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I am a self proclaimed coffee addict and Executive Director of a non profit missions agency working primarily in the Mexican cities of Oaxaca, Guadalajara, and Ensenada. I've been married for over 30 years to Chelle, and we have one grown son, Joseph, a graduate of Auburn University in Alabama.

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Faith and Politics, Pt. IV

One of the words, or concepts I struggle with is integration. What seems so simple for others, for me can be a real chore.

As a Christian, I try my best to follow what Jesus taught in the Gospels. It seems like such a simple concept, one which Charles Sheldon put forth in his early 20th Century book, "In His Steps,"

When we are faced with a decision to make, we just look to Jesus, as expressed in His life and words, to guide us. The problems come when we can't reconcile what the Bible actually says, to our current life. This leaves us, or at least me, with some problems integrating life and faith.

Let me give you a few easy to understand examples.

Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Seems like pretty straight forward stuff. But when we try to apply it to real life situations, like say Iran, or that neighbor who drives us bonkers, people say we are crazy.

We are told it is idiotic to think that we could love the Iranians, or their regime, and pray for them. People tell us the only way to affect change in Iran is through military action.

Now this may true. But how do we integrate that real world stuff into a faith that clearly teaches another path?

Here's another to look at. In his Epistle to the Philippians, Paul teaches us in Chapter 2 that we are to "consider others better than ourselves."

Nowhere does Paul say that this only applies to fellow believers. In fact he goes even further, calling us to treat people with so much humility that we do as Jesus did, laying our life down for them.

So in the real world for me, this gets sticky in how I think about and deal with others. Many times the thoughts I have towards others are anything but charitable. Particularly when it comes to politics.

It is easy for me to see people mocking President Obama and see where they fall short in this area. But if I am going to be honest, I must also own up to being one who did not try and see the best in President Bush, or even the person in front of me at the market today who couldn't work the simple self checkout scanner.

But perhaps the most difficult thing for me to grasp is this.

When someone accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, it is understood that all that we have in life, is turned over to Him. Our hopes, dreams, hearts, and all of our stuff become His. We give everything up as a way of emptying ourselves so we can take up the cross.

In effect, all that we have is His, and we are just stewards of what He has given us.

So then, how do we live, thrive, and support a system such as capitalism, that stands in direct opposition to the values expressed in the New Testament?

If we believe that we really do give everything up when we become Christians, and that all that we have is His, how do we integrate our belief into a system that has as one of its very virtues, private property? Or rather, property that does not belong to God?


Fitting my faith in Jesus, and how I believe He wants me to live, into a 21st Century American life is not an easy task.

I have no answers for questions like these for they are way to difficult for me to understand.

Perhaps that was what Paul spoke of when he told us "to continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling."

Comments on "Faith and Politics, Pt. IV"


Blogger Beth said ... (12:53 PM) : 

How is it that capitalism is direct opposition to the New Testament? If someone gives value for something they need or want and I give it to them, how is that wrong? Was Jesus not a carpenter? Did the Bible say he built things and gave them away for nothing in return?


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (1:32 PM) : 

Beth, the theology of the New Testament is understood to say this...

When we accept Jesus, we give up everything we have, own, or will ever own, to Him.

We willingly surrender all of our rights, and stuff to Him, and in that, become free of the "bondage" to those things.

Now since private property is one of the pillars of capitalism, and as a Christian we can have no private property, [remember, it all belongs to God/Jesus] those two concepts cannot coexist.

So... if we accept that when we decide to follow Jesus we surrender all/everything to Him, and all that we have is his, we are giving up our rights to private property and subjugating our lives to Jesus.

As for Jesus' occupation, we do know he was the son of a carpenter. We do not have any record of him really making, or selling anything. In fact, we know from the text [the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head... homeless maybe?] that he was not a rich man of the business classes.

These are really tough areas for me. Are we really able, or even desirous of living a life like Jesus?

Tough questions and never as simple as most people make it out to be...


