I have in my office a book that is one of my treasures. It is a collection of Psalms for the church published in the 1860’s. The leather-bound book was a gift from a student I had the privilege of teaching in one of the college New Testament History courses. In the course I spend some time explaining the political and social situation in First Century Israel that influenced the story of Jesus and the early church recorded in the New Testament. Actually, the New Testament is an incredibly political book and it is the collision of those politics that actually caused the situation that led to the execution of Jesus. I laid out in details ideas that I plan to explain in my next two post about how Jesus ultimately brought conflict to every political party. At the end of the class that evening he asked if we could talk for a moment. This man had been a long-time auto worker and therefore union member, and his union affiliation led him to identify as a Democrat. In his pursuit of faith he attended a church for a while. But one Sunday the pastor stood up and said (at least he heard this), “You cannot be a Christian and be a Democrat. True Christians will vote Republican.” This statement wounded the man and he left organized religion. We talked for a couple hours that night, and had several other conversations about Jesus during the duration of the course. Eventually I had the honor of leading this man to authentic faith in the Lord Jesus.
Political parties are nothing new. It is fairly normal on any political level for groups to form around certain causes, ideologies, and purposes. And there is nothing particularly wrong with this. In fact, we have a calling to be salt and light in our culture, which involves our representing Christ and standing against injustice and unrighteousness. While this happens on so many levels, advocacy and involvement in the political process is very important facet of representing Christ’s Kingdom in our current world. This means that for the purpose of representing the Kingdom, we may end up in political parties and alliances whose primary goal is the shaping of the kingdoms of this world and who are led and influenced by people who are not believers in Jesus. In their book Compassion & Conviction, authors Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler say, “Jesus called us to be the salt and light of the world. Christians can’t fully pursue that commission if they’re not in contact with people outside of the faith and willing to assist those pursuing positive goals even if their foundation isn’t Biblical. The structure of the US political system and the diversity of our society make it difficult to accomplish political tasks without working with people outside a Christian belief system.” (p. 56) As we pursue the agenda of our King on a political level, it may be that our convictions and passions push is in the direction of one party or another.
On the other hand, our involvement in political parties can be a problem for our faith and witness when our allegiance to a party becomes idolatrous. When those claiming Christ are actually more discipled by political values than by the Kingdom, when our primary source of information is a set of pundits and politicians on cable news or social media rather than the Word of God, and when the people are God are more identified by their party politics than the cross, well, we have a problem. The goal of our involvement as followers of Jesus in any arena of life is that we live as representatives of True King and as agents of light shape any arena with the values He upholds as revealed in Scripture and promote the Gospel as our goal.
Simply put, either your political values and associations will be shaped by Jesus or your Jesus will be shaped by your political values and associations. A simple way to recognize this is if we begin to believe the ultimate enemy is a certain party or candidate and that ultimate victory lies in our elections and politics. At that point we run the danger of beginning to reshape Jesus as the hero of a political cause, something He rejected throughout His ministry. Christ is our eternal King and His Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Jesus will not usher in His Kingdom riding on the back of a donkey or elephant, and His Kingdom’s goals are much greater than our present political moment and are eternal in scope. Yet, as Kingdom people, part of our calling is to live out the implications of Christ’s Kingdom in our present moment, seeking to shape the present moment with the values of our King. It is the role of the church to maintain a prophetic voice that will speak clearly toward all parties and politicians. If we believe either party is the embodiment of these values, at this point we are revealing our political idolatry. Furthermore, the church tends to lose its prophetic voice in our culture when segments of the church are seen speaking out with a clear prophetic voice in one direction without calling out the sinful attitudes, actions, and injustices of their own party. These parties are made up of sinful, and substantially unsaved people whose goals are the advance of certain political ideals and values in the present. Followers of Jesus may feel the need to side with one side or the other in their vote or political advocacy and workings. But we must maintain a posture of faith in Christ as our Lord, and seeks to be salt and light to our culture. This Kingdom oriented voice will maintain its prophetic witness speaking clearly in both directions and standing with causes of righteousness and justice no matter which party seems to promote those values more.
There is a strange story in Joshua 5 on point here. Joshua is the new leader of the people of God after Moses. They are on the edge of the Promised Land knowing God has promised them victory in a conquest and that they will inherit this land. Yet, they see the military battles that lie ahead that seem daunting. The first will be with the city of Jericho whose walls seem insurmountable. At this time the messenger of the Lord (I believe this is the pre-incarnate Christ) appears as a warrior standing before Joshua with his drawn sword in his hand. Joshua immediate wonders whose side this person is on, so he asks, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” The messenger of God gives Joshua a crazy weird answer to this either/or question. He just says, “No.” I hate it when I ask my kids and either or question and they answer yes or no. Shows they weren’t listening. “Are your for us or against us,” Joshua asked. As a Hebrew who had been part of the people delivered from slavery in Egypt he expected God’s representative to say, “I am on your side.” “No”, the angel declared. He goes on to say, “But I am the commander of t the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” Joshua wants to know if the Lord is on his side or the side of Jericho. But this warriors answer is amazing. He basically says that Joshua asked the wrong question. The question is not is God on our side. The question is whether the people of God on His side. Will they trust in Him, obey Him, and live as covenant representatives of Jehovah in the world. Or will they do their own thing, embrace all kinds of idolatry, and then seek to drag God in to bless their own pursuits. We must be careful in thinking that God is on our side as we form alliances, rather, we must always be the people who decide that we are with God as revealed in the Scriptures in all things.