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Talking Points: The Perfect Blend of Politics & Religion

Sep 13, 2020 | Rob Culler

Choosing Sides (Talking Points-Part 2)

1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Talking Points – Part 2

“Choosing Sides” – September 13, 2020

 (Note: This is Pastor Rob's manuscript, not a transcript.)

Big Idea: People first. Politics second. 

Today, we’re in Part 2 of “Talking Points: The Perfect Blend of Politics and Religion.”

This topic of politics might make us nervous. I know it made some of you nervous because you told me about it. But it should also make us better. After all, the church should be the safest place on the planet to talk about anything, including politics.

 When it comes to politics, there is tension that Jesus followers should wrestle with:

  • Are we willing to put our faith filters ahead of our political filters?
  • Are we willing to be Christ followers first and Republican/Democrat or any other political identity second?
  • Are we willing to follow Jesus even when doing so creates space between our party, its platform, or its candidate?

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t have political opinions or belong to political parties. I am suggesting what Jesus prayed for—oneness. Last week, we talked about the idea of refusing to be divided. I summarized last week’s message with this phrase:

Disagree politically — Love unconditionally — Pray for unity

In the first century, folks were always trying to get Jesus to choose sides. The same is true today. Both parties are convinced Jesus would support their politics. When we interpret the words of Jesus through our political filter, it’s amazing what happens!

Remember the simple children’s poems that begin with roses are red violets are blue? I think we could use this this one to describe political parties.

He’s so red

He’s so blue

It’s amazing how often Jesus agrees with you!

 

I must tell you that as a pastor, I cringe when I hear most politicians use Scripture. I do so because they often use it out of context and twist the meaning to fit their position. They are certain the Jesus has taken their side. This is true of both sides.

I love how Dr. Tony Evans says it, “Jesus didn’t come to take sides. He came to take over!”

Jesus came to introduce the kingdom of God…a kingdom that is always, at some level, in some detail, at odds with the political parties of this world. That’s why it’s foolish for the church to be divided over a candidate or a political party.

Today, I want to suggest a template to help us know where agreement ends, and diverse views should begin. We’ll get that template from the Apostle Paul.

Paul had a lot going on in his life and his allegiance could be pulled several different ways.

  • He was a Roman citizen. As such, he would be expected to swear allegiance to Rome and perhaps even to worship the emperor as a god.
  • He was a Pharisee. As such, he would be expected to live in complete obedience to the Jewish law and to do what was best to protect and honor the Jewish identity and nation.
  • He was a Jesus-follower. As such, he was called to take the gospel to non-Jewish peoples. Also, he had to unlearn a lot about what he thought it meant, and what others said it meant, to be both a Roman citizen and a Pharisee.

How did he juggle and manage the competing expectations? He gives us a starting point with this helpful phrase: the law of Christ. It’s a phrase we only find twice in the New Testament and it was used by Paul both times.

 It was his shorthand for the New Command Jesus gave, “Love one another as I have loved you…”

( The law of Christ = love one another as I have loved you.)

Jesus taught and Paul proclaimed that this idea summarized the value system, the ethic, and the marching orders for the kingdom of God.

We find Paul’s first use of the phrase law of Christ in his first letter to the church in Corinth, “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings,”
(1 Corinthians 9:19-21, NLT).

I love how Eugene Peterson renders this passage in The Message, “Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!
(1 Corinthians 9:19-23, The Message)

 Paul was still under God’s authority, but not the OT law. Instead, he was under the law of Christ. Not only that, he was also saying that his life was not controlled by the expectations of others—not the Romans, not the Pharisees, not Jewish believers, or any other group.

 Paul’s second use of the law of Christ is found in his letter to Christians in the region of Galatia. In that letter, he wrote, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ,” (Galatians 6:2, NLT).

Remember, the law of Christ was shorthand for Jesus’ new command, “love one another as I have loved you.” In Galatians, Paul is telling us that when the concerns of others concern us and we act on those concerns, we are fulfilling the Law of Christ.

As Jesus followers, of all political persuasions, the law of Christ should inform our collective conscience. It should be the starting and ending point for our sense of right and wrong, ought and ought not.

I would add that it should also affect the way we communicate with and about those with whom we disagree politically.

Based on the law of Christ, we should all be disturbed, irritated, and convicted by the same kinds of things:

  • When people are treated unjustly.
  • When people are discriminated against.
  • When people undermine their own well-being.
  • When people use their rights to undermine the family and/or community.