Blogger Beth said ... (2:24 PM) : 

Let's say that you are 100% correct and Jesus wants us to give up our possessions, how does giving it to the government to disperse as they see fit make sense to you? Why can I not give my possessions to whomever I wish to give it? And if I am to give it away, then to whom does it go that they should not shun it and say it does not belong to them either? And if I am not to give away, do I just leave it on the side of the road where nobody should take it because it doesn't belong to them, and so it sits unused?


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (4:12 PM) : 

Beth, I don't think I mentioned anywhere giving anything to the government.

And I continue to struggle through what I believe are some pretty tough teachings of both Jesus and Paul, I often wonder if attitude the most important thing in dealing with this stuff.

For instance, If I see all of the things, or stuff that I have as mine, I will naturally do everything I can to protect those things.

But if I see them as Gods', and not mine, I have a certain freedom from the fear of losing those things.

Thus, it really doesn't matter who gets what I have, because it is/was not mine anyway.

As I said in the post, I don't have answers for these things. It is a daily struggle.


Blogger Beth said ... (5:04 PM) : 

Your very life is a gift from God, so does it make sense to give that up to someone else who would take it from you without a fight?


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (5:09 PM) : 

Beth, theologically, when one makes a decision to live his, or her life for Jesus, he gives that life to Christ, thereby renouncing all claims to that life.

The answer to your question lies exactly in what Jesus did. He completely gave up his life to someone else without a fight.

It is exactly what we are called in the bible to do for others.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (5:11 PM) : 

Beth, and no, it does not make sense. That is at the very essence of Paul says in Corinthians when he says the ways and life of Christ are foolish to those of the world.


Blogger Beth said ... (5:14 PM) : 

Furthermore, capitalism is just a means of providing for us to sustain our lives. What makes it wrong again?

If not capitalism and not socialism, then what means of providing for our lives do you think Jesus would approve of?

I myself don't think Jesus has an opinion on any form is "-isms", as long as we treat others as we would want to be treated.


Blogger Beth said ... (5:21 PM) : 

btw, the title of this posting is Faith and Politics, so why did you use that title if not to say that your politics are guided by your faith, and as a supporter of the president I assume you believe that socialism is the answer to your dilemma of faith and life.


Blogger Beth said ... (5:30 PM) : 

when one makes a decision to live his, or her life for Jesus, he gives that life to Christ, thereby renouncing all claims to that life

Our lives are not ours to give though, they are a gift from God, and I believe what we do with our lives is our gift TO God. I simply do not see paying taxes as the means by which my gifts would be used, although I am willing to concede that I truly don't know for sure. It just doesn't seem right to me though.


Blogger CHAIRMAN TAO said ... (7:18 PM) : 

I hate to jump in the middle of this conversation but it is one that I have thought about alot over the last 30 plus years.

Beth, you need to get off this hang up about government; and it is a hang up.

If you actually add up all the benefits that we derive from government; the security of the police, the fire department, our military, and add to that the services that you enjoy in utilities, education, roads and infrastructure, communications, research, the arts, and the services provided to those who cannot provide for themselves and actually put a pencil to paper you would realize that we get a lot more than we pay for.

It would be nice to believe that we could depend on the charity of our nation to provide for everything but the reality is we cannot.

Without government many things we take for granted would never have been achieved.

Its like when people complain about potholes on their way to work and demanding that government do something to fix them right away and then at the same time complaining about their taxes being too high!

Without government most roads would be nothing but huge potholes...

The way I look at capitalism is this way: When I was born I was born with nothing and when I die I will die with nothing because everything that I accumulate during the coarse of my life I am just borrowing....its only mine for as long as I am living.

I can write the most detailed will in the world and plaster my name on everything that I have been fortunate enough to possess in this life...

But I will be dead...and dead with nothing.

I can lose everything in the stock market, or in a business venture, or due to a tornado or other naturally caused event and I would be thankful to still be alive...

We as a society have become too focussed on possessing and on consuming...capitalism is actually based upon the concept of doing and achieving not on possessing and consuming...

