There are many issues facing pastors like myself these days. I have talked to several friends in ministry who are struggling with fulfilling their calling in a rapidly changing environment. The coronavirus has laid bare many spiritual realities in our congregations and has reshaped the way in which we “do church,” perhaps permanently.
The pandemic has also deepened some of the divisions that have come between us as a family of faith, particularly along political lines. I was already dreading this election season before the virus hit, knowing that our enemy would love to drive as large a wedge between Christians as possible. One of his greatest tactics in his war against the Church is “divide and conquer.”
The apostle Paul knew this. Disunity was one of the largest threats to the Corinthian church. Therefore Paul urged them, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10 ESV). Unity is a primary concern in many of the New Testament epistles. The fledgling churches were instructed to intentionally seek unity in order to survive and eventually flourish. I believe this is equally true for our churches today.
I gain much encouragement in reading Jesus’ prayer for us (our Lord prayed for us!) in John 17. In it He asks the Father to unify those who would become the Church; “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23 ESV).
Why was Jesus so concerned about unity among believers? Because the world is watching. Jesus prays for our unity for the sake of the world — “that the world may know that you sent me.” Our mission to make disciples of all nations is severely hindered when those nations see us fighting one another. Let’s not forget what is at stake here. It is so easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees.
I was grateful for J. D. Greear’s presidential address from last month in which he issued a clarion call for unity among Southern Baptists. Greear said it well; “We don’t want to make it hard for unbelievers to find their way to God. We want to remove all distractions, all obstacles. Defending our reputations, advancing our politics, winning various arguments are not what most occupies us. Our agendas, our priorities and our emphases are all determined by our commission to preach the gospel. Everything is second to that.”
This does not mean that we should avoid politics altogether. We have a mission to love our neighbors, and that means getting involved in efforts to help make our communities a better place for all. Voting is not only a civic duty, but, more importantly for us, a Christian one.
But let us remember that our hope in bringing the Kingdom here was never rooted in worldly politics. Our only hope for making earth more like heaven and less like hell is firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our primary allegiance must therefore be to a King and a Kingdom above any earthly power.
Therefore we cannot and must not unite the Christian faith with any one political “side.”
Timothy Keller wrote a helpful op-ed in the New York Times titled, “How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? They Don’t.” In it Keller rightly observes the dilemma many Christians face; “The historical Christian positions on social issues do not fit into contemporary political alignments. So, Christians are pushed towards two main options. One is to withdraw and try to be apolitical. The second is to assimilate and fully adopt one party’s whole package in order to have your place at the table. Neither of these options is valid.”
So I join Paul and our Lord Jesus in encouraging us all to resist the temptation to allow politics to divide our churches. Baptists have historically shown grace to one another in secondary and tertiary matters as we uphold the priesthood of every believer. Let us acknowledge that thinking, orthodox Christians may reasonably come to different conclusions about politics without violating either their faith or their consciences. As we head toward November, may we purposely and actively cultivate unity in our churches by placing the “gospel above all” (as Greear has exhorted us).
— Nathan Parker
Pastor, Woodmont Baptist Church, Nashville