These aren’t Republican or Democratic issues, they are issues, period. They are issues because…

  • they undermine, devalue, and destroy human beings created in the image of God.
  • They undermine, devalue, and destroy human beings for whom Jesus died.

 

The law of Christ should inform our collective conscience. Let me give you two examples.

Once upon a time…

  • It was self-evident (obvious, unquestioned) that some people should be owned by other people for their own good.
    • I’m not talking about slavery in the history of the United States. I’m going back long before that wicked era.
    • This widely-held belief was expressed by the Greek philosopher Aristotle in the 4th century BC.
    • He wrote: “For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”[1]
    • I don’t agree with that, but in most of the world, it was obvious to most people that some should be owned by others for their own good.
    • That’s an idea from 6,000 years ago and 4,000 years before the time Christ. It’s also and idea that predated Aristotle’s writing.

That was the 4th century BC, but in the 4th century AD, Christian bishop, St. Augustine wrote that, “Slavery is the result of sin.” 

  • Once upon a time, it was self-evident to the world that some people should be owned by others for their own good and slavery was an accepted part of life.
  • But as early as the fourth-century AD, Christians began having misgivings about slavery. They began to see the discrepancy between what the scriptures say about people being made in the image and God and loving as Christ loved us.

Let me give you another example.

  • Once upon a time it was self-evident (obvious, unquestioned) that infanticide was good for a society.
  • It wasn’t called infanticide; it was called exposure and it was accepted that it was sometimes the right thing to do. In the Roman Empire…
    • If you had a girl and didn’t yet have a boy, or just didn’t want a girl, you could expose your baby.
    • If you had too many children to care for and couldn’t provide for another one, you could expose your baby.
    • If your wife had an affair and got pregnant and you didn’t want to raise someone else’s child, you could expose the baby.
    • If the baby had a birth defect, you could expose it.
    • An exposed child would be placed outside the walls of the village, or on the edge of a forest, or at the edge of a river. The parent(s) would then go home and allow the fates to decide if the child lived or died.
    • Some children died; some didn’t. Some were taken in by others to be raised and used as slaves.
    • Whatever the outcome, parents weren’t culpable for what happened, because the fates decided.
  • But Christians condemned exposure from the beginning.
    • They would rescue children and bring them home, even when they didn’t seem to have enough to care for them.
    • Why? Because love required it.
    • And guess what? Their law-of-Christ-informed consciences eventually brought about change.
      • In 318 AD, after embracing Christianity, Emperor Constantine declared exposure a crime.
      • In 374 AD, Emperor Valentinian made exposure a capital offense.

Listen, when the law of Christ informs an individual’s or a society’s conscience, things can change.

That’s why the church (God’s family) is so important. Part of our job is to be salt and light and one of the ways we can do that is by being the conscience of our nation. It’s why we dare not be divided by political parties or political candidates or political views that tend to change or disappear over time.

When our parties, their platform, and their candidates violate the law of Christ, we have an opportunity—no, we have the responsibility—to speak up, speak out, and become agents of change!

The first part of our template is to have our consciences informed by the law of Christ. The next part involves knowledge and wisdom

Knowledge accumulates over time—for individuals, societies, and all of humanity. We learn what previous generations pass on to us and then add to that accumulated knowledge with our own discoveries and insights. If you’ve ever used the phrase “if only I’d known then what I know now,” you understand what I’m talking about. The reason you didn’t know it then is because you accumulated more knowledge with the passing of time and the experiences of life. And hopefully, Wisdom came from those experiences. Wisdom helps us learn the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, better and best. We learn what to do and what not to do. We learn how and when to do things and how and when to hold off.

What’s interesting is that God accommodates to our capacity in these areas. As our capacity increases, our knowledge of how the world works does as well. As we accumulate experience, so does our understanding and application of wisdom.

Our accumulated knowledge, experience, and wisdom combined with a law-of-Christ-informed conscience should be used to determine the policies, platforms, and legislation we support and oppose.

Here’s the reality: that is easy to say but can be difficult to practice. Why? Because when it comes to policies, platforms, and legislation, there will always be disagreements among Christ-followers.

Let me add a word of caution here: immature Christ-followers often cannot handle disagreements with other Christ-followers. They hold to the idea that if someone is a true Christ-follower, they will agree with me on every issue. That is both naïve and unhelpful.

