politics and the Christian

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Matthew 22:15-22

Recently I heard a recording of a sermon Tim Keller delivered entitled Arguing About Politics. Even if I may not track fully with him, I think it was insightful and thought provoking. Worth a listen. The elephant in the room nowadays is politics, and especially Christian involvement in it. And the inherent divisiveness which ever has been a part of the political process seems to have reached a point in which the United States itself is in danger of being torn apart. Hopefully it’s not that bad, but the talk on the ground, influenced by some outlets of the media is often caustic.

Jesus was up against it because he was indeed the Messiah, but not in the way most every Jew anticipated. In some way he was to rule politically no less, and ultimately over the whole world. Rome would certainly be taken care of.  His answer to the question put to him by the Jewish leaders who were trying to trap in him in what he said, was mind boggling to them. It sidestepped the trap they had set for him, because he didn’t answer it in their book, yet he really did answer it.

Jesus’s kingdom, as he told Pilate is not from this world, we can say not of this world, but definitely for this world. It is obviously never in the terms of this world; it is gospel derived and ends up rooted in the church because the church is rooted in Christ who is both its foundation and cornerstone. In a sense the church is Christ, being Christ’s body. And where Christ is, the kingdom of God is present. And that kingdom is not only internal, though certainly it is, and Jesus did make a big deal out of that. But it is about and for all of life. But it can’t be tied to a political party, since it can never be allied to such, nor could it become a political party and player in this world. It is rather a world itself, yet present for this world. And hopefully can impact even the political parties of this world.

This is all certainly a controversial theological matter: there is the Augustinian and Lutheran two kingdom approach, the Anabaptist approach which sees a stark often antagonistic contrast between God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of the world, etc. I don’t mean to get into any of that, even if it’s probably not altogether possible to avoid it. But the point of this post is simply that we need to be sensitive to obligations ultimately given to us by God. The tax was not much really, but it was symbolic. As a captive people, you owe this to your captors. Jesus said, “Pay it.” But he also said that they’re to give to God what is God’s. Which really means heart and soul and life: everything. And in the way God prescribes: for the poor, etc.

In the United States’s democratic republic, Christians will disagree over how much they should get involved in politics, and even over who to vote for, or how to look at various issues. It’s not like Rome’s iron clad rule where Christians had no choice but to comply. But how we do this, how we treat each other and others, regardless of what politician we support, how we do that should be different than the world in that it’s clear that the one we follow above all else is Christ. That we are never beholden to any other person or party except Christ and God’s kingdom come in him. That doesn’t mean that we won’t hold American political views, because we obviously will. But it’s how we do so that’s vitally important. At the end of the day our witness should point others to Christ, and never to any mere human, regardless of how well we might think of them ourselves.

Jesus was faithful to who he was, his calling, God’s kingdom present in him: the king. And he calls us to no less than the same in our faith and practice. In and through Jesus.

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avoiding a destructive divisiveness

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Titus 3:9-11

Just open your mouth nowadays and you’ll be controversial. There’s not much room for discussion or taking into account the complexity of anything. It’s black or white; you’re either for or against. And that actually does push people into a corner to have to decide that way, when so many issues are complicated and open to different interpretations.

It’s hard to know when to speak out, and when not to. The church as a whole does well to stick to the gospel and avoid divisive matters such as politics, while being willing to address moral issues, but in a way which does not support one political party or another. And that takes plenty of wisdom, but it’s worth the effort.

I wonder, and am inclined to think that some Christians can and should speak out in ways which might tip their hand as to how they think politically, even though there should be no doubt as to where their prime allegiance lies. There were prophets in the Bible, and I’m especially thinking of the Old Testament, who decried what was happening in society, especially the evil being done by God’s covenant people against the poor and downtrodden.

One thing for sure: We need to avoid a divisiveness which detracts from the gospel. What we are about and here for is to see the gospel impact people’s lives, and hopefully the world at large. And the gospel itself is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Any stands we take publicly as Christians, and especially as the church should be for the faith of the gospel. Anything less than that is detrimental to the gospel. For the gospel might include work done to influence or even undermine what is being done politically. But we should aim at it being a gospel work, not something that merely we ourselves do.

Much wisdom required; more than we ourselves have. But given to us preferably together by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

why I’m not much worried about the election, or upcoming elections

I will participate in the election tomorrow, and I do have opinions, some of them strong. And I have expressed concern over the incivility nationally on both sides, beginning in the White House. And not good in many places.

I think what the founding fathers of the United States struggled to put in place is strong enough to withstand the problems today, as long as citizens, and particularly those in governmental leadership continue that struggle. There is a good overview, well worth the time, on that. Although the subject matter may not seem to be directly applicable, I think it does get to the heart of what the American democratic republic is, never tried before in the separation of church and state: First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty.

