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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Politically Incorrect?


By: Grace To You - gty.org - Article Link
If you came thinking I’m going to tell you how to vote this year, or suggest ways to mobilize your people to sway elections in your home town, you are probably going to be disappointed. In fact, those of you who know anything about me might be surprised that I’m even dealing with a topic like this one. I was frankly surprised when the guys who organize these seminars assigned me this session. Election-year politics are not really my cup of tea. And I don’t mean I’m not interested in the subject. I mean that I purposely try to keep my distance from it.
How to Shepherd Your Congregation in an Election Year.There’s a good reason for that. Before I became a Christian, I was a hard-core, obsessive political activist. Throughout my high-school years, I thought I wanted to be either a politician or a newspaper pundit when I grew up. That was my highest worldly aspiration, and the political power-struggle was the single, central, driving interest of my life. But when I became a Christian, I gave that passion up for something infinitely better—something of eternal value: the gospel of Christ.
I won’t give you my whole testimony about that. It’s on an audio-recording of one of my sermons somewhere downloadable from the Internet. But the short version is that from the night of my conversion until today, I have deliberately steered clear of partisan politics in the same way most of you would try to steer clear of pornography or recreational drugs. Because in my own experience as an unregenerate person, party politics represented that same kind of addiction. In fact, it was the very first worldly fixation I set aside when I became a Christian—because it struck me almost from the outset that an obsession with earthly power and political ideology is basically an addiction to the wisdom of this world, which is foolishness with God.
That’s not to suggest that I’m naturally apathetic about politics. To this day, I know that if I listened to a steady diet of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, I would begin to feel rising fits of those same old political passions. But political activism was so much of an idol in my old, pre-Christian life that today I think of it in pretty much the same way the apostle Paul said he regarded his former life as a Pharisee: I count it as dung. I’ve relegated those passions to the rubbish heap of things I count as loss, “In order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Some of you are probably already thinking that sounds pretty harsh. If you are inclined to be a political activist yourself, you no doubt think I’m terribly short-sighted, or too much of an isolationist. I hasten to say that I’m not suggesting there’s anything inherently sinful about holding electoral office or doing public service. If it’s your calling to be mayor of your town or a congressman from your district, you’ll get nothing but encouragement from me as long as you seek to fulfill that task to the glory of Christ. But you need to do that not merely by flexing your power, but mainly by being a consistent example of Christlike service and humility. Of course, that’s just what every Christian in the secular workplace should endeavor to do. In the words of 1 Timothy 4:12, “in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”
I thank God for Christians whose vocation is to serve faithfully in our government—including those elected officials who are devoted Christians. But let’s be clear, here: that’s a different vocation from the calling of a pastor. And I am speaking to you as pastors and church leaders: It’s well-nigh impossible to be a good pastor full time if you also fancy yourself a political lobbyist.
We need to remember that political clout has nothing whatsoever to do with spiritual power. Study the priorities for the church in the New Testament; look at the duties Scripture outlines for shepherds of the flock. You’ll find no mandate to press the government for legislation on moral issues. In fact, what you’ll see is that jockeying for political clout is one of the very strategies Jesus named as worldly methods that are not to characterize leadership in His kingdom. He said His kingdom is permanently set apart from every earthly dominion because Christ’s kingdom is advanced by humble service rather than through the kind of political strategies that depend on the exercise of human authority.
I’ll show you that in a moment, but first I want to stress this: Nothing in the past half century has done more damage to the evangelical cause than the notion that the best way for Christians to influence society is by wielding our collective political clout. If you think the most important answer to the ills of our society is a legislative remedy; if you imagine that political activism is the most effective way for the church to influence culture; or if you suppose the church is going to win the world for Christ by lobbying in the halls of Congress and by rallying Christians to vote for this or that type of legislation—then both your trust and your priorities are misplaced.
Personally, I think the tendency to seek legislative remedies for every social ill is one of the absolute worst tendencies of contemporary secular society, and it disturbs me greatly to see Christians more or less follow that pattern blindly. To borrow a thought from the title of John MacArthur’s least-popular book ever, Government Cannot Save Us. The only power that can truly and permanently rescue human society from its own spiritual ills is the transforming power of gospel of Jesus Christ. And that happens through the regeneration of individual human hearts, right? We need to remind ourselves of that fact often, and put more of our energies into the task of evangelism.
