Sunday, October 3, 2010

"A Kingdom of Priests, Not Political Activists"?

Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal, and powerful.1
Politics is always a hot topic, even among Christians.  Until now, many of the arguments I've heard between brothers- and sisters-in-Christ have been Democrat vs. Republican or liberal vs. conservative, even within the parties.  However, as I go along, new issues and questions arise which give me much pause regarding Christians and politics and how the two interact.  Is just casting your vote enough?  Should a Christian ever have political aspirations?  Can the church influence the government to better our society, even our world?  This blog post may get you riled up, but I don't mean to offend.  I want to challenge you in your thinking as I feel too many of my fellow Christians are investing too many of their precious thoughts, emotions and spiritual gifts into this system.  These are simply my most recent thoughts and discoveries on the topic.

I do think as Christians and American citizens, we have an obligation to vote.  Chuck Colson says, "First,...Christians have the same civic duties as all citizens: to serve on juries, to pay taxes, to vote, to support candidates they consider the best qualified. We are also commanded to pray for and respect governing authorities.  Second, as citizens of the kingdom of God, Christians are to bring God’s standards of righteousness and justice to bear on the kingdoms of this world - what is sometimes called the cultural commission. Among other things, this means bringing transcendent moral values into public debate."  Though I completely agree with his first point, I have issue with his second point, implying that as citizens of the kingdom of God, "bringing God's standards of righteousness and justice to bear on the kingdoms of this world" is best done using the vehicle of government.  John MacArthur states, "God is not calling us to wage a culture war that would seek to transform our countries into "Christian nations." To devote all, or even most, of our time, energy, money, and strategy to putting a facade of morality on the world or over our governmental and political institutions is to badly misunderstand our roles as Christians in a spiritually lost world."  He goes on to say, "In the truest sense, the moral, social, and political state of a people is irrelevant to the advance of the gospel. Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36)."2

"Author John Seel pens words that apply in principle to Christians everywhere and summarize well the believer's perspective on political involvement:
A politicized faith not only blurs our priorities, but weakens our loyalties. Our primary citizenship is not on earth but in heaven. ... Though few evangelicals would deny this truth in theory, the language of our spiritual citizenship frequently gets wrapped in the red, white and blue. Rather than acting as resident aliens of a heavenly kingdom, too often we sound [and act] like resident apologists for a Christian America. ... Unless we reject the false reliance on the illusion of Christian America, evangelicalism will continue to distort the gospel and thwart a genuine biblical identity.....
American evangelicalism is now covered by layers and layers of historically shaped attitudes that obscure our original biblical core. (The Evangelical Pulpit [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993], 106-7)
By means of faithful preaching and godly living, believers are to be the conscience of whatever nation they reside in. You can confront the culture not with the political and social activism of man's wisdom, but with the spiritual power of God's Word. Using temporal methods to promote legislative and judicial change, and resorting to external efforts of lobbying and intimidation to achieve some sort of "Christian morality" in society is not our calling--and has no eternal value. Only the gospel rescues sinners from sin, death, and hell.

Though I have nothing against Christians in politics (after all, the Bible tells of God using and keeping a few good men in political positions), I believe it is the rare Christian that God calls into this world system.  In the book God's Name In Vain, the author states that once a Christian enters the world of politics, he has no choice but to compromise on certain issues as the game of politics is all about compromise. Always. Yet Christians are called to be like prophets in proclaiming God's truth.  The Hebrew definition of a prophet means "proclaimer" and can also be defined as one "who speaks for god or a deity, or by divine inspiration."3  So how does a Christian unabashedly proclaim God's truth in today's government?  Mark Driscoll stated in a message recently, "It doesn't matter who we elect, Democrat or Republican.  If we don't repent of our sin and pursue our needs instead of our greeds, then no functional savior will save us from ourselves.  No functional savior, in the form of a politician, can save us from ourselves.  As a people who have lived beyond our means - pursued our greeds, not our needs - we have to acknowledge that repentance is the only way to make change in life. But you see, this is not politically expedient."
The danger is that we can begin to read the Bible through the eyes of America rather than read America through the eyes of the Bible.  We just want Jesus to be a good American....the Christian icon is not the Stars and Stripes but a cross-flag, and its emblem is not a donkey, an elephant, or an eagle but a slaughtered lamb.1

In an audio series titled A Radical Alternative to Political Activism, John MacArthur compares the idea of a heart surgeon giving up his practice to become a winning prize-fighter to Christians who "focus on confronting our sin-ravaged, secular culture rather than converting it."  He asks, "Which is the real Christian agenda - spiritual transformation or social and political change?" 

The political strategy becomes the focus of everything, as if the spiritual fortunes of God's people rise or fall depending on who is in office. But the truth is that no human government can ultimately do anything either to advance or to thwart God's kingdom. And the worst, most despotic worldly government in the end cannot halt the power of the Holy Spirit or the spread of God's Word.

In a teaching I recently heard, there are three enemies to the Christian life - the devil, the flesh and the world. The world is comprised of components and systems such as economics, religion, entertainment, education and politics.  Certainly the government is not our enemy, however we must remember that every world system is ruled by the prince of this earth and will eventually fall into complete and utter darkness.  I would ask: are we diverting our energies and gifts as a church into something eternal or something temporal that cannot by itself save or be saved?
America's moral decline is a spiritual problem, not a political one, and its solution is the gospel, not partisan politics.
 So what are my conclusions to the questions above?  I have to admit, I'm not sure.  However I believe if we are looking to our government for salvation, whether personal or cultural, we will be sorely disappointed.  At this point, I'm very grateful for the moral and Christian leaders who help lead with integrity in our government's halls.  I'm all for trying to protect our rights and privileges and being fairly represented.  However I cannot help likening our Christian involvement in politics to the boy who discovered a leak in the dike.  If you are at all familiar with the story of Hans Brinker, you'll know that this brave boy stayed there at the wall with his finger wedged in the dike all night long in order to save his town from a massive flood.  His cries for help went unheard until daybreak when, interestingly enough, his salvation came in the form of neither a government official nor a concerned citizen, but a clergyman who answers his calls and runs for help.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.  He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.  Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.  The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.  The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.  The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore. Psalm 121:1-8

1. From Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne (a book I would only recommend reading with discernment as its message at times is very good and thought-provoking but has its roots in emergent church theology)
2. All text in red along with the post title comes from Grace to You  with John MacArthur in a four-part series titled "Christians and Politics" .  I would highly recommend you read the entire article for further info.
3. From

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