In my previous post in this series, I sought to explain the various political and social groups we meet in the stories of the Gospel. The first response we may have is to conclude that involvement in a political party should be avoided. In reality, I do not believe disengagement is the best response. So I want to point out another beautiful truth that we find in the pages of Sacred Scripture and the story of Jesus that I hope will be helpful for us as we consider our political partnerships and alliances. Simple put it is this. While it is true that each group as a whole rejects the Kingdom message of Jesus and is involved in the conspiracy to execute Jesus, we also find that there are members of each group who experience the transforming grace of Christ and trust Him as their Lord and Savior. Furthermore, there is really no evidence that these people laid aside the convictions that shaped to their association after their conversion. Rather, those convictions were surrendered to Christ and were now shaped by His Kingdom and purposes.
The first example I will share is from the calling of the Twelve Disciples and the makeup of this apostolic band. Each Gospel contains a list of these 12 men, and there is a something in the list that is beautiful.
 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.  The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;  Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;  Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (ESV)
I want to draw your attention to two names in the list. First is that of “Matthew the tax collector.” Tax collectors are never viewed in favorable ways in any culture. Nobody wants to get a phone call from someone representing the IRS with the news that they want to make an appointment. But in Israel the tax collector represented more than someone who would be taking some of your money. These people had aligned themselves with Rome in a deep and important way. They were true Hellenists who often had bribed Roman officials and put themselves in partnership with the oppressive rulers. They collected taxes, but with the authority of the Roman government also could shake people down for more than the taxes owed and keep the extra for self. In the view of the common Jew they were the vilest of “sinners” worse even than that days version of prostitutes and drug pushers. The second name is “Simon the Zealot.” As I wrote earlier, this political group hated Rome and everything it stood for, and were willing to use violence and even terror to influence people. During the First Century, several Zealots led uprisings against Rome (see Acts 5:36-37), which were often squashed in horrible ways, and led to mass crucifixions. But this you can know, if a Zealot has the chance to meet a tax collector in an alley it will not end well. They definitely were not going to dinner or hanging out at parties together. Yet, here they are, Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot together in the band of disciples. Jesus called them, and they followed Jesus. But that also means that they spend the next 3 years together with the band of 12. Man, I wish we were privy to some of the conversations they had while sitting around a fire eating fish during those years with Jesus. Had to be interesting, yet God did not choose to give us these things in His glorious Word. But I will also point out the language that is in the text. It does not speak of “Matthew who used to be a tax collector” or “Simon who at one time was a Zealot”. They are still identified by the convictions and tribes they participated in before meeting Christ, which is probably an indication that many of those convictions still stood. Yet, because of the Gospel they follow Jesus together. Furthermore, in the story of Acts they are part of the 12 Apostles that share the Gospel in the city on the day of Pentecost and then take this Good News to the World. What a glorious picture of the work of the Gospel as they link arms and join the greater mission together.
Another group we see is the Pharisees. Several Pharisees are known to have followed Jesus both during and after His earthly ministry. In John’s Gospel we learn of Nicodemus, who secretly comes to Jesus by night in John 3. In John 7:50-51, Nicodemus breaks ranks with his his group by calling for Jesus to have a fair trial and objective hearing. By the end of the story, Nicodemus is joined by another Pharisee named Joseph of Arimathea in taking Jesus’ body off the cross and burying Him in Joseph’s tomb (John 19:39-42). This act is one of true faith as doing this made them ceremonially unclean and therefore unable to participate in the Passover. The Apostle Paul was also a Pharisee, who had a passionate zeal for the cause leading him to go so far as to persecute, arrest, and even participate in the murder of Christ followers. He is gloriously saved by Jesus on the Road to Damascus and becomes the most important missionary the church has known. Yet, he did not lay aside the title of Pharisee(Acts 23:6) and even uses his alliance with this party when he is confronted. Paul appeals to the beliefs he holds as a Pharisee when he is being questioned, creating a theological dispute with them and the Sadducees. Of course, Paul was a follower of Jesus whose convictions were reshaped in the Gospel, but the convictions he held as a Pharisee did not go away. On the other hand, are also told in Acts 6:7 that many of the priests in Jerusalem became followers of Jesus. Since the priests there were almost all members of the Sadducee party, the early church was made up with people from both groups.
