12 June 2008

Let's stay on message



ere's my final entry in a recent series of posts about the church and political activism. Before getting into the final point, it would seem good to reiterate something I've said since the first entry: I'm writing about the corporate duty of the church. I'm not concerned here with how or whether individual Christians vote or otherwise participate in the democratic process—except in one regard. If you are known for your political agenda more than for your commitment to Christ, your values are upside down. If you make the gospel subservient to a political strategy or a partisan agenda, you're probably doing more harm than good. If your political rhetoric obscures, tones down, alters, or clouds the gospel message—even ever-so-slightly—then you are hiding your true light under a bushel, and you ought to reconsider where the biblical priorities lie.

To review the case so far:

1. Preaching, not lobbying, is how we make truth known.
2. Gospel, not Law is what changes sinful hearts.
3. Service, not dominion, is the most effective way to win people in any culture

Now, finally—

4. Christ, not moralism, should be the primary substance of our message.

Society is not going to be redeemed, or even influenced for good, by moralistic special pleading. The vast majority of the moralism we get from the religious right is lacking any clear reference to Christ or the gospel. It is devoid of any biblical authority, because it has been distilled into a purely political message. It is frankly indistinguishable from the teaching of the Pharisees.

In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul tells the Corinthians "I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Why would we preach the law—except as a prelude to the gospel? And yet the nature of political discourse in America currently demands that if you want to have a voice, you have to eliminate the gospel.

As I said in an earlier post, when your political agenda requires political alliances with Moonies, Mormons, Moslems, Jehovah's Witnesses, and humanistic moralists, you simply cannot afford to speak frankly about the exclusivity of Christ. You have to stifle the truth about justification by faith alone, because Roman Catholics reject that doctrine. You are better off not to mention the name of Christ at all, because Jewish people are sensitive about that.

And as a consequence, the more determined Christian groups and Christian leaders have been to succeed in the political arena, the more they have tended to trim away the offensive parts of the gospel. It is the natural and inevitable consequence of moving the fight to the political arena. Watch what happens when the average evangelical political pundit is asked in any secular forum whether he believes Jewish people or Hindus can go to heaven without conscious faith in Christ. If he's someone running for public office, he frankly can't afford to tell the truth about that issue.

And listen to evangelical activists in public, secular forums arguing against same-sex unions or gay-rights legislation. They'll bend over backward to make rational and philosophical arguments—while they assiduously avoid stating plainly that homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says it's wrong. That systematically knocks the foundation of biblical authority out from under the point we need to make.

Think about it: we don't abstain from every appearance of evil just because it's pragmatically expedient or rationally sensible to do that. We do it because that's what God's Word says to do.

And when Christian politicians make moral arguments that are bereft of any appeal to Scripture—especially when they lean on rational, philosophical, and pragmatic arguments and deliberately downplay the authority of Scripture—what they are doing is actually counterproductive and detrimental to the Christian message.

This is not to minimize the importance of sound moral principles. But it puts them in their proper place—not as means by which our culture can be redeemed (morality is certainly not that); not as the ground or source of the righteousness that justifies us before God (that was the error of the Judaizers); but as something that adorns our doctrine and expresses the practical ramifications of what we believe about Christ. That's exactly what Paul said in Titus 2:1: "Teach what accords with sound doctrine"—teach what reflects the beauty and glory of our doctrine. But remember that the whole point and the proper focus of our doctrine is Christ, not merely moralism.

Remember that we are agents and ambassadors of Christ's kingdom. Christ crucified is the one proper subject and center of our message to a hostile world. Our first calling is to proclaim and glorify His name. And what He himself has commissioned us to do is inherently incompatible with the quest for earthly dominion through political force.

Preaching, not lobbying, is how we are supposed to make the truth known. Gospel, not law, is what changes sinful hearts. Service, not dominion, is the most effective way to win people in any culture. And Christ, not moralism, should be the primary substance of our message.

The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Worldly wisdom and political strategies can never save either society or individuals.

Let me say this in closing: If you are a pastor, a church leader, or someone who disciples others and the question of who wins the American presidential election this year would alter your shepherding strategy, then you don't have a very sound game plan. Whether our next president is John McCain, Barack Obama, Ralph Nader, or even (by some quirk of history) Hillary Clinton, it's highly unlikely that we'll find ourselves under a more hostile or more volatile political regime than Nero's Rome, which is where Paul ministered. Under those circumstances, Paul did exactly what we need to do: he preached the gospel in every possible venue. And the church flourished.

Think about it, and you'll realize that the advancement of Christ's kingdom has never depended on democracy or even basic civil liberties. Even in very recent history, the church in Eastern Europe and the Iron Curtain countries flourished and grew both large and strong even under communist persecution. But the church in free, democratic, postmodern Western Europe is for all practical purposes dead.

If our energies are so focused on defending our civil liberties that we neglect to make the gospel clear, we'll lose our liberty anyway, along with the influence of the gospel. That is precisely what has been happening in America in the past half-century. It's time the church woke up to that fact.

Phil's signature

85 comments:

Frank Turk said...

I'm sort of excited about tomorrow's post.

Stan McCullars said...

Wow!

I would say I'm waiting for the book. However, you've packed more punch in this series than most books ever could.

Thank you for this contribution to the church. You've helped a lot of us keep things in perspective.

donsands said...

Refreshing, to say the least.

The Bible is subtlely being removed from this nation, where it once was revered. Evene the Church has forsaken the Bible. What a tragedy.

Christ Jesus reigns! And His Word is our all sufficient, and final authority.

