Maurice’s Post Election Musings
When Nations Fall
On August 24th of the year A.D. 410 the city of Rome was besieged and sacked by Alaric I, King of the Visigoths. Disgruntled slaves opened the gate of the ancient city, the Goths poured in, and for the first time in 800 years the great city was taken by an enemy. Rome’s fall had a devastating effect upon Roman Christians and non-believers alike. Why, they asked, should the city whose beauty and power men had built and admired through the many centuries, and which was now the center of Christendom (i.e., the “kingdom of Christ”) be ravaged by the barbarians? Many Christians were shaken in their faith. They had come to equate the stability of Christianity with the stability of Rome. The pagans attributed the disaster to the Christians (hmm, nothing really changes does it), claiming that the ancient gods had withdrawn their ancient, thousand-year protection from Rome.
When the news of Alaric’s sack of Rome reached North Africa, Carthage to be precise, followed by thousands of despairing refugees, St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo was moved to respond. Augustine labored for 13 years to produce an explanation, which he titled Civitas Dei, The City of God. Rome had been punished, argued Augustine, not for abandoning her traditional gods in favor of her new religion (Christianity) but for her continued sins. Augustine went on to argue that, rather than looking for and pursuing an earthly city (civitas terrena, for you Latin buffs), Christians should be pursuing the city of God:
“Mankind is divided into two sorts: such as live according to man, and such as live according to God. These we mystically call the ‘two cities’ or societies, the one predestined to reign eternally with God, the other condemned to perpetual torment with the Devil.”
Augustine was not a pessimist. He was a Christian pastor, theologian and philosopher forced to deal with the historic reality of his day. Augustine understood that empires and nations rise and fall. Even Rome. But Christians are seeking a city unshakeable, whose founder and builder is God. We could learn a lot from Augustine as we seek to understand the “sea change” of our own times.
Consternation Over The Recent Election
I’m not here to endorse (or critique) Augustine. I’m writing to challenge you to think more about the Kingdom of God and less about the Kingdom of men. I’m writing to encourage you to view the recent election differently than do the “political acolytes” of our time. Please don’t take this the wrong way (although many will), but I don’t really care who you voted for in the last election. Seriously. Unless “Jesus of Nazareth” was on the ballot – and you voted for Him - whatever you and I voted for wasn’t the Kingdom of God. And whatever we may (or may not) have gotten for our vote isn’t the Kingdom of God, either. The Kingdom of God isn’t about increased government benefits. Nor is it about increased business profits. According to the Apostle Paul, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) By Paul’s measure alone, the recent elections had little or nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about reality. And I want to begin by pointing out a few of the more worthwhile responses by prominent Christians to what recently transpired.
1. The day after the election our German friend and organic house church advocate Wolfgang Simson (“Houses That Change The World”) wrote an open letter to the Christian community giving his analysis of the election and its meaning. Our friend Guy Muse – an organic house church planter and missionary to Ecuador – reformatted the PDF file of Wolf’s letter and posted it on his blog, which you can (and should) read here.
2. Author and Mid-East commentator Joel Rosenberg has published some eye-opening statistics concerning how the vote totals broke down, statistics which confirm what I am going to say below.
3. Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research has written some painful truth about opinion polls leading up to the election and how many of us look for polls which agree with what we already believe to be the fact. In a separate post, the day after the election, Ed gave his own “take away” on what the election meant, and it is a worthwhile read.
Maurice’s Election Observations
1. Welcome to Post Christian, Postmodern, Post Evangelical and Post Conservative America. How’s that for a philosophical mouthful. We don’t have the time or space here to fully unpack this statement, so let me briefly summarize. This wasn’t simply an election, it was a confirmation of a sea-change which began to manifest itself in the decades following World War 2. Dr. Gabriel Vahanian, in his book The Death of God: The Culture of our Post-Christian Era, summarized the thinking of many Post-WW2 philosophers and theologians when he wrote, “The fundamentals of modern culture are neither non-Christian nor anti-Christian; they are post-Christian. They are derived from Christianity, yet in them Christianity suffers ‘not a torture death but a quiet euthanasia.’ It may be that our age still is religious. But it is certainly post-Christian.” In the last thirty years, or so, the Post Christian culture described by Dr. Vahanian and critiqued by theologians like Dr. Francis Schaeffer, has given way to Postmodernism where there is no grand, universal truth – moral or otherwise – but only personal truth on issues ranging from abortion to gay marriage. This election was also “Post Evangelical” in that more self-identified Evangelicals voted for only one candidate (Romney) than have done so in thirty years, but to no effect. The age of Evangelical voters impacting elections is over. I’ll say more about this under point #3. Finally, in addition to being Post Christian, Postmodern and Post Evangelical, America is now Post Conservative. The idea of “Conservatism” rests upon an assumption that there are identifiable “values” which are constant and worth preserving. In Post Christian, Postmodern America there are no such values. It’s tough to be a “conservative” when there’s nothing left to conserve.
