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Salt and Light – Part 1

You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it. You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house.  In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 Good News Translation)


How does a Calvinist look at elections?


For a Christian who ascribes to Calvinistic-reformed theology this writer admits that politics and elections fascinate no end. With a love of history it is intriguing to watch it unfold here and now.


Politics is enlightening because perhaps there is no better stage on which to see the veracity of the first point in the TULIP acrostic which defines Calvinism. Just as a note, not all Calvinists buy into all points of the TULIP and for some the five points of Calvinism it refers to are enough points! What we refer to is the doctrine of the Total Depravity of mankind. Total Depravity does not mean there is not some relative goodness in mankind but that our souls are incapable of living in a manner that can truly please God. Our relative goodness is black darkness when compared with the majestic goodness and holiness of God. Calvinists do not buy into the current cultural thought that ‘I’m ok; you’re ok”. Rather we Calvinists believe scripture teaches the opposite: if you are not connected to Christ you are most definitely not ok, you are dead (see Ephesians 2: 1-10). We all are broken, ruined, apart from God. Our natural estate is the sinful rebellion into which we were born as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. In our broken state we easily play out the fruits of that broken nature. We are restrained from great evil, not by our goodness; any and all restraint is a gift from God. Apart from that restraint we seem prone to pride and the desire for position and power.


Politics is the game of people vying for position and power; it is kingdom building at its’ simplest. What is astounding is the lengths that people and parties will go to build their kingdoms. Truthfulness is certainly a battlefield casualty.  Society at large seems to acquiesce in the death of honesty and integrity.  We as a culture, it seems, expect that our leaders will lie to us. Here we raise the question: Why is this dishonesty ignored if not tacitly agreed to?






Unfortunately, we are far too cynical of the political process not to understand. The issue of dishonesty is but one marker of depravity or sinful-brokenness that we see in the political process. We also see the proof daily of people who bluntly believe that the desired end result justifies the means used. As if observing the behavior of political actors is not enough, simply taking note of the behavior of constituents in both parties gives ample evidence of falleness, of evidence of man’s spiritual lack.


Just look at the social media to see the awful manner in which people who call themselves Christians treat other Christians. Let this writer give a very blunt and honestly offensive example. Two social media participants labeled me and those who held my particular position as an “asshole.” One of these people tossing out this invective is a retired minister. To state the obvious, for Christians to treat another Christian this way is scandalous.


We also see Total Depravity in examples of excessive hubris that moves leaders to overreach, using power unwisely or excessively. Leaders can easily slip into a mindset of thinking that if they have just the right amount of clout or enough votes they can create a utopia. We, even as Christians no less, all so quickly forget that the problems of the world first and foremost are spiritual. This fact in no way negates the many temporal issues that afflict those around us. Scripture calls us to be engaged in our society and engaged in the needs of that society. A spiritual starting point may very well come to an earthly, temporal need at the end.


It is the in-between, the spiritual beginning and a temporal end, that can bedevil the church. For all the wrong reasons and even for good ones there are many individual Christians and Christian organizations who would gladly take political power.


Politics can be become a tiger we grasp by the tail because power and the potentially resultant pride is dangerous for believers.  Our very broken nature, that Christ seeks to redeem, lusts for control and autonomy and politics can feed that tiger nicely. We are easily tempted to enthrone ourselves on high in our own minds and to what ever degree we can make it a political fact.


When we look at the Gospels and the New Testament we are confronted with certain truths that we must bear in mind. For example we know that power and authority was an issue constantly in the forefront of the minds of the disciples. There are examples of this in the gospel of Mark chapter 10. We see in verse 35 and following where James and John, the two brothers called the sons of thunder, make a very simple request to Jesus. Their request is that when Jesus comes into his glory that they will sit on either side of his throne. Jesus reins them up short; he tells them that they had no idea what they are asking for, that they had no idea of the price that he will soon pay. Now when the others hear of James and John’s request they were indignant. Jesus calls them together and explains to them all that greatness in the kingdom is diametrically opposed to greatness in the world. In the ways of the world greatness and power is bound up in authority, the ability to get others to do as you wish and see your will carried out. In the kingdom of God conversely, power is bound not in the ability to affect others rather it is bound in being servants to others. The disciples simply did not understand this paradigm shift as it was so foreign to everything that they had ever seen and known. This was assuredly not the way of political power and authority in the world around them.


Jesus, and his discussion with Pilate, stated simply that his kingdom was not of this world. We must never lose sight of that simple truth that this is not our home. Paul tells us that our true citizenship, our true home, is in heaven. To coin a phrase Christians are not built for earthly power, for authority. In this world we are not called to rule. There is tension and disagreement here as to the scope of our calling in the minds of many. If we do not rule, what is the locus of our influence?


In other words, as we consider our passage from Matthew, there is disagreement as to what being salt in this world truly is. How does this being salt all play out? We must ask ourselves if there is any way in which we can find a common starting point where we can all agree.