There will always be disagreements because “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

That phrase, “where you stand depends on where you sit,” is known as Miles Law. It is named for Rufus Miles, a federal official in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations.

Miles Law means that…

  • our cultural context (where we sit) determines our perspective (where we stand).
  • Our personal experiences (where we sit) inform our viewpoints (where we stand.)
  • Others’ experiences that we have observed (where we sit) form our frames of reference (where we stand).

This means your political views were not shaped in a vacuum. Your political views and values, like all views and values, are shaped by a variety of things, some of which you could control and some you couldn’t:

  • Where you lived
  • How you were raised
  • Where you were educated
  • If you were educated
  • What you were told
  • What you’ve seen
  • What we’ve experienced
  • What we’ve seen others experience

Where you stand depends on where you sit.” 

Recognizing and admitting that is a huge step toward unity amid political diversity. Recognizing that—not just about ourselves, but especially about others—empowers us to open our hands, our minds, and our hearts. Hopefully, it also empowers us to sometimes shut our mouths…or at least engage our hearts and minds before opening them!

So, putting it all together…

The Law of Christ should inform our conscience and be the framework through which we process the knowledge and wisdom we’ve gained through the experiences life. The law of Christ should help us interpret where we sit and where we stand on policies, platforms, and legislation.

So, what do we do? I have three ideas:

  1. Listen
    1. Listen to people who don’t experience the world the way you do.
    2. Listen to…
      1. Men & women
      2. Haves & have-nots
  • Christ-followers & those not following Him
  1. Young & old
  2. Black & white
  3. Straight & gay
  • Single & married
  1. Listen to understand, not just to respond.
  2. Listen with ears, hearts, and minds captive to a law-of-Christ-informed conscience.
  1. Learn
    1. Be curious.
    2. Don’t be afraid.
    3. Pay attention to the frontiers of your ignorance.”
      - Sam Harris
      1. You don’t know what you don’t know.
      2. Choosing not to know slams doors instead of opening them. (John wrote that Jesus stands at the door and knocks; he doesn’t attack it with a battering ram.)
    4. Be a student, not just a critic.

If we don’t listen and learn, we will discount everything that doesn’t fit perfectly into our flawed worldviews. As Christ-followers, we need to be better than that. Here’s a novel idea you might consider.

  • Your republican brothers and sisters aren’t crazy.
  • Your democrat brothers and sisters aren’t crazy.
  • Your libertarian brothers and sisters aren’t crazy.
  • Your green party brothers and sisters aren’t crazy.
  • Your independent brothers and sisters aren’t crazy.
  • Well, maybe some in all those camps are crazy!

Instead of attacking and calling names, maybe you should think about this. You might want to hold on. They’re not crazy; they are just like you: they’re taking a stand based on where they sit.

Here’s the 3rd thing we need to do. Since we’re all taking a stand based on where we sit, we need to remember as those under the law of Christ, as we listen and learn we must prioritize…

  1. Love
    1. Never burn a relational bridge over a political view.
    2. The person beside you is more precious to God than your potentially flawed view.
    3. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, (Romans 5:8).
    4. How dare you, how dare I burn a relational bridge with anyone for whom Christ died!

Listen, learn, and love. Why? Because the ultimate goal for God’s church is the salvation of souls, not winning elections. That should also be the ultimate goal for God’s family members.

Again, this week, some might be tempted to say, “Rob, you’re being naïve!”

But remember this: Once upon a time, there was a handful of Jesus followers caught between the empire and the temple. They gave to Caesar what was Caesar’s and they gave God their lives.

The empire and the temple are both gone. The greatest Caesar is a footnote in the story of the Rabbi from Galilee. Kingdoms come and go. Empires rise and fall. But Jesus said: “I will build my church.” He did and here we are and we must grasp the fact that more than the outcome of an American election, the church, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is the best hope for our country and this world.

Our responsibility is to show our divided world what it looks like to disagree politically, love unconditionally, and pray for unity. At the cross, we lost our right to do anything less

Listen, learn, and love, and don’t miss the final part of Talking Points. At home or in person, be prepared to receive communion next week.

Pray

 

[1] http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/politics.1.one.html, Aristotle, written 350 BCE Translated by Benjamin Jowett; Book 1, Part V

 

Series Information

It’s impossible to stay away from the topic of religion at church, but we usually stay away from politics. When a topic intersects with the teaching of Jesus, it’s our responsibility to talk about it. The division in the church created by our current political climate intersects directly with Jesus.