When it comes to politics and political systems (probably much to the chagrin of many of my friends and family), I have a lot of opinions. Assuredly, they may not be your opinions, and I don’t expect you to care as much about the rise to power and fall of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia/Yugoslavia in the late 90’s as I do (I wrote a paper on him in my Comparative Politics class in college). In 2000 as an undergraduate student at the University of New Mexico, my major was Political Science, particularly focused on international political ideology. I can assure you, the textbooks aren’t much more exciting than the subject matter sounds. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it – I wanted to know why societies function the way they do, what political leaders believe, and how they rise to power. I was interested in learning if there’s a significant difference between Communism, Marxism, and Fascism. And of course, I was very interested in what really goes on in the American political system and whether or not the United States is really a government by the people, for the people. In my mind, I was a future politician in the making: I loved politics and working with political campaigns, had a job with an Albuquerque law firm working on cases at the federal level, and was on the cusp of beginning a season of military service.
As I consider my past, I thank God that He had other plans for my life. I’m not sure a lot of parents feel warm and fuzzy when their child reports that their greatest ambition in life is to become a politician. I was that kid. But having a keen eye on the political process, studying the progression of policies and parties, and serving in the military at the launch of two different wars has a way of alerting a young man to the reality that ideological principles of governmental leaders really do have consequences that effect the everyday lives of real people. I may never meet the President, his staff, or any members of congress, but what they do each day has a significant impact on the future for me, my family, and the church I pastor.
I know most people won’t care about politics as much as I do, and I’m ok with that. Whether or not you know the United States is a constitutional republic and not a democracy isn’t really all that important (Did you know the founders of the United States feared democracy as much as a monarchy?). I don’t think Americans should have to pass some basic exam to prove their level of political knowledge before voting – such ideas fly in the face of the political ideology upon which the nation was founded. And yet, I do wish more Americans knew and cared about the issues that shape our nation at least to the point of being able to make informed decisions as to who they should vote for, even if they can’t or don’t want to have an engaging conversation on those issues.
As a Christian and a pastor, the politics of the country I am in take on another level of meaning that non-Christian people don’t generally pay much attention to. As the United States Government has evolved since its founding, more and more moral issues have become issues of policy on which the Church should express the truth. Additionally, policy decisions made in Washington D.C. have a significant impact on how each local church is able to function in its community. We are called to be culture shapers and makers, and we have to utilize the means at our disposal to do so. In a day when the moral repugnance of genocide via abortion, homosexual union, and euthanasia are front and center on the political stage, the Church has something to say because God has something to say. But how shall we say it?
I find it unfortunate that many pastors will preach politics from the pulpit, and in fact there is currently a movement afoot to get pastors to forego the preaching of their regularly scheduled sermon and instead encourage the people of God to support a political agenda in favor of specific political candidates. And while the move to do so might be well intentioned, it’s a pulpit crime (in the words of Dr. James White) worthy of rebuke. While the church has a duty to speak clearly with regards to moral issues like the sanctity of life and marriage, she does not have a biblical commission to promote individuals or parties for political office in the gathering of God’s people for worship.
Lord’s Day worship and the gathering of the Saints is just that – a reprieve from the cares and concerns of the world, and a time and a place for unity, peace, shared joy, and nourishment for the soul in the proper administration of the Word and Sacraments. A worship service is not a political rally nor a platform to promote the ideas of one political party over another, but rather a time and a place to focus our hearts and minds on being conformed more and more to Christ Jesus, our eternal Lord and Savior. I happen to believe that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Holy Spirit will use the Word of God to teach, reprove, correct, and train God’s people in righteousness that they may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Part of that equipping is developing a moral conscience in the people of God that informs their decision making. Christian people should know that abortion and euthanasia are murder and homosexual acts are an abomination to God. What Christian people don’t need is their pastor binding their conscience to a specific political candidate or party from the pulpit where the pronouncement is not to be “Thus sayeth your pastor,” but rather, “Thus sayeth the Lord.” God has not revealed in His Word the appropriate political voice for American Christians in the 21st Century to rally around, therefore any pronouncement of such from the pulpit is outside the bounds of the proper preaching of God’s Word.
I trust Christian people to make good choices when their conscience is formed by the Word of God. I know there are Christian people who are much more godly and holy than I, and yet express political views different than mine. While we are working from the same biblical foundation, so long as we are not saying yes to sin, we ought to lovingly submit to the reality that our Holy Spirit driven consciences will often drive us in somewhat different directions (and yes, somewhat is a modifier in this sentence, because in the grand scope, our underlying principles should bring about somewhat similar results). Yes, have good and passionate political debate – know the issues, seek to convince others of your position, and appeal to the Scriptures for your conclusions. But please don’t make the foolish statement that Jesus was either a Republican or a Democrat, that any political candidate is the greatest thing for America, or that we will be without hope if someone other than who we vote for wins a political office.
The Sovereign God of the universe has appointed the governing authorities of the world. Be in subjection to those who are appointed over you, for your good (Romans 13:1-7). Pray for our leaders, for it is pleasing to God (1 Timothy 2:1-3). And by all means, seek to live at peace with brothers and sisters in Christ and do not be at enmity over the political issues of the day. Issues will come and go, but we will dwell together as sons and daughters of God for all eternity. We may disagree and we may enjoy debating why, but we must remember that whoever is elected is God’s appointed authority, and not because others simply did not vote the way we told them they should. Remember, “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). Trust in God’s sovereignty and His care for His people – after all, He’s on our side, so who can be against us (Romans 8)? Now that will preach!
(By: Nick Kennicott)