Article by Cameron Spink
Relevant Magazine is an online Christian website that is sort of like a bag of lollies. Sometimes you'll get articles that are really spot on and "relevant" and other times you'll get an article that just makes you go "gah!". Such an article popped up on their website recently titled 7 Reasons the Church Should Change Its Political Tune.
This article is written by Jonathan Merritt and encourages Christians to get on the bandwagon of using "less divisive and less partisan ways to engage". I will state early in this article that I may misrepresent or take some of the points that Jonathan makes to what he would believe is an unnatural conclusion. I am not deliberately trying to misconstrue his comments; I am trying to make sense of them. So, with that caveat, let's explore his seven points:
1. Nobody likes a whiner
Jonathan's main point here seems to be other people's perceptions of Christians. Christians are seen as "picketing masses, condemnatory street preachers and shouting pastors on cable news shows". While these are the extremities most Christians one comes across do not act in such ways. Besides, public perception is a fickle thing to strive for. It is because there is a dichotomy in society at the present that we are looked at with disdain by what is becoming an increasingly secular world.
2. The "culture wars" divide unnecessarily
Merritt is right in saying that the culture wars divide. This is unfortunate but it is not unnecessary. The common ground is dwarfed by the differences. We should expect differences between a Christian worldview and others out there:
"And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed."
John 3:19-20 (ESV)
Jonathan then states that this is happening in the Christian Church. Merritt seems to be suggesting that political differences in the Church are irrelevant and that liberal and conservative views can hold equal weight in the Church. Merritt is correct in saying that political differences are not the most important thing. But this is not the whole story. What is relevant is how our politics are defined. Most Christians will say their position comes from a Biblical perspective but there are many positions that don't hold up under scrutiny. It is concerning if Christians are misrepresenting the Bible for a political agenda. As Christians we should have a political agenda but one that begins with His Word. But more of that later.
3. It's killing us
My understanding of Merritt's point here is that young Christians are leaving the Church partly because of the culture wars. They are basically saying "[w]ell, if religion is just about conservative politics, then I'm outta here". He is correct. Christianity is not about conservative politics. It is about glorifying our creator, it is about encouraging each other to live Biblically-consistent lives, it is about purify the bride of Christ (the Church). Yet, politics cannot be ignored. It is not primary, but it is important.
4. The Church is cheapened
I can't really understand what Jonathan is saying in this point. He is suggesting that the Church then gets pandered to by those wishing to be elected. In this case the Church may be cheapened in the world's eyes but I don't think it is a particularly relevant statement. Christians should be discerning enough to see through this attempted pandering.
5. We're getting used
Merritt states that "[w]e allow politicians to court us with a few empty promises only to spend their time in office apologizing for not keeping any of them". He doesn't really offer a solution for this, though. Does he expect this to go away if there is more diversity in the Church? Sometimes Christians do get taken in by empty promises but it is a necessary evil. Like I said above, Christians need to be discerning about who they elect.
6. Our approach isn't working anyway
Jonathan Merritt says:
"The strategy of the Religious Right has been largely a failure. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent, and countless man hours have been invested-yet there has been little to no progress on most culture war issues. Abortion is still legal, gay marriage is still being debated, and the size of government continues to grow. But switching teams and joining the Religious Left isn't the answer, either. They employ the same partisan approach as the Right, except on opposing sides of the issues."
This comment is bizarre. We should stand on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage regardless of whether we are going to win them. This is because our positions should be determined by Biblical mandates not by our chance of winning.
7. The Gospel suffers
Merritt suggest that preachers overstep their bounds when they speak about "complex public policy" issues. Let me offer an opposing opinion:
"The mere fact that something is "controversial" does not excuse pastors from the responsibility to preach about it and (sometimes) the responsibility of a church to take a stand on it."
Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, pg 72
Merritt article finishes with a very short plea for Christians to change their tune. On the whole I found this article to be not particularly helpful and not really offer any better political position. What I can grasp of his overall stance is that Christians should be more diverse and less divisive (not that this would solve many points he raises in his article).
So I will offer seven dramatically different points when dealing with politics:
1. Politics is secondary
We should all agree on this. Politics is not the decisive reason why we go to Church.
2. Political positions should be servant to Biblical understanding
Any position we take should be dictated by Biblical understanding. The Bible is our divine authority and is entirely truthful and trustworthy.
3. Christians should have a political position
We need not have a position on every issue but there are enough social issues that the Bible explicitly and implicitly discusses so Christians can have a position that affects our political understanding.
4. Pastors should preach on politics
I totally disagree with Merritt on this point. Political discussion, in its place, is an important topic for a Pastor to discuss with his congregation. He must have a thorough understanding of the topic and should have dwelled upon the parts of the Bible that are relevant but a Pastor should discuss politics.
5. Some issues must divide while others should not
We need "wisdom to distinguish between clear biblical issues, where people who disagree with [us] simply don't agree with the Bible's teachings, and more difficult issues, where people who disagree with [us] simply evaluate the relevant facts and Bible teachings differently."
Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, pg 73
We must be discerning as to what category our dispute falls into.
6. The Bible's mandate for governments
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed."
Romans 13: 1 - 7 (ESV)
One of the biggest indicators that we need to have some political involvement is that the Bible has determined what the proper role for a government is. We are subject to the rules of our government but the government "should serve the people and seek the good of the people not the rulers" (Grudem, pg 86).
7. Christian influence upon our Government
"The simple fact is that if Christians do not speak publicly about what the Bible teaches regarding issues of right and wrong, there aren't many other good sources for finding any transcendent source of ethic, any source outside of ourselves and our own subjective feelings and consciences.
This is a matter of utmost importance for any nation: If Christians are silent about such moral and ethical issues, then where will moral standards come from?"
Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, pg 69
We cannot be silent because our silence will leave a moral vacuum which would be filled by opposing worldviews. We are God's beacons in this present age and we cannot shrug this duty off by saying that "politics is unimportant".
Our governments are servant to the greatest King but there are times they forget this. At this time we, His people, are required to step in and change the world according to His word. But do not be deceived, governments cannot save anyone. That cannot determine anyone's eternal fate. They can, however, make it very difficult for the truth to be heard and it is when this occurs that we must have a Biblical position against such tyranny.