A (Brief) Political Manifesto

I recently attended a political event which was distinctively Christian. It was designed to inform Christians on the current political trends and issues related to family in New York State. I had mixed emotions during the event and as I’ve reflected back on it, not much has changed. But it got me thinking about how faith, the church, and politics intersect. I’ve thought about this before, of course, but this time I had a tangible experience that helped solidify some of my thoughts a bit more. But after the event, I had a chance to write a reflection that is a sort of political “manifesto.” I pray it’s helpful to you.

We have been given an unbelievable privilege to live in a democratic republic. I believe Christians should participate in the democratic process. I believe individual Christians should participate and infiltrate the political arena and shine the light of the gospel there as we should in education, business, entertainment, the arts, law, etc.

I believe we should pray for our leaders, whether we agree with them or not. I believe we should submit to the authorities and honor them.

I believe that nearly everything Christians, in general, and pastors, in particular, say and do has political connotations and repercussions because our primary allegiance is to Jesus, not our country or any political party. We serve a different King; we are citizens of another country. We give to Caesar what is his, but ultimately, we give to God what is his, namely us. This is profoundly political in a general sense.

I do not believe pastors should tell their congregations who to vote for. I do not believe churches should run or fund political campaigns or endorse any particular candidate. Rather, church leaders should so teach and lead and equip the congregation so that they understand the Christian worldview and how the gospel changes everything. This will help people make informed, just, and godly political decisions.

I do not believe the kingdom comes through legislation, political power, coercion, or propaganda. We are salt and light. Salt used to preserve is unseen. It only takes a small match to light up a dark room. Our influence is subtle yet constant. Our movement is marginal yet powerful. The church is a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. That is, we are the picture of an alternate city in all our earthly cities. We want justice and shalom for our cities in this world, and sometimes legislation and political action can help. William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in England is a prime example. But we realize legislation cannot change hearts, and we realize the perfect society will finally come when Jesus returns. So we live together as a picture of that city to come and call others to join us. We desire and look for a new country, and I believe we were made for that country, that city—a city whose gates will never be breached and whose King never needs re-election.

Foot Washing and Cross-Bearing

Have you ever washed someone’s feet? I have. A couple times in various contexts. It sounds gross. But it wasn’t. Really. In our day, our feet are protected from wear and tear. We drive or ride to get to work, school, and home. We rarely walk more than a hundred yards and when we do, we wear Nike or Keen. What’s more, our streets and sidewalks don’t have slop and feces and trash on them. Feet today are as clean and cared for as they have ever been. So washing someone’s feet today is not as offensive and disgusting as it could be.

But back in the first century, it was. It was down right rank chore. It was reserved for the lowest person on the household totem pole. Nobodies, house servants, washed feet. Feet which had more than jam between toes (let the reader understand). If this kind of foot washing was a profession today, you can bet Mike Rowe would give it a shot.

In John 13, Jesus and his disciples eat their last meal together. Things were tense: Jesus said someone was going to betray him. But at one point, it got a little awkward. Master Jesus strips himself of his outer garment, drapes a towel around his waste, gets on his knees and starts and starts scrubbing the filthy, fecal feet of his disciples. And then he says, “If I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Everyone is offended. Or perplexed. Later in John 13, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (v. 34). As a matter of fact, if the disciples love as Jesus says, the world will know they follow Jesus (v. 35).

So what’s this all about? Was Jesus really telling his disciples to become literal foot washers? Didn’t Jesus know that shoes and boots would be invented and our feet would be protected and clean(er)? Is Jesus saying that the ultimate sign of love is to wash someone’s dirty feet?

Foot washing is a parable. An illustration. A foreshadow. Of what?

The cross, of course. That’s where John’s story is going. On the cross, Jesus goes low in humility–much lower than he deserves–and deals with all the muck and mire and trash and feces in the disciples’ lives and ours. That is “how” Jesus loved the disciples. Not merely by washing feet but by washing them in giving himself up for them. Elsewhere, John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:10). As a servant who washes feet strips down and forfeits their personal dignity, Jesus was striped of much more than his robes and dignity. He lost his connection to the Father because he became sin, a curse for the disciples, for us so that we might come to God. He washed away the muck, yes. But he became the muck. He lost it all. He radically gave himself up. In washing their feet, he gave up his rights to be “the man,” and he became the servant. In dying for their–our–sins, he became the man on the cross. That is love. Foot washing equals cross-bearing.

