The Church and Politics
From the series Culture Shock
Do you remember the old saying, “There are two topics you should never talk about in public - religion and politics.”? Well, apparently Chip never heard that one, because in this message he talks about both - The Church AND politics! In our political system, we are either in, or preparing for, upcoming elections, referendums, or initiatives. Do you ever wonder how God expects His Church to engage in the political process? Join Chip as he takes a hard look at what scripture says about the Church and politics.
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About this series
A Biblical Response to Today's Most Divisive Issues
Where do you stand on issues like: Truth, Sex, Homosexuality, Abortion, the Environment, and the Church and Politics? More importantly, what does God say? If there ever was a time for Christians to understand and communicate God’s truth about controversial and polarizing issues, it is now. More than ever before, believers must develop convictions based on research, reason, and biblical truth. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s equally important that you’re able (and willing) to communicate these convictions with a love and respect that reflects God’s own heart. This series will help you learn how to respond with love, even in the face of controversy. In the process, you’ll discover the power of bringing light – not heat – to the core issues at the heart of society today.More from this series
Well, I have to tell you, in all my years as a pastor, there is no single issue that has caused more controversy, more hard feelings, more anger, or more Christians mad at one another or mad at me, than the issue we’re going to talk about. We’ll talk about the Church and politics.
As a very young, naïve pastor many, many years ago there was a moral issue that became political, people were talking about it a lot. And so I remember teaching on this thinking it’s just right out of the Bible. I should say what God says on this.
And, up to that point, the letter that I received from a lady was the most scathing letter I’d ever received. I mean it started like this: “I can’t believe you were talking about political issues in church. Why don’t you preachers keep your nose in the Bible and out of political issues? When I come to church this is what I want to hear. You should be excommunicated from the Church. You are not to be a pastor. It’s the worst, most horr…”
I mean, it went on, and on, and on, and on, and I’m just thinking, “Oh my lands.” Now, I did learn later that she wasn’t in the services, which may have been good or bad. But just the fact that she heard from a friend that we talked about that topic, that from her lens was completely political, because people were talking about it over here and yet it was a very core, biblical, moral issue.
But I learned something. That’s a hot button of people. Basically she said, “How could you say that you love God and talk about that in church?”
Now, on the other side of the spectrum, I have been greeted in the hallways, or in malls, or in my office, with people whose eyes get very big, their face gets really red, and the veins are bulging, “Now don’t you understand that this is a crisis right now and if you don’t take a stand, if we don’t interview those candidates, if we don’t put flyers out, if we don’t tell people how to vote, America is going to hell in a hand basket and you gotta not compromise and step up. What are you going to do?!”
And, um, some of them have been very disappointed. But all I want you to see is that when you start talking about the Church and politics you have two very distinct groups and most people in between.
You have some that are what I call “separatists.” In other words those things should never be talked about or communicated ever in the Church when it’s gathered.”
And there are others who would feel just the opposite or they’re activists that say, “You know what? This is the time to mobilize God’s people around these certain issues or candidates.”
So what we’re going to try and do is bring a little light instead of heat. And so I put a teaching handout together. Open it up if you will and I want to examine those two positions.
I’ve put a little picture on the bottom. You’ll notice it has the Church and politics, and on the left hand side is the separatists, on the right hand side is activists, and there are just some people who think there should be no involvement and others, high involvement.
So when someone comes to me and says, “How can you say that you love God yet talk about politics and the Church,” here’s what I want you to get. Here’s their position and then I want to give you the presuppositions. I want you to understand why people sincerely and passionately think that way.
The position is: Any subject or issue that is directly or indirectly political should never be talked about in the Church. Three presuppositions behind that thinking.
Number one, there’s a clear distinction between what’s sacred and secular. Faith is a privatized issue, there is a sacred moment of your relationship with God. Out there in the world, in politics and other things, is secular. Those things should not cross. You have some whole groups, actually, who will live completely apart. So they have no government involvement as much as they can.
