In this episode, Kirk sits down with pastor and political theologian Jonathan Leeman to talk Church and politics. They discuss, what is the relationship between church and state? Religion and politics? And how do we love those with whom we disagree politically?
How The Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age (2018)
Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (2016)
How Can I Love Church Members with Different Politics? (2020)
“Politics, Conscience, and the Church: Why Christians Passionately Disagree with One Another over Politics, Why They Must Agree to Disagree over Jagged-Line Political Issues, and How” (Themelios: 45:1, 2020)
The following are points of reflection from a sermon I delivered at CrossWay Community Church (Milwaukee) on 2/16/2020 from Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20.
To “ultimize” (i.e., make ultimate) our view of government and politics is to look to it as an ultimate solution for ills of this world. To put our stock and hope there. In short, it is to look to it as a savior–something which it can not live up to.
Another way of speaking of this is making government (and by extension, politics) an idol. And as the New City Catechism helpful defines idolatry, “Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.”
What happens when we do this? This list is not exhaustive. But here are some thoughts…
When we ultimize government, it’s only one more step to ultimize our politics (our views of how government should be conducted).
And when our politics are ultimized, politics becomes sensationalized and alarmist. It’s infused with the highest of stakes.
We feel a sense of desperation to achieve political gains.
We soar to disproportionate heights and an inordinate sense of promise when “our side” wins, and crushing despair when they lose (when the “bad guys” win).
When our politics are ultimized, they take on an almost religious (transcendent) quality. And as such, those who disagree become “the opposition”—they jeopardize, threaten, and get in the way of our path to making this country better. No longer are they our neighbors whom we are called to love. They are an insidious “enemy.” “They must not love this country. They have ill motives.”
Our political idols are precious to us. They’re a part of us. They shape our identity. And so if you attack them, it’s personal. Expect to be attacked back.
We find ourselves cursing God’s image (our fellow human beings)—meaning that any of our claims to Christian motives and values are superficial and stained with hypocrisy.
When our politics are ultimized, our favored political parties or candidates can also become ultimized.
And when we become partisan in this way, it becomes far more easy for us to become biased surveyors of the truth—believing what we want, only listening to what we agree with.
Even without knowing it, we can compromise our ethics to fit our party’s positions. Instead of politics becoming a means to pursue the good, our political loyalty has begun to define for us what we view as good.
We find ourselves making excuses for politicians we support.
Our politics become our ethical “operating system,” rather than scripture. We interpret scripture through the lens of our politics, rather than allow scripture to critique and inform all politics, regardless of our political leanings.
As Christians—as those who care about being shaped by scripture—it becomes incredibly easy for us to see our political opinions as “the Christian view”—to “baptize them.” When we do this, we infuse them with an authoritative quality as “the Bible’s view” of politics. Those who disagree therefore must be spiritually compromised; they must not be faithful to scripture.
We find unity in the church difficult with those who disagree. Those who disagree with us likely feel marginalized by us or disdained.
Out of all places where we should be able to model healthy conversations about political differences—the church—we find ourselves unable to have these conversations.
We find more unity with others in the church over our political opinions than the gospel.
When we find out that another believer in the church has different political opinions than us, we find ourselves attributing it to a lack of spiritual maturity. We question their commitment to Jesus and scripture.
Politics becomes fuel for our pride, therefore, rather than an arena for us to demonstrate and increase in humility.
We’ve created unnecessary road-blocks to the gospel with our unbelieving friends due to things we’ve said online.
We spend more time concerning ourselves with political news and commentary than we do God’s Word.
We find ourselves talking more about government and politics than we do the gospel, scripture, Jesus, and his church.
We show more enthusiasm about our political opinions and interests than we do telling people about Christ.
Based on our actions and speech, it would seem to show we are more concerned about the next 4 years than we are about eternity.
If you are overly excited about the results of the midterm elections, your hope and confidence are misplaced. And equally so, if you’re despairing or doomsday-like about the midterm elections, this also is symptomatic of a misplaced hope.
Christian, engage in politics. Exercise your Christian social responsibility. But do not place your hope in the political arena.
Christ is king. He was king before this. He’s still king today. And he won’t stop being king at any time in the future. God’s kingdom purposes are sure and immutable. Our politics neither make him king, nor hinder his kingship.
Christ’s kingdom is everlasting and without end. It is the only kingdom that will ultimately last; and it will eventually eclipse all worldly kingdoms. These midterms are a mere a blip, a speck, on the timeline of God’s eternal purposes.
Engage. Don’t make too little of politics and dismiss it altogether. But don’t make too much of politics either — leading towards either despair or misplaced confidence.