this right now. You're gonna get involved one way or the other cuz it's coming to you. So I think you just need, I think you, I, I try to talk to people about Christian confidence, a healthy view of confidence so that it's not for your sake, but it's for the say good neighbor. It's coming. And, and so, but I, I think it's, God who's bringing it too. So it's not like it's coming in a nefarious way. Some of it's nefarious, but it's just, it's gonna come. So you will be in the middle of it eventually, no matter what. Uh, but then we can also start to talk about how you can jump in and that's part of the things we're doing at this conference this

Weekend. I like the grid you presented. Cause I think the grid really spells that out. Well, and I think of, you mentioned even, but Daniel in the book of Daniel. So when all this is coming, how do you jump in? Daniel seems to live out that grid in a certain way.

Striving for excellence. Yeah. In the government that he was working

In. Exactly. And then just his private practices of prayer. Yeah. Uh, refusing to give up on those things. Public witness engagement. Can you explain the grid a little bit? Well,

Yeah. Do we have time for that? Yeah, I have. I know we did. Okay. Well this is Robert Benny. Robert Benny has did a great work. It's called paradoxical vision, but it's how the church influences the culture. And generally speaking, their two words direct in well forwards, direct, indirect, intentional unintentional, generally speaking, the church influences the culture through its people personally. And that's usually through unintentional indirect. Whereas, you know, we just learn what the Bible says and then we try to live

It, see this is good stuff. And I hope listeners are taking note. Yeah. So keep on going. This is like really, I think it gives confidence and a spectrum of possibility to people

In the church. And I think we have to go through that grid because the first two parts of the grid is where I think God really wants us to mostly work. So the next one is, uh,

So first one again, remind me indirect, indirect and UN unintentional. Okay.

And there's um, direct and unintentional, which is we might need Bible study. Talk about a moral issue in general. What does the Bible say about this? But we still don't dictate to our people how they're supposed to go out and vote or any of these kind of things. It just go out and be God's people. But now you have more information about this particular

Issue. We're convening, we're looking at subject matter there's order to it.

It could be a moral issue, could be an issue about one of the 10 commandments or any of these kind of things. So those are the that's the church, as it gathers, it teaches. And then it's in, it sends people out individually to make a difference. You know, for instance, that first one, uh, we talked about it in, in our talk this morning. Um, the Protestant work ethic, you know, the idea of the, the dignity of work, the fact that work is not just so I can make money is so that I can actually take care of my family and serve my neighbor. I, I work. So I have something to give all of that stuff became the Protestant work ethic, but no one ever said, we gotta teach the Protestant.

Yeah, it was unintentional, but it was product of convening teaching.

Right? So in the first two things, those first two grids, um, that's where most Christians live and we say, go for it. You know, be yourselves as, as God's people, it gets more corporate in the next two grids where you take direct and in, um, uh, or intentional and indirect action, which is now we're dealing with something the culture's saying, what does the church say? And the church says, here's what we say, but we take more of a prophetic stance. So we're not still not saying here's what policy we advocate or, but we might talk about, you know, the way our, our leaders need to be more, you know, we talk about profanity or we talked about dignity or we talk about

This is salt and light type of

Things. Right. And we're, we're saying the scripture says we should try to live up to higher

Ideals. Yeah. There's an intersection here, the scriptures in our lives, even secular life,

But we are not talking as a corporate church. Yeah. We're talking about these, these principles are things were prophetically saying about an issue that the whole culture's going

Through and you said we need more prophetic voices.

