Preaching and Politic

Between now and the election candidates will do their best to convince us that party politics fit nicely with the Kingdom of God. More specifically they will try to convince us that the Kingdom fits nicely with their personal vision for the country. In a further effort to convince us, some will even share their vision in sanctuaries and from pulpits.  The fact is, the Kingdom cannot fit into any of these artificial temporary structures (think new wine in old wineskins). It would be like nominating Jesus for president. Why would we try to limit His authority to the United States? His vision is much bigger than that.

I am not opposed to political action (the fact is, I can be quite opinionated about these things). However, I am opposed to the church thinking any political party or candidate speaks for them. Anytime the church becomes bedfellows with any lesser kingdom we will find an unfaithful church.

Taken to its extreme, one side of American politics positions government as a god. Government will become responsible for us, will care for us, and will deliver us from the evils and injustices of this world. At the other extreme, the individual is placed in position as a god. The individual becomes responsible for self, provides for self, and delivers self from evils and doubts. Both of these extremes belong to the same systemic problem that gives allegiance to something other than God and disregards the reality that only God is able to deliver.

This is not a call to solve society’s problems or to ignore them. The fact is, our worldview expects that we will be doing good whenever and wherever we are able. We just do not want to fall into the trap of thinking we can change the world by using the ways of the world. This presents us with obvious challenges. At our best, our struggle of how to go about work in the public sector is connected to a desire to influence as many as possible. At our worst, our struggle of how to work in the public sector suggests a lack of confidence in the plan of God and Jesus as King.

Government is gift but it is not the way of the Kingdom. Winning the culture wars is not the same as the Kingdom story. Our confidence is in King Jesus and our politic begins by gathering in His name. Our politic goes further by acknowledging His Kingship and following His Kingdom vision. This includes being salt and light. But as Scot McKnight says in Kingdom Conspiracy, “the best way to be salt and light is not to coerce the rest of the nation through political power but to witness to an alternative reality by living out the kingdom vision of Jesus in our local church.”

McKnight’s discussion about peace may be helpful here and we can use the same process with a number of other issues. Nearly everyone agrees with the idea of peace but most who talk about it are talking world peace or nuclear disarmament or stopping ethnic wars. The New Testament, on the other hand, keeps talking about peace in the church. Our tendency is to politicize peace but we are actually called to “seek peace in our local fellowship”, to “seek reconciliation with God and with one another”, and “out of this peace-shaped, kingdom shaped church we spill over peace into the world.” If the church is not shaped like peace “Why should the world care what the church believes about peace?”

Any preaching that encourages us to cast confidence in any political kingdom is not in step with preaching about the Kingdom of God. Such preaching implies that things are ok as they are and that the way to change the world is through politics. Such preaching suggests the salvation plan of Jesus is not sufficient on its own and requires help from someone who holds real power.

Preaching should call us to be living as if King Jesus is ruling now. We are not looking for someone else to run things for us here; we are participants in an alternative vision. Ecclesia describes a political gathering. So does Kingdom. This does not make us part of the current political process. It does make our preaching in this political gathering a significant word about what it means to live under the rule of King Jesus.

The Announcement of Reality

Vision is a look at reality.  Preaching is a regular announcement of that reality.  On account of this, preaching and vision are inseparably linked.  Vision, by definition, suggests that there are greater things than what is obvious and in the present.  So it is with preaching.

First and foremost, preaching proclaims the word from God.  By doing this, it also articulates the vision for the people of God.  The application of God’s larger vision as it is to be lived out locally.  This is not promotion of what we want to hear, but a vision that recognizes the call of a specific group of believers.

Preaching is an announcement that God has done something to change the world.  It helps us to see realities that begin with the words of God.  To see how everything changed with the arrival of Jesus. Preaching strikes hard against what the world describes as reality.  In fact, the world is opposed to what God is doing among us.  We know this because Jesus is not crucified for repeating what the world has already said.  He is not put to death for agreeing with what the world sees as reality.  He does not die for articulating the vision of the world.

Preaching is commentary on the adventure of following Jesus.  Such preaching keeps listeners on course. At the very same time, preaching invites others to sign onto that vision.  To join a particular group heading in a particular direction.  Preaching presents a portrait of reality and invites others to become part of the picture.

Preaching is not a defensive reaction to the way the world is.  Preaching is proactive.  It is visionary.  It is an attempt to introduce others to and shape them according to our worldview.  Preaching suggests that our vision be their vision.  Calvin Miller suggests that we ought not “give seekers any reinforcement that their own worldview is ok as it is.”  Preaching disrupts what is tidy and comfortable.  It is like a collision with the way things are.  Preaching is more than thoughts about the bible.  Preaching is “war on the human heart.”  A sermon does not end in an attempt to convince us to construct our own vision.  It does not even suggest that we are capable of doing so.

While it may be true that the world finds little relevance in time spent with an ancient text, such work becomes extremely important to us.  For if we cease to spend significant time there, we will have nothing to say that the world is not already saying.  Preaching does not dabble on the surface or with non-essentials.  It is always about God before it is about us and without apology announces that reality is at stake.