Saturday, October 27, 2012

Top-down or bottom-up?

      Due to the flood of energy and passion (which is good and wholesome!) over the upcoming election in my circle of believing siblings, I hope you can stomach one more post on politics.  I don't want to repeat myself , but I did want to address one point that seems to have a great deal of sway and potency:  Is it a duty of the Church collectively, and/or Christians individually, to reform society through politics (specifically through our vote), to be "salt and light"?  If so, how?
Ever feel like this guy?
     It can be very disheartening to view our country and surroundings through biblical eyes... what can we hope to accomplish?  So I hope my first point is a relief:  Societal change is not the primary duty of the Church or Christians.  Our first priority, always, forever, until Jesus returns, is the preaching of the gospel.  That vital point made, I think I could classify the reform of society as a secondary calling of believers.  So yes to our first question... here's the sticky part, open to wide disagreement:  How do we "engage the culture"?
     I fear the unspoken assumption, largely held unconsciously, in many Christians is that if we (meaning the "moral majority", generally, conservative Christians, specifically) have control, in the White House, the House and the Senate, the Supreme Court, and in our various local arenas, we can "make a difference" in our society.  So a vote cast toward that objective, taking and holding control, is progress, and that which impedes it is, at best, a waste, and at worst, just darn evil.  We could call this a "top-down" approach to political involvement.
     There has been plenty of times when this goal (political dominance for Christian ideals) was achieved;  the problem is the darkest stains on the name of Christ grew out of that mindset and those "golden ages":  the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, etc.  So I think it's safe to say that the top-down approach has been tried, with the most disastrous of results.
     In contrast, I believe Christ would have us start at the bottom;  look what He did:  instead of going for the Pharisees, religious elite, and the politically powerful, His target audience, the focus of most of His ministry, was comprised of fishermen, Roman conspirators (tax collectors), and criminals (so, the dregs of society!).  Instead of attempting to influence the movers and shakers and win them over, He declaimed against their evil ways, their false hopes of self-righteousness, and stayed true to what was central in His message, even if it cost Him popularity and followers (Jn 6:66).  Obviously, Jesus had bigger fish on His plate than social change (like bearing the wrath of God in our place!), but after Pentecost, we see the disciples following the same pattern:  aiming at the individual heart first, which can be changed only by the work of God, and then allowing the fruit of those conversions to change the visible Church first (Acts 2:44-47), and then the society to the degree God wills/allows.  This is why Paul says:
"For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth."  (1 Cor 1:26)
     So the logic of affecting our society from the bottom up means seeing the vote we cast as part of a bigger picture;  we vote primarily as a witness to our friends, families, and neighbors, to display the radical change that God makes in the hearts and minds of all who follow His Son.  The impact on those in our immediate vicinity of not just our vote, but our whole Christian outlook, is the first goal;  the actual election of the leaders God blesses (or curses) our country with comes second.
"With all these Christians, how will we meet our quota?"
    True Christianity has had incredible effects in some times and places:  during the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings, the flood of true conversions had drastic effects on the society, and in Ireland after a revival in 1859, the police had no crimes to solve!  During the rest of history, however, the Church has less visible effect;  why?  I believe many factors can come into play:  God's sovereign plan for each nation, His merciful common grace, and last, but not least, the number of true believers at that time and place.  America has been greatly blessed in the first 2 categories, even in recent years, but not so in the third.  So let's not forget:  often those deemed praiseworthy by Christ are not the strong and numerous, but the few and faithful (Rev 2:8, 3:7).

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