Lilith said...

Even in very recent history, the church in Eastern Europe and the Iron Curtain countries flourished and grew both large and strong even under communist persecution. But the church in free, democratic, postmodern Western Europe is for all practical purposes dead.

There is no crown without a struggle. Christ did not become our risen King until he laid down equality with the Father and allow himself to be tortured to death by the very people he created. We dare not compare our tales of persecution in America (like "Obama said we're bitter gun-toting bible huggers") to Christ's ordeal, or even the ordeal of the Church in China right now. You can't legislate America into redemption, you can only bring each American one at a time to the foot of the cross.

JOYce@pfg said...

I'm grateful for those that share God's perspective by faith in His strength rather than cower with fear. Excellent.

So many posts here and at the Pulpit Magazine(and often comments and blog postings of those commenting) fit perfectly in our U.S. government studies and family discussions this year. Isn't it amazing how God orchestrates details? Awesome ~

God bless you. :-)

Chad V. said...

Great post Phil.

I agree %100.

Daryl said...

"There is no crown without a struggle. Christ did not become our risen King until he laid down equality with the Father and allow himself to be tortured to death by the very people he created. We dare not compare our tales of persecution in America (like "Obama said we're bitter gun-toting bible huggers") to Christ's ordeal, or even the ordeal of the Church in China right now."

A couple things...

Christ did not, strictly speaking, "allow himself to be tortured to death". He effectively CAUSED it to happen.
That is, it only happened because "the Father was PLEASED to bruise him".

Further to that, while the difference between what the Chines church and the American (Canadian) church is going through can be properly said to be a difference of degree, not substance, the difference between what Christ went through on our behalf, and what we (under any kind of persecution, from laughter to boiling in oil) go through is a difference of far more than degree.

Our sufferings save no one, nor are they intended to. They really are simply the natural outworking of living in a world that hates God, hates his people and hates the gospel.
Christs sufferings were ONLY intended to save his people.

Which is, of course, why a political agenda is such a problem, it misses the point of Christ's death by a wide margin.
He died to save, not merely change outward actions. And while outward change will occur and must occur, it is merely a symptom and not the real thing.

Superb post Phil.

Douglas K. said...

I despise Christian involvement in politics, but this series of posts has helped me to veer away from extremes. Great stuff.

DJP said...

TurkI'm sort of excited about tomorrow's post.

1. I smell setup
2. It is gratifying to know that I'm not the only writer whose posts invariably make you think of other posts

(c;

jeff said...

Very thought provoking Phil. Thanks.
Jeff

The Spokesman said...

And as a consequence, the more determined Christian groups and Christian leaders have been to succeed in the political arena, the more they have tended to trim away the offensive parts of the gospel. It is the natural and inevitable consequence of moving the fight to the political arena. Watch what happens when the average evangelical political pundit is asked in any secular forum whether he believes Jewish people or Hindus can go to heaven without conscious faith in Christ. If he's someone running for public office, he frankly can't afford to tell the truth about that issue.

Man Phil, you just nailed some very popular, well spoken of, and highly beloved false prophets (see Luke 6:26) with their compromise with the world and watering down of the gospel to the wall. They will not stay on message because they really don't believe it!

Caddiechaplain said...

Phil,
As I read this while in India, it couldn't have come at a more appropriate moment. The darkness in this nation is overwhelming. The people of India have been blind for 5,000 years. The "Baliraja" that Mahatma Phule spoke off over a hundred years ago is the only hope for India. . . not some political, social, economic revolution. It will be the only thing that brings down an incredible prejudiced caste system.
Thank you again for such wisdom.

Chad V. said...

Caddiechaplain;

I'm confused by your comment. What is the "Baliraja"?

What I found on the net about Mahatma Phule was a social reformer dedicated to among other social issues the removal of the caste system. He also taught people not to rely on religious books and I see no evidence that he was a Christian. I haven't found any evidence that he preached the Gospel.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your comment. Could you please tell us what the Baliraja is and elaborate on your point a little bit more.

It sounds like you are in favor of what Phule taught, which is exactly what Phil's post is combating. Am I misunderstanding you?

Lilith said...

Daryl: Christ did not, strictly speaking, "allow himself to be tortured to death". He effectively CAUSED it to happen. That is, it only happened because "the Father was PLEASED to bruise him".

There is no way the Father was pleased to torture his only Son or that Christ caused it to happen. Our disobedience before and after the cross caused it to happen. Christ's obedience, even unto death on a cross, pleased the Father more than our disobedience displeased him, thus satisfying God's divine justice.

Our sufferings save no one, nor are they intended to. They really are simply the natural outworking of living in a world that hates God, hates his people and hates the gospel. Christs sufferings were ONLY intended to save his people.

Not only his people, but to redeem the whole world (1 Jn 2:2 "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."), just as Adam's sin caused a curse to fall on the whole world. However, lest I get a flurry of accusations of being a universalist, there is a difference between the redemption accomplished by Christ at the cross and the application of that merit for our personal sanctification unto eternal salvation.

Hebrews 9:15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Daryl said...

Isaiah 53:10 NASV

(speaking of the Messiah)

"But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering..."

Pretty plain.


I won't get into the atonement here, too far off topic. Suffice it to say that our suffering saves no one, his does/did.

To the topic at hand...

That is our message, not political change.

the postmortem said...

I appreciate your thoughts on this. Pastors place a frustrating and vain goal before churches when they pretend that the country can/will be revived again in some massive, contemporary, politically-oriented campaign.

