Dear Church Family,
Taking the necessary time to recoup and quarantine since having COVID has meant Sundays away from you. This has been hard, especially in light of recent events.
What we witnessed at the U.S. Capitol building on January 6th, in the wake of a complex and burdensome year, leaves us all emotionally unsettled. Tragically, the violence and destruction of that day only deepened the seemingly intractable divisions in our nation.
We can be sure our Heavenly Father, the Author of Life and Love, despises the death and discord wrought that day. As Christians, we also decry such violence.
I join you in being heartbroken for our nation. I too lament such a sad beginning of 2021. I also join you in asking certain questions: how should the Church respond to something like this? What is God calling us to be and to learn?
Below I offer suggestions for Christian life together at a time such as this, which I hope members of any local church will consider. Prior to that, I want to draw our attention to one idea, or biblical concept, that should shape Christian engagement with the world right now: reconciliation.
Jesus’s first followers were not sent into a docile world. The cultures of Greece, Rome, Israel, and other nations, often clashed. Shortly after Jesus’s ministry, his own people’s imperial city, Jerusalem, and Temple, were sacked and razed by the Romans. In the midst of national and political tumult, we don’t find Jesus’s early followers dividing over preferred political allegiances; we find them instead proclaiming and embodying a universal message of reconciliation—for Jews, Greeks, Romans … for everyone (Gal 3:28). Christian political allegiance was to a kingdom not of this world (John 18:36).
This message of reconciliation was not a secular ideal. It was the message that in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, and that Christians were now ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16–20). It meant that Christians saw all reality and all people as in need of reconciliation, being re-united, with God.
What might this message of reconciliation mean for Christian engagement with the world following the tumult of recent weeks and months?
First, it means affirming all genuine desires for truth-seeking. Christians do not want matters obscured in half-truths or lies to be reconciled with the crystal clarity of the God Who is Truth. We cheer on truth-seeking and decry dishonesty. We also resist oversimplification, and instead acknowledge the painstaking process of discernment required by the many complex issues of our day.
Second, it means condemning ungodly means of pursuing truth or power. Storming the Capitol, fear-mongering, or any form of violent protests, are irreconcilable with a God whose way was self-sacrifice (Mark 10:45). Christians champion the right use of laws and tools of democracy, that human pursuits of justice would be reconciled with God’s passion for righteousness.
Third, it means that while condemning the violence of January 6th, we are careful not to condemn persons whose politics and opinions differ from ours. Hearty debates and passionate arguments have an important role. However, judging the state of someone’s soul or hurling condescension upon them are irreconcilable with a God who bore patiently with those who rejected him (John 1:11).
In public engagement, a Christian’s attitude and actions should bespeak a desire to see the world, its ways, and its people, reconciled with a righteous, just, and loving God. As you read blogs and engage with others, be asking: are my speech, attitude and aims reconcilable with the reconciling work of God in Christ?
Ambassadors of Reconciliation within the Church
Turning now to our life together within the body of Christ, here are three practices to help us maintain the reconciliation God has purchased for us with one another.
1. Resist Grouping and Labeling Your Brother and Sister in Christ.
Within our church family, people hold differing political views. However, avoid grouping and labeling each other, we are first and foremost brothers and sisters in Christ. The “purposes of a man’s heart are like deep water” (Prov 20:5). Often a conversation over a cup of coffee—rather than a barb over social media—is the appropriate place to discover what’s really going on in the heart of your brother or sister in Christ.
2. Reevaluate Who’s Enthroned in the Temple.
The New Testament teaches that the temple of God is no longer in Jerusalem, but in you! (1 Cor 6:19). God’s unfolding plan does not include enacting his reign through any nation-state, but rather through His Church—the individuals who collectively make up the Body of Christ.
The question for us, then, is who is enthroned in God’s temple? As we pass through turbulent political waters, have you sensed that perhaps false gods have made their way into your temple? Are we, the Church, putting ultimate hope and trust in a country, political party, or preferred leader? Are we conflating our nation’s purposes with God’s purposes? Are we treating political viewpoints like Divine Law? We are responsible for our civic engagement, yes, but we are not counted righteous based on our politics, but rather upon the atoning work of Christ.
3. Use Disagreement as an Opportunity to Practice Jesus’s Teaching to Love Your Enemies.
What if the Church is the very place where we learn “to beat our swords into plowshares” (Isa 2:4), and even dare to love those who differ from us politically? Jesus’s twelve disciples included the pro-Israelite, Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15) as well as the so-called sell-out-to-the Gentiles, Matthew the tax collector (Luke 5:27–28). Jesus called both of these men into fellowship with each other and himself. The local church may be the very classroom God has ordained for us to learn Jesus’ teaching to “love our enemies” (Matt 5:44).
One way to put this into practice, is to focus on your commonality in Christ rather than your differences. In relationships with those who differ on politics or other matters, consider talking more about what Jesus is doing in your life, or perhaps share your testimonies.
Finally, I call our attention to the inauguration on January 20th. We should all join in praying that this will be a peaceful transition of power, that all law enforcement would be secure and safe, and that the plans of any intent on violence would be stopped. We should pray for our incoming President, Joseph Biden, that God would place His hand of blessing and guidance upon him, and give him an unswerving commitment to truth and the wisdom to lead well. I am dedicating time from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening, January 19th, to pray for these matters. Please consider doing so as well.
God has entrusted us, His Church, with the message of reconciliation. Let us be faithful to His call.