Teach, Teach, Teach

I never miss an opportunity to teach the biblical mandate that provides the missional expectation for the community of Jesus' followers.  Over and over and over, I have repeated the gospel message that finds its center in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and finds its expression in Christian unity and the demonstration of sacrificial love. We must not underestimate the power of our leaders to guide the church as a witness for love in a contentious culture.

I find that it is absolutely essential for the leaders in my Church to be able to distinguish the radical nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from American civil religion and the tribalism of partisan politics. Politics matter and Christians need to be involved. God holds nations accountable for the assurance of justice for the alien, orphan, and widow. Why was God's judgment spoken against Israel through the prophet Amos? "They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed" (Amos 2:7). We must learn how to participate in the political process while refusing to participate in demeaning, divisive partisanship.

One of the first important studies that I did with my Leadership Board when I first came to Ginghamsburg Church was to biblically demonstrate why the church must not be partisan or subservient to any earthly government. "My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus said (John 18:36). The church stands in prophetic tension with all earthly political systems and becomes corrupted when used in a supportive role for political ideologies of any flag or color.

For this reason, I am intentional about teaching the people why the American flag doesn't belong in the sanctuary. The church doesn't represent the United States or any other nation in the world. The church represents the kingdom of God. There is not an American church, or a Liberian Church or Russian church: "so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others" (Rom. 12:5). There is only one body! A body cannot be divided and survive. We must not have only one flag representing one nation in the sanctuary unless the flag of every nation is represented. Christians have reaffirmed the global, universal nature of our faith throughout the centuries by reciting these words in the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in the holy catholic Church (one universal church) and the communion of saints." We are one in Jesus, no matter what our national citizenship.

Pursuing the Way of Christ

The community of Christ is called to pursue an alternative path from the political power structures of the world. The crowd that cheered Jesus upon his arrival into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was interpreting his mission through a particular political lens. "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!" (John 12:13) They had convoluted Jesus' kingdom mission with a political one. The crowd sought a political messiah (king of Israel) who would fulfill their partisan expectations concerning the overthrow of the Roman political system. What we see as the events of Passion Week unfold is the contrast of radically divergent ways—the agenda of Jesus' kingdom versus the political agendas of the world. In the twenty-third verse of this chapter, Jesus states: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." Jesus' ministry on earth occurred during the period referred to as "the glory of Rome." The expression represented wealth, prestige, and political power. Jesus is exposing the chasm between the way of worldly wealth and political power and the way of the cross. The way of the cross is incomprehensible for the majority of folk. "The message of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing. But we who are being saved know it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18).

The way of the cross is the way of reconciliation. If our words and actions do not promote healing and reconciliation, then it doesn't matter what church business we are about—it's not the gospel.

Unity in Christ will not mean an end to differences. The Democrats and Republicans in our pews will still disagree over the issues and people governing our nation. But if our common mission as disciples takes precedence over our partisan political views, we can live and work for good peaceably together in Jesus' name.

Excerpted from Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide by Mike Slaughter and Chuck Gutenson. Forthcoming Feb. 2012 from Abingdon Press. Used by permission.

Visit the Patheos Book Club for more conversation on Hijacked, and to join a LIVE CHAT with the authors on March 15, 2012 from 1-2 pm CST.