As much as I believe it is excellent for Christians (and Christian leaders) to be both well-acquainted with and active in the political process, I appreciate the sentiment here the gospel is often overshadowed and undertrusted.

JOYce@pfg said...

and John 10:17-18

Therefore doth my Father love Me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

Like Daryl ~ veering back to Phil's wonderful "Let's stay on message" post.

Mike said...

lilith:
There is no way the Father was pleased to torture his only Son or that Christ caused it to happen. Our disobedience before and after the cross caused it to happen. Christ's obedience, even unto death on a cross, pleased the Father more than our disobedience displeased him, thus satisfying God's divine justice.

Read Isaiah 53, the whole chapter.

Isa 53:10
(10) Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

There is some truth to our disobedience "causing" it to happen, but it's not accurate. It behoved him to do it:

Luk 24:46
(46) And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:

and...

Heb 2:17
(17) Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

You still haven't answered my question ;)

Anyway, good article; but Christ should be the primary substance of our lives, not just the message. The moral aspect is a "byproduct" of it.

Stan said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed the series. It is absolutely full of good and absolutely necessary and timely stuff. Kudos.

This is off topic, but now I'm hoping that someone can offer the other side of the question. Given that Preaching and the Gospel and Service and Christ comprise the role of the Church and the issues about which believers need to be most concern ... I have never yet found a good answer as to the viable extent of involvement for believers in politics. We should vote, yeah, sure. But laws based on Christian principles won't save people, so there is a dichotomy there. A government based on biblical principles won't make a Christian nation. What is the right thing to do?

donsands said...

" I have never yet found a good answer as to the viable extent of involvement for believers in politics." -stan

I think it's an individual thing. I remember when I became involved in the Pro-Life movement.
I went to clinics and protested, and wrote the politicians, etc.
It was a way for me to share my faith for the most part, becuase some in the movement were down right nasty toward those on the Pro-choice side. And I tried to rebuke these sisters and brothers.

I found that i didn't fit serving the Lord this way, and yet I'm still very outspoken on abortion. I have written my community paper, and they actually printed my article.


I say all that, to say i am involved by just living my life out in my small town.

Mike said...

Stan:
"What is the right thing to do?"

There's nothing wrong with a profession (job) in politics. In it, you can be an example, just like in any job. You're there to advance the gospel.

If you don't have a job in politics, there's no good reason to get involve in the "political process". You can vote, but you don't have to. There were times when I didn't, but other times when I did.

You can't impress, convince, prove a concept, even humor those who are not saved in any political areana with political activism, like anti-abortion rallies. What's the point of it? Let the HS do the job.

However, there's nothing wrong with getting in the thick of it with the Gospel, but without getting involved in the political agenda itself.

Consider this:

Mat 10:29
(29) Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.

God is in absolute control of everything here. Doesn't seem like it, does it? But he is, in a way that we can't notice. He can put anyone he wants in office. Baptists have a severe problem believing that, because they believe it's thgeir (and our) reponsibility to vote and select a president. But you have to get through God (so to speak).

Pro 21:1
(1) The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

If God can turn the hearts of Kings, how much more the nation of people in selecting a president?

I just remain at peace no matter what happens. Vote if you want, or don't vote, but God is in control; and I rest in that.

Mike said...

dousands:
"and yet I'm still very outspoken on abortion. I have written my community paper, and they actually printed my article."

Praise God for it!

DJP said...

Phil — Mike wrote, in part:

...there's no good reason to get involve in the "political process". You can vote, but you don't have to. ...You can't impress, convince, prove a concept, even humor those who are not saved in any political areana with political activism, like anti-abortion rallies. What's the point of it? Let the HS do the job. ...Vote if you want, or don't vote, but God is in control; and I rest in that.

Is this a good application of the argument you've been constructing?

Carlo said...

Stan wrote: "I have never yet found a good answer as to the viable extent of involvement for believers in politics. We should vote, yeah, sure. But laws based on Christian principles won't save people, so there is a dichotomy there. A government based on biblical principles won't make a Christian nation. What is the right thing to do?"

Augustine insisted we must not confuse the City of God or identify the City of God with any human government, but that as citizes of God's city, we should be the very best citizens of the earthly city.

We should be active in national politics working for the common good. We should be open about our Christianity and the basis of our moral convictions. And next time the liberal humanist responds to us that the Christian worldview is not shared by all in the society, let's remind them that neither is their worldview shared by everyone and it's not fair for us to stop working for the laws that reflect our beliefs when others with unproveable beliefs are given freedom to do so.

Mike said...

Yes, but it's not an argument; it's more of a comforting exhortation. You asked about application. Trust God, that's the best application.

Daryl said...

Mike,

If that's the ONLY application, the net result is inaction. Clearly we can't do that, can we?
How can we be inactive and defend the fatherless and the widow?

One the other hand, how do we not make the defense of the defenseless "the" issue of the church? Isn't that really your question?

Phil Johnson said...

DJP: "Is this a good application of the argument you've been constructing?"

No. It's a clever fatalistic caricature of what I'm saying, but it misses the point so badly that I suspect that was the whole aim. Our anonymous friend "Mike" looks like someone's sock puppet (with a brand-new anonymous profile and a generic name). Apply his point of view to almost any other kind of vocation and you can see the folly of it:

If you don't have a job as a janitor, painter, or landscaper, there's no good reason to get involved in the "home-maintenance process." You can paint your house and clean the bathrooms, but you don't have to. A manicured lawn and a neat house won't impress your neighbors enough to win them anyway. What's the point of it? Let the Holy Spirit do the job. Haul away that weed-surrounded old car that's been on blocks in your front yard if you want to—or don't. But God is in control; and I rest in that.

