POLITICS IN THE CHURCH
By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Boise, ID. August 3, 2003)
I.) What is Politics? What do I mean when I say, Politics in the church?
A.) Define Politics: Webster, "political methods, tactics, etc. sometimes, specifically, crafty or unprincipled methods.
Factional scheming for power and status within a group."
When two disciples of Jesus started thinking about their place in the coming kingdom, they started jockeying for position. Listen to what Jesus says to them.
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from him.
And he said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right hand and the other on the left, in your kingdom.”
But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be immersed with the immersion that I am immersed with?” They said to him, “We are able.”
So he said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, and be immersed with the immersion that I am immersed with; but to sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by my father.”
And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers.
But Jesus called them to himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Slaves are not in control and ...
B.) Politics is all about control.
Gaining control gives men a sense of power. As a certain author, who is quite popular right now, put it, "There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it."
1. The politician will single out certain people who seem to have influence for special treatment and then "affect" them, or schmooze them into the confidence of his inner circle. Then if he detects any who have strength or would offer some resistance then he will exclude them in order to get them to affect him, i.e. seek his approval. Paul ran into this behavior in Galatia.
Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?
They zealously [affect you] court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may [affect them] be zealous for them.
This controlling behavior is not from God; and when you understand what is happening, then it becomes obvious that they are not being controlled by Christ. They are outside the rule of the Spirit.
2. A politically motivated person will be continually stepping out of line, meddling in things beyond his authority or responsibility.
Like Saul in the O.T. (1Sam.15) who just had to please the people - and so he forced himself to sacrifice to God before a battle. After all, Samuel was late. But from God's perspective, Samuel was right on time to allow Saul to pass or fail the test. A political man will always please the people - but he will fail to do the will of God, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Another "people-pleaser" was Absalom, David's son. (2Sam.15) He had aspirations of power so he spoke to the people in the gate. He glad-handed them and gave them the judgements they wanted. Today we call that lobbying, making sure you press the flesh with everyone, making sure you have a positive impact and impression on each person, so your influence can be felt by everyone, so the people know that you're where it's at, you're what's happening - and eventually, that you're in charge.
But we aren't in charge. We never have been and we never will be. Christ is the head of his church. He is in charge. Always has been and always will be.
3. The Circle Game. The politician thinks that he is doing God's will - and that if you don't get on his bandwagon and get into gear with his program, then you are not important anymore. In fact you are non-essential and what is more serious, to him you are ex-pend-a-ble. To remain in control, this person would not mind if you lost your soul. This person in not following Christ. He has mixed up Christ with a power-base of "people in the know" who think they are in control of the churches.
There is power and confidence in numbers. So consequently, their power and confidence is not in God, but in each other, which in their minds somehow equates back to God. They are his group of special people therefore they cannot ever be wholly wrong. As long as big brother so-and-so continues with them, then all is right with heaven and God's blessing looks down upon them. When all the while, big brother so-and-so hasn't got a clue, and is not trusting in God. He's trusting in a bigger circle of friends, some, if not most, are dead and gone, where he sees himself fitting in and carrying on the third or fourth generation of numbers, the leaders of which all trust in each other; in each other's study and in each other's opinions.
As long as he is a politician, he will not even think about coming to God on his own and reading the scriptures for himself. That takes a humility and honesty that is too painful and ... well, scary. He would have to throw away all his "knowledge". He would have to be open to the idea that all the heretics could very will be right. He would have to abandon his confidence in himself and trust in an invisible God to lead him, which up to this point he hasn't believed is possible and has actually taught that God will not do - accept through the proxy of the written word. He would have to step out on something supernatural and, in his view, he might end up abandoning all reason and going insane.
Of course, God would not abandon him, and that is wherein lies the secret of true power - our trust in the God who is really there, that, and listening to what his word actually says.
4. A politician is not a spiritual leader. He doesn't follow the lead of God or rely on God's foresight and knowledge. He will rely on something he is used to. He will get his information the way he has always gotten it - he will put his ear to the grapevine and listen to the dirt. Like some grotesque version of a religious doctor, he will listen to the pulse of the flesh and see how it's doing, so he can decide how to proceed. The flesh is the only language or level that he understands. That is the only form of insight with which he is familiar.
And if the politician wants to find out about you specifically, he won't come to you and talk. Rather, he will think it easier and quicker, and on some twisted level, he will think it wiser to go to your enemies and those who hate you without a cause, to find out about you.
That is the modus operandi of Satan. That is the course of this world. That is what a lot of so-called "Christians" are doing to each other in the churches of Christ all over this country. It is a poison running through the veins of many bodies of Christ. I personally have had this done to me on four different occasions in three different cities, and not one of the four men came to be and asked me one question. People will act toward you the way they have learned to act in the church, the way they have seen by example. It is politics through and through. These brethren will actually see their behavior as "normal". But it is not normal - it is just average; the behavior of humans living in the flesh.
Since the politician has got his ear to the grapevine, I wanted to mention the Gossip.
1. Gossips are not interested in the truth, otherwise they would go directly to the person concerned and find out the facts.
Why don't they? Ironically gossips do not want to barge into matters that do not concern them. (!) They do not want to be busybodies in other people's affairs. God forbid! So instead the gossip speaks in private about that very person, without knowing the facts.
2. The gossip is a liar, because he/she spreads falsehoods.
(Yeah, but what if it's the truth?)
Does the gossip know that? No. The gossip is spreading dirt like a mole in the ground and never seeing the light of day.
Does the gossip care if it is the truth? No. The worse the story the more titillating it is to tell and burn the ears of the hearer.
Titillation: the juicy tidbit of smut and evil slander that shocks those who listen. "I'm shocked!" "Oh it's so shocking!" But isn't it fun?
