Gospel vs. Politics


I was reading this blog post today by Darin Smith (which I recommend to you) and agree with it completely. Except for one sentence. confused

In the penultimate sentence, the author says, “It is important to pray for governmental leaders because the circumstances they create either stop or advance the progress of the Gospel.”

Hmm…

Is it right to pray for religious freedom? Yes. Surely there is a benefit when laws do not restrict religious belief and expression. Is the Gospel dependent on religious freedom to flourish? I don’t think so. I don’t believe that leaders can create conditions that can “either stop or advance the progress of the Gospel.” No person or group of people have that kind of power

History proves this. Christianity grew in its earliest days under government systems that weren’t always favorable to the message. Sometimes, civil disobedience was even called for because of early restrictions:

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Acts 5:27-32 

Current statistics prove this. According to the mission research organization Operation World, the Gospel is currently growing the fastest in Iran and Afghanistan. China is in the top five. Laws do not determine whether truth will spread. Faithful followers of Jesus who share their faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit, determine whether the Gospel spreads.

I applaud Darin’s great article to remind us to pray 1 Timothy 2 prayers for those in authority. He gives some great suggestions for the content of those prayers. But let’s not forget on whom the spread of the Gospel depends.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.Acts 1:8

Leave me a comment with your thoughts!

GospelVMoralismPick a news story from this week. A strange and unprecedented presidential campaign? Disagreement over a possible Clinton indictment? The murder of policemen in Dallas? Police shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis? The threat of terrorism here and overseas? Twisted analysis of our problems by our leaders – those who should know how to fix problems?  These issues and a hundred more vie for our attention each day, uniting most Americans to agree on this: we need change.

For some reason, we think the problems of this summer are the worst in history. But our current state just continues the path men have followed for millennia with the same core problem that we’ve always had. But lately, people are talking about change more than before. There seems to be a lot of us thinking that we could do better. We can. But we have to know what kind of change is really needed.

If the apostle Paul could speak to America and America’s leaders today, his message would be the same as the one he had for King Agrippa in Acts 26. And since Paul can’t speak to Americans today, those who follow Christ have to be the ones to speak. So, what did he say?

  1. He told his story – Quoting Jesus, Paul related, “But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,” (Acts 26:16). Paul had a great testimony of coming to faith in Christ and if you have been changed by the power of Jesus, then you have a story you can tell, too. Nobody can refute your story, so tell it and give glory to God.
  2. He made the gospel clear – Again remembering Christ’s words calling him to minister, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). This should be the heart of our message to the world – the gospel of Christ is the only power that can truly change hearts through forgiveness and sanctification. No other plan or shortcut will work.
  3. When he was commanded, he obeyed“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision…” (Acts 26:19). None of this matters if the Church won’t obey.
  4. He presented true change – Obeying God’s call he “declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” (Acts 26:20) Here’s where lives head in the right direction, families and communities heal, then nations are strengthened. Deeds that flow from repentance. Hearts, then behavior, changed by the gospel.

If the Church prays only for better behavior in our world, if we are content merely with better laws and less immorality, we have missed Paul’s message from Christ. Moralism never solves what the gospel does. As we pray for our broken nation and increasingly godless society led by many blind guides, a prayer for the spread and reception of the gospel is our only true hope. And the only way that hope becomes a reality is if individual Christians share it with individuals who don’t follow Christ yet.

Agrippa thought Paul was crazy, by the way, and didn’t believe the message. But the root of our world’s problems (and the solution) remains unchanged 2100 years later.

baltimore protestYou’ve seen the riots. You’ve heard the news conferences. The past week in Baltimore has been marked by the tragic death of a 25-year-old man triggering protests that have been building for decades. And now the marches are spreading across the nation. Disenfranchised communities are speaking out and have a large megaphone available with hundreds of microphones and cameras pointing directly at them. They’re angry and everyone seems to be trying to put their collective fingers on the reason why. But, as is so often the case, fingers are landing on the wrong answers.

We need more jobs. We need better schools. We need economic opportunity. We need the police to stop profiling.

