Transcribed and edited by Jay Rogers
Steve Schlissel is the pastor of Messiah’s Congregation, a Christian Reformed Church in Brooklyn, editor of Messiah’s Mandate, author of Hal Lindsey and the Restoration of the Jews and Television or Dominion? Born and raised in New York City, Schlissel became a Christian by reading the Bible. When Jesus said that everyone who hears His words will give an account for his response (Matthew 7:24-27), Steve took it seriously and sought the mercy of God through Jesus. Steve has also been a tireless defender of orthodoxy within the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). He serves as the Overseer of Urban Nations (a mission to the world in a single city), and is the Director of Meantime Ministries (an outreach to women who were sexually abused as children). Steve lives with his wife of 24 years, Jeanne, and their five children. Contact Messiah’s Congregation to order books and tapes or to subscribe to the Messiah’s Mandate.
1600 Sheepshead Bay Road Suite 3
Brooklyn, NY 11235
*Question:*— Was the New Testament Church really a “New Testament” Church as we think of it today? In what ways was their situation different from ours?
Steve Schlissel: The Old Testament is the Book of the New Testament Church. So it’s a problem to say, “I’m a Christian, therefore I’m a New Testament Christian.”
If you open up the first page of the New Testament, what does it say on the first page, first verse? — “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). Who’s David? Where did I read about him? The Old Testament! I guess so. Abraham now, he must be New Testament, right? No? Old Testament! What you have when you go to the first page of this book we call the New Testament is a message that says, “What are what are you doing here? Do you know who these people are? Because I am going to tell you about Jesus Christ who didn’t just suddenly come onto the earth.” He has a history. He was prophesied from of old. He was promised to somebody. He comes in terms of a context. If it could be any stronger, I don’t know. Matthew goes through a list of 14 generations, and another 14 generations, and another 14 generations. Where are those people from? The Old Testament! That’s how we get started in the first book.
Then you go on to the second book, Mark, and what do you have? Mark uses imagery from the prophet Isaiah everywhere in his first chapter. Throughout the book he is using this imagery that he picks up from Isaiah’s prophecy, this majestic book. Mark says, “You have no business here until you go back and read Isaiah and the Old Testament. Then you can know what I am talking about.”
The whole material foundation of Jesus’ ministry was that “This is what is written about me in Moses and the prophets and the Psalms.” Consequently, even if you want to call yourself a New Testament Christian, what does the New Testament tell you? The New Testament tells you to go back to the Old Testament. Now that’s just the beginning. When you go through the book of Acts, their discussion is to what is the pivotal change in administrations, as they come into the new world that has come about because of Christ’s work. What is the critical change? Is it that the Old Testament is no longer valid or functional? No. It is that Gentiles can become “Jews” without becoming Jews. That is, they can become Jews without being circumcised.
The distinctive peculiarities that were associated with the Jewish people before Christ are no longer binding upon Gentiles. And so this Gospel that was located in Israel and that was acted out every day in the sacrifice of the Temple service, in the work of the priests, in the offerings, in the feasts, in the calendars, now have come to rest in Jesus Christ about whom they always spoke. They were always looking forwards to Him. There were arrows all along the way pointing. “Look to Jesus to find the meaning of this sacrifice. Look to Jesus to find the meaning of this service in the Temple, this priesthood.” Now that Jesus has come, the meaning has come. He has taken it all up in Himself. He has gone up into heaven. There is a Temple. There is a kingdom. There is a city. There is a church. And now on earth you have outposts of what has happened in heaven —the final fullness that is there — anywhere on earth. That is the big difference.
The Law didn’t change. The Old Testament didn’t change. God’s morality didn’t change. God didn’t suddenly say, “Now that my Son has done His work, it’s okay if you don’t worship me. It’s okay if you have other gods. It’s okay if you have no day of rest. It’s okay if you commit adultery. It’s okay if you commit murder. God’s values didn’t change. They are eternal. The Lord never changes. He never varies. What happened in the New Testament is that this Law has shed those things which kept it local and has gone up to heaven and from heaven it is poured down upon the whole world.
The best way to think about the Bible is that it is one book. It has an anticipation and a working out in history prior to Christ. Then the final chapter is written in the New Testament. I know it is 27 books. We call it 27 books, but it is really the last chapter of the Old Testament. The New Testament Church’s book was the Old Testament. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he told him about the Scriptures that he had “known from childhood, that are able to make you wise for salvation through Jesus Christ” (2 Tim 3:15). Now how could that be if it were for the Jews, and not the Christians. To be wise for salvation in Jesus Christ sounds pretty “Christian” to me.
*Question:*— What about the “establishment of religion” clause in the U.S. Constitution? Doesn’t the U.S. Constitution forbid the display of religion in the civil sphere?
Steve Schlissel: This idea of religious neutrality is not true to our founding. We had explicit statements in various state constitutions, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, where there were references to the Christian religion as being the one that is protected in the land. In fact, there were restrictions of office bearing, that you could not be an office holder in a state unless you held to the Christian, and more specifically the Protestant religion, that you held to the Creeds in regard to the confession of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and that you believed that the Bible is the Word of God and infallible. If you didn’t believe that, you couldn’t be an office holder in various states.
