Happy birthday, America! You have changed a lot over my lifetime. Quite a bit over the last few years actually. If I could give you a gift this year it would be to restore something that has been lost – the prophetic voice of the Christian church.
I realize that many people are glad the church is being pushed inside its four walls. They are happy the faithful can gather an hour a week to rehearse tired ideas that have been overpowered by the “enlightened” secularists of our day. But I worry less about the empty ideas of the secularist and more about the empty chair of the prophet in our land today.
You remember the debate early in your forming don’t you? Do good nations rise from good laws or good men? In the 1660’s, the people of Carolina looked to John Locke. He authored their 1669 constitution. He believed that good government would be secured by good laws.
William Penn offered a different philosophy. He thought that good laws were not enough. He said, “Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good and the government cannot be bad. If it be ill, they will cure it. But if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn. . . .[T]hough good laws do well, good men do better; for good laws may want good men and be abolished or invaded by ill men; but good men will never want good laws nor suffer ill ones.”
While our nation is looking to remake laws, God looks to remake men. But without the prophetic voice of the church, it becomes harder to find God. He becomes buried under the squeals of the perpetually offended. Do we stop to consider if God is offended by our new course?
God has a history of providing nations with prophets. They would boldly speak to the kings of their day. Who is speaking to our kings today?
The church has lost its prophetic voice. We have stopped giving you this gift, America. Many in the churches ranks think that the church has no place dealing with public leadership. They think politics is a dirty place. Have they forgot that Jesus loves those kind of places? Some say that we shouldn’t be involved in the law making process. But have we forgot that all laws reflect someone’s morality? If the moral people leave the places where laws are made, what is left but the immoral to make laws?
Some say, “Just preach the gospel.” While the gospel is the only thing that changes people, have we forgotten that the gospel is not preached in a vacuum? It is preached in cultural context in which laws play a large role in creating. Laws are some of the most powerful teachers for a nation. Laws are designed to teach a society what is good, right, and normal. When laws are made that desacralize what God has deemed sacred like life, marriage, and sexuality, then these laws become false teachers. Jesus warned us against false teachers. He stood against them and warned us to do the same.
“But Jesus never got involved in politics.” Really? Did he not deal with the Pharisees? The rulers? They were not just religious leaders, they dealt with laws and justice in the public sphere as well.
“But Jesus said, my kingdom is not of this world.” Correct, but finish the verse, “or else my servants would fight.” The kingdom of God is not advanced through force. Jesus is not saying his people should abdicate a prophetic role to the injustices of our world. We are not in heaven yet.
The kingdom of God advances here on earth and God has given three institutions to aid in the stewardship of this fallen world: church, government, and family. Each have been given a certain kind of authority. To the church, the power of conversion. To the family, the power of covenant. To the government, the power of coercion. Each of these spheres are unique but they also have responsibility toward each other. As one sphere changes, the others are affected. Also, when one of these institutions takes on the authority of the other, things go bad.
When the church tries to use coercion to bring conversion, it ends badly. When the family stops honoring the power of covenant, society breaks down. And when the government tries to use coercion to force matters of conscience, it oversteps its bounds.
I recently received a notice from two of our government leaders—one at the state level and the other, national. They were asking to meet privately with the pastors and Christian leaders of our town to discuss important issues of conscience and law. I was attending a pastor’s conference at the time but I felt it was my prophetic duty to meet with these leaders. I was shocked and embarrassed when only two pastors showed up to that meeting. Here our leaders were asking for our input. They were asking for private pastoral counsel. Two pastors showed up. We have surrendered our prophetic voice through apathy.
I was talking with a young pastor and recent graduate of one of our local Bible colleges after one of the Supreme Court decisions came down. He believed we really have no place in those arenas. I asked him this question, “If a judge came to you and asked your pastoral advice on how they should vote on a certain issue with clear moral implications what would you say to them?” His answer grieved me. He said, “I would recuse myself from talking with that judge.” He couldn’t name any justices on our Supreme Court and had no idea they were appointed for life. Ugh. We’ve surrendered our prophetic voice through ignorance. I’m sorry.
Public leaders have confided to me privately that they feel abandoned by their church leadership. They felt called to the public arena but the church never affirmed their call and certainly never equipped them. (Even though part of the call of a pastor is to equip saints for the work of the ministry and political leaders are called “God’s servants.”) They watched as we prayed over missionaries, teachers, and pastors but we never called them forward to pray for them. Church leaders can hide behind their calling and forget others can be just as called to serve in areas of public leadership, law, and justice.
Ironically, many of these same pastors will call for the church to be involved in “justice ministries” while forgetting that the primary institution for maintaining justice is government. The very place they have abandoned. Churches don’t make laws. Churches don’t hire and train police. Churches don’t have prisons. Churches can bring healing to those hurt by the oppressors, but if we want to be more than a band aid, more than reactionary, we should lift our prophetic voice in the halls of government.
The church is not the servant of the state nor the master of it, but we are called to be the conscience of it and salt only preserves that which it touches.
In ancient times, the winning army would cut the tongues out of the vanquished. The American church is nearly voiceless. I pray we will find it and give it back to you as a gift.
Happy Birthday, America. May God shed his grace on thee.