For the umpty-eleventh time, Christians should do everything they can to be exemplary citizens, including vote. What I'm saying is that we should lead with the gospel, and never suppress that greater truth for the sake of political expediency.

If we're truly going to impact our culture in any lasting or eternal way, it will be through the gospel message, and not through legislation—or yard work. That's not the same as suggesting that legislation or yard work are of no value whatsoever. But such things aren't the business of the church in the sense that they should dominate the message we proclaim to the world.

Incidentally, the exact same principle applies on both the right and the left sides of the political spectrum. I'm certain most regular Pyro readers understand perfectly well why the social gospel of the liberals and Mclarenites is heresy. Why is it so hard for some to understand that the merely-moral agenda of the hyper-politicized Christian right is precisely the same kind of diversion from the actual news of redemption Christ has commissioned us to proclaim?

Mike said...

Daryl:
"If that's the ONLY application, the net result is inaction. Clearly we can't do that, can we?"

It's the only application on a national or state level; that's the level I thought Stan was referring to. But the other questions you posed are local to the church (your locality).

As a local church, our sphere of influence, if it can be called that, is limited to our locality.

Daryl said...

Mike,

I'll go with Phil's assumption that you're trying to deflect everything off course.
Your reference to "the national or state level" is plain folly. We all act at whatever level we find ourselves. One can hardly expect a Christian to be one thing on a local level and another on the national level. That gospel is the gospel and we preach it and act like we've been changed by it at whatever level of influence we find ourselves.

Phil's whole point was not to say 'do nothing' it was to say, "preaching the gospel is the church's role, all else is secondary, and that by a very wide margin'

Mike said...

Phil:

LOL! Your rather rhetoric comparison of vocations (showing my folly) confuses the political realm with the domestic one. I agree with your domestic case.

"If we're truly going to impact our culture in any lasting or eternal way, it will be through the gospel message, and not through legislation—or yard work. That's not the same as suggesting that legislation or yard work are of no value whatsoever. But such things aren't the business of the church in the sense that they should dominate the message we proclaim to the world."

Agree, but the gospel message won't have much impact if our lives don't reflect it.

Mike is my real name, and it's not a generic name any more or less than "Joe" is. My profile is only anomymous because I haven't put anything in. I don't plan to.
Presumptuousness seems to be your nature, too.

Daryl said...

"Agree, but the gospel message won't have much impact if our lives don't reflect it."

If that's true, then what is the "power of God unto salvation". The Gospel or my life?

Not saying that we don't need to live out the implications of the gospel, only that Christ saves, through the preaching of the gospel
not the living of a life.

Mike said...

Daryl:
"I'll go with Phil's assumption that you're trying to deflect everything off course."

Well, it's wrong. Presumptuous.

"Phil's whole point was not to say 'do nothing' it was to say, "preaching the gospel is the church's role, all else is secondary, and that by a very wide margin'"

That's correct, and it's not different from what I said :)

Daryl said...

Mike,

No, actually you said that there's no need to do anything, just trust God.

So which is it? What are you saying?

Mike said...

Daryl:
"If that's true, then what is the "power of God unto salvation". The Gospel or my life?"

I was implying that your Pharasaical life (or hypocrasy--not you) defeats the Gospel message, especially in the vocation.

Mike said...

Daryl:
"No, actually you said that there's no need to do anything, just trust God.

So which is it? What are you saying?"

The answer is both. I didn't say anything about doing nothing. Your words, bud.

Daryl said...

"I was implying that your Pharasaical life (or hypocrasy--not you) defeats the Gospel message, especially in the vocation."

I'd say, rather, that hypocrisy is a sin we must avoid, but nothing defeats the gospel. No one God intends to save will be lost.

Chad V. said...

Still waiting for Caddiechaplain to clear up that rather confusing comment he made where he thanked Phil for the wisdom of this post and then went on to say that the secular social reform teachings of Mahatma Phule were the only hope for nation of India.

Caddiechaplain, you seem to be in direct opposition the whole point of this post. In fact you seem to be in direct opposition the gospel itself.

In fact Mahatma Phule was the founder of a false religion called the Satya Shodhak Samaj.

You can read more about this false religion here and here.

So how is it precisely that a pagan false religion is the answer to India's darkness?

Mike said...

Daryl:
Nothing defeats the gospel, no. I'm referring to the message, because your hypocrasy, if exposed, can ruin it.

Daryl said...

That's my point Mike. My hypocrisy, while clearly sin, and to be avoided at all costs, cannot defeat the message, in that, those who God wants to hear the message to, will hear it clearly.

Again, not excusing sin.

LeeC said...

Put it this way.
Run for an elected office if you want. But if you find yourself thinking "I can't tell my constituents they are going to hell if they do not repent of their sins and trust in Christ Jesus for their salvation or I will lose the election." well, best find a different vocation.

As my pastor once said to a student who was asking what to do about a paper he was supposed to write that he knew if he wrote it as he should the teacher would not accept it because of his Christian worldview.

Write the paper, and be willing to take an F for Jesus.

If God wants you to be president, then you will be able to proclaim the Gospel as boldly as Spurgeon and no amount of campaigning or smear tactics would thwart Him.

The Gospel is our banner, don't keep it in the cedar chest.

Mike said...

Daryl:
Take a real life story as a case in point:
A man starts preachin' the gospel in a miracle rally. Eventually he passes the plate around for money. But the truth is that he's a thief and doesn't believe in the Lord Jesus at all; he's just doing it for the money.