That is why our economy is so screwed up right now is because we have forgotten what captialism is all about...all your truly great capitalists lived frugally and gave away their fortunes at their death...

Now we want to possess and consume as if that is a true measure of the people that we want to be perceived as...

Thats not capitalism but gluttony and hubris.


Blogger Tim said ... (7:18 PM) : 

There is an interesting article about this in wikipedia.


Beth, Jesus tells us to obey the secular authority of the country where we have citizenship.

Matthew 22:21" ...Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

"Jesus responds to Pontius Pilate about the nature of his kingdom: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36); i.e., his religious teachings were separate from earthly political activity. This reflects a traditional division in Christian thought by which state and church have separate spheres of influence."

"For example, one Mennonite explained why he was not a war tax resister this way:

We are against war and do not wish to aid the war effort by conscription or by paying war taxes to the government. Doing so only helps to strengthen and perpetuate the war machine. Matthew 22:21 Jesus said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” Romans 13:1 “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God.” If the law of the land is that everyone must pay war taxes then that is what we must do. It is the law! We should however, work and pray extremely hard to change the law. The ideal situation would be to have the law abolished. The alternative would be to have a choice of designating our portion of the war tax towards efforts of peacemaking. This route would be a more lawful, constructive and positive effort."

Basically, the governments of Earth are in place because that is the way the Lord wishes it. All Earthly authority was put in place by God.

We don't get to just make up our own rules because we are Christians, but are commanded by Christ to obey the law of the land, and use peaceful legislative means to enact change.

Also, I have quoted David's link here before:
" Matthew 6:19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

David, I don't think that Christ is telling us that we must give away every possesion and dollar that we have, but that the accumulation of wealth can be taken too far.

In Matthew Chapter 7 he goes on to say " 24"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

I take this to say that it is fine to have the means to build your home, and sustain your family, but when you get carried away with money and go crazy with credit and debt that your house is built on sand or shakey footing. But live frugily, give generously to charity, and support a benevolent government that looks after our fellow citizens who are less forntunate and then your home (and your nation) is built on a foundation of stone, and will endure. I think that this is totally borne out in what has gone wrong with the USA recently. Mortgage meltdown, Credit default swaps falling apart, the car comany crash. All houses built on sand.


Blogger Tim said ... (7:28 PM) : 

Tao posted as I was writing this and Tao, I heartily concur with everything you have said. I gets tiresome to hear conservatives endlessly whine about their tax burden. My effective tax rate after deductions was 16.7%. Add 4.3% for state taxes and the entire total is 21%. And I do my own taxes using Turbotax so there are no fancy accounting practices involved. If I hired a pro, I could probably pay a little less, but I'm good with what I pay.
So Beth, what is your effective tax rate? Do you even know or are you just reflexively against any taxes?


Blogger Beth said ... (7:31 PM) : 

But Tim if we give to Caesar what is Caesar and think that in doing so we are helping those in need, I just don't see it working that way. I see a lot of corruption and inefficiencies in government, so I do not see them being the answer to helping the poor. I see them lumping those in need with everyone else when government gets involved, and then those who truly are in need get lost in the shuffle.

Wasn't there the parable of the three men given talents and two of them turning their talents into greater things and the one who hid his talent lost it and it was given to the one who used his talent the most? This is where I am coming from, we are given talents but if we only think of ourselves when we use them, then we are not using them the way God wishes us to. Some have more talents than others, yet it is how we use them that counts.

Anyway, that is my final thought for the night.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (9:32 PM) : 

Tim, whether Jesus tells us to obey the secular authority of the land is somewhat debatable, but there is no argument in this. A majority of conservative religious thinkers believe Romans 13 is a clear call to respect our government leaders and pray for them. That same majority also uses the render unto passage that you cite as a way to legitimize government in general.

But here is what that says to us, at least as I understand it. If we use these passages to validate government, as many do, then we have to respect the decisions of that government, whether we like or not.

Beth, I am using politics in the sense of group interactions in society, not in the governmental realm perse.

Good stuff all!


