Every so often I will notice an unusual number of politicians showing up in our church services. It’s kind of like an annual revival, except that it only happens in the months leading up to November in an election year. Some want to use it as a photo opportunity. (One year a candidate brought some things to donate to our Dream Center and made sure that he and I were photographed together in the process.) Others are looking to be formally introduced to the congregation. (I don’t do that. I’ll explain why in just a minute.) A few are sincere about learning about our worship community. All are looking for votes. That’s okay. I understand the process and I’m grateful to live in a country where we have that privilege.
Occasionally a candidate will ask for an appointment, and I am always honored to accept. As a concerned citizen, it is a great opportunity to find out where they stand on issues that I’m interested in. Once, a local businessman set up a breakfast with himself, a candidate and me. After a brief introduction and some small talk, the candidate began to float out some “hot button” issues like abortion, gay marriage and prayer in school. It seemed like he was gauging my response to try and see what connected with me. Although I have an opinion on each of those (and just about anything else you want to talk about), I just listened. When the businessman sensed that my enthusiasm for his chosen candidate seemed less than what he expected, he leaned over and said, “My pastor really likes this guy. He stands for what we believe in.”
I just kind of nodded.
“You know, we don’t have any Democrats in our church,” he continued.
“Is that right?” I asked. “Tell me about that.” This sounded like the most interesting thing I’d heard all morning. I shifted in my chair and waited eagerly for his explanation.
“Yeah, he makes it real clear from the pulpit where we stand. And if he hears about anybody that doesn’t agree, he makes sure that it’s uncomfortable for them to stay. I think it’s important that we take a stand as Christians these days, don’t you?” he asked as he looked intently at me for my response.
Ignoring his question, I asked, “No Democrats at all?”
“None that I know of,” he responded.
“Interesting” was all I could say.
Throughout the rest of the conversation, I couldn’t help but reflect on his assessment of his church. No Democrats. He sincerely thought that was a good thing. Maybe it was. I couldn’t help but wonder: What would Jesus think? How did he handle the various political parties in his little congregation?
Arguably the biggest temptation that Jesus faced was political. It began with Satan in the wilderness: "Then the Devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. The Devil told him, 'I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,' the devil said, 'because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it to you if you will worship me.” (Luke 4:5–7, NLT)
He was offered ultimate political power, but it came with a price. He would owe political favors to the one who gave it. "Jesus replied, 'The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God; serve only him.’” (Luke 4:8)
Political temptation didn’t end there. He was constantly encouraged to embrace the political agendas and tactics of the various competing movements of his time. Each thought they knew best how to realize God’s kingdom on earth, and they were anxious to enlist him in their cause.
First there were the Pharisees. They were politically conservative and were known as the party of religious and cultural purity. Pharisees were all about conserving traditional values, but they weren’t actively involved in politics unless something affected them directly.
Next there was the party of the Sadducees and Herodians. These guys were the liberals. They didn’t believe in the resurrection (that’s why they were Sad You See), so they put a lot of their energy into politics and how to make life better now, since they didn’t believe in one to come. The Herodians were supporters of the Roman government who ruled Judea. These two groups were often called collaborators because they cooperated with the Roman occupation, pragmatically thinking that that was the best option for their “best life now” (no offense to Joel Osteen intended).
The third major party was called the Zealots. They were fanatical Jewish nationalists, revolutionaries committed to the overthrow of the Roman government. Several of Jesus’ inner circle were Zealots, including Judas, who some believe was a part of the Sicarii wing of the Zealots party. Sicariis were like an ultraright-wing terrorist cell, loyal only to their cause and willing to use violence and terrorism to accomplish it.
Jesus’ church was made up of people from each of these groups. At various times they tried to recruit him to their cause, but he always resisted and invited them to follow him on a higher cause and a better way.
Jesus wasn’t a conservative, at least not in the sense that the Pharisees were. He wasn’t that interested in preserving religious or cultural values; rather, he challenged them to radical obedience to God. His argument to the Pharisees often started with, “You have heard that it was said ... but I say unto you ...” (Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43).
Jesus wasn’t a liberal, at least not in the sense of the Sadducees and Herodians. He said that our highest allegiance was to be given to God and not the state. His argument to this group was, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:15–22).
Jesus wasn’t a nationalistic revolutionary, at least not in the sense that the Zealots were. He taught that we shouldn’t operate on a principle of revenge and that we ought to show love for our enemies (Matthew 5:38–48).
The followers of Jesus initially reflected the political makeup of the area that he did ministry in. They were Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and Zealots. Some were passionate about their politics, and some didn’t care. Somehow Jesus melded them into a unified church. The longer they were with him, the less they were recognizable by their politics, and the more they looked like him. Sectarian squabbles would rear their nasty heads from time to time, but Jesus would correct it and call them to a better way.
If he had succumbed to the temptation of political power, it never would have happened.
I believe our churches should reflect the communities we live in. We should be racially reflective, demographically reflective, and politically reflective. If the neighborhood is 40 percent minorities and the church is 95 percent white, then there is a problem in the church, and we need to address it. If the median age of the neighborhood is 32 and everyone in the church has grandkids, then there’s a problem in the church, and we need to address it. If the neighborhood votes 60–40 Republican and we don’t have any Democrats in the church (or vice versa), then there’s a problem in the church, and we need to address it.
It’s certainly messier that way, but if we will commit ourselves to radical obedience to the gospel, then over time our churches will identify themselves less by race, age, and politics and more by the fact that we are Christ followers.
As leaders, if we don’t succumb to the temptation of political power, it can happen.
This is an excerpt from IR-REV-REND: Christianity without the Pretense. Faith without the Façade. by Greg Surratt. Copyright (c) 2011 by Greg Surratt. Reprinted by permission of FaithWords. All rights reserved.
For more on Greg Surratt, the founding pastor of Seacoast Church and a founding board member of the Association of Related Churches, visit his website.
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