The Good Motivations of the Heart: God-merica, pt.IIIb [REPOST]


[This is a repost of the last in a series of articles I wrote about a year-and-a-half ago exploring my struggles with the idea of America as a “Christian Nation” (it is not; read more here)and how my Christian faith should influence my politics.  Where I ended up is a very helpful place, I believe, for us Christians struggling with these things.  In the first post, I show how America has many similarities with Ancient Rome that lend itself to helping us in this discussion.  In the second, I discuss the motivations and limits of imposing a Christian worldview on a post-Christian society.  In the third, I laid out the wrong motives that seem to drive most of Evangelicalism’s attempts to take over the country, and their historical and philosophical roots.  In the post below, I pick up right where the third one ends and give a biblical foundation for a possible framework we can use to discern our political action as Christians.  Tomorrow I’ll have a really interesting little post for all of you to chew on.]

My exploration of motives for Christian involvement in politics began to shift when I realized that the same Paul and Peter that preached a political worldview of simply obeying the laws were the same Paul and Peter that when told by authorities not to preach, they refused to obey.  What’s going on?  Apparently there’s some other principle at work that creates a depth, complexity, and dynamism within this issue: God and His Nature, Christ and His Glory.  More on this in the next post.

I then started looking not just for Paul’s statements about politics but also how he politically viewed himself in a political world.  Paul was a Roman citizen, the ancient equivalent of being an American citizen.  It came with the same privileges, rights, and disdain we as Americans experience today.  So when did Paul pull the “Roman Citizen” card?  In short, when it furthered his preaching of the Gospel.  He pulled the card a few times in the latter part of Acts, each time to talk to a successively higher authority in the Roman government.  Acts ends with Paul waiting in prison to talk to Caesar himself after using his citizenship to appeal his charges to the emperor.

So, as for conclusions, here’s where I’ve landed (at least for the time being).  God’s concern for the political actions of His People does not ultimately rest upon what is done.  Rather, He is concerned that His Bride act from transformed hearts that effect why they are doing, voting, advocating as they are.  Paul used the rights and privileges offered him by his nation to further enable his continuing work and service of the Gospel.  Not to create external structures that do this work for him.  So, I’m all for advocating and seeking legislation that furthers our freedom to do the work of the Church.  I think there’s an absolute Biblical precedent for seeking the support and freedom for the individual to do the work of a Christian.  Our defiance to the laws of this land begin where this freedom ends.  Where the laws and statutes in place hinder us from doing the work that Christ has called us to, that is when our defiance starts.

Jesus said that his Kingdom was not of this world, and that if it was, then his followers would fight to free Him from Pilate.  His Kingdom is a spiritual, not temporal reality, hence our weapons to usher this Kingdom are spiritual and not temporal.  Laws, states, and politics don’t do it; rather love, service, and preaching do.  This being the case, all our political maneuverings should be to free us to do those things.  We will do them regardless, mind you, but it is (or is meant to be) in the interest of the prosperity and stability of a country to support and free Christians to act like Christians – not push them or even create incentives for them to, but create the welcoming environment in which they can serve, love, preach, and suffer for the benefit of those around them with no hindrances.

So what frees us to do the service of the Gospel?  I think this is where personal leadings, preferences, discussion, and discourse come in.  Perhaps making gay marriage unconstitutional will actually ultimately hinder our work as Christians rather than facilitate it.  So what if it “made a statement”?  At what cost?  Perhaps being in favor of the war would hinder your evangelism to Muslims.  Perhaps being against the war would not free you to take advantage of the new open environment there now is for missions work in Iraq.  Perhaps (and I really stress the “perhaps” on this one) making abortion illegal would hinder our freedom to act like Christians.  I will unpack all this in my last post.  Don’t freak out over that statement.  I just want the conversation opened up and founded upon the biblical basis for our activism: putting the weight on ourselves to be the Church rather than on the country to reflect the ideals of the Church, because Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world.

I know I have overstated my case.  I have repeated myself and rephrased myself in more ways than perhaps necessary.  Some of that stems from all this being fairly fresh in my mind, and it probably comes out in my writing.  The rest of it though comes from my conviction that this worldview is essential for so many reasons.  The American Church is impotent today and has little impact on the culture it finds itself in.  Much of this comes from the recent fanaticism of Fundamentalism in light of post-modernity becoming the reigning philosophy of the day.  Fundamentalism just doesn’t work anymore.  The rest of the watching world has already filed Evangelicals away as completely out of touch and irrelevant in today’s modern world.  Historically, the Church has been a small movement that has toppled nations.  Now it is a massive creature with absolutely no impact whatsoever on the people, communities, and cultures around it.  Remove the Church in America and very little would change.

