Your Presidential Candidate Isn't the Messiah

Did you know it was election season? I jest, after all, how could you not? Every time you flip on the news you hear some talking head babbling about some presidential candidate. You scroll through Facebook and find one "friend" after another spewing their adoration for their favorite candidate. The buzz of election year creates hope within the heart of every American; the glamorous pageant of democracy sparkles with messianic colors. 21-2016ers1

Every presidential election cycle dominates the cultural conversation, particularly our current cycle. After all, so much of our nations future depends on the man or woman who sits in the oval office. The president of the United States wields incredible authority and influence. In many ways, politics has become the new American religion. David Gelertner recently wrote in an article entitled What Explains the Vicious Left? that "For most conservatives, politics is just politics. For most liberals, politics is their faith, in default of any other; it is the basis of their moral life." He describes how for many on the left, committed to secularism, politics has replaced the basis of their faith. Therefore, they defend their political position with religious zeal. I think he is on to something, but I would suggest that politics has become a religion not only for liberals, but for conservatives as well—including evangelicals.

As you listen to political commentators on both sides and as you watch the cut-throat political commentary on social media, people tend to think of their candidate with Messianic implications. Whether its Cruz or Trump, Bernie or Hillary, the fiery zeal of their supporters promote these politicians with Messianic expectations. Each side hopes that their candidate will usher in a new era of our country, accomplishing their idealistic vision for the country. As secularism increases, politics has filled the spiritual vacuum. If we are not careful, Christians can get swept away with the political enthusiasm and find ourselves inadvertently looking to the wrong Messiah.

No matter where you land on the political spectrum, every presidential candidate will disappoint, whether you are a Regan conservative or a democratic socialist. Both the conservative and liberal ideologue will find themselves disappointed, even if there candidate wins. There is only one messiah and his name is Jesus. Only the preminant creator, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation can reconcile all things, making peace by the blood of the cross (See Col 1:15-19). Our hope rests on the arrival of the coming of the kingdom of God, not in the prosperity of the kingdom of America. Let us not confuse the two.

[Tweet "Our hope rests on the arrival of the coming of the kingdom of God not in the prosperity of the kingdom of America."]

So should Christians just avoid politics, stick our heads in the sand, and ignore the incredible issues that plague our nation? No, not at all. As sojourners in Babylon we should "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile" (Jer 29:7). We should work in the realm of politics, debate in civility concerning the future of our great nation, and cast our votes for presidential candidates. Yet, as we do, we must make very clear to the lost and dying work that our messiah is not a presidential candidate, but a Jewish man from Nazareth—the Lord Jesus Christ.

How to Share the Gospel with Cultural Christians

We just examined how there are many false gospels that people believe in the Bible Belt. Most of these false gospels have developed because of a cultural Christianity that reduces the Christian faith to societal norms that regulate a community. Those in the Bible Belt and most of evangelicalism have been surrounded by a cultural Christianity disconnected from the Christian faith as presented in the Bible. As a result it common to speak with those who call themselves Christians but who believe do not believe historic orthodox Christianity. Although they might put "Christian" down on the census, many of these cultural Christians have not been converted and saved by Jesus Christ. This cultural, superficial Christianity appears to be fading away with the rise of those who claim no religious affiliation. Ed Stezer has written extensively on the rise of the nones. However, pastoring in the Bible Belt has proved to have interesting challenges. The greatest challenge of pastors and ministry leaders in the Bible Belt is this: How do we evangelize to those who already think they are Christian?

This is a very difficult challenge, unique to places like the Bible Belt.  In many parts of our country or the world there is just an outright rejection of the Christian faith. In some ways it is easier to present the Gospel to these people, because they often have little to no understanding of the Christian faith. Evangelizing in the Bible Belt can be an extra challenge because, in addition to presenting the true Gospel, we often have to show these cultural christians that they have gravely misunderstood Christianity. So the following are some strategies to help us better evangelize these cultural christians.

The Christian Faith is Not...

1. The Christian Faith is Not the Republican Party

Since the rise of the moral majority, Evangelical Christians have connected themselves heavly to the republican party. It is no secret that the Bible Belt states tend to vote Republican. There has been good reasons for this close partnership with the republican party, primarily due to important moral issues such as abortion or the Biblical definition of marriage. However the Christian faith is not the republican party. The Christian faith is not a political ideology. Yes, the Christian faith does impact how we think about politics, but no political party is the church. In fact, political parties will often fail in representing our convictions and beliefs, including the republican party.

Unfortunately many have assumed that since they vote republican and live in the Bible Belt, that is what Christianity is all about. In their mind to be a Christian is to be a good ol' church boy who hates democrats and has an anti-Obama sticker on their truck. The Christian Faith is not a political agenda, ideology, or party.

