Mutual Contempt and the Politicization of the Gospel.

As the Health Care bill divides the senate (and nation), national debt spirals out of control and Sarah Palin becomes a best selling author (tea party anyone?) the political landscape has never been more…interesting.  After a historic win to a man who promised bi-partisanship and transparency, we have to ask, have we reached middle ground yet? Have opponents exchanged the political loathing and name calling for a more effective approach? I mean, that was so 2008 right? On the far right we have the Beck-infused crowd of tea party throwing, suburban driving, big corporation loving red states. On the left, our Eco-friendly hybrid drivers, concerned with preserving nature and women’s choice. In the midst of this never ending political debacle, the church exists as the only eternal institution on the planet who’s sole purpose is to bring glory to the Creator by being a light for truth in a dark and decaying world. Yet, as our world evolves and issues change if we aren’t careful this generation will follow our predecessors into a dangerous mindset of mutual contempt for our opponents with an underlining idolatrous obsession with politics instead of the Gospel. We must remind ourselves as evangelicals that political leaders can not change the course of our morally wayward and desperately searching society, only the Church can. The necessary and bloody Gospel has too quickly been exchanged for political gain and evangelicals are now consistently (and fairly so) stereotyped with political agendas instead of characteristics of a body humility and grace. The result is an ugly representation of Christ’s redeemed and a beaten, bloodied Body due to battles fought not in spiritual places but in a narcissist driven Fight Club arena of fleeting politics, resulting in a highly ineffective and overly politicized Gospel.

The Gospel, essentially, is an announcement of the highest magnitude, one that can not be deduced to protests, recycling or knee-jerk reactions to left-wing issues. The Gospel is a call for people far from God to draw near to God through the bloody and necessary death of his Son, Jesus Christ to offer us forgiveness and right standing with Him. The Gospel is a calling to radicalism, which should be our response to the size and awesomeness of God. It is dangerous to label our ‘mission’ anything other than this. Kevin DeYoung puts it “the message of a heavenly Father who adopts unworthy children of wrath through the work of His Son on the cross.” And while believers are called to permeate all facets of society we loose tracking with unbelievers on spiritual and eternal issues when we constantly insert political issues into our agenda. We can not be entrenched in spiritual warfare, consumed with the power of the Gospel, immersed in the mission of the rescue of a lost world and the sanctification of a redeemed church all the while centralizing ourselves as synonymous with a certain political party. This produces a lukewarm Gospel and weak church and public opinion of evangelicals remains all to skeptical

As one time political leader turned Gospel minister, Chuck Colson reflects in an interview with Time Magazine  “We made a big mistake in the ‘80s by politicizing the Gospel,” Colson said. “We ought to be engaged in politics, we ought to be good citizens, we ought to care about justice. But we have to be careful not to get into partisan alignment. We [thought] that we could solve the deteriorating moral state of our culture by electing good guys. That’s nonsense.” He goes on to emphasize “There’s an intelligent way to engage the culture in every area, including politics. But you can’t fix politics or culture unless you fix the church. What we’re seeing in society today is a direct consequence of the church failing to be the church.”

Jesus would liken much of today’s self-righteous and self-absorbed church with the Pharisees of His time. The Pharisees naturally come across as the bad guys to us because we know the entire story; we see them in the context of the Gospel. But to live in first century Jerusalem you would have considered them among the city’s elite ‘do-gooders’ constantly blessing, teaching, tithing and fasting, they would have been deemed Jerusalem’s premier pillars of faith. The tax collector would have been today’s abortionist or the fiscal equivalent to Bernie Madoff. In Luke 18 Jesus gives us a picture of true humility:

9“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth] of everything I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me —a sinner ‘ 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” [NASB]

Although we desire to be the humble, forgiven tax collector, all too often this story stands as a mirror that reflects our deeply entrenched pride filled hearts- mine and yours. Sure, we are not the abortionist doctors, we do not stand in favor of gay marriage and we have not robbed thousands of people of their hard-earned money. But suddenly when we puff ourselves up for not being like ‘the others’, we forget the vastness of our forgiveness. Were we not just as guilty as the next who came to Christ? Did Christ’s blood need to be applied more for them than us? What a dangerous mindset. When we approach the throne of grace with the humility of the tax collector we are able to see our culture for what it is – completely desperate for the forgiveness we have received and yet still entirely in control of our great God. As Solomon reminds us “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Prov. 16:33)

Too often Evangelicals come off with a very low view of God’s sovereignty and control. For in all of our political bickering we not only appear to have the idea that the will of God hinges on gaining political ground for our preferred party, but I’m afraid that we have actually adapted for ourselves the frame of mind that believes the success of our Creator and the transformation of our culture lies in the ballot of the American vote. Where does our faith lie? Perhaps it is not that we have not treaded enough political waters or risen above the elite in Washington, perhaps our failure to impact our culture with truth and long term change lies in our own unbelief in the magnitude of our God and our lack of prayer and humility. As J.D. Greear  reminds us “Sin thrives in a combination of pride and unbelief” and prayerlessness becomes the inevitable result of such pride. This is where much of our church lies today. A body that has been redeemed yet at times remains ineffective in a culture that is so desperately searching for truth. We have overestimated our own abilities to effect change and underestimated the One who actually has the power to transform lives. Therein lies this generation’s mission and greatest challenge, to live and breathe radically changed by the power of the One who has transformed us in a way that the love and power of the God who lives within us is irresistibly life-altering. That’s change we can believe in. That’s the Gospel.

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