In other words, our government has failed us.

The political solutions are complex, there’s no question about that. But the conclusion that government is the ultimate answer fails to go deep enough. But going deeper for answers will cost us something as a society.

  • It will cost time – The real solution will not happen overnight. Actually, since we have rejected the real solution for so long, the time to undo the damage would take years. How many? I don’t know, but many.
  • It will cost will – We (by that I mean a lot of us who want positive change) would really have to want this. Enough to accept a major shift in thinking and action.
  • It will cost submission – People would have to subject their natural inclinations to the will of someone else.

I see news reports that show churches and faith-based groups trying to serve during these protests. Prayer circles are forming. Food and water are being shared. This is good, but a larger message, a deeper message must also be sent. Not a temporary message of help during a city’s outrage, but a life-changing message that will last for eternity. Baltimore, and everybody else, needs to hear:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.   – Psalm 118:8, 9 –

Quit looking to government to ultimately help with all our problems. Turn to God and His ways. His Son, Jesus, offers the answer to our most foundation need of forgiveness and acceptance.  His Word holds answers to solving the confusion and chaos in our world. Submitting to Him and His plans will heal families. Parents will be more likely to stay together, kids will be happier, families would be stronger and communities healthier. That would immediately alleviate some of the economic woes, but again, the political answers would still have to be grappled with. But if citizens and lawmakers were committed to God and His path first, better answers would be found by our leaders.

Statements like this one by New Orleans Saints’ tight end, Benjamin Watson, must be heard and embraced. I hope you’ll read it. And keep praying for Baltimore (and everywhere else).

benjamin watson

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)  supreme court building

The normal stance of the believer toward his government in New Testament teaching is submission and obedience. There are times, though, when conscience overrides the dictates of human law. We saw that recently when the founders and owners of Hobby Lobby and some other businesses echoed the apostles’ words from Acts chapter five.

Anytime the Supreme Court passes down a 5-4 vote on any issue, the resulting voices are predictably divisive. Reading comments on social media or replies to blog entries and opinion pieces show the stark, sharp differences we have in America on certain social issues. When Monday’s decision came down in favor of Hobby Lobby’s rejection of supplying certain (but not all) forms of hobby lobbycontraception for employees, the differing worldviews of our culture came to a head once more. Here at Rotunda Reflections, the decision is considered a God-honoring victory for religious freedom, something dear to the hearts of many Americans. Without getting into the specifics of the abortion debate, which has been done many times before here and on other blog sites, let’s just say that when the court wisely upholds our right to live out our faith in good conscience, the principles of freedom (granted by God, not government) are also upheld.

We will be celebrating America’s birthday this week and for me, at least, this will be a new reminder to be thankful to be in America. It’s a land with an amazing constitution which guarantees the right to worship as we choose, not just in cloisters hidden from the world around us, as some who oppose us would prefer, but to be lived out in our daily lives with “the free exercise thereof”. How long this freedom will be allowed is in some doubt. But for those who hold this freedom of faith dear, we should prepare to stand for it, keep praying for it, and resolve to fight for it. Paul himself appealed to the authorities for his freedom based on his rights as a Roman citizen. While we prioritize the gospel as our main message to the world, there is nothing unbiblical or inappropriate in firmly seeking to preserve our religious rights and freedoms.

But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” Acts 18:12-15

Politicians have mishandled and misunderstood Scripture for millennia. The problem in the verses above arose as Paul ministered in Corinth, sharing the truth of God’s Word (apparently with great success), to the consternation of the local Jewish leaders. When they complained to Gallio, the governor of the district, he responded as many human leaders have down through the centuries. Namely, saying the message of this man is just words, nothing more.

gwen moore

Rep.Gwen Moore

Fast-forward to last weekend when Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to deliver a one minute address regarding the possible government shutdown. Her first sentence was an admonishment taken from Galations 6:7, but with a revision. She started by saying, “Mr. Speaker, ‘Be not deceived, the people are not mocked.'” When political leaders throw around biblical quotes with their own spin and rewording,they show that their attitude toward these sacred words are the same as any other words – words that exist for the purpose of making their political point. It cheapens the Word of God and relegates His Word on a level with all others. Now Rep. Moore may have a point that the decisions made in Washington might have repercussions later when the people have their say in the next election, but can she not find another way to drive that home other than perverting a serious verse of Scripture?

