Impotent Politics and the Power of the Local Church
This election is nuts. I don't care where you fall on the political spectrum, you have to admit that this past year all the crazy has come out in shades of blue and red.
Don't get me wrong - I believe that government is a good gift from God. I'm thankful for streets, schools, police officers, the armed services, and all the things that foster the opposite of anarchy. As the church, we should take seriously Paul's exhortation to pray and give thanks for those who occupy high positions (1 Tim. 2:1-4). We should also be respectful, speaking well of even those politicians with whom we deeply disagree. But I'm reminded more and more lately of how powerless and self-serving politics can be. And more and more I'm reminded of where the true power for change is found - Christ and his church.
The Power of Politics
The word "power" is dangerous. Power often evokes the worst in us, both as individuals and as a society. Leaders often wield power over others the way some little boys inflict pain on animals - with a grotesque sense of pleasure over having control over another creature. Political parties, movements, and revolutions often have no tolerance for anything less than full allegiance to their all-encompassing ideologies, and dissenters of any degree are often marginalized - or worse. A few millennia of recorded human history gives no short witness to the awful abuse of power, and there's no reason to expect that things will ever be different in this age. And, my goodness, what an awful, unspeakable insult it is to Christ himself whenever his name has been used to shed blood in the past. These things should not be.
Postmodernism and its ideological heirs would deconstruct all human behavior as simply power games. Whether it be politics, religion, social institutions, or even our every day language, these are really just tools that homo sapiens use to exert power over one another. Fair enough. I think anyone who watched more than a few minutes of the recent presidential debate would easily agree that this is what's going on. But is power all that there is?
The Power of the Gospel
That word power reminds me of these words St. Paul wrote to the Roman church long ago:
"I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" - Rom. 1:16
"The power of God..." But what kind of power is this? Is it a power that manipulates, coerces, or threatens? Is the gospel, like politics, just a guise for power games? Well, no. Certainly the church falls prey to power games (and politics!) as well - in this age we are always saint and sinner. But the church's one foundation, Jesus Christ her Lord, literally embodies in himself the negation of power. Gene Veith puts it this way:
People today have become cynical, and understandably so. Postmodernist thinkers go so far as to say that all religions, ideologies, and cultural institutions are nothing more than "constructions" designed to impose power on other people. These metanarratives - stories that purport to account for all of reality - are really about power. But in response, an interesting apologetic for Christianity has arisen. There is one metanarrative that is not about power. It is about the abnegation of power, centering on a powerful God who emptied himself to become a poverty-stricken, homeless baby in a manger and who was killed by torture as a criminal. And yet, strangely, this death redeems us, as we, too, give up our power and accept his free gift. This one metanarrative is not about power and so is not a human construction (pgs. 11-12).
The Power of the Church
This is the power of Christ. A power that works through the giving up of power. And so, this is also the power of the church. A power that works through the giving up of power - through bearing the cross, by the laying down of our lives for the other. This is where true power if found.
The truth is that this power is at work in every local congregation where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered. This power is at work wherever two or three are gathered in his name. This power is at work when we return daily to our baptisms, drowning out the old man/woman, so that the new person may arise. This is true power. Power that heals rather than hurts. Power that binds rather than breaks apart. Power that makes people alive rather than dead.
Looking Ahead With Hope
The words of the Psalmist are echoed among many Americans today -"Who will show us some good?" (Ps. 4:6). The answer does not lie in the power of politics. The answer rests securely in Jesus Christ, crucified in weakness and risen in power.
So, what do Christians do in strange political times like these, where politics are clearly impotent and presidential debates are more akin to a cage fight? Simple. We do what we've been doing for two millennia.
We love .
We may have very little power over what happens on Nov. 8th, simply because that day promises no good options. But true change has never taken place as the result of a law, a decree, a policy, or a government plan because true change begins in the heart. True change has always taken place when hearts are made new and willing to pursue good because of the goodness of Jesus Christ.
What would it look like if simple, everyday, ordinary baptized people doubled down and took seriously membership in their local congregation?
What would it look like if these people gathered faithfully each Lord's day to be loved and love one another so that they might take that love into the world?
What would it look like if the people of God looked to their own Gospel resources for solutions to societal problems rather than pandering after a law or a policy? The last time I checked, the first Christians did not need the Roman Empire's help, encouragement, or permission to care for the least of the least. They just did. And it changed the world.
People of God, be good citizens. Pray for your leaders. Have respect for authority. But let's remember that we don't need politics to do the work God's given us to do, and we certainly don't follow the world's ways of power to get it done. We have a better power at work in us - the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, and that power remains regardless of who becomes president.