(But the gossip is only trying to help the poor victim by informing others of that person's troubles and weaknesses and thereby enlisting concerned people who need to know in order to help.) Does anyone ever help? No. They would have to come out in the light of day and actually talk to the victim about what they have heard. Then they would have to divulge the source of the evil talk and that would expose the gossip for the small minded corrupt individual he/she is. There seems to be this twisted and perverse code of "honor" among gossips. Never divulge your sources.
A lot of the power is in secrecy. Suddenly everyone is avoiding your eyes, or giving you the cold shoulder, and your friends treat you like a guest and speak to you delicately, weighing every word you say, every movement you make, looking for confirmation of the dirt. But no one has the courage or honesty to tell you what is going on.
A sewer rat lives in the dark; so do those who do not walk in the light - like gossips.
D.) Politics is all about appearances.
Besides being a control freak, the politician is very concerned about appearances - the way things look. Paul said that they "glory in appearance and not in heart." (2Cor.5:12) And he asks the Corinthians in (10:7) "Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?" That is a rhetorical question. Something to always consider in your own mind.
The politician will plan every move he makes and everything he says in light of what other people may think of him.
I sat down with the director of the Boise branch of my company for a review of my work. It consisted of anonymous pot-shots from all the leads in the company, whether or not I had actually worked for them. When I objected to something as unfair or exaggerated, he said to me smugly, "It's all in the appearances..." (as if to say, "You should have been playing the game.")
The exalting of appearances in place of content is the air the politician breathes. With appearances, you don't have to think too much - if at all. It's the quick and easy answers. Being too lazy to do the labor for what is right. If it looks good or if it it looks bad, it looks to the flesh and arises from a carnal mind. Jesus said, "Do not judge after the appearance but judge with righteous judgement." (Jno.7:24)
Politics: How can I make myself look good and humiliate my opponent? Politics has nothing to do with the search for the truth or enduring values. Instead it becomes the rule of the strongest, "a shouting match that drowns out the voice of reason." The strongest is the one who gets the good opinion of the mob, the one with the most votes. Like Pilate's sentencing of Jesus to be crucified where the righteous were shouted down when the priests swayed the mob by going in among them and shouting. It's an unthinking miscarriage of justice, a primitive reaction of the flesh to what feels good. It's Paul's "biting and devouring one another." (Gal.5:15) It's all in the appearances, it's all in how you are perceived - not in what is right and true.
II.) What makes politics work?
Politics appeals to the basest of human desires and weaknesses.
1. People are impressed with take-charge leadership, even if the leaders haven't got a clue. They like a winner, even if the winner doesn't play by the rules. They like a man who talks a mean game whether or not it bears any fruit.
2. People are essentially lazy and want someone to tell them how it's going to be. The direction they are going isn't of primary concern, as long as someone is out front conducting them.
Like Abimelech (Jud.8:22-9:4)
3. People desire a consolidation of power and therefore of responsibility - so they can relax and feel like things are "being taken care of." These are people who will hire someone to come in to a church and do the work of the Lord for them.
4. People want to identify with a central figure that they can see and feel pride in their namesake and in his exploits and reputation.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men but as to carnal, as to infants in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For whereas there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not carnal and walk like mere men?
For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?
What, after all, is Apollos, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you believed, as to each one the Lord gave. I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who makes it grow.
5. People are impressed with appearances.
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well;
but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
If you can look the part, generally people look no further. People do not bother with substance or dig very deeply in their thinking. That is why politics works, because people look for what is easy, instead of what is right.
III.) Did Jesus use politics?
1. The obvious answer is No, otherwise they would not have killed him. Jesus didn't get the most votes.
2. People got the wrong or a confused idea of who he was. Evidence that he didn't practice politics. He didn't fit their expectations. His obedience was to the command of the Father and not to the desire of the people.
For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
3. Jesus exhorted the people not to be swayed by appearances. (Jno.7:24) "Do not judge according to the appearance but judge with righteousness judgement." That is, fair to the facts. Think - and discern what is right.
4. The people's perception of him was that he was a glutton and a wine bibber, or crazy.
5. He spoke in parables so that those with carnal minds could not understand. He was not seeking anyone's approval. He spoke the truth in the reality of the spirit, and that drove most people away.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
And the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
”Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
For the hearts of this people have grown fat.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes and
hear with their ears, lest they should
understand with their hearts and turn,
so that I should heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
IV.) How can I avoid playing politics?
1. By not seeking an advantage. Go ahead and lose. Place yourself under the mighty hand of God, and in humility, submit your course and the outcome of your efforts to him. Letting God be in charge. I know, to a politician, you may as well ask him to walk on water. Which is really what God requires us to do. Get out of the boat and walk to him.
2. By not seeking vengeance.
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written,
“Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is a common trap of Satan, the slander of you was just the bait. We must leave room for God to defend us and take vengeance, or retribution. God can do a much better job of it than we can.
3. Trusting in the Father is the only way to overcome the world.
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.
This is what we are discussing here in this lesson today, Overcoming the world.
4. Hold the mind of the victor rather than the victim. "All things are yours" (1Cor.3:21) When we see God and set our sights on the goal then we are engaged in the real issues of life. Politics and back stabbing are only on the level of the flesh. Victory in Christ is our strength. You want to win - you have already won. You want to be influential - you can already influence the course of history at your request to God. You want to know big names and have them know you - you already know God and you are known of him. You want to be in control - when God is in control. You want glory in this life among men - when all the glory is in the cross. The way of suffering is the way to glory.
So, Trust in God. Wait for him.
Defer to him. Acknowledge him.
Treat people the way that you would have them treat you.
Remember you are not in charge.
Stop the gossip.
~ Invitation ~