by Justin Lonas
Editor's Note: Colossians 2:8 tells us to "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world rather than according to Christ." We are quick to remember this verse when our faith is affronted from outside, but what happens when this command comes into conflict with entrenched unbiblical attitudes in the Church?
Over the next several issues, I'll be addressing 10 particular areas where "the traditions of men" tend to hold sway over the Truth in today's Church. I'm calling our attention to these with the understanding that I am as guilty as anyone of many of these assumptions and that there are many ideas of the "right way" to interpret Scripture on each subject. Still, it is our calling as a publication and as believers to commit to "rightly dividing the word of Truth" (2 Tim. 2:15) and applying it to our world.
Tradition Number 1 - Politics
It seems as though many who've encountered Christ have confused His mission with political solutions to the world's problems from the very beginning. From Herod's violent reaction to the perceived threat of the King's birth (Matt. 2) to the crowd Jesus fed who then sought to make Him king (John 6:15) to the general perception that He had come to establish an earthly kingdom (exemplified by the disciples misunderstanding of His death in John 20:9-10), men have misinterpreted the Kingdom of God according to their own vision.
Through the centuries, we see this pattern repeated-in Constantine, the aggregation of power in the medieval Roman Catholic Church, the Crusades, the alliance between Church & state through most of modern European history, etc. While in America the relationship between religion and politics was designed to be more distant than in the nations of our forebears, there is still significant overlap. In this heated election season, both sides are quick to invoke God and reach out to the Christian community. The tendency to assign God to a political party and vote accordingly is pervasive-but that's not what He calls us to.
While there are certain issues never to be compromised on (i.e.-protecting the sanctity of life) almost all political positions involve man's ideas and plans and therefore are likely to be fundamentally flawed. When we passionately identify ourselves as a Church with any party, we can cheapen our witness by allying ourselves with unbiblical policies and programs. Such a commitment detracts from our ability to reach the lost by creating additional stumbling blocks for unbelievers. Those uncomfortable with being confronted about their need for a Savior will be that much more resistant to that message delivered by someone who is perceived as a political opponent. "The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing," (1 Cor. 1:18a)-why would we want to make it more difficult for someone to come to the Truth?
Politics is, fundamentally, about gaining and leveraging power. It revolves around the ability to make others do what you want them to, the desire to protect your interests, and a belief that we must solve our own problems rather than allowing God to work in His time. Christ calls us rather to settle offenses personally and quickly (Matt. 5: 21-26), to graciously accept persecution and go the extra mile (Matt. 5:38-42), to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), to trust God to reward righteousness practiced in secret (Matt. 6:1-6), and to treat others as we would like to be treated (Matt. 7:12).
Most of all, He has called us to be fishers of men and to make disciples. Men's hearts are not changed through political action, but by the work of the Spirit. Accordingly, that should be the focus of our lives and work. If we focus on political solutions to the problems facing the world, we forfeit opportunities to show Christ through service. Governments can provide many services, but without the ability to address the base level need of humanity, they can never make men whole.
As dangerous an animal as politics can be, it is important to distinguish it from governing authority. Though it is difficult to separate the two in our country, there is an important distinction-governments are instituted by God to preserve order, punish evildoers, and protect the weak. As such, we are told to submit to them (Titus 3:1, Rom. 13:1) to pay our taxes (Rom. 13:6-7) and to pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2:2).
As in all professions, God has placed many of His servants in the realm of government. Working with authorities to achieve godly goals is noble and right (as we see in Daniel and Esther) when it is a part of our primary goal of following Him and spreading His Truth. Through such action, William Wilberforce was able to lead the movement to eradicate slavery in the British Empire and stir a revival of true Christianity in that nation. Christians working within governments have helped save untold thousands of lives around the world through disease prevention, aid programs, and peace negotiations, giving men the opportunity to live to hear the Truth. In our own day, believers fight valiantly for the right of unborn children to live and have achieved a ban on partial-birth abortion.
These two temptations-to believe that politics can solve all our problems or to believe that God does not use political action to advance His plans-are always knocking at our door. Even as we seek to focus on our primary mission, we must be careful to recognize that God's will and the authorities He set over us are not always in conflict. As we head into the voting booth this month, let us strive to vote according to scriptural principles but remember that no party or candidate has a platform that wholly conforms to God's commands. No matter the outcome, our responsibility is to trust the Lord's sovereignty, submit to and intercede for those He places over us, and be about His business in all aspects of life-not just in the ballot box.
Justin Lonas is editor-in-chief of Pulpit Helps magazine.