Paul before Gallio

Paul before Gallio

The seriousness of this verse is that it is God who will not be mocked, because He is the ultimate Judge in all things. He is the one to whom we are all accountable. If leaders are concerned mostly for what the people can do to them, then their fear is wildly misplaced. Also, she left out the end of the verse – “for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (ESV)  God knows and keeps track of the millions of ways humans mock Him. One of those ways is not to take His Word seriously. Gallio did it. Today’s leaders do it still.

This serves as a reminder to us again to pray for these leaders, that they will be shaped by God’s Word rather than abuse it to obtain a favorable political outcome. Before you surf to another site, will you stop for a moment to pray for your local, state and federal leaders and for their worldview to be changed so they can clearly see God as He has revealed Himself?

Recently, Paul Meinsen, my Capitol Commission colleague in Missouri, had a strange experience. It is recounted in this article.

If you had been Paul, would you have had an answer? How pathetic that a professing follower of Jesus would have such an attitude, but it is possible that you or I might come across something similar, especially with the current political turmoil and upcoming elections. We should be ready with an answer. What would you say?

Matt Barnes is a pretty amazing guy. I’m honored to be his colleague in Capitol Commission’s effort to evangelize and disciple the political community of our nation. Matt is my prayer partner, fellow Cincinnati Reds’ fan, and overall blessing with his humility and vision.

The first few minutes one spends with Matt will show what kind of guy he is. Funny, caring and never full of himself, Matt is right where he should be – loving and ministering to the Indiana political arena. In this article, you’ll see what a fine reputation Matt has with leaders in Indianapolis. God is doing some remarkable things through his faithful ministry. 

Why not take minute right now to pray for the leaders of Indiana and your own state!

I came across an insightful article at Politics Daily regarding Billy Graham’s advice on several topics from politics to aging parents.  While reading it, I felt helped and confident in the wisdom of Graham’s 92 years of experience along with some sadness at his honesty in sharing his regrets.  I recommend it to you.  Just click here.

Billy Graham and Richard Nixon

Graham has led an amazing life and has left a legacy that all followers of Jesus should consider.  When he looks back and gives advice, we should listen, evaluate and make better decisions as we learn how to best serve the Lord where he has placed us.

Since I have been called to go to the political community, I took great interest in Graham’s words since he has been called the “pastor to the presidents”.  Graham has had spiritual impact on America’s presidents for decades and God has used him to point leaders to Christ.  But stepping over the line from ministry to politics is something he wished he hadn’t done and it negatively affected his ministry.  I find it instructive that he counts it as one of his greatest regrets.  It’s cautionary counsel for all of us.

“I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to, but looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”

Bill Clinton with Billy Graham

This is just one of a multiple of reminders that God’s representation in the world today is His church and that He has left His plan for societal impact in our hands – making disciples.  Sharing the powerful change brought about by the gospel of Jesus is our primary calling, even to governmental leaders.  We can either learn from Graham’s mistake or repeat it.

Our president has caught some flack in the last couple of years for his lack of church attendance.  That’s why the press took notice recently when, while on vacation, the Obamas went to services on consecutive Sundays for the first time since moving into the White House.  One article’s headline even assigned a motive for President Obama’s stance on faith – “Obama Tries to Reassert His Christian Bona Fides, With Words and Deeds”.  Click here for the full piece.

So what should believers think about their leaders’ attendance patterns at church?  Is it our business?  Is it right to pile on with other critical voices if we don’t think they go to church often enough?  Should we care?

In a word, yes.

