The Pulpit & Politics Part 2 – Confusion

From the last post, which you can grab here if you haven’t read it, we left off having established the basic roles of church and pastor in an effort to set some right expectations when it comes to politics in church. So where did the expectations get out of line? I think it really took hold when people somehow blended their patriotism with their faith blurring the lines of truth and making their “Americanism” an intrinsic part of their Christianity or in some cases out an out replacing Jesus with the American flag and the founding fathers. Then of course followed along the right manner of political involvement and the assigning of particular partisanship to the Church and to it’s people.

What I believe is the mix up in this particular issue, is the confusion of roles.  It involves the confusion of the role of the Pastor, how he instructs, what he’s supposed to talk about, and how he leads. It also involves the role of the church, local and universal, what it stands for, what it’s primary message is, and how it reaches and impacts the world. Finally the overarching, and most concerning, confusion is the role of the Gospel in contrast to moral change, which leads to hope in legislation of Christianity as opposed to faithful belief in Jesus (for more on that you can read a short article I wrote a long time ago here)…

So let’s clarify some roles…

Political/Moral Instruction is not the role of the pastor:

The pastor’s job is not to teach the unbelieving world to live morally, but to faithfully declare to them the glory of Jesus through the Gospel. My fear is that we are falling into a pattern that has elevated morality into a place of substitution for the Gospel. That if we simply declare what is moral according to the Bible, then people will somehow get it and come to saving faith in Jesus.  This is not the way it should be because according to Romans 1:16 the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”. The pastor is called to share the hope of Jesus first, then to instruct those who believe to pursue Christ with all that they have, because of what He has done. If we as pastors slip into merely teaching and declaring morality we are leading people toward a false Gospel and hope in their own righteousness. Indeed pastors should not shy away from the full counsel of the Bible (Acts 20:27, 2 Tim 3:16-17, Titus 2:1) but this truth is intended to guide the believer in growth and maturity, after all we must understand that Paul’s letters are written to believers in churches. In the same fashion that Jesus continually rebuked the Pharisees and religious leaders so we are to call ourselves (believers) first to live in response to the Gospel, thus declaring its power in our own lives.

If we place our hope in morality or moral reform (which generally takes the shape of a socio-political agenda) then we are in effect rejecting Jesus as the only hope the world has. Again the gospel (as defined: the good news of Jesus birth, life, death, substitutionary atonement, and resurrection which offers man reconciliation to God the Father) is listed in Romans 1:16 as the power to save and nothing else is given that role.

The pastor’s role is indeed to defend truth, biblical truth (2 Tim1:13-14), but it is also to avoid foolish controversies (2 Tim 2:23) which leads me to understand that any pastor must be wise in what he defends and why. Pastors should, and I will always, preach and trust the word of God stand in its defense, and declare its truths. However, we are also to live wisely and trust God faithfully and this means that we cannot view every non-biblical declaration by a secular government as an assault on the church or Christianity. Certainly we cannot react to that by running around screaming our heads off about how God doesn’t like it when they do that, as it serves no good purpose. Let’s face it, the secular world is not confused about where the moral compass of the Evangelical church points when it comes the majority of issues.

Let me expand on this point. As a pastor, or simply as believers, we are not capable of pointing out the nature of an unbeliever’s sin, at least not without coming off as judgmental, prideful, arrogant, and unkind.  As a matter of fact, that’s not what the bible calls us to do, but for some reason we have taken that as our primary calling. The issue is to contrast one’s sin by elevating Jesus’ beauty, righteousness, and mercy.  Think about it, as believers our sins were not repulsive to us until we heard, understood and were moved by the gospel of Jesus. Then as we have grown we have been able to accept the counsel of others in our lives that call us to account for our sins and we thank them for that, again… after coming to more maturity in Jesus.  We aspire to cling to Jesus more tightly as we grow in maturity because we realize that it Him alone who is better than all things and is our only hope. An unbelieving world does not possess this understanding, yet in a tragically misguided fashion Christians believe that through moral declaration, they will somehow open their eyes.

Instructing people, believers and non, to simply behave morally is insufficient and does not have the power to save (Eph 2:8-9)

Socio-Political/Moral Reform is not the role of the Church (local or global)

As I stated before the mandate of the Church is clearly laid out for us in Matt 28:19-20 and in Acts 1:8 and we see how they conduct themselves and establish church community in Acts 2:42-47.