The second presupposition is the confusion over our understanding of a pluralistic society versus pluralism. A pluralistic society basically is everyone has the right to champion our ideas, to say, “This is right, this is true, and let’s talk about them and the best ideas and the truth will win out.” That’s been the history of America, traditionally.
We’re moving more and more towards pluralism. Pluralism says that every idea has exactly equal value, and for you to say that one idea or one position is better than another is intolerant.
And so, especially in the Church, if someone says, “This is an issue and this is right and that is wrong,” well, my lands, that’s the most intolerant thing you could do. And so those things shouldn’t be talked about.
The third presupposition is what I call functional separatists. This is often the younger generation but some who are burned out and worn out.
This is a group of people who say, “You know what? We’ve been through a lot of presidents or I’ve heard a lot of people talk. I’ve been through the local politics. Here’s what I know. All government is corrupt, when you peel back the onion I don’t care which party it is, it doesn’t do any good. My vote doesn’t matter, my participation doesn’t matter, I’m just going to live my life and I’m not involved completely. I’m totally disillusioned.”
So, those are the reasons behind the position of never talk or deal with politics and the Church.
The second position is, “Well how can you say you love God and not take a stand on political issues in the Church?” Here’s the position. The position is: The Church is a tool in the hand of God to turn a secular culture back to God. And as such it must exert vocal and active support for candidates, and issues, and laws that bring our government, and our culture, in line with biblical values.
Now there are three presuppositions behind that. The first one is that America has a covenant relationship with God. Not just that there was a biblical worldview and there were some Christians and some Deists and this was the sense, but there’s actually a covenant relationship with God exactly like, or much like, Israel.
Therefore, the goal of the Church is to bring America back to God and what better place than in the Church to be a tool in God’s hands to do that.
The second presupposition is that moral and cultural change is the primary mandate of the Church and the political process is one of the primary ways to achieve it.
In other words, the goal of the Church is to change the culture. It’s to get people, and laws and things, in such a way that they reflect biblical values, and the political process is the primary means of doing that.
Therefore, use the bully pulpit. Use the Church, when it’s gathered, in a way to champion those causes.
The third presupposition is that when the Church, when I say the Church gathered, when we’re together as a group and what comes from the pulpit, the official teaching of the Church and individual Christians that the calling of those two things are exactly the same.
Now that’s going to be really critical later so remember that one. The idea that whatever we’re to do when we’re gathered, as an official position and focus and future of the Church, is the same calling as each individual Christian.
So with that, turn the page and we’re going to go on a journey together because I will tell you for sure there are a lot of people in this room that have a lot of opinions about what I just said.
And as I just laid those positions out some of you went through a little moment in your mind and said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, well that’s what I believe.” And others were over here going, “Yeah, yeah, that’s what I believe.” And a lot of you were in the middle going, “I never really thought about it that way. I’m not sure exactly what I believe and this is going to be an interesting morning.”
So here’s what I want to tell you. Rather than talk about, okay, should we interview candidates? Should we put flyers? Should there be voting guides? How much, how long, which things?
I just want to, whoa. Whoa. I want to back up and I want to say, “Wait a second.” What does the Bible actually say? What does God actually say about the role of the Church? And when I use the word “the Church” I’m talking about the Church gathered. Not individual believers, not just the body of Christ. But what does the Bible say about the Church and politics?
And then what does He say about the role of government in politics? And what’s He say about the role of individual believers?
And what I can tell you is I think the Scripture is really clear. There are four biblical absolutes that, before we get into the particulars about how that should be applied in this church, or how churches in general should, let’s just build kind of what I call a theological framework. Kind of a grid.
And say, “This is what the Bible says. Now, let’s look at those individual things.” And I think, actually, it gets pretty clear.
So are you ready? Roll up your sleeves. If you have a pen pull it out and then turn in your Bibles, if you will, to John chapter 18 and here’s absolute number one.
There are two kingdoms in conflict. That’s the first thing you need to know. There are two kingdoms in conflict. There is a spiritual, eternal kingdom that Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, came to the earth and is championing and still champions. And there is a temporal, concrete kingdom that we live in.
