I am sure that this is how many Christians are feeling in the wake of last week's mid-term elections. To be sure, Christians have a responsibility to participate in the constructive governance of their society and, where freedom allows them, to choose their leaders according to biblical principles and if possible become leaders themselves who govern accordingly. We were given this opportunity last week and we, as a nation, have made our choice. The full consequences of this choice remain to be seen but suffice it to say that the things important to the Church will not likely be preeminent in the halls of Congress.
It is at this point that I am reminded of Israel's demand to Samuel, "Appoint for us a King!" By this time in Israel's history Samuel had grown old, appointing his sons as judges over Israel but they were corrupt and the people were frustrated and so they demanded a method of governance comparable to the pagans. They no longer wanted to live under the loving rule and reign of God. So rather than call upon the Lord to address and remedy injustice in the land they sought to rely on human means: a king, thinking the right leader could alleviate their woes.
It seems to me that for quite some time we Christians have pursued a similar approach by our over-reliance upon politics and the "right" leaders to advance biblical values and principles in society. I am sure that if the Republicans had held on to Congress many Christians would have breathed a sigh of relief and thought, "Everything's going to be OK!" as if the right political structure can produce a moral and Christian culture. Again, a political structure that supports the biblical understanding of reality can no doubt aid in the Church's influence in culture but it can never fulfill entirely the Church's mission.
It is essential for the Church to be active in the political arena as this is an important institution of culture but it is only one institution and one of the least influential. I would argue from a historical perspective that politics is more reflective of culture than transformative. Education, the arts, business and media too are important and frankly more influential institutions of culture where Christians should be actively working to "take captive every thought" but sadly these were long ago abandoned by the Church and thus they are now dominated by secular-humanist leaders and thinkers. The institutions themselves now reflect these values and principles which today contribute much more so than government to shaping the philosophical consensus in America. The result has been the systematic de-Christianization of American life and culture and politics will not reverse this condition.
No doubt, many Christians see the effects of this secularization but in the absence of a more thorough understanding of Christian interaction with culture the Church tends to gravitate to the simplest response: political action. In addition, we lack perseverance; we want immediate results and we are not willing to engage in the long and difficult work of actually being salt and light. We aren't willing to roll up our sleeves and take on the problems of our society because we too would prefer the government to serve as the instrument of best remedy.
However, James tells us that "pure religion" is religion that is socially involved - looking "after orphans and widows in their distress." We are to be guardian and provider to those who have need, showing them the love of Christ in both word and deed.
Our Lord Himself tells us that the second greatest commandment is to "Love your neighbor as yourself." It is this love of neighbor that the Church must recover as its primary means of interaction with the culture and not politics. (The recovery of this as primary would lend greater credibility to all of our other areas of cultural engagement including politics.) Our "neighbors" are all who are in need; those who are sick or lonely. The world is filled with the broken-hearted, the hurting, and the oppressed (financially, emotionally and physically). There is no lack of need which the Church can and could meet if we would only follow the example of our Savior and ask that His burden be ours.
Perhaps this is the answer to the question, "What are we to do?" By taking away the Church's ability to rely on politics and government; perhaps the Lord wants us to recover pure religion. Maybe the Lord, in His mercy, has taken from us that which we have wrongly trusted in and to which we have "made offerings." Maybe (because I do not presume to know the mind of God) the Lord wants us, like Hezekiah, to remove the Asherah poles in our contemporary American lives and "trust the Lord," which means that we give ourselves to him as servants sent into the world to demonstrate the love of Christ, the King and ruler of heaven and earth!
As for me and my house; we will continue to participate in the constructive governance of our nation but we will also repent of our reliance upon politics and plead with the Lord to place in our hearts a sense of pure religion that brings honor and glory to Jesus. Lord, use your Church to do that which we have erroneously relied upon the government and "kings" to do. Plant within us a burden for the suffering and a love of our neighbor; make your glory manifest in and through your Church and let the world see our good works!
Copyright S. Michael Craven 2006
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S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.