Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Can our Politics Get in the Way of the Gospel?

The new church plant that Lori and I are a part of here in Orlando, Lake Baldwin Church, is seeking to create what our pastor, Mike Tilley, calls a "gospel culture." This means that the gospel is not only for non-Christians, but it is also for those of us that are already believers in Christ. Once we initially place our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins does not mean that we no longer need the gospel. The good news of Jesus should permeate our lives everyday. We are still sinners in need of a Savior -- just because the penalty of those sins has been forgiven does not mean we still don't need to experience the forgiveness of Christ.

Our church is currently going through Tim Keller's study on Galatians in order to help create this gospel culture (Lori is posting each week on that Sunday's lesson. Check out her most recent post here). One of the problems of the early church, which the book of Galatians so adequately addresses, was that some Jewish believers in Christ were expecting Gentiles who had come to Christ to become like them. That is, they were to become culturally Jewish. They were adding to the gospel and expecting these new Gentile converts to adhere to the Law. They were expecting them to believe and practice things that the gospel doesn't require.

Just like the early believers 2,000 years ago, we struggle with the same temptation to add to the gospel in order for people to become like us. Just a few weeks ago during some roundtable discussions after our Sunday morning service, we were having a conversation about what it is that we tend to add to the gospel in someone being a true believer in Christ. One of the gentlemen in my group, shared that he felt that if someone voted for a particular candidate (I won't mention the person here) that he would really question the sincerity of their faith. I was a bit taken aback as the facilitator of this discussion with this comment since...I had voted for the very individual that he mentioned.

Since this guy was being vulnerable with this admission, I didn't feel compelled to let him know that I had voted for the very person that he didn't like. But how do you think this made me feel? I'm leading this group and I'm sitting next to a guy that is fine with me now, but if I were to share with him my voting record, he would struggle with whether I was a Christian or not. Hearing his comment gave me an opportunity to live out this gospel culture that we emphasize -- for people to be real, to share their true feelings and not be judged for it. He shared how he really felt and I didn't need to blast him for it.

But do you ever feel the same way? Do you question someone's faith if they voted for George W. Bush? Or do you wonder about their spiritual walk if they voted for John Kerry? The funny thing is, I have a pretty diverse readership of this blog -- there are people that voted for both of these individuals and I don't question their spiritual maturity either way. Personally, I have trouble subscribing to the platform of either of the two major political parties in America because there are elements of both parties that I like and things that I don't like. You can read a previous post that I wrote on the separation of church and state here.

No matter what our political views may be, I think that it's essential that we do not add to or take away from the gospel due to our political preferences. America is very polarized right now when it comes to politics and we need to be wise about how we express our political viewpoints when around others. Because evangelical Christians are so perceived as being aligned with the right wing of the Republican party, a non-believer that is truly interested in learning more about Christ may shut off a person if their political opinions supersede their commitment to share the unadulterated gospel. Is it worth it to put that political bumper sticker on our minivan knowing that if our church parking lot is full of vehicles with the same stickers that some seekers may turn right around and never enter in?

Wes Haddaway, a pastor in Iowa, recently wrote an article addressing this all-important topic here. Why don't you take a moment to read it and I've love to hear your thoughts on it. We certainly need to be involved with the issues that are most on God's heart and do so in a way that does not hinder the spreading of His kingdom.

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Anonymous said...

Politics in our nation have certainly become one of the most divisive subjects of our time. Fueled by media outlets and political pundits our nation is becoming more passionate about their hatred for the opposite side. This brings about the age old question, "should Christians engage in politics?" I think more accurately stated is, "How should Christians engage in politics?"

I suppose a sticker on the bumper of a car could sway someone to not take a peak inside of a church and see what is going on due to that person's own political affiliation. At the same time, ought Christians forfeit their right and privilege to fully participate in the political process?

Oddly enough, this type of proposal appears to only be made to those who hold conservative candidates dear to heart. The black church has had a long standing relationship with the Democratic Party. You see democrats preaching their public policy from the pulpit. They are introduced and fully endorsed by many black pastors. In light of this, I don't believe I have ever heard someone state that politics in this fashion has stopped someone from attending church and hearing the gospel.

As ambassadors of Christ and the gospel we do not want to do anything that would legitimately hinder people from receiving the good news of the cross. Most people have hindered themselves enough. However, I would not want to remove the right of people to express their thoughts and beliefs on political issues. Such dialogue could prove profitable by way of evangelism. I have had this happen myself.

Those who are prominent, visible leaders of the church may want to mask their political affiliations so they may appeal to all people. They must become all things to all people so that some might be saved. The church itself should be neutral when it comes to political candidates (most of the time), but quite supportive and active when it comes to issues. Right now there is a mass movement to slow down the deterioration of our nation’s moral state by legislating values. If that is to happen, churches are going to need to take a stand. Keep in mind, Christianity is life. It permeates your values, worldview, hopes, dreams, and even your elected candidates. It informs every decision you make.

At the same time, everything is political. Try to find one issue that does not pass through the political spectrum. If everything is political and Christianity touches all of life, it is impossible to separate the two. You can take bumper stickers off of cars, but you can't easily take the beliefs off of the heart.

Christians should not shy away from politics. This has been the strategy of some and it has been to our demise. Our political stances should not precede the gospel. We should let the love of Christ go before us in everything we do. Be ye Republican or Democrat, "be" Christian and it will all pan out in the end.

scottmcrocker said...

I'm certainly not saying that Christians should not engage in the political process nor am I saying that they should not appropriately express their political opinions. What I am saying is that we should not throw our viewpoints around so promiscuously when we don't know how those opinions may be received by others. Nor should we "add to" the gospel by stating that good Christians should be Republicans or good Christians should be Democratcs, etc. I know this is not what you're saying, but that is what my point in the post was.