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Jesus the Conservative

Conservative or Liberal?

by Dennis Pollock

People that are passionate about politics usually fall into one of two categories: conservatives or liberals. Conservatives prefer a more limited government. The less restrictions, government mandates, reforms, taxes, and programs, the better. The government that governs least governs best in their eyes. Liberals see things precisely opposite. Viewing themselves as the champions of the poor and disenchanted, and feeling that government exists to "spread the wealth around" they welcome government programs that take from the rich and give to the poor, Robin Hood style.

In social matters, conservatives tend to hold to traditional values whereas liberals like to think of themselves as progressive and open-minded, and have little desire to cling to what they perceive as the antiquated values and morals of their grandparents. Because of this liberals see no reason why homosexuals should not be married under the law, whereas conservatives abhor such a thought. Abortion may have once been taboo in society, but times have changed and liberals proudly and forcefully defend a woman's "right to choose." Conservatives, especially those who believe it is God who fashions little babies in their mother's wombs, reject abortion and call on women to "choose life" and not death.

At times people debate about whether Jesus was a conservative or a liberal. Of course some of the issues of our generation were not on the table in Jesus' day. Homosexual marriage would have been universally condemned by nearly everyone in those days, and especially in the Jewish culture in which Jesus lived. Abortion was nearly non-existent and was also a non-issue. As for big or small government, this too was irrelevant at that time. Rome ruled with an iron hand and permitted no dissent and no alternative. There were, however, some things we find in the life and teachings of Jesus which do reveal Him to be fairly traditional and conservative in His views, and in this study we shall notice several of them.

Theologically Conservative

Theological liberals didn't exist for much of the church's history. Up until the 1800's if you considered yourself a Christian at all, you believed the Bible to be inspired, and the miracles of the Bible to be genuine. You believed Jesus was born of a virgin, literally walked on water, raised the dead, died on the cross, and was resurrected three days later. Of course there have always been skeptics who denied these things, but within the church they were nearly impossible to find. In the 1800's there began a movement among some who liked to view themselves as Christians, but could not accept the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Eventually this skepticism reached some of the Bible schools and seminaries, and young men began graduating and entering pastorates who had been taught that the virgin birth of Jesus, most if not all of His miracles, and even His literal resurrection were fictional. The unbelief that saturated these pastors and the churches they led was fatal to genuine spiritual life, but the positive thing about this movement is that it typically produces small churches with little influence. Mainstream denominations which have become liberal are bleeding members every year. It's hard for people to get too excited about or be too committed to churches where the core beliefs of Christianity have been gutted, and the Holy Spirit's presence and working are conspicuously absent.

Jesus was no theological liberal! He read the Scriptures, loved the Scriptures, and fully believed in their inspiration and authority. He even believed the story of Jonah, stating: "The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here" (Luke 11:32). If ever there was a story universally mocked and ridiculed by the theological liberals it is the account of Jonah being swallowed by a large fish, repenting inside the fish, being spit out, and then going and preaching to the people of Nineveh. And yet Jesus not only believed it, but used it in His preaching!

Male and Female

Another story the liberals love to hate is the story of creation in the first chapters of Genesis. The idea of God starting the entire human race through Adam and Eve seems preposterous to them. Surely modern men and women know we are here as a result of little amoebas converting themselves into fish, and then into reptiles, apes, and finally people! But strangely Jesus talked as though He fully accepted the Adam and Eve account as written by Moses. He told the Pharisees that He who made them (Adam and Eve) at the beginning "made them male and female," and said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh," quoting Genesis 2:24. Jesus also believed in the story of Noah and the flood, another Biblical account the skeptics scorn. He compared the times of Noah to the nature of our world as it will be just before His return, saying, "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (24:37). He did not attempt, as the liberals do, to dismiss or allegorize these accounts, but spoke of them as history and as fact.

Even more significantly our Lord made it clear that the Scriptures are inspired and completely trustworthy. In John He declares, "The Scripture cannot be broken," (John 10:35) indicating that the Scriptures are entirely trustworthy for spiritual instruction and cannot be disregarded. In speaking of the prophecies related to Himself, He says, "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matthew 5:18). From these and other passages that could be quoted, it is abundantly clear that if Jesus were here today, you would not find Him in the camp of the theological liberals, who cast doubt and scorn on the inspired Scriptures. In His estimation of the Scriptures (and who better to guide our own estimation?) Jesus was very much a conservative and a traditionalist.

