…church and politics…

I read a Washington Post article recently that said 81% of younger Americans (18-29) were in favor of gay marriage. In yesterday’s post (which you can read here) I talked about why I don’t believe there is anything to worry about no matter what policies or precedents the Supreme Court affirms, overturns, or alters. But I would be foolish if I didn’t acknowledge the other side of my thinking. I do have grave concerns with regard to our nation and the trajectory that we seem to have adopted. And while I don’t necessarily care what a court says I do care what people believe.

Church-and-stateYou see, I do not, for one second, believe that the issue of gay marriage is a doorway into a dark place for us, I believe that this issue and many other ethical issues of our times are merely symptoms of a problem that started many decades before all of this pandemonium. At some point in the church’s history we began doing things differently. It was, perhaps a subtle change, but a change nonetheless. We, as Christians, have been our own worst enemy for the last 50 plus years. Though there are tremendous things that the church has done throughout this same time period, make no mistake there are bright and shining points that have benefited the world and the Kingdom of Heaven, we have succumbed to one of the most subtle temptations and it has cost us dearly in the long run.

Paul said clearly that Christians  use different weapons than the world, we “wage war” and “fight our battles” in a truly unique and counter-intuitive way. We do this, he would argue, because we understand that we are not fighting people, but spiritual forces and (to make my hyper-charismatic brothers happy) wicked atmospheres that settle over certain aspects of life. If you don’t believe this, or if you think that kind of talk is irrational or “too spiritual” then I have to assume that you believe the solution to the moral problems of our world is mass-execution. Kill all the “bad” people and you’re only left with “good” people. But the history of the world has more than sufficiently proven that “bad” people keep popping up all over the place, even in the “best” of places (Judas Iscariot comes to mind as the quintessential example).

So what are we doing differently? What is a pathway worth trying? We’ve adopted a certain philosophy and we see, I think clearly, that not only is it not turning the moral tide of our age, but it isn’t even slowing down the pace.

I’ll start with a quote that I read by John R. Mott

“The invasion of the Church by the world is a menace to the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. In all ages conformity to the world by Christians has resulted in lack of spiritual life and a consequent lack of spiritual vision and enterprise. A secularized or self-centered Church can never evangelize the world.”

John R. Mott

What Mott says here sound like an old-school, hard-line, very traditional stance. He’s saying “out with the world” and “separate yourselves” and other things that we seem to remember having heard before. But, what I would argue is not that this “traditional” message is inaccurate, but that it has been misapplied. The application has been the problem, not the proclamation, and it is this misapplication that has hamstrung the church in its dealings with the world. Leonard Ravenhill wrote (I think in his book, “Why Revival Tarries”), “As goes the church so goes the world”, and I see the truth in that statement playing out before my eyes everyday.

The “invasion of the Church by the world” that Mott speaks of, I believe, is not one of sin in the classic idea. I don’t believe that drug addiction, sexual immorality, or violence are the church’s greatest enemies from within; I say that because I don’t see many churches advocating any of those things, nor are they softening their doctrinal stances on them. The problem that I see is one that the church seems to have embraced, not rejected.

I see that the church, and by church I mean Christians, has attempted to “take up arms” in the same way the world around it does. Legislation, petitions, picketing, commercials, bullets, and others are the weapons that we have latched onto and held firm for the last forty years in particular. Since Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” and the marriage of Christianity and the Republican Party in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s we, the church, have persisted in believing that we will cure our national and global ills through politics and policies. We see how well that has worked out.

Now, to be clear, I am not criticizing the motives here. I believe that Falwell and company had the best of intentions, they were concerned about the “soul” of the nation, and they feared the ethical burdens that could fall on future generations. However, like Aesop’s fable of the thirsty pigeon who flew into a painted picture of a goblet of water, zeal for the goal is no substitute for discretion and reason.

So what are we left with? If politics isn’t the answer, which an 81% approval rating among young people regarding gay marriage would indicate, then what is?

What I would suggest, humbly but firmly, is just what the New Testament suggests. I am not original in my suggestion, I am just one of a thousand voices. Jesus, Paul, John, and a few millennia of historical records seem to conclusively show that external pressure does very little to alter internal motivations. People can be tortured into signing an admission of just about anything, but with each blow of the fist their internal opposition is strengthened more and more. The only way to see any sort of lasting, meaningful, or real change is through the portal of a person’s spirit. But the spirit of a man or woman is much less accessible than most every other part of their being. The Apostle Paul said,

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?

1 Corinthians 2:11

I contend that the church’s greatest, and only, weapon is revival. A soul-shaking, heart-breaking, mind transforming, spirit-molding, tear-stained hurricane of the Spirit of God in the world; and by “in the world” I mean in the souls of the people who live in the world. Hear the words of EM Bounds:

To look back upon the progress of the divine kingdom upon earth is to review revival periods which have come like refreshing showers upon dry and thirsty ground, making the desert to blossom as the rose, and bringing new eras of spiritual life and activity just when the Church had fallen under the influence of the apathy of the times.

EM Bounds

The problem is not with politics in general. Politics is as graceful or clumsy an art as anything else in the world, it is no more intrinsically evil than badminton. The problem is, when the church attempts to affect change in the world by the world’s own methods she fails. She fails because she’s no good at it. The church would make a horrible President, Prime Minister, King, or Sultan; she isn’t designed to be any of those things. The church was not instituted to figure out the best tax rate on which to run a nation, it was not established to figure out infrastructure or industry, it has never been very successful as a business, and its principles do not line up well with democracy or capitalism. The church was founded to carry a message, not of rebates and regulations but of redemption and reconciliation. We are the people of one Book, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. We have been sent to bind up broken places, heal destroyed things, and call upon the power of God Himself to raise things that have died. This is the great mission of the church. And to be quite honest we not only aren’t good at political intrigue but we as the body of Christ are forced to stoop to take part in it. Our goals are far greater than any nation, republic, or party. Our future extends far beyond any parliament, congress, or court. Our nature is eternal and our bulls-eye doesn’t stop at merely creating a “better world” but doing so to usher in a new world altogether.

The most tragic legacy the historians of our day could write about us is that “they changed a piece of legislation”. Legislation is a weak agent of change. We are committed, and dare I say addicted, to seeing the very heart of man changed from stone to flesh, from lifeless to living, and all of this through the power set forth by Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We will find that our path, the church’s path, is one of prayer, compassion, and sacrifice just like our Founder, for we are His body.

Obviously there are questions that have been raised here, and I will perhaps answer them in time. If you have any comments, either for or against, they are welcome.


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