Donald Trump talks a good religious game, but a Bible scholar he is not. The latest evidence of his ignorance came in his retort to Pope Francis this month.
During an in-flight interview to Rome after visiting Mexico, the pope seemed to question the spiritual merits of Trump’s views on immigration, specifically his calls to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump didn’t appreciate the admonition and called the pope “disgraceful” for daring to challenge his spirituality.
“No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith,” Trump said.
There are legitimate reasons to gripe about the pope’s comments in this situation, but Trump’s brash comeback also proves how clueless he is about Christianity. Although his response was consistent with the popular “judge not that you be not judged” mantra misapplied in many religious circles these days, it was utterly inconsistent with the vision God has for His church.
He expects elders to instruct the brethren under their charge (I Thess. 5:12). He tells evangelists to “reprove, rebuke and exhort” those who need it (II Tim. 4:2). And He tells all Christians to “admonish the unruly” (I Thess. 5:14) and to restore those who are in error, albeit with gentleness and humility (Gal. 6:1).
The church is a family that thrives when its members not only encourage each other in their spiritual walks but also redirect them when they turn the wrong way. “As iron sharpens iron,” King Solomon wrote in Proverbs, “so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
The New Testament is replete with stories of that happening. Many of them involve religious leaders doing what they do best – leading. Here are five of those stories as a refresher for Trump and any Christians who think they are above criticism:
Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). Like Trump, these first-generation Christians loved real estate and the money it earned them. They loved it so much that they lied to God about how much they profited from selling a piece of property. Peter rebuked them in separate confrontations, and they paid the ultimate price – sudden death.
Simon (Acts 8:14-24). Trump should be able to identify with this sorcerer, whose interest in Christianity appears to have been motivated at least in part by what he could get out of it. He achieved fame through sorcery and saw the potential for even more power if he could buy the gift of the Holy Spirit to give to others. Peter rebuked him harshly for his ungodly heart.
Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). Apollos was undoubtedly Christian – Luke used words like “eloquent,” “fervent” and “mighty in the scriptures” to describe him – but he was wrong about a key point about baptism. Aquila and Priscilla taught him privately. He didn’t take offense but instead took the instruction to heart. He was a better Christian as a result of his willingness to learn.
Peter (Gal. 2:11-21). Even religious leaders err sometimes. When Peter played the hypocrite by behaving differently around Gentiles depending on which Jews were in the room, Paul confronted him – all the more because of his bad influence on Barnabas. Unlike many religious leaders today, Paul refused to tolerate Peter’s failure to be “straightforward about the truth of the gospel.”
Diotrophes (III John 9-10). In his epistle to Gaius, “the elder” John called out Diotrophes for seeking preeminence in the church. “If I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words.” Does that description sound like it might apply to a certain presidential candidate?
The takeaway from all of these biblical examples is that religious leaders not only have the right to question people’s faith when their beliefs are off base, but they have an obligation to do so. The opposite is true as well. If religious leaders are sinning, they need to be publicly rebuked like Peter (I Tim. 5:19-20).