In major election years we are called on to make decisions and participate in a process that often leaves us questioning how we fit into the process as Christfollowers. There are many thoughts about politics and church but today I want to deal with two main schools of thought that are the most predominate.
Chip Ingram preached a message a few years ago on our role in politics and received a letter from an irate lady who wasn’t in the service but heard about it. She wrote a scathing letter and in essence said, “Why don’t you preachers get your noses in the bible and keep your nose out of politics. You are a disgrace to the church of Jesus Christ. You are negligent and totally out to lunch.”
On the other hand there folks in churches who will get very red in the neck and their eyes will bulge out as they say something like this, “I can’t believe you won’t let me put this insert in the bulletin that tells every person in the church how they ought to vote. If you aren’t willing to take a stand on these moral and social issues and these political candidates and promote these individuals how can you call yourself Christians?”
When we talk about the church we are talking about the church universal. Not just our church.
The Church’s Role in Politics
No Involvement High Involvement
Two kinds of political animals in the church:
1. How can you say you love God yet talk about politics in the church?
The Position: Any subject that has political overtones should never directly or indirectly be spoken about in church.
“The church and politics don’t mix.”
a. Sacred versus secular mentality. Personal faith is private therefore politics should be private.
b. Confusion of what it means to live in a pluralistic society versus a society of pluralism.
We live in a pluralistic culture. There is an open fair market for truth. You let everyone express their ideas and whatever ideas get the most following become truth. We are quickly moving into a culture of pluralism which means that all ideas are equal and when a church or another group says there is only one idea and one way it goes counter to the culture.
c. Functional separatists. These are people who say it doesn’t matter if I vote or not because the government doesn’t listen or pay attention to me. This is a mantra of much of the twenty and thirty generations. No political involvement.
2. How can you say you love God yet not take a stand on political issues in church?
The Position: The church is a tool in the hands of God to turn a secular culture back to God and as a tool the church should exert vocal and active support for candidates’. issues and laws that will bring our culture and government back in line with what they believe is true.
a. America has some sort of special covenant arrangement with God much like Israel had in the Old Testament. The goal of the church is to bring America back to God. If you believe this then the church should be the most vocal right down to telling people how to vote.
b. Moral and cultural change can significantly occur through the political process. People who believe this way believe that if we can just get the right Supreme Court Justices in place and the right laws enacted or overturned and all the candidates that you think are right elected then the county can become what God wants it to become. We should marshal the resources of the church and
c. Whatever role God has for the individual believer is synonymous for the role of the corporate church. The church should all believe the same thing.
This is incredibly confusing for people and very polarizing. I have just laid out two clear positions and six presuppositions behind them. If you would dig into these positions you would find that they cross all boundaries. There are very strong liberal and very strong conservative views. This teaching and sermon is not about liberal or conservative views.
This about the political process as it relates to the church of Jesus Christ. What you need to understand is that in this local church body there are Republicans and Democrats and Independents and probably some Libertarians.
How do we sort through all of that? How do we not allow the system of politics in our country to divide and promote disunity within the church body?
The Big Question for the day: How do we navigate through the maze of the church/politics conflict?
There are strong emotions, great people and genuine sincerity on both sides. There are people who are passionate about not talking about it and people who are passionate that if you are not talking about political issues you are failing as a church.
There are four absolutes from the Bible that will give us theological hooks to hang our beliefs on regarding our faith and politics.
1. There are Two Kingdoms in Conflict
“Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36
What this teaches us is that every believer is living in two kingdoms and they are in conflict. Can you imagine Jesus sitting in front of Pilate facing crucifixion but saying to Pilate that I am building a spiritual kingdom and you will never understand it because it is based on truth.
Listen to how this fleshes out in John 19.
“When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever. He took Jesus back into the headquarters[a] again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”
Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”
Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’[b] Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.” John 19:8-12
Can you hear the kingdoms in conflict?
You and I are in two kingdoms and they are in conflict. Jesus is building a kingdom of love and justice on this earth that will some day be consummated when He returns but until then there are governments and other forces that are in conflict with the Lord’s kingdom.
How can we live in these two kingdoms?
2. Every Christfollower has Dual Citizenship
In Mark, the Jews are trying to trap Jesus by asking Him a politically charged question that deals with both kingdoms.
Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully.
Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?” Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you.” When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” Mark 12:13-17
Every believer or Christfollower is a citizen of heaven and a citizen of whatever culture or government you happen to be living under. He is saying that you are going to live and be faithful to God as a steward and citizen of heaven and you are called to give allegiance to the human institutions that you are living under whether that is Communism, a dictatorship or a democracy.
Some of you will say but America is corrupt how can we do that? Some of the laws in our country go against what the Bible teaches. How can we do that?
