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.