So notice, as we pick up the story in John chapter 18, we have Jesus on trial before Pilate and He’s being interviewed. Verse 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jews. But now My kingdom is from another place.”
And Pilate looks at Him and says, “You are a king, then?” Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of the truth listens to Me.”
And so He’s being interviewed, and He’s been accused, and He’s been turned over by the Jews to Pilate, who is the official government of the day, and basically He says there’s a different kingdom. And My kingdom isn’t of this world. My kingdom is rooted in truth.
Now the story is going to go on. Flip the page, just go over to Chapter 19, because Pilate is going through some internal issues about, “Where is this guy coming from?” And “He says he’s a king.” And we know a little bit more about the story. He gets a note from his wife and so we pick up the story in chapter 19 and Pilate is frustrated.
He says to Jesus, “Do You refuse to speak to me? Don’t You realize I have power either to free You or to crucify You? Don’t You understand I hold the sovereignty and the power over Your life?”
And listen to Jesus’ response. Jesus answered, “You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore, the one who handed Me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
And here’s all I want you to get: You and I, as followers of Christ, are living in two kingdoms that are butting heads. There’s an eternal, spiritual kingdom and there is a temporal, physical kingdom and they’re at odds.
And the summary of Jesus is that He’s building a spiritual kingdom of love and justice that will ultimately be consummated when He returns but until then human institutions and governments will continually be at odds with His spiritual kingdom.
So it raises the question: How do you live in two kingdoms? I mean there are some values and issues of following Jesus, but I live in the United States, or some of you actually are citizens of other countries.
Absolute number two: Every believer has dual citizenship. Every believer has dual citizenship. You might jot in your notes Philippians chapter 3 verse 20. The apostle Paul says, “Your citizenship,” if you’re a born again believer, a follower of Jesus, your citizenship is in heaven.
And what we’re going to learn is you have dual citizenship both in heaven and a responsibility to the world and the government that you live in. If you will, in your Bible, flip back just a book or two to Mark. And this is a very interesting story.
Jesus’ popularity is mushrooming. He’s threatening the religious leaders. So, in fact, two groups of people that don’t like each other… this was the far left and the far right, theologically, okay? They don’t like each other.
But what they now have is a common enemy and the common enemy is this Jesus and throngs are following Him and His teaching and His power and they get a, they realize their position is going to get usurped, we gotta get rid of this guy.
And they’re very intelligent people so they come together and say, “You know what? We’ve got our differences but…” Sort of in the back room somewhere they came up with the great way to trap Him so that no matter what He says we’re going to discredit Him.
We pick up the story in Mark chapter 12 verse 13. “Later then some of the Pharisees,” right wingers, “and the Herodians,” left wingers, theologically, “came to Jesus to catch Him in His words. “They came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, we know that You’re a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men because You pay no attention to who they are, but You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And so we have a question. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay, or shouldn’t we?’”
And you can picture the crowd. And by the way, they don’t care how He answers. I mean, we gotcha. If you say we should pay to Caesar the Jews are now against you. If you say, “No, we shouldn’t pay to Caesar,” now you’re going against the government. So we don’t care how you answer. We’ve got you.
Notice Jesus’ response. Because aren’t those two kingdoms in conflict? There’s the Jewish view and there’s the political view.
And Jesus says this: “Knowing their hypocrisy, ‘Why are you trying to trap Me? Bring a denarius and let Me look at it.’ And they brought Him the coin and He asked them, ‘Whose portrait is on this and whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’”
It’s interesting, when they used this word, Greek, there’s a Greek word where, “Who should we pay?” it means, “just give something.” To pay. Jesus, in His answer, uses a different Greek word for “pay” that means, “to fulfill a debt.”
And so He says, “You actually have an absolute debt or obligation to the government, Caesar, to give him whatever,” and we’ll learn about that in a minute, “and you have an equal and more important obligation to give to God whatever He asks of you.”
And so what He wants you to know when you think of the Church and politics is, number one, there are two kingdoms in conflict. And every single follower of Jesus, you have dual citizenship. And so you are to be faithful to your citizenship in heaven and faithful to your citizenship here on earth with the government that’s there.