2. I have never seen Christian political activism more ineffective than it is today. I say this as one who was politically active during the birth of the conservative Christian “right” (or “religious right” – it peaked during the Reagan years). In his post which I have linked above, Ed Stetzer states, “We must face the reality that we may be on the losing side of the culture war . . . . we should begin thinking about what it looks like to be the church in a ‘post-culture war’ era.” While I believe Ed is essentially correct, his conclusion comes 14 years too late. The political effectiveness of evangelical Christianity ended in 1998 when Paul Weyrich, the intellectual father of the Moral Majority, and an acknowledged “founding father” of the “conservative religious right” sent an open letter to his constituents announcing that, in his opinion, cultural conservatives (including Evangelical Christians) had lost their “cultural war of attrition” which he had helped launch some twenty years earlier:
“In looking at the long history of conservative politics, from the defeat of Robert Taft in 1952, to the nomination of Barry Goldwater, to the takeover of the Republican Party in 1994, I think it is fair to say that conservatives have learned to succeed in politics. That is, we got our people elected. But that did not result in the adoption of our agenda. The reason, I think, is that politics itself has failed. And politics has failed because of the collapse of the culture. The culture we are living in becomes an ever-wider sewer. In truth, I think we are caught up in a cultural collapse of historic proportions, a collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics.” (See the September 6, 1999 issue of Christianity Today magazine for a full discussion of Weyrich’s letter).
Think of it this way. The cruise ship S.S. American Culture has set sail leaving a large contingent of passengers (Evangelical Christian types) on the dock in spite of the passengers’ loud protests. With a hard turn to Port (the left side of the ship when facing forward) the ship is steaming full speed into unchartered waters. But no one at the midnight buffet is really paying attention. The further the ship moves away from the dock, the further off to starboard (the right side of the ship) those poor Christians look. “They’ve really moved to the far right,” someone aboard the ship observes. Not really. The dock hasn’t moved and neither have they. Indeed, in many waysthe people on the dock are less conservative than their fathers and grandfathers. But from the perspective of the passengers on the cruise ship, those “neanderthal dock dwellers” are moving hard to starboard and will soon be “so far gone” as to be irrelevant. “Shame,” someone else observes. “Look at all they’re missing”. Here’s the question you must answer: Where do you want to be. On the cruise ship or on the dock?
The age of Evangelical political activism to effectively influence elections is over, if it was ever more than a mirage. The ship of politics has left the dock with a hard turn to Port. Do you really think electing a different captain would have made a difference?
3. I have never heard as much talk about choosing “the lesser of two evils” as I have heard recently. Unfortunately, in the Kingdom of God, justice and righteousness never include choosing the “lesser of two evils”. While such a choice may sound plausible in the heat of a political election season, history and Scripture make fools of all such arguments and choices. People who choose “evil”, even in its “lesser” forms, eventually become evil. History is unkind to such naïveté and nonsense. Germans of the early 1930s chose the National Socialists over the Communists because the National Socialists (i.e., German: Nationalsozialismus; English long form: National Socialism; abbreviated “Nazis”) represented the “lesser of two evils”. Yep. That worked well (NO! I am not calling ANY party or person a “Nazi”!). There is no biblical mandate to vote for “evil”, whether lesser or greater. Voting for evil in ANY form is to sow the wind. If that’s your plan you had best prepare to reap the whirlwind. You would think we would have learned this by now, at least from history, if not from experience.
4. Western Christians, particularly in America, have chosen political revolution over spiritual revelation. I have dedicated a chapter to this topic (“A Fire In The Minds of Men”) in my book, The Inextinguishable Blaze: God’s Call To Holiness, Repentance, Intimacy and Spiritual Awakening. Needless to say, I can’t reproduce that entire Chapter here. But because I regard it as so important, I have posted that Chapter as a private PDF file on the Safe Houses of Hope And Prayer website which you can access here. It’s time for believers and “disciples of the Kingdom” to decide who owns the future, God or your favorite party or politician.