In Acts 6 we see that the early church was made up of Hebraic Jews and Hellenistic Jews and this led to a potential conflict. In this moment, the political fault line in their culture had the potential to rip the church in Jerusalem apart. No where in the solution given by the Apostles was one group called to embrace the cultural views of the other. The differences were not dissolved, yet, there was a clear command that they love each other. Furthermore the commands and plan set in place by the Apostles revealed that the mission of the church was infinitely more important than the advance of certain political and social values. In a clear and significant way, this is one of the things that made the early church so compelling. People who could not agree and may have even hated each other as they lived apart from Christ had found in Jesus their Lord. As a result, their passions and values were now shaped by the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ. As a result they now lived in loving fellowship as a faith family together.
This theme is further demonstrated as the New Testament tells the story of the spread of the Gospel and the planting of churches in cities all over the Roman Empire. The preaching of the Gospel reaches Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles (which also represent many distinct and different ethnic groups and tribes). These groups generally held completely opposing social views and tended to dislike (being nice here) each other. Yet, when Christ becomes King, their passions had to submit to Jesus and they joined a diverse family. The world could not make sense of this, that people who were so different is all ways, even politically could have this kind of love for one another.
Ours is such a divisive moment. It seems to be difficult for people in respective tribes and parties to interact with people with opposing views and alliances. As this has filtered into Christ’s church, way too often, this means that unity can only happen when the church basically chooses sides and marginalizes people with differing politics. But this is not the call of Christ. The beauty of the Gospel has always been most on display when Jesus’ followers are representative of diverse groups that make up the people of the culture, yet, they live in loving unity under the Lordship of Jesus. So a few applications for us as I end this portion of these blogs (there are a few more coming) about political parties and the Kingdom.
- It is OK for convictions to shape you in such a way that it leads you to identify with a political party. The Zealot was still a Zealot, the Pharisee still a Pharisee. Yet, those allegiances must be shaped in the Gospel and the mission of Christ must be first. Moreover, The Word of God must shape those convictions more than the values of the party. Or as I said in the last post, it is a good thing when our beliefs lead us to a party, it is not a good thing when my party is what is forming my beliefs.
- But we must also be comfortable with the reality that Jesus loving people will have differing convictions about political issues than you. And since they are rescued and redeemed in Christ and now part of your family of faith you are compelled to love them, listen to them, and live in unity with them. Learn to have coffee, hearty discussion, and even loving debates. But in the end, if they love Jesus the call is to love each other deeply and sacrificially.
- Therefore, it is a very dangerous thing when we begin communicating that one party or the other represents the cause of Jesus. Jesus does not take sides, He stands for justice and righteousness, and His mission transcends all political causes.
- The unity of the True Church is not going to be formed by political beliefs. It is always our allegiance to Christ as King that brings us in unity together. And it is the clear will of God and command of Christ that this unity be maintained above all else. Or, as I heard Mark Dever say in a recent talk on this topic, “The purpose of our unity (in Christ) is far more important than any political issue we hold.” He went on to say, ““Caring about the positions people hold more than the people who hold them is unchristian, harmful, and undermines the loving care we (the church) should be giving.”
- This diversity in unity is what makes the Gospel so compelling to the unbelieving world. Jesus did not say, “They will know you are Christians by your political ideologies.” He did say that they will know we are Christians by our love for one another (John 13:35). This was true of Hellenists and Hebraic Jews then. It was true when Jew and Gentile Christians were brought into the church (see Ephesians 2:11-22). It is true of us today when the church is truly a reflection of the diversity of ethnicity, socio-economic status, and political values found in the culture, yet the people love and serve Jesus as their True King together faithfully.
So good! And thank you for the application points.
I always enjoy the history lesson that I learn from reading your blogs. The things I tend to gloss right over, you so accurately point out are truly part of the gospel message (i.e. the Tax Collector and Zealot being disciples together).
Thanks for helping me look at things from a fresh perspective. Not only historically, but in today’s politically charged climate.