Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Politics Doesn't Belong in the Pulpit

[This is another installment of the column I write for Community Press newspapers in the Cincinnati area. It's hopefully a refinement of something I posted on this site a few weeks ago.]

Several weeks before the war in Iraq began, I got two pieces of correspondence—one an e-mail and the other a church newsletter—from two different pastors who said completely different things on the same subject.

One of the pastors argued that followers of Jesus couldn’t possibly support the war.

The other pastor argued that it was the moral duty of followers of Jesus to do just that.

Both of these pastors are sincere, loving followers of Christ. But their conflicting opinions show difficulties that come when members of the clergy decide to make political pronouncements.

One difficulty was identified by the late C.S. Lewis, a British intellectual and author who moved from atheism to deep faith in Christ, when he wrote that, “Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for [application at every] particular moment.” [from Lewis' book, Mere Christianity]

God’s Word, the Bible, points us to a life-changing relationship with God that we can have through Jesus Christ. It teaches that Christ frees and empowers people to solve problems and live creatively.

So, the world doesn’t need preachers telling it how to vote or what to write to members of Congress. The world needs Jesus Christ.

There are reasons I say this.

I believe that God loves all people. I also believe that all people suffer from a problem which the Bible calls sin, a condition of self-will and separation from God. Sin keeps us from experiencing all the good that God offers in this life and the next. Sin is like a pit we can’t crawl out of on our own. Because of God’s love for all of us, God offers to pull us out of the pit. Jesus Christ came into the world and took the death sentence for sin that you and I deserve. Then He rose from the dead. Today, He extends His hand to us and says, “Take My hand. Trust me. I’ll pull you out and I’ll take you to eternity with Me.”

That’s why the Bible says, “...everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). The person who humbly takes Jesus’ offer has a new life and looks forward to eternity with God.

Jesus once said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” (John 12:32). I believe that when Jesus said this He wasn’t only talking about His being lifted up on a cross. He also was referring to preachers and all followers of Jesus lifting Jesus up for the whole world to see—in our words and in our lives. And the promise is that if preachers and others will patiently do that, people will come to follow Jesus. Their lives—including their lives as citizens and politicians—will then be changed and they will live differently.

The New Testament book of Second Timothy was written by a man named Paul to a young preacher. One spot in that book says, “I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ Himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead...so proclaim the Message with intensity...Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple. You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food...But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.” (Second Timothy 4:1-5)

Preachers don’t need to offer the world a political program. Preachers who feel the need to “get political” are expressing frustration that the world around them isn’t going the way they want it to go. But we preachers need to learn patience. We’re to keep sharing Jesus Christ whether people seem to be listening or not. We’re to trust that as we lift Jesus up, the world will come to follow Him not because a preacher ranted, but because the world sees Jesus in the loving lives of those who call Him God.