Which raises another question. How can you be faithful to an evil government? How can you be faithful when there’s such corruption and difficulty?
He answers that question in absolute number three. Human governments are ordained by God to restrain evil. Now I want, as I ask you now to flip over a couple books to Romans chapter 13, I want you to know that this is a difficult time for the Church.
The Church is persecuted, I mean, you talk about corruption in government, you talk about injustice, you talk about laws that are just, I mean infanticide is just a normal part, women are bought and sold, slavery. Anything you can think of. Immorality is an all-time high.
And so the apostle Paul is going to get some instruction to followers who live in these dual kingdoms. This is how you respond to the kingdom on earth. This is how you respond to the government.
Follow along as I read. Romans 13 beginning at verse 1. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from the fear of one in authority? Then do what is right and he’ll commend you.”
Now listen to how the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, describes the government from God’s sovereign perspective. “For he, the government, is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong be afraid for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He, the government, is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on wrongdoing.
“Therefore,” here’s the application, “it’s necessary to submit to authorities not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” In other words you do it as an act of worship and obedience to God. He’s saying God has sovereignly either allowed or placed this government at this time, in this country, where you live.
Now think about being a believer in Communist China. Think about being a believer in one of the states of a harsh dictator. Forget that, think about what it was like when you received this as a Christian in Rome.
Okay, I need to follow and obey God but he’s saying that I’m actually supposed to submit to the rules, as far as they don’t violate God’s Word, of this government?
In fact he goes on to say, “This is also why you pay taxes for the authorities are God’s servants who give you their full time to govern. Give to everyone what you owe them. If you owe them taxes, pay taxes. If revenue, revenue. If respect, respect. And if honor, honor.”
Here’s what you need to understand. The role of government, from Scripture, is very simple. It’s to restrain evil. The government doesn’t have the power to change people’s hearts, the government doesn’t have the power to make cultures shift in directions.
We can create laws that limit evil but the government doesn’t have the power to bring about major cultural change. God says the role is to restrain evil.
Which raises another question. If the government doesn’t have the power to bring about the kind of world that we believe God wants and the kind of relationships where there’s justice for people, and love, and equality, and real concern, how’s that ever going to happen?
Well, now we learn what he says about the Church. Absolute number four: The Church is ordained by God to make disciples. And before you just listen to that and say to yourself, “Oh, yeah, make disciples, my mind goes to Bible studies. I go to church.” No, no, no, no, no, no, no, stop. Let’s get this in context.
I mean, we’re talking about people throughout human history that have given their life, that have submitted to absolutely evil and terrible governments but lived such supernatural, amazing, winsome lives that they fed the poor, or during the times of the plagues were the people that picked up the bodies and pushed them on carts.
And people who, despite all the problems and ills in the society what they were were little Jesuses, they were salt, and light, and leaven. And you say, “Well that’s overwhelming.” Well when Jesus sent them out there was only a hundred and twenty and he says to them, “All power or all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me.”
Now here’s the assignment, “As you go I want you to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything that I taught you. Teach them to obey.
“And by the way, when it gets crazy, and when you’re afraid, and when you think it’s impossible, and when you’re worn out, remember, ‘Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.’”
The making of a disciple, think of that rather than of some class that you’ve had, or some little thing that happens. He says, “I want you to be the kind of people that it’s like, Jesus living inside your body, in your arena of influence at home, at work, in the private, in the public, in the government. And I want you to penetrate and infiltrate in ways.”
And the way you do that, your role with the government is you submit. You realize God has sovereignly put this Communist ruler, or this dictator, or He has sovereignly placed you in a place, by the way, America is not a democracy. That shows up nowhere. We’re a republic. Democracies just mean the majority rules. Republics have a clear constitution of participation that says, “These are the values and the core behind what rules and why.”
And God says, “In the midst of that I want you to be used by Me in ways beyond your wildest dreams.”