But there should be a deeper desire that Christians need to express for their leaders’ spiritual lives than just their presence at worship services.  That desire should be for leaders to know and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, having a growing, vital personal relationship with Him that changes who they are and how they think from the inside out.  Paul described that change when he wrote to Titus:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.  Titus 2:11-14

Having true faith in Christ is the same for everyone, politician or not.  We all must come to Christ on his terms and bow to His revelation of Himself, not what we or other men construct Him to be.  It may comfort us to know that we have leaders who are in the pews every Sunday, but if they are not saved and being changed by the gospel we need to seek more for them.  If they are there merely to assuage their religious critics, that’s obviously not enough.

Should we be glad that they are in church even if they have political motives?  If the Word of God is faithfully preached to them, sure!  The Word is powerful and may make inroads into their hearts.  But as we look at those verses in Titus, key words must be defined for these leaders to truly glorify God in their lives and church attendance.

Among those words are salvation, ungodliness, passions, self-controlled, upright, godly, redeem, lawlessness, purify and good works.  When believers plumb the depths of the true meanings of these words and live them out,  regular church attendance will be a natural outflow of that faith.

Until then, anger is not needed when we see leaders failing in church attendance, but renewed prayer for them to grow in the grace of God and have hearts that are being transformed by Christ.  Pray that those who lead us will humbly go to public worship to commune with their Maker, not to control the media.

In the preface to his work Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem says this:

I am convinced that there is an urgent need in the church today for much greater understanding of Christian doctrine, or systematic theology. Not only pastors and teachers need to understand theology in greater depth—the whole church does as well. One day by God’s grace we may have churches full of Christians who can discuss, apply, and live the doctrinal teachings of the Bible as readily as they can discuss the details of their own jobs or hobbies—or the fortunes of their favorite sports team or television program. (1)

When interviewed recently by Glenn Beck, Jerry Falwell, Jr. said, “we can argue about theology later after we save the country.”  It can be difficult to get at the actual meaning in someone’s mind when we hear them quoted.  But the words used in this sentence seem to be so self-evident, I can’t see any ambiguity in Falwell’s words. 

If you read Grudem’s words again, is there a word that leaps out at you?  I agree with his paragraph and am impacted heavily by his choice of the word “urgent”.  Falwell makes it clear that “saving our country” is a more urgent pursuit than the church’s task to share the gospel.  The two are not the same – Falwell clearly understands that and separates the two, assigning more importance to changing our society.  Theology can come later.

Since he’s talking to Beck, his definition of “theology” would be the difference between evangelicalism and Mormonism.  But in context, he widens the scope by also including Jews, Catholics and unbelievers (click here for the whole interview).   Those represent a vast spectrum of beliefs.  Beliefs such as who God is (or if He even exists), who humans are, why humans are here and where are we going.  Orthodox Christian beliefs on man’s purpose for existence, sin, the cross as the remedy for sin, how to be reconciled to God and many others are foundational.  One might even say this set of beliefs (or our theology) defines who we are.

But do we consider it urgent?  It’s not on the newscasts or in the papers.  We generally don’t think about those beliefs or talk about them to our family and friends as much as we do politics.  The sad truth is that the church in America is focused on our nation’s moral trajectory more than the reason for our nation’s moral trajectory.  America’s problem is not found in our laws, it’s found in our hearts.  The gospel is the only solution to that problem.

We’re all concerned about where our nation is headed, but when a well-known Christian leader downplays the importance of God’s primary plan for impacting the world for His glory, damage is done to the collective conscience of the church.  Theology that is informed by the Scriptures is the message we have to share with a culture that is rotting.  Biblical theology itself tells us what our mission is in this world:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;” Matthew 28:19

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.  2 Timothy 2:24-26 

this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:  Colossians 1:27b, 28

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.  Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.  Colossians 4:5, 6

I’m not advocating staying silent on our culture’s slide into more and more corruption.  In a representational republic, we are free to take part in efforts to stem the godless tide.  Those efforts have to be biblically informed as well, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that doing a societal cleanup is the main task of a Christian.  As urgent as our nation’s problems seem, we should deem sharing accurate truths about God, and people’s relationship to God, as more urgent.

(1) Grudem, W. A. (1994). Systematic theology : An introduction to biblical doctrine (18). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

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