How Political Idolatry Distorts Our Spiritual Priorities

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 28:19 (NASB)

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For many Christians, politics has a way of inverting the context (orthodoxy) and application (orthopraxy) of the words Christ spoke in Matthew 28:19.

As followers of Christ we are commanded to make disciples of all nations.

We are not commanded to make nations of those we disciple.

This is an important distinction to make.

The manner in which we understand and administer what is commonly referred to as the “Great Commission,” an admonition which the Church has traditionally applied exclusively in terms of its missiological efforts to take the gospel to some of the remotest parts of the globe, actually should influence how each of us operates every day right where we are.

Christ’s command to “make disciples” was never intended to be limited to taking the Gospel only to people who reside in “deepest, darkest Africa” (though we tend to view it only in that myopic context.)

The truth is it is an all-encompassing command that should influence every sphere of our earthly existence.

“Although all that God made was “very good” (Genesis 1:31), it wasn’t complete. God delegated the development of his good creation to His image-bearers. This development includes not simply the earth itself, but also the vast array of cultural possibilities that God built into the natural order, including family, science, commerce, technology, government, and the arts.” – C.J. Mahaney, Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World

Scripture teaches that the concept of government originated with God (Romans 13:1-7.)

With this in mind, it stands to reason that the people of God should have a voice in how they are governed, and by whom. Nevertheless, the question remains: to what end and by what means should Christians undertake this endeavor?

The answer depends primarily on whether our view of the world is Christ-centered or not.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:1-3 (NASB)

We who profess the name of Jesus Christ are Kingdom-builders.

We are not nation-builders.

The difference, in my humble opinion, is that kingdom-builders view everything that relates to life in this world – everything – through the paradigm of eternity (1 John 2:17.)

Kingdom-builders understand that this “world system” – the ideals, philosophies, ethics, and principles that regulate the society in which we live – is merely temporal. They comprehend that to place any confidence in this system, or in the individuals who devise and implement its attributes, is to be spiritually near-sighted (Psalm 146:3.)

“It is not in the nature of politics that the best men should be elected. The best men do not wish to govern their fellowmen.” – George MacDonald

Conversely, nation-builders view the systems of this world as a means to a more present-day end; a kind of heaven on earth, if you will, where goodness, fairness, and justice are universal practices.

Their political philosophy rests in the hope that by electing the “right” people to office (“right” being code for “Christians”), our nation will somehow experience a divine impartation of God’s favor and consequently, an age of healing of the ills that affect it.

Not that nation-builder Christians envision a perfect nation, mind you.

Just a more righteous one (Psalm 33:12.)

And though that may be an admirable pursuit, it is this “poli-theistic” (not ‘polytheistic’) mindset that leads many Christians to argue with and demean one another over which candidate is most qualified to bring this political mirage to fruition.

But this kind of thinking is not new.

There were those in Jesus’ day who held to a similar view, believing mistakenly that the mission and purpose of the long-awaited Messiah (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; 52:13-53:12) was to usher in a new earthly empire.

Which is to say – a political one.

“In his  [Jesus’] world, “kingdom” language was political. Jesus’ hearers knew about other kingdoms—the kingdom of Herod and the kingdom of Rome (as Rome referred to itself in eastern parts of “the empire.”) The kingdom of God had to be something different from those kingdoms.” – Marcus J. Borg, Jesus and Politics blog

Please do not misunderstand.

None of what I have opined thus far is meant to infer or imply that nation-building Christians are desirous of a theocratic America.

That is not at all what I am saying.

If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is unambiguous about anything, it is that neither personal (2 Corinthians 3:2-3) nor national (Ezekiel 11:19-20) righteousness is achieved by adopting or adhering to a fixed set of rules and laws.

“If Jesus’ disciples are those who have received the life and fellowship of the Kingdom, and if this life is in fact an anticipation of the eschatological Kingdom, then it follows that one of the main tasks of the Church is to display in this present evil age the life and fellowship of the Age to come. While the Church in this age will never attain perfection, it must nevertheless display the life of the perfect order, the eschatological Kingdom of God.” – George Ladd

The point I am making is that world systems, political or otherwise, will never be the means through which national righteousness is achieved.

In fact, I would argue such a thing should never be our goal.

And to whatever extent national righteousness is ever a pursuit, it is realized only by transforming hearts and minds not through political strategies and tactics.

“Jesus refused to have His disciples fight with swords and military power, because He was not attempting to establish an earthly kingdom like the Roman Empire or the various other nations in the history of the world. Earthly kingdoms are established by armies and military power, but Jesus’ kingdom would be established by the power of the Gospel changing people’s hearts, bringing people to trust in Him and obey Him.” – Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, p. 27

The current political climate in America is such that Christians seem to be placing more  faith in the erecting of a wall than in the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom (Matthew 6:21.) But no wall, regardless how high, wide, or long, can provide the eternal security that the shed blood of Christ offers to those who place their faith and trust in Him.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39 (NASB)

Christians should indeed be concerned about the character and integrity of the men and women we help elect to political office (Psalm 72:1-2; Proverbs 29:4.)

I say that as a Christian who is politically active.

Nevertheless, the fact is, elections are not salvific.

We must be mindful that any political or governmental structure that is composed of inherently sinful human beings will itself be inherently sinful (Ecclesiastes 5:8; Romans 3:23.) As such, our trust in these institutions and individuals must be guarded (Psalm 118:8-9.)

Christians are to be Kingdom-builders not nation-builders.

The goal is disciples not delegates.

For America, or any nation for that matter, to seek salvation in anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ is idolatry.

No politician or elected official, regardless how charismatic, can bring about the kind of righteousness we so desperately long for.

Only the Gospel can do that.

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Ephesians 3:20 (NASB)

Humbly in Christ and for His glory alone (Soli Deo Gloria),

Darrell

Related:

The Futility of Political Change – Grace to You

One Reply to “How Political Idolatry Distorts Our Spiritual Priorities”

  1. The Reformers said that nationalism must be kept secondary to Heavenly citizenship and that the civil and ecclesiastical responsibilities kept separate as well. The Roman Catholics merged the two and thus government as an ecclesiastical responsibility to rule not only hearts, but pocketbooks as well.

    The one exception for Reformers was Geneva as a city of refuge for the Reformed movement from the clutches of the papacy. Even there the focus was on kingdom building.

    Liked by 1 person

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