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June 6, 2018

Casting the NAR Mountain of Politics Into the Sea

By Anthony Wade

A recent article from the Gospel Coalition shows how insidious the NAR seven mountains heresy has been in infiltrating the thinking of the church...


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Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. -- Philippians 3: 17-21 (ESV)

Kevin DeYoung at the Gospel Coalition recently did an article (linked above) regarding the preacher and politics. In it he provides seven points he feels could help pastors in these difficult times. It is not all bad but it is also not all quite right. There is no subject today that will make Christians abandon their bible faster than carnal politics. I lost ten "friends" on Facebook in this last election cycle. Not because I posted anything favoring either candidate but because I would not anoint President Trump the second coming of King Cyrus. It was a sad display to watch the church embrace the least moral president ever in the name of Jesus. The fact that his "spiritual advisor" is Paula White should be enough to convince a discerning Christian to stay far away. So let us reason together and review what Mr. DeYoung has to say in light of Scripture:

"This post is addressed to preachers and is about preachers. While many of the reflections may be useful for all Christians, I'm writing specifically with my fellow pastors in mind. We live in a day where politics are everywhere, and everything is about politics. On one level this has always been true. Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. That's a political statement. Every sermon touches on the polis , on the city of man, on our earthly citizenship. But that's not what I have in mind, at least not entirely. What I mean by "politics" are the elections, the elected officials, the political parties, and the endless stream of policy debates and legislative, economic, and judicial controversies that so much of our daily news and social media feed comment on constantly. What is a pastor supposed to do with these controversies and debates? That's my question.

When preachers are quickly criticized for saying too much (you're not gospel-centered!) or saying too little (you're not woke!), it behooves us to think carefully about the relationship between pastoral ministry and politics. Here are seven thoughts." -- Kevin DeYoung

Let me say at the start that it appears Mr. DeYoung is approaching this from a sincere place. I would gently push back however on a couple of points here. "Jesus is Lord" is not a political statement; it is a spiritual statement. We make it political by adding, "Not Caesar." The idea is to not mix the two as if they belong mixed. Render unto Caesar what is his and what is the Lord's unto Him. I also am not sure about the notion that every sermon touches on our earthly citizenship. As believers, we no longer have an earthly citizenship. Read the key verses above and realize the dichotomy that Paul is laying out for the church. There are two choices. There are the enemies of the cross and those that serve it. There are those whose minds are set on earthly things, the city of man, and those that realize their citizenship is in heaven. We do not have, nor should we aspire to, dual citizenship. This corruption of Christian thought has infiltrated the church through the NAR teachings of nation worshipping and dominionism. So as we get into his seven thoughts let us begin by realizing there is no relationship between pastoral ministry and politics. Just as carnality has no fellowship with righteousness and light has none with darkness.

1. Let the Bible set the agenda for your weekly pulpit ministry. I love preaching through the Bible verse by verse. I'm not smart enough to decide what the congregation really needs to hear this week. So they're going to get John 5:1-18 this Sunday. Why? Because last week they got John 4:43-54. And in the evening they're going to get Exodus 24, because last Sunday was Exodus 23. That means I've talked in the last two months about abortion, social justice, and slavery, because that's what's been in Exodus. I want my people to expect, that as a general rule, the Bible sets the agenda not my interests or what I think is relevant. -- Kevin DeYoung

Allow me to scream half a hallelujah! The first half of this statement is spot on. A preacher should approach the Bible wanting to hear what God has to say. Far too many purpose driven pastors decide what they want to topically preach on and then strip mine the Bible for any verse fragments they can rip out of context to support the conclusions they have already made. This is a great recipe to hear thus sayeth the pastor but not the Lord. The most responsible way for a pastor to bring the Word of God is to preach it in order, without pre-bias. The reason I only give half a hallelujah however is because of the notion that DeYoung appears to have taken the Scripture in order and then forcibly applied them to politics and this world. That is equally unwise and only allows you to carnalize the Word. I have read the portions of Scripture he references and there is nothing in there about abortion, slavery, or social justice. Now, perhaps there is a referent to slaves in one or more of the referenced chapters but does that mean God is speaking about slavery? Not at all. Beloved, the Bile is not our story -- it's His. It is not about this life but about the eternal life. We apply it to our lives to better serve Him and His purposes not to understand our world and navigate it better. DeYoung got halfway there. He still decides what social matters will be preached on each week but does not decide what that subject is until he reads the text that is next in order.

