Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Separating church, state doesn't preclude religion

The Rev. Paul Viggiano

Posted: Daily Breeze 05/04/2010 08:47:10 PM PDT

Judge Barbara Crabb's declaration last month that the National Day of Prayer, traditionally celebrated on the second Thursday in May, is unconstitutional provides yet another example of how the church and state dialogue resembles a sitcom - "Don't miss the fun when our stars don't realize they're talking about different subjects!"

People talk past one another. Both sides grow frustrated because the other guy just doesn't get it. Is separation of church and state preferable? What's the alternative? What do people mean when they say they believe in a separation of church and state?

If the separation of church and state means the president should not wear an Episcopal mitre (Pope's hat) and speak ex cathedra (with papal authority), I agree.

If the separation of church and state means the Joint Chiefs of Staff should disregard the recommendation of modern-day prophets to engage in holy wars, I agree.

If the separation of church and state means the government should not create a church where senators are the clergy and the Supreme Court administers the sacraments, preaches sermons and excommunicates sinners, I agree.

I'm a Christian and a pastor. And I'm an advocate of the separation of church and state. I can say this because I realize that church is not synonymous with God.

The Scriptures tell us that the church is an institution created by God and the state is an institution created by God. But they have separate roles.

The church shouldn't arrest people and the state shouldn't baptize people. These institutions should remain separate. But the separation of church and state is not the same as the separation of God and state.

One need merely stroll the nation's capitol, with all its granite carvings paying homage to God, or peruse the nation's documents from the Mayflower Compact to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to realize that God was never asked to stand at the doorstep of our nation's civil affairs. Do we think our Founding Fathers (and earlier Pilgrims and Puritans) had a corporate split-personality disorder while composing the instruction by which our nation was to be governed? If they believed in separation of God and state, why so much God talk?

Let's, for a moment, suppose the Founders were victims of their own religious environment. Maybe they accidentally or inadvertently included God's name out of mere habit. Maybe they made a mistake that needs to be rectified. What then is the religion which is to undergird our political convictions? I can anticipate the steamy response. "No religion!" For the sake of argument let's change the term. Let's not call it religion, let's call it a "life and world view."

For many, religion is not merely lighting candles and chanting mantras. It does not end at quiet times, fasting and gesticulations. It is a life and world view. It is the means by which people determine what is right and good and true. It is how people determine how to raise their children, love their spouse and even vote for a candidate.

Having a life and world view is a universal necessity of humanity. Everyone has a life and world view that governs their decisions. You can call it by another name, but it's your religion. It's your bottom line. If someone asked you to prove it, you couldn't. It's immaterial. It's a conviction, a faith. Like love, honor, courage and beauty, it's abstract. You may see its results but you can't see it. Like time, energy, space and mass, it is a necessary part of your reality but it cannot be observed.

Your life and world view resides in your psyche (Greek for soul) and you received it. Your parents, your teachers, your friends, your favorite artist, rock star or comedian have all contributed to your religion. People comfort themselves by calling it by another name, but it is their religion. Even a person's conviction to remove Judeo-Christian ethics and prayers from politics is itself a religious conviction.

I am for the separation of church and state. But the separation of religion and state - of a life and world view and state, of God and state - is a logical impossibility. And there is no reason why a life and world view derived from the Scriptures is less qualified to have a voice in politics than any other life and world view. Any thinking person realizes they have a god - not identifying who or what that god may be does not excuse the reality.

The Rev. Paul Viggiano is pastor of the Branch of Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Torrance (e-mail: pastorpaul@integrity.com).


Friday, December 6, 2013

Abortion doctor shooting reveals loss of moral compass
By Rev. Paul Viggiano
Posted: 06/04/2009 04:05:11 PM PDT

