This series addresses the current Chick-fil-A controversy. Last time I tried to help you see how we as believers tend to cherry-pick our issues. Today’s post encourages us to try to look beyond our immediate issues.
The irony of misplacing our political priorities is that our passionate desire to change the world comes from God. Evil societies and cultures grieve God’s heart, and His Spirit moves us to do something about the problem. Along the way, that “something” changes from the unfailing power of new life in Christ to the ineffective power of imposed righteousness.
People who cite Moses’ call to the people of Israel as proof that spiritual leaders should become politically powerful should read on. After centuries of failure, the Jewish prophets began talking of a new day. They predicted a time when the Spirit would come to actually indwell believers with divine power. Acts 2 records that moment—the day of Pentecost.
The message was so powerful that the early church’s enemies rightly charged that Christians had “upset the world” (Acts 17:5). Their simple message to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, transformed personal lives, marriages, families, and entire cities. In an empire known for its cruelty, Christians built compassionate communities of faith. Slaves and masters worshipped together, women were viewed as spiritual equals, and followers of Christ were known by their care for one another and others. By the end of the first century, though still relatively small in numbers, the church of Jesus Christ had spread throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond.
A few centuries later, the growing political power of the church that had turned the world upside down for Christ had turned Christians right side up in the eyes of the world. State and church mingled together and the lines blurred. The children of the first generation of believers established privileged and powerful bishops to preserve orthodoxy. Over the centuries church leaders became less concerned with orthodoxy and more concerned with privilege and power.
The all-powerful hierarchy of the medieval church defined a Christian as someone who conformed to his or her duties to their authority. The rules of the church replaced relationship with Christ as the preserving influence of God on earth. Individual church members lost contact with the Scriptures and depended on experts to tell them what was right and wrong. The vibrant church of the second century was dead by the dawn of the Reformation in 1500.
Those of us who came to Christ in the Jesus Movement crammed this story that took centuries to develop into three short decades. The revivalists of the 60s became the power-broking turf-defenders of the 90s. Nothing demonstrated this sad reality more than the hysteria in the evangelical community over the so-called “Y2K crisis”—the predicted worldwide pandemonium that would ensue as computer clocks tried to transition from 1999 to 2000. Even if the sky-is-falling prophecies of the doom mongers of the Christian right had come true, the plans being made in the name of the Lord were appalling.
Leaders encouraged survivalist tactics. Talk radio and Internet “experts” in Southern California warned of freeways choked with frantic and desperate refugees, and gangs roaming the streets. A massive power grid failure would cause the breakdown of order on a massive scale. The entire Los Angeles basin would run out of food and water.
And what were we to do?
Use this as an opportunity to serve the suffering in the name of Christ?
Shine the light of hope in Christ to a desperate and fearful population?
Fall to our knees in prayer and beg God to preserve our city?
No, churches stockpiled food and water and actually strategized how to keep nonmembers from their cache! Entire families made plans to road march on back highways to remote areas of northeastern California and Nevada. A few people I know actually bought property!
Christians scared out of their wits approached me after services. “What are we doing to protect our people? When are we going to have a meeting like the church down the road? What is our plan?”
I wanted to scream, “What’s wrong with the church today? Come on people, we’re on the winning side. When was the last time you read your New Testament? I wish you distracted people could have been there back in the day—in the Jesus Movement. That’s when we knew what we were about, when our priorities were biblical, and our faith courageous.”
And then it hit me. We were now the ones in charge. Many of the national leaders and radio preachers of the Y2K silliness were Jesus Movement people. We were the ones preaching the sermons and training the pastors, and sitting on the church and parachurch boards!
I can’t help thinking that some of our terror had to do with our disappointment in our real ability to influence the world through our vote. “Our” candidates had lost two presidential elections in a row. “Our” call for impeachment of the current president after an appalling moral scandal only drove his approval rating to an unprecedented 73 percent. The same politicians we put in office ignored “our” issues.
In tomorrow’s post I’ll compare the effectiveness of all this focus on political power with a scene from one of my favorite movies. I hope you’ll join me there.