“Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.”
– Jeremiah 17:5
Before speaking to the topic, I wanted to reiterate the foundational principles guiding our response to the pandemic so far, since I am hearing reports of questions being raised. These are: 1. Good-faith citizenship in flattening the curve (e.g. Jer. 29:7), 2. Care for our own people who are vulnerable to the virus (e.g. 1 Peter 5:2), and 3. Submission to governing authorities (e.g. Rom. 13). Though not sent by way of a written note, they were communicated in some detail by Pastor Eric in an announcement before worship on May 31st. We have not moved from these ideas since. If you have further questions, please reach out to your shepherding group officers.
This is an election year. Who knew in 2016 that the political polarization could soar in America by 2020; thanks to the pandemic, the economic slowdown and politics of race? With the steady decline in true religion on American soil, both in numbers as well as a rapid thinning of the spiritual life of the professing church, the resulting spiritual vacuum is being readily filled by an unhealthy and downright ungodly political passion. In other words, politics is increasingly functioning like a religion in America, where parties function like religious sects, leaders like messiahs and everyone else is glad to serve at this altar as priests – the priesthood of all voters.
Operating in a politically charged time, prophet Jeremiah turns the warnings against trusting politicians and princes (e.g. Ps. 118:9, Ps. 146:3) into explicit curses. Jeremiah was calling Judah (the southern kingdom) to submit to the Babylonian exile and not take refuge in Egypt. Before him, Isaiah was foretelling Judah to not fear Israel (the northern kingdom) for it will be soon exiled to Assyria. This tells us that God’s people have time and again resorted to political pacts out of fear and a lack of faith.
Coming from a different political climate, I have often noted the heightened political consciousness of an average American regardless of their faith. Perhaps this is due to, to America’s credit, the democratic republic which gives every citizen ample rights and freedoms (such as religion, speech, voting) trusting that they will make ordinary, and if necessary extra-ordinary, use of them to promote the common good of everyone.
However, with power comes not only responsibility but also temptation. The power distributed to every citizen serves the society well when it is undergirded by virtue, and especially true religion (which I hold to be faith in Christ). But when true religion is rapidly stripped away, both in width and depth, this power is not only prone to abuse, but to an idolatry that essentially replaces religion with politics. Man never stops being religious, he only changes his religion. Politics becomes the new religion and religion is reduced to political views. The church is not immune to this. She is tempted and has attempted to baptize political views with Scriptural waters (pun intended – by watering down the Scriptures).
Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother… And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Mt. 10:34-36). Well, today Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders could mouth those words of our sovereign Lord and mock him by playing substitute messiahs preaching alternate gospels. The Lord is not spinning in his grave (his grave lies empty), he is grieved on his throne. The one who exchanged his throne for the cross is now being exchanged for earthly vapors.
But is this religion of politics new? Are we in a brand-new situation of civil religion, which is really a pseudo-religion? Scripture says there is nothing new under the sun. Exchanging religion for politics, piety for power, humility for honor, austerity for authority is a perennial characteristic of the fallen human race since the days of Babel – the quest for creating an earthly utopia by rallying together a human union and installing a false messiah. The whole earth was gathered in the plains of Shinar under Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10).
The city of God is repeatedly mocked and attacked by the city of man. To summarize the politics of God in the Old Testament: I raised up my patriarchs, gave them the promises and rebuked kings who even touch them (Psalm 105:14-15). I rescued my people Israel from Egypt and gained glory over Pharaoh (Exod. 14:4). I gave them the land of promise by striking down the kingdoms of the Canaanites and the Amorites (Ps. 135:8-12). I installed David as my king on Zion (Ps. 2:6). Yet my own people have forsaken me by making political pacts and defiling true religion (1 Kings 11:1-2). In judgment, I have torn asunder my own kingdom (1 Kings 12:24). I use Assyria to humble Israel (2 Kings 17:6-7) and Babylon do discipline Judah (2 Kings 25:1).
The book of Daniel begins in the land of Shinar. Babylon is nothing but another Babel. Though Nebuchadnezzar (another Nimrod) is king, yet it is the sovereign LORD who controls dreams, furnaces and even mouths of lions. Eventually, he raises up Cyrus to burst the bonds of Babylon and return his people to their land (Isa. 45:1). He appointed Ezra to revive true religion (Ezr. 7:10) and Nehemiah to rebuild the holy city (Neh. 2:20). “Yet my people still go astray from me” (read Malachi).
The New Testament is God raising up his final Davidic king who acts wisely, who is high and lifted up, who sprinkles many nations and kings shut their mouths because of him (Isa 52:13-15). This Messiah was raised not on a throne but on a cross, not to free Israel from Rome but his people from the tyranny of indwelling rebellion and the dominion of Satan that began all the way back in the garden. Jesus Christ came not to seize power but to release it, not to force devotion but evoke it, not to breed fear but bring about faith, not to fake salvation but to make it. We must not forget that the political leadership of the Jews who despised the Roman rule, ultimately colluded with them and coerced them to put God’s Messiah to death purportedly for a blasphemy that was projected as a political crime. His offense was that he claimed to be the Son of God and the King of the Jews.
The Roman world was rife with cults, sects and religious factions. Then what’s so threatening about yet another group of people who were deranged enough to worship a crucified Messiah? Well, for one they came from every race and strata of society. They called themselves the “church,” which was a political term meaning assembly or council. And they claimed that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ (not Caesar) is Lord and Savior (Phil. 2:9-11). Yes, that was very much a political statement! Their faith, unlike other sects, was a complete subversion of the Roman political establishment. Not creating chaos or anarchy, but unveiling a new peace, a promised shalom superior to the propaganda of Pax Romana, “Peace I leave with you. Not like the world gives do I give” (John 14:27).
Since then God has been gathering his expats from all nations, saying “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). Yes, the Church of Christ is a new spiritual “race” with a new Adam; it is a “nation” with its own King where the priesthood belongs to all believers who intercede through their Great High Priest. As Spencer Murphy reminded us, “our citizenship is in heaven” and as local churches we are a colony of the City of God, living as exiles in the city of man, to be salt (preserving it from decay) and light (guiding it to Christ). We are heaven’s refugee camp on earth.
How then can citizens of heaven set their hopes on earthly messiahs, much less make pacts with them and play the game of power? I am trying hard to show you that the Bible presents the Christian faith intentionally couched in political terminology in order to subvert the politics of the city of man (the word politics comes from the Greek polis, meaning “city”) in order to lift our eyes up to the City of God and the King of kings, Lord of lords and God above all gods.
With the decline of cultural Christianity in America, the church is increasingly being exposed, vulnerable to attacks from every corner. Out of fear and lacking faith in God, I see the church trying to make political pacts and effect power grabs, just as they did in the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah. We are exchanging the high politics of the City of God with the base politics of the city of man. Doesn’t Scripture say, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted?” (2 Tim. 3:12).
The big question for us is: do we desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, embracing not only his message but also his methods? “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Scripture ends with the defeat of Babylon (the city of man) and the coming down of the holy city, new Jerusalem, and a voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.” (Rev. 21:3). Since we cannot reach up to heaven, heaven will come down. Praise be to God and to the Lamb!