The church must let go of its fixation with laws and fix its eyes on the real solution: person-to-person transformation.
Ask those who know me and they’ll tell you that my eyes have always been too big for my stomach! Both literally and figuratively I’ve consistently bitten off more than I can chew. Whether it’s been with sports, school, food, or any of my unmet New Years expectations, I usually overestimate my abilities and my limits.
The church has done a similar thing with its fixation with culture, politics, and society. With an eye for power and a misconception of what real influence looks like, Christians have allowed their agendas to be coopted by politicians whose allegiances are at best hopelessly divided between money and ideology. Somewhere in the crowded heart of a Congressman, I would imagine, there is a real concern for their constituents. But every human being is far too flawed to be a real Messiah.
Take a look at the recent response to #BlackLivesMatter. Our national narrative has become a narrative of either/or and never both/and. We are forced to pick a side between those who are concerned for minorities lives and wellbeing in this nation versus those who are concerned for the preservation of this nation’s founding principles and convictions.
(First, just as an aside, notice how these two things are actually not in contradiction! One can desire and fight for this nation to become an equal opportunity provider for all regardless of their socio-economic background, and that is in line with our nation’s convictions!)
While the Christian voting bloc is noticeably diversifying to fall more evenly among the right and the left, it still seems to the casual observer that most Christians unsurprisingly vote Republican. Avid Christian pro-lifers and moral traditionalists have always found common language with those who have a more conservative outlook on the world. And yet, the Christian left has become likewise a vocal proponent for those who are concerned with progressing into a nation whose day-to-day operations are more consistent with its founding principles.
In spite of all of this, the main goal of the Kingdom of God remains overlooked. The reason for this is simply this: no amount of legislation will ever usher in the reign of King Jesus.
This should have been obvious to us from Scripture. If strict and legalistic observance of the Mosaic law couldn’t have brought in God’s Spirit, then how is it that we thought that Constitutional Amendments and Congressional legislation would be any different?
In Matthew 23, Jesus warned us:
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”Matthew 23:1-4
Contrary to our human impulses, Jesus warns those who follow him to avoid the legislative seat. The reason for this is obvious: it places a heavy load on people’s shoulders.
Now, I don’t want to be misleading here. The context into which Jesus is speaking is not exactly parallel to our own, but it is at least strikingly similar. The Pharisees were instructing their people to go above and beyond in their observance of Torah in the hopes that the people’s national righteousness would coerce God to descend from heaven and reign in Jerusalem. But this is also very similar to the Christian outlook on America: that if we can vote in enough Christian laws then we will ensure God’s blessing remains on our country and we’ll continue to be numero uno on the world stage.
Tangentially, but importantly, Christians are concerned that we’ll become persecuted if we lose too much influence, that our nation will slide into sin, and ultimately that we’ll invite God’s judgment on all of us.
But returning to Jesus’s original warning to us, we are not to sit in the legislative seat but rather to help the people.
He continues in the same chapter:
“The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”Matthew 23:11
And he says just a few chapters later:
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”Matthew 25:40
The greatest, most contributive member of God’s Kingdom is not he who legislates righteousness, but who embodies the righteousness of God by their service to the least of these! It’s not that these political causes are not worth fighting for, it’s that fighting for them by the voting ballot is not enough!
We can legislate all we want, but the heart of our nation remains untouched.
We can outlaw abortion, but it will still happen in back alleyways.
We can preserve traditional marriage, but the LGBTQ community will remain.
We can implement stronger boarder laws, yet underlying racism continues.
What, then, is the solution for making a better world? Ironically enough, it’s you and me. The church itself is the solution. It is the testament to the worldly powers of a better day dawning, of a new creation that is beginning to bud, of a new humanity that is overwriting the sins of the previous one.
It is the church, and only the church, that possess the spiritual power and authority to go against the way the world is and instead bring about the kingdom of God. This is one of the meanings of what Paul describes when he says:
“God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”Ephesians 3:10-11
If you didn’t catch that, here’s what Paul’s point is: God’s glory, wisdom, and authority would become seen and known through the church! That in triumphing over racism in communities, the world’s leaders would take pause and consider. That in triumphing over unplanned pregnancies with grace and adoption, the world’s lobbyists would be defanged.
How are we to accomplish this? Well, that’s a longer conversation than just one post, but let me put these ideas forward:
If you care strongly about abortion, then adopt an unwanted child before you protest and lobby against Roe v. Wade.
If you care strongly about traditional marriage, then model celibacy either as a single person or a married person by spending time, touch, teamwork, and transparency with someone with same-sex attraction before you go to the voting booth.
If you care strongly about immigration reform, then consider inviting an immigrant family from the very countries you are afraid of to dinner in your home before you seek stronger border laws.
If you care strongly about racial equality, then consider befriending an older, white, conservative couple, and inviting them to dinner with some minority culture friends of yours.
We have yet to see the church in America mobilized to address the real societal problems we face. But the more we claim the authority that is our birthright in Christ, to triumph over the world, the flesh, and the devil, we will no longer delegate the world’s problems to our politicians, but instead shoulder them as problems the church alone can fix.