2. The gospel is the main thing, but not the only thing. To be sure, we must never wander far from the cross in our preaching. But if we are to give the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27), we must show how a thousand other theological, philosophical, and ethical issues are connected to Christ and him crucified. Thabiti is right: "A 'gospel-centered' evangelicalism that becomes a 'gospel-only' evangelicalism ceases to be properly evangelical." The Bible is a big book. It doesn't say everything about everything, and it doesn't say anything about some things, but it does say a lot about more than just a few things. -- Kevin DeYoung

This is where so many well intended preachers go astray. The Bible says that it is human wisdom seeping into the preaching of the Gospel that empties the cross of its power. Let that sink in for a moment. Despite the intentions of DeYoung here he has things backwards. The verses from Acts are not speaking about attaching the Gospel to the things of this life but the opposite. The entire counsel of God means you do not leave any portion of the Gospel out, like let's say sin and repentance. Without apologies to Thabiti, the notion that preaching the Gospel is somehow not good enough evangelism is nuts. It is pure NAR thinking that believes we must somehow convince the world to behave better. Romans teaches us that only the Gospel has the power to save, thus it is quite sufficient. There is nothing we can add to it in our own wisdom that will in anyway enhance the Gospel. No beloved, do not be fooled. The Gospel is the one thing, the only thing, the everything.

3. Distinguish between the corporate church and the individual Christian. We need believers in all levels of government and engaged in every kind of public policy debate. But there is a difference between the Bible-informed, Christian citizen and the formal declarations from church pronouncements and church pulpits. In the early part of the 20th century, most evangelicals strongly supported the Eighteenth Amendment, the Volstead Act, and Prohibition in general. When J. Gresham Machen made the unpopular decision to vote against his church voicing support for the amendment, he did so, in part, because such a vote would have failed to recognize "the church in its corporate capacity as distinguished from the activities of its members, on record with regard to such political questions" (Selected Shorter Writings, 394). -- Kevin DeYoung

I do not think this is his point but distinguishing between the believer and the church is important in that no one political opinion is righteous. They are all carnal. The best one could ever hope for is the lesser of two evils and that is always completely subjective. The problem is those that insist on correlating their lesser evil to Christ. We do not need believers in every level of government beloved. If they happen to be there great but otherwise this is once again pure NAR doctrine that seeks to conquer the world to facilitate the second coming of Christ. The Volstead Act is a perfect example of the church not knowing its boundaries. Instead of preaching the Gospel it got caught up in the prohibition debate and wanted to be the moral police of this country. What was the result? More people drank than ever, the Volstead Act failed, and countless people hated the church for their stance even more. Nowhere does the Bible say we are to take political stances against those we are charged with bringing the Gospel to. Arguing over prohibition, or whatever the prohibition of today is, plays right into the devil's hands. Every second we waste on debating human wisdom is another second of a powerless cross and an unpreached Gospel.

4. Think about the nature of your office and the ministry of your church. I studied political science in college, and I've read fairly widely (for a layman) in economics, sociology, and political philosophy. I have plenty of opinions and convictions. But that's not what I want my ministry to be about. That's not to say I don't comment on abortion or gay marriage or racism or other issues about the which the Bible speaks clearly. And yet, I'm always mindful that I can't separate Blogger Kevin or Twitter Kevin or Professor Kevin from Pastor Kevin. As such, my comments reflect on my church, whether I intend them to or not. That means I keep more political convictions to myself than I otherwise would. I don't want people concluding from my online presence that Christ Covenant is really only a church for people who view economics like I do or the Supreme Court like I do or foreign affairs like I do. Does this mean I never enter the fray on hot button issues? Hardly. But it means I try not to do so unless I have explicit and direct biblical warrant for the critique I'm leveling or the position I'm advocating. It also means that I try to remember that even if I think my tweets and posts are just a small fraction of what I do or who I am, for some people they are almost everything they see and know about me. I cannot afford to have a public persona that does not reflect my private priorities. -- Kevin DeYoung

When your sole focus is the Gospel, you do not need to parse any of this out. As a pastor your responsibility is to the Gospel. DeYoung is right that you cannot separate out your other personas from your main one as pastor. It still remains a bit unsettling that he needs to weigh in on some issues. The reality is that we are no longer of this world beloved. We are called out from it. We are consecrated from it. We are pilgrims and sojourners through it. Our citizenship is in heaven. I have seen the most vile, uninformed and outright inaccurate posts and tweets from pastors who have no regard for their witness for Christ! If people see you are willing to lie about politics, why would they believe anything you had to say about Christ?