The role of the Church. Principle number one: Let the Church be the Church. The Church’s highest calling, the Church’s purpose for living, is to fulfill the spiritual, eternal, invisible kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Church’s goal is to exalt Christ and to preach, teach, and model the message of redemption, over and above, and more important, than anything else.
That’s the goal of the Church. So let the Church be the Church.
Well what’s that look like? How does the Church be the Church when it comes to the area of politics? Three specific ways Scripture says. First way, are you ready for this? Is to pray. The Church, when we’re gathered together, is to pray.
I Timothy 2:1 says, “I urge you, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession, thanksgiving be made for everyone, for kings and those in authority that we may live,” notice the purpose for the prayers for political powers and people that be, “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases our God and Savior who wants all men to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
See the Church’s first priority is we pray for the government, not so the economy gets better. We pray for the government, and for candidates, not so our lives are happier or easier. We pray, first and foremost, for those in authority so that there would be peace in the land so the gospel could go forth by what we, not just say, but the freedom to live in a way that people could see the reality of Christ.
Now I’m going to have a little experiment here, are you ready? Put your pencil down just for a second.
I want you to think of the candidate, that if you were pressed for this next presidential campaign, that you’re most excited about and let that name pop into your mind. Okay.
Now I want you to think of the candidate, in this next presidential election that you have the most distaste for. I’d like you to have that person come to your mind. Have you got it?
Now what I can tell you, in Christians all across America, those would be two different faces.
With that said, are you ready for this? For every time, let’s go to the person that you distaste, that you think is the wrong person, that you’re very, very concerned about, could become the next president.
For every time that you have spoken, criticized, written, or said something negative about this person to another believer or someone else at work or in your community, how often have you prayed for that person?
Just flat out convicting, isn’t it?
What the Bible says is that person, whoever they’re going to be, will be established by God. And that the requirement of the Church gathered and for individual believers is to pray for them and to pray for them from the heart, “God, will you bless them? God, will you give them wisdom? God, will you draw them closer to you? God, will you enrich their family relationships? God, will you cause there to be…help these justices. Help these people in congress. Help our mayor. Help our city council. Help the Board of Education.”
See, my observation among Christians, Christians tend to be often the most negative, critical people who blog, and email, and send little things to one another that you open with these little ads toward one another on both directions.
And I just wonder what would happen if we prayed, and cared about the souls of those people, and asked ourselves, first and foremost, if there’s a kingdom of heaven that’s spiritual and eternal and my allegiance is first to Christ, maybe that ought to be my priority first and foremost.
Especially, as we’re gathered together.
The second priority, when the Church is gathered, let the Church be the Church, is to preach and teach the truth of God’s Word, so that God’s people would be informed and have a biblical worldview about His values.
I have news for you! God is not looking for a democratic vote or a republican vote. In fact, I have news for you! God is neither a Democrat or a Republican. Shocking. And when He wants you to vote a little bit later on and we talk about your individual responsibility, He’s not looking for you to say, “Well this is the, my republican or my democratic…” He’s looking for a kingdom vote.
He’s looking for the children of God, who understand these worlds will always be in conflict, and you have dual citizenship and the government doesn’t have the power to change the world but only restrain evil. But you have the power, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to make a difference.
Oh, God, I am your child. I am your son or your daughter before I’m a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent. What do You want me to do, what do You want me to say, and how do You want me to vote on these issues and these people that would honor You?
So how can Christians know what those issues are unless we teach? That’s the role of the Church gathered. It’s with intentionality that this is the last message and it’s with intentionality on what I’ve taught the last five weeks.
None of these were political issues. These are issues about kingdom and truth. Did you notice when Jesus was talking to Pilate He said what? “Everyone who listens to the truth listens to Me.”
You notice when they came to catch Jesus and what He says, “We know you’re a man of integrity because You live according to the truth.”
So the question is, is there absolute or relative truth? What’s the truth about human sexuality? What’s the truth about homosexuality? What’s the truth about abortion? What’s the truth about the environment?
That’s the job of the Church gathered. After we pray, this our best understanding of the truth.