The people who heard the word received it and got saved. That's what actually happened, a true story.

Is the Gospel message ruined?

Answer: No, partially because his hypocrasy isn't exposed.

But if the thing is known, would they have continued?

Did you get it?

By extension, Matt 16:6 (and related) applies.

Daryl said...

I think this'll have to be the last of this. We're pretty far afield of the original post...

"But if the thing is known, would they have continued?

Did you get it?"

Yes, -sigh- I get it.

That said, if God intends to save them, the preacher could be a known, practising homosexual ax-murderer, and still, they would be saved.
If God did not intend to save them, the preacher could be Christ himself, and they would not be saved.

Yes, Woe to the axe-murderer if, because of his murdering ways, the people walk and go to hell. But his axe-murderingness did not ultimately cause their demise, God simply used it to fulfill his eternal decree of condemnation for them.

What this has to do with the original post, I have no idea.

Mike said...

Daryl:
That's not the premise of the Bible; but I know where you're coming from in the dialogue, and I won't touch it.

I'll only say that there's no decree of condemnation to issue to the unsaved, because they're already condemned (John 3:18), that salvation is unto all but upon them that believe (Romans 3:22), that God demands that all men to repent (Acts 17:30), and that God is not willing that any man perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Are they all going to repent and get saved? No. Look what happened to Israel (Romans 11, etc).

DJP said...

Am I the only one who thinks it funny that you guys are so off-topic in the meta of a post titled "Let's stay on message"?

Sometimes irony can be pretty ironic.

Daryl said...

-stands, hangs head in shame-

"No sir, no reason...
I...I...I...just did, that's all.

If I'm good...can I come back tomorrow...?"


-sits back down-

Please?

Mike said...

djp:
I'll leave it alone. :)

Sharon said...

Chad:
Still waiting for Caddiechaplain to clear up that rather confusing comment he made where he thanked Phil for the wisdom of this post and then went on to say that the secular social reform teachings of Mahatma Phule were the only hope for nation of India.

He could well be a Drive-by Troll. They specialize in stuff like this.

Obligatory on-topic comment:
Two months before I turned 18, all 18-year-olds were given the right to vote. I have not missed one election since. And I count it a privilege to have that right. However, I would never presume that a nation can legislate morality. My mother, the most moral person I know, is bound for hell because she rejects the Savior. Very sad.

A Musician by Grace

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Great series Phil! Like others have said this could and should be published as a book. In fact, I would happily buy a "Best of TeamPyro BlogPosts Book".

But (sorry I have to say "but") I'd like to point out or clarify a couple of things so that I can increase my understanding further.

(1) "Society is not going to be redeemed, or even influenced for good, by moralistic special pleading."

Isn't Wilberforce a sufficient counter-example?

(2) "If you are known for your political agenda more than for your commitment to Christ, your values are upside down."

I'd nuance that. Who paints with broad brushes in describing and communicating news, events, and people? Can you say Liberal Mainstream Media? So if these secular journalist liberals are the ones distorting, misrepresenting, and twisting a Christian group/organization's message by accusing them of having a political agenda, then whose fault is that whereby a Christian group is known more for its "political agenda" than its gospel message?

I humbly submit to you PJ that the responsiblity lies with the secular mainstream media rather than the Christian group on how it is popularly perceived by the general public.

(3) "As I said in an earlier post, when your political agenda requires political alliances with Moonies, Mormons, Moslems, Jehovah's Witnesses, and humanistic moralists, you simply cannot afford to speak frankly about the exclusivity of Christ."

Sure you can. Just like Mormons can talk about Joseph Smith, Muslims can talk about Mohammed, and secular liberals can talk about atheism with Christians.

Think Both/And and not just Either/Or with your exhortation to "Let's stay on message."

A Christian can certainly preach the Gospel message AND also communicate worthy secondary messages as well. You seem to be setting up an unhelpful and unnecessary bifurcation.

There are other thoughts I'd like to share, but I'll let them refine over time.

Yet overall, I am happy to say that your series weighs far more on the positive ledger than on the negative! Pax.

Mike said...

truth unites:
"(3) "As I said in an earlier post, when your political agenda requires political alliances with Moonies, Mormons, Moslems, Jehovah's Witnesses, and humanistic moralists, you simply cannot afford to speak frankly about the exclusivity of Christ."

Sure you can. Just like Mormons can talk about Joseph Smith, Muslims can talk about Mohammed, and secular liberals can talk about atheism with Christians. "

He's saying you must compromise the said exclusivity if you want to keep those alliances alive in any political agenda. That'd be the wrong approach.

Mike said...

IOW: don't say anything that might jeopardize that alliance. That's the danger of ecumenism.

Bill said...

I think he's saying if you must compromise the said exclusivity if you want to keep those alliances alive in any political agenda then it would be the wrong approach.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Excellent post Phil!

Phil Johnson said...

Me: "Society is not going to be redeemed, or even influenced for good, by moralistic special pleading."

TUAD: "Isn't Wilberforce a sufficient counter-example?"

Not in the least. Wilberforce never employed the sort of moralistic special pleading I described, where the name of Christ is omitted and biblical arguments are deliberately subjugated or set aside in favor of philosophical and rationalistic arguments. He appealed to Christ by name, and he cited the Scriptures as authoritative in an era when England considered herself a Christian nation. If you can do that nowadays and get elected to public office in America or Europe, more power to you. But evangelical politicians today are not known for doing that, including the ones who like to invoke Wilberforce's name in defense of their Christless, bereft-of-Scripture style of politicking. I think Wilberforce would be repulsed by them.

