A Stone's Throw

I'm having a dialog in the meta with "touchstone" about my last post, and I thought I'd drag it up here to make sure that nobody misses it - especially those who simply do not understand this problem as it relates to the local church and God's people.

This is about, at its root, the claim that I have made that Bono, Bill Clinton and James Dobson all share the same kind of cynical faith. Touchstone's case is that if we are not politicians, activists, and what-have-you, we are doing less than out part, and that I am advocating that we all ought to be "only" preachers.

Let's see where this is going ...
I think you're seeing dichotomies that aren't there. A man can preach the Gospel in the street and advance the Kingdom that way. Another man can serve in the U.S. Senate, and advance the Kingdom that way. I think you'll find me at least as adamant that the church cannot and should not affiliate with a particular political party as you.
Let's be clear about something: my original complaint wasn't about just steering clear of a political party affiliation -- it was about the view of the world that somehow we are doing God's work when we are doing something via the ministry of the sword which we refuse to do via the ministry of God's word.

You know: homosexuals aren't going to want marriage less if we (Christians; the Church) make sure it's outlawed in the U.S. They're going to want it less if marriage turns out to be about how two people can practice being more obedient to God and less concerned about whether or not they are getting what they think they deserve.

People aren't going to want abortions less if we can succeed in outlawing it. They're going to want it less if we, the church, practice the sanctity of life rather than talk about it as if it's some kind of theoretical thing. For example, when we stop making jokes about people with large families, and we stop pretending that prosperity equals a fat bankroll rather than a household full of children.

If a man is a senator or a mayor or a president or a rock star or the head of an international organization with the word "Jesus" in its mission statement, and he says he is a Christian, I say, "good for you, fella." Now let's talk about whether you believe this stuff or not - for example, does the Bible say that the government is in charge of whether or not marriage is kept holy, or is that the purview of the church?

Listen: unless the church gets itself together and starts teaching people that divorce equals adultery, and that human life is more sacred than our retirement portfolio - which is what the Bible explicitly teaches - it doesn't have a lot of ground to stand on to demand that the government start working on people for things which the Bible implicitly teaches.

The question is not "do we get involved in politics". We live in a democratic republic, and we will probably get involved in politics if we live long enough. The question is if we can ask the Government to do the things that the church ought to be doing, or has the local church ceded its mission not only to the traveling circuses and the stadium events but also to the self-serving power brokers and the deal-makers.

This is the cynicism I am talking about: that somehow government can be the savior of the church and its people. If I wasn't full of turkey and biscuits, I'm have the energy to call it "idolatry", but then of course the boys at the bar with the pig's head in the window would say I was "libeling" someone.
But that's not to say the church should not be an engaged, involved advocate in the affairs of men. Social justice is the ugly step-child that many conservatives want to keep in the closet, but it's part of what Jesus preached right along with the parts you guys *do* like.
That's actually really funny - because if I were the kind of person you are describing here, doesn't it seem obvious that I wouldn't think James Dobson is a religious cynic?

The church has to be in the world but not of the world. There are no bloggers in the world today who have been clearer than I have about that maxim - none. Zero. But unfortunately, if I want to criticize Bono and James Dobson as being the faces on both sides of the same coin, everything else I have ever written on this subject has to be ignored.

However, rather than link you into oblivion, let me ask you: how many government agencies are implicit in the teachings of Jesus? I would be willing to go to the DebateBlog on this one and say that, outside of a king, a court of law, and an army, there are ZERO. The "social justice" Christ preached was the justice one man owes to another based on the mercy God has shown to us.

If you want to start grinding the organ of social justice here, be prepared to go to the mat on the definition of such a thing - and whether Jesus wanted us to start corporations and cabinet-level departments to do such things, or if he wanted us to do them one man at a time.

And let me say this because it needs to be said: this is not about apparent efficiency, but about obedience and fidelity to Christ.
Which isn't to say that government or anyone but the Holy Spirit can cause regeneration in man. But focusing *only* on regeneration is a distorted lens to look at the Kingdom of God through. It argues for abdication of the churches role in advancing the Kingdom.
Let me say that this is my favorite canard from the apologists for guys like Dr. Dobson: that if we rely only on regeneration to reform men, we are talking about a do-nothing church.

