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The Church and Politics, Part 1

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 he begins a discussion, in this message, about both of those subjects - The Church AND politics!

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Message Transcript

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.”