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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Separation of Church, Politics

Though the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it, the Church is having a tough time.
Although most Americans view themselves as spiritual, they seem less inclined to stand by religion’s banner. In December, a PEW poll showed an increasing likelihood that people identify themselves with New Age beliefs. A recent Newsweek poll showed that nearly 9 of 10 people identify as believing in a higher power. So people still see themselves as spiritual, just not as inclined to join a church.
Something is happening for people to invoke a sense of spiritual need. God still calls to us somehow, but where to?
The Church has one job, given it by Jesus Christ with these words from the Book of Matthew: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Note the two parts of this injunction: 1. Make disciples 2. He is with us.
How has the Church made disciples throughout Aemrican history? By means of force (the Puritans with their brand of Taliban-ish Christ-by-fiat Christianity), and by means of emotion (the Great Awakening revivals) and inculcation (passing the torch down through generations in a kind of spiritual DNA).
The results have been mixed. New England began as the bedrock of Pilgrim influence, but is now the least religious part of the country. Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, was driven off the colony for being too tolerant of other’s beliefs. He felt government wasn’t the best place to find “the Church.” Coercion of faith was anathema to Roger Williams.
Did appealing to emotion work better? The Great Awakening of the 1730s changed the course of America, influencing the founding fathers. The Awakenings of 1800 and 1850 (the Salvation Army) and 1903 (Pentecostalism) created the American Protestant church as we know it today. But with every high tide of passion came a low tide of disinterest. The Church now calls for another revival, in hope that the Holy Spirit will baptize people into their congregations where the Church itself has failed to in the Great Commission to “go and make disciples.”
What of the method whereby discipleship is transferred by example, those “points of light” of President George H.W. Bush. Many work tirelessly out of love and respect for mankind — and God. World Vision, for example, does Christian work without being a church. It lays the groundwork with honest hard work and devotion, but does not attempt conversion. Many Godly charities are being drowned out by more dramatic, political speech.
To ride the political train, looking to get the best seats on the railway to heaven, risks losing touch with those who need to hear Christ’s message. When politics becomes dirty (when isn’t it?) people in association with power appear dirty too. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the young see the Church as part of the problem. What great cause has galvanized it in this age of seemingly insurmountable problems — looming financial panic, a health care system that forgets the uninsured? Neither. What seems to unite the Church has been the fight against gay marriage, the so-called Sin of Sodom. And did you know that the real sin of Sodom wasn’t so much the sex? No, it was the sin of arrogance (look it up: Ezekiel 16:49).
So instead of reaping the harvest of the Great Commission, we risk pushing people away from Christ’s message of love. The Church is perceived by many to be a political player, alongside corporations and lobbyists, another secular tile in a game of dominoes.
There will always be Christians who stand out by presenting their burning candles, offering shelter, giving succor to the poor and sick. This is the real Church, unconcerned with political gamesmanship. And the people of the Church will be easy to spot: “by their fruit ye shall recognize them.” Remember, Christ said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” My guess is that some have forgotten it is Christ’s will that we should seek, not that of some political party.
He is with us always. The gates of Hell shall not prevail. I assume that means Washington, D.C.

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