Let’s Talk About the Church and Politics

 

As I sit down to compose this article, the leak from the Supreme Court regarding its deliberations has just occurred. Those in government and in the media are scrambling to make sense of both the apparent decision being considered and the leak. No one can deny, the leak is a catastrophic event in the history of the republic. We have crossed the Rubicon and there is no turning back. History is repeating itself.

This is as significant as when Julius Caesar marched his army across the shallow river into Italy, an action considered treasonous and a declaration of war. It became a metaphor for insurrection from that point on in western civilization. The history of the United States has been marked by many rubicons, some positive and some negative depending on which side of the river one stands. The church is at the edge of its Rubicon. When it comes to the church and politics, Christians have a decision to make. Are we going to live according to God’s rules or man’s?

The subject of the church and politics is not an easy subject to address. Growing up in a political family, my father was a politician, a Democrat who served as a county commissioner of Lewis County, Washington, Dairy Products Commissioner for the State of Washington, chairman of the school board, and several other political positions.

I saw both the good and seamy sides of politics. During my last year of college, my father asked me to allow him to appoint me as deputy assessor for the county. He was the chairman of the board of county commissioners at the time and had that authority. He told me he could guarantee I would be county assessor in a short time. I had the credentials. I worked my way through college working for two title insurance companies, one on the west side of the state and one on the east. I was familiar with Lewis County, having researched and mapped every major city in the county.

This was my rubicon moment. I was already accepted to Western Seminary believing God was calling me into full-time Christian service. As my father pleaded with me, I had to decide to do what I believed God was calling me to do or please my father and enter his world of politics. Once I crossed that point, there would be no turning back.

Today, every church and every pastor has come to a similar crossing point. To become enmeshed in politics or to follow the guidelines God has given in His Word. What has God called the church and each pastor to do? Timothy was faced with this decision. Paul, shortly before his martyrdom, wrote:

...I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.[i]

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel,[ii]

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.[iii] (emphasis mine)

Paul could have written about his own circumstances and the specific hardships he was enduring. Facing imminent death, he could have pleaded for prayers for his deliverance. He could have sought to rally his followers to his cause. He could have lashed out at his unjust captors and the government that empowered them. But he didn’t.

Years before, Paul had crossed his Rubicon and entered the cause of Jesus Christ as an apostle to the Gentiles and the role God gave him as one who laid the foundation of the church. He kept his eye on the ball to the very end. World events did not cause him to alter his message. Circumstances did not cause him to slacken his pace or choose a different path.

In his first Roman imprisonment, writing to the church at Philippi, he affirmed his purpose in life:

...I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.[iv]

Every time a pastor-teacher steps to the pulpit, he has a rubicon decision to make. Is he going to preach the Word of God, or is he going to preach his own thoughts or someone else’s? Actually, his decision at that moment will depend upon a myriad of decisions he has already made days, weeks, and even years before. Caesar didn’t just all of a sudden decide to dip his foot in the water. His ego, pride, and thirst for power and the decisions stemming from them through his short life prepared him for that moment. In like manner, those who step to the pulpit to deliver a sermon made many decisions beforehand that determine what they will say. Did they take notes in class, study and apply what they were taught, and strengthen those precepts by diligent research and discipline in the years since?

As pastors go, so goes their church. There are many types of churches with different types of pastors. Does the church gather to hear from and be edified by the Word of God, or to listen to a political speech or some motivational talk that inspires for a moment but leaves the hearer unchanged? Or is the purpose to entertain, stir emotions, or tickle ears?

In his first letter to the believers of Galatia, Paul wrote, “...let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches. [v] Churches have a responsibility to uphold this principle by choosing men who preach the Word and then by supporting them, not to enrich them, but to free them to do their ministry free from the financial pressures to the extent the church is able. Pastors who are called to smaller churches and are willing to serve as tentmakers to assist in the support of the ministry of the church need to keep their eye on the ball and not become entangled in the affairs of everyday life.[vi]

There is no institution under the sun with a clearer message, authoritative guidelines, and greater promise of success than the Body of Christ when it makes the right choice in its rubicon moments. The church is not a paradigm determined by the latest fad, nor a community that is, by definition, a social construct defined by majority rule. It is definitely not a political entity.

The term, politics, comes from the Greek term, polis, which occurs one hundred sixty-two times in the New Testament and is translated every time as city in the KJV. City officials, politarches, are mentioned twice. Politeia refers to citizenship and occurs twice. Politeuomai, the activity of a citizen occurs once.

