Political tension and the pastor
    January 26 2016 by Chris Hefner and Rit Varrialle, N.C. pastors

    The discussion of “religion and politics” is among those sensitive subjects that pastors and Christians in general have been advised to avoid, or at the very least, limit the expression of their views when speaking from the pulpit or in a Bible study class. Most do not want to invite potential conflict from those who could be offended.
    There are many views on the subject from pastors of every persuasion. We expect differences from those who come from opposing theological and political camps.
    But we need to acknowledge that even among those who agree theologically, opinions are not equal. We also need to be committed to civil discussion in the context of these and other opinions. Two equally conservative, loyal Southern Baptist pastors expressed their views in a discussion with our readers. Both men are committed to biblical integrity. Both love their church members and desire to be faithful leaders.
    We hope the courage of these pastors will lead to a continued civil discussion in the Biblical Recorder throughout this election year. See what BR editor K. Allan Blume said about this discussion in a recent editorial.
    We invite your comments also. Send them to editor@brnow.org or Editor, P.O. Box 1185, Cary, NC 27512.


    From Chris Hefner, Guest Column:


    Chris Hefner, pastor of Wilkesboro Baptist Church.

    I must confess, I’m a bit of a political junkie. I enjoy following the political issues and conversations of the day. As citizens of the United States, we have the freedom, privilege and responsibility to participate in the political process. With the 2016 presidential election on the horizon and primary season in full swing, political issues are trending and controversial. What is the Christian leader to do with serious political issues? Immigration? National security? Religious freedom? Abortion? And the list could go on and on. Is there a balance between biblical pastoral leadership and being engaged in the political conversation? Let me offer several observations that I believe can assist us in dealing with political topics as Christian leaders.
    1. Remember that political issues are not a part of Christ’s mission to the church.
    Jesus commissioned the church to make disciples not advance a political agenda. Paul and the early missionaries focused on preaching the gospel and planting churches, not issues of socio-political action. Christian thinkers from John Stott to D. James Kennedy have emphasized the need for Christians to engage in socio-political action. Some have made the case for integrating political action with Christian mission. However, I believe the Great Commission itself focuses Christian mission on making disciples. This observation does not mean Christians should neglect political issues. Rather, I mean that Christian mission – our primary responsibility – must take precedence over political action in our preaching ministry.
    2. Be attentive to the reality that social media has given a voice to the uninformed.
    It used to be that having a political voice meant that you vote, write a letter to the editor or volunteer for a politician or political party. Today, behind the comfort of your cellphone, you can read news stories, post/share them and comment on them with little personal investment. The social media proliferation of news sources and political commentary is not a bad thing. More people today have a voice and opportunity to speak.
    Alexis de Toqueville insightfully noted centuries ago in his work, Democracy in America, that the proliferation of newspapers was one of the things that made America great.
    But Facebook rants and 140 character tweets allow for the uninformed to comment as if they are experts. We should be aware of this phenomenon and avoid the peril of commenting in ignorance.
    3. As a pastor, you will preach to and lead those with whom you will disagree politically.
    Make sure your people know you love them and you love everyone, which means you might need to listen with kindness to those with whom you disagree. There’s not nearly enough honest disagreement with a tolerant demeanor in political conversations. Christ affirmed paying taxes to Caesar while he challenged the religious authorities of the day. He was a controversial peacemaker.
    One of the beautiful realities about the political process in the United States is that we have the freedom to disagree. Pastors should model humble Christ-like interactions with those who might disagree with us (on gray area issues) while not being afraid to state biblical positions when they are clear even on controversial topics.
    4. The United States will not rise or fall based on the last or the next presidential election.
    Isaiah 40:15-18, Psalm 2, Habakkuk 2, Revelation 20:11-16 are just a brief sampling of the scriptural affirmation that God sovereignly rules the nations. The United States is not unique with regard to God’s rule. He ultimately governs the political processes of all nations including our own.
    While we must dutifully be involved in the political process, we need to remember who is in charge and point our congregations to the authority and Lordship of the One who is King of kings and sovereign over presidents. After all, the hope that John offered in the book of Revelation was not to people who had any vote in Rome’s political agenda. Yet, John affirmed that Jesus is Lord and will return to reign over the nations.
    5. Acknowledge the complexity of political issues.
    Many political issues are exceedingly complex and controversial – immigration, the Syrian refugee situation, terrorism, foreign policy, education, gun control, gun rights, etc.
    Some political issues have simple biblical answers like abortion and homosexuality. However, even these issues may raise complex interpersonal situations such as counseling a guilt-ridden woman after her abortion or speaking to a young man who believes he was born homosexual.
    Overly simplistic solutions to many of these political issues are not realistic. Regarding immigration and the Syrian refugees, we should be governed by Christ’s love and seek to share the gospel with any whom God might allow to be relocated into our nation. As U.S. citizens, we can rightly pursue being a nation governed by laws and pray for and vote for politicians who will represent our concerns in congress. Furthermore, the complexity of these and other issues encourages us to hold our views on the topics with humility and should drive us to pray. Paul’s admonition is appropriate here. We should pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).
    6. The pulpit is the place for biblical authority not political opinion.
    When the Bible is clear, we should be as well. We should learn to separate our personal convictions from biblical absolutes and state the difference if we communicate our personal convictions from the pulpit. We should not be afraid to preach on controversial, political topics when they are addressed in the Bible. But I don’t believe the content of our preaching should be driven by political issues. Rather, I believe our preaching should be driven by scripture. And the centerpiece of scripture is Jesus – the crucified, risen Savior and returning King.
    These observations are by no means exhaustive. You might disagree with some of them. That’s fine. But above all, let’s not allow our political persuasions in any way to become a detriment to our preaching of the gospel.