Yeah. I think we more prophetic voices that are less, that still are not intentionally political. Ah, that's probably where, where the church could, could be a real, uh, asset. And then the final one is direct and intentional action where we get involved in some particular policy, some particular issue say like the pro-life issue. And we actually now are, are we're involved in that at, at every level, not just prophetically speaking about it, but we're involved in the governmental issues about it. But the church very seldom rises to that level. Because if you, if the church runs to that fourth grid quickly, the gospel gets politicized in the midst so easily. So generally speaking, especially Lutheran church, we shy away from that last grid, unless it rises to be a thus say at the Lord moral issue that involves everyone. Um, because generally speaking, uh, God allows us to use our sanctified common sense to get along with each other

And needed balance in all those areas. I, the religious right is a good example of drifting too much into one area and politicizing the gospel. You say why? I think both,

Both the right and the left because the right, the right tends to try to maintain a di difference between the gospel and its political stuff. But it tends to sometimes overlap. But the left sometimes is almost politicize the gospel so that it's just

Social justice

Is the gospel. Yeah. And so both of them really have to, I think, and, and there's a lot of writing on that right now where people are trying to unpack that and differentiate that, well, here we are, as Lutherans, who've already differentiated it in our own theological way of dealing

With it. Well, and this is the beautiful thing. It is for freedom crisis set us free. We have this spectrum is Lutherans. We should be the best at this. Right. Well,

The problem always is there's a tension in this and you and I both know it. None of us like to live in God's tension, God says, here's how I do it. And it's, this is never gonna be resolved until heaven. So you're gonna have to live in this tension of, of understanding. There's a temporal work for the sake of the eternal work. We want to make it all one. And when we do that, we usually lose the gospel.

So we need to rethink what we're doing.

Yeah. And the nation, what the nation needs is for the church to be the church holistically. Yeah. Right. It needs, God's people holistically, uh, acting and serving in the gifts. They have taking responsibility, embracing the tension, needs a church to have a posture of repentance and servant leadership, the first responder mentality.

Right. And think about this too. I would just say, and in our culture separation of church and state, which we don't like to use that word, but more intersection or differentiation that is actually a Western ideal that is coming out of the Christian worldview, who knew that Jesus actually taught this. Yeah. Yeah. So again, my point is when people talk about even the structure of our government, that, that allowed the government to be bound so that the individual could be said free to beat all that you just said, that is a radically unique way of thinking about

This. Sure. We're tooling down to two minutes. There's a summary of all this that can be done in less than two minutes. Who's gonna do it.

Well, my thing is just learn how to put your temporal liberties to work for the sake of the eternal liberties of Christ. And you just need to understand those are two different things. So all the things that that pastor was talking about, um, Mike was talking about, about the kind of people we need to be that's right. Hand kingdom work, right. And then put your temporal liberties to work, understand you've been given those things so that you can protect that public space to do it.

Yeah. It's a great summary. And it really is a calling for us. Again, I really believe that we need to be called to that theological rigor to really dig deeply into the word of God again, instead of mimicking or echoing cliches. Right. We're assuming that we understand, uh, because of the cliches, what God's word is saying at this particular time, in this particular context, but we need to lean into the word and see that treasure then at work in all of us as good

Stewards and it will push us out into the culture.

It will, we got a minute left, Michael. Um, give us an opportunity to hear about this in prayer, and then we'll close out our program for

Today. All right. Well, let's pray. Uh, Lord God, thank you so much for pastor Seltz for Dr. Seltz for his expertise and the voice, the prophetic voice he's bringing to the church and to the world. We pray that you just work in all of us so that we receive your word. We pay close attention. We're not just hears of the word, but doers also led by you and led by your grace so that many will come to know you. And so that at least they will see that you truly are good. And you're good for this world. And may that shining light then lead more people to, uh, faith in you in your name. We pray. Amen.

Amen. Thank you for coming to us this evening on engaging truth. Come back next Sunday night at seven o'clock good night, have a blessed evening.

Thank you for listening to this broadcast of engaging truth. Be sure to join us each week at this time to help support our ministry, contact evangelical life ministries, post office box 5 6 8, Cypress Texas 7 7 4 1 0. Or visit our [email protected], or find us on Facebook at evangelical life ministries. Thank you.

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