[The following is an article posted by Doug Foltz in his “Planting Churches” Blog. Doug worked with New Life Christian Church’s Passion 4 Planting ministry prior to his current role as the Director of Project Management with Stadia: New Church Strategies where he manages the start of about twelve churches a year and provides supervision to Stadia’s project management team. In this capacity he essentially functions as the executive pastor in a part time role for the churches he works with. He helps lead pastors develop strategic plans around their vision and carries as much of the administrative burden as possible to enable lead pastors to connnect with people. This article by Doug is a good one to help us think about the role of Christians vis-a-vis politics and how we intersect with society. You may not agree with everything Doug writes but it is certainly worthy of your serious consideration. RMF]
God Isn’t a Member of the Tea Party by Doug Foltz
I enjoy politics, not because I think it changes the world for good, but because it is entertaining. I have really enjoyed the tea party phenomenon. I love the idea of the commoner bucking the system and saying enough is enough. Despite your party affiliation, you have to love the distinctly American attitude behind the tea party. It’s part of what has historically made our country thrive in my opinion. What I have a hard time with is the Christian conservative right, not just in terms of their involvement in the tea party, but in their approach to politics in general. I think Christian conservatives active in politics are hanging their hopes in a very misguided place. America is not a Christian nation and if it ever truly was never will be again. Christendom is dead. I’m personally rejoicing. While on the surface the illusion of a Christian nation seems favorable, it has produced a lifeless Christianity in the masses that is nowhere near the discipleship that Jesus talks about in the New Testament.
During the time of Jesus, Christians were a fringe element of culture and were frequently persecuted. Despite this persecution, the followers of Jesus grew rapidly into a worldwide movement. Rome, the very nation that persecuted Christianity adopted it as the state religion under Emperor Constantine. It was a great wedding of the church and the state that produced a “Christian nation” referred to by many as Christendom. The church ceased being a fringe movement on the edges of society and became an institution. Christendom has reigned supreme for centuries in the West. Recent history has seen the rapid decline, and in places like Europe, the death of Christendom. Note that this does not mean that Christianity has died, but that it has once again become a fringe element on the edge of culture at times persecuted. Ultimately I think this is healthy for the church.
The Christian conservative deeply passionate about and involved in politics today fight to hold on to Christendom and the notion that the United States is a “Christian” nation. I understand why. In a Christian nation, certain moral standards are legislated and it gives the appearance that most people are Christian. Those things that we as Christian hold dear become the cultural norm. In many ways, I think the Christian conservatives in politics reflect a longing for the old paradigm where the church is on the same level as the state. To put this in the ugly terms of politics, its a way to safeguard power. And while we as Christians don’t see it that way and I truly believe most Christians in politics aren’t approaching it that way, it does kind of look that way to everyone else.
There is a problem with this though. When the culture is “Christian”, the church loses its God given mission (see Matthew 28) and becomes complacent. We lose our edge. We lose our focus. The demise of Christendom can be a good thing for the church. It does not have to be the death of the church, but instead could issue in a new era of imagination for the church. It’s just about common knowledge that our culture doesn’t mind Jesus, it just doesn’t like the church. And if we are honest, many of us in the church aren’t satisfied either. I’ve talked to many pastors who would love to kill the way they do church and try something different. That’s why I love working in church planting. It’s through the establishment of new churches that we are learning how to rethink church and begin to function as the people of God in a new more relevant way that hopefully in the end will more closely reflect Jesus’ intent for the church. I appreciate immensely the missional pioneers out there who are imagining new ways to be the Church in a culture that is in my opinion no longer remotely interested in Christendom. We can fight for the past that will likely not return, or we can rethink what it means to be the Church in a culture that is intrigued by Jesus.
Let’s not forget that Jesus was not a part of the conservative political movements of his day (I’m referencing the Pharisees and other conservative religious groups of the day). In many cases, he reserved his harshest words for those who thought they had it all figured out and spent his time with those who were messed up but knew they wanted to change. I think it’s fine to support conservative Christian candidates, let’s just remember that it’s not politics that transforms the world. True transformation comes through Jesus. He didn’t run for office or seek power. He laid down his life us for us and trusted us to take up his mantle where he left off.