During the moral and political decay of France in the early 1800s, political economist Frederic Bastiat wrote, "When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law." The killing of late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, while he served as an usher during a church service, is a horrifying example of a citizen losing both.
Twenty-first century America, similar to 19th century France, has lost its ethical and legislative moral compass. Laws are ungodly, unenforced or snubbed altogether. Border laws are meaningless; we exterminate our infants by the millions; in 2004 the mayor of San Francisco issued marriage certificates to homosexual couples in defiance of the laws of his own state. We are truly entering into a time of unprincipled civil mayhem, and vigilantism is an insidious temptation that must be resisted.
The isolated radical behavior of Scott Roeder, who allegedly killed Dr. Tiller, is patently unbiblical and immoral. It was during a darker political period that the apostle Paul instructed Christians to subject themselves to the governing authorities. Whatever we may think of the current moral corruptions of our judicial, legislative and executive branches, they pale in comparison to Nero. There is a proper method of dealing with a society's ills that doesn't include shooting ushers as they seat people in church.
God has graciously given Americans a peaceful means to change laws and displace ungodly leaders. Citizens needn't attempt a coup d' tat and violently rush the White House or Capitol Hill; they merely need to vote. After all, the United States does not have a king who wields sovereign power. Strictly speaking, the closest thing we have to a king is not the president, House, Senate or Supreme Court but the people themselves. The president and legislators are like CEOs and the people like a board of directors who displace them as they see fit. This is the process and it must be respected.
From a pastoral perspective my primary concern is not with the Scott Roeders of the world. There is a much more subtle disease festering within the borders of a nation that is losing its sense of self - one that doesn't want to be under God but can't quite define just who it wants to be under. Roeder is merely an exaggerated personification of a nation of people who are beginning to dislike each other.
The unity naturally engendered by speaking a similar language, marrying the opposite sex or protecting innocent babies has hit the exits. This ethnic and moral tribalism is tearing our country apart. It is becoming increasingly difficult to love our neighbors when we see our neighbors engaging in behaviors ranging from unhealthy to atrocious while the magistrate plays his fiddle.
The great 19th century Princeton theologian Charles Hodge warned that governments that fail to rule their people in a proper and godly manner are tempting their citizens to take the law into their own hands. For years we've been electing leaders who make laws that tempt us to hold our neighbors in derision. Nothing will put my children at each other's throats as much as being a father who refuses to properly administer justice.
Nonetheless, ungodly laws never justify ungodly behavior. The pro-life movement is largely a Christian movement. I am not a pacifist and recognize there is a time for war. But the type of warfare in the pro-life movement is a warfare of thoughts and ideas. It is not a wrestling with flesh and blood but against wickedness itself.
Christians are called to participate in the political process with zeal and conviction. If, after all, the closest thing we have to a king is the people, it is the responsibility of the people to collectively operate as a king submitting to the king of kings. But as individuals we are still called to love our neighbors - even the ones with whom we vehemently disagree. Christians must overcome the natural antipathy they find welling up in their souls toward their neighbors because their leaders have no sense of true justice.
The only hope for individuals and the nations they form is a humble faithful trust and submission to Christ as the savior of souls. If there is no faith in Christ as savior, there is no hope of Christ being Lord.
We would do well to learn from the image of Jesus given by John in the Revelation while considering how the world is to be redeemed: John is told to "Behold the Lion." We like the power of that image - so successfully used by C. S. Lewis in "The Chronicles of Narnia." But when John turns, he doesn't see a lion but a lamb - a gentle, harmless beast of sacrifice. It is the lamb that redeems - not with bullets, but with his own blood.
The Rev. Paul Viggiano is pastor of the Branch of Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Torrance (e-mail: pastorpaul@integrity.com).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

To Homeschool Or Not To Homeschool

My son handed me a paper entitled Why I Do Not Homeschool he had downloaded from the internet.  The paper was written by a gentleman named Tim Challies who is identified as a Christian and Reformed Calvinist.  In his paper he explained why he and his wife chose not to homeschool their children.  It was a well-written and gutsy article but, IMO, fell short.  I’d like to explain why.


The paper was presented in two parts.  In the first part Mr. Challies discussed strong and weak Christians and the various convictions people might have for homeschooling or sending their children to private or public schools.  I am not sure how helpful this first part was.  Suffice it to say, everyone has some conviction which launches motivation and we should all evaluate our strengths, weaknesses and forbearance toward one another.  It wasn’t until part 2 (http://www.challies.com/articles/why-i-do-not-homeschool-part-2) that Mr. Challies offered his reasoning in answer to his title.


It is not my purpose here to make an argument for or against homeschooling.  I am simply seeking to point out what I found to be logical and interpretive shortcomings of his thesis.


In short, Mr. Challies and his wife want their children in public school “For Missions.”  I certainly applaud his desire to play his part in the Great Commission and prepare his children to do the same.  But his reasoning, I believe, begins to unravel when he seeks to explain how enrolling his children in public school provide the best method to this end.


Mr. Challies answers the objection that children “are unready to be evangelists” by observing that children are “filled with the same Holy Spirit as you and I.”  Being filled with the Holy Spirit, in Mr. Challies’ estimation, stands in isolation as the necessary prerequisite for ministry.  He, therefore, draws the conclusion that “They are equipped to reach out…”  With all due respect, being filled with the Holy Spirit does not necessarily equip one for ministry.  This can easily be shown in 1 Timothy 3:6 where Paul warns against a new convert being an elder lest he “become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”  The new convert most certainly has the Holy Spirit but this does not mean they are equipped for ministry.


Mr. Challies explained that he and his wife feel that homeschooling their children would inhibit their ability to “reach out to the neighborhood.”  If they kept their children at home they could not “honor God” they would “lose credibility…lose friendships and lose access to the hearts of both children and their parents.”  He had earlier pointed how grieved he was that none of his neighbors had been to church.  As a Christian with four children between seven and seventeen, who we have homeschooled from day one, I must say that this has not been our experience.  Many of our neighbors have been to our church and we have long and deep relationships with those neighbors—people who send their children to private and public schools.  In homeschooling we have not lost credibility, friends or access to hearts.  I am not entirely sure why we would.  There are numerous other ways to access neighbors than by sending your children to the same school. 


