11-09-2020: Twenty-second Week after Trinity

I haven’t spoken much of the election, except perhaps a few online comments here and there to express my usual discontent with pastors for not getting more involved. I did this after reading an article sharing what I would say were low turnout numbers for Christians. And when I say low, I don’t mean less than those who voted in 2016. As I understand, we handily surpassed that number. When I say low, I mean far less than what’s possible, and far less than what I’d say is redeemable among citizens who would call themselves “God’s children.”

There’s a reason the Church is slipping into obscurity and persecution in the United States. The Christians themselves are a big part of it. For those who’d infiltrate us, Christian indifference is the welcome mat. For those who’d poison and kill us, Christian passivity is a seat at the dining room table.

Yes, I know, the Bible teaches that the Church should expect to be persecuted by the powers of this world. Yes, I know, the Bible teaches that we ought not to trust in this world’s princes. Believe me when I say I’ve seen and heard that particular verse from Psalm 146 being distributed and donned like the disposable masks currently littering the landscape around us. But the expectation, threat, or actual condition of persecution doesn’t mean we roll over as though helpless—as though it is a divine lot against which we have no right to resist, and certainly no license to combat. On the contrary, God has been just as clear about discerning that there is, indeed, a time for peace just as there is also a time for war (Ecclesiastes 3:8). And when Saint Paul calls for the believers to fight the good fight of faith, urging us to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called,” he doesn’t say these kinds of things in mushy, one-dimensional terms (1 Timothy 6:12). This “taking hold”—a word that means to grasp or catch something, especially to the point of holding so tightly lest it be stolen away—this is anything but indifferent or passive. Paul has in mind the same depth and determination that the Lord has when He calls out to His listeners, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28). I know I’ve shared with you before that the word used for “keep” (which is also sometimes translated as “obey”) means far more than simple submission or passive reception, but rather communicates a belief and compliance that results in a willingness to dig ones toes into the earth and lean into any oncoming forces attempting to snatch the Word of God away. It is a “molon labe” (come and take it) kind of word indicating a willingness to engage—to fight back.

When Christians—or worse, pastors—sit idly by assuming God will simply handle everything without our engagement, well, we make a foolish assumption of God even as we misunderstand our role in the world around us. We are missing the fact that the very same Word of God we are hearing and keeping is the active source by which the Holy Spirit works to recreate us for action. Yes, God is leading us. Still, we are in the brigade—and we’re armed to and for battle.

In another sense, these texts serve as helpful interpreters for the tritely used (and I’d argue, incorrectly applied) “trust not in princes” phrase. In other words, and as my friend Peter Scaer rightly pointed out, it is precisely because we do not put our trust in princes that we are called to engage in the public square. Humans are fallible. And besides, saying “trust not in princes” is really not all that different from saying “trust not in doctors” or “trust not in auto mechanics.” Understanding the First Commandment rightly, we’d say these things while at the same time we remain diligent in the selection and subsequent monitoring of our doctors and auto mechanics. We don’t just let them do whatever they want to our bodies or cars. God’s Word teaches that His Church holds an important role in holding princes to their ordination in the civil kingdom, or the Kingdom of the Left. It is our job as citizens to do as much as we can to see to the preservation of good government, namely, to the safeguarding of a national context in which the Gospel can be freely preached and taught for the sake of the salvation of the world (1 Timothy 2:1-6). If we forfeit this very important part of our Christian identity, or worse, we shame those holding it sacred as ones worshipping a false God, we can and should expect for things to get worse.

Too many pastors are doing this.

And so now, we are where we are—underrepresented at the polls. Again. I say this with a sigh, knowing there is still much work to do.

On another front, just thinking out loud as I do on Monday mornings, I find myself this time around the post-election curve warring on an altogether different front. Personally, I think this field is grittier than many others we’ve experienced so far. I say this because even as it involves trying to reconcile Christians who’ve been at each other’s ideological throats during an election, the real problem with this, as I’ve said before, is that God cannot be for and against evil at the same time, and so there’s a valid reason some Christians are so angry with others in the Church. During an election cycle of national consequence, these others are acting as if what’s happening doesn’t matter all that much—or even worse, they’re using their turn at the ballot box to actually choose platforms and candidates in opposition to God’s holy will.

I understand why reconciliation is hard in this regard.

