I enjoy reading Phil Johnson at the Pyromaniacs Blog Site. Today’s blog entry, entitled “An Addendum on the Church and Politics”, is the latest in a series of blog articles discussing the mixing of faith with politics, and I think he rightly points out the dangers involved and inherent when these two get too intimate. Here’s how his latest entry starts off:
One of the greatest dangers of the political activism of the so-called “religious right” is this: It fosters a tendency to make enemies out of people who are supposed to be our mission-field, even while we’re forming political alliances with Pharisees and false teachers.
To hear some Christians today talk, you might think that rampant sins like homosexuality and abortion in America could be solved by legislation. A hundred years ago, the pet issue was prohibition, and mainstream evangelicalism embraced the notion that outlawing liquor would solve the problem of drunkenness forever in America. It was a waste of time and energy, and it was an unhealthy diversion for evangelicals and fundamentalists during an era when the truth was under siege within the church. Lobbying for laws to change the behavior of worldly people was the last project evangelicals needed to make their prime mission in the early 20th century. Just like today. Remember Galatians 2:21: “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” And Galatians 3:21: “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.”
I remember reading an Amazon a couple of reviews several years ago for the book “Blinded By Might” written by two co-founders of the moral majority, Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson (no relation to Dr. James Dobson). The reviews really got me to thinking about the way “faith” was being used to manipulate people, and damaging the cause of Christ in the process. The first reviewer’s name is Gregory A. Boyd, and this is what he had to say in his review:
What a GREAT book! I wish every evangelical Christian would read this book. If only Amazon had a 10 star rating!
Though people constantly tried to get him to do otherwise, Jesus never allow himself to be co-opted into the politics of this world. He rather testified to the truth that he was about an entirely different kingdom by letting himself be killed by the politics of this world! Never once did he enter into the politically charged atmosphere of his day by even commenting on the relative merits or vices of the Roman leaders. His mission was about something unrelated to what these leaders did or did not do.
Along similar lines, Paul reminds Christians to be followers of their heavenly Lord and not “to be occupied with civilian affairs” (2 Tim 2:4). And the author of Hebrews reminds Christians they are “aliens” in this world because they are “citizens of heaven.” When we follow the example of Jesus and live THIS calling out, we have a power to change lives and affect the world that is not of this world. We win the world back for God, one soul at a time.
Many, if not most, contemporary evangelicals have completely missed this. They sincerely believe that the battle is to be fought and won in the arena of earthly politics. Here is where Thomas and Dobson make their contribution. They “hit it out of the park”! These authorsl point out that evangelicals have come to do what Jesus never did, and what the Bible forbids us to do. We have waged war with “flesh and blood,” forgetting that our real battle is “against principalities and powers” (Eph 6). We have spent our time and energy futily trying to tweak the world’s hopelessly corrupt system — and feeling very proud with little (temporary) gains — instead of living our call to be ambassadors of an entirely different, counter-cultural, kingdom. In the process, we have damaged our reputation to the unbelieving world and diluted our kingdom authority. We have been corrupted by the desire for political might.
With the wisdom of experience and the skill of seasoned writers, Thomas and Dobson expose this for the deception that it is. In so doing, they remind us that “though we are IN the world, we are not OF the world.” “We do not wage war as the world does.” Our weapons are person-to-person love, prayer, fasting, self-sacrifice and faith.
The second reviewer’s name is Henry A. Walker, and this is what he had to say in his review:
Like the disciples of old, the former members (Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson) of the Moral Majority for a long while were not only “blinded by might,” but were also blind to the deep spiritual import of Christ’s message and mission- that His kingdom is NOT of this world. The authors have now applied spiritual eyesalve– for spiritual things are spirtually discerned. They have revealed the not-so-honest ploys of the Moral Majority (MM) and Christian Coalition (CC). They have shown clearly and upon bliblical principles that spiritual methods are simply incompatible with much of the political process. No matter how right religious organizations may be, you don’t force feed the message or the conduct. No matter how lofty or ideal the goal, the end does not always justify the means. Moreover, while displaying a form of godliness, we deny God’s power in our lives when we use the methodology of politics and seek the hand of government. Christ said clearly, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” Obviously, Christians have not lifted up Christ in their personal lives to the point where they would lack the urge to seek political laws, mandates or amendments to “win” over others- to have others do good. Good religion is not politicking or lawmaking. Good religion is feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, and taking care of the orphans and widows. As taken from scripture and quoted by Cal Thomas in the book, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord of hosts.”
Those reviews set me to thinking about the negative effects that the relationship between the “religious establishment” (for lack of a better term) and the government have had on the Christian faith. The relationship (which I would hardly call a marriage, more like an adulterous affair) placed a greater emphasis on the body politic for a means of change than it did on the body of Christ. And while it may have been great for some politicians–being able to play the faith card to win a larger percentage of the vote–it has been terrible for the church.
Please understand, I am not suggesting that as Christians we should abandon the arena of politics altogether any more than I would ever suggest a politician abandon their faith (if indeed they have any). What I am saying, though, is that by attempting to “play the political game” the same way everyone else plays it, we have undermined the value of our faith and we have tarnished its image in the eyes of many. It is not a problem with Christ or even with His church, but with the impersonal and amoral machinery that is the political process in this country right now.