Conclusion:
Our goal in our legislation should be this: we should seek and advocate for any legislation that give us the Church more freedom to do what the Church was always meant to do (heal the sick, feed the poor, clothe the needy, teach the uneducated, love the outcast, and accept the foreigner). We should strive to free ourselves to be and act like real Christians that in doing so we serve the people, communities, cities, and nations around us to such an extent that they would suffer without us.  We don’t try and make them act like Christians or have a Christian worldview when they’re not, in fact, Christians.  We must fight for the freedom to be the Church.  And it is in this that the watching world will see a Gospel that proclaims that there is a God through Whom all things were made and find their sustaining life so that this God has a just and rightful claim on the lives of His creatures.  They will then see that this God has moved upon individuals on the basis of this claim to change them radically to love those around them in a way that no one else does.  And it is by seeing this that they will behold our Beautiful Christ and Savior who loves His Bride to love His world so that His world might love Him as it was always intended, and will surely be.  And the country will change.

I hope this helps.

What are your thoughts?  Is this helpful?  What do you think this looks like in practice?

4 thoughts on “The Good Motivations of the Heart: God-merica, pt.IIIb [REPOST]

  1. I think your conclusion is true. But then what does that entail? What must be done for the church to have freedom to do those things? And once freedom is had, will the people of the church necessarily move into action? Those are not rejections of the thoughts you wrote, but means of developing them.

    I would strongly offend the following, however.

    “The American Church is impotent today and has little impact on the culture it finds itself in. …Historically, the Church has been a small movement that has toppled nations. Now it is a massive creature with absolutely no impact whatsoever on the people, communities, and cultures around it. Remove the Church in America and very little would change.”

    I do not see truth or Christ in this at all. I do not see a defense of this assertion, which truly is immense and has as great implications. What is culture? and who defines what it is?
    If the media, what credibility do they boast to do so? Charles Brace spent most of his life in the nineteenth-century trying to run Christian aid organizations for orphans and poor; and as he placed twenty-one thousand children into homes in a program he designed, not over twelve turned out criminals. But nonetheless, of all the twenty-one thousand, whenever one of the twelve were reported, the media leapt to speak ill of Brace and the organization. So he replied, “Twenty years’ virtuous life in a street-boy makes no impression on the public. A single offense is heard for hundreds of miles. A theft of one lad is imputed to scores of others about him.” I do not see difference from this and how the church is treated in the media today, as they most often report of Fred Phelps and Pat Robertson and Christian leaders who tragically fall into sin.

    If we singularly, then where do you see today as different from the past? Are there more people in need of God today than in the past? Or has the Spirit of God stopped working in our country? Is He less powerful here? I just cannot see this. The church is as alive and powerful through Christ today as it ever has been. The church was alive and being persecuted and suppressed in the time of the Apostles, as it so was in the middle ages, and so it is the same today. I see a lot of lukewarm Christianity today; as preachers and churches are either too afraid or too ignorant to preach the true Gospel, a news that is good because of what it tells us we are freed from through Christ alone. But should we be living in a time of darkness, so the Light will shine brighter. When I hear the sermons and see the popular interest in men like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Tim Keller, Josh Harris, Matt Chandler, and Paul Washer; or hear the music of Lecrae, Sovereign Grace, and all the rising musicians; or see all the activity and growth of churches like Mars Hill (Seattle), Sovereign Grace, Redeemer, or even that of Rick Warren; or even see the responses of the Christian church to disasters or crises; I see the power of God alive in the American church today, as I see Him alive in Africa and China and the Middle East. Not only this, but I see the necessity of Christ in this country and in this time. What would happen were those pastors, those churches, those musicians, and those active believers to be removed from America? If you remove those people and those buildings, perhaps little; for they are mere flesh and earth; and God would raise up others. But insomuch that God raised those men, buildings, musicians and people in this time and in this place, and as so far as they represent Christ and His love for the people in this country as He loves all people, the nation would become a very Godless and dark place. It is in regard to Christ – and so also to the people He raises up and causes to be active in their contexts to whatever degree He ordains – that this country even exists and has power and makes wise and good laws today.

    Neither of us would be the men we are today were it not for the church and how God has used it in our lives.

    To say the church has absolutely no impact could not be further from truth. The church is riddled with blights and sores; for it is filled with sinful people. Were the church only representative of the people within its walls, or of the power of them, then it truly would be impotent. But as it is the representative and bride of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, it is powerful and potent and effectual beyond comprehension.

    I have written all this and in an anger, but not at you; I have done so in regard to what was said and implied.

    With grace and peace,
    and humility,

    Sean

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  2. P.S. If you had said rather that,

    The American Church is not as potent today as it could be through Christ, and does not have impact on the culture it finds itself in as it could. …Historically, the Church has been a small movement that has toppled nations. Now it is a massive creature that needs strong leadership, purpose and inward resolve to be transformed by life in Christ and to then serve Him, and so impact the people, communities, cultures and world around it. Remove the Church in America and not as much would change as it should.

    Then there would be a different tale told. The body is alive; but only parts are being exercised. The whole body needs to unite in the exercise of its faith.

    But this starts we each of us personally. There was wisdom in Gandhi’s words, ‘be the difference you want to see in the world.’ Be the difference you want to see in the church. And pray.

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  3. Pingback: I Am A Fearful Man (and i need to get over it) {pt3} « the long way home

  4. Pingback: A Shout-Out to My Mennonite Pacifists Out There… | the long way home

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