Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A New Year's Resolution for the Church

This New Year is also an election year.  As I write things in Iowa are humming as Republican candidates face their first formal electoral challenge.  Interestingly enough for our discussion on this blog, the news media are reporting that the Evangelical opinion is divided on which Republican candidate is the best.  Does this promise, I wonder, even further fragmentation in the church—not simply between Christian Democrats and Christian Republicans, but even among the Christian Republicans?  Who knows.

Political disagreement among Christians is bound to happen—even among Republican Christians.  And to my way of thinking this is OK.  It proves that we are thinking.  If we are really wrestling with the complex issues before us, we will not all agree on the best strategy for nudging our country in the right direction.

But there is one thing I hope very much that Christians can all agree on--one thing I would like to recommend as a suitable New Years’ Resolution for the church during an election year.  It is this: That in the midst of all the important and valid political discussion of 2012, we will not be diverted from our essential tasks.

There are certain things that simply will not happen if the church does not do them.  They are (1) praying for God’s kingdom to come, (2) evangelizing and discipling the nations, and (3) caring for the poor and weak in Jesus’ name.  To do these things right calls for an enormous expenditure of time and energy—much of which can be siphoned off during an election year if we give the wrong sort of attention to power politics. 

Notice I say “power politics”—by which I mean the politics of election, and by which I mean to remind us all that “politics” in the broader sense (politics as the science and practice of learning how to live together) is a major concern of the gospel and continues whether or not we are campaigning in the narrow sense.   When the church stays on target—when she keeps her priorities properly—she actually contributes in the most powerful way imaginable to the improvement of politics in this broad sense.  And when the church allows herself to get politicized—pushing hard for this or that “man made” solution, she actually robs her neighbors of their greatest social and political need—namely the new heart that the grace of God at the cross alone can bring.

Let me put it this way.  Societies change most dramatically as people change, one by one, from the inside out, rather than by the imposition of rules and restraints from the outside in or from the top down.  Sometimes, of course, those restraints must be imposed. That is why God established our government, and why we respect it and the process we are engaged in this year: Without God’s rule through our government, our natural selfishness would reign uncontrollably and make living together impossible. But a greater glory shines, and a better society thrives, when people voluntarily come to bow with joy before the King of kings and this heartfelt allegiance spills over into all of life. Renewed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who writes God’s moral law on the heart (see Ezekiel 36:25–28), people need less and less the fear of governmental sanctions to make them live as they should.

Who is responsible for advancing this powerful and strategic solution to society’s woes? Clearly, it is the church.   So let’s stay focused.  Someone (was it Casey Stengel?) has said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  Let that be our 2012 New Year’s resolution.

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