Back To Augustine And The Kingdom
So, where is all of this going? I wish I was wise enough to give definitive answers. I’m still wrestling with much of it myself. Old political opinions and habits die hard. What follows are my personal “conclusions-in-process”. Could my opinions change moving forward? Certainly. I want to be open minded and teachable. But here’s where my thinking stands a few days after this election.
1. Augustine may have been right: Choose your city. To use the words of Augustine, it’s time to decide which City holds your heart. One is going to perish in judgment, regardless of your best efforts to improve or save it; the other will live on eternally. Which one holds your loyalty? Which one receives the investment of your time, energy and resources? Which one holds your “citizenship”? “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20) To put this in terms of the political debate concerning illegal immigration, are you a resident alien and a pilgrim in this kingdom of men, or are you applying for citizenship here (1 Peter 2:11)? It’s time to choose.
2. “It’s the Kingdom, stupid!”. Throughout the recent election we were subjected to such catch phrases as “It’s the economy, stupid!” or “It’s about jobs, stupid!”. Such catch phrases are designed and intended to summarize a big picture issue by reducing it to a few memorable words. Politicians thrive on this stuff, and elections have been determined by them at times. Here’s the catch phrase that needs to captivate believers at this moment in time: “It’s The Kingdom, Stupid!” I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but I think it’s time for some shock treatment in the Church. In the lives of far too many professing Christians, the kingdoms of this world (and their political parties) have taken precedence and priority over the Kingdom of God. As a result, we have raised up “political acolytes” rather than “disciples of the Kingdom”. Too many professing believers have come to love the world and the things of the world more than they love the Kingdom, and we are living with the results (1 John 2:15). It’s time for the Church to come to the realization that God doesn’t need America for His Kingdom purposes any more than He needed Rome. If you need a better understanding of the Kingdom and your role in it, may I suggest George Eldon Ladd, “The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies In The Kingdom of God”.
3. “Its About Making Disciples of the Kingdom”. The first and foremost responsibility of the believer in Jesus is to teach the Kingdom, to proclaim the Kingdom, to manifest the Kingdom and to make disciples of the Kingdom. If you aren’t doing that, what are you doing? Are you making political converts to your party or candidate, or Kingdom converts to King Jesus. If you aren’t making disciples of the Kingdom, then it’s time to re-evaluate what you’re doing.
I need to make a comment about a growing and troubling trend in the Church which focuses upon Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10). An increasing number of Christians are espousing a “Kingdom Now” theology which turns the prayer of Jesus into a declaration. The difference between a prayer and a declaration is the difference between a promise for the future versus a statement for immediate fulfillment. This view holds that the Church through its activities will bring in the Kingdom now, “so let’s get busy doing good. The Kingdom is now!“ I’m sorry, but that simply isn’t true or biblical (although the eschatological school of “Post-Millennialism” has historically taught this. See Loraine Boettner,”The Millennium”). I believe Jesus’ prayer will one day be fulfilled. The Kingdom will come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. But NOT in this present age. Not until Jesus returns at the end of the Age (Matthew 13:38-43) and brings this present evil age to an end (Galatians 1:4). Until that day, our calling is to preach the Kingdom, teach the Kingdom, manifest the Kingdom and to make disciples of the Kingdom.
4. Desperation frequently precedes Spiritual Awakening. In this respect, Wolfgang Simson may be right concerning the outcome of the recent election. It may have the result of forcing Christians to devote themselves to fasting and prayer for spiritual awakening. God’s will for His Church isn’t political success (which tends to breed arrogance and pride – as if we didn’t have enough of that already). Success can be a great blessing, but it is usually a poor teacher. God’s will for His Church is holiness and fear, genuine repentance and greater intimacy (as I explain in detail in my book, “The Inextinguishable Blaze”). And if it requires an unmitigated defeat in the cultural arena to incite that desperation, then that is what God will do. His goal for your life is your holiness, not your success.
“The new rationalism – like evangelicalism – claimed to be vitally interested in the welfare of man, equally ready to grant him liberty, equality and fraternity. Its greatest lack lay in its inability to satisfy him in the things of the spirit. It offered bread, but forgot that man could not live by bread alone. Its appeals were heeded, and the multitudes turned away from the things of the spirit. Evangelical Christians knew that they faced defeat. They began to pray the prayers of desperate men.” J. Edwin Orr commenting upon the years leading up to the 2nd Great Awakening in “The Light of the Nations”