Me: "If you are known for your political agenda more than for your commitment to Christ, your values are upside down."

TUAD: "I'd nuance that. Who paints with broad brushes in describing and communicating news, events, and people? Can you say Liberal Mainstream Media? So if these secular journalist liberals are the ones distorting, misrepresenting, and twisting a Christian group/organization's message by accusing them of having a political agenda, then whose fault is that whereby a Christian group is known more for its "political agenda" than its gospel message?"

I humbly submit to you PJ that the responsiblity lies with the secular mainstream media rather than the Christian group on how it is popularly perceived by the general public.


The problem for that point of view is that reality <cough>Ted Haggard, Pat Robertson</cough> frequently turns out to be even worse than the media caricature. And you can listen to the radio broadcasts of the "best" examples of evangelical political cobelligerence <cough>Colson, Dobson</cough>, and I think you'll find the gospel message is rarely if ever declared with any kind of clarity or passion. That's not an impression I gained from "the secular mainstream media"; it's what I've heard from the horses' mouths.

And my own personal experience going back to the 1960s also helped shape my perspective on this. As I once explained in a comment-thread at my original blog, before my conversion I was deeply involved with the religious right—a full decade before anyone else even heard of it. I was a conservative political activist in high school, long before political conservatism was in fashion, especially among mainstream evangelicals. Several of my best friends were members of Billy James Hargis's Church of the Christian Crusade in Tulsa (convenietly located a quarter-mile from my house). Look up Hargis at Wikipedia if you have never heard of him. He was much better-known for his outspoken, McCarthyesque-style anti-communist stance than for any particular theological perspective. Lots of my conservative friends were professing Christians—but not one of them ever spoke to me about Christ.

They wouldn't. I was a member of a theologically-liberal United Methodist church, and they did not want to jeopardize our partnership. I nearly lost my soul because of their ecumenical approach to political co-belligerence. When I came to Christ, I was deeply impressed with the truth that the wisdom of this world is utter foolishness to God—including the wisdom of the very best secular political pundits—and politics has never been high on my agenda when I think about what is most important in my testimony as a Christian.

So it's no good blaming the evil secular media for my views on this issue.

Me: "As I said in an earlier post, when your political agenda requires political alliances with Moonies, Mormons, Moslems, Jehovah's Witnesses, and humanistic moralists, you simply cannot afford to speak frankly about the exclusivity of Christ."

TUAD: "Sure you can. Just like Mormons can talk about Joseph Smith, Muslims can talk about Mohammed, and secular liberals can talk about atheism with Christians."

Yeah? Try it, and see how warmly you are received in the power-circles of Republican party politics. Have you been watching the election overage this year?

And if you really care more about Christ than about your political influence, why muddy the waters by forging such public alliances with unbelievers and false teachers anyway?

Frank Turk said...

I.
can't.
wait.
for.
tomorrow's.
POST.
!

Frank Turk said...

The new avatar needs animation, I think.

Patrick said...

Phil,

Amen and Amen! Well said and very encouraging.

I love your conclusion about our political landscape compared to Nero's Rome. Paul didn't do anything different then and the church thrived!

Keep it up!

Mike said...

"The new avatar needs animation, I think."

Heh, gotta remove the snow, first.

Chad V. said...

Sharon You're probably right. I didn't see that at first.

Sorry Phil. Rule 5, Don't feed the trolls.

Jugulum said...

Frank,

Hmm... I'm wondering... In tomorrow's post, will you be camping on the subject of relationships/partnerships between Christians and non-Christians?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Thanks for the heartfelt response PJ. I'd like to interact a bit more.

PJ: "And you can listen to the radio broadcasts of the "best" examples of evangelical political cobelligerence {cough}Colson, Dobson{cough}and I think you'll find the gospel message is rarely if ever declared with any kind of clarity or passion."

I have listened to both Colson and Dobson on the radio and I'm not as dismissive as you are towards their ministry work.

"I was deeply involved with the religious right—a full decade before anyone else even heard of it. I was a conservative political activist in high school, long before political conservatism was in fashion, especially among mainstream evangelicals."

You say that like it's a bad thing. Which I'm sure you are, lol! Interestingly, I recently read a blog post by C. Michael Patton recently that might be applicable to your past experience and your current animus towards the "Religious Right".

He wrote: "The problem is that the supposed objectivity that they think they have attained has become their master. They fail to realize that their conversion, irregardless of its justification, may have actually tainted their view more. They have fooled themselves into thinking that to take off the sunglasses of their former perspective means that they are wearing no sunglasses at all.

From what I have seen, converts are sometimes the most unable to see things with a balanced perspective. Because of their belief that their previous faith commitments betrayed them, they approach issues as “enlightened” warriors against those former allegiances. The problem is that they normally wear their bitterness on their sleeve and this further taints the glasses that they think they are not wearing."

From: “Convert Tinted Glasses” or “Are Emergers Simply ‘Embittered Evangelicals’?”

PJ: "Lots of my conservative friends were professing Christians—but not one of them ever spoke to me about Christ.

They wouldn't. I was a member of a theologically-liberal United Methodist church, and they did not want to jeopardize our partnership."


Did you get verification from them about that? There are reasonable alternative explanations, ya know. One, they didn't talk to you about Christ because you might have gotten offended at them for thinking you weren't a Christian! Two, they might feel bad about appearing judgmental towards the United Methodist Church and assuming that UMC members aren't Christians.