Now we’re going to learn in just a minute you have a moral responsibility to participate, to know the facts, to examine, and say, “I want to be a kingdom voter. And my first allegiance is first and foremost not to what I think will make life more comfortable. Not even do I think it’s going to have more or less impact depending on what I do. But it’s to be faithful to God.”
And so prayer is number one, preaching and teaching, and the third is modeling. The Church is to model truth, and justice, and righteousness. The world changed because of the Acts 2 verses 40 through 47. That picture of those people, how did they live?
They lived in a corrupt culture, with a corrupt government, where there was tremendous injustice, amazing immorality, and all kind of gods and they came together and they loved each other and they followed Jesus and they made sacrifices and they met the deepest needs in the community.
So that’s what we do. You help runaway teens, and you figure ministry is to help sex trafficking, and help people that are HIV positive, regardless of how they got it. You don’t judge. You care. You feed the poor. You live in community. You don’t talk negatively. You don’t gossip.
When Christians live like Christians you’re the most winsome, powerful group on the face of the earth.
But what’s happened? Jesus’ Church has been hijacked by the Right and by the Left. And what’s come out of pulpits across America for the last twenty years is, “This group” or “that group.” And so the props of the state and the agendas that people think…
You know, at the end of the day, who wins? Who wins presidential elections? I’ll tell you who wins. Whoever the populous believes can make the economy better. You just go, do all the history, we have all this, “Uh, these are my views and these are my values.” Or, “These are my views and these are my values,” and “I’m an Independent,” and “I’m a swing person.”
It’s about the economy, stupid. It’s about the economy, stupid, which means what? At the core, people, far more than kingdom voters, we’re materialists. And what we’re asking, not, is, “God, what do You want in this country, and what do You want me to do?”
What we’re asking is, “How do we get this thing moving in a way that makes my life better, and my future better, and my personal economy better, and my prosperity better?” That’s not a very biblical or godly role but it’s how most people vote.
And so let’s let the Church be the Church. Let’s radically live out and model, not subservient agendas around smaller issues, but the big agenda of Christ and Him crucified. That’s the role of the Church.
Well what’s the role of the government? And by the way, as I say that, there’s a role for activism but what you’re going to find it’s not when the Church is gathered. The role of real activism is going to be placed squarely, specifically on each individual.
Because you’re not just a citizen of heaven. You are a citizen of this country. And God has a calling and specific responsibility. But that’s on you, not the Church gathered.
Second principle: Don’t expect the government to achieve what only the Church can accomplish. See that’s, so often, it’s subtle. If we could just get the right guy in the office, whoever “we” is. By the way, the “we” when we say “Christian” could be very, very different politically. Very, very broad.
This is another “a-ha.” I think God, since He’s not a Republican or a Democrat, is absolutely committed to having born again, kingdom-minded servants of His in both parties.
And that they’re commitment to the King would superimpose any shallower commitments to their political parties. And yet, over time, we’ve thought somehow, it’s a subtle presupposition, “If we could just get the right guy and then the Senate, and then the Congress, and then the Supreme Court justices, and then the governors, and…”
We unconsciously believe that the political process has the power to change the culture and to change people’s hearts and make, quote, the world the way many Christians believe the world ought to be.
That’s a deeply held view. The Bible says the government doesn’t have that power. So it has the power to restrain evil. Now when you make certain laws that punish unrighteous things, God says the, what’s the foundation of God’s throne? Justice and righteousness.
What exalts a people? What exalts a nation? Righteousness. Governments can’t create righteousness. Only individual people can.
Let me ask you this, just relax a little bit. Some of you are getting really nervous. In the last forty years, isn’t it true that both parties have had a season of time where their party had the president, the majority in the senate, and the majority in congress? Right?
If you know your history both parties have had seasons where, “So, how’s America looking to you? So everything’s okay, right? It’s really working?” See, unconsciously what happens is the Church has fallen into thinking there’s some messiah and whether it’s a governor, or a president, or a Supreme Court justice, that if we can just line those people up, the government has the power to bring about righteousness, and justice, and change, and they don’t.
They can restrain evil.