Now we take today’s propaganda to say that there was separation of church and state which means “religious neutrality.” It’s just a smoke screen. It is some rival, it is a “Klingon vessel using a cloaking device” that says, “I’m not really here.” What we have is another religion. This other religion is viciously intolerant. How intolerant is it? Well, Reggie White, the great pro-football player, said to the Wisconsin legislature that he does not believe that homosexuality falls into the same category as race. He said, “Race is something you are born with. It is a disposition from God. You cannot choose it. However, homosexuality is a behavior that people choose to engage in.” Well that was it for Reggie! This tolerant society, this “bleeding-heart let-everybody-do-their own thing” worldview found suddenly that their tolerance limits were met with a statement that suggested that homosexuality is a sin.
In Los Angeles recently, there was a convention of doctors meeting to discuss homosexuality. But because they didn’t follow the “lavender agenda” the very discussion (although they didn’t come to any conclusions) was condemned by the Los Angeles city council as “hateful.” The people at the hotel were harassed. In fact, they had to shut down the hotel to these conventioneers and put them in another hotel that had a little more guts because of the threats that came from the homosexual community.
The homosexual community goes into St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York City and tosses condoms. They mock fornicate every year in their wild lascivious parades in front and they are not touched. But Christians that protest at abortion clinics are arrested and hauled off. Tolerance always has limits. Tolerance is always religiously informed and we are not working in a tolerant system.
People who say anything against the current agenda find their life’s work is now suddenly meaningless. There was a police chaplain in New York who was there for many years. He suggested that a homosexual district attorney was a problem to him. That was the end of his career. He was forced to resign. What happened to tolerance? Why can’t he have a different view?
In the case of Matthew Shepherd’s slaying in Wyoming, it was played up by the media to be a result of advertisements placed by Christians encouraging homosexuals to find freedom in Christ. These loving ads, they twisted into these intolerant bastions of hate. “They are looking to kill us all!” Nothing could be further from the truth. These people are gentle and meek and sweet. That is very clear to anybody with an impartial view of it. You don’t even have to be a Christian to see their motives. What happened? The intolerance brigade came in and started their campaign against the Christian faith.
In the public square, there will always be one religion governing what is permissible and what is impermissible. If it is not the Christian religion, it won’t be a religiously neutral government. It will be a government that is advocating another religion.
*Question:*— Were the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution drafted to uphold the moral laws of God — or were they Deistic humanist documents? If they were Christian documents, where have we gone so far off track?
Steve Schlissel: If we were going to found a republic, we would want to do it a little more self-consciously as Christians. But we have to understand something and not be naive. It always depends on men of good will continuing it, because no matter how good your document, you can always have a liberal saying that the document is no longer relevant. You can always have an argument, “That was then, this is now.” This is why the greatest Christian minds in history have always recognized that it is not what laws you have, but your philosophy of law. If your philosophy of law is that law is simply something men create, then what man can give, man can take away. If your philosophy of law is that it is divine in origin, and self-consciously so, then we have to do our best to abide by God’s law.
Now I need to qualify that because every source of law in every system is always its god. So if men create laws, then you believe men are gods, which is exactly what we have today. We determine laws based on popular opinion. The more people we can get to hold a particular view, we say that it must be right. If yesterday 27 percent of the people believed abortion was right and 73 percent believed it was wrong so it was against the law. The Supreme Court comes and changes it. A great propaganda campaign ensues, then opinion changes and we keep the laws. “Get the opinions, keep the laws, change the opinions, change more laws.”
Homosexuals know this very well. “Let’s convince people that homosexuality is not a choice that we make, not a result of perhaps of fractured childhood, or some other sin that was committed against us. But let’s say that it is genetic. And then let’s say that it is not fair that we can’t get married. Let’s continue to get that message out.” Now we see ourselves toying with the very institution of marriage which is the foundation of any society. If you tinker with that your days are numbered. The marriage unit is the fundamental unit in the culture. From there the future comes. But I’m convinced that we are going to have homosexual marriages because in our culture the religion of the public square is egalitarian humanism. Homosexual marriages resonate with that and from that. It makes sense to have homosexual marriages based on their worldview. It’s an abomination based on our worldview.
*Question:*— What about the idea that the government should be neutral and should recognize that we live in a democratic, pluralistic society?
Steve Schlissel: I have a problem understanding what the difficulty is in looking to the law of God for a norm for civil polity. The difficulty I have is — let’s not talk about non-Christians who don’t love God and what He has to say — but Christians love the Lord. They know Jehovah. They know his goodness. They see his mercy. They know his wisdom. The know that they don’t know everything, but they know Someone who does know everything. Let’s start with that. God knows everything.
