Two years ago I posted a blog (We Interrupt This Program…., 11/5/18) “on the eve of one of the most watched elections in US history, at a time when the country is more divided than ever” On the eve of the US Presidential election, those words seem even more accurate–and more ominous. What is most disconcerting, however, is this simple fact:

Not only is the country divided, but the church is more divided than she has ever been since the time of the American Civil War.

That might seem a shocking statement. But, if one just looks around at the manner in which Christians speak to each other about the election (and about each other, if they happen to hold opposing views), and the truth of that statement becomes undeniable. One look at social media, whether it be Twitter or Facebook will also corroborate the truth of that statement. 

What is the problem here? Is it that some are in error and have misunderstood biblical teachings? Certainly that is part of the problem. Is it that we have given into the flesh to the extent that we think we are right even at the expense of losing our moral compass? That too is a contributor. There are likely others. But those are only the symptoms of a bigger issue.

The church in America has forgotten her identity and her mission.

That again may sound like a shocking statement–and one that most churches and believers would deny. But think about it. Some have the idea that we are what we do. But that’s not true. We do what we are. A sinner can’t help but sin. A saint, one saved and bought by Christ, can’t help but grow. Unless he forgets his identity. Our thoughts and behaviors spring from two things: our perception of who we are (identity) and what we want to accomplish (goals).

So, we must ask ourselves, what is the identity of the church? Who are we as disciples? Looking at the behavior of many who claim the name of Christ, one would be justified in thinking that they view themselves simply as agents of change–and for many of them, any means are justified.

The Mission of the Church

Jesus gave one command to the disciples before His ascension. Most of us know it well:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

We often hear this called the Great Commission. It’s similar to a couple of other commands that Jesus identified for the disciples:

“[Y]ou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’ The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Wouldn’t you agree that those make up the top three commandments for the Christian?

Love God with everything you are.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Go out and make disciples.

Is this what we are seeing in the American church today? By and large, no. Many segments of “conservative Christianity” have become nothing more than another political action group. It’s common on social media to see more about the election and politics from Christians than messages about the gospel and encouraging other believers.

Some might object that we are supposed to go out and be the light, and be productive members of society, responsible citizens, etc. Yet, Jesus didn’t say “go out and be the light.” Here are His words:

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).

He said disciples are already salt and light. And in this passage, He says nothing about going. The tone of the passage is more, “As you are going and doing what I’ve commanded, let your light shine.” Yes, we should do “good works.” In the context of the times, however, it’s doubtful that Jesus (and later the NT writers) intended that to mean politics. Good works in those days always meant helping others.

Civilian Entanglements

Paul wrote to Timothy these words:

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him (2 Timothy 2:3-4).

What counts as a civilian pursuit? Anything not related to the soldier’s job. What is our job as soldiers of Christ? Referring back to our top three commandments:

Love God with everything you are.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Go out and make disciples.

Somehow those seem to preclude arguing with, bashing, and questioning the salvation of a believer with a different political perspective. We should remember that the Way of Christ is not a political philosophy. It rises far above and beyond any political systems and philosophies. It is not another way of life, whereby I impose my laws onto you. It is the good news that there is a way, through Christ, to have a relationship with God and be partakers of a far better world.

When we get entangled in civilian pursuits, we are divided. We must choose between our pursuits and what Jesus told us to do, which was to spread the gospel. If Paul could counsel Christians to not marry to avoid divided loyalties, isn’t it very likely he would give the same opinion about getting entangled in politics?

Questions and Answers

So, what are we saying here? That Christians shouldn’t vote? That Christians should stay out of politics altogether? As with many issues, there is no hard and fast rule to apply here. That would make things too easy, and not of faith.

First, nothing in this post is meant to suggest that a Christian should not vote as their conscience directs them–or to abstain as their conscience directs them. Voting is a right in America–and many say a responsibility in a republican society; we won’t tackle that thought here.

Here is John Wesley’s advice to voters in 1774:

1. To vote for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side

Looking at the current state of affair, it would seem Christians would do well to remember points 2 and 3.

Second, Christians should consider their level of politics. Contrary to certain political slogans and the still-present “Kingdom Now” theology, this country–and the world–continues to spiral downhill morally. Even with the best, purest motives and intentions, it’s inconceivable that a Christian man or woman can enter politics (either as a candidate or a serious voter) without being changed for the worse. When we consider the increasing hostility toward Christians and the gospel, that becomes even more problematic. But that also leads to another question, one that might trouble Christians, as it should:

Are believers becoming so involved in politics because they a) are scared to preach the gospel and see politics as the way of change; and/or b) do not fully believe the gospel and see politics as the way to effect change?

No doubt there will be strong reactions to this question. Many will reject it outright. Yet, the Bible tells us that, 

  • The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water (Proverbs 20:5). When we look at deep water, we cannot see what lies beneath. Often we act on motives that we ourselves don’t understand.
  • The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Often we don’t know our own hearts. We must ask the Lord to search us and know us, to see if there be any wicked way in us (Ps. 139:23-24).
  • There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 14:12). Man’s way always leads to division, destruction, and death. The way of the cross, however, leads to life (though there is a death involved, it is death to the flesh).

That question is one that only the individual can answer, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. No one else, no matter how spiritual, can answer it for you. 

What is the solution then? As with all spiritual matters, repentance is the solution. We must change the way we are thinking, and then act accordingly. If, in the political struggles of this election cycle we have injured other brothers and sisters in the faith, then we have a mandate from Christ to go to them and seek to repair those breaches. 

The church must pray. The church must reclaim her identity as the Body of Christ, left here on earth to spread the gospel, both in word and deed. Politics will not have the eternal change that is found in the gospel. The church must pray that she will again be united–not as a massive political organization, but as the one voice of the Lord here on earth to speak His saving truth until He returns. Yes, we must pray for our nation and it’s leaders. We are commanded to do so. But the church must reclaim her identity–or risk losing the very witness that the Lord left her on this earth for.

When the church does these things, then she will be obeying those tope three commands:

Love God with everything you are.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Go out and make disciples.

[Note: For a similar but different perspective, see this wonderful blog that a friend shared while this blog was being prepared: Stepping Away From Un-Christian Politics (8/11/20).]

[For those of you reading this blog outside the US, please pray for the church, as we pray for you. Please also share this post, and see how the truths spoken of here apply to your country.]

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