Monday, August 1, 2016
THE HOPE OF AMERICA IS THE GOSPEL, NOT TRUMP OR CLINTON!
Political Division & Gospel Unity
Part 1 in a series of 4 sermons presented by Jeremy Fair
I read a book recently titled Jesus Outside the Lines and it put words to my feelings. The book began with these questions: “Are you tired? Are you tired of political correctness and political caricatures? Are you tired of indignant blog posts and tweets and Facebook posts that take a stand against everyone but persuade no one? Are you tired of the endless quest to find something to be mad about? Are you tired of racism, classism, sexism, generationalism, nationalism, denominationalism, and all the other isms?” I am tired and I am frustrated and I believe that the underlying theme to my frustration and the aforementioned weariness is division. We are a divided nation. We are divided as a church in many mays. And yet, division is contrary to the Gospel that we believe and profess.
Jesus came to destroy divisions and create unity. He destroyed the veil that separated a holy God and sinful people and brought unity by the blood of his cross, which is the fundamental message of Hebrews. He destroyed the hostility between races, particularly Jews and Gentiles, and brought unity through the common exercise of faith, which is the fundamental message of Galatians. He destroyed the hostility between the rich and poor, and brought unity through the preeminence of love, which is the fundamental message of James.
The only biblically legitimate division is between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world and those kingdoms divide along the line of Jesus. What that means is that when we create, or champion, or tolerate divisions that are less than Jesus-centered we are working against the purposes of the Gospel.
In his High Priestly Prayer in John 17, just hours before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for his people, he prayed for us, that we might be one, that we might be unified just as Father and Son are unified. And yet, it seems based upon our indignation and isms that we are far from unified, and I’m talking about Christians.
Consider this: nearly 70% of Americans think that race relations are very bad; that’s the highest level of discord since the 1992 Los Angeles race riots. If the relationships between people of various races is bad, then the relationships between people with different political views is toxic. In the 1960’s, only 4% of Democrats and 5% of Republicans said they’d be displeased if their child married a spouse with a different political ideology. Six years ago, in 2010, 33% of Democrats and 49% of Republicans said they’d be displeased if their child married a spouse with a different political ideology and I have to believe that those numbers have risen in the last 6 years. We’ve become more divided!
What has happened? Perhaps what has happened is that we have created a God in our own image which makes it not only easy, it makes it normal for us divide along lines of personal preference and political ideology. Anne Lamott says, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
What has happened? Perhaps what has happened is that we’ve colored lines around Jesus, lines that accord with our own isms. And yet, Jesus cannot be contained by our lines. Scott Sauls writes, “The more we move outside the lines of our own traditions and cultures, the more we will also be moving toward Jesus.”
Joshua 5:13-15 broadly addresses what it means to move toward Jesus and quite pointedly addresses our view of others who hold a different political view from our own.
13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 15 And the commander of the Lord's army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
We are in a political season that is more polarizing than any that I can remember. For the last year, lines have been drawn and sides have been taken and it will only get worse. Ronald Reagan once said that if you can agree with 80% of your opponent’s platform, policies, or positions then you can lock arms with them but now it seems that unless you have 95% agreement or greater then the other person is considered an enemy.
This past week, I was at the Republican National Convention and I saw this first hand. Vile insults were spoken, fights nearly broke out, professing Christians shouted at one another because their chosen candidates differed on this point or that point. In that climate, God help the person who has a (D) by their name. What I mean is that if professing Christians are that divisive and devoid of Christian principles and practice amongst people with whom they share almost every platform plank and political ideology, then how will they view and treat others with whom they share very little political ideology?
Friends, the Gospel of Jesus is greater than politics. And, unless a human system, i.e. political party or government entity, is fully centered on God (and none are), Jesus will have things to affirm and things to critique about it.
So, please listen closely to me: Jesus is not a Republican! Jesus is not a Democrat! Jesus is not a Libertarian! And to associate the Creator and Savior of the world with an American political party is beyond offensive. When it comes to kings and kingdoms, Jesus sides only with himself. He is a party of One!
At this point, I am not concerned with taking a specific issue, platform plank, or policy and making a case for how Jesus would view it. I do believe if we carefully study the Bible and remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit that God will guide us and shape our view of platforms and policies.
My concern is that, as Christians, we fight against partisan and even intramural division and strive for unity. Even as we differ in political views, we must not let the tail wag the dog.
Returning to Joshua 5:13-15, consider the awesome encounter that Joshua had; he had an encounter with an angel, a being who represented God and spoke for God. Joshua asked, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” Isn’t that the question that we ask repeatedly, “Lord, are you for us or for our opponent?” Shamefully, most of the time we don’t ask that question, we simply assume the answer, we assume that God is for us and our positions.
