Sunday, September 30, 2007

High Priests in Caesar's Court?

Hello fellow thoughtful bloggerites,

Well, I'll just start by saying I'm delighted Marcia has decided to unilaterally disarm. She has put down her swor... uhr... camera and taken up the cross. Admirable. But it was just getting fun! (If you bloggers could eavesdrop in on our small group for a typical 10 minutes, you'd see that bantering like Marcia and I have been doing is our "Love Language.")

Ok. Moving on. Here's something to chew on.

Someone e-mailed me with a question worth wrestling with. He said he heard a well known preacher recently call his church to take a stand against the injustice of his local government that had cut funding for inner city recreational facilities. This e-mailer wanted to know what I thought about this. How could a Christian not be against this sort of cut? And so, shouldn't churches "take up arms" and fight for such causes?

As understandable as it is to get angry about inner city funding being cut, I honestly think this preacher is misusing his Kingdom authority in giving this charge to his church. I'm very concerned about any pastor using his or her spiritual authority for any reason to tell his church to tell Caesar what to do.

When did Jesus ever do anything like this? And remember, our job is to mimic him (Eph. 5:1-2).
Some readers may have just gotten angry, but I ask you to hear me out.

Think about this. If the American church wasn' t fragmented into a million isolated units (churches), hardly any of them talking with each other let alone working together, and if the average American Christian didn't spend (according to George Barna) 97% of their income on themselves, we Christians could build our own inner city recreational facilities -- and many other things. And this would be done to the glory of God rather than to the credit of Uncle Sam.

Sadly, instead of confessing our greed and ungodly divisiveness and sacrificially pooling our resources to serve the poor, we tend to rather point the finger at government while positioning ourselves as people who are smarter at spending public funds and solving tough issues and more righteous in caring about the needy. I suspect the American Church has been so divided, so influenced by American greed and thus so impotent for so long, most can't even imagine it being otherwise. Related to this, we've relinquished so much responsibility for caring for the poor to the government for so long, most American Christians can't picture the Church itself, without the aid of government, taking responsibility for this.

Due to this impoverished imagination, we sadly assume our highest calling is to be the high priests of Caesar's court, telling it how God allegedly wants it to spend its money.

Of course, being the high priests of Caesar's court means you've got to get into the messy complexity of this court. How do we know that fighting for money to go to recreational facilities is the right thing to do? Maybe fighting for more funding for schools, or housing for the poor, or for more and better public transportation is a better fight? And what about the unlivable low minimum wage, or the lack of adequate shelters for the homeless, or the increasing number of people who lack basic health coverage, or the inadequate presence of police in dangerous neighborhoods? As the high priests of Caesar's court, we have to make these tough decisions -- and there's only so much money to go around.

Not only this, but every action creates a reaction, and as Caesar's wiser and more caring counselors we have to be experts about all these. For example, it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist on higher wages for workers. But are we sure this won't force many small business owners to fire workers, thereby harming the poor more than helping them? And it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist U.S. troops pull out of Iraq right now. But are we sure this won't result in a greater bloodbath than we already have over there?

It's all very complex and ambiguous, but once we position ourselves as Caesar's high preists we have no choice but to wade through it all. And so, inevitably, we'll disagree about many of these matters and have to fight each other over which are the "right" battles to fight and what is the "right" way to be fighting them. The Matthews (conservatives) and Simons (liberals) in our churches will inevitably start wondering if the other "really" cares and is "really" Christian.

And now we've invited the polarizing ambiguity of the political realm into our Kingdom fellowships -- as if we needed further dividing!

And I haven't even mentioned the REAL divisive issues of abortion and gay marriage!

And notice this: all the while we're wading through these issues and fighting over what we think Caesar should do, we're still spending 97% of our wealth on ourselves and not getting anything done for the Kingdom.

Folks, as citizens who get asked your opinion about what Caesar should do, you can express your opinion as best as you see fit. Try to understand the issues surrounding poverty and everything else and make the best choice you can. But as citizens of the Kingdom of God, this isn't where our hope is to be placed or where our time or energy is to be spent. (Of course, God may call some to political offices, meaning much of their time and energy will inevitably be spent in this realm. But even they shouldn't place their ultimate hope in this area). As citizens of the Kingdom, our job isn't to tell Caesar what to do -- as though we were wiser and cared more. Our job is to just do it.

Lets start by confessing that, for the most part, we aren't getting the job done at present.

Maybe if we stopped blaming government and started to do what we're called to do, after 100 years Caesar would be ASKING us for advice on how to address issues of poverty.

If I was asked by this preacher what I think he and his church should do about the funding cut for inner city recreational facilities, I'd advise him that, if God has indeed called he and his church to take up this cause, they should partner with whatever other churches were willing to catch this vision, call on believers to make radical sacrifices, put together a volunteer work force, and build their city the best inner city recreational facility anyone has ever seen.

And now the glory would go to Jesus instead of Caesar.

And now even Caesar might take an interest in learning a thing or two from the Church.

And now the Kingdom would be advancing.

Think about it.

And Keep the Kingdom holy.