Fear of “worldliness,” Challies explains, is not a legitimate concern which would lead one to homeschool.  He explains “we do not avoid worldliness by secluding ourselves from the world.”  At a certain level that may be true.  Forming an agrarian cloister group may be at odds with the call to “come out from among them” (2 Corinthians 6:17).  In other words, separating from the world isn’t necessarily geographical.  But Mr. Challies seems to utterly ignore the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).


Mr. Challies’ argument that it is “far better to let them see it (what the world has to offer) when their hearts are tender, their confidence is in their parents, and their abilities are limited” is, at the risk of sounding harsh, simply naïve.  “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15).  Children are easily deceived.  And for a small, immature (even Christian) child to be in an environment where the lion’s share of their attentive hours is bombarded with something quite contrary to a Christian life and world view seems foolish.  He continues this thought by explaining, with words I found chilling, that he believes “it is easier for children to avoid worldliness when they are exposed to the world.”  Of course there may be a sense where this is true (but I would want to be holding my child’s hand through this experience), but the Apostle Paul counsels otherwise:  “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret” (Ephesians 5:11, 12).


Mr. Challies then makes the argument that if you visit a Christian college, experience will show that you will “not find a difference” between children who were homeschooled or attended public or private school.  I am not sure what kind of scientific study this is, or what he means by “experience.”  One can just as easily say “experience shows there is a great difference.”  But these types of assertions mean little until you show what difference you’re looking for and how many people actually demonstrate the difference and what they would have been like had they gone to a different school, etc.  In short, there is a great difference between a valid argument and a bald assertion.


I do appreciate that Mr. Challies made a public argument and he seems willing to participate in irenic dialogue and reconsideration of his points.  I hope my critique has not seemed harsh; it was not my intention.  As I said, merely wanted to point out what I saw to be logical and interpretive shortcomings.


Pastor Paul Viggiano

Branch of Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church




Friday, July 12, 2013

Not Fit For Public Consumption

After five years and 70 columns, the Daily Breeze (our local paper) has found numerous reasons not to publish my opinion any longer (not officially of course).  Guess that's what blogs are for.  The latest for your consideration:

A Godless Constitution?

By Paul Viggiano

          July 4, 2013 the Los Angeles Times ran a full page ad (though nowhere on the page indicates it to be an ad) encouraging the people of the United States to “Celebrate Our Godless Constitution.”  The ad frames six founding fathers accompanied by dubious, out of context, quotations designed to enlighten the reader to the general disdain these fathers had when it came to God’s unwanted intrusion into the political affairs of men.  The ad was sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

          This splash of tabloid revisionist history would be humorous if it didn’t seem to be effectively dismantling the fabric of American culture.  Whatever one thinks this country is, or should be, the notion that the founders and their predecessors did not view America as a Christian enterprise requires a tower of suspended disbelief. 

An immense volume of photos, along with an exhaustive textual record of the holocaust was secured to the end that people would not doubt that the event occurred (though in one generation there are many who do just that), we have even greater assurance and evidence that our founders understood the disastrous consequences of a nation that appealed to anyone less than the “Supreme Judge of the world” to justify their political transactions, to wit, our founding documents and the very buildings where our political leaders engage in their deliberations.

E.g. Moses, holding the Ten Commandments, is the central figure atop the building where the U.S. Supreme Court meets; The Ten Commandments are also found in the Supreme Court courtroom; Bible verses are etched in stone in virtually every federal building and Monument in our nation’s capital.  James Madison stated that “We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” 

Patrick Henry said “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Since 1777, every session of congress has opened with prayer by a preacher subsidized with tax dollars.  52 of the 55 founders of the Constitution were members in good standing of orthodox Christian churches.

The Mayflower Compact opens with the words “In the name of God, Amen” followed by “Having undertaken, for the glorie of God, and the advancement of the Christian faith and honour of our king & country, a voyage to plan the first colonie in the Northerne parts of Virginia.” 

The introductory paragraph of The Declaration of Independence appeals to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  Jefferson found it fitting, and within the boundaries of his views of politics to indicate that “men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”  He justified his intentions by “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world.”

It is certainly true that the establishment clauses of the First Amendment indicate that “Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”  And to this I say ‘Amen,’ for no clear thinking person would desire a state run church.  But the separation of church and state, at least according to the founders, was quite different than the separation of God and state.

It was clear to Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address that “this nation [was] under God,” as well as in his Emancipation Proclamation where he appeals to “the gracious favor of Almighty God.”  I am halted now merely by space and not further content of the founders recognition of a country’s need for the ultimate and transcendent authority found in the God of the Holy Scriptures. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation boasts in their appeal to reason as they seek to beguile us toward the notion of a godless constitution and the liberty thereof.  Perhaps we would do well to ponder the godless political systems of the 20th century under Sung, Minh, Pot, Lenin, Stalin, Mao et al.  The only liberty the tens of millions of innocent found under these godless systems was liberation from their own lives.  That doesn’t sound reasonable to me.