Politics and the Pulpit
In the American context, the separation of church and state means that the American government cannot sponsor a “state church,” like our British friends have with the Anglican Church. It does not mean that any particular church is unable to take political sides. But should a church take political sides? What insight can scripture give us into politics and the pulpit?
The Old Testament
We must be cautious in what we can pull from the Old Testament. Not only did “churches” not exist then, but “politics” didn’t happen in the way we understand it today, either. There were no political parties and no democracy. There were monarchs with absolute power and prophets who spoke God’s word directly to them. The prophets were not preachers like we know them today.
Nevertheless, I think that we can take a few principles from the Old Testament. While we tend to think of the prophets as fortune-tellers, that’s not their role. Their role was to speak God’s word to the powerful, and prophesying judgment upon rulers and nations for failing to uphold their moral duty was a part of that. John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, was killed because he condemned Herod's marriage to his sister-in-law.
Today, the church as a whole carries that prophetic role to the nations to reflect God's moral character, but not in the same way. The church itself should bear witness and warning to the powerful when they abuse their power and oppress the weak. But how we see that bear out in practice changes in the New Testament.
The New Testament
In the beginning of the New Testament, Israel was occupied territory. The relationship between the Jews and Rome was fraught with political tension. Factions within the Jews who wanted to work with Rome and who wanted to fight had extremely strained relationships.
Into this tension, Jesus was born and worked his ministry. People on both sides tried to pull Jesus into their political (and theological) disagreements, one way or the other. Yet, Jesus refused to enter the political fray (Matthew 22:17-22, for example).
Likewise, the apostles taught obedience to political authority despite the pressure and persecution upon them (Romans 13:1-7). During Paul's imprisonment, he doesn't proclaim the moral failings of the leaders. Instead, he preaches Christ crucified. Does that mean that the pulpit and politics should be entirely separate? Just as I don’t see any Biblical basis for explicit political preaching or nationalism from the pulpit, neither do I think it’s quite right to say that the pulpit should be entirely separate from the political realm.
The primary role of the New Testament preacher is to, well, preach. But in what way? I would argue that expositional preaching—preaching through the text of scripture and explaining its meaning—is the primary duty of a pastor (2 Timothy 4:2). Scripture, while not political, elevates certain moral values (what kind of character we should have) and places certain moral duties (what we should do and not do) on us. Jesus and the early Christians were less concerned about having political power than they were about reforming society from within by working in their communities as Christians—little Christs. By teaching the body of Christ what the scriptures say and how that should bear upon our moral lives, the preacher builds souls who can reform society, not by owning power, but by being the servant of all.
Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
– Mark 10:42-45 (CSB)
This is not an exhaustive look at the relationship between the church, pastors, or Christians and politics. After all, I am a Christian, and while I try not to directly reference politics, the issues I write about sometimes are politically charged. And I try to do that with charity and balance.
In this article, I wanted to specifically reference Lord's Day preaching to the body of believers. Whether you agree with my Biblical theological (looking at an issue through the broad sweep of scripture) view on this issue or not, I hope that we can all think critically about this issue. Too much of modern American church seems to be taken for granted rather than brought from the text and theology of scripture.
Let’s explore this week’s links together.
Explore the Scriptures 📖
I hate being lost. Few things are more frustrating for me than meandering through an unfamiliar city, or hopelessly searching for an elusive item in the supermarket. I confess I’m not pleasant to be around in such moments.
Yet lost is exactly how I feel every time I come to Isaiah. As I begin reading, the same thoughts seize my attention: I will soon be lost; totally disoriented; Isaiah feels too big; there is no immediately discernible structure. Perhaps you share this experience. Somewhere in the middle of Isaiah 24, you begin to reel at the winding path that has brought you there and the unknown path that awaits you.
Isaiah (and all the prophets) are difficult to read. They’re writing for an unfamiliar people, in an unfamiliar time, in an unfamiliar style. Becoming familiar with their style and the names and places they reference is difficult and time-consuming. Davy Ellison provides us with a brief sketch of a map. He walks us through Isaiah’s five “movements” (like classical music movements) This is only a very brief walk-through of Isaiah, but save it for the next time you are reading Isaiah, perhaps if you do a Bible in a year plan.
Consider the Culture 🎨
This is one of Tolkien’s most famous poems. The superscript is “To one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though ‘breathed through silver’.”
You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are 'trees', and growing is 'to grow');
you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star's a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, Inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.
Tolkien famously led C.S. Lewis to faith by teaching Lewis that Jesus is the “true myth.” Tolkien certainly doesn’t believe that myths are worthless. God has woven story into the human imagination and into the world itself. Jesus was a storyteller theologian, and scripture itself is a grand unified story leading to Jesus.
The most impactful stories are those of the good sacrificing for the undeserving. Tolkien understood that those stories have the impact they do because there is something within us that longs for someone to sacrifice that way for us. For someone to love us that much. Jesus did, and therefore we cannot ignore the power of myth and story to draw forth men and women’s desire for that story to be true.
This poem does that and brings to us the beauty of story and myth itself. It’s much more impactful to hear this poem spoken, so I recommend reading it aloud. It’s fairly long, so perhaps you’d like to read it through with somebody else and alternate stanzas.