2. The Christian Faith is Not Be Good, Try Harder

Many think of Christianity as a list of rules to follow. Moralism is rampant, and many think that being a Christian means we must pay penance for our sins. Many cultural Christians are more like Hindus than Christians, as they believe in karma and that their good most outweigh their bad. As we evangelize to cultural christians we need to highlight their inability to earn God's favor or save themselves. We need to highlight the hopeless estate of every human being and that no matter how many times you may come to church or walk old ladies across the street, you cannot save yourself. We need the righteousness of God, not our filthy rags and rubbish. Thanks be to God, that he gives us the righteousness of Jesus!

3. The Christian Faith is Not a Southern Thing

Many think that to be southern is to be christian. Cultural christians assume that since they grew up in the Bible Belt they assume they are default Christian. Yet, the Christian faith is not just for southern people but for all people from every tribe, language, tongue, and nation. The Gospel is the true truth about the world for all people at all times. The Christian faith is much bigger than some cultural identity for our region. Jesus is the only way of salvation for all people everywhere. Jesus isn't just the way of salvation for southerners, but for the whole world. As a result, we have to get out of our southern bubble of isolation and participate in the Great Commission, taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

4. The Christian Faith is Not Just Your Parents Faith

The church I serve in is a church with a history. We are getting close to our 100th birthday. As I've spoken with many of our older members who have been members of our church their entire lives, I've spoken to them about their children. Many of their children have grown up in the church only to have nothing to do with it once they enter adulthood. In the Bible Belt there a many people who are de-churched, meaning they kind of consider themselves Christians but only because their parents brought them to church as a kid. As we evangelize to cultural christians we must emphasize that to be a Christian does not mean you live off of your parents faith. We must call these cultural christians to personally place their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior and call them to commit to Jesus and his church.

The Christian Faith is...

1. The Christian Faith is for the Outcasts and the Nobodies

Although the south has made great strides the past few decades, repenting from the great racism of the past, it is still a recurring problem. Many cultural christians have a disdain for those of a different ethnicity, income level, or social economic status. They think that those who live on food stamps or dwell in rough neighborhoods do not deserve the Gospel or to ever set foot in our churches.

But Christ died for the nobodies and the outcasts. Jesus spent his time with the rejects of society–the drunkards, the prostitutes, and the tax collectors. Many cultural christians are but self-righteous pharisees who think they are above other people because they are religious. We must emphasize to cultural christians that Jesus came to save all people–from the destitute and immoral, to the prideful and self-righteous. We ALL need God's grace and we must attack the racism and elitism that runs through so much of cultural christianity.

2. The Christian Faith is all about Jesus

As the church has become more institutional, cultural christians have gotten confused over what the Christian faith is all about. Is it about upward basketball games, boy scout groups, and elaborate Christmas dramas to entertain us? Is the church a social club to hang out with like-minded people  or to seclude ourselves from our sinful community? Is the Christian faith about providing family safe activities to protect us from the harshness of the world? Many have gotten so confused over the purpose of the church and the Christian faith.

We must remind people daily and often that Christianity is all about Jesus. It is not about institutions, programs, or morality. We must emphasize time and again the beauty of the Gospel. We must remind people time and time again of Jesus' perfect life, vicarious death, and victorious resurrection. The Christian faith is centered around the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we evangelize to cultural christians we must regularly emphasize and remind people of this fact.

3. The Christian Faith Transforms Your Entire Life

The Christian faith is not separate from the rest of your life. Many cultural christians have their spiritual life, work life, family life, and recreational life divided into neat let segments that never interact. We must remind cultural Christians that when we claim Jesus is our Lord, he is just that, our Lord. He is Lord over our finances, Lord over our time, Lord over our families, and Lord over our work. Christianity is holistic encompassing the totality of who we are. Jesus didn't come to save just an area of our life, but our entire lives.

Sharing the Gospel with cultural christians has unique challenges. Often it takes time and patient, recurring conversation to let the Spirit tear down their gravely misunderstood cultural christianity in order to help them see the wonderful, life changing grace of God.

Have you experienced difficulties evangelizing to cultural christians? Share your experiences and thoughts with the rest of us in the comments!

Standing Firm in a Hostile Culture

The American church is heading into unknown waters and difficult circumstances that American Christians have never experienced.  In some ways the modern church is beginning to look much more like the early church.  We are faced with some tough sets of challenges such as false teachers and cultural and political persecution. We have been on the road back to Rome for quite some time now.  There is an increasing hostility to the Christian faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Changing Cultural Landscape

In the 1950s, it was culturally advantageous for you to be a Christian and belong to a church. It seemed like everyone went to church.  If you grew up in the Bible belt there was incredible social pressure to church.  However, over the past 50-60 years we have watched a rising secular and anti-Christian spirit begin to dominate the cultural landscape of the West.  The privileged position Christians have enjoyed in the West over the past 1,000 years is quickly being eliminated.  I believe that we are only seeing the beginning of a zealous secularism that seeks to permanently eliminate the church and its influence from the public square.

It is easy to be a Christian when you are the moral majority.  Can we stand firm in Christ as we increasingly become what Dr. Russell Moore has called "the prophetic minority"? In the coming decades we will have an incredible task of standing firm in Christ in an increasingly hostile culture.