Blogger Beth said ... (2:20 AM) : 

Did I whine about my tax rate, Tim? I don't recall doing so. I realize that taxes are needed for the common defense and to promote the general welfare. What bothers me is not the rate of taxes so much as the out of control spending that started with Bush but is now being ramped up even greater that scares the crap out of me, and saddens me for my children's future. Have you seen the Debt Clock? I just checked it and the Debt per citizen is over $41,000, that includes every man, woman and child. The debt per tax payer is over $116,000 per taxpayer. Here, copy and paste this to see for yourself.


And they aren't done spending it seems.

Doesn't this bother any of you?


Blogger Beth said ... (2:25 AM) : 

we have to respect the decisions of that government, whether we like or not

Like everyone did when Bush went to war?

Governments are made up of imperfect people, and should never be considered the final say on what is right or wrong. If we don't like something they are doing, we shouldn't let him have carte blanche power!


Blogger Beth said ... (3:10 AM) : 

In my last sentence I meant to say "them" instead of "him" meaning "the government".


Blogger Tim said ... (7:14 AM) : 

On taxes, my point is that they are going to have to go up if we want to get the debt under control. the top 1% control over 20% of the wealth of this country. It was less the 8% 30 years ago. They can afford higher taxes. Beth, you point out government corruption and waste, but what about corporations? They have corruption, waste and inefficiencies as well, don't they? Government certainly does not have carte blance to do whatever they like. That's why we have a two year election cycle. If you are correct and the people are enflamed with anger over Obamacare, the smack down will occur and the Republicans will regain many of the seat that they lost in '06 and '08 as a result of anger and disappointment in Bush's policies. Obama campaigned on passing Healthcare Reform. He delivered. If he gets us out of Iraq and Afghanisatn by 2011-12, I see him getting re-elected. America is tired of fear and warmongering. Why is it that there is always funding for that but not for our own people?


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (8:43 AM) : 

Beth, as for Bush, my post, at least personally, acknowledged where I failed in that area.

Now as for understanding what the bible says, and living a life that applies those lessons to our daily lives, this is where we have problems.

You see if we accept the common understanding of the main new testament passages that relate to government, [and most conservative Christians do] then yes, we do have to accept what the government does, even if we disagree or believe it is wrong.

This understanding is evidenced by the lives of the early Christians who, when they disagreed did not fight the government, but instead became martyrs for the faith.

They let their government, the Holy Roman Empire have, and exercise "carte blanche power."

Those are the struggles I speak of. If we are truly trying to live our lives like Jesus, what do we do when faith and life collide? Which side will we typically choose? Will we choose to respond in a secular fashion, or a Christian fashion?

I think God wants us struggling in that arena.

As for the deficit, I hate it. But the trouble most libs have is this.

The GOP had 8 years spending like drunkin' sailors. For them to suddenly find a spine, just when the Dems get a chance to spend some bucks, seems disingenuous.

Right or wrong, the Dems want a chance to spend for their people, just like the GOP did after the Clinton years.

As Reagan learned, neither party is going to be cutting spending. It is a fact of government.

What the solution is, I do not know, but I do share a concern that our governments seem unable to live within their means.

Democrat, or Republican, they both love to spend. it is how you get reelected.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (8:48 AM) : 

Tim, nice point on corporations. They too can be just as wasteful and corrupt.

It should be noted that none of our war spending ever is included as part of the budget.

I might ask our more conservative voices this. Let's take health care and the stimulus spending out of the budget.

We are still in debt, and spending over revenues by billions, if not trillions.

What should we cut? What are conservatives willing to do without in order to balance the budget in a downward leaning economy?


Blogger Beth said ... (12:29 PM) : 

Bush spent like a drunken sailor, yes, but conservative I know did not like that, and the past two years of his presidency was with a Democrat controlled Congress, so you cannot blame it all on Bush.

I think it is the main reason McCain lost, because conservatives would not vote for someone they felt would be like Bush, and I truly felt that McCain would be almost as bad as Obama has been.

