The Church and Political Change | How Should we Respond?

The Church and Political Change | How Should we Respond?

This last week marked the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. In general we do not like political or social change. For some Trump is being hailed as a political Savior as Obama was eight years ago. For others, a Trump presidency marks the apocalyptic end of our Republic. Of course, neither are true.

What is different this election is how the Church, in all its forms seems so much more divided. Hardcore Republicans and many Christians dissociated with Trump. Trevin Wax appropriately asks an anxious church how we are to exercise “Faithfulness in the Age of Trump”? This is to say nothing of the overall “clash of world views” as Aaron Armstrong has called it. The gnawing question is this: How are Christians to respond to political change—both wanted and unwanted?

Nothing New under the Sun

We are reminded by the sage of Ecclesiastes that there is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9); this applies to regime change as well. The Church has often found herself in favor one day and out of favor on the next. In the first three centuries we can mention Nero’s brutal persecution circa 67 C.E. as well as Emperor Decian’s circa 249. With the victory of Constantine in the early 4th century, the Church nearly awoke to becoming the state sponsored faith.

What is our challenge?

On the one hand nothing has changed. Yes circumstances have, and so in theory, the Church should not have to change anything. Nevertheless I think the Church needs some reforming to bring our collective behavior more in line with the true Gospel of Christ.

Political gospels are always only a gaunt parody of the Kingdom of God. @toddjmurphy

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Combining politics and religions is always sticky. But the Gospel of the kingdom is in fact political, but in a counterintuitive way. It employs language of kingdom, King, and justice. But the politics of Jesus’ kingdom are paradoxical. Political gospels are always only a gaunt parody of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom offers us more. In the first century, the values of the Kingdom posed a seeming threat to the Roman system instigating the persecutions mentioned above.

For Rome worshiping another god was not a problem as long as one nodded to the cult of the emperor first. Romans even referred to the emperor as Soter “savior.” When called to pay homage to Caesar, most Christians would not budge, refusing to call any but Jesus Lord. Jesus’ politics were bottom-up, about public change through Gospel life change. His kingdom would not come via the human halls of power.

This does not mean we have no role to play or be involved. As Americans with a protected right to vote and speak, we should. But Christians should be wary of feel-good political slogans like a nebulous “Hope” or “Make America Great Again.” Neither of those slogans are on Jesus’ kingdom docket.

To Speak with Humility

For those us us who are US Citizens, our constitution protects our rights to worship and speak—yes to preach the good news to any who would ask for a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).

The message of Jesus confronts the Church today in her public witness: It is a matter of how. Christian political agendas have typically been marked by arrogant and loud-mouthed behavior at odds with the Gospel. That is not the example we actually see in the New Testament.

The Quiet and Peaceable Life of the Christian

Christians are not ever called to be political revolutionaries; on this the New Testament is clear. (Rom. 13:1–14)

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.  (1Tim. 2:1–3)

The quiet and peaceful life is evangelistic in its aim. We are to live “godly and dignified in every way” because God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4)

To the political revolutionary Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

There are some who try to make Jesus out to be a political revolutionary but that is simply just a gross misreading of the Gospels. Jesus did not enter into the political spectrum in any formal sense. The priorities of the Kingdom in fact eschewed if not shamed the halls of power. 

Jesus did encounter a political revolutionary once who had an expansive vision for political change. To the political revolutionary Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matt. 16:23)

What has changed for the Church with the Presidency?

Absolutely nothing! Whether the Church lives under hostility or peace, her call is the same, a quiet and peaceable witness to Jesus’ Kingdom. And the purpose of that life has not changed either; it is about being a Gospel witness in a world that is not “mindful of the things of God.”

So How do we Respond?

To answer our original question: How should the Church respond to political change? We remain faithful praying “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”; Christians are often caught in the political rip-tide of “rightness” that deprives us of the effective witness of “love your enemies.” (Matt. 5:44) The Gospel formed life is setting our mind on God and his kingdom alone. As we do, the political promises of this world grow strongly dim. Here are four practical points of a Gospel mindset that I have outlined in a handy tool for responding to the life currents that the Church swims against. Click Here to get “A Gospel Mindset” a Guide to developing Christ-Centered Thinking

  1. Begin and end with Kingdom Values

  2. Look with suspicion on false Gospels promising a better world, hope, or future

  3. Look with Compassion on all your adversaries

  4. Respond through personal action before words

In general I think how we respond as a church to the political sphere today is on most days wrong. We are not called to be revolutionaries, visionaries, or lighting-rods, but peaceable witnesses. The Church is to be a force for redemptive change in the little things, actively praying for our leaders, but never putting out hope in them. The irony is this: a peaceable and quiet witness is probably the most direct path to becoming cultural revolutionaries like the early Church was.

Related: How Christianity Sacked Rome with the Good News (by yours truly) and  What We Need to Learn from the Early Church by Tim Keller.

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