5. Consider that the church, as the church, is neither capable nor called to address every important issue in the public square. This is not a cop-out. This is common sense. I've seen denominational committees call the church to specific positions regarding the farm bill, Sudanese refugees, the Iraq War, socially screened retirement funds, immigration policy, minimum-wage increases, America's embargo of Cuba, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, global economics, greenhouse gas emissions, social welfare, and taxation policies. While the church may rightly make broad statements about caring for the poor and the oppressed, and may even denounce specific cultural sins, the church should not be in the business of specifying which types of rifles Christians may and may not use (a real example) or which type of judicial philosophy Christians should want in a Supreme Court justice (another real example). Again, Machen's approach is instructive. He insisted that no one "has a greater horror of the evils of drunkenness than I" and that it was "clearly the duty of the church to combat this evil." And yet, as to the "exact form" of legislation (if any), he allowed for difference of opinion. Some men, he maintained, believed that the Volstead Act was not a wise method of dealing with the problem of drunkenness, and that enforced Prohibition would cause more harm than good. Without stating his own opinion, Machen argued that "those who hold the view that I have just mentioned have a perfect right to their opinion, so far as the law of our church is concerned, and should not be coerced in any way by ecclesiastical authority. The church has a right to exercise discipline where authority for condemnation of an act can be found in Scripture, but it has no such right in other cases" (394-95).

Once again, DeYoung gets so close but cannot give up the political football he likes playing with. The church is not called to address any issue in the public square. When asked about taxes Jesus said go catch a fish. When asked about Caesar He said give unto him what is his. Jesus was apathetic regarding the politics of His day and there were plenty of politics then too. His disciples all thought He was going to deliver them from the oppression of Rome but He had bigger plans to deliver them from the oppression of sin and the devil. Consider that same microcosm for the church today. Save your pet Christian issue no matter how long you've been told it is a sacred cow. The Gospel message is paramount. It is the only thing that matters. There is no social wedge issue that matters more. None.

6. Consider if you have been consistent. Obviously, there is a lot of talk at present about social justice and a host of issues often associated with the left. This makes people on the right a bit nervous, and understandably so. The gospel mission of the church has been buried before in an avalanche of humanitarian causes and social movements. At the same time, the concerns of the right ring a little hollow when pastors pass out partisan voter guides, tweet about the Second Amendment, sing the Star Spangled Banner in church, and then when anything about race or justice comes up, start harrumphing about politics in the church. I'm sure the same thing happens in both directions: we are fine being political until someone on the other side gets political too. -- Kevin DeYoung

Here is an even better plan. Don't be political at all and you guarantee consistency. Politics assumes one side is right and the other wrong. When you insist your side is right you alienate half your listeners. DeYoung is right about the glaring hypocrisy shown by far too many churches who 20 years ago cried about character and now claim we are not electing a "pastor in chief." The things of God may be foolishness to the world beloved but they have no problem seeing hypocrisy. DeYoung presents his last point:

7. Be prepared to fire when necessary, but keep your powder dry. There are times when the national crisis is so all-consuming or the political issue so obviously wicked (or righteous) that the minister will feel compelled to say something. Think 9/11. Or riots in your city. Or the declaration of war. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Our news media, not to mention social media, make us feel like every day is a global meltdown and every hour is a moment of existential crisis. Don't believe the hype. There is no exact formula for when you interrupt your sermon series, when you drop a blogging bomb, or when you add current events into your pastoral prayer. These things call for wisdom, not one-size-fits-all solutions. But let me suggest that when it comes to politics and public policy, parenting is a good analogy: yelling works only when it is done sparingly. -- Kevin DeYoung

I agree that there are several occasions a year that require a pulpit response. The issue is in what that response ought to be. It should always be a response with the Gospel. For example, I know of churches who respond to mass shootings with sermons about guns and their place in society. That misses the entire point. Why? Because that is a sermon about this world and this life. The Bible is about Jesus. After a mass shooting why not preach on true evil? The truth of a black and white faith versus the shades of grey of the world? How tomorrow is truly promised to no one? 9-11 offered an opportunity to discuss eschatology or a renewed call to the Great Commission. Don't preach solely about what is happening in the world but rather about He who has overcome this world. Every tragedy offers opportunity to discuss why we hope as we do. I applaud Kevin DeYoung for being right about a lot of what he wrote here because most pastors are in way too deep politically. You can still see however the insidious thread of how the NAR has infected the minds of well-intentioned Christians. Do not tether yourself to this world beloved. Our citizenship is in heaven alone. The NAR teaches that the church has to conquer seven cultural mountains, one of them being government. My Bible says I can command that mountain to be thus removed and cast into the sea. In the name of Jesus let it be so.

Reverend Anthony Wade -- June 5, 2018

Submitters Bio:
Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.