Word from the Center Digest: June 14, 2017

A Biblical President

by Rev. Philip Zielinski

In an April 13 interview with Jan Markell, host of “Understanding the Times” on Oneplace.com, former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) said, “In my lifetime, I have never seen a more biblical president than I have seen in Donald Trump.”

In our present-day polarized political discourse, it seems it isn’t enough to offer praise in support of one’s side; it must burst into a hyperbole of superlatives.

Rep. Bachmann sets a pretty high bar for comparison to previous presidents in her lifetime. Born in 1956, during the Eisenhower administration, she has lived during the administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump. The faith of these presidents includes a range of Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism; from regular attendance at worship to sporadic; from personal relationships with religious leaders such as Billy Graham to tacit brushes with popular figures for advice. Their moral lives are equally varied from publicly squeaky clean to notoriously womanizing and scandalous (both while president and before election).

But in the words of Michele Bachman, the current president is “more biblical” than any of these.

What makes a president biblical? Is it policy, personality, morality, popularity, or prophecy?

In the context of her interview, Ms. Bachmann gives three criteria. One is that he has “done more to advance the pro-life movement and the pro-life cause than any other president.” Another is how he has demonstrated himself to be an ally of the nation of Israel. A third area is how he has disrupted the so-called “deep state,” resulting in something she calls an “end-time lawlessness” of tribulation and persecution. This would be of interest to the audience as “Understanding the Times” is devoted to looking for indications of Christ’s return, based on their novel interpretation of, in particular, the book of Revelation. (It should be noted that this “millennial” interpretation is biblically untenable and is rejected by the LCMS in favor of an “a-millennial” interpretation of the end-times. Read more here.)

Of course, we know biblically that God is at work through institutions like the presidency, the governor, the mayor, the police, etc., not to save the world, but to preserve it. So, for example, Christians can rejoice over what President Trump has done to advance the pro-life cause. And we can understand that “biblically” that not all of his, or any other president’s policies are able to be measured by biblical standards: tax policy, foreign affairs, immigration, religious freedom, and other work that falls to the civil government. Ironically too, it is possible for a president to be a biblical president by simply executing the office in faithful adherence to the Constitutional prescriptions and the oath of office – e.g. ,protecting religious liberty– even if it didn’t explicitly advance the cause of spreading the Gospel.

Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). In the Table of Duties in Luther’s Small Catechism, of Civil Governments, Luther cites Romans 13, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1). All earthly authorities as established by God. Christians pray for them that they may serve honorably as “God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4). When officials fail or when governments become corrupt or evil, we can also give thanks to God that He has established other governments to restore peace and order upon the earth.

When we place our trust and loyalty in a human institution (like a president), we cannot blindly follow wherever he leads and declare everything he does that we like as “godly” and anyone who opposes him as “evil.” This loyalty is tenuous, at best, and leaves us vulnerable to confusing the message of the Gospel, forgiveness in Christ, with God’s care of His creation. Our neighbor may confuse our loyalty to a political party with our loyalty to Christ and compromise our opportunity to witness to them.

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish” (Ps. 146:3–4). Human officials are mortals, and they are also sinners. They are susceptible to temptation and the corruption of power. We have seen presidents with moral failings. This gives us reason to distinguish between the person and the office when praising them lest when there is a moral failing of biblical proportions, our credibility is not likewise sunk. Such scandals also give us opportunity to pray that they live out their faith in Christ through repentance, renouncing their sin, and seeking forgiveness. This would truly be a mark of one whose faith and life is deeply “biblical.”

President Trump has done God-pleasing things where he has been faithful to his presidential oath and where he has used his position to advance the pro-life cause. He is also subject to criticism, even biblical criticism, where he has had moral failings or if he has neglected his duties as president. Whomever is elected to the office of president, regardless of his or her personal faith affiliations, we can pray that they would all be increasingly biblical in their responsibility “to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1Peter 2:14).

The Rev. Philip Zielinski is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Valley City, Ohio.

Be Informed

“Social media has changed our world. It has changed the world’s perception of Christ and the Church. It has changed Christians’ attitudes and capacities regarding community, communication, preaching, truth, authority and much more.” – Rev. Matthew C. Harrison Read more about having meaningful discussions regarding the things that matter here.

Be Equipped

Abortion “advocates hurt their cause when they use figures that do not withstand scrutiny. These numbers were debunked in 1969 — 50 years ago — by a statistician celebrated by Planned Parenthood. There’s no reason to use them today.” Read about the debunked myth that thousands of women died each year before abortion was legalized.

Be Encouraged

“There are so many pressures to hide the Gospel under a bushel basket, or to downplay our confession of faith. It is time to do the opposite. Let us proclaim what we believe, loud and clear, knowing why we do so.” – Rev. Timothy Pauls