In doing joint ministry work with folks who are members of other churches, it's generally known that asking them whether they are Christians is really offensive.

"I nearly lost my soul because of their ecumenical approach to political co-belligerence."

I'm so glad that didn't happen. Thanks and praise be to God! I would like to read that account! Sounds fascinating.

"Yeah? Try it, and see how warmly you are received in the power-circles of Republican party politics."

I totally agree with you there.

Now onto a slightly different approach. Let me preface with reference to 1 Cor. 12: 12-31. Let me also preface it with humble reference to Great Commission, staying on message, and advancing the Kingdom, carefully noting your displeasure that political and civic engagement by Christians all too often detracts from the Great Commission or compromises it.

[I would certainly and easily stipulate that some number, hopefully a small number, of Christians have made this mistake, whether it be from the conservative, moderate, or liberal sides of the spectrum.]

Advancing the Kingdom requires different skill-sets and different giftings per 1 Cor. 12, does it not? Oftentimes, advancing the Kingdom so the Gospel can be preached requires the removal of obstacles, does it not?

Let's look at the TeamPyro blog. Some TeamPyro critics dismissively label this blog as a bunch of "heresy hunters". Or they look at TeamPyro as being entrenched as a "discernment ministry" and overly concerned with preaching against error.

But to preach the "whole counsel" you also have to preach against error, do you not? And many people wonder whether "discernment ministries" preach the Gospel and advance the Kingdom because of all the apparent emphasis in rooting out error, do they not?

I would staunchly disagree with these naysayers of discernment ministries, countering them by saying that obstacle-removal is essential to preparing the foundations for the Gospel to be laid. Discernment ministries that identify and correct error is vital for Gospel preaching and Kingdom advancement!

So far, so good. I then humbly submit to you that biblical Christian involvement and engagement in the political process, whether as voter, volunteer, elected civil servant, author, etc... is just the applied practical form of discernment ministries to the political/governing/civic arena in terms of rooting out error and laying the foundations so that the Gospel can be preached.

Therefore, Colson and Dobson et al are simply different parts of the Body of Christ who are absolutely being used by Christ to preach the Gospel, either directly or indirectly, in furthering the Great Commission.

To move from the abstract to the specific. Abortion and gay marriage. These are such severe errors that Christians engaged in discernment ministries that are tagged as "political" are doing ministry for the Lord. Abortion. Lessening the numbers of abortion increases the possibility that some of those babies who would otherwise have been aborted will hear the Gospel and be converted. Kingdom advanced. Gay marriage. If gay marriage advances, then it's not unreasonable to assume that less people will be attracted to the Gospel as a result. Not good for the Kingdom.

In closing, I read from somewhere the following aphorism which has always caused me to ponder its implications and meaning:

Politics Is Simply Applied Theology.

So why not apply theology to preach the Gospel and advance the Kingdom?

Peace and Blessings in Christ Alone.

Truth Unites... and Divides

Phil Johnson said...

TUAD: "Politics Is Simply Applied Theology."

Relief work is applied theology, too.

But I rather suspect that if I had made a long series pointing out that a certain sector on the evangelical fringe have allowed the "Make Poverty History" mantra to eclipse the gospel message; and they tend to talk more about Bono than they do about Christ—you probably would've agreed with me, or at least not argued so vehemently against me. Am I right?

Same principle works both ways.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ: "Am I right?"

Respectfully, no. Not at all. There's a huge asymmetry there. I'd almost put it in the same category as those who make moral equivalence arguments between a Palestinian suicide bomber and an Israeli mossad soldier.

Incidentally, I firmly believe that we are far more in agreement than we are in disagreement. I do understand the dangers that you are warning against and I do give them much credence.

Pax.

Frank Turk said...

Jugulum:

I'm not posting tomorrow -- Dan is.

And I have no idea what you're talking about.

a_simple_bloggTRotter said...

Great series , keep it up.

Mike said...

"Politics Is Simply Applied Theology."

Hmm. I'm very tempted to counter that with its antonym like I did with Descartes. But the best that can be applied to this aphorism is that of the politics of King Saul.

Mike said...

"Let's look at the TeamPyro blog. Some TeamPyro critics dismissively label this blog as a bunch of "heresy hunters". "

Interesting. No wonder.

"Or they look at TeamPyro as being entrenched as a "discernment ministry"..."

Equally interesting.

Marie4thtimemom said...

Phil, to say that I agree with you on this one is an understatement. I wish more in the evangelical church saw it that way.

I'm leaving for Bulgaria later this month, and am looking forward to worshiping with a bunch of believers more focused on God than on themselves. Your comments on the Underground church flourishing were spot-on. My former pastor, Rev. Christo Kulichev, ("Imprisoned for Christ") spent 3 years in labor camps for preaching the Gospel and refusing to capitulate to the state. People like that don't compromise. I've found, by and large, that the pastors over there (as well as their congregations) are both more biblically literate and less willing to compromise the essentials of the Gospel than their Western counterparts.

True spiritual revival cannot come by social or political change, but social change can often result from spiritual revival (think Great Awakening). It disheartens me to see how many Baptist churches in this country have gone down the Emergent and/or charismatic road. We need to come back to seeking God and reading His Word. Kinda simple, really.

Mike said...

"I then humbly submit to you that biblical Christian involvement and engagement in the political process, whether as voter, volunteer, elected civil servant, author, etc... is just the applied practical form of discernment ministries to the political/governing/civic arena in terms of rooting out error and laying the foundations so that the Gospel can be preached."

