- - Sunday, January 24, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Evangelical Christians have a passion for spreading the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ “to the whole world,” and that’s a wonderful thing. This passion has led Christians of various denominations to build hospitals, found colleges and universities, establish orphanages and educate the poor and impoverished. Mockers of the faith that moves mountains, particularly those who flaunt their aggressive atheism as if it were their religion, have rarely done any of these things.

Through the years the evangelicals, who once included nearly all Christians, have been in the forefront of separating church and state, and keeping the two institutions separate. The Baptists in particular established the principle and fought to protect it.

Roger Williams was an early proponent of religious freedom and the separation of church and state, a Puritan preacher who was expelled from the company of his peers for “spreading new and dangerous ideas.” He then founded Providence Plantation in 1636 that became part of the modern state of Rhode Island. He was a faithful member of the First Baptist Church of Providence, the first regularly established Baptist congregation in America. He was highly educated, spoke five languages, including Latin, Hebrew and Greek, and tutored John Milton. He was an abolitionist when almost nobody was, and preached to the Indians in their own language. He was a liberal in the original and uncluttered meaning of the word.

Williams, like all the early Baptists, knew what he believed, and held no watered down faith. He would have been taken aback, for example, by the message of President Eisenhower, who put “In God We Trust” on the currency, and said that “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious belief,” adding, “and I don’t care what it is.”

Evangelical Christians in the tradition of Roger Williams cared deeply “what it is,” and he would no doubt have been taken aback as well by certain candidates for president of the United States, who seem to think “Christianity” is a great brand and marketing tool.

Donald Trump says the Christian faith is “under siege” and even quotes from what he calls “Two Corinthians,” the book in the New Testament that was the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the new church at Corinth, referred to by Christian preachers as “Second Corinthians.” The Donald, who once attended Presbyterian services, regards Christ as “a good guy” and thinks highly of him, much as President Eisenhower did. The Donald says if he’s elected president the people will say “Merry Christmas” again.

Ted Cruz, an evangelical Baptist, clearly has a deeper understanding of his faith than Mr. Trump or President Eisenhower, but he, too, apparently thinks evangelism is a pretty good campaign tool. He talks a lot about how his father was transformed by the power of the Gospel, reformed his life and returned to his marriage. “Were it not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ,” he tells campaign crowds, he would “have been raised by a single mom without my father in the household.”

This is rhetoric that warms the hearts of Christians, and we can all rejoice with the senator that his family circle was restored and preserved. The Gospel will do that. But his testimony to the faith of the nation’s fathers would be better served from a pulpit than from a campaign stump. The stump is the place where what is Caesar’s is rendered. The new man in Christ wants to tell the world about his second birth, and his testimony to his new love deserves a better venue than a political campaign, and living the faith is the best sermon of all.

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