An IMB missionary told me something interesting on my recent trip to Taiwan. We Americans tend to be far more “patriotic” than people from other nations. Other people appreciate their nations – we love America.
There is an increasing conflict among American Christians as to how involved the church should be in political activity. Left wing churches embrace political action as a part of their pursuit of social justice. They have abandoned the gospel for social transformation and embrace political action without shame. But those of us who hold faithfully to scripture have to balance social action with the call of the gospel to repentance and faith. We know that ultimately it is only the gospel of Jesus Christ that changes hearts and minds. No amount of political achievement can replace the powerful transformation that occurs when someone becomes a new person in Christ.
But that still leaves us with a quandary. How politically active should pastors, churches, and Christians be? There are two diametrically opposed viewpoints that run to the extreme in this debate. J. Vernon McGee used to say, “We are not called to clean up the pond, just to fish from it.” Others have adopted the James Dobson mindset and have involved churches deeply in political efforts over moral issues. I have known of churches that almost completely subverted their gospel message to the advancement of the conservative political agenda, mirroring liberal churches.
We are a unique nation. Since our founding Fathers were so careful to give honor to God for the establishment of this nation, and because of the prevalent perception that America has been a “Christian Nation”, it has been easy for us to confuse the interests of America and the interests of the Kingdom of God.
David Rogers, in his powerful article at sbcIMPACT, What’s More Important: Theology or Saving America?, has confronted this tendency to confuse political activity with gospel work. I would encourage readers here to click the link and read David’s post. Agree or disagree, David states it well. He deals with the interaction between Jerry Falwell, Jr and Glenn Beck earlier this year. Many were horrified by that. Others supported it. Read David’s take – I could not improve on it here.
I would like to focus on one statement in that article, a quote by Jerry Falwell, Jr from Glenn Beck’s program.
Before I do, I need to make a disclosure. I am a big fan of Liberty University. One of my sons has attended there and the spiritual growth in his life was worth the debt we incurred! My daughter who is a senior in high school will attend Liberty unless she brings me a note signed by God giving her permission to go elsewhere (or unless someone is so offended by this article that she is banned). I am not one of those Liberty-bashers that have come out of the woodwork in recent months. It is a great Christian university.
I did not even object to Glenn Beck being a speaker at Liberty as some did. Liberty is a university, not a church – a place of learning, a process aided by exposure to different viewpoints. I do not think that every speaker they have there has to be an evangelical Christian. Having Teddy Kennedy or Newt Gingrich or Glenn Beck or other prominent public figures speak is fine with me.
But Jerry Falwell, Jr made a statement to Glenn Beck that jarred me. If he had made the statement to a Presbyterian, a Methodist, or a Pentecostal, it might have some justification. But Glenn Beck is a Mormon. He does not just disagree with us on baptism or ecclesiology. His church believes another gospel – one of works, not of grace. It is a false gospel. Paul called those who proclaimed “another gospel” anathema and said some things about them (in Galatians) that would seem harsh if accurately translated and put in print.
But here is what Jerry Falwell, Jr said on Glenn Beck’s show, June 25, 2010.
“I mean, that’s what my father believed when he formed Moral Majority, was an organization of Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, people of no faith. And there are bigger issues now, we can argue about theology later after we save the country.”
I wish that were a misquote. But there it is. Our theological differences with these false faiths matter so little that we can simply set them aside while we “save the country.” I am very careful about using the word heresy. I only use it when referring to doctrines that subvert the gospel itself. This, my friends, is heresy; gospel-denying, Cross-belittling heresy.
I do not think that Jerry Falwell, Jr is a heretic. But the statement he made is rank heresy. I think he was being gracious to Glenn Beck and had no intent to subvert the gospel, but that is exactly what his statement did. We “save” America first, then worry about our theological differences with Mormons, Catholics, Jews and atheists later? What is it that separates evangelical Christians from these groups? The gospel! Salvation by grace through faith alone! I was under the impression that salvation was found in no one else, that there was no other name under heaven by which we must be saved than the name of Jesus. Yet, here is Jerry, Jr. telling us that we need to save America, then worry about our beliefs later. You know what, I think his father would be as offended by that comment as I am! Jerry was willing to join with people of other faiths to face political issues, but he would have never said that our gospel differences could be laid aside while we “save” the country. He would have never said that to someone who believes and advocates a false gospel.
What salvation do we have to offer America if we ignore the gospel?
We must remember that we are Christians before we are Americans. I am thankful to live in a nation whose laws and values have been so shaped by the Word of God throughout its history. You cannot discuss American history intelligently apart from the effect the Christian religion has had on this nation. But to say that we can save America while ignoring the truth of the Word seems to place a higher priority on politics than the gospel. I love America, but Paul said that we are first and foremost citizens of heaven and ambassadors of the Kingdom in this world. To set our theological differences with other faiths aside is to compromise our faith. The gospel must always be our priority and we can never put political cooperation above it.
America has been a great nation. I believe we are unique in history in that we have seen ourselves as “one nation under God.” I’m grateful for that. But to subvert gospel work to political activity as Falwell, Jr did is unthinkable. I hope he will correct the impression of that comment and apologize for what he said. If that is truly what he believes, then Liberty will not fulfill the vision his father had for it. I think in the cold light of day, Dr. Falwell probably regrets saying something that egregiously false. That is my hope.
Let me be clear. I am a conservative Republican and I am passionately interested in derailing the Obama agenda for America. I am no lefty trying to subvert the Religious Right. I am part of the religious right. I hate what liberalism is doing to America, both theological and politically. I will be up late on election night holding my breath that Republicans take back the House and Senate so that we can stop the damage Obama is doing to America.
But I do not think that political victory is the purpose of the church. You will not hear me say in the pulpit what I just said in the last paragraph. When I step in the pulpit, I do not serve America – I serve the Kingdom of God!
Christians need to be politically aware and active. I hope you will vote (and I’d prefer if you vote as I do). I hope godly men and women will run for office, be involved in the process (and maintain their Christian testimony in purity as they do it).
But we are the church. Our job is to proclaim the life-changing gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. We cannot subvert that purpose to the seduction of political power. The gospel is not only the power of God for the salvation of the soul, but it also transforms lives. It turns abortion supporters into opponents. It brings purity to the immoral and the perverted in a way that political pressure can never do. The gospel is superior to politics because it WORKS! It changes lives and transforms hearts. The power of God is revealed through the proclamation of the gospel, not through the advocacy of conservative politics.
We should never subvert our gospel purpose to political activity. For the love of God, American Christians, let’s remember who we are!
- (After I wrote this, David Rogers added several quotes on the topic from one of his father’s sermons. The quotes beginning with comment 69 remind me how great a man David’s father was. Make sure to read those comments).
- (Also, I contacted Liberty and sent them a copy of my article, asking for clarification of Dr. Falwell’s statement. I had hoped they would respond in such a way as to let me know that Dr. Falwell did not mean what he seemed to say to Glenn Beck. I have had no response to this point. I will publish any response I might get as a comment.)
- I will say one more thing. If this discussion becomes another Liberty-bashing exercise, I will seek to shut it down. I am focusing on one egregiously wrong statement from Dr. Falwell, but I maintain great respect for the university. There are other places you can go if you just wish to trash Liberty. And if anyone tries to open a “Caner” worms here, I will track you down and give your address to CB and his black-0ps brigade. You have been warned.