Friday, February 24, 2012

How Involved Should the Church Be with Politics? Try Almost Not At All

How involved should the Church be in politics or public policy debates?

How about, except in extreme circumstances, not at all?

At the end of the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday, we're told:
Now after John [the Baptist] was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news." (Mark 1:14-15)
Did you notice what was missing?

Jesus thought highly of John the Baptist, whose ministry was about calling God's people to turn from sin and trust in God to prepare for the coming of God's Messiah. (This is a Hebrew word that means Anointed One and which was rendered in the Greek language used by all the New Testament's writers as Christos, Christ. Jesus was revealed to be that Messiah or Christ, of course.) Jesus once said, "Truly, I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist..." (Luke 11:11).

But in spite of Jesus' high opinion of John and of the faithfulness with which John pursued his God-given mission and, in spite of the clear injustice of John's arrest or imprisonment, the moment the injustice is perpetrated, Jesus doesn't speak up.

He doesn't agitate for John's release.

He doesn't go to the next meeting of the Jewish leadership council, the Sanhedrin, or wait for the next public appearance of the King Herod Antipas to register complaints.

What's missing is anything akin to political activism on Jesus' part.

Instead, He proclaims the gospel (the good news). Jesus is saying that He is the Messiah Who has come to bring God's reign into the world. "Repent (turn away from sin)," Jesus says, "and believe that I am the Good News of God."

If there had been pundits or talking heads in those days, they might have thought Jesus' first foray into public ministry was anemic and irrelevant. "What about John?" they might have asked. "Aren't you going to go after the authorities to obtain his release? What kind of a leader are you, anyway?"

People undoubtedly did ask questions like these.

If they did, it wouldn't be the last time Jesus disappointed people looking for some other kind of kingdom of God than He was offering.

The people of first century Judea, where Jesus lived, wanted a king who would give the Roman occupiers and the puppet Herodian kings the boot, someone who would give them what was rightly theirs. They wanted a king who would put together a great army and do their bidding.

They wanted a revolution and when Jesus refused to lead one after the roaring welcome they gave to him on what we have since come to call Palm Sunday, they lost their patience with Him and lobbied for His execution on a cross.

Jesus refused to be the King they wanted.

He refused to play political games.

He knew that no amount of lobbying or activism would ever bring God's kingdom into the world.

He knew that even if He bowed to the ways of the world and took control of all the earthly kingdoms that ever were or ever would be, the fundamental issue confronting the human race would not be resolved.

That fundamental issue is that every one of us is born in sin (Psalm 51:5), a condition of alienation from God, and the fact that we can't save ourselves from it or its gravest consequence, death.

It all goes back to our first parents, Adam and Eve. A serpent persuaded them to disobey God and the human race then became infected with the poison of sin. Jesus came into the world in order to absorb all that poison in His own body on a cross. "For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin," 2 Corinthians 5:21 in the New Testament says, "so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."

To be righteous is to be right with God. We're born "not right" with God because of the poison of sin we inherit from our parents.

When Jesus absorbed that poison, He made it possible for us to be right with God and have new lives with Him, starting imperfectly in this world and then, when we are resurrected by God the Father as Jesus was on the first Easter Sunday, in eternity with God.

Jesus wanted to cleanse us from the poison of sin. He knew that He couldn't accomplish that through political action, but only by proclaiming and living out the good news that those who dare to follow Him will be part of His new creation.

Jesus didn't do politics. And, the Bible, God's Word, seems to me to teach that unless governments or kings command us turn our backs on God or the will of God, the Church shouldn't do politics either.

Individual Christians should feel free to be engaged in politics, but not in the Name of God or in the name of Christ's family, the Church.

The Church has much bigger fish to fry than the passage of this or that law or the election of this or that candidate: We're out to invite as many people into God's kingdom as we can.

Politics and public policy would only distract us from doing that.

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