12 June 2008
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 processexcept 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 messageeven ever-so-slightlythen 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
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 lawexcept 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 argumentswhile 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 Scriptureespecially when they lean on rational, philosophical, and pragmatic arguments and deliberately downplay the authority of Scripturewhat 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 placenot 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.