I do share a concern over the United States, but my own biggest concern by far is the witness of the church in all of this. Yes, for the good of the nation, but above and beyond that, in view of God’s kingdom present in Jesus through the gospel. The church, and Christians should not be seen as either Republicans or Democrats. We are Christians and follow one Lord, Jesus. Because of that we’re going to run counter to prevailing thinking on a number of issues nowadays. And maybe considering the big picture, on some issues which likely won’t ever change. Though over time some may. And even Christians will disagree at times. One example: I’m for government mandated healthcare for all, but others are not. At the heart of that is the role of government, a debatable issue in itself. Christians are certainly not opposed to healthcare for all, the question is how to get there.

Whether we agree with what is in place or not, we’re to be in submission to such (Romans 13), and even to honor the office I take it, even if the one in place is not entirely honorable. We are to pray for all those who are in authority (1 Timothy 2). We may have to make appeals to such, and because of the democracy which the United States is, we can participate by lobbying for change, and voting.

Though God gives humans responsibility, God is ultimately in control (Psalm 75, etc.). We can and should participate insofar as our conscience dictates. But we should not be alarmists, nor should we think the world is on the line. At the same time, we need to be sensitive to real life issues out there, which are impacted by government, where perhaps laws are needed for the common good, and particularly for those who are marginalized. And we need to avoid readily taking on some kind of martyr complex, even if a political party or ideology is trying to force their will against us in a way which violates religious liberty. We should press for freedom in the public square for all, those religious as well as those who are non religious. In the midst of all of this, our final appeal is to God. As Christians and the church we live as Christians who happen to be American, along with those who are British, Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, etc., etc., etc.

And we need to remember that the power of God for salvation is only through the gospel, never through politics. The change needed will come only when people’s hearts are changed through the gospel, and by common grace. So that there’s a new standard in place for people of the world, including everyone. Christianity through the centuries, along with grave errors at times, has brought a world of good, such as hospitals, stands against slave trade and racism, protection for the unborn, etc.

I will vote, and will lose no sleep over the outcome. God is God. Our trust is in him, not in any president, any government, nor in ourselves.

 

 

looking beyond what’s in front of us

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:14-17

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:

“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”

This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.

Romans 15:14-22

Yesterday a number of us listened to a message which is well worth the barely over 30 minutes it takes to hear it, from a most respected evangelical thinker, Os Guinness. It was expansive, to the point, and most encouraging, all in one message, and that to a young evangelical student body at Biola University.

This got me to thinking. In some ways we always need to be looking beyond what’s immediately in front of us, and often shouting in our faces for our full attention. I don’t think Jesus was occupied with Herod, even though Herod was outstanding in his day, some of his greatest achievements near where Jesus lived. Certainly a mover, if not the mover and shaker of his day, at least in Palestine. Neither did Paul pay much attention to the Roman power except to use his Roman citizenship to move forward in preaching the gospel which even impacted the Roman emperor’s palace.

When will we wake up to really believe that it is the gospel of Christ that makes the needed difference in the world, and not Washington, or some world leader, or whatever else? We say one thing and may believe it to some extent, but we act as if we don’t. Other things clamor for and often get our full attention.

We as professing Christians have to ask ourselves if we really believe the gospel, and that it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, and that it’s what is needed in our world beyond anything else. And if we do, what difference that should make in our thinking and in our lives. Today there’s a mighty current pushing us in one direction, yes, with different reactions, but I’m afraid with the same result: leaving us high and dry, on empty, and more importantly, of no help to others at all, in fact all too often I’m afraid, just the opposite.

We don’t believe in the revolutionary change the gospel can bring, not only in individual lives, but in entire societies, and out from that impacting the entire world. We think the difference comes from elsewhere, really. The breath of heaven doesn’t make the impact we seem to think comes from other places. In our heads we may not believe that, but our hearts give us away. The heart is known not only by the words said, but the life lived, and how we preoccupy our time, again- what weighs on our thoughts.

In a time as critical as the time in which we live, with the dangers involved, comes a new opportunity for God to bring home to ourselves, and to many the real answer. Which when all is said and done will stand and go on. But will we answer this call, or not?

the opportunity the church has at the present moment

The too rough and tumble of US politics, departing from the ideal of friendly opposition in working through differences has indeed taken a nasty turn in recent years, beginning in recent decades. And the sad fact of the matter is that many of us Christians have joined in on both sides. I’ve also noticed those who have a certain clear cut view, yet remain relatively silent, not entering into the war of words.

A good number of us have seen the nation as on the edge of violence. Fortunately there are no clear boundaries for this, even with the red and blue states. But unfortunately that means the stark divisions are everywhere.

It is hard to know what to do. Clearly enough, part of Satan’s tactic right now is to set the bait for Christians to react, period. And it doesn’t even matter so much how we react, but just the fact that we’re doing so. Maybe with strong words in opposition to something, or defending what is questionable at best, and from whatever side.

Somehow the church must remain nonpartisan when it comes to the politics of this world. And let’s start at the most basic level: the church is never national in terms of any nation on earth, but it is of the kingdom of God in Christ. Now even this part is tricky because it’s not as if the church shouldn’t care about the nation in which it resides. But in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, Christians are indeed “resident aliens.”