But Jesus doesn’t just give up himself so we don’t have to. He gives himself up so that we can. And if the disciples, if we, love this way–radical, self-giving for the good of others–the world will know we belong to Jesus. You want to follow Jesus? You get to wash feet. You get to die. That’s what true love is. We love without any fanfare. Without any recognition. Without anything in return. Friends, this is a high calling. May God help us!

And then there’s that word in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world might be able to argue against our doctrines and worldview, but it will not be able to argue against our love. The world may object to justification by grace and prayer to a God we can’t see, but it will not object if we lay down our reputation, power, control, resources, comfort, convenience for others. The world may not like the idea of a Triune God being worthy of all glory and praise, but it will always be attracted to radical, humble, everyday self-sacrifice.

People may not join us, but they will know we have a different Master. A Master who serves. A Master who washes feet. A Master who bears a cross. Let’s be people who follow our Master.

A TED Talk That Raises More Questions Than It Answers

In this five minute TED talk, commentator David Brooks provides some penetrating insights into the human condition. The contemplative listener will rightly respond to Brooks’s talk by asking, “Well, how does that happen?! How do I experience that salvation? Where does that forgiveness come from? I am powerless to wrestle with my sins and win! O, who will deliver me from this body of death?!”

There’s only one answer. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give it.

Watch his short TED talk now.

Why You Should Consider Observing Ash Wednesday and Lent

This year, our church is observing Lent and we’re kicking it off with an Ash Wednesday gathering. I wanted to write a brief post on one reason you and/or your church should consider observing Ash Wednesday and Lent (and why you should not).

Your church should consider observing these church traditions if it makes sense missiologically. By that, I mean if observing these traditions sparks gospel conversations with outsiders and builds bridges with the lost, it might be a good thing for your church. Living as missionaries in our culture demands that we become like those we are trying to reach. In other words, we learn how the people around us speak, dress, eat, converse, recreate, relax, celebrate, persuade, discuss, debate, etc. We engage with them in these practices as they do without compromising the gospel (and by extension, of course, our holiness, morality, etc.). In other words, we compromise everything but the gospel itself.

The classic text on this idea in Scripture is 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. There Paul says,

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

When Paul says, “I have become all things to all people” he means he lives like a particular culture, but not at the expense of the gospel. Why? He does “it all for the sake of the gospel.”

Ash Wednesday and Lent are, for good reason, primarily associated with the Roman Catholic Church. Here in the Capital Region (Albany area), only about a quarter of the total population professes some kind of religious affiliation. Of that group, around 70% identify as Roman Catholic. Because of this, basic missiology says that observing Ash Wednesday and Lent could be a contextual “win” for us. It is well known that Lent for some Roman Catholics (either individually or congregationally) can be legalistic or ritualistic. We want to do it differently. If we do, it will naturally build a bridge to the nominal and lapsed Catholics (and others) in our community and, by God’s grace, spark conversations so we can graciously talk about a Christ-centered and gospel-driven Lent.

Observing Ash Wednesday and Lent is a prime opportunity to zone-in on lamenting our sin, repenting of sin, looking to the cross, and anticipating Easter. It is a season of intentional and focused spiritual formation, and that’s valid reason to observe. We’re trusting God to do a work of grace in individuals and as a church. However, in the bigger picture, our spiritual formation should serve as a gospel witness to nonbelievers. Ash Wednesday and Lent can be tools to shape us. But they can also be tools to help us be good missionaries.

So consider your context. Is it a heavily Roman Catholic area with many nominal church attenders? Are there many former Roman Catholics in your area who have fond memories of Lenten practices?

On the other hand, if you are in an area where there are no Roman Catholics, you’ll need to consider what’s best for your context. No matter where you are, if you want to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent to give your congregation a “cool worship experience,” because “it’s hip to be ancient,” or to provide them another box on the church calendar checklist, then you had better think twice.

In the end, remember that everything we do is “for the sake of the gospel.” That was Paul’s motivation, and it should be ours, too.