I made a mistake. Just months after I was ordained, the country was caught up in a lengthy, bitter debate about the nomination of a new justice for the Supreme Court. His name was Robert Bork. The year was 1987. Ronald Reagan was still president, and the evangelical church of the day was filled with an optimistic sense that the great hope of our country was a political party. Abortion had only been “legal” for 14 years, and the overwhelming sense was that that great national crisis would be solved, and ended, with the appointment of just one more new justice to the Supreme Court.
My mistake was interjecting partisan politics into my public prayer and preaching. The issue wasn’t just that everyone in the church might not agree with the official platform of the Republican Party (they didn’t…), but that the gospel itself is not rightly represented as a point of political partisanship. Preaching the gospel is something far different than a political stump speech, and biblical application, based on sound exposition, is not rightly reduced to mere political action. Much more careful thought is needed.
Ever aware now of the grave danger of that mistake of intermingling the gospel with political partisanship, it is my responsibility as a preacher of the Word of God to remind you and proclaim to you that your hope is in the Lord. That’s not just a cliche. Your hope is not in a man, nor any group of men (people) assembled together for political purposes. Surely the history of the last 31 years (since Robert Bork) has taught us that any hope founded upon a political party is a false hope. Any expectation that the desired outcome in our society of the increase of godliness and righteousness, as God defines those things, will result from an act of legislation, an executive order, or a judicial decision is a false expectation. Indeed, to state the obvious, God must change the heart. Our hope, therefore, is in revival. Again, no simplistic cliche intended. Our hope is in the power of God, power made evident in the written word, which is why we give such an emphasis to the preaching of that Word. Our hope is in the work of God to change the heart of fallen, sinful human beings, so that rather than loving their sin they come to love their God. Our hope is in the sure and certain confidence, with Job, that “in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:26) In other words, ultimately, our hope is not in this world at all, this world so filled with trouble. Rather, it is in the confidence Job so clearly expressed, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth.” (Job 19:25)
So what do we do? What do we do when we observe the dismal effects of political partisanship so vividly displayed in our day in the process of approving another justice to the Supreme Court? Surely it can rightly be observed—the depth to which our leaders and rulers have sunk in the miserable and unfortunate pursuit of political advantage even to the careless and intentional destruction of the reputation and honor of anyone who either stands in their way or can be utilized for their own agenda. Even more discouragingly, we now have occasion to note how those dissatisfied with some particular political or social event believe that it is their right to advocate violence, to pursue anarchy. To harm and to abuse those with whom they disagree, even to the threat of bodily injury or death. That’s where we have come these 31 years of my ministry and adult life. That’s where we have gone. To a place totally lacking in civility. A place with a total disregard for the honor we should graciously give to others as fellow human beings.
So what do we do? I would suggest three things, for myself as a minister of the gospel and for every believer who seeks to honor God. First, cling to the hope of the gospel. Cling to the gospel as your hope, realizing that there is no other. Thus, when I preach, though I may (and will) address issues of public policy or significance which are addressed by the Word of God, I will seek not to co-mingle that which is best described as a partisan political agenda with that which is rightly the subject of the proclamation of the Word of God.
But then, secondly, as Christian citizens, citizens of an earthly country who are also followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, you have occasion to go out into this world as salt and light wherever God gives you opportunity. For some, that will mean specific political activity, even to the point of seeking elected office. That could mean supporting certain political candidates and opposing others. It might mean an active presence in the public square, or at least a responsibility to fulfill the civic duty of voting. More broadly, it must mean a commitment to a life of integrity and honor, a life that bears witness to the truth and righteousness of God in a way that mere words cannot. And it must mean a devotion to that sort of heart-felt obedience that pleases the Lord, that which God defines as good: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
Thirdly, and my real point in this article, is that we must retain a prophetic voice in this world and culture in which we now live. That is an aspect of being salt and light, to be sure. But it is more specific. We need a prophetic voice, not in the inspired, inerrant way of the writers of Scriptures, but a voice that speaks up as a representative for God in this world, speaking his Word to a world that is increasingly ignorant of it.
So as I preach the Word of God from week to week, surely there are matters that come to our attention that have direct implication for current events, and for the current state of our culture. God is not silent, not to the nations nor to our civil governments. Thus, with our prophetic voice, we identify sin. Even as we preach the hope of forgiveness, we call for repentance. We stand our ground when biblical principle requires, even to our hurt. As we show forth the godliness of righteousness in our lives.
That prophetic voice also requires careful thinking. It requires much humility. Integrity mixed with courage—and patience. It requires a discerning mind to know the difference between a prophetic voice and political pandering and rhetoric for its own sake. A prophetic voice cries out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” (John 1:23) We need those voices today, more than ever, for our hope is not in a political party, nor in the particular makeup of our Supreme Court, or in the outcome of elections. Our hope is in the Lord.