So, is it then my position that pastors have nothing to say in the run-up to such an important national event? Should we just ignore the process that is consuming so much of the public attention?
Not at all.
I believe there is an appropriate and very needful ministry that we have at this crucial moment, both pastorally and prophetically. First:
1. Give People a Place of Refuge.
Occasionally someone will say to me, “Pastor, all we hear day in and day out is about the approaching election. Doesn’t the church risk becoming irrelevant if we don’t take a side in such an all-consuming conversation?”
But that’s exactly the point, isn’t it?
The church gathering is surely the one place on earth where Christians ought to be able to count on going to escape the incessant drone of the world, and to have their eyes and hearts lifted to a higher plane. The church becomes irrelevant only when it becomes a weak echo of the society around it.
24 hours a day, Christians are hearing from the commentators and pundits, the lobby groups and parachurch organizations, about the issues at stake in the election. But WHO do they have to remind them of the bigger eternal picture? Who else is pointing out what are merely shifting sands, and driving the theological stakes firmly into bedrock so that we have moorings to tie our lives steady to?
When the church comes together there ought to be a sigh of relief that we are gathered “far from the madding crowd”; and shut up together to God and His Word. A very different sound.
2. Lead God’s People to Prayer.
“My house shall be called a house of politics?” No. PRAYER.
There is much for Christians to be praying about in the lead up to an election. And I certainly do not mean praying for the success of a particular candidate or party. I’ve heard that kind of partisan “prayer” in churches, which is not true prayer at all. It’s thinly veiled campaigning. Prayer is talking to God, not to one another.
The church needs to be praying for God’s will to be done, and for the uniting of a nation that has become so fractured by social and political division. We should be praying for the protection of each candidate and their family, physically, but also emotionally and in their consciences. That they will not become cynical or unethical in the process of campaigning for office. For these are the people who will govern us when it’s all said and done.
And more fundamentally than the election process, we should be praying for a spiritual awakening to the gospel in the nation – beginning with the church.
At the end of the day, we can get all heated up about political issues, but “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Prayer, however, avails for time and eternity.
The pulpit is vitally important in an election season, but not so that it is dragged down into the mire of banal politicking. The pastor must be faithful to press the greater issues to his hearers:
1. God is Sovereign: things are not out of control
God is not made impotent by the result of an election. In fact, even those elections themselves are subject to His sovereign decree (Romans 13:1). God has always been moving all of history toward His appointed ends regardless of whether godly kings or tyrannical despots have been in power. He has used both to accomplish His purposes.
This understanding gives the Christian a peace and confidence to pursue the glorifying of God in every day of their life. Gripped with the conviction that God is on the throne, the Christian will not become paralyzed by fear.
2. Man is Responsible: go and vote
Neither should knowing the sovereignty of God create a kind of fatalistic resignation in us that “whatever will be will be”. God’s purposes are accomplished with the full involvement of people’s choices and actions. He weaves everything together, and ultimately it all fulfills His predetermined will.
We struggle to comprehend how that all works, but that’s only because, as I recently heard Tim Keller point out, we are completely underqualified for the job of being God.
As Christians, we don’t just have the opportunity to be active citizens, but we have the obligation to do so. I’ve written on this at length before, in the run up to the mid-term elections in 2010. In “A Christian Guide to Election Day”, I discussed what the Bible says about how Christians are to relate to our local, state and federal government. You might like to read that.
3. The Church is Diverse: love one another
Despite what some Americans think, God is not a Republican or a Democrat. And His church is not one or the other either. In fact there are committed Christians of all political persuasions present in most of our congregations.
We are commanded in the New Testament to love, serve and prefer one another. It surely begins with simple acceptance and respect.
When all the levers have been pulled, and the Presidency is decided for another term, we will still be the body of Christ together charged with preaching the gospel to our communities. Oh, how the enemy would love to sow discord among us that will prevent us accomplishing that greater mission.
4. The King is Coming: lift up your head
The one conviction that must grip all Christians, regardless of their political persuasion, is that the best of men are sinful men at best. The best systems of government are ultimately inadequate, and are the ideas of blind and broken humanity.
The growing turmoil in our world only serves to underscore our desperate need of God, and to make us hunger for His perfect rule.
The good news is that His rule is coming! The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15).
Pastors, we must remind our people of these things.