Dude: there is nothing do-nothing about the church which is taking itself seriously. Phil Johnson linked to something recently by Chris Ortiz which cited R.J. Rushdoony. Let me fill it in here:
According to a common error, theocracy means the rule of men in the name of God. The Bible clearly contradicts this view. The state in Scripture is a minimal institution, and so too is the church an institution. The rule of God's law is essentially through the lives of men as they apply their faith, and as they create tithe agencies to govern various areas and needs. Where faith wanes, the theocracy wanes. The Book of Judges gives us no change in polity from beginning to end, but it gives us an alternation from peace and prosperity to oppression and tyranny, and the key is faith. The essential government comes from the self-government of the Christian man. The U.S. was best governed when it was least governed, not because less control from the state was the essential ingredient but because Christian self-government was central in the eras of good government. Without strong, self-governing Christians taking back self-government under Christ in health, welfare, education, and more, we cannot return by politics to less statism.
What is at issue, as Rushdoony says rightly, is that if we think we want to be activists in the culture, our faith must come first and not like some condiment which makes our welfare, our fascism, our taxes and pork-barrel budgets somehow the good kind, the tasty kind.

The evangelical church today is in a wicked state - because we think "our" rock stars and politicians and NPO chiefs are the good ones, even if our rank-and-file is just like the other side's rank-and-file. What a joke! It's 100% true that we were once such as these - but if we are still ones such as these then what kind of faith do we have? Have we not changed at all? Then don't say the words "the second birth" unless you mean them as some kind of punch-line to the joke you have started telling.

The church is in no position to demand political action when it has completely surrendered the necessary spiritual offensive against the evil in men's hearts. It is our fault that our institutions have been co-opted and are now the political weapons of our enemies. The only way to reclaim them is to actually reclaim them and not to try to make our government into a church. We know where that leads, and that way is wide and easy.
I believe it is this distorted view of the charter of the church as agent for the proclaiming of the Gospel and the reification of the Kingdom of God on earth. The belief you see as cynicism in my experience is largely a fiction of your imagination, and a logical mistake. We need not choose "The Gospel" or "government" to pursue God's will for man. The Gospel applies everywhere, and we are well served to have Godly men and women serving in government and using their votes and voices toward God's agenda.
What takes imagination is the idea that somehow government can be the church's partner in anything. What we need is a robust church life which does not merely announce a spiritual headline to people, a church life which in not merely the paperboy of the King of kings. We ought to be the ones declaring the good news and making disciples.

Let me try to make this as clear as possible. Let's imagine a private school. 30 years ago, it had a reputation for excellence - and it had earned such a thing by turning out young men who were disciplined to a certain way of writing, thinking, learning, doing. In those days, the school had a robust vision which it demonstrated by creating students of its vision. When we look at it today, we see it resting on its laurels. It has a list of famous or successful alumni, but it hasn't turned out one of that caliber in a decade or more. Today, when a parent comes to a teacher at that school and demands that his child's grade isn't warranted (it's too low, of course), the teacher is more concerned about making sure the parent is happy (happy enough to pay tuition) than he is about making sure the standard is upheld for the sake of the vision of the school.

What basis, then, does that school and its leaders have to criticize -- or even consult on -- the standards of other schools or the students of other schools? It has none - because it has surrendered its own credibility and mission. It can't even reasonably market itself as some kind of alternative to other things - because it has violated its own mission and is just like the other things.

If that's true for a hypothetical school, why would it not be true for the real church?
It's precisely because the Gospel *is* powerful that we advance it in all areas of life, whether it's on stage with a guitar, or behind the microphone of your daily radio show, or voting for justice and liberty in the US Senate. That's how the Kingdom advances!
Yes, but the presumption you make is that the Gospel expects and wants us to employ things which are not even tangential to real discipleship and proclamation. Can you be a musician and a Christian? Of course! Can you be a ruler of some kind and a Christian? Of course! The final question, however, is whether we are using the methods of the world over and against the methods of the Gospel.

Nobody was ever saved and reformed at the point of a gun or the end of a baton. Or by a great riff. In that, the question is not "will all kinds of men come to Christ" but "is the Gospel the power to save, or is it one method of saving?"