Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ultimate Hope is Not Political

Steve Monsma, a senior research fellow at the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College and author of Healing for a Broken World, recently received a brochure from an evangelical organization. The pamphlet stated,

With strategic partnerships in Washington, D.C., it [the organization] is able to be proactively involved in the effort to reclaim America for Christ. Whether delivering petitions; encouraging constituents to respond to critical legislation with letters, faxes, phone calls, and email; fighting for qualified judicial nominees; or registering voters; the [name of organization] aims to provide a megaphone for the collective voice of Christ's church.

Reflecting on this, Monsma comments, "There is a problem here, is there not? How, according to this brochure, is America to be reclaimed for Christ? Not by Christians preaching the gospel, not by winning their neighbors to Christ, not by Christian husbands and wives creating homes of mutual respect and love. No, it is by political means: petitions, constituent pressures or public officials, working to affect the judicial nomination process, and voting. It is assumed that America can be led back to Christ by political means. But this cannot be right. Whenever in history the church has tried to advance the gospel by political means, the church has been corrupted and the gospel dishonored."

This story was brought to my mind after some recent comments on this blog. I am reminded that over the last quarter century, many Christians in America have developed the belief that our greatest responsibility is to affect change as citizens of an earthly nation. But even a cursory reading of scripture reminds us that first and foremost we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and our ultimate responsibility is to live as one devoted to the Ruler of that realm. It is unfortunate that so many people get red-faced and wound up in an effort to mobilize Christianity into some political force to fulfill their duties as followers of Jesus Christ. On the contrary, our duties are fulfilled when we live like Jesus--preaching the Gospel, serving the sick and poor, and feeding the hungry. 

We have a responsibility to be involved in the political process of this great nation, and if you have followed this blog for very long, you know I take my civic responsibility very seriously. We should rise up to oppose injustices and make good use of our political system. Yet, I am increasingly concerned by the number of Christians who go well beyond this. They fly into an apoplectic panic over political disagreements, reactively fling weak arguments like horseshoes on Independence Day, and demonize any who dare to disagree. We of all people should know that ultimate hope is not found in the hallowed halls of Washington, but in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps if we spent more time mobilizing people to serve others and share Christ, our communities and even our country would realize the change we so badly desire. 

Just my thoughts. What are yours?

10 comments:

robert fortner said...

Several times during His earthly ministry, Jesus was confronted by skeptics who asked Him to give them a sign to prove that He was truly sent from God. Essentially asking Him when He was going to cut out all of the "love one another" stuff and form a rebellion bent on wresting power from their Roman conquerors. The Master gave various answers to these inquiries, but they pretty much all boiled down to this;

“Sure, I’ll give you a sign, but it won’t be the type of sign that you expect. I am not going to restore Solomon’s kingdom of riches and glory, here and now, on this earth. I am not going to defeat your oppressors, the Romans, and drive their armies into the sea. No, the sign that I will give you is my life and the lives of my followers after I am gone. They will embrace the Gospel that I bring, and they will serve and give to others, and they will Love each other.”

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13: 34-35

It was a great idea. In fact, if we indeed did live our lives in imitation of His, our witness would be irresistible. If we ever got past our self obsession, if we were able to always take a compassionate attitude towards the rest of the world, if we took care of the poor and the weak; if we were really the antithesis of our nation’s culture of pride, lust, and greed, if we would rather be helpful than powerful, faithful rather than successful, loving rather than loved, then the world would truly witness the Gospel lived out on the earth again.

The pitiful few who do aspire to these heights are easily ignored by society, simply because their number is so small that they can be dismissed as a fringe element. However, if the hundreds of thousands who claim to be “Christians” really were to quit trying to rule, and start to serve, they would quickly overwhelm the world.

If that many people were really filled with the Love, Grace, Mercy, commitment, and generosity exhibited by Christ - and were willing to reflect these qualities, that truly represent Christ, to a starving world - then (and only then) I believe the world would see real change.

Iam4Jesus said...

Great post JM!

"But even a cursory reading of scripture reminds us that first and foremost we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and our ultimate responsibility is to live as one devoted to the Ruler of that realm." - Excellent.

An interesting thing has happened here in the PA government recently. The church has been given favor. Not because we have been pressuring the Government and trying to sway the vote - but becuase we have been loving them. In fact, a group of pastors (46 actually) including some from my church were at the capital a few weeks ago to take a prophetic and scriptural tour of the capital building. (I can explain that later if needed). My senior Pastor was asked to take the place of the Senate Chaplain and open the day's business with prayer. After that - the speaker of the senate in an unprecedented act by the Governor (Rendell) asked a few of the pastors to come meet with him in his office. The pastors were instructed, 'this will be a brief greeting, the Gov doesn't like too many people, and his not very personal (he doesn't like to be touched etc...) upon meeting him, Rendell took my pastor's hand in his own and asked them to pray for him....My pastor told us that he was scared and didn't know what to do - but in that moment of weakness is when the Lord is able to work the greatest....They were praying with the Gov in his chambers for over 20 minutes.

The Governor has asked them to come back again to meet & pray with him this week.

He has also given us Harrisburg's "City Island" to use in September for a regional day of prayer....

These are just 2 examples of how the Kingdom of God advances it's heavenly agenda...in our humble obedience and weakness, in faith, can He work in favor and grace...

Great post JM. *applause*

Jonathan Merritt said...

Robert-

Beautifully said. Thanks for those words.

Jonathan

Jonathan Merritt said...

IAM4JESUS,

Thanks for the good words ... and applause. :)

Jm

Stephen said...

