I went to bed last night with a heavy heart. The events that transpired and the responses of many people, both within my circle and in the general population, left me with a sense of foreboding. There is something wrong in this nation. This feeling reached a high intensity yesterday, leaving me fatigued. But in my spirit I don’t believe we have crested the hill yet. I pray I am wrong. But again, as a student of Scripture and human nature I fear I am not. I believe there is worse yet to come.
In order to contextualize my thoughts I need say a few things first. About 11 years ago I had a conversation with a dear friend. We were journeying in a process of discipleship and he asked me a question. One that I “knew” the answer to, but I had never been asked out loud. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but it had to do with what I believed God had called and commissioned me to do with my life in the body of Christ. When me met one week later I shared the answer with him. I believe that I am called to serve the Church. Not to a church. But to the whole of the body of Christ. But even as I serve a local congregation, my eyes are keenly vigilant to the greater purposes of God for those who have called upon the name of Jesus in faith.
I can honestly say, I have not always understood or appreciated what that calling means. Today I feel I have a better grasp on what I means for me. But I will proceed cautiously.
Our Current Situation
I have not felt the weight of this purpose as strongly as I have in the last 12 months. And in the last 24 hours the magnitude of it has only increased. I am fighting back tears as I write this. My heart breaks for the Church. She has been scandalized and ridiculed from without and within. She has been taken advantage of for personal gain and used as a toy by some who have been called to lead her and be her. The damage has been extensive. The trail of the carnage left in the wake of these acts of malfeasance has become incalculable. The harm has been catastrophic for those who have had to endure this abuse. And the few left willing to pick up the pieces are struggling under the weight of it all.
For the better part of twenty years I have found and grounded my sense of identity in ministry in the life of the Prophet Jeremiah. A man who’s example scares me as much as it inspires me. What I was not wise enough to see as a younger man, and what I have come to realize as I have become older, is that we often pray for peace when discipline is about to be handed down. Jeremiah understood this better than most.
The problem with this is, as I learned as a child, most often it is too late to stay the hand of discipline when it is coming down on you. And as my siblings learned, discipline will fall on all of us regardless of the level of culpability.
The Pieces of a Broken Nation
What we saw in the reports coming out of Washington, D. C., and what I am seeing from a smaller circle of friends on social media is what I believe to be an unfortunate misunderstanding of what is happening. Too many in the Church seem to believe what we see happening is political. That what has happened is the breakdown of the political processes of this nation. So the accusations from every side are being thrown around. Blame is being assigned, but no responsibility is being claimed. Those who support the President are calling out the hypocrisy of those who don’t. And those who support the President-elect are acting like they have been vindicated against the other side. Do you see the problem? It’s taken me some time to see it too.
There are Christians on both sides of this divide. There are Christians throwing arrows at each other about who supported who, and what that says about the “other.” We have reduced righteousness to political affiliation. And do you know who is right? The devil.
The Sin of This Current Moment Revealed
I am going to say this as simply as I can. I don’t care who you voted for. And I don’t care why you did it. We were wrong in doing it. Not because it was a sin to participate in the civic process. And not because one candidate was better than the other. We were wrong because of the result.
We were wrong because of the chaos it has created. And we are wrong in the rationalizations and justifications and smug retorts that are being thrown around. We have sinned against each other by standing in judgment over one another. There are too many Christians today who think that God is on their side of this political disaster. He’s not. And he never has been. And to say otherwise is to reveal our idolatry.
A political victory is not the grounds for calls to repent. Or for admonitions for reconciliation.
This is why making public political statements has been forbidden in our local congregation since its founding. And it has been the practice of our Pastor for over 40 years of ministry. It breeds division. And it fosters pride. They do not lead to forgiveness or grace. Politics is about victory over an enemy. And if we view other Christians as enemies, we have forsaken the unity of the Spirit. We have become agents of division, all in the name of being proven right.
The church has been infiltrated and the battle line has been drawn within the four walls of our congregations! We have been encouraged to turn against each other over something that changes every 2 or 4 years. We have lost sight of the ultimate aim of the Church. Which has caused us to lose perspective of one another.
The Gospel is Our Only Hope
What is frustrating to the point of being maddening to those of us who see this festering problem, is we are made to feel like we are going crazy. Well, I’m not crazy.
Holding onto the Gospel as the only hope for humanity is not crazy.
Believing that Jesus is the only way to peace with God and neighbor is not crazy.
Struggling and fighting to live a life that is pleasing to God and satisfying to me is not crazy.
Serving those whom God has led me to cross paths with is not crazy.
What is crazy is thinking that any system—political or otherwise—in this world will accomplish anything remotely resembling heaven is not only foolishness bound up in madness, but it is bound to fail. Not because our efforts are not many, but because our strength is not sufficient to the task. Our good intentions are always tainted when not surrendered to the wisdom of God.
This has been the clever façade placed before us by the spiritual agents at work against us. Like a cat trying to catch the laser dot, we have been distracted by the superficial and the temporary.