Yet, it is easy to see the cultural reshaping of our country and be pessimistic about this.  It is a bad thing for our country, but I believe that this is a wonderful opportunity for the church.   The dead weight chaff of an uncommitted cultural Christianity is being eliminated, and the opposition we will be facing will be used by God as a purifier for the church.

Standing Firm in Hostility

May we stand firm in Christ regardless of the blazing heat that may be rising around us.  May we stand firm on the unchanging truth of the Gospel and may we boldly call all people to repentance and faith.  May we urge every man and woman to trust in Jesus as their Lord and as their savior.  May we unapologetically proclaim Christ as the exclusive means of salvation for all people as we stand on the solders of Christians over the past millennia who laid down their life for the cause of Christ.  As the early church father Tertullian said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church".

Stop the Ad Hominem Arguments

There seems to be debates all over the place. In the public square ideas often come into conflict with one another. Differing sides continue to fight and disagree with one another across all domains of society. People fight about politics, family, marriage, theology, economics, morality, and the list goes on and on. Unfortunatly our sensational media saturated culture of 30-second news clips and 140-chracter tweets, although the division is highlighted, there is little to no real discussion over the issues. Issues like theology and morality are crucial issues. Differences over such fundamental issues need to be debated and discussed. However although we watch on news networks of two people fighting over an issue constantly, there are little honest arguments presented by each side. Rather than delving into deep issues so as the worldview presupositions each side brings to the table, you just see people attack each other. Our brief attention spans don't want real discussion, we just want ad hominem arguments.

Ad hominem is a logical falacy in which you attack the man rather than his ideas. We see this all the time in newspapers, blog posts, and video clips. Rather than dealing with the issue we digress into drivelous name calling that is neither helpful or deals with the issues. These fallacious arguments come across as emotionally riviting but all they do is distract and distort the real conversations.

I'll give you some examples we encounter all the time.

  • Democrats are all socialist
  • Calvinists don't believe in sharing the Gospel.
  • Arminians are all universalists.
  • Republicans hate women and don't care about the poor.
  • Atheists are evil immmoral people.
  • Evangelicals hate homosexuals
  • Muslims are all terrorists

You see all these examples attack a particular group or person without ever addressing any of their arguments.  All it does is demonstrate our own ignorance of those who disagree with us, and proves we are unable to actually think and defend our position. Rather than a real discussion about real issues, the conversation degenerates to 1st grade name calling. We need to learn down and really engage with those who disagree with us. However a real conversation about real issues can't happen in a 30 second news clip. A real conversation means taking the time to listen, reflect, understand, then respond.

The issues debated in our age are much to important to distract with abusive ad hominem arguments. Real issues and difference require honest discussion. So lets cut out the name calling and start actually thinking.

Christians and Politics

It is a political year.  The presidential campaign is afoot, signs for politicians are every where, and everyone normally silent on issues has an opinion.  As I have served and ministered at churches in the Bible belt, I have noticed a disturbing trend.  Many Christians are stirred more by nationalism for our country than our passion for the kingship of Jesus.  In fact many pastors have identified that congregations are moved by the “bring back a Christian America” agenda and have customized their preaching to give the people what they want to hear.  There seems to be an over emphasis on politics and an underemphasis on evangelism.  In fact, many of us get more excited about defending conservative values in our country than faithfully proclaiming the Gospel to our friends and coworkers. In my experience, people learn very little from the content of what you are teaching, but learn a great deal from what you get excited about.  In other words, if our greatest and highest passion is the Gospel, our people will begin to adopt that same passion.  If our greatest concern and passion is an American theocracy, then our people will get passionate about the same thing.

As a result, in order to promote our dreams for Christian politics, we are tempted to create straw men of the opposition.  We create charactertures of secular philosophy that we can easily topple over in order to prove the Christian faith superior.  However, handling opposing views in this way leads to two opposite reactions among our people.

  1. An ignorant religious zeal develops that further entrenches minds in their ritualistic and tribal prison.
  2. It frustrates budding free thinkers and anti-authority individuals who desire an honest conversation with theology and culture. It isolates those who don’t fit the mold and creates enemies of faith and the church.

We must preach the truth boldly, but in such a way that engages those who think differently.  We want to teach the truth in a way that does not drive them away because of our delivery.  We want the truth of the Gospel to be controversial not the messenger.  We want our church members to think carefully and thoughtfully about the issues, not blindly follow the beliefs of people around them.  We are far too lazy thinkers.  Indeed, many of us develop our beliefs on the opinions of the masses rather than carefully examining the evidence to discern the truth.

Teaching how terrible America is and how hopeless we are leads us to desperation.  “The sky is falling” sermons give people a sense of hopelessness unless it is finished with the glorious eschatological reign of the good king, Jesus Christ.  Bad governments and immoral times ought to stir a longing within our hearts for the second advent and the monarchy of Christ.  Our highest loyalty is not to the United States of America, but to the Kingdom of God.  Our hope is not in America being restored to a Christian nation, but in Christ’s second coming.  Then all that is wrong with this world will be set right by the sovereign glorious hand of King Jesus.