"My kingdom is not of this world." - Jesus
"Is this vile world a friend to Grace,
To help me on to God?" - Isaac Watts
Today the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. Personally I think it’s a bad decision, but I can't say that it's going to directly affect my life. The indirect results are the ones I am afraid of, but that’s not the point of this article. More significantly this ruling is being viewed as a major blow to the so-called Religious Right.
And that's the problem I want to address today. For decades the American church has been simply a cog in the political machine on both sides of the political aisle. Both parties have their circuits of churches, organizations and committees that their candidates can reliably count on for speaking engagements, donations and endorsement.
Meanwhile, the church has steadily lost influence in society, if you believe survey after survey over the past couple of decades. In seeking temporal victory in Washington rather than spiritual victory in people’s hearts, we have accomplished neither. We have been fighting in the wrong battlefield.
Babylon (by which I mean the temporal state) never has been and never will be the church’s friend. But there is no denying she is tempting. She promises political power and cultural influence, and in exchange all she requires is the sublimation of the church to her ends. This has been true throughout the church’s history, from Rome to Geneva to Massachusetts Bay.
Certainly the contemporary American church is not the first church to be charmed by Babylon, nor will it be the last. But now is not the time to double down on our efforts to effect change in Washington. Now is the time to take stock of what we have lost and what little we have gained in our struggle. The church needs to stop embracing Babylon and instead return to embracing the cross of Jesus Christ. The first century church had no political action committee, and no values coalitions. They simply had the Gospel of Jesus Christ and they lived it every day. And they succeeded in turning the world upside down.
No one denies the first-century church was successful. We have to stop judging our success or failure as a church by what goes on in the halls of political power. Today’s decision did not happen because we didn’t pray hard enough or send in enough letters. We have forgotten who is in charge here. God did not stop being God today. He did not step away from His throne for a couple of minutes and give the devil a chance to sneak one by Him. God is working and will continue to work His sovereign plan. But sadly many Christians in America are more broken up today over the decision than they are about the young girl in their congregation who is contemplating running away from home. In which situation would an encouraging word do the most good? In which one will our participation effect a greater change in eternity?
God defines success differently than we do. Samuel the prophet saw Eliab and thought this good-looking, accomplished man was surely the one God was going to choose to be the next king. Nebuchadnezzar seemed to be at the zenith of his power when God struck him with madness for a time for exalting himself in pride. The church at Laodicea had money in the bank, influential members in the community, and seemed to be a model church. But God said they were poor, blind and naked. I wonder what our political success and failure ledger look like to God? I don’t know for sure, but I am afraid those events that appear to be our biggest successes could turn out to be failures in God’s eyes.
Paul’s words to Timothy in I Timothy 2:1-2 are an appropriate way to close this piece: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (NKJV)
Notice the motive we are to have when we pray for our political officials. Paul does not say to pray for them to make decisions we like, although I would not say that is entirely inappropriate. But the main thing we are to pray for is that they will leave us alone. Paul was not interested in scoring points in Rome for the good guys. He was interested in freedom to proclaim the Gospel. The Gospel changes people’s lives in ways legislation is powerless to achieve. Let’s bring the Gospel back to the forefront of our hearts and minds, individually and as churches. When we do that, we may lose more battles in Washington, but we will gain more souls for the Kingdom of Heaven. And isn’t that what the church is supposed to be about?