Let you and me and Tim and Tao keep more of our money and give it to the poor or invest it with people who can create jobs! We can do better than a bunch of bureaucrats. That's what people in the Tea Party and people like me think.


Blogger Tim said ... (2:07 PM) : 

The main reason McCain lost was Sarah Palin. Hopefully, she will be the nominee in 2012.

Welfare spending is approx. $16.8 billion per year. A pittance of the federal budget. We give more to farmers not to grow crops.
Why is it so horrible that our government gives assistance to the poor?

Is it the whole "well they never give ME anything" atitude?

Conservatives are long gone in the Republican party. Now we have reactionaries (def."an extreme conservative; an opponent of progress or liberalism".
Tea Party protesters and their supporters are not conservatives (def."generally like to uphold current conditions and oppose changes.").


Blogger Tim said ... (3:00 PM) : 

Beth- The talent parable was quite interesting indeed, and quite an enigma. A "talent" in Christ's time was a large monetary unit. Let's for discussion's sake call it $10,000. One servant was given $50,000, one $20,000, and a third $10,000. the first used his in business and returned $100,000 to the master, the second $40,000, and the third buried his $10,000 and returned it to the master without increasing it. He was chastised for not at least banking it and getting interest on it, and it is given to servant #1, who now is entrusted with 11 talents $110,000) and the third servant is thrown out in the street.

Being that it is a parable we know that there is a hidden meaning. Is the master God? Is he saying that if we do not take his wealth and increase it that we will be cast out? Is he saying that the more increases we bring to the Kingdom of Heaven, the more we will be entrusted with in the future? And if we are given something from God and hide it away, that it will be taken and we will be cast out?

What do you think Dave?


Blogger Beth said ... (3:45 PM) : 

Welfare is more at the state level as it should be, and it disgusts me that we pay farmers not to grow stuff. I mean WTF is up with that when there are hungry people in the world?

Conservatives want to conserve the Constitution, not the status quo.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (8:32 AM) : 

Great question Tim,

Always in parables, there are a couple of meanings. One for the immediate, or time it was written, and one for the contemporary reader.

Here is one view on the lesson of the time. The person who buried his talent and did nothing represented the Pharisee's and Scribes.

They had a static theology/philosophy and were primarily interested in the status quo. There interest was in building a wall around their views so that there would be no change in thought.

Obviously, Jesus was a change agent in those days and this brought fear into the current leaders.

The punishment of the one who did nothing is symbolic of God taking away from the leaders of the day because of their inaction and refusal to open up their theology.

Now for the current day reader, one will see something different.

Basically we see the use it or lose it lesson here. If God gives you an ability, and you squander it, don't expect another chance with that ability. Certainly he gives different abilities to all, as cited by the difference in amounts, but he expects us all to use those abilities in, to quote William Barclay, "in the service of God and the service of our fellow man."

A final thought is this. It would be better to have a gift, use it and fail, than not use and keep it all to yourself.

Beth, I am with you on subsidies to not grow. But these are long time gifts to the farmers of America that are not likely to repealed soon.

They are there to keep prices stable and to guarantee a certain monetary yield from crops to make sure people keep farming.

Very non capitalistic, but no one on either side of the aisle is pushing for the removal of these gifts, [20 billion annually] some of which have been in place since the Depression.

Now these are great examples of socialistic practices but I do not think we will soon be seeing the tea parties takes these on.


Blogger James' Muse said ... (9:40 AM) : 

Dave, looks like you hit a bit of a nerve here. 26 comments and counting...

These are questions we should be struggling with. There are no easy answers, as Beth showed-we may be called to give up our possessions, but not necessarily to a government...

Another one that I personally struggle with: "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemy." The field I am trying to get into (law enforcement) will require me to carry a firearm at all times. In fact, when I applied to the DEA, I literally had to sign that I was aware that I may have to take someone else's life in the course of duty. Man, did that give me pause! The local police department applications don't usually phrase it the way the Federal ones did.

It's one I struggle with. I'll be trained to, on a moment's notice, kill my enemy. But the struggle is, in defense of myself or others...I won't have time to turn the other cheek. This is something that I'll most likely (and rightfully so) struggle with, as a follower of Christ.

