Why I don’t trust politicians to save Christianity

In the 20th century, a rowdy politician was elected by promising to restore his nation’s greatness, prosperity, and traditional values. He blamed “outsiders” and “others” for all his nation’s woes. He idealized its past, and justified his views by scapegoating others.

This Hee-Haw is not about a blame-shifting, xenophobic leader. I do not allege that our current president is a Hitler
redivivus. What makes recent German history relevant is not a current political crisis, but about a crisis in the Church — over the church's identity, mission, and divided loyalties between the Church and the State.

Germany’s history of state subsidies and protection of churches helped the führer to co-opt the clergy, but with personal contempt for the gospel. Conservative church leaders began to acquiesce to his mix of nationalism and religion. They promoted a “muscular,” more “heroic” version of Christianity, consolidating into a German Evangelical Church that absorbed the führer’s pagan, political, and racist ideologies.

But some German Christians, organizing and testifying as the
Confessing Church, protested the nationalistic “Reich Church.” They refused the State’s control of Christ’s Church.

In their protest, they were like the Scots-Irish American colonists who revolted against the British Crown and its state-established religion. Or like today’s Chinese house-churches where believers worship the Lord Jesus and bless their nation, but do not submit to government control, and resist
“Sinicization” of the Bible to suit the agenda of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The 1934
Barmen Declaration affirmed the Church is free from regulation by the State, and refused to support a politicized “German Christian” movement. The State must not do the work of Christ’s Church, nor should the Church fulfill the work of the State. State and church are limited to respective God-appointed spheres. To manipulate or politicize the Church, or to identify Christianity with one political party, damages the Church’s global witness to Christ among all nations.

Jesus himself refused the devil’s bargain to extend God’s dominion by allying with the arch evildoer
(Luke 4:5-8). Political power is seductive — and it is corrupting. Jesus knew the hearts of shrewd politicians, calling Herod “that fox” (Luke 13:32). Only the Holy Spirit, employing God’s ordinary means of grace — the Word, prayer, and sacraments — can transform people’s hearts and lives.

God calls Christians to live as model citizens, to honor and to pray for those who rule over them
(1 Timothy 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:13-17). Rulers are not God’s “chosen ones.” Only “Jesus is Lord,” as the early church confessed, at great risk. Yet rulers are in office by God’s providence.

What is the evidence that political loyalties now corrupt the church? We are more divided by politics than we are united by God’s truth.
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up … into … Christ, from whom the whole body … builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Far too often, our conversations are marked by partisan loyalties, not united by a shared, ultimate loyalty to Christ and his Word.

Churches that are faithful to Jesus are kingdom embassies, communities of ambassadors, loving their neighbors in the Lord’s Name. If we live as resident-foreigners
(Jeremiah 29:7), we can be salt and light in our nation through gospel deeds and words, not by legal coercion.

In a post-Christian world, like the pre-Christian world, Christians can be a “third race.” The
Letter to Diognetus described the early Christians: “They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws … while surpassing the laws by their lives.”

Individual Christians can have a redemptive influence in government. God calls some into honorable civil, diplomatic or military service. These are not bureaucrats or “deep state operatives.” We thank them for their service. But the State must not manipulate Christ’s Church, nor modify the message of God’s Word for secular personal, partisan, or political agendas.

It is tempting to idealize a time when Christianity’s influence prevailed in society. But the Bible doesn’t envision a theocracy or Christendom. Christianity is not an “American movement.” There’s no Constantinian option to imperially Christianize an empire. The idea of a “religious caliphate” in the world is derived from Islam, not from Christianity.

Our ultimate loyalty must not be to promote “Christian nationalism.” When wrapped in a national or political flag, Christianity is always corrupted.

The Bible teaches our
“citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20) — “God’s chosen, strangers in the world, scattered …” (1 Peter 1:1). The Church is not over, to legitimize the State. The State is not over, to regulate Christ's Church. God ordains both realms, Church and State. Magistrates and Ministers are directly, ultimately accountable to God and not to each other.

My first Hee-Haw of 2019 was based on words from Balaam, a donkey-owner and pagan seer who recognized the unique place of God’s people in this world. “From the hills I behold him; behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9)

As we enter A.D. 2020, I resolve to stand with the Confessing Church. I do not look to any secular politician as Savior, protector, or promoter of my life or values. My ultimate loyalty is to the Lord Jesus Christ, not to any political party. I will
“render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mark 12:17). But I will never give to any politician the complete devotion and trust that only belongs to God. Because no politician can save Christianity.