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FIRST-PERSON: Politics, Jesus and the church

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Over the past few weeks, I have consistently urged every student, staff and faculty member at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary not only to register to vote, but also to cast that vote.

I have stressed that this year’s vote is not a vote about candidates or political parties, but a referendum on marriage. In so doing, I have underscored both the importance of Christians being involved in the political arena and the serious conflict that exists in America today regarding competing worldviews and the values that underscore them. For all of that, I make no apology and continue to urge the same.

However, the outcome of the presidential election must not be construed by Christians as either greatly abetting the church of God or as sealing its destruction.

The future of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not in the hands of political parties, courts or, for that matter, businesses or the military. It resides solely in the hands of a sovereign God who has declared that until the end of the age, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Decisions made by voters, politicians, legislators and courts may very well result in serious persecution and difficulties for the church of God or, on the other hand, may provide the freedom of religion that was the most sought-after liberty in the minds and hearts of our founding fathers.

Whichever is the case, the church of our Lord will not be squelched by the machinations of men or the plans of all the demons of hell.

This leads me to an expression of some caution about the involvement of conservative, Bible-believing Christians in the political processes of our world. The point of caution is not that we should avoid joining the fight.

When properly presented exegetically and theologically, the biblical worldview is true regardless of what the post-moderns think about the elusiveness of what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth.” Genuine Christianity certainly calls for responsible action in doing what we can to cure the social and political evils of the world, and it also calls for us to speak prophetically on all such issues.

My concern and therefore my caution to my students and all evangelicals is that we avoid directing so much of our energies to social and political issues that we forget who we are.

We are twice-born men and women whose natures have been dramatically altered by the infusion of the person of the Holy Spirit into the innermost chambers of our lives. This enables the law of God to be written on our hearts whether or not it is accepted on granite blocks in public displays.

It means that the influence of a saintly life and the response of genuine Christianity to a harsh world will forever remain the greatest social and political witness that can be given.

Because we have experienced regeneration, we are called to recognize that the church has one superior mission to which all of its other assignments must be subordinated. The church is to glorify God. It does so by bringing the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations. Unlike the secular world, our greatest weapons are invisible weapons of mass construction (WMCs): prayer and the preaching of the everlasting Gospel.

While we call upon the world to join us in practicing righteousness, we must recognize that the unregenerate world, while it can sometimes rise to marvelous accomplishments, essentially lacks the spiritual vitality necessary to do righteousness consistently. That is why the hearts of men and women must be changed by the preaching of the Gospel through the Holy Spirit.

You should vote. You should pray for the nations and our leaders. You should make your position on issues crystal clear. You should work hard to comprehend the biblical worldview and make it viable in the marketplace as it impacts everything from just war theory, to poverty, to racism or to conservation.

But in the final analysis, you should also remember two things:

First, our major assignments are to lay hold upon heaven through vigorous, concerted prayer and to preach the everlasting Gospel that alone can save souls and make for a happy life in a dismal world society.

Second, whatever the lugubrious prognostications of the pundits may be on Nov. 3, and however much pressure evangelical Christians may experience, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats can save us. Neither can they destroy us. Our future resides wholly in the hands of a sovereign transcendent God.
Paige Patterson is president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He was president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1998-2000.

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  • Paige Patterson