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God's Huckster

Preaching Jesus in a politically-charged climate.

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'Jesus is Lord': Can we not preach politically?

The question gets asked often in preaching circles: should we preach politics?

"Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor. 12:3). This was the confession of the early church. Given that the popular notions of Lordship were only attributed to Caesar at the time with the saying "Caesar is Lord," one can quickly see that the very confession of the church was political in nature. The reign of God always has been political. One cannot read the Prophets—Isaiah in particular—without recognizing political overtones. Isaiah boldly foresees the reign of Jesus: "Of the greatness of his government and peace, there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne …" (9:12).

Should we preach politics? Can anyone actually say the phrase "Jesus is Lord" and, with a straight face, say the gospel has nothing to do with politics? In a sense, all gospel preaching is politics. Gospel preaching holds up a different Lord. It preaches an alternative administration. It proclaims that a new kingdom is present. In fact, as Michael Green has pointed out in his book Evangelism in the Early Church, this is why primitive Christianity was as despised as it was in the first-century. Green reminds us that the Roman world held that everyone was to give homage and faithful worship to the state religion (called religio). With that in place, people could have whatever personal superstitions they wished (called superstitio). For the Romans, your personal superstitions were fine as long as you kept them to yourself and didn't rock the Roman boat.

A remnant of this kind of thinking is still prevalent in today's Western world. For example, the church is a non-profit organization. As such, it is illegal for a non-profit organization to take monies and then simultaneously advocate for ballots or candidates from the pulpit. While some Christians have fought against this in what has been called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," it should be understood as a footnote on the old Roman notion of religio and superstitio. "What is true for you may be true for you," the spirit of Rome says, "… just keep it to yourself and out of the affairs of politics."

The problem is that the Christian belief in the gospel cannot not affect our understanding of politics. Sadly, there is a kind of cultural hypocrisy around Christians entering the political conversation. It is fine and dandy for anyone to do politics so long as it doesn't actually find its grounding in one's faith. One remembers that famous story when Mahatma Gandhi told his preacher friend E. Stanley Jones, "Don't attempt to propagate your faith; just live it. Be like the rose, which, without a word, silently exudes its perfume and attracts the attention of the people." Jones's response was timely and important: he reminded Gandhi that he was the greatest propagator his own beliefs on independence and freedom from British rule. Why, he asked, was it okay for Gandhi to preach politics but Jones wasn't?

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June 24, 2016  8:06pm

Thank you for some insight is a very tough political season.

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William Sillings

June 20, 2016  1:12pm

Very thought provoking. One point I'd like to see addressed: One of the problems with Evangelical theologies is the pessimistic "posit" that Christ's Kingdom is mostly future, that Christ does not intend his kingdom to reign until the millennium, and that Christians just have to wait until that time comes. Mr. Swoboda comes close to a better point of view when he says that Christianity should affect one's political position. When he posits that Christ rejects the political offices we offer him, he is correct. However, isn't that because he already reigns, that his rule extends to all the earth, and that Christians are actually ambassadors sent forth to announce his reign in all the earth? Does such rule not include his reign over political, societal and economic aspects of world existence? Does his reign not mean present day rulership over all? Of course, our problem is, that if we're just waiting for some future return, he doesn't get to reign now. That seems erroneous to me.

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James H Johnson

June 20, 2016  12:33pm

It pains me to speak this way-but; I am not scholarly enough to trace down the origin of the word "politics", or "political". I did pull out my NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance - and could find no reference to either of those words. We are exhorted to be not of the world though in it, but in it while being a citizen of God's Kingdom - a right given to us by Christ Jesus. Politics is an essence of the world - something created by fallen men. The behaviors described in the Bible can be described as "Political" . . . but they are descriptions of the fallen - those Christ came and died to save . . . from "politics." We err when we attempt to comport the actions of Jesus with the things of the world.

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Mark Pitts

June 20, 2016  10:29am

Very thought provoking and incredibly timely.

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joseph folk

June 20, 2016  10:16am

Outstanding! If I spent my time trying to win my friends to Christ,rather than to win them to my politics, I would be a far better person. (Probably just as beaten up, but a better person---look what happened to Jesus!) Plus, I would have far more friends.

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