In one sense, it’s already hard because both parties are tainted in Sin—which is unarguably true. No matter the topic and no matter the engagement, when humans are involved, it’s going to be touched by iniquity. And yet it gets more complicated when, for example, a pro-life Christian discovers his or herself at odds with a pro-choice Christian. When this is the scenario, a far deeper dive into the Sin and Grace discussion becomes necessary. And most likely, I’m guessing that the only apologies required of the pro-life person will be in relation to the way he or she went about dealing with their pro-choice counterpart, perhaps because they used unkind words or engaged in hurtful actions that resulted in the harboring of hatred. Still, these are absolutely fixable. But beyond that, a prolife Christian has nothing to apologize for when it comes to their position. And they have nothing to apologize for when pressing that position. It’s Godly, and it becomes necessary for communicating to the prochoice Christian that he or she is beyond the borders of God’s will and in much deeper waters of concern. It’s not about opinions anymore. They are actively opposing God’s Word. When this is happening, a hard line must be drawn.

A Christian is not required to apologize for drawing a hard line in this regard. The opponent must repent and come back to God.

It’s situations like these in churches that make after-election gatherings very complicated. The wrong side feels like it owns the right to do whatever they want in the civil realm while requiring an apology from the faithful who’d stand in their way. Strangely, often it is that the faithful feel obligated to give one just to keep peace. Yes, I know, Saint Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

“If possible…”

This assumes that sometimes it isn’t. A Christian is not required to apologize for faithfulness to God’s Word, and with that, peace is not to be had, but war.

I guess to wrap up this morning rambling, I’ll just add one more thing…

Wherever we end up as a nation after this election, I continue to hope for the restoration of the many life-long friendships I’ve seen dissolve in a single season. It’s not easy to watch (or experience) relationships coming undone between people who’ve known years of loving kindness, togetherness, like-minded service to and for each other, and all of the other things that make for fellowship in Christ. It’s not easy to watch this come undone in a few months—as though all those previous years didn’t matter.

To get through this, repentance and forgiveness will be needed. But again I’ll emphasize that it’ll need to be repentance for that which actually needs repenting and forgiveness for that which actually needs forgiving. There is right and wrong, truth and untruth. A person poking with the stick of truth has nothing to apologize for, and to offer an apology is to cheapen genuine confession and absolution. And honestly, when it comes to the issues at stake in this current election, there is too much being shoveled into the Christian lap for any of us to be stickless, being found willing to just walk away agreeing to disagree here.

I suppose the irony in my words—and I know what I’m about to say will sound somewhat pessimistic—but I do believe we’ve entered into a time in human history where dialogue is pretty much dead and emotion-fueled opinions hold the most prominent seats of influence in our society. Indeed, the Christian truth which urges, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), well, this seems to be harder than ever to employ.

I don’t know about you, but I get tired sometimes.

Still, the Gospel continues to invigorate. By it, I can remember that the Spirit creates the hopeful and enduring love Saint Paul is describing. And the Holy Spirit has been promised to the Church by Christ and He is at work to do it. With that, I can find the skill for entering into every discussion in humility—which is the ability to confess one’s own offenses and seek forgiveness—and I can do this knowing it’s the best way for approaching my counterpart.

By the way, since I’m thinking about it, one very important evidence of Christian humility’s residence in people calling themselves Christian is whether or not they’re actually willing to pursue reconciliation as God’s Word mandates. If they’re completely unwilling to find peace, or again, if they’re intent on a “let’s agree to disagree” result regarding the things with which there’s no wiggle room to be had, then that’s an indication of something dire.

Believe it or not, still, I’d say pursue it. The division might not get fixed today. It might not be repaired tomorrow. But eventually it will, with or without your participation. It has to. God judges justly. Let’s just hope it gets fixed in our lifetime. I think it can, because the promise remains that where the Holy Spirit is at work in differing people who are navigating by the same North Star, Jesus Christ and His holy Word, Godly peace is most certainly within reach.

So, again, all of those folks who unfriended you on Facebook, deleted you from their mobile phone contacts list, who’ve said in anger they want nothing else to do with you, well, if you are willing to humbly pursue a reunion with them in Christ according to His Word, and they are willing to do the same with you, then all will be well. God promises peace and every blessing in this. In the meantime, continue to go about your business, being sure to remain active toward giving a faithful witness to Christ and His Word. Don’t bend in this regard. Be humble, but don’t bend, knowing you have nothing to apologize for when it’s the truth of God’s Word that’s pushing back on someone’s confused ideologies. It’s not you bruising their ego or hurting their feelings. It’s God.