We are pastors and church leaders who formally and confessionally recognize the authority of Scripture. Practically the worst kind of spiritual treason we could ever commit would be to supplant the gospel message with a different message, or to allow an earthly agenda to crowd out our spiritual duties. That is exactly the risk we take when we pour money and resources into political and legislative remedies for our society’s spiritual problems.
In 2008 America saw one of the most hotly contested presidential elections ever. For the first time in more than two decades, the so-called religious right had no clear-cut favorite choice in the primaries. By the time the two major parties finally chose their candidates, neither of the leading presidential nominees had credibly expressed any distinctly evangelical convictions. In fact, I think it would be fair to say both parties chose men who were basically secular humanists (though, obviously, one was more liberal than the other). Before he threw his hat into the presidential race, the Republican candidate was wobbly on the issues of abortion and same-sex unions—and he had repeatedly made it clear that he didn’t share the passions of evangelical voters. He once referred to evangelical Republicans as “agents of intolerance.” Though he softened that stance during the race and even chose a running mate known for her evangelical convictions, the ticket was still hardly representative of the priorities evangelical voters had long fought for.
Now, consider the bitter irony of this: For more than two decades the number-one  issue on the agenda of the evangelical wing of the religious right has been abortion. The number-one legislative goal of evangelical political activists has been to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized abortion. Politically-active evangelicals have been instrumental—in fact, they have been the decisive factor—in the election of every Republican president from Ronald Reagan until now. And yet not only have they failed to achieve their single most-coveted political goal, but they are now approaching a presidential election without a single viable candidate who shares their views.
And meanwhile, if anything, America’s moral decline has accelerated dramatically since evangelicals became politically aggressive in the late 1970s. Although by most accounts evangelicals constitute the largest single voting bloc in America, they have been remarkably ineffective when it comes to using politics to reverse America’s moral and spiritual decline. In fact, if you measure their success or failure according to their own stated political ambitions, evangelicals have failed spectacularly in America’s political arena. Over the past quarter-century, they have not accomplished any of their long-term legislative or constitutional goals.
Worst of all, during that same period of time, the evangelical movement has completely lost its spiritual influence, because the evangelical segment of the church has grown increasingly worldly. Evangelicals have become accustomed to compromise. They have abandoned (or else are in the process of abandoning) virtually all the doctrinal distinctives that made them distinct from Roman Catholics and nominal Christians whose faith amounts to a kind of civil religion. Evangelicals have pretty much forfeited whatever real moral and spiritual authority their movement ever had.
Consider the fact that almost no one in the evangelical world had more political savvy than Ted Haggard, the now-discredited president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He actually advised the White House on evangelical issues. Before his fall from grace, The Wall Street Journal called him “one of the nation’s most politically influential” ministers in America, and Harper’s Magazine said this about him: “No pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism than does Pastor Ted.” But whatever his accomplishments in the political arena, by his own admission Ted Haggard was a liar and a fraud in his private life.
I’m not suggesting that political activism is what made Ted Haggard a hypocrite, nor am I saying that he is typical of everyone in the mainstream of evangelical politics. I certainly hope he was a singular case.
But I am suggesting that any religious organization that’s more concerned with political expediency than with biblical truth is by definition following the error of the Pharisees and will breed the grossest kind of hypocrisy. (I’m also suggesting that if the National Association of Evangelicals had been more concerned about their leaders’ spiritual qualifications and less enamored with worldly skills like personal charisma and political shrewdness, they would never have had Ted Haggard as their president. He had never really distinguished himself in any of the biblical categories the apostle Paul outlined as qualifications for an elder. His one qualification was his mastery of the political process.)
And let’s face it, brethren: Whether we like it or not, in the eyes of an observant world, Ted Haggard seems like a perfect mascot for the evangelical right. gty.org
For the rest of the article at Grace To You click here.

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