There are no easy answers.


Blogger dmarks said ... (5:25 AM) : 

"I must also own up to being one who did not try and see the best in President Bush"

You might want to check into Bush's record in Africa.

Beth: Capitalism CAN indeed be compatible with Christianity, if the participants in the system always make their actions with Christ's teachings in mind.

Back to Dave, saying "Now these are great examples of socialistic practices but I do not think we will soon be seeing the tea parties takes these on."

Well, I have heard some complain about farm subsidies too.

And to Tim: The main reason McCain lost was not because of Palin (who actually strenthened his campaign). The reason was that he was an old man who ran out of energy years ago, and who ran an old-fashioned campaign that was lost in the dust by tech-savvy Obama organizers.

Welfare spending is much greater than $16 million a year. I added it up once, it is is quite huge, including Medicaid and SS and HUD and others. I have no problem with welfare for the poor. Where the real waste is welfare for the rich. Obama is hellbent to increase this: one of his early acts was to sign into law an extension of SCHIP to expand it to free healthcare for rich adults. Since Social Security is not means tested, there's a huge amount of waste spending here for money for the rich also.


Blogger dmarks said ... (5:27 AM) : 

Finally, Tim said of Obama: "He delivered. If he gets us out of Iraq and Afghanisatn by 2011-12, I see him getting re-elected"

Depends on the circumstances we leave under. Obama campaigned on the idea of retreat and surrender, which is far from a popular idea. The best way to leave those countries is to defeat the remaining terrorists. Then there will be no reason to be there anymore.


Blogger Tim said ... (9:13 AM) : 

DM- I said 16.8 Billion (AFDC). Social Security and Medicare are not welfare.
On Palin, I know a lot of Republicans who did not vote at all because she was on the ticket.

Iraq- We "won" (I guess. What we "won" I'm still trying to figure out). So let's GTFO.

Afghanistan- I see no good way that will end now that Karzai has revealed his true colors. Best case scenario is to bloody the nose of the Taliban enough that they will negotiate a power sharing coalition government with Karzai, kick out Al-Queda and then we GTFO. Dust off Bush's "Mission Accomplished banner and go.


Blogger dmarks said ... (3:42 PM) : 

Tim: I mentioned Medicaid, not Medicare. However, why not means-teast Medicaid as well?

SS is welfare , a government handout. And a lot of it goes to the well off and rich. That is what I have a problem with. (And we can't hide behind the "trust fund" fiction of separation for SS: there's no firewall between it and the rest of the budget).

Back to some specifics, Medicaid is indeed intend as outright welfare for the poor. Intended, anyway. And in the 2009 budget, the for that was $224. That is many times bigger than your $16.8 billion figure. Even the HUD budget (the housing-related welfare agency) is more than twice your $16.8 billion figure.

But anyway, I can't recall ever complaining about government welfare to the poor, and I am not going to now. Even if the spending is hundreds of billions.

Sometimes though, I think that maybe Federal welfare spending such as on housing and medical aidfor the poor should instead be replaced with direct checks to poor people and their families. Then you would cut out the govenrment employees getting rich on this (who often skew the priorities of service from helping the poor to just getting richer themselves). It would also let impoverished families make their own decisions.


Blogger Tim said ... (3:49 PM) : 

Actually, I favor a 100% on social secirity benefits if your investment income exceeds a certain amount, say $200,000 a year.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (9:12 PM) : 

Dmarks, one of the central tenants of Christian teaching is that you renounce all rights to your own ideas, stuff, and personal property. You, in essence, give it all away to God.

How do square that with the capitalistic goal/need for personal property and the what's mine is mine mantra?


Blogger dmarks said ... (3:54 AM) : 

Good question. Under capitalism individuals have the rights to their own property. Note the word "rights". They are then free to give up this property, turn it over to serve God, or whatever. I'm hard pressed to think of any other system that allows Christians to act on their conscience and their relationship with God to such an extent.


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