"It's never been as bad as it is now."
That statement has been said to me numerous times in various ways over the past five or six years. The topic is American political leadership and the divide among Republicans and Democrats, and all those trying to live outside political party identification.
As a point of reference, we're not the first generation to make such claims.
In fact, I'm reading a number of books on the Civil War and just in case we think it is as bad as ever, there were many in the 1860s who said the same...and their war ended up more literal than we can imagine with brothers fighting brothers and a rift that has yet to heal completely. In some ways, it has been said, we are fighting another version of civil war today in our nation. Perhaps so.
Regardless how bad it is, how bad it has been, or how bad it will become (how's that for the negative trifecta?) for those with a biblical worldview, our current state of affairs is no surprise. Oh, the specific issues and items that cause disunity and divides may be surprising, the nature of man is as it always has been.
To put it simply - people sin. The world is broken. Sin seems to reign, and righteousness is often difficult to find. Apart from Christ it is not available and as Christians we understand that all is ultimately good and right comes from God. In the meantime, we are called and placed in a broken world, with all our personal brokenness, as God's ambassadors with the commission to be salt and light and to expand His kingdom in such a way that many more disciples are made.
American Political Christianity
For decades different political parties, for the lifetimes of anyone reading this that has been primarily limited to the Democratic and Republican parties, have sought to align with the most prominent and powerful (i.e. largest voting bloc) religious denominations and groups in the nation. As we move through an era being described and defined more and more as anti-religious or post-religious, we are beginning to see a shift in the strategic moves.
Nationally, the primary parties virtue signal based on the best potential end for their respective candidates. At the local level, the candidate may be the same party as a national candidate, but since all politics are local, the individual platforms may differ from the national one. This is likely how you can see pro-life Democrats vote for and sign recent heartbeat bills and recently traditional pro-life laws where the national party platform takes a markedly different take. I would say the same would be true with Republican candidates at the local level with issues that may be in opposition to party platforms.
This is not news. Any purveyor of political positioning, virtue signaling, and policy usage understands the reality of local politics and "playing to one's base."
As a pastor I find myself in interesting, and sometimes precarious positions when it comes to local, state, and national politics. To be candid, I believe that every citizen should (and for Christian citizens, prayerfully) consider for whom to vote, and do one's duty to vote and participate in the process. This freedom and access we have do so is not common globally and should not be taken for granted.
However, as other pastors who have recently contacted me, seeking opinions on how to deal with specific expectations within the church, it is perhaps more difficult now, than in recent years to maneuver well and biblically in the culture of American Christianity.
Do You Not Care?
On Sunday, a recommendation was promoted by some religious voices in our nation. Many are biblically sound pastors and teachers that I admire personally. Others are ministry leaders and those with influence among Christians and church attenders in the nation. Many of these brothers and sisters are those I respect as well. Yet, others who have promoted the moment are little more than prosperity gospel hucksters and charlatans who prey on the weaknesses of parishioners seeking a blessing for a buck. I hope that was clear enough so you understand what I believe about them.
It was a strange team of affirmers to be certain. The recommendation was for pastors on Sunday to lead their congregations in prayer from the pulpit for President Trump.
Praying for Leaders, Regardless of Party
The Bible is clear regarding praying for those in authority over us. Paul's letter to Timothy reveals this as true and lays out the very reason we, as Christians, should pray for those in authority.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:1-6 (ESV)
To argue that as Christians we do not need to pray for our leaders would be to ignore this passage.
However, it should be noted that Christians are not just called to pray for the leaders they like. Nor are they only to pray that leaders do what they desire politically. I am reminded of a request I was given man years ago at a National Day of Prayer gathering. There were a number of people asked to pray for those in leadership. This is a good thing. The particular prayers came from a template provided by the National Day of Prayer organizers. Our gathering was small. All praying were church members and leaders in our church. We all view prayer as vital. Yet, when it came time to divvy up the prayer focus regarding different office holders, I asked one person to pray for the President of the United States.
This person responded, "I can't do it. I do not like that man. I will not pray for him."
Well, that pretty much eroded the veracity of the prayer gathering since this person was one of the organizers.
As a pastor I just sat in silence with my mouth agape. I could not believe this. Yet, it revealed how sometimes our politics drives our theology rather than the other way around.
This past Sunday, I did not take the time to have a special prayer for our President or political leaders. I am not opposed to doing so, but did not feel any unction to do so at this time.
On this Sunday, our congregation was commissioning high school graduates into the "real world" and spent time praying over them. That was our focus as God led me to preach from His Word a message about generational lostness.
I know pastors who did take the time to have a focused prayer for the President. I know others who did not. Fortunately, in each case, these brothers' gospel-centeredness, love for God, thankfulness for our national freedoms, and love for their church did not come into question.
But for some, it did.
Grace, Mercy, and Pointed Responses
Church members (good, Christ-honoring, redeemed, faithful, truly-saved church members) questioned pastors yesterday afternoon and today. Questions as to "Why didn't you lead a prayer?" to "Why did you lead that prayer?" have been likely filling inboxes, answering machines, and hallway conversations.
