A Partisan Church: The Effect of Politics on the Gospel of Grace

The World Has Changed

It’s getting to the point where it is hard to ignore the volume of political speech on social media. I don’t know if you have noticed it. We may have been there for quite some time. We may have just hoped it would trend back in the other direction.

We can no longer escape the obvious fact that the world has changed. And that it has not been for the better. The drift away from faith in God has become more pronounced. More than I have ever seen it in my lifetime. When I look at the world I sense the fraying of edges of our shared experiences. They seem to be fewer and farther between.

The passions of so many are being constantly inflamed, and not in a healthy way. The rhetoric of so called thought leaders is getting evermore hostile, with the stakes being raised everyday. The opinions of an ever growing percentage of the population is solidifying in ways that defy reasonable discourse. Where is all of this leading us? We are beginning to see the first signs of what led to the Tower of Babel. We have started to believe that we are a species on ascendancy. But we are merely laying the foundation of our own destruction.

The Spiritually Blind Are Driving Now

Jesus looked at the wise and the educated of his day and chided them, calling out their hypocrisy. Jesus exposed the duplicity of claiming earthly wisdom as a cover for not having true divine insight. He listened to their bombastic claims and marveled at the the shallowness of their purported knowledge.

1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. (Matthew 16:1-4 ESV, emphasis added)

The same is true today. Too many claiming the name of Christ behave and speak as if they know what is “really” happening around them and in the world at large. But they fail to discern that only God superintends the affairs of men. Just ask Abraham or Jacob or King David or the Apostle Peter if they knew what God was “really” doing? No they didn’t and God was walking with them, talking to them, and they still didn’t understand. They still couldn’t see.

The Church Has Been Enthralled By Another Lover

If that were not bad enough. What is most disheartening is that this trend has taken root in the Church as well. We have begun to measure the “goodness” or “vileness” of a person by what hashtags they do or do not confess and promote. The pithy slogans of divergent factions have begun to affect how the church engages the important questions of justice and reconciliation (to name just a couple). 

The modified and augmented versions of these beautiful concepts have shifted the focus from God’s character onto the unbridled sentiments of human imagination. We have substituted the grace of an impartial God for the vengeance of an impassioned politico. Seeming to always question the motives of the former and accepting as pure those of the latter. The people of Israel made this mistake too. They preferred the onions and bricks of their former masters to the milk and honey of the one true God. The pain we know has become better to us than the peace we do not. This is the trap. One that has been sprung on us over and over again. 

 We are hoping to fashion a new world in our own image. An image we forget the moment we move away from the mirror. We just cannot seem to see that this is a project that has never worked and never will. We are trying to create life with borrowed clay.

The Truth Gets More Painful…the Longer We Wait

Now, I’m not saying that there are not problems that need to be addressed. There certainly are. What I am saying is that any and every attempt made from a terrestrial framework will fail. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But eventually. It will come to a disastrous conclusion. We have an avalanche of historical reference points demonstrating the results of human political and societal ingenuity. They have marked the landscape of history with the bones and graves of the countless nameless dead.

And this is the problem and outworking of Adam and Eve’s sin. They thought that because physical death did not meet them at the moment of sin and disobedience, that somehow they had outwitted God. That they had outmaneuvered the omniscient Creator. This is the great folly of sin. Punishment delayed is not punishment denied. The day of reckoning will come.

No dear friends, you have not outsmarted God. I have not.

The unfortunate trajectory of a politicized Church is an impotent and neutered “gospel”. That is to say, there is no gospel at all. And the fact that the Gospel shall endure is not because of any strength in us. No, it is by God’s good grace that the Church will not die, even if it finds its numbers contracted for a time.

I cannot sustain the Church. Only God can do that.

I cannot grow the Church. Only God can do that.

I cannot improve the Church. Only God can do that.

We must stop behaving as if we are not contributing to the decline. The problem plaguing the Church is not what we are being told by the mouthpieces of our culture. The loudest voices are not the most correct. They are merely drowning out the still small voice of God.

The problem the world is facing, the church is facing, is in fact not something new. It is the only problem that has hampered the human race from the moment of creation. We like to think we are like God. That we can eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and suffer no consequences. 

It May Be Too Early To Agree, but it’s Not Too Early to Tell

Am I overstating the situation? I don’t think so. I may only be saying it too early. There are still too many who want to give this old approach a new try. Always with the same refrain: “Our predecessors just did it wrong. But we have learned from their mistakes.”

No, we have not learned. The well-intentioned goals of broken people mean nothing when built upon the faulty foundation of human will. The human being simply does not have the moral engine required to move the sin-soaked-souls of men one molecule in the direction of righteousness.

Yes, I am speaking too soon. There are not enough ready to hear what I am saying. Too many have vested too much of themselves into their “side”. A side that stands in opposition to the character and will of God. I may be speaking too soon, but I am not getting the result or effect wrong.

As a Christian, it is important to not lend our allegiance, whether actively or passively, to anything that clouds our witness. Anything that blurs the work of Christ is not worthy of our overt or tacit approval. It does not matter how well-intentioned the cause, the cost is too great.

The current cultural climate has highlighted several important realities. Realities that have been dismissed but cannot be denied any longer. I will simply list them without much commentary.

  1. Political speech is always partisan. No one who is political can be objective. That is a convenient lie we tell ourselves to assuage our consciences, but it is grounded in self-righteousness, not true holiness. Our politics are more transparently visible than we think. And some are too comfortable with that.
  2. Professional political pundits are not as good at what they do as they think. (See #1 above). What makes us think we can do it any better? We are far worse at it than we may wish to believe.
  3. We risk more of our witness than we can calculate when we enter into an arena in which we have no reason to be. (See #4 below).
  4. The truth of God supersedes the politics of our current national affiliation. If we claim to be Christians, we must remember we are not citizens of this world but of the kingdom of God. This means that we should not speak politically, but prophetically. (And if you can’t tell the difference refrain from doing it until you can. And if you think you can, you are probably wrong.)
  5. This one is directed specifically at pastors. You can be a pundit or a pastor, not both. Thinking you can be is part of the problem. If your punditry is more important to you than your prophecy, it may be time for a change of vocation. Punditry is a seductive harlot and she ravages all who entertain her advances.

A partisan church is not the church of Jesus Christ. We must accept this to our shame and to our peril if we do not.

I offer this prayer in conclusion.

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

# 27, For the Peace of the World
A Book of Prayer and Order (2020), pg. 408

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