What is important in this matter is to recognize that we have no biblical reference or inference or outright command for the Church to involve itself in Government matters (flex it.  In Romans 13 Paul shows that God has placed us under the governing authorities and we are to submit to those authorities with the understanding of, and faith in, God’s sovereignty. Then in 1 Timothy 2 he writes that there should be prayers for “kings and all who are in high positions. So in an apparent stark contrast to a cultural mandate that many have adopted in the U.S., we do not see any biblical evidence that the early church, including the gentile churches throughout Asia, ever engaged in, sought to sway, or for that matter were encouraged to sway or steer, the governing authorities.  In fact they were instructed to live in harmony as best they could persevering through whatever persecution would come as a result of living for Jesus. In fact we can reference several occasions where they (hence we) are taught in scripture that they should expect persecution and they should praise God for it. The church existed to draw people to Jesus that their lives would be of eternal purpose and in that the mission of the Gospel is accomplished (which, for those of you who are worried I am advocating a lack of action or involvement at all, includes gospel driven social justice)

To sum up: the role of the Church is to elevate Jesus, glorify God, serve one another, share hope with the world, and train up believers to continue this work, placing our hope in Jesus alone.

That last line is what’s most essential… Place our hope in JESUS alone. The government,  the political party you like, the agenda item you carry around, the national citizenship you possess; NONE of these are where hope should lie, yet all of them will compete for your affections and lead you toward distraction at best but at worst straight into idolatry.

So what is the answer, avoid politics all together? Stick our heads in the sand or look the other way? NO…

but that’s for the next post where we tackle the role of the believer in the political process.

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The Pulpit & Politics part 1: Election Year

PART 1 – It’s an election year…

Maybe you’ve heard, maybe you haven’t but a great number of people will be involved in a small process at the end of this year to decide who would be president of our nation.  Every election year it seems that we see many people become involved in, not just the political process, but politics and all that it entails for better or worse, and often worse. In any given election year, and at my age I’ve seen a few, there is an overwhelming outpouring of opinion and in those opinions it often looks like people who normally love Jesus, don’t really think He’s capable of much in the way of influence or power.

During this time it seems a lot of people want their church to chime in on such issues and declare moral rightness in voting one way or another, whether in regard to a candidate or party, or with regard to specific propositions.  It may be that there is a mass of confusion for people who love Jesus and are trying to follow after Him when it comes to political involvement. There are a lot of questions that come from this confusion, at least questions that need to be asked. Such as; where do we truly find hope? How do the hearts of people really change? What makes me so passionate about this stuff?

At the very least there is the obvious confusion and at the very worst there is a borderline idolatry (or maybe even outright idolatry) that occurs every election cycle. Some people, as followers in Christ, want to know what their role is, if they are supposed to have a specific political affiliation or if it is the church’s job to tell them how to vote. Others believe they have the answer and are more than willing to share… many of whom are wrong (there… I said it).

So to help bring perspective, I thought I would offer this 3 (maybe 4) part blog into the conversation. By the way, a conversation that involves people who love Jesus who find themselves on either side of the “aisle” for whatever particular reason, so please read on.

First thing we must start with is the basic mandate of the New Testament Church (big “C”), which is found succinctly stated in two scriptures:

Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Acts 1:8  – But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in all Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the Earth.

From these two passages we can see and discern Jesus intent for the Church. We are to be about proclaiming the Gospel, baptizing, and teaching people who have come to faith to follow Jesus (making disciples).  In addition there is as outlined in Acts 2:42-47 the church in community, but I believe this is what it looks like when the Gospel is lived out by the people of God. This is a corporately held mandate for all believers; it is not one that is executed solely by the pastor or leaders however we do understand that there are positions of leadership given to the church for it’s guidance and benefit. So then we have to look at the biblical role of the pastor.

The pastor or pastor/elder (the Greek word is the same) is given a very specific role within the church and it’s important that we understand what that is.

1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 lay out the qualifications each man should possess as he is called, as well as Paul’s second letter to Timothy he instructs him this way “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” 2 Tim 2:2

Paul also gives what I believe is the most complete and concise pastoral directive in Ephesians 4:11 – 12  “And He (Jesus) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ” The passage goes on to describe that equipping as building in maturity that we may grow in Christ-likeness.

From these two things I have drawn the distinct conclusion that my role as a pastor is to preach the Gospel (Acts 1:8, Romans 1:15-17) , teach the full counsel of the word of God (2 Tim 4:2), continually lift the name of Jesus as our Lord and Savior and only hope (John 3:14),  challenge people who have come to faith (believers) to live lives in response to the Gospel (Romans 12:1)  , and teach/empower those believers to share, teach, and lead (Ephesians 4:12) all of this is also encompassed in Matthew 28:19-20

You may be able to see where I am going but we are not done, and I would please ask that you refrain from passing total judgement before getting all 3 (or 4) parts of this blog. Feel free to comment and ask questions. There is more to follow and in the next post, we will cover the confusion of the roles of the church and the pastor and more importantly the confusion of the role of politics and the gospel in our lives.