I do think our faith in Christ should shape our worldview and should guide us as we vote or serve in public office. However, I also think that we should be more discerning when certain candidates or platforms are attempting to manipulate a large portion of the voting population, and making promises that will never be delivered. “Oh, c’mon honey,” says the shrewd old man Congress. “It’s only a little sin and for a little while. Once that other paperwork gets signed and pushed through, I’ll devote myself to you and you alone. We’ll get married and make it all proper. I’ve just got some other commitments right now. You understand. Trust me. Now let’s lie together for just a little while…”
As the reviewers aptly pointed out, Jesus did not concern himself with a political reformation when He lived and taught the Apostles. There is no doubt that there were all kinds of problems in the society that He chose to inhabit–drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, tax collectors, indigents, and the like. Virtually every problem that exists in our society today existed in the society He lived and taught in 2000 years ago. Yet Jesus did not seek political reform–not in the least. Jesus sought the reformation of the heart and soul. He didn’t try to get fix the problems of prostitution corrupted tax official by appealing to the authorities and seeking legislative changes. If He had, He probably would have been much more popular among the Pharisees.
The fact of the matter is that Jesus didn’t sidle up to the Pharisees. He took pity on the lost souls who obviously could not live beneath the weight of the law–who were crushed by it, condemned by it. Yet the lawgivers in His own society, those are the ones he rebuked and repudiated, time and time again. And instead of offering condemnation to the most obvious of sinner, he extended grace and provided conversion, even to prostitutes, lepers, and tax collectors–basically, the most reviled of His society. He didn’t try to change the nature of the world to eliminate those sins; He changed the nature of the person’s heart to eliminate them. Change that does not come from the inside-out is meaningless. That is the entire reason that the “law” of the Jews failed to save any. Paul, himself a Pharisee, attested to that. The only power the law had was to damn souls to Hell, and to point to the absolute need of a Savior. And only the power that could free them from their bondage of sin and eternal damnation came from the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Not all are saved. Not all will be saved. God’s word is actually quite clear on that. It doesn’t matter what laws are passed, or what measures are taken to eliminate sin from society. It may be pressed down at one point, but it will bubble up again somewhere else. Without the power of the Holy Spirit working in a believer’s life, the power of sin will not only exist but prevail wherever men and women gather. To think otherwise may be optimistic, but it certainly is not biblical.
This is not to suggest that we should have no laws, but the point is that no amount of legislation will ever turn a person’s heart. There is no power in any law of man to save him or make him righteous. We cannot rely on the law to save our society from sinful deeds and corruption. The only hope we have is Jesus Christ, and if we (as Christians) are devoting all or most of our time to the political process to try to bring about change, we are working in our own strength to try to change the world instead of allowing the power of the gospel to work to change the hearts whom He has called. Our efforts are ineffectual. We cannot evangelize through stricter legislation any more effectively than the Pharisees that Jesus rebuked so strongly!
True and last changing can only be wrought by the power of the Spirit working from the inside out. I lived life as a sinner for 27 years before the conversion took place in my life. I am still a sinner, although glory be to God not nearly to the extent that I was all those wretched years. It is only through Christ that I may stand justified before God. Him and Him alone. But the type of change so many religious groups are seeking to bring about by applying pressure through government–to influence change from the outside-in is not only doomed to fail (as history demonstrates over and over again), it is also counterproductive to the mission field.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.” (Luke 10:2-4)
Jesus sent His disciples directly to the mission field. He did not send them to go reason with the Pharisees and to see what they might be able to do help their cause by enforcing stricter legislation. He didn’t send them off with bags of money to go and influence lobbyists. In fact, he made sure that they took no money with them. How completely antithetical is this approach to what is taking place today by religious groups in Washington? And we wonder why our culture is swallowing up the Christian? We have lost our ability to think outside our culture and to rely on the Holy Spirit. We have become so immersed in our culture that we no longer live “separate, set apart”–which is what the term “holiness” originally meant.
In a certain sense, our culture is a lot like our children. We should lead by example, and allow for growth and maturity through the normal process of learning and making mistakes. Our example should be humility and true righteousness in Christ, not arrogance and self-righteousness. Who, as a parent, refuses to let their child touch anything, do anything, say anything, eat anything, etc., that might harm them or cause them embarrassment? Or even worse, might embarrass the parent? Not a very good parent in my estimation. As we grow as children, we learn by making mistakes. We say and do the wrong things. We suffer consequences. We mess up and break things. Sometimes we break a heart. Sometimes our own is broken. But God uses those things to teach us and grow us.
We cannot remove every possible risk from our environment so that our children never get hurt, any more than we can remove every possible temptation so that our society never sins. It’s going to happen. And if you really trust in God’s sovereignty, you can even allow for the fact that it is good that it does. I know I can speak from my own personal experience as a corrupted sinner for years and years, that clearly I know God’s goodness and His righteousness, perhaps no better than when contrasted with my own sinful nature. Not that I would suggest that anyone pursue sin to better know and appreciate God’s righteousness, for as the Apostle Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:1-3)
Anyway, these are just my thoughts and opinions. I am not saying they are right or wrong, but I thought I would share them here from my heart. If you have any thoughts or opinions you would like to share on this topic, please feel free to leave your comments.
Peace & Blessings,