We are called to be salt; Jesus made this clear and on this point we should all agree as a matter of obedience. Salt in ancient times was used to improve taste of food and was also used as a preservative. In a very real sense we are to help preserve what is good and right in our world. For us as Christians to be salt in our world is and should be both a restraining and a proactive work. For example we should not only advocate laws that keep society stable but also act to promote justice in our society.


For the church to be salt is radically more than being known for what we are against. We should be known for what we are willing to do to improve the world in which we live. The spirit of improvement, of benefiting society, is a Christian tradition (consider if you will the Christian support of hospitals, education, emancipation and improved treatment of the mentally ill). In previous generations the Christian church was vitally involved in the world for its good and benefit. There are those Christians and Christian groups who are personally and intuitionally adverse to any social action. This action is considered a concept tainted by liberalism or do-good-ism. Those self-identified conservatives are content to leave social action as the purview of what they consider the liberal church.  This mindset totally misses the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan as well as the focus of Jesus’ healing ministry. Jesus ministered to the entire, the whole person; he healed body and soul and considered both important.


We must say that salvation, the regeneration of our souls and the sanctification of our lives is, in light of the eternal, our most pressing need. That being said we ourselves and the people around us still live in this world in this existence where there are needs that must be met simply to continue to live. We can go to the world and share with them the importance of the eternal but the message falls short if we completely ignore the needs of the moment. Even if we say what is right if there is no willingness to act, no willingness to get down into the dirt and deal with the nuts and bolts issues that people face, our message will not be received. In that we are willing to engage ourselves with the needs of society we truly become that part of salt which is tasty, a blessing to others. Being salty is a manner in which we can and must act personally and we understand that easily enough but what about being salty in the ballot box?


Where we are here in this writing, ballot-box saltiness needs to be dressed in principles; there is not room or time for specifics. As always we should look to Scripture for principles, both here for all else we encounter.


Chapter four in the book of Daniel records an open letter to the Babylonian empire by king Nebuchadnezzar and it is an amazing missive. The basic story is that Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that puzzles and worries him so he calls together all of the wise men of the realm to figure it out. Daniel comes and explains the dream; it is a dire warning.


The warning given to the king is that he needs to break off his sins by practicing righteousness and his iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed. This was telling the king rather pointedly that like it or not, he answered to Yahweh and that Yahweh judged his actions. Daniel showed great courage, as was his character, in giving the king an accurate account of the message of the dream.


The text does not give the response to Daniel’s dream interpretation but we gather by the events recorded a year after the fact that Nebuchadnezzar ultimately ignored the warning.


The king allowed the kingdom to all go to his head and after verbally beating his own chest with pride God spoke to him and announced judgment. The kingdom and his sanity were stripped from the king that very day. We do not know for certain how long this went on but commentators have had the opinion that God humbled Nebuchadnezzar for seven years. To be colloquial, God showed the king who was really the boss. When the chastened king came to the place of admission and submission to Yahweh he was graciously restored. The king was called to establish righteousness and stop oppression of the poor. The shift of the normal Teutonic political plate was seismic here; the king was to serve others as opposed to his own selfish interests. No rather than the interest of the king, the need of the subjects was paramount. The King has divine responsibility as opposed to divine rights.


All rulers, all political leaders everywhere are under the authority of Yahweh who is sovereign over history, over all the affairs of men. At best, leaders are willing servants of the most high; at worst they serve His ultimate will regardless, totally unaware. If a ruler chooses to ignore the will of God he is still under the authority of that sovereign God and will give an account. The prideful, as of now non-repentant politico is still a Stewart to the Most High. As tempted as we may think we are that we get off easier than rulers there is a fly in that ointment.


The fly is that since we live in a democracy this denotes a sharing of power in the ballot-box with the political leader. In the form of a question: If we will give an account for every idle word do you not think we will also give an account of every idle vote? There is no reason to think that how we vote is not important to our Father; we are responsible. When we look at the entire issues of elections and candidates we are called to vote for what is truly in the best righteous needs of our nation, for what lifts the nation heaven-ward and fulfills the Lord’s Prayer to bring His kingdom to earth. In order to tone down some of the emotion in all of this I am going to use a historically dated, negative example to make the point.


In the US, 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have lotteries to, in part, provide tax revenue. There is no need to rehash the negative impact on society from gambling. State sponsored gambling is a tax on the addicted, on those who most often need those ‘tax’ funds to better support themselves and their families. In Florida this was sold as a boon to education. As a voting majority, rather than provide the needs in a truly responsible manner, the burden was unfairly shifted to others, preying on their weakness. We will answer for this. This was neither a vote for righteousness or true justice.


We, as believers, want to rise above simple, selfish interest to consider what is truly best for the nation. Our being salt should strengthen family and society. We must restrain evil and advocate the good. In this, we are salt.



Copyright © 2012 Brian Bailey, Author