POLITICIZING THE FAITH
Cause célèbre for worldly evangelicals!
In his book The Backslider, in the chapter titled On the General Nature and Differing Species of Backsliding, English clergyman Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) wrote that, “All backsliding from God originates in a departure of heart from him.” Three general characteristics indicate movement of a Christian’s heart away from God; the first being “A RELINQUISHMENT OF EVANGELICAL DOCTRINE,” and the second, “FALLING INTO SOME GROSS IMMORALITY” (As when Lot made his self-serving decisions based upon love for the world—the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life—rather than upon love for the Lord; See Genesis 13:7-13; 1 John 2:15.).
Relevant to the issues, contentions and demonstrations current in American politics—unemployment numbers, housing foreclosures, federal bailouts, deficit spending, the Tea Party movement, nationalized health care, international cap and trade, amnesty for illegal immigrants, appointments to the federal judiciary and Supreme Court, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, deficit spending, nuclear arms reductions, rampant immorality, and so on—Fuller expounds a third characteristic of backsliding, one worthy of our consideration in light of the Dominionist agenda manifested by some Christians belonging to both the Christian-evangelical political right and the Christian-emergent political left, an agenda which sees the cure for societal ills to be found in administering faith based antidotes to halt the process of our nation’s secularization.
Admittedly, most of us possess strong convictions and feelings about what needs to be done amidst the current economic, political and social crisis being faced by our nation, and this is why Fuller’s description of the third characteristic of the backslider, though written two centuries ago, ought to give us pause. We excerpt it as follows:
Finally, there is another species of departure from God, which it becomes me to notice, as many in the present age have fallen sacrifices to it. This is, TAKING AN EAGER AND DEEP INTEREST IN POLITICAL DISPUTES.—The state of things in the world has of late been such as to attract the attention, and employ the conversation, of all classes of people. As success has attended each of the contending parties, the minds of men, according to their views and attachments, have been affected; some with fear and dismay, lest their party interests should be ruined; others with the most sanguine hopes, as if the world were shortly to be emancipated, war abolished, and all degrees of men rendered happy. This is one of those strong winds of temptation that occasionally arise in the troubled ocean of this world, against which those who are bound to a better had need be on their guard [Philippians 3:20].
The flattering objects held out by revolutionists were so congenial with the wishes of humanity, and their pretenses to disinterested philanthropy so fair, that many religious people, for a time, forgot their own principles. While gazing on the splendid spectacle, it did not occur to them that the wicked, whatever name they assumed, would do wickedly. [Romans 3:10-18] By observing the progress of things however, they have been convinced that all hopes of the state of mankind being essentially meliorated [improved] by any means short of the prevalence of the gospel, are visionary, and have accordingly turned their attention to better things.
But some have gone to greater lengths. Their whole heart has been engaged in this pursuit. It has been their meat and their drink: and this being the case, it is not surprising that they have become indifferent to [authentic] religion; for these things cannot consist with each other. It is not only contrary to the whole tenor of the New Testament, but tends in its own nature to eat up true religion. If any worldly matter, however lawful in itself, engage our attention inordinately, it becomes a snare; and more so in matters that do not come within the line of our immediate duty. [James 4:4] But if in attending to it we neglect what manifestly is our duty, and overleap the boundaries of God’s holy word, let us look to it: beyond those boundaries is a pit, in which, there is reason to fear, great numbers have been lost.
There were many in the early age of christianity who despised government, and were not afraid to speak evil of dignities: but were they good men? [2 Peter 2:10. Ed. Note: As Fuller points out, the infamous Nero was Caesar when Peter wrote this.] Far from it. They were professors of christianity, however; for they are said to have escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of Christ; yea, and what is more, they had attained the character of christian teachers. But of what description? False teachers, who privily brought in damnable heresies, denying the Lord who bought them, bring upon themselves swift destruction—whose ways, though followed by many, were pernicious, occasioning the way of truth to be evil spoken of. To copy the examples of such men is no light matter. [2 Peter 2:1-2]
When a man’s thoughts and affections are filled with such things as these, the scriptures become a kind of dead letter, while the speeches and writings of politicians are the lively oracles: spiritual conversation is unheard, or if introduced by others, considered as a flat and uninteresting topic; and leisure hours, whether sitting in the house or walking by the way, instead of being employed in talking and meditating on divine subjects, are engrossed by things which do not profit. Such are the rocks amongst which many have made shipwreck of their faith and a good conscience. [1 Timothy 1:19]
Whatever may be the duty of a nation in extraordinary cases, there is scarcely any thing in all the New Testament inculcated with more solemnity, than that individuals, and especially christians, should be obedient, peaceable, and loyal subjects: nor is there any sin much more awfully censured than the contrary conduct. [Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-17] It requires not only that we keep within the compass of the laws, (which is easily done by men of the most unprincipled minds) but that we honour, and intercede with God for those who administer them. [1 Timothy 2:1-2] These duties were pressed particularly upon the Romans [Romans 13:1-7], who, by their situation, were more exposed than others to the temptations of joining in factions and conspiracies, which were almost continually at work in that tumultuous city.
