The Church and Politics: Historically and Currently

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Last week we discussed Satan’s two-pronged guerrilla attack on Christianity in the mid-19th century—Marxism and evolution. They proved to be intellectual challenges in the public arena that, sadly, the church wasn’t equipped to handle and backed away from confronting.

The timing was perfect for a new theological perspective. A group known as the “Brethren,” led by a former Anglican clergyman named John Darby, made its appearance on the scene in the 1830s.. The movement was born in Ireland and began to spread over the British Isles, eventually making its way to America. The Brethren desired to get back to the New Testament form of church, so they had no clergy, met in homes, all participated, etc., just as I have been advocating. 

One of their distinctive teachings, formulated by Darby, was the concept of “the rapture of the church”— the imminent return of Jesus to the earth specifically to take the church up out of the world. According to this prophetic teaching, after the rapture Jesus then will defeat all his enemies after a terrible “tribulation” of bloody war and chaos, described in the book of Revelation. After seven years of war, Jesus will bring those believers back to earth with Him, to rule over Jesus’ defeated enemies, in what is known as “the millennium.” The Christians will get to miss all the bloodshed!

One of the early American converts to this theological position was C.I. Scofield. A nominal Episcopalian, Scofield was genuinely converted in 1869 at age 26 and  eventually, in St. Louis, Missouri, came under the growing influence of John Darby’s teaching. It had come to be called “Dispensationalism.” 

In 1909, Scofield published his Scofield Reference Bible. It was an immediate, best-seller, primarily because of its notes, which taught Dispensationalism in great detail. They provided a rationale for getting completely out of politics, because “Jesus could return at any time in these ‘last days’ and take us home to heaven. Why should we ‘polish brass on a sinking ship’ by being involved in politics?” This was a phrase popularized by J. Vernnon McGee, a prominent dispensational radio preacher in the latter 20th century whose recorded messages are still heard today, over 40 years after he preached them. .

So, this teaching helped set the stage perfectly for the church to withdraw from the public square’s political marketplace of ideas, retreat behind its stained-glass windows to wait for Jesus’ imminent return to rescue us. The result was that the church turned inward and became solely for Bible study, evangelism, and personal sanctification, rather than equipping its members to rule over the earth as we have been commissioned to do.

The reason for this retreat, that extends to this day, is not exclusively theological, as there are some faithful dispensationalists who are political warriors. They are heavily involved in the battle to rule in the civil government. They are fully engaged. But this theology, unintentionally, gives cover for those churches who want to find a theological reason for ignoring one of God’s three tools (family, church, civil government) for accomplishing His eternal purpose through us..

What should we do? How can we see our churches, God’s people, restored to fulfill that commission? The answer is not really surprising: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

The answer, as an individual, is always to face, openly and eagerly, my own sin, and this verse tells us that the answer for the corporate church is no different. If we want God to “heal our land,” the whole church, through its leadership, must do the same. Earnest Christians in the church set out to humble themselves, pray more faithfully, seek God’s face in their quiet time more diligently, and turn from their constant besetting sins more fully, just as 2 Chronicles tells us, as a church, to do.

My first experience with corporate church leadership was back in the early 80s, and we believed this ardently. We loved to publicize the start time of evening meetings as “7:14” in honor of the location in 2 Chronicles of this verse. 

However, we then, along with a vast number of churches today, were totally unaware that we were addicted to the fruit of that Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, of which Adam ate in the Garden. Because of that addiction to being “good” and not “evil,” it is instinctively “righteous” for earnest Christians to see the four things in this verse as four things we must consciously set out to do. They become a recipe to follow, buttons to push, or levers to pull to get God to “hear us,” “forgive our sin” and “heal our land.”

How are we doing with that? Paul tells us, “Not so well!” as he quotes several Old Testament verses; “As it is written, “Not even one person is righteous. No one understands. No one searches for God. All have turned away. They have become completely worthless. No one shows kindness, not even one person (Romans 3:10-12 ISV)!

So, God first tells us in 2 Chronicles 7:14 exactly what we must do, and then follows that up by assuring us in Romans 3:10-12 that we have absolutely no hope of ever doing so. I can’t wait to tell you next week exactly how that will happen!

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