The next absolute gives us a clue. This scripture in Romans was written at a time when there was slavery, abuses, and brutality and persecution like most of us could never imagine.
3. Human Governments are Ordained by God to Restrain Evil
God is going to teach through the writings of Paul in Romans 13 that the role of government regardless of style is to restrain evil. It is the ministry of the sword and it has been ordained by God in every form of government from democracy to dictatorships.
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.
People will really choke on this but the worst government is better than anarchy. God is a Sovereign God and whoever is leading any country has either been allowed or established by God.
So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” Romans 13:1-7
This is simply teaching that God divinely ordains Governments and demands that we follow along unless the government demands that we violate our primary citizenship which is our heavenly kingdom. Of course there are men and women down through the ages that have resisted crossing their spiritual allegiance and have died for it.
The goal of human governments is not to transform societies. They are here to restrain evil. When governments start trying to transform lives they are way out of their jurisdiction. Governments can’t fix people. The Kingdom of God can when it is healthy.
4. The Church is Ordained by God to make Disciples
The church has one goal and mission and one only. We are to live in this world where abuse is happening on a daily basis, injustice is all around us, poverty is growing worse for many, the value of life is declining about as fast as the stock market and we are to recognize that we are the change agent Jesus left on this earth. God placed a change agent on the earth to transform cultures by bringing about internal transformation in individual lives that will then one person at a time change the communities and cultures we live in.
Laws will not change people. The Gospel will internally transform people and that is life changing.
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Christfollowers are to be people of love, integrity, obedience, compassion, justice, and gentleness. This will transform society.
Two incredible examples of this playing out are found in South Korea and Eastern Europe. In South Korea the largest churches in the world are there and they grew by making disciples one at a time until in 40 years the values of that country are completely different then they were 40 years ago. In Eastern Europe it was the church that brought about change. It wasn’t new laws but a passion without bullets that brought down the repressive governments of that region.
The Next Question: How do we move from theology to daily living?
Remember there are two groups of people in the church. There are those who think that the church should have nothing to do with politics corporately and then there is another group that thinks we should be beating down doors, signing petitions, interviewing candidates in the pulpit, and passing out “how to vote” flyers in the worship folders. We should be the strongest political action committee in the world.
What we have just looked at is four theological truths that help us understand the role of the church. Now let’s look at this intently and the practical application because you still have to vote in November and there are still two schools of thought out there regarding the church’s role. You and I need to discover our role so here we go.
1. Let the church be the church
We are not a political action committee. We are not to be silent about the culture but we are told in the Bible three things roles that we are to play in our culture and in politics.
a. We are to pray. 1 Tim. 2:1-3, We are to pray for anyone in authority and that love, mercy and justice will flow out of our local, state and national leaders. How are you doing on that? For every criticism you have made about the “idiots” that lead us how much time have you spent in prayer for them? Christians are sometimes the most critical people I know and they spent the least amount of time on their knees praying about what they talk about.
b. We are called to teach and preach in the church what is truth. It is in the church that you should learn about truth regarding the social issues of our day. That could include what the bible has to say about abortion or homosexuality but it also includes what the bible as to say about the poor, equality, love and tolerance. We teach these things not so that we can all line up and become an army or political machine or even a so called moral majority but we teach these things so that individual Christfollowers can get before God and allow His Spirit to teach them what they ought to do with the truth of God’s word. This takes prayer and a desire to have some convictions. Dare I suggest this? It is possible that in a church this size that people could honestly pray and discern God’s will differently when it comes to voting and supporting different candidates. The churches role is not to tell you how to vote or parade candidates in front of you. That robs the church of its power.
We need to be able to sit beside each other democrat, republican, or independent and allow God to do his work individually in our hearts.
c. We have a modeling ministry. The church can’t say abortion is wrong and murder and then do nothing about it. That is the most hypocritical statement ever. What are you doing about taking care of mothers who are overwhelmed with a pregnancy or about to terminate the life of a baby? Waving a sign around never helped anybody see the love of Jesus in action.
We are great at pointing out the problems of sin and poverty and homelessness but until we model bringing a solution to those issues we are just Christian windbags full of hot air and we are doing nothing to bring Jesus to our culture. We have no leg to stand on until we work as the body of Christ and do the will of Jesus on this earth.
The goal is not to save America by the way. I pray for that but what if it were God’s will for our economy to collapse and our lives to be turned upside down so that our country could reap what we have sown for the last hundred years of so?
What if that was God’s will so that thousands would turn their hearts to Him? Charles Colson said that one of the greatest dangers to the movement of the church is when churches wrap the cross in the flag until the two are intertwined. When people get disenfranchised with the flag they also get disenfranchised with the cross and the church.