Nor does the danger belong exclusively to one side. We may sin by an adherence to the measures of a government, as well as by an opposition to them. If we enlist under the banners of the party in power, considered as a party, we shall feel disposed to vindicate or palliate [to make a serious offense less offensive] all their proceedings, which may be very inconsistent with christianity. Paul, though he enjoined obedience to the existing government, yet was never an advocate for Roman ambition; and when addressing himself to a governor, did not fail to reason on righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. [Acts 24:25] It is our duty, no doubt, to consider that many things which seem evil to us might appear otherwise, if all circumstances of the case were known, and therefore to forbear passing hasty censures: but on the other hand, we ought to beware of applauding every thing that is done, lest, if it be evil, we be partakers of other men’s sins, and contribute to their being repeated.
While some, burning with revolutionary zeal, have imagined they could discover all the wonderful events of the present day in scripture prophecy, and have been nearly blinded to the criminality of the principal agents, others, by a contrary prejudice, have disregarded the works of the Lord, and the operations of his hand. Whatever may be said of means and instruments, we must be strangely insensible not to see the hand of God in the late overturnings among the papal powers [Romans 13:1]; and if we be induced by political attachment, instead of joining the inhabitants of heaven in a song of praise, to unite with the merchants of the earth in their lamentations, are we not carnal? [Revelation 18:3-4] There is no need of vindicating or palliating [excusing] the measures of men which may be wicked in the extreme; but neither ought we to overlook the hand of God. [Romans 13:2; Daniel 2:36-38]
The great point with Christians should be, an attachment to government, as government, irrespective of the party which administers it; for this is right, and would tend more than anything to promote the kingdom of Christ. We are not called to yield up our consciences in religious matters [Acts 5:29]; nor are to approve of what is wrong in those which are civil; but we are not at liberty to deal in acrimony, or evil speaking [Ephesians 4:29]. The good which results to society from the very worst government on earth, is great when compared to the evil of anarchy. [Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:14; Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25] On this principle, it is probable, the apostle enjoined obedience to the powers that were, even during the reign of Nero.
Christians are under the King of kings: their object should be to conquer all ranks and degrees of men to the obedience of faith. But to do this, it is necessary that they avoid all those entanglements and disputes which retard their main design [Ed. Note: which is to bear witness to the Gospel]. If a wise man wishes to gain over a nation to any great and worthy object, he does not enter into their little differences, nor embroil himself in their party contentions; but bearing goodwill to all, seeks the general good; by these means he is respected by all, and all are ready to hear what he has to offer. Such should be the wisdom of christians. There is enmity enough for us to encounter without unnecessarily adding to it.
If a christian be under the necessity of siding with a party, undoubtedly he ought to be in favor of that which appears to him the best: but even in this case it is not becoming him to enter with eagerness into their disputes. Let worldly men, who thirst after preferment, busy themselves in a contested election—they have their reward—but let christians, if called to appear, discharge their duty, and retire from the tumultuous scene. [1 Timothy 2:2]
By entering deeply into the party contentions of the nation, religious people on both sides will be charged in their turn with disloyalty; and it may be not always without cause. Fifty years ago, that party was out of power which at present is in power. At that time the charge of disloyalty was directed against them; and they were then the denominated patriots. It is possible, that many who now seem to abhor a spirit of disaffection towards administrative government, would be themselves not the best affected, were the other side to recover its authority. But if we enter into a spirit of the gospel, though we may have our preferences of men and measures, we shall bear good-will to all, and whoever be at the head of affairs, shall reverence the powers that be. Whatever be our private opinion of men, we shall respect and honour the rulers. [1 Peter 2:17] That loyalty which operates only with the prevalence of a party, whichever it be, is at a great remove from the loyalty enjoined by the scriptures.
By standing aloof from all parties as such, and approving themselves the friends of government and good order, by whomsoever administered, christians would acquire a dignity of character worthy of their profession, would be respected by all, and possess greater opportunities of doing good: while by a contrary conduct they render one part of the community their enemies, and the other, I fear, derive but little spiritual advantage from being their friends.
Admittedly, the role of government in the lives of Christians is controversial, especially as we see the constitutional foundation of our nation being compromised by activist federal politicians and judges. The role of government in life is as volatile an issue for Christians today as it was also for believers who tried to cope with Rome during the apostolic era. This is why the apostles Paul and Peter attend to the issue in their letters.
