[NOTE: This piece dates back to 2008 and consists of my response to an evangelical pastor who claimed, not only that Christians should not vote for anyone believing in a "false Christ" (meaning specifically a Mormon and, in the context of the time, Mitt Romney) but that Christians should not wish such a person well, on the basis of a verse in one of the epistles of John. One argument he used for not voting for such a person is that, if we are not to welcome heretics into our homes and if the White House is in some sense a "home" belonging to the people, we should not welcome a heretic into the White House. My piece originally appeared as a comment on the "Pastors 4 Huckabee" site (see http://pastors4huckabeeblog.com/are-christians-bigiots-if-they-can-not-support-mitt-romney-because-he-is-a-mormon/ ) and was reposted by Kaimi Wenger on the blog "Times and Seasons" (see http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2008/02/bruce-young-on-christians-romney-and-voting/ ).]
My response (to Pastor Haisty’s argument that, according to John the apostle, Christians should not wish someone who believes in a “false Christ” well and should not welcome such a person into their home or any “house” that in some sense belongs to them):
(1) Even those who believe in absolute scriptural inerrancy must grant that, as human beings, we are seeking to understand the text (of which none of us, by the way, has the autographs from the hands of the apostles). Always, I believe, that understanding must take place in the light of Christ--that is, in harmony with “the mind of Christ” and with “the meekness and gentleness of Christ,” in a manner Christ himself would approve of, and with Christ’s direct words taking precedence and all other things being interpreted so as to be compatible with Christ’s words.
(2) With that in mind, John’s counsel not to wish unbelievers or antichrists well cannot be properly understood as contradicting Christ’s teaching to love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you. And so I agree with those that have said John means we should not wish unbelievers or antichrists well in their false or destructive endeavors. But a Christian can--in fact, must--wish them well in general, in the sense of desiring their ultimate happiness and salvation. I think we can even wish for their immediate prosperity--that they will be safe, happy, and successful in any good endeavors--insofar as that is not incompatible with their salvation. But I suppose in wishing anyone well, in a temporal sense, we ought to add, “God willing,” since God of course knows what is best for all of us and when adversity might do us more good than success.
(3) Extending the idea of not welcoming an unbeliever or antichrist into one’s home so that it applies to any “house” that in some sense you have a part in could lead to horrific consequences. It could be used to exclude Mormons (or others deemed non-Christian) from shelter or care in any kind of hospital, homeless center, residence, or other facility supported in whole or in part by public funds or by any other contributions you have made. It could be used to exclude them from any role in government or public life. I doubt that’s what John had in mind.
(4) What the pastor says about Mormons has, in the past, been said about Roman Catholics. From the Reformation onward, some Protestants have explicitly identified Catholics as antichrist. Should what the pastor says about Mormons be applied to Roman Catholics? Should it be applied to Jews? (You could argue, for instance, that Joe Lieberman’s view of Christ [="the Messiah"] is not only defective but false in fundamental ways.) How about other Protestants who do not believe literally in the historicity of Christ, or in his divine Sonship, or in his resurrection, or in the virgin birth, or in his miracles? That would include plenty of Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and others (not to mention Unitarians)--including not only some nominal members with little interest in theology but, in some cases, ministers and theologians themselves. Should John’s counsel be applied in the same way to them? Does that mean that, with each presidential candidate, we should seek to examine carefully if their view of Christ is biblical (not whether they BELIEVE it is biblical, but whether WE believe it is biblical) and then counsel others not to vote for candidates if they don’t meet the standard? If the answer is “Yes” (as the pastor’s logic would demand), why not treat all the candidates equally and put them all to the test? There could then be a “Biblical Case” against voting for Giuliani, or McCain, or any number of others--perhaps even Huckabee himself, if he should happen to fail the test.
(5) As for who counts as a Christian, I believe the best test (as someone else has noted) is that given by Christ: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” It’s difficult to apply this to large groups of people, since, in any group I’ve discovered, there is great variety. But we can perhaps make a stab at testing a professed Christian by his fruits. And what should be those fruits? “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”
With that in mind, I believe that, while there may be many grounds on which to determine that people are believing in a “false Christ,” the one that matters most is whether believers show in their own words and actions evidence of “the mind of Christ.” If not, then even if all of their statements about Christ are theologically correct, their real knowledge--their personal and spiritual knowledge--of Christ must be defective. When Jesus said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent,” I’m confident he meant knowing the Father and the Son in a personal and experiential sense, not in a merely theoretical, abstract, propositional sense.
Besides the statement “by their fruits,” Jesus gave at least three other tests of discipleship I can think of: obedience to the Father (“Not everyone that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ . . . but he that doeth the will of my Father”), love (“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”), and care for others (“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”). Interestingly the “doing” specified in this last standard is comfort and service--feeding, clothing, visiting--not correcting people’s theology. I would be most confident in identifying as a believer in the “true Jesus” someone who meets these standards.
(6) But perhaps, as I believe Governor Huckabee himself has suggested, there is a danger in trying to figure out who the true Christians are out there, when we are told, “Let a man examine himself.” Each of us needs to look in our own hearts. Each needs to ask, “Am I a true Christian--a follower in word, deed, and heart of the Son of God?”