    Rit Varriale, Guest Column:


    Rit Varriale is pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby.

    Though I agreed with much of what Chris Hefner said, his observations reflect commonly accepted perspectives that may contribute to inaction on the part of the church. Using his six points as a framework, I want to offer another perspective on religion and politics in America.
    1. Remember that political issues are not a part of Christ’s mission to the church. The church cannot allow the world to define what is political and what is biblical. If we do, then issues like prayer and sexuality will be deemed political. Applying the modern notion of separation of church and state to the early church, and subsequently interpreting the Bible as if the apostles approached politics as we do, is a mistake. In the apostles’ world, there was no separation of religion and state. The failure to challenge the socio-political system of our day by speaking directly to “political” issues is more a reflection of modern political thought than biblical values and discipleship. This is the great deception of the church – we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re fulfilling the mission of the church, but we’re really following the orders of the court.
    2. Be attentive to the reality that social media has given a voice to the uninformed.
    Mark Twain said: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” The same is true for social media. Social media brings more voices to the table, which enables us to challenge the mainstream media and political establishments. If there is a dilemma caused by the proliferation of news via bloggers and tweets, the real danger is that the variety of sources, be they informed or otherwise, allow us to find justification for our actions and opinions however misdirected or unbiblical they might be.
    To Hefner’s point, we must walk circumspectly through the labyrinth of information provided by social media, but we must remember social media can be one of our greatest tools for discernment and change.
    3. As a pastor, you will preach to and lead those with whom you will disagree politically. Certainly, we must be sensitive to this obvious point, but our sensitivity should not lead to compromise in the pulpit. Tickling people’s ears might grow a congregation numerically, but it will never grow the church spiritually. We have created a fiction in the pacifist Christ who always turns the other cheek. The Christ of the gospels is not afraid to fight for righteousness and truth. Jesus’ righteous indignation caused Him to flip over the exchange tables and run the moneychangers out of the temple (John 2:12-15). In order to model the totality of Christ’s actions and ministry, there are times Christians must put aside pious platitudes and start flipping tables. Pastors should lead with love, but they shouldn’t be afraid to mix religion and politics in their preaching.
    4. The United States will not rise or fall based on the last or the next presidential election. This observation lacks theological consistency. If we are to believe that God is sovereign and integrally involved in “the political processes of all nations,” then why would we expect the church to separate its theology and activity from the political processes? In the realm of sports, if a team doesn’t show up to play a scheduled game, then we call it a “forfeit.” A forfeit results in a win for the team that did show up. Christian values are consistently losing in politics and the public square because the church doesn’t show up to play. The U.S. may not rise or fall on the last or next presidential election, but mark my words – the U.S. will rise or fall on the action or inaction of pastors and churches. If, in the name of separation of church and state, our inaction persists, then our nation will pay the price and we will have to answer to God for our failure to standing boldly for biblical values.
    5. Acknowledge the complexity of political issues.
    Although many issues are complicated, some are not. Take for example, abortion and the LGBTQ agenda. Neither issue is, from a biblical perspective, complicated. People’s feelings and thoughts may complicate a conversation on these issues, but the Bible is pretty clear – infanticide and homosexuality are wrong and cannot be supported by orthodox Christian teaching. Hefner states, “Overly simplistic solutions… are not realistic.” Yet, I believe his response to these complex issues is simplistic, namely, keep praying and honor the authorities. Did Jesus do that? No. He prayed, but then He challenged the authorities – as did the prophets before Him and the apostles after Him. Thus, a more biblical and complex response to these political issues would be to; 1) pray, 2) honor our leaders according to biblical values, and 3) obey God over and against unbiblical authorities (Acts 3-5). The church in America has failed miserably at the latter.
    6. The pulpit is the place for biblical authority not political opinion.
    When we separate the pulpit from politics and current affairs, we run the risk of becoming a state church precisely because we are acquiescing to the dictates of the state. Too many pastors and Christian leaders worry more about litigation than sanctification. Hefner states, “Our preaching should not be driven by political issues.” But, I ask, “Why not?” The modern court system, not the Bible, has promoted the separation of religion from politics and the public square. Had our Lord simply toed the socio-political line, He would not have gone to the cross. The cross was not the result of expositional Bible studies and posh high-tech worship services. The cross was the result of messianic activism.
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Chris Hefner is senior pastor of Wilkes-boro Baptist Church. His column was originally posted on LifeWay Christian Resources blog for pastors: lifeway.com/pastors/2015/12/18/political-tension-and-the-pastor. Rit Varriale is pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby. See God Before Government Facebook page. His forthcoming book, God Before Government, is due out in November 2016.)

    1/26/2016 11:08:28 AM by Chris Hefner and Rit Varrialle, N.C. pastors | with 0 comments
    Filed under: N.C. Pastors, political engagement, politics

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