2. Don’t expect the government to achieve what only the church can accomplish.
For the activists you are thinking we are going to save America by getting all the right Supreme Court Justices and the right local and state leaders and when we get all the right people in place America will be a Christian nation and everything will be great. NO it won’t! The government doesn’t have the power to change the culture. South America is a great example of how this doesn’t work. Liberation theology has been preached and taught for years and the goal of this teaching is to overthrow the government. It hasn’t and doesn’t work. Jesus is a liberator. The gospel is not preached but revolution is taught and redistribution of wealth it taught but it has nothing to do with the mission of the church.
The church has been here before. The Crusades were one of our darkest times. People would be lined up at the river bank and have a lance put to their belly button and they would be asked if they would like to convert and be baptized or have the sword go through them. It was evangelism Middle Ages style. People would all go in the river and be baptized but they were not being transformed.
The government can’t change a culture.
3. Don’t expect the church to accomplish what only individual Christfollowers can achieve.
The activists will say hey preach it from the pulpit, interview candidates, put flyers in the bulletin and on windshields, give scorecards to tell every Christian how to vote and we will save America. By the way this happens both ways. This is not about liberal or conservative. At the same time Jerry Falwell was telling people how to vote on the one hand Jessie Jackson was doing it for the other side.
The question is how do we use the church? Don’t expect the church to accomplish what only individual Christfollowers can achieve.
We will be held accountable for how and what we have done as Christfollowers individually. The answer is not separatism nor is it activism. We have responsibility to participate in the process in our country. If you live in China or North Korea then all you can do is pray but that is not the case in America.
The answer is penetration. When Jesus walked and taught on this earth the Roman government was in power and yet there was no preaching or teaching done about how to overthrow the government. The teaching revolves around being light leaven and salt and penetrating the society with the love of Christ not the political agenda of Christ. The church needs to preach Jesus Christ crucified and risen again not vote for John McCain or Barak Obama. (or Ron Paul for you diehards)
Our message is penetrate your world as an individual. You are a citizen of this country and you will be held accountable for participating in the process. Have you prayed? Are you informed? Have you done your homework? Do I understand the issues. Separatists will say “I don’t need to vote because it won’t do any good.” That is not your concern. You are to participate and exercise your full privileges as a citizen. You are to pray, be informed and exercise the right God has given you. Maybe you should run for office or write letters. You may feel that that is your calling. If you run for office we will pray for you and support you individually as a bother or sister in Christ. Wouldn’t it be great to have Chrsitfollowers in both major political parties?
Here’s a word to those of you that are separatists. Don’t expect others to fulfill your dual citizenship. God didn’t call James Dobson or some other ministry leader to fulfill your obligation as a follower of Jesus Christ. You are to be responsible to do your own work and vote your conscience. Guess what? Some of us will vote Republican and some will vote Democrat and some of you will out of frustration write in a name but you will have participated in the process. Shouldn’t there be enough latitude in the church of Jesus Christ that no matter how that person sitting next to you voted it won’t change your view of them as a brother or sister in Christ. We believe that they have prayed and sought God and decided to vote on the way they think it will make the biggest impact on the culture around them.
Activists: Don’t demand that your calling be God’s calling for everyone you know. You are fired up and active and that’s wonderful but don’t make your passion the litmus test of others being born again believers. That is divisive to the church. We have different ministries. You may write letters but others may get in the trenches work for a solution. You may lead a bible study but others may get involved in the precincts and be salt and light.
I call us today to living out our lives as Christfollowers, to participate in the process but to do it with grace and mercy toward those who may view the world differently than you do.
In an article just published, Professor Luke Keefer outlines some key issues facing our country:
“My answer to this would include the economy of the nation, the multifaceted energy situation, reform of health care provision, the de-politicization of the issue of immigration, and revising foreign policy so that it is not deluded by images of might (including military might), but rather is motivated to seek team efforts to solve the world’s problems and conflicts.
There will be differences, even among Christians, as to which policies have the most to offer for the solution of national and international problems. But all Christians are called to an ethic of love where we are called to see others as “brothers” and not as “enemies.” We are called to work for maximum good, to protect the vulnerable from exploitation and to utilize paths of peace where conflict is reduced. In addition, we are called to tasks specifically religious which stand outside the political processes and yet have profound effects upon the health of nations: prayer, prophetic witness, and modeling righteous living. If we use these tools well, our impact upon the course of the nation will be over and beyond the power of one vote in the election.” The Table, pg. 5-6 2008 Summer issue
Let’s stand and sing about our heavenly King and prepare to go out today living out our faith day by day and making a difference in the lives of those around us.
The foundation for this sermon comes from a teaching by Chip Ingram.