Consider Another Perspective 🤔
There’s no denying that the enneagram has become a sensation over the last few years. If you have somehow managed to avoid it and don’t know what it is, it’s a personality system. You can find any number of quizzes online that will give you a number or set of numbers and an explanation of what that number describes about your personality.
Todd Wilson has written a book in favor of using the enneagram to help understand family or church members, while Marcia Montenegro explains the connection between the enneagram and the new age. I haven’t come to a conclusion on this for myself, but if you’re aware of the enneagram and either use it or shun it, it’s good to hear the other side of the debate.
- The Enneagram Goes to Church: Wisdom for Leadership, Worship, and Congregational Life | Todd Wilson 📚
- Christian Answers for the New Age | Marcia Montenegro 📃
Challenge Your Brain 🧠
Dr. Tim Stratton is asked about the form of government in the new heavens and new earth. While I have spent some time thinking about what the new heavens and earth are and what we will do, I must admit that I haven’t thought much about the government of heaven. Stratton argues that the government of heaven will be a monarchy over an anarchy of perfectly good and free creatures.
Listen and Reflect 🎧
Jen Wilken joins the Crossway podcast to talk about her book on the Ten Commandments, but this podcast probably isn’t what you think it is.
Today we’re going to talk about the Ten Commandments, but before we get into that, my guess is that there are probably some people listening right now who might already be thinking, Huh. An interview about the Ten Commandments. I know where this is going. This feels a little bit simple. We’ve all heard this before.
From there, the podcast winds into several topics, like the dangers of moralism, the need for Bible literacy, and how modern Christians tend to think about law. There’s some discussion about a few of the actual commandments too.
Read and Reflect 📖
I cannot count the number of TV shows I’ve read in the last few years that have referenced “finding your truth.” That’s an exaggeration, but you get the point. It’s become very common to find your true self in your story. When you “follow your heart” you cannot go wrong because you are being true to yourself.
Jon Bloom argues that is all wrong.
“Follow your heart” is a familiar phrase — essentially a pop cultural creed — representing a belief that our heart is a kind of compass that will lead us to true happiness if we just have the courage to listen to it. As I’ve explained previously, I think this belief is both misleading and dangerous.
It’s misleading because “follow your heart” can sound like a sacred quest — as if not following your heart violates your truest self — when all it really means is “pursue what you desire.” And stated that way, we can all more clearly see what makes the phrase dangerous, since desires arising from remaining aspects of our fallen nature are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9) and can lead us into deep trouble.
Instead, he unpacks Proverbs 23:19:
Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way.
I’ve you’ve been given the advice to “follow your heart” when making a decision, don’t miss this one.
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
Spirit-Anointing and New Testament Church Leadership: Are Our Church Leaders Uniquely "Anointed” | Scott MacDonald 📃 →
Should we seek for “anointed” people to lead our churches? There’s a growing movement in churches (at least in American churches) that seeks special leadership that God has chosen and has “anointed” in a special way. Rather than just accepting this as the way things are, we should search the scriptures to understand if this is how God has set up his church, or if it’s man-made. Scott MacDonald takes up that task in this article for The Gospel Coalition’s Themelios peer-reviewed journal.
MacDonald starts by outlining the issue:
The Potter’s House North Dallas (affiliated with T. D. Jakes) boasts concerning one of their leaders, “The fresh anointing on Bishop Joby Brady, complemented with an insight in the revelation of God’s word, is touching the hearts of people around the world.” If someone is not sure if they have received anointing, they do not need to worry since articles like “5 Things Anointed Leaders Have” are aplenty online.
He then moves on to examine what “anointing” means in Scripture, first in the Old Testament, then as it applies to Jesus, and finally in the New Testament. He then examines whether it is biblically sound to talk about some leaders as “anointed” in a special way. MacDonald outlines four dangerous results of this theology. I’ll give you a taste of MacDonald’s conclusions with his first and third points which resonated with me:
Therefore, should we look for “anointed leadership” in the church today? The Scripture does not support such language or the theology behind it. We will encounter the following four consequences when we obfuscate the biblical terminology.
First, leadership offices are arbitrarily safeguarded for a privileged status (i.e., anointed) that is not biblically delineated as a unique leadership quality. The requirements for holding New Testament offices are stated (apostle: 1 Cor 9:1, 15:7–9; elder/overseer: 1 Tim 3:1–7, Titus 1:5–9; deacon: 1 Tim 3:8–13), and possessing an additional anointing is not included, as that is an Old Testament concept of leadership.
Third, the “anointing” label for church leaders only deepens the divide between laity and clergy… We bemoan the atrophy of many pew-dwellers, those who muster mere overtures concerning the mission of the church in the world. Yet as long as we embrace concepts like Spirit-anointing for a few privileged leaders, should they not be apathetic? They supposedly lack the full commission of the Spirit, and the spiritually rich can surely accomplish the work of the ministry without the minute contributions of the spiritually poor. What an error!
I will leave the final two issues with confusing Spirit-anointing and how he reached those conclusions as an exercise for you, dear reader. A theological journal article may be intimidating to some readers, but there’s no need to be intimidated. MacDonald writes in an easy-to-understand and clear way.
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
– 2 Corinthians 13:13 (CSB)
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