The rights granted by the U.S. Constitution are for all citizens, whether religious or irreligious. Thus, any involvement in the political dialog or process on the part of Christians ought to be characterized by spiritual and scriptural reasonableness like that Andrew Fuller called for, and not by rancor. Then, hopefully, true believers will not find themselves backsliding into the political deal making that occurs in those “smoke-filled back rooms.” We are not right because we possess might (pun intended).
So as the political controversy, even crisis, heats up before our very eyes, as we watch network/cable news broadcasts or programs, and as we observe our comfort zone degenerate into a battle zone, we need to check out our motives. Do we engage the political process because we sense that our personal peace and prosperity are under attack? Or do we engage it for altruistic reasons?
As Christians engage a secularized and secularizing society, they must know that while their faith can define moral goodness, and in some instances inspire people to live according to the same, any example or exhortation in and by itself will not change people’s hearts. As received and believed by various persons, only the Gospel possesses the power to do that (Romans 1:16). There can be no reformation without regeneration.
Real societal change will only come about as people trust the Gospel and receive the new life offered by faith in the Gospel and imparted by God’s Spirit into the human heart (John 3:5-8). God must reign within persons—unless they are born of the Holy Spirit from above, they cannot see the kingdom of God below—before He can reign amongst them. The Kingdom of God is not something that can be corporately worked up below if it does not descend by faith from above.
Therefore, any change that Dominionists might affect by reclaiming secular “spheres” of culture (i.e., religion, government, business, the media, arts, education, and the family) will be only cosmetic. For a time, maybe America will look better on the outside, but its citizens, absent the regeneration (Matthew 19:28), will remain the same ole same ole on the inside, and given that residual condition, and to use a proverb employed by the apostle Peter, we can be sure that a dog will turn to its own vomit; and a pig that has been washed will return to wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:22). That’s why Jesus told Nicodemus—who by the way looked good on the outside—you must be born from above.
The good morals of the Law did not control the morals of Israel and keep that ancient nation from spiritual and moral declension (Read the prophets.). So if the Law was ineffective to stop the spiritual and ethical meltdown of God’s chosen nation (Read Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:22-28), how can we expect that a similar legalistic-moralistic approach will genuinely affect our culture? To reference one of the “seven mountains” Dominionists want to retake from the secular culture, we ought to know that the arts can’t change hearts. Like the Pharisees, we can outwardly be as “whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful,” but inwardly be “full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
So amidst the current controversy of our day, we ought to remember Jesus’ response to Pilate after that Roman governor asked Him, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (Emphasis mine, John 18:36).
In the meantime, we Christians need to remember that like Abraham, we are pilgrims who should be looking “for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10), and until we set foot in that city, whether it is the New Jerusalem or the Messianic Kingdom to come, we ought to continue to pray as Jesus taught: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread . . .” (Emphasis mine, Matthew 6:9-11).
1. Andrew Fuller, The Backslider: His Nature, Symptoms and Recovery (Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 1801, 2005 Reprint) 15. C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) called the Baptist Fuller “the greatest theologian” of his century.
2. Ibid. 35-45. In this extended quote and where appropriate, scriptural citations alluded to by Fuller have been inserted in brackets. Also, some definitions that help to clarify archaic words have been inserted. Some minor reformatting of paragraphs was done for blog usage.
3. “The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosophers as equally false; and by the magistrates as equally useful.” Emphasis mine, Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, J.B. Bury, Editor (London: Methuen & Co, 1909) Volume I, Chapter II, Paragraph I.
Christians ought to beware: from the dawn of modern history, politicians have used religion as a means to an end, perhaps like the political beast who used the false prophet to make him appear more credible as a spiritual leader, “a man for all seasons” so to speak (Revelation 13:11-18). Whether left or right, liberal or conservative, one strategy of politicians is to use, however temporary, any religious constituency (“the evangelical voting bloc,” for example) as “useful idiots,” then after using them, to throw them and their “values” away. Christian Dominionists ought to beware: In the end after you are used, you too may be thrown away, because until Messiah will come again, Satan remains “the ruler of this world,” and being the spirit of anti-Christ, he like Hitler has no final use for either Jews or Christians in his world’s political system (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 20:1-3).
Note: See also this article by Pastor Larry DeBruyn, "THE COMING KINGDOM: Evolution or Revolution?" http://herescope.blogspot.com/2008/11/coming-kingdom.html
Pastor Larry DeBruyn is the author of two books, UNSHACKLED: Breaking Away from Seductive Spirituality and Church on the Rise - Why I am not a "Purpose -Driven" Pastor, and the booklet Drumming Up Deception, all available HERE. Pastor DeBruyn's website is http://www.guardinghisflock.com