“This is the most important election of our lifetime.” That’s what we have been told we are supposed to be focusing on. That’s like saying this is the most important breath of air you will take. There’s no end to this kind of histrionic thinking. And now we are seeing how this strategy has not done anything to advance the work of the kingdom of Christ. In fact, it has worked against the purposes of God.
We are Fighting the Wrong War
As Christians we are not in a battle with flesh and blood. Flesh and blood is the vehicle for spiritual warfare. The war that matters is fought in the prayer closet and in our own heart. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). And there are many strongholds in each and every congregation in this nation.
But, on the surface we are seeing the breaking down of a nation that no longer believes all its citizens are equal. And you can interpret that in anyway you want. Because there will be some kernel of truth to it regardless of your perspective.
What we are witnessing, in real time, is the disintegration of the social bonds that at one time held us together. And again, define that as you want, and you will probably be “correct” to some degree or another.
However, as a follower of Christ, I feel compelled to point out that what is happening in this nation, and has been happening for several decades, is not new. It is not recent. (Which is another convenient lie we believe and/or promote to justify our actions.) It is the the culmination of where we have been headed for some time. And the question we must ask is why?
Regardless of your understanding of the founding of this nation, what made America prosper was the presence of the Church. Everywhere the Church is, God is. It’s a promise. We are mobile temples of the Holy Spirit. And as long as we are abiding in Christ he is abiding in us. But there has been a drift in the Church in America over the last century. It has been steadily gaining speed. That drift has borne full bloom in our day. It is the substitution of our trust in God for a trust in government. And our move away from God leads to sins and eventually discipline.
The physical prosperity of the nation has eroded as the spiritual foundations of the Church have shifted. It is a pattern that is as old as the book of Genesis. They have been shifting for a while, and now the spiritual disaster is primed for release.
We Have Failed to Discern the Times
Societies are always in motion. Nations are always in conflict with other nations who’s interests may or may not be aligned with each other. The difference has been that much of that discourse happened in the halls of national power and in the offices of officials who did not clue the citizenry into the machinations of governing. That is no longer the case.
Technology and social media and the growing political divides have exacerbated and amplified what used to be remote and foreign to us. But now, it’s in our face and on our screens in an unrelenting stream.
I started by referencing the Prophet Jeremiah. And I want to bring my thoughts full circle. Jeremiah’s ministry has been described as a failure. He did not change the mind of a single person that we know of. As a matter of fact, he even tried to quit being a prophet. But God would not accept his resignation.
Jeremiah was disheartened by the fact no one seemed to care about what God had said. The people ignored God and his prophet. They disobeyed God’s law and did as they pleased. Then, when the warnings were not heeded, God judged the descendants of Abraham and they were shocked. And that judgment came at the hands of their enemies.
Here’s what I have realized. Was the nation of Israel and Judah 100% evil and wicked? Fighting against God? No. I don’t think that is a reasonable assumption. But there was enough intentional sin and enough indifference to sin that the entire nation was held to account.
We Must Correct Course as the Church
It does not matter what side you feel an affinity to, the judgment of God will fall on all. If one side is the problem, the whole will suffer. If the other side is the problem, the whole will suffer. There are no winners when spiritual discipline is meted out.
This is one of the reasons, as Christians we should not be aligning ourselves with the systems of the world. They do not belong to us. And we do not belong to them. We have to see that they do not promote nor can they secure the ends for which we have been called into Christ’s service. Regardless of the promises made. The apostle Paul said as much in his encouragement to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:4). But for some reason we can’t seem to figure this out as the Church. It’s as if we keep trying to convince God, and ourselves, that we can serve two masters. We cannot. And Jesus said as much.
The breakdown of societal norms and political discourse is downstream from the spiritual decay of a nation. As a matter of fact, it is the warning bell of divine discipline. This is not a new pattern. It has been the way societies have fallen since the beginning of time. From Babel to Israel to Rome, from the British Empire to the United States of America. All nations will fall because all nations who reject God must. Only one kingdom will be standing at the end.
So what should the church do? Allow me to offer three actions for your consideration.
First, if you are a Christian, I implore you to stop using political language and political ideology as the paradigm of conversation. Trust in the words of God to convey what you believe should be. We must reject the new, the novel, and even the ancient for the eternal. When we don’t we are tacitly confessing a lack of faith in God’s word to be enough.
Second, refrain from publicly endorsing and celebrating political parties, candidates, and policies that are not in line with God’s character. And especially stop anything that causes animosity among and between followers of Christ. The only party we should champion is the Church, the only candidate is Jesus, the only policy is the Gospel. Any and every thing else will work to foster divisiveness—in your congregation and in your heart. Being “right” is not worth the soul of your neighbor.
Third, the Church, from leaders to the nursery, must do what it was commissioned to do from the first, it must seek the kingdom of God above all other aims, intentionally rejecting any supposed suitors; it must disciple the nations beginning in our own homes, and it must surrender any and every claim it feels entitled to in the earthly realm. Those treasures are not worthy of our ultimate sacrifice or our deepest allegiance. The cost is too high and the reward too cheap.