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Ever notice how some in the Christian community pride themselves on not being political? They let it be known they don’t care about the debates, and they’re certainly not excited to have a discussion about immigration policy. At times they seem giddy about not being informed, as if the ideological slant of Fox news or MSNBC excuses us from never having to try. I find this to be especially true of the Sunday service. I get it—Sunday morning is about the proclamation of the gospel, and the pulpit is not the place to spout ideology. However, the preaching of the gospel should challenge our ideological leanings precisely because the gospel is fundamentally political. When I say this people get upset—they accuse me of being a liberal, having a liberal agenda, or being in love with Obama. Just because I think the gospel actually matters for how we live in the world? Because I believe we are called to be a people who seek peace and justice? Because I believe Jesus meant it when he said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor?

Sometimes I wonder if the church needs to get more in touch with its Jewish roots. We’ve been grafted in to the people of Israel; the law and prophets are God’s word to us just as they were God’s word to Israel. It might do us some good to remember two pillars of Old Testament Jewish faith have to do with giving alms to the poor and practicing hospitality. Let’s read deeply from Leviticus and Deuteronomy. If we lived an Old Testament faith we would be duty bound by God to seek justice for the poor, the “alien”, the widow, and so on. The prophet Amos, for example, is upset because the people of Judah and Israel have forgotten what it means to live as God’s people. The Lord is about to punish the northern kingdom because they “sell the needy for a pair of sandals” and “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth”. They “push the afflicted out of the way” while they party in the temple of the Lord. The Lord laments how the prophets were not listened too. “And I raise of some of your children to be prophets and some of your youths to be nazirites. Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?” (2:11) “But you made the nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets saying, ‘You shall not prophesy” 2:12)

Which begs the question: Where is the prophetic word of God today? Where are those who call for justice for the oppressed? Have our churches become nothing more than grand monuments to ourselves, with our doctrinal towers and over-spiritualized worship? Have we turned sin into such an abstraction, such a personal, moral, issue, we’ve rendered it meaningless? Maybe it’s time to hear the call of the Luther who tells us to “sin boldly”, to refuse to frozen by moral imperfection, to hear the concrete call of our Lord to follow, to love, and to suffer.

I know there are members of the Christian community who have heard the call—people from every walk of life, and every part of the ideological spectrum. These are people who see beyond the rhetoric and the labels to encounter the flesh and blood persons made in the image of God. These are people who seek the justice of God, who seek the kingdom of God, who see beyond themselves, and their limited experience of the world. These are people who embrace the God who comes to us in our neighbor.

The time has come for the Christian community to tear the muzzle off, to tell the ideological bullies that their time is up, no longer do they get to be the gate keepers and power brokers. The time has come to proclaim the gospel, to trust in the power of God’s salvation by living a life of love and justice. God’s kingdom does not come by our effort, but God entrusts us to become signs and markers of the new humanity, the new creation, revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of the grapes the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and the shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyard and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. (Amos 9:13-14)

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

14 Comments

  • Allan Janssen says:

    Read the debates Barth was having in the mid to late 30’s. His point was that the church has no choice, given the gospel. And how folk responded had real this-world consequences.

  • JoAnne Wagner says:

    The time has come for the Christian community to tear the muzzle off, to tell the ideological bullies that their time is up, no longer do they get to be the gate keepers and power brokers.

    Preach it, brother! Why should it be controversial for me to publicly pray for our immigrant families, whose security and well-being are under attack? We have been charged to care for the stranger in a strange land, and we’re not doing it. Time’s up, bullies!

    • Matt Huisman says:

      ALL the power brokers are on your side in this. The Dems want votes (specifically in Texas). The wealthy (on both sides) want cheap labor. The border is – by design – a sieve at the moment. (We maintain the pretense that it’s illegal to keep the middle class pacified. But the migrants are getting in.)

      Rather than privately raise charitable funds on the behalf of these migrants, you demand that everyone be compelled to pay for them. But there’s no limiting principle to your generosity. Why limit yourself to border crossers? Why not give yourself the right to take other people’s money and give it to the poor all over the world? Just like Jesus said to do! To stop the bullies!

      You and Jason want to help, get frustrated with the rest of us, but overcome by assuming Robin Hood-like powers because Jesus was fundamentally political rather than personal. I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work.

  • Elizabeth Estes says:

    How much is the distillation of Reformed Theology to blame? Martin Luther says of Justification by Faith in Romans 5, that the ENTIRE meaning is Christ has our sins! That interpretation wipes out Romans’ critical context of the subjugation of Jews and the pending annihilation of Judea. By making salvation a two-step process, justification then sanctification, we allowed the two to become unhinged. Justice—dikaiosune—is no longer central to justification!! We need to regress—NOT PROGRESS—our theology. Matthew 25. Matthew 25!

  • kate kooyman says:

    Amen.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    Thank you for saying this so well!

  • Doug Vande Griend says:

    Quote: “The time has come for the Christian community to tear the muzzle off, to tell the ideological bullies that their time is up, no longer do they get to be the gate keepers and power brokers.”

    Questions: Exactly who are the ideological bullies and what is their ideology that we need to call “time up” on? And who are the gate keepers and power brokers? Might it be that within the church (that holy catholic one, but also the many institutional churches), there might be significant disagreement as to the ‘correct’ answers to these questions? And if so, what then?

  • RLG says:

    You make an excellent point, Doug. It seems to me that there has been a lot of prophesying on this website, whether in regard to particular issues or the present administration or the upcoming elections. And there has been a lot of prophesying by the evangelicals. As to the church (could it be different from the evangelicals) prophesying, what would be their (or your) message? Would it be an evangelical message of repent and turn to Christ? In our age and culture that would find little acceptance. Maybe the place that your message (Jason) could meet with some acceptance is the choir, in other words, the church. I think our culture no longer wants to hear the church’s sanctimonious message. Isn’t that increasingly becoming obvious? Perhaps our greatest impact will be in the voting booth. Go Peter Buttigieg!!

  • Tom Ackerman says:

    Thank you, Jason, for these words. We as evangelicals (and I hesitate to use that word and associate myself with it) are being defined by the words and actions of “ministers” like Paula White, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Franklin Graham, regardless of whether we agree with them. If you doubt this, please listen to this interview with Christian conservative Peter Wehner (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3U0eNVs0up4) or read this column by Christian conservative Michael Gerson (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/evangelicals-are-naked-before-the-world/2019/06/27/463e87b4-991a-11e9-8d0a-5edd7e2025b1_story.html?utm_term=.da6f1c4c9306). Gerson concludes his column with this: “At the same time, some evangelical Christian leaders have become more effusive in their praise of the president. More willing to defend the indefensible on his behalf. More dismissive of the importance of character in public life. In the process, evangelical Christian leaders have placed themselves — uncritically, with open eyes — into a political coalition that is inspired by ethnic nationalism. Such are the occupational hazards of calling