A Marriage and Divorce Controversy

DivorceAnother indication of the conservative nature of Jesus is found in a controversy about marriage and divorce that simmered in His day. At that time divorce was a hot topic among the theologians and Jews in general. The basic issue was this: under what circumstances is a man permitted to divorce his wife? Of course this also related to wives divorcing husbands, but this was far more rare. There were two basic schools of thought related to this issue. The followers of Rabbi Hillel, the more liberal camp, declared that a man could divorce his wife for nearly any and every reason, including poor cooking skills or a disagreeable personality. Rabbi Shammai's disciples could not accept this, and held to the far more conservative view that sexual immorality was the only permissible reason for divorce. Otherwise it was "till death do you part." The Pharisees wanted to know where Jesus stood on the issue, in the hopes of finding some ammunition for condemning Him, and asked Him if a man was allowed to divorce his wife "for just any reason."

Jesus took them back long before Moses and declared that from creation marriage was supposed to be an unbreakable bond. He stated, "Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9) and clearly aligned Himself with the more conservative view. No more sending your wife back to Momma just because she didn't turn out to be the angel you thought you were marrying!

Pay Your Taxes

Jesus was also conservative in terms of paying taxes and respecting governmental authority. Some of the zealots and would-be revolutionaries of His day were urging Jews to refuse to pay taxes to Rome. When asked His view Jesus told them to bring Him a coin. He asked them whose image was on the coin, and they told Him "Caesar's," upon which Jesus made that famous declaration, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mark 12:17). Here also Jesus took a conservative position, encouraging His followers to pay their taxes and live in respect for their government. Later Paul restated the Savior's views by saying, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities" (Romans 13:1).

Another area of Jesus' conservatism is seen in His view of man. Liberals typically believe men and women to be basically good. If you can just provide a positive environment, give people enough education, opportunity, wealth, and enlightenment they will surely come around and become model citizens. Conservatives tend to believe men are inherently selfish and sinful, and need restraining and sometimes even removing from society. Adolf Hitler didn't need a little therapy and improved self-esteem; he needed to be removed from the earth. The "checks and balances" nature of our government, having executive, judicial, and legislative branches, is a direct result of this thinking. Believing too much centralized power corrupts men, our founding fathers divided the power three ways. History and the test of time have demonstrated that this was an astute thing to do.

Jesus took the more conservative approach and held that man was sinful, not merely deprived or needing a bit more education. He told the people of His day, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?" (Matthew 7:11). In another place He forcefully states, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders…" (Mark 7:21). No liberal nonsense about all men having a spark of divinity within them from Jesus! Nor did He believe in a "sliding morality" which changes with the times. His preaching and His teachings came straight from the Scriptures and the morals proclaimed centuries before His birth by Moses and the prophets of Israel. Indeed He was far stricter than they had been, saying, for example, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27,28).

Conservative – But Radical!

But while Jesus was conservative in His views of theology and morals, He was absolutely radical in His demands of His disciples. To be a disciple of Jesus it was necessary to love Him supremely. Three different sayings of His inform us about those who will never be accepted as genuine followers:

  1. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26)
  2. "And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:27)
  3. "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:33)

To sum up what we learn from Jesus, we might put it this way: Be considerate in your relationship with others. Be respectful toward your government. Be faithful and gentle to your spouse. But be absolutely radical and supremely abandoned in your love for Jesus. He permits no half-way devotion, He spits lukewarm believers out of His mouth and He disqualifies those trying to follow Him while looking back to their former lifestyles. Like our Master, we are to be conservative in our morals, conservative in our view of the Scripture, and conservative in our lifestyle ... and yet at the same time, entirely radical in our love for our Heavenly Father. We should be moderate in our appetites, cautious as we drive our cars, wary in our investments, careful in our spending, and wise in our diet. But we must be  radical in our prayer life, unrelenting in making time for the word of God, zealous in our church attendance, and resolutely determined in following the call of Jesus on our lives. In other words, we should be both conservative and radical – just like Jesus!

And while Jesus was essentially conservative in His lifestyle and theology, there was one area in which He was an unabashed liberal. He was thoroughly liberal in His love for all people and His willingness to forgive and accept any and all that came to Him. Adulterers were forgiven rather than stoned, He ate in the homes of tax collectors, and encouraged His followers to take His gospel to the entire human race – including every color, race, culture, and language. Jesus was no bigot! In this too, let us follow our Master.


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