This is the fourth in a series of posts during election week 2020, titled, Give to God What Is God’s: Three Rules for (Political) Engagement. Read the Introduction, Rule 1, and Rule 2.
Political engagement takes energy. Mental energy, emotional energy, and an investment of time. As it should. Our heavenly citizenship is good for many things, including good citizenship here, for human government is part of heaven’s plan for our welfare on earth. That hardly means everyone who takes Christ’s name understands what they are doing with it. It just means that the world and everything in it is God’s, and that includes the buildings in the District of Columbia.
My purpose in this series so far has been to make this case and to give it some direction, to frame up and to fuel energetic participation in politics, the activities of human government. I’ve hoped to do so in a way that keeps us pretty close to the Bible, pointing in the directions it points without getting too far into our immediate political challenges except to land the Bible’s own emphases.
To this point I have largely turned over the question, what does it mean for those who belong to God to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mk. 12:17)? In this post I want to flip that coin over to ask, what does it mean for those who belong to Rome, to “[Render] to God the things that are God’s” (Mk. 12:17)? My thesis is captured in the title for this post, the third rule for political engagement: reserve your greatest energies for the most lasting society, the church. Or, in other words, be a better church member than a party member. This minimizes nothing of the importance of our earthly endeavors. It makes sure we understand the infinitely greater place of the church in God’s plan for our welfare and that of our neighbors.
If the title for this post was the only thing you expected to hear from a pastor, then you probably needed the other three posts. If the title for this post is the last thing you expected to hear from a pastor, then this post is especially for you. Thank God, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Thank God, Jesus’ kingdom has broken into this world. I want you to know all about it.
Here are three reasons the church is worth your greatest energy: we have a perfect leader, a more perfect union, and a more powerful story.
There is no contest for Lord
The matter of Jesus’ kingship is settled. There are no delays to find out if it’s really certain. There are no higher courts to settle disagreements. There’s no corruption, no counting, and no competition. Not that some have not taken up the challenge. But remember Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed … He who sits in the heavens laughs” (Ps. 2:1–4). That’s right, he laughs. He laughs at the fiercest opponents of his greatest gifts. Which is to say, he is in perfect control and he is perfectly relaxed. He is our perfect Lord and there is no contest.
We engage in politics with a full sense of what’s at stake. That means at our best we take these things more seriously than anyone. It also means that we too can laugh when our human efforts are met with failure. Not from some kind of deficient understanding of his providence. We do not laugh as someone breaks into our house because, after all, Jesus is king! We don’t laugh because our causes are not a big deal, but because to him the nations are a drop in the bucket, and he counts even this exceptional nation as dust.
That Jesus is the uncontested King of the universe is good news because he is good. There is no one better for the job. No one is more competent, more wise, more powerful, more benevolent, more forgiving, more merciful, more sympathetic, or more truthful. He never overstates what he can do for us, because what he will do for us is beyond imagination. If he seems slow in keeping those promises, it’s because there is no one more patient than him and he wants everyone to come to repentance (2Pet. 3:9).
This is what we talk about every Sunday. So, let’s keep going for a second reason the church is worth our greatest energy.
Your presence and vote with the church on the Lord’s Day is more important than your presence and vote on election day
Unless we are all fools, this is emphatically true. Sunday is the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead. If he really did suffer as the Son of God for sinners, then our sins really are removed as far as the east is from the west. If Jesus really is raised from the dead, then the society—city, people, community, assembly—he is gathering is more lasting and beautiful and secure than any city on earth, no matter how weird we get around election season. The universe has a throne and a city in the middle of it and Christ has his name on both.
Jesus gave two ordinances to his church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both of these dramatize all that is ours together through union with Christ. Every baptism is a bigger deal than any inauguration. When we are baptized, we are baptized into his death, his resurrection, and his city. Every meal around the Lord’s table is more meaningful than the most intimate meal with the most important human ruler. We eat and drink to the King. When we come together to sing, we sing together, the sound of what Jesus has done in us and to us. Through our union with him by faith, we are united to one another as family.
We are not united by a donkey or an elephant or even an eagle. We are called together by a Lion and a Lamb. As human kingdoms go, America is an exceptional nation. But our spiritual union in Christ is a truly more perfect union. As an important aside, this is why we don’t have an American flag on our platform. We are a church in America, and we are a church made up of Americans for the most part, but we are not an American church, whatever that could possibly mean. Yes, there are cultural trappings that tie us to this place and time, and as citizens we should be the best patriots. But local churches are outposts of a kingdom without borders, made up of men and women from every tribe and language and tongue. We are a people in Christ and that eclipses every other earthly association.
What we do when we come together and the decisions we make for our shared life and mission are more important because they are an engagement with eternal things. So, come to church.
Your prayers for the government do more than the signature of our President
It makes sense that we would end this series by speaking of prayer and of power. In our system of government, we can elect a bad President and then check him or her with the House or the Senate. And if our representatives don’t do their job, we can replace them. Our system is difficult to crash. Power is diffused. But if there’s one man whose signature is powerful it is the signature of the President of the United States.
Our prayers are more powerful by a longshot. In fact, besides submission, prayer is actually the one other explicit New Testament command we are given concerning human government: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1Tim. 2:1, 2). The purpose of this prayer is so that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life,” and this is because God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2:3, 4). America has a powerful story. But through the church our Lord is weaving a more powerful story still. He is bringing about a whole new creation.
There’s much we can do as citizens, but this is our precious work as the church. Even the very best legislation signed into law cannot change the human heart, cannot take away our sin, and cannot give us life everlasting. But God is pleased to do all of that in answer to our prayers, and he is doing so among us today.
So, let’s land this series with a prayer.
Father in heaven, you are in heaven and you do all that you please. You are more powerful than the most powerful office over the most powerful nation on earth. No one checks your power because you are the source of all power and authority. No one fact checks you because you are the source of all truth. No one judges you because you are the standard of all righteousness.
You, the God of heaven, have put us on earth in this place for this time. You guide the nations on the earth, and you steer the hearts of kings. Would you steer our land and our leaders to righteousness, to enact and carry out and enforce laws that are good and not evil? Would you show our lawmakers that the freedom of American citizens to exercise their religion free of compulsion is a sacred duty? Would you see that we may live peaceful and quiet lives? Would you save our neighbors from the tyranny of sin and guilt and of Satan and the fear of death? Would you make them, with us, citizens of your glorious and everlasting society, your church?
America is great. But we, your church, have a perfect leader, a more perfect union, and a more powerful story. Bless this country and especially your church.
In the name of Christ and for his kingdom,