COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP) – Paul Harvey spoke in a poignant, powerful and prophetic way in one of his 1965 broadcasts entitled “If I Were the Devil” – well worth re-listening to. It reminded me of our current state of affairs. If I were the devil, I would tempt Baptists to make mountains out of molehills and take atom bombs after anthills – lessons we should have learned by now. One things about the devil – he’s not very creative; just consistent.
Specifically, I speak of the issues of our time – whether or not to impeach former President Trump, masks or no masks, open or closed schools and businesses, to be vaccinated or not, and whether to open the church for in-person worship during a pandemic, with the related issue of religious liberty vs. government regulation.
These concerns have become the topic of many a leadership and business meeting in our Southern Baptist tribe. The devil, a master of division, has succeeded in tempting us to take the bait and debate. Churches have become fractured, some losing members. Pastors have become frustrated, and it would not surprise me if some have resigned in the midst of this challenging milieu.
When will we ever learn of the futility of making our preferences “dogma” and forcing our opinions on others? In these politically polarized days, I am often tempted to ask which flag are we most loyal to – the American or the Christian? While I am still thrilled to be a citizen of the greatest missionary-sending nation in the history of Christendom, my primary allegiance is to Jesus. In the words of Edward Mote (1834): “My hope is built on nothing less/Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness/I dare not trust the sweetest frame /But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”
Twice Jesus had an encounter with Pontius Pilate – the governor of Judea serving under Roman Emperor Tiberius – once indirectly and another directly. In both cases, Jesus responded to the political climate of the day with some insightful words applicable to our current situation.
In Luke 13:1, some Jews run up to Jesus to tell Him about some fellow Galileans who had been unjustly murdered by Pilate while they were offering sacrifices to God in Jerusalem. How did Jesus respond? Did He tell them to storm Pilate’s palace? Did He encourage Simon the Zealot to organize a PAC? Did He tell them to quit paying taxes to their ungodly Roman government? No. He refused to take the bait and avoided the issue altogether … or did He? His response? He even refused to take the bait addressing the greater problem of evil and suffering in the world: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
And again in John 18:36 in response to Pilate’s question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus refused to take the bait with these classic words: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus has a way of cutting to the chase and focusing on the real issues at hand.
His conclusion and mine: Sin is the problem. Jesus is the answer. The church is the only hope of the world. And you – as a possessor and proclaimer of the Gospel – are the only hope someone else may ever have. So let’s resist the devil’s temptation to “take the bait and debate” issues of smaller consequence. Let’s learn to disagree agreeably and move on arm in arm tackling the greater issue of our day: the lostness of our nation.
In the words attributed to Philip Melanchthon, Martin Luther’s associate and collaborator, “In essential things unity; in nonessential things, diversity; in all things charity.”
Bob Bender is lead pastor of Cross Fellowship Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.