For me, involvement beyond informing myself on issues and voting seems futile.

Hope, if placed in the system, will surely fail us. Same with freedom/liberty. I like Libertarians, but they are often hung up on this quest to aquire their "God given" rights or freedoms.

The problem is that ours is a "worldly" government and can't offer it's citizens "God given" freedom because it is not Godly.

Politics can and has brought good things to it's people now and again, but is unreliable to say the least. I feel that if we as Christians are to engage or engage in politics to achieve one thing or another, we should not chase the power offered to us by the world, and engage in a power accumulation game. Politics is divisive enough as it is, then adding in money and issues of faith in a secular culture only fuels the fire. I agree totally with Obama when he says that faith can and should mingle be able to mingle, but is only effective if a common ground is sought out to begin the discussion.

Ultimately though, we must see Jesus bearing His cross for what it is. Kingdom Freedom. The kind of Freedom that allows Jesus to ignore the oppression from worldly kingdoms, seemingly oblivious to the brutality and anticipating His return Home.

What would happen if we were to focus on bearing our cross, just as Jesus calls us to do and exemplified for us?

If we continue to put our hope for provision and security into a greedy and oppressive system, we risk our delivery from bondage.

Robert put it this way:

"If we ever got past our self obsession, if we were able to always take a compassionate attitude towards the rest of the world, if we took care of the poor and the weak; if we were really the antithesis of our nation’s culture of pride, lust, and greed, if we would rather be helpful than powerful, faithful rather than successful, loving rather than loved, then the world would truly witness the Gospel lived out on the earth again."

If we learn to identify with the agony and rejection of Christ on the cross, we can be sure to be a despised annoyance to the rulers of this world. We should not feel at home here, we should welcome the rejection from our culture. It's proof we don't belong here and that our True King awaits us.

In my opinion; we can vote for, desire, and work toward "change" all we want--let's just put our "Hope" and Faith into our True King and live as though we are resident-aliens anticipating our return Home.

Chase said...

Joseph, Esther, Mordecai, Nehemiah, Daniel

Examples of those who demonstrated influence and leadership on and within the political arena, all in pagan administrations, with historical and redemptive impacts on their respective cultures and the world over. Wilberforce and MLK, Jr. (on, not necessarily from within) are a couple examples from more modern times. And certainly there are countless numbers whom we will never know about until we reach the Other Side.

Politics, like education, the arts, the workplace, etc., is just one of many societal and cultural sectors where God wants to see His creation redeemed. For the follower of Christ, we each have a part and God has given each his/her calling. For some, it’s a specific calling for a season (“a time such as this”), and others for a lifetime, but both for the ultimate purpose of glorifying God.

While at times I may question the strategy and tactics of some who claim to be followers of Christ, I cannot help but wonder what my reaction would have been had I been living in the days of some the prophets who were called to do some downright weird (and offensive) things like marry a harlot or walk around naked for a time. Time and again, God proves my assumptions of His ways to be shortsighted or just plain wrong. So whether it’s carrying out my day job, casting a vote or participating in a politically-oriented event, finding ways to serve the least among us, or analyzing the actions of others, I, for one, am finally starting to realize that it might do me well to ask Him to align my thoughts to His, and then concurrently, my ways (actions and reactions) to His (Isa. 55:8-9).

Jonathan Merritt said...

Chase,

Setting aside for a moment that none of the Old Testament examples given sought it out through political activism but were clearly placed in that position by God for a specific, holy purpose (Joseph was chosen for service by Pharaoh, Daniel was asked to advise by the King, Esther married into it, etc.), I would like to know your answer you the most important question for situation of Christian Ethics:

Where is Jesus in your view? How does his life, ministry, example correspond to the way you think we should correspond to government?

Jm

Ethan said...

Great post Jonathan.

Chase said...

Where is He in my view? He’s transforming and redeeming culture through His children, empowered with His Spirit in the execution of His gifts as He has distributed them. He’s there:

with the business man volunteering his time and skills to equip community orgs in fundraising or more efficient operations;

with the film producer creating a documentary of the white, middle class family that moved from the ‘burbs into the inner city to invest their lives in the least and forgotten;

with the artist who delights in exhibiting a smidgen of God’s creative attribute as he/she builds his/her latest masterpiece;

with the CEO, who for the first time, sees his business and influence as a resource that God wants to use for Kingdom impact with his employees, his community, and his industry;

with the former accountant turned social entrepreneur who scrapes together resources to start a nonprofit to teach unskilled workers basic job skills, ultimately lending micro-loans to those who “graduate”, and coaching them as their businesses, self confidence, and self-worth grow;

with the preacher/social activist leading marches for life, freedom, equality, and civil rights at the state or national capitol;

with local churches exhorting and connecting their members with opportunities to meet needs, create Kingdom relationships, including the outcasts of society, and use their gifts to advance the Kingdom in their communities and spheres of influence;

with collaborations of local churches who marshal their resources, uniting across race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, to offer health care services, feed the hungry, and end child sex trafficking;

None of these do justice to the totality of where He is in my view, but I hope they get the point across: He’s redeeming His creation, in and through His children scattered throughout all segments of society--including government--to bring good news to the poor; to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to set free those who are bound. If I still need to explain the relevance of the OT examples I listed in my original post, I’m sure you will let me know.

tmamone said...

I agree. Faith in Christ may inspire activism (which is definitely not a bad thing), but social change is not Jesus' main mesasge. It's about Him setting the wrong things right. It's about how He sacrificed His own life so we can be reconciled with God.