Regardless what the pastor answers, for some it will never be good enough and will leave church members questioning the pastor's politics, not to mention his love of God. Seriously - some will go there.
In response to such questions, I encourage pastors to remember their primary and most important calling. It is to honor the Lord with their lives, shepherd their flock, preach the Word unapologetically, pray, and make disciples. What this means is that in no way should a pastor to shy away from cultural issues (sin issues) that stand in opposition to God's Word. When it comes to some political hot-buttons (which ultimately are not political, but cultural) pastors should...
- speak out against abortion and euthanasia (Genesis 1:27, Acts 3:15, Psalm 139:13-18, Jeremiah 1:5)
- work to raise awareness for adoption (Exodus 1:15-22, Romans 8:15, Ephesians 1:5)
- advocate for orphans (James 1:27)
- love the foreigner (Matthew 25:35)
- support and provide opportunities to help women with unplanned pregnancies, encouraging them to keep their babies until birth (Psalm 46:5, Ephesians 2:10)
- provide for the widows and aged, ensuring the church does not forget or minimize them (James 1:27)
- speak for and affirm justice for all (Proverbs 31:9)
- be a voice for the voiceless (Proverbs 31:9)
- pray for the leaders of the land, regardless who they are (1 Timothy 2:1-6)
- pray that those in authority will become children of God and be bold enough to not let their policies be driven by a cultural worldview, but from a heart transformed by God (1 Timothy 2:1-6)
- speak out against the moral revolution that seeks to redefine morality not from traditional values, but from biblical truths (Romans 3:21-31, Ephesians 5:33)
- love all, but not affirm sin (Matthew 22:39, 1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Peter 4:8)
- stand for biblical marriage while speaking against adultery (Matthew 19:5, 1 Corinthians 6:16)
There are more, but ultimately, a pastor should be grounded in the Word, unafraid to preach the gospel, wise enough to do so rightly, and prayerfully and biblically lead those God has entrusted to him as one holding the office of pastor.
Responding with grace is vital. We may be at a tipping point in our culture. It may be a schism awaiting. Yet, we pray. We hope. We believe. God is bigger than any term of office, policies made, laws enacted, or culturally redefined "truths."
Platt and the President
One of the trending news stories last night and today was that President Trump arrived at McLean Bible Church in Virginia at one of the morning services so that Pastor David Platt (former President of the International Mission Board) could pray with him.
Opinions vary on whether this prayer moment should have taken place. What I know is that there is no way under heaven that American Christians will agree regarding this moment.
What I also know is that the prayer offered by Pastor Platt was perhaps the best, non-political, gospel-centered sermon and prayer based solely on 1 Timothy 2 that I have ever heard or could hope to hear.
I feel for Pastor Platt because he was placed in a challenging situation, but as one pastor stated (who is one not to let politics reign from his pulpit) "When the President shows up at your church, regardless of party or approval ratings, you pray for him/her." That is true.
Was it a photo op? Likely.
Was it a sincere request for prayer? Some say yes, others, no.
Here's a reality check for all - not everyone in a church service on a Sunday arrives with the most noble intent. Yet, while there, we pray that they hear God's Word, experience His love, and the gospel impacts them for change. Whether that person is well-known, or only known by a few, or none in the room is irrelevant.
Regarding Platt's prayer, as pastor of the church, he alone spoke from the pulpit (or stage in this case.) He has the calling and authority to rightly divide the Word of Truth for those under his teaching and pastoral care. He did not give the microphone to another. He spoke. He prayed. He preached. For that is what the pulpit on the Lord's Day is reserved for - the focus and glory on God alone.
As one who deeply cares about our nation, our policies, our freedoms, and the future for our children and grandchildren, I am so very thankful that while "some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God" (Psalm 20:7 ESV).
Globally, our brothers and sisters throughout the world, whether in free republics, communist regimes, socialist nations, under dictatorial rule, or even in religious oligarchies are commanded to pray for those in authority over them as Paul instructed Timothy.
So, it is not an American Christian concept. It is a biblical truth for all people, all times, in all circumstances.
Pastors - Stay Focused
Some of my pastor brothers will be labeled this week. They will either be labeled too conservative, too liberal, too traditional, too contemporary, too old-fashioned, too progressive, too patriotic, not patriotic enough, or any number of trending terms.
Men - may you rest easy this week knowing that many ultimately will just have to admit that you were too biblical.* That's a good title to wear.
*By "too biblical" I mean that you were led by the Holy Spirit, you preached the gospel clearly on the Lord's Day, you may or may not have led your congregation in a prayer for the President, but you did as God led and you speak on the issues of life from a biblical worldview, leading well, living holy, and making disciples.
For more on David Platt and the Prayer over President Trump, here is a clear and concise response from Pastor Platt of McLean Bible Church and a video link from the church's site. https://www.mcleanbible.org/prayer-president