This is part 3 of a transcribed sermon I taught on Politics. Comments and questions are welcome…
3.) “The Power of Influence” Acts chapter 17, verses 5 through 7 goes on like this “But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.”
“…turned the whole world upside down…” The Apostles and the disciples had unintentionally created real phenomena here. Through the simple proclamation of the Gospel, look at the kind of impact they had, it had started a riot, they were dragged before the city authorities, who were told “these were the men that were turning the world upside down and now they’re here”. Trouble just rode into town! As we read the Gospels one of the interesting things that I think about Jesus is that Jesus never sought to change anyone’s social position. Slaves and servants were dealt with as such, same as prostitutes, Pharisees, soldiers – it didn’t matter. His primary concern was with their eternity, that their soul would be saved. He never marginalized their social position; it just wasn’t His first priority. He had a work to do and that was to provide salvation for their soul.
When Jesus was brought the woman caught in the act of adultery He didn’t say; “You need to get help, its society that has done this to you!” He didn’t say to her “Why don’t you take advantage of the local community college and get yourself an education and do something different in life instead of being a prostitute.” What did He say to her? “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) See – I find that interesting; because what she needed to know was that what she was doing was wrong. She needed to understand that what she was practicing was wrong and it was wrong before God – so Jesus gives her that context. Today, we seek to advance people socially while leaving their soul untouched OR we seek to save their soul and practically ignore their social condition. Obviously both of these positions are wrong. There needs to be a balance between both. Jesus knew, and established as a principal that we can not address one to the exclusion of the other.
When Jesus encountered someone who was blind or lame, He didn’t say to them “Gee – if you only had faith you could be healed.” He healed them first and then they followed Him. Understand? Jesus took their reason for being unable to follow Him out of the way by healing or by restoring them. So then – what is the best way to change society? To change it’s laws, or to change it people?
Cal Thomas, an editorial writer, says in the American Enterprise Institute that; “…the Roper Center examined opinion polls on abortions for the last 25 years; In January 1998 then concluded that despite the rhetoric and campaigns on both sides, attitudes about abortion remained pretty much unchanged. In perhaps the biggest and costliest battle waged by conservative Christians – twenty years of fighting has won nothing, and our record is no better with other moral and social issues.” Why is that? Is it because the church – generally speaking, all true Christians, have lost the power of influence?
Christians are often accused of “judging others” or of being intolerant or bigoted. I’ve been called much worse than all of those things. In John 7 verse 24 Jesus says “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” What’s the one verse that every non-believer knows? “Judge not, least ye be judged.” Every non-believer on planet earth knows that verse. But Jesus never said to never judge, but Jesus DID say that when you do judge – judge with a righteous judgment. What does that mean? Jesus is saying “see things as I see them, judge as I would judge them.” He commands and holds us responsible for this. Should we not hold others responsible too for not obeying the law of the land? Yes, I think that we should. But God has graciously provided for us the means to change those laws if they are not to our liking. We can vote. We have a government in this country where we can vote. It’s called politics, it’s called democracy – if we want to change the laws of the land – we can. Understanding though, that there are competing influences for the same thing. The kind of freedom that we enjoy here in the United States is indeed given to us by God, I believe. So few places in the world have this kind of freedom. Christians and non-Christians alike have the responsibility to participate and thus influence the laws of this land.
But again, we’re struck by this; changing laws or legislating morality has never saved anyone. You can’t legislate anybody into Heaven. We can, through the government, restrain behavior through the enforcement of laws, but nobody gets saved through that, although maybe in spite of that! So how then, does the Church, or how do Christians influence the world around them? Is the church supposed to be trying to influence the politics of a nation? Should the Church be leading the way in the fight for social justice or women’s rights, or equal rights or the fight against abortion – should the church be leading that charge?
Ed Dobson wrote a book with Cal Thomas called “Blinded by Might”, I haven’t read the whole book, but I’ve read portions of it. It’s kind of the “after affects” of the influence of the “Moral Majority” on politics in the United States of America. And in his book, “Blinded by Might” he writes this: “When the church engages in a political system using the weapons of that system, then it becomes another lobbying group and ceases to be the church. The church then becomes an appendage of the state, rather than its moral conscious. It is transformed from a force not of the world, to one that deserves to be treated as just one more competitor for earthly power.” Dobson goes on to sum up the crucial difference between the church and the government in this way. “The authority of the church is the power to change people and culture. By contrast the authority of the government is the authority to punish wrong doing and to restrain evil, but the government has no power to change the heart of evil doers. It can only incarcerate or execute them.”
When the church looses its power to influence the world around it, it can only compete on the same basis as any other competing influence. The Apostles turned the world upside down with the preaching of the gospel. The Church of the 21st century hasn’t turned much of anything upside down. Certainly not in this country, it certainly has in other places, not so much in this country. The whole nation, all of the United States seems to know what we are against, but very little of what we are for. What has happened to our power to influence?