Yes, we must somehow be above the fray, even if a few of us speak out against evils of this time: bigotry, violence beginning with words, blatant disrespect of others, little to no regard for truth telling, etc. We as Christians must come out from all of this, and be separate. We are indeed in the world, but not of it. Regardless of how we vote, whether we choose to or not, or whatever, we must be present to all in God’s love in Christ, each of us playing our small part. Committed completely only to Christ and the gospel, everything else in its place, but being secondary and subservient to that. In and through Jesus.

when it comes to the election and politics, first things first

I am thankful to live in the United States, a nation which in spite of all its problems (and you can’t escape serious difficulties in this world) does allow people to worship as they please. There is no question that there are serious issues which very much engage the public. And to list them would not be hard for anyone who pays any attention at all to the news.

I think it’s fine for Christians to be involved in speaking out on political issues, and especially to participate in voting, if they so choose. But of first importance always is to be faithful to the gospel, both in one’s personal life, and out from that, into the lives of others. Jesus called his disciples to make more disciples of all nations to the end of the age, with the promise of his presence. That is our calling, regardless of what happens in the political world.

I think it’s essential for Christians to take care in the political choices they make, particularly when it comes to alliances with any party or candidate. In a sense we should be for all the parties and candidates, and those in office, because we wish for the good of all, and for the good of the nation in which we live. Even when we stand in opposition to them on certain issues.

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming election, and elections elsewhere in the world, Christ is the one who reigns, and God is sovereign over all. Christians where they can, can express their views, but we must get back to first things first. It is the gospel, the good news in Christ which is the power of salvation for all who believe. And we are to be disciples of our Lord, following him in all of life. Everything else is secondary to that.

We must beware of getting caught up into the political wind to the extent that it marks what we are all about, our identity, either in supporting or opposing this or that. I’m referring to Christians in general, not to those who are actually in the process as candidates themselves.

Following Christ as believers and as the church might well involve some public stands. But I wonder if it might be different if we avoid following either the conservative or progressive line. We can and probably should consider what people are saying from every angle. That is important, since as people of God it is good for us to understand our times, if we’re to know what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32). But what we do, including what we say and don’t say, how we act should all be dependent on one thing only: Christ, and God’s will in him, or the truth as it is in Jesus.

Let’s not lose the sense of who we are because of the strong opinions which we or others hold. We will be concerned about the unborn, immigrants, the environment, and other matters, and will have our views. What must not be lost in the shuffle is how first and foremost, beyond anything else, we are disciples of Christ, servants of the gospel. Our lives marked by that, come what may.

the real world: Christians and the state/politics

The idea of “the real world” can be as different as night and day in what Christians mean, and from that, how they act. John Stackhouse, a Baptist theologian, believes something like a kind of realism which accepts the good and bad, along with the limitations in government, and makes the most of it, of course trying to arrive to what’s best, but realizing there will inevitably be shortfalls and issues and new problems will arise. Then there’s the meaning of “the real world” which might come from what’s called a Christian anarchist position, here summarized well by Greg Boyd. It basically takes the position that what happens in worldly government is rather beside the point for the follower of Christ. They should be living with one world in mind, God’s kingdom present in Jesus. So for them, that’s the real world. The rest is a charade, or worse. Destined for God’s judgment.

I see something of both perspectives when I look at scripture. The realism advocated which says Christians can and even should get their hands dirty by getting involved in civil societies, of course doing so with integrity and Christian truth, we can see clearly enough in Daniel, and to some extent, arguably, in the New Testament itself. The other position is clearly seen in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What Jesus calls his disciples to, God’s kingdom present in him, certainly political itself in that it is a way of life under his rule.

What might be a determining factor is to read what follows in what unfolds after Christ’s resurrection and ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit. It does seem to emphasize what our witness in the world is to be as the church and as believers. It really doesn’t say anything about Christians serving in government, but rather how Christians are to respond to government. There are instances of people in the New Testament who have faith and serve in government positions.

So at this point I think like life, it’s complex. It is easy to simply withdraw. But it seems to me more Jesus-like to remain in society, but with a different message. After all, if we don’t have a different answer, then what is distinctive about us as Christians? Isn’t what we’re called to live, and if necessary die for, the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus? Regardless of just how we come down on the question of Christians and the state, there should be no question that this is what distinguishes us from the world.

And that will require a different track and wisdom, I think, then what we see from either the Christian left or Christian right in the United States. Both fail in compromising by not holding to the gospel as paramount in every consideration. Miserably. I take neither one of them seriously at all, myself. Both fail because in one way or another, their witness to Christ and the gospel is compromised. That ought to be our first and foremost concern: how will what we do or not do in the world impact our witness to Christ?

Maybe the best position is to leave the answer a bit nebulous, uncertain, but major on what we do know is our calling: to be faithful to Christ and the gospel. We must avoid any position that mixes the cross and the flag together. However we think our responsibilities to the state are to be played out, like paying taxes, and honoring those in authority, we must make it clear to all that Christ’s kingdom is different, not from this world, though down to earth, but in a completely different way. We certainly do good works to help people in need, and solve problems.

Something for our consideration, or at least what I’ve been considering lately. As we ponder what it means as Christians and the church to be a faithful witness in the world. In and through Jesus.