Gotta tell ya, there is no such thing as discernment as a gift in the body of Christ.

Imagine: [placing hand on forehead] (remember the adage, "apply directy to forehead?" Heh.)----"Oh, I discern among you an erroneous political heresy..."

Sorry... no such thing in the Bible. It only tends to lead to presumptuousness and error, the likes of which we've already seen in McCarthyism.

The only application to your proposal is the implementation of the Kingdom Now theology which was first advanced by Robertson in his book published in the 1980's. It's nothing new, and one main proponent of this is to prepare the world by building a kingdom for Christ before his second advent, so He'd have a place to go to. The catch is, He doesn't need your help. His kingdom comes without observation.

Lilith said...

Satan offered to give Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the earth if only he will bow down and worship him, which of course our Lord & Savior refused to do. But now we have alleged Christians taking Satan up on his offer to grab political power now, while the Lord tarries, and they even resort to Satabn's old trick of twisting scripture to justify it. Jesus even called his disciple Judas "Satan" because Judas wanted him to immediately set up a kingdom with political power, rather than do what he was sent by the Father to do, which was to lay down everything, including His precious life.

So when does Jesus finally obtain his power over all the kingdoms of the earth? At the seventh trump (Rev 11:15) And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.

BReformed said...

What I want to know is if Lillith is Mike in disguise...

patho-coasta said...

Christ first - that is the best perspective in anything.



www.christianpathologist.com

Will said...

I think that political activism is neccessary on this issue of abortion. I think that this is different from other issues (such as gay marriage) in that it is an activism that seeks to protect those that can not protect themselves. I think that this activism is in the spirit of abolitionism (the fight to have ethnic Africans recognized as fully human) not the spirit of prohibitionism (the effort to spoil everyone's good time).

Mike said...

Breformed:
"What I want to know is if Lillith is Mike in disguise..."

If you can't tell by the context of our respective posts, I can't help you. lol

But here's a hint: I'm a newbie.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Don't forget Karl Marx viewed people as inherent 'political animals' when he stated:

"The human being is in the most literal sense a political animal, not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society." -Karl Marx


While it's important for christians to participate in elections and other social duties, we should not view the world through a corrupted political prism, but through the purity of God's word.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Phil,

I actually think that the moral majority may have succeeded in helping some "moral" people get elected especially in the 80s, but at the same time did great harm to the cause of Christ. The fake success was enough to derail a lot of professing Christianity.

It reminds me of Psalm 106:15: "And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul."

the postmortem said...

"He appealed to Christ by name, and he cited the Scriptures as authoritative in an era when England considered herself a Christian nation. If you can do that nowadays and get elected to public office in America or Europe, more power to you. But evangelical politicians today are not known for doing that, including the ones who like to invoke Wilberforce's name in defense of their Christless, bereft-of-Scripture style of politicking. I think Wilberforce would be repulsed by them."

That's a very interesting point, Phil. I appreciate your clarifying that issue. Your logic makes a lot of sense. It's kindof a presuppositional approach to politics.

Hmmm...this world just seems bleak when I start to really think about it.

Lilith said...

Mike: If you can't tell by the context of our respective posts, I can't help you. lol

This always happens, you're a new person, you come into the middle of a family argument, and you get charged with being so-and-so wearing a bag over your face. There's always a settling-in period.

Mike said...

"Hmmm...this world just seems bleak when I start to really think about it."

It is bleak... but Jesus is coming back!

Mike said...

"This always happens..."

Maybe to you, but this is a first for me. Yoohoo! Another clue!

Char said...

Man. People need a good doctrine of vocation.

Great and needed post.

DJP said...

Char! Where have you been?

Lilith said...

Okay, this reply was cooked up in my Gnome editor and I accidentally posted it in the thread which follows this one, and there were ruffled feathers. Thanks Stan for figuring it out.

Phil Johnson: Watch what happens when the average evangelical political pundit is asked in any secular forum whether he believes Jewish people or Hindus can go to heaven without conscious faith in Christ. If he's someone running for public office, he frankly can't afford to tell the truth about that issue.

In some cases, they go from silence to outright falsehood. An evangelical pastor and an Orthodox rabbi, both from Texas, have apparently persuaded leading Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell that Jews can get to heaven without being converted to Christianity.

Televangelist John Hagee and Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, whose Cornerstone Church and Rodfei Sholom congregations are based in San Antonio, told The Jerusalem Post that Falwell had adopted Hagee's innovative belief in what Christians refer to as "dual covenant" theology.

This creed, which runs counter to mainstream evangelism, maintains that the Jewish people has a special relationship to God through the revelation at Sinai and therefore does not need "to go through Christ or the Cross" to get to heaven.

Rick Frueh said...

FINAL EXAM:

Politics - No.

Gospel - Yes.

Baccalaureate services tomorrow.

Garet Pahl said...

That's your best post ever in my book. This is a lesson I've learned on my own over the last couple of years, and it's a hard one. There's a lot of wasted breath from my youth that would have been better used proclaiming Christ and him crucified.

believer said...

I still need to study sometime the Christian climate in Germany when Hitler came to power and the years after...
I have read where he won an election of some sort by 1 vote.
I do not think Barach obama is the anti christ(well ???) but he and his former pastor demonstrate how the anti-christ and false prophet could be.
I do know the democratic platform calls for our tax money to pay for Abortions.And we have a vote on that(theory)
I do not call for Christians to redirect one iota from devotion to Christ or His Gospel to be a better citizen I would suggest redirecting the time we spend on sin to do so.