Now let’s go back to an idea that we find in the Old Testament. We lost Eden through the sin of our first parents. Now God brings a whole nation of people out of bondage — a stark contrast — into the glorious freedom of the children of God on earth, if they do everything He says. He says it over and again. “If you do what I tell you in this land, you are going to have Eden back. It’s going to be glorious. There is going to be rain. There is going to be fruit. There is going to be prosperity. There is going to be food. You won’t even have diseases. You are going to be so happy if you do what I say.”
Now do we believe that was the case? Do we believe it was the case because God was going to do continued supernatural miracles? Or rather because in the Law, God was giving His people the keys to living on earth? I think that’s not too big a jump to say God gave them the Law in love. Deuteronomy is the book to read on this. Over and again He says, “I love you. That’s why I’m giving you this Law. It’s not because I’m setting you up. I’m not looking to trap you. Follow this because this is the way.”
Now let’s bring this to today. We become Christian. Our neighbor becomes Christian. Even our whole neighborhood becomes Christian. What happens? Even our whole state becomes Christian. Even in fact the whole nation. Then we look to each other and say, “I wonder how we should rule our lives? What laws should we have?” Now God has spoken already. He has given a whole body of laws in history to a people that He loved and adopted as His own that He liberated not to put them in bondage but to keep them in freedom. Doesn’t it make sense to that we should go to that law and apply ourselves to see how it applies to our circumstances today.
There will be difficulties. Their culture was highly agrarian. Ours is highly technological. There are other big differences between us and Israel. But in principle we should expect that given the wisdom of God, we should find those governing ordinances which would lead to maximum freedom, maximum peace, even maximum prosperity. Prosperity doesn’t happen from manipulating God or playing games or hitting the right keys to get a result. It happens by having our Father in heaven telling us what to do. We do what He says and then in time He blesses us.
*Question:*— But wouldn’t a Christian Republic run according to God’s Law become oppressive to non-Christians?
Steve Schlissel: You have to understand a couple of things to understand these capital cases. Number one is that there is good reason to believe that the capital cases, except for murder, were worst case offenses. That is to say that you needn’t have administered capital punishment. Banishment might have been a substitute that was acceptable. There could have been negotiated settlements for various offenses. The one area where God said you must execute is murder. The murderer shall surely be put to death. (Gen. 9:6).
Now in these other cases we have the expression of God’s wrath and vengeance on these sins that are appropriate in a covenant-keeping culture, that is in a faith environment where people are self-consciously committed to the Lord and His Law, and in cases where there is a flagrant “in your face” violation. There is not really too much to fear. Even if the Law was administered, it would have the result of driving homosexuality underground, which is exactly where the Law of God would keep it.
Now the converse of this is what we face in our day, is not so much the danger of homosexuals being killed, but of Christians being killed in our nation, or at least persecuted and segregated, because only one group can occupy a prominent place in the public square. It’s either going to be God’s people out there enjoying the neighborhoods, breathing the air or it’s going to be God’s enemies owning the public square and polluting it. It’s not ever both. “The righteous hate the wicked” and “the wicked hate the righteous” it says in the Proverbs. That is simply a truism. So which would we rather have governing the public square, righteousness or wickedness? I know when I look now I see wickedness.
*Question:*— In a Christian republic based on biblical law, would non-Christian religions be banned or would they have as much freedom as they have now?
Steve Schlissel: In order to answer the question, we really need to get over the idea that we have unbound latitudinarian tolerance. No culture does. Every single culture has restrictions. For example, there are groups that want to offer child sacrifice. We don’t permit that. There are groups that want to offer public sacrifices of animals today. Now in the Old Testament we had it, but Christian societies today forbid it. (By and large. There are little exceptions around the globe.)
So we don’t have tolerance for every group. But we could have tolerance for those who have formal allegiance to the God of the Bible. Some might include Muslims in that because they say that the God they worship is the God therein revealed. Certainly, many more would be sympathetic to Jews worshipping with freedom of conscience. But the idea is not we would go into the home and regulate the worship in the home or the thoughts of the people.
There is an old story about Abraham that is told by the rabbis. They say that an Arab visitor came to him one day and he extended typical eastern hosptiality. He said, “Come into my tent my friend.” The sat down at a meal and Abraham set about to witness to him to find out what his religious convictions were. The Arab told him, “Oh, I’m an idolater and here are some of my idols.” Abraham became indignant, furious, and threw him out of his tent and chased him into the desert.
And God, the rabbis say, came to visit Abraham and asked him, “Abraham, how old was that man?”
Abraham said, “He was about eighty.”
And how long was he with you, Abraham?”
“Oh, about five minutes.”
“And what did you do?”
“I threw him out,” Abraham answered.
God said, “I’ve been bearing with that man for eighty years and you couldn’t bear with him for five minutes.”
The lesson is that we need to be tolerant to understand that it is the Lord who gives faith. We have to give wide berth to the working of the Spirit to bring that about. With a Christian consensus and with a strong Christian conviction our tolerance can be considerable. It’s when we are weak that we tend to overact and have knee-jerk reactions to other faiths. But nevertheless the laws would have to be Christian laws that govern the land.