In all the craziness that has been this political season, I felt I personally needed to put down my opinions and take an objective look at the church. A series of questions ran through my heart and mind. How do we react, as a body, to real world events with real world consequences? Do we actually hold our leaders accountable to biblical values? Do we represent Christ well with the dialogues we engage in? Regardless of political opinion, do we continue to heap love on one another and strive to build each other up?
I have found some encouraging examples of believers who have responded biblically and effectively. Many Christian leaders have condemned policies that directly go against biblical values, from both sides of the aisle. Christian entertainers have used their voice to spread love and hope. Christ followers from all walks of life have represented Christ daily in real and practical ways.
However, I’m sure you’ve noticed that this is not always the case. In fact, it seems that the majority of Christian interactions with politics don’t necessarily follow a biblical script. Through unabashed support for immoral and poorly thought out policies, disrespectful, even hateful dialogue around the issues, and violent responses to unfavorable politics, the church has earned itself a very negative reputation in the world.
I’ve often heard something like this from Christians: “first, they’ll come for our taxes, then they’ll come for our Sundays, then they’ll come for our sermons, then our Bibles, and soon we won’t have a church anymore.”
Of course, this line of thinking comments on the encroachment on religious liberty that some Christians fear is going to eliminate the church’s presence in American culture. While I too fear the possibility of that outcome, I don’t think the threat is greatest from the outside of the church, but from the inside. Every time we act contrary to Christ’s example, we forfeit a bit of our positive influence on culture. Ultimately, people don’t want to listen to hypocrites. Our goal should be for our political identity, dialogue, and practice to line up with biblical values. Sadly, that is not currently the case.
So, how did we get here? How did we regress into a church marked by hate and intolerance? How did our political arena become a “war zone,” unoccupied by morality?
Through some study, prayer, and soul searching, I’ve come to this conclusion: in short, we collectively have lost sight of the goal.
Over time, we have slipped down the slope of exclusion and isolation. Our goal has transferred from kingdom-building to kingdom-defending. While defending God’s kingdom sounds noble and epic, it’s not what we are called to do, and for good reason. Kingdom-building focuses on increasing Christ in the world; Kingdom-defending seeks to eliminate everything else by any means necessary (even if it means forfeiting the good associated with Christ).
Throughout Matthew 13, Jesus provides a series of short parables describing the Kingdom of God. The common theme of these parables is that the Kingdom is built for growth. Three times Jesus compares the kingdom to seeds. Jesus also relates the Kingdom’s growth to yeast being worked through flour. He describes the Kingdom as valuable treasure. Finally, Jesus likens the kingdom to an incredibly effective fishing net that gathers fish of all kinds. Each one describes a kingdom that grows in volume and value, not one in need of defense.
I’d like to focus on one of these parables specifically. In verses 24-30, Jesus says,
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’
Did you notice the planter wasn’t preoccupied with defeating the enemy who planted weeds in his crop, or even immediately destroying the weeds themselves? Instead, he chose to wait until the harvest, and then sort the weeds from the wheat. This was in order to ensure the growth of the good. Of course he’s aware of the risk of weeds, but he’s unwilling to stifle good growth by being preoccupied with defending his crop. In a sense, he defends his harvest by allowing it to grow.
Jesus does the same with His kingdom, and calls us to as well. Good growth defeats weeds. Light overtakes darkness. Love always wins over hate. We must foster good growth within the church.
The world is our harvest field. Of course we know there will be proverbial weeds among the wheat; there will be evil amongst the good. But we cannot stifle the good by being preoccupied with the evil.
In our current situation, We stifle the good by destroying relationships over politics; we stifle the good by giving in to fear and hatred; we stifle the good by engaging in belittling and divisive speech. Our job is to build up the good and let Jesus focus on separating the evil from the good, as he says he will do in verses 49-50. Our goal is growth, not destruction.
We see this theme in Jesus’ closing directive, the great commission. We are to continue to build the Kingdom with discipleship until His return.
Paul goes into great detail throughout His writings describing how a kingdom-focused believer should act. A great example of this is Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16. There’s no better way to say it than what Paul writes, so here you go.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift… And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
We are unified in our savior. We are unified in our baptism. We are unified in our faith. Therefore, we should walk unified in our love, humility, and peace. We should be unified in the goal of “building up the body of Christ.”
So where do we go now?
Well, we need to heed the words of Paul. We first must foster a love and unity that transcends politics. The church should not be split left and right. Of course, the church is a diverse place with diversity of thought and that should be celebrated. But there is no room for division, disrespect, or hatred within the church based on politics.
Next, every issue should be discussed openly and honestly within the church in a biblical and kingdom focused way. Politics have been censored in the church for too long. As a result, we’ve established an assumed Christian politic that is far from biblical teaching and ethics. Every believer should evaluate their ideology from a biblical perspective first, and that is done best within a loving community. We go out of our way to engage in biblical dialogue about sex with our teenagers; we should do the same with politics.
Finally, use the knowledge gained in this community and speak positively and actively in the American political scene. Vote biblical values alone. Hold all leaders (even ones you voted for) to a high moral standard. Condemn anything that does not line up with Christ’s example of love. Exemplify unity and compassion in your own dialogue around politics.
I don’t say this lightly. I pledge, from here on, to hold myself to that standard. If you ever feel I break that promise, please call me out as my brother or sister in Christ.
Ultimately, the church represents Christ to the world. Lately, we’ve represented Him about as effectively as our congress represents us. We need to step it up in order to build His Kingdom, just as He has called us to do. With His help, we can redeem our reputation. I believe strongly in the future success of the church. I believe we are on the cusp of great spiritual revival. However, it will start with revival within the church with a renewed focus on unity and love. Only then will Christ use us a tool to finish his masterpiece.