And by contrast, there’s a very important role for government that’s amazing and we live in a world where we the people get to help make those things and can be very active in bringing about change.
I often hear people say silly things like, “Well, you can’t legislate morality.” And if they mean by that, you can’t change people’s hearts, to have them do the right thing for the right reason, I totally agree.
But what you need to understand is what laws are, is legislating morality. It’s morally wrong to drive drunk. Puts you in jail. Morally wrong to kill someone. Puts you in jail. Morally wrong to steal or not pay your taxes. We put you in jail.
Those are moral issues. And then sometimes the laws change - and it used to be illegal to kill a child under this age or that age. The laws change, it’s now legal. The laws, they draft morality. But the government creates these boxes but they can’t bring about righteousness. They can’t bring about change. Our hope can’t be in candidates or the political system.
Well then you should be asking, “Well then where is our hope?” The role of the Church: Pray, preach and teach the truth, model and live this out in radical ways. The role of government is limited political limitations. I love what Chuck Colson has said.
He says, “The danger with Christian political movements, per se, is that they tend to make the gospel hostage to particular political agendas. You may wrap the cross in the flag and make God a prop for the state. And this is a grave danger.”
I would say that has happened on both sides of the aisle to the Church and for reasons I can’t quite get, Christians seem to be among the most naïve of all people and are used and abused by both political parties and what we’ve lost is our greater and most important message. And we’ve been tagged because of how we’ve behaved, especially when gathered, that we’re really the people that are just for this or against that.
And that’s happened on the Right and it’s happened on the Left. This is not a Liberal or Conservative issue.
So what’s the answer? Principle number three: Don’t expect the Church to accomplish what only individual believers can achieve. See what a lot of people want to do is say, “If you would do this, if you preach on this, if we do that, if we interview candidates, if we do that, if we take a stand on proposition 1, 4, 7, 9, 2, 13, if we have flyers, if we have voting guides, if we do…”
Don’t ask the Church to accomplish what only an individual believer can achieve. All those things are too low and too small a priority of the overarching message of exalting Christ and the message of redemption, when we’re gathered.
However, the Scripture is clear, believers have dual citizenship and we’ll be held accountable before God for faithfulness in both arenas. Separation is not the answer. Activism in the Church gathered is not the answer. The answer is one word. Are you ready for this? Individual penetration.
At the end of the day, we want the government to change things, we want the Church gathered to change things, and here’s what Jesus would say: “You are the light. You are the salt. And you are the leaven.”
Changing in laws, changing in Boards of Education, changings in values, changing in the greatest needs, that’s not the Church gathered, that’s you and me, individually, saying, “You know what? I’m going to be informed. You know what? I’m going to vote. You know what? I’m going to find a calling on my life to meet the deepest needs and I’m going to engage. I’m going to get off of talk radio and blogging about stuff and I’m going to get out and do stuff that brings about real, concrete change in hurting people’s lives, in laws that need to be changed.
“I’m not going to ask the Church to do that. I’m not going to just be a mouth that talks about, ‘We ought to do this and we ought to do that and can you believe how terrible things are?’”
I love what my friend, Tony Evans, he wrote a tiny, little book called How Should Christians Vote? And he has one chapter, I loved it, it’s on, “Is God a Democrat or a Republican?” Classic.
And what he says in this is probably different than you could ever imagine. It’s very insightful.
Tony writes, “The Scripture clearly states the role of the believer, in the midst of society,” and then he quotes a very famous authority on what our role in society, individually, should be.
“You are the salt of the earth but if the salt becomes tasteless how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under-foot by men. You are the light of the world. You are a city set on a hill, a city that can’t be hidden. Nor does anyone take a light or a lamp and put it under a basket but they put it on a lampstand and it gives light to all who are in the house.
“So let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Does anyone recognize that authority? It’s Jesus. He’s quoting Matthew 5. And then I love the paragraph:
“Our job as Christians is to infiltrate where the bacteria of unrighteousness and darkness have permeated and made themselves at home. It is our job to act as salt and light in both parties and offer the kingdom’s point of view. One way you do that in a constitutional republic is through your vote.”