I heard a gross display of this on the opening night of the Republican National Convention. Here’s a portion of the closing prayer: “Republicans, we got to be united because our enemy is not other Republicans — but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. Father God, in the name of Jesus, Lord we’re so thankful for the life of Donald Trump. We’re thankful that you are guiding him, that you are giving him the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party, to keep us divided and not united. Because we are the United States of America, and we are the conservative party under God.” Those were the parting words of a Christian minister, charged with proclaiming the word of the Gospel. Our enemy is Democrats?! God is working specifically on behalf of Republicans to defeat the Democrats?! Republican is God’s party?! I couldn’t believe my ears! When I heard that prayer firsthand, I was ashamed and embarrassed.
When asked, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” the messenger of God replied, “No! I’m the commander of the Lord’s army.” In effect, he was saying, “I, as God’s messenger, represent Him and Him alone. I’m not for you or for your adversaries. I am for the King and His kingdom.” Friends, the question is not whether Jesus is on our side but whether we are on his side and his side is a kingdom side, a side that is not beholden to either Republicans or Democrats.
What are the priorities of God? His priorities are His glory, holiness, and the Gospel unity of His people. The angel said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals, the place where you are standing is holy”, which are the identical words that the Lord spoke to Moses in the burning bush. The presence of God is a holy presence and the glory of His presence is His lone agenda, which is why the angel answered, “No” when asked, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
God will not be co-opted by a political party; He will not be manipulated to champion an ideological agenda. Jesus told us, “Seek first the kingdom of God.” The King and his kingdom are holy and stand above and beyond all the earthly kingdoms that we create. Lord, are you for us or are you for them? No!
Now, in this climate of division, partisanship, and political posturing, which too often brings with it the absence of Christian charity, grace, and humility, how should we align with Jesus and what will that look like?
First, as Christians, we must view Gospel unity as greater than political ideology. Please don’t hear me saying that Christians should be a-political or that Christians shouldn’t be specifically involved in politics or government. I don’t believe that at all because I don’t believe that the Bible teaches that. We see, all throughout Scripture, that God’s people have been highly involved with the institution of government and even engaged in what we might call the political process. As I mentioned previously, as we carefully study the Bible and remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit, God will guide us and shape our view of many matters, and that may move us toward a particular political ideology or party. So, don’t hear me saying that politics and government are bad. Hear me saying that Gospel unity trumps, no pun intended, political ideology. Our one faith, one baptism, one Spirit and Lord, supersede political persuasion.
Second, we mustn’t question someone’s faith because they hold a different political view than us. Consider this: within the twelve Apostles there was, what we might call, a tea party activists and a big government bureaucrat. Simon was a zealot; zealots actively opposed the government and worked against the government. Matthew was a tax collector; tax collectors worked for the government. I don’t think we understand how different these two men were and how differently they viewed government. And yet, when Christ called them as disciples they became one with him and one with each other and it’s absurd to imagine that their political views changed overnight or perhaps even at all. Interestingly, Matthew, the tax collector emphasized diversity more than any other Gospel writer.
We don’t have any indication that Matthew thought or said, “There’s no way that guy Simon can be a Christian! No follower of Jesus thinks like that!” We have no indication that Simon thought or said, “There’s no way that guy Matthew can be a Christian! No follower of Jesus thinks like that!” And yet, that is often how we speak about or even view other Christians with whom we differ; we question their faith or discount their faith. I heard this two weeks ago from a good friend; we were talking politics and he said, “There’s no way that (he stated the name of a liberal politician who by all accounts is a moral man and devout believer) is a Christian. No Christian would stump for Hillary.” My friend has allowed political ideology to cloud his view of another Christian’s faith.
John Wesley once wrote, “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against; and, 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.” Let me say this very clearly: It is wrong to question someone’s faith because they don’t vote like you do!
Thirdly, we must promote Christ and his kingdom as the supreme good and only hope. Last week, as I listened to speech after speech promoting Donald Trump, I wondered whether I was hearing about a successful businessman turned politician or an immortal messiah. More than once, it was explicitly said that Trump was the only hope for our nation. Now, I expect the same drivel next week from the Democrats at their convention. Hillary will be championed as the great savior of America; watch and listen, the language used about her will border on worship.
When the angel of the Lord said, “I am the commander of the army of the Lord. The place you are standing is holy”, he was saying that God alone is holy, God alone is good, God alone is our only hope, because God alone, in Jesus Christ, is our only savior. We must be on His side. As Christians, we must promote Christ and his kingdom. No politician can save us. Christ alone can save us.
Jeremy Fair is Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, Tulsa, OK. He attended the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland as a guest of his father, Steve Fair, the former National Committeeman for Oklahoma. The four sermons titled: (1) Political Division & Gospel Unity, (2) Racial Division & Gospel Unity, (3) Class Division & Gospel Unity, and (4) Sexual Division & Gospel Unity can be accessed at http://www.christpresbyterian.church/sermons