Christians hold dual citizenship, as members of a political entity whether a neighborhood, a city, a state, or a country under the sun, and as members of the family of God in heaven. As individuals, we are each responsible to carry out our responsibilities with regard to each of our citizenships (see my book: Part I). However, our heavenly citizenship always, always, determines how we behave in our earthly citizenship. Never the other way around.

Some Christians are led by God to be more active in political entities. In which case, they will have greater responsibility for the choices they make, the things they say, and the action they take. However, each believer needs to always remember that as citizens of heaven, our words and actions in the political arena reflect on our citizenship in heaven. In a similar manner, whatever an individual says or does reflects on the church he/she attends. A pastor in the church he serves.

Years ago, in the community in which I served as pastor of a local church, it was advertised that members of the Unification Church founded by the late Sun Myung Moon, were coming to town to establish a church. A leader among Christians challenged all of the Christian leaders of the area to sign a petition which was to be printed in the local paper apposing the group.

When the leader came to me, I refused to sign the petition. I told him that I would sign if the notice was properly written and if I could sign as an individual, not as the pastor of the church I served. He refused to accept my proposal. The petition with its signatures was printed. Many took note that I was the only pastor in the county who did not sign that petition.

I refused on the principle that I was not authorized by the church to sign a petition on their behalf nor would I request such authorization. It was a political stunt that did not in any way promoted the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Another instance was a petition having to do with the separation of church and state in the State of Washington. The leaders of the association of churches to which I belonged advocated that every pastor should preach in favor of this petition. After researching the backers of the petition and their intent, I explained to the church that it was a statement against the Catholic church which ultimately would impact all churches. I did not tell them whether or not they should sign it. I only used it to illustrate the danger of churches being used as political pawns. Again, I was the only pastor in the association who did not promote the petition in the church I served.

Throughout my articles on this website, I have emphasized that I believe in verbal, plenary, God-breathed Scripture. By verbal I mean the terms are God-breathed drawing their meaning from the context including word order and grammar. By plenary, I mean that the cannon of the sixty-six books has been established and all are profitable. By God-breathed I mean that it is God’s revelation of Himself to man.

I also believe that every sermon needs to be exegetical with the meaning drawn from the text, not added to it. Every sermon needs to be expository. It needs to explain the meaning of Scripture. All of this needs to apply whether the message is topical or textual. There is no wiggle room here. This is the true definition of preaching.

The church crossed a rubicon early in its history. Paul Tan, in his book, The Interpretation of Prophecy,[vii] describes two schools of interpretation. One was the Alexandrian school which chose to allegorize part or all of Scripture. The other was the Antioch school which chose the literal interpretation of Scripture. Here, literal must be seen in its original meaning, the meaning the author intended recognizing that there is only one meaning and there is both plain language and figurative language.

In-depth research of the terms in the New Testament translated preach, preaching, preacher, all refer to the content of what is preached. Even though Homiletics, the term used to define the science and art of sermon preparation, is borrowed from the Greek term, homilia, in the New Testament it refers to a conversation. Preaching is not a homily. That is historically from the western church of the Alexandrian school which quickly put limits on who could preach and what and how they could preach. It is that branch of Christendom that persecuted and burned at the stake those who sought to preach the sound truths of Scripture.

In the political arena today, many are eager to tear up the foundations of our democratic republic. So too in the church. The church has no business being in the political arena. Individual believers have every right to be there, even to serve there, but as individuals, not as representatives of the gospel of Jesus Christ nor His Body, the church. To be sure, God is protecting His church. But anyone who seeks to undermine and destroy the church, God will destroy.[viii]

This is our rubicon moment. Whether or not you choose to mingle politics and religion, that is your choice. But be honest with what you are doing. If you choose to mingle politics and religion, you are choosing a path that Paul, Peter, John, the rest of the apostles, and even Jesus Himself refused to take. Such a decision reflects on the message of the gospel, on God’s family, and on our Lord Jesus Christ. Following such a path provides our Lord’s enemies opportunities to blaspheme His dear name.

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[i] 2 Tim 1:6-14.

[ii] 2 Tim 2:3-8.

[iii] 2 Tim 4:1-5.

[iv] Phil 3:12-14.

[v] Gal 6:6.

[vi] Tim 2:4.

[vii] Paul Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy, (BMH Books, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1974).

[viii] 1 Cor 3:11-17.