See at the end of the day I think what’s happened is that many of us want someone else to accomplish what God says is your job. My job.
What’s your calling?
Now for all of us – informed. All of us – registered to vote and vote. Are you ready for this? If we believed in dual citizenship, how in the world do we have sixty million evangelicals in the United States, and in the last presidential election only twenty million voted?
The research I did on very specific propositions, on very specific judges, on very specific candidates, often the swing of who wins is by a few hundred or a few thousand votes. Two thirds of all the people say, “I love Jesus with all my heart,” and listen to talk radio, and probably blog about how terrible things are.
Two thirds of them don’t participate. See, I think you’ll be held personally accountable, and I’ll be held personally accountable.
Now, if I was in Communist China I don’t get to vote. I get to be a citizen, I get to live out my faith, and the moment they tell me I can’t do something that God says I have to do, then I exercise civil disobedience.
So I might be a Daniel and say, “You know, I’m sorry, you know something? You can tell me I can’t pray. I’m going to pray. You put me in jail, you put me in jail.”
But there’s a role for participation. And then there’s a calling. There are some people in this room that you ought to be on a Board of Education. There are people in this room that you ought to be leading the precinct in your party.
There are people in this room that are probably younger, you should be asking yourself, “Does God want me to be the governor of this state?” For some of your kids you ought to be training them saying, “You know what? We’re going to need a godly, Christian president someday.” And maybe one of your sons or one of your daughters…
We’ve retreated and we’ve said, “The government solves the problems or get the Church to be a big political bully.” Both of those are wrong. The government can restrain evil and the Church can make disciples and we are the salt and the light and the leaven.
And we gotta be careful about how we talk. And we gotta be careful that we don’t get pictured as, “Oh, you’re that hardcore Republican.” Or, “You’re that Democrat.” Or, “You always look at these things and you’re the person who sends me these emails.”
People need to know you, first and foremost, as a man, a woman, or a student of God. Humbled by your love for God, humbled by your winsome, holiness. Humbled by the tactfulness in which you share what you believe and why you believe it.
And then they ought to watch a life that’s making a difference. And who participates. And lovingly, tactfully, caringly shares, “These are my convictions about these issues that are going to frame our culture for the next fifty years and this is why.”
That’s what the early Church did. Turn the clock back fifty years. Christianity was almost foreign in Korea. And then what you saw the birth of the Church that created an entire system where laws got changed and different people, the president of Korea right now is a born again Christian. I have a friend that meets with him on a regular basis.
Think of Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe and the Wall didn’t fall out of political, external. The Wall fell, and if you understand the story of what happened among the believers, and the prayer movements, and the… all of a sudden the people said, “We can’t live under this anymore.”
Can I tell you something? The Bay Area doesn’t have to stay the way the Bay Area is, and this country doesn’t have to stay the way it is, but it’ll only change when you change.
It’s not going to, you know what? I don’t know who’s going to win the next election. But I’ll guarantee, we’re not going to have, “Chhh, chhh!” But I know whoever wins I’m commanded to pray for him.
But I’ll tell you what, it can change in your neighborhood, it can change around here, and as it changes with believers, that’s how God’s always worked.
I have a word to the separatist. Do not ask others to do the work that God has called you to do. Okay? You have dual citizenship. Don’t you say, “Well I don’t want any involvement in politics in any way, someone else take care of that.” Sorry. That’s not one of the options.
And my word to the activist: Please don’t demand that your personal calling and your personal passion in your views, politically, become one that all of us have to share and be promoted from the Church gathered. Okay?
I’m glad you know more than anyone else, you can Facebook all your friends, you can help people learn, you can run for office, you can make a difference. But we have different people and different calling and more than anything else you need to sit next to people and realize that your commitment as a citizen of heaven and a brother and sister in Christ must override any of your strong, passionate political views that would cause division in the body of Christ.
They’ll know us, according to Jesus, by our love, not our political activity. Should you have political activity? Absolutely. But that’s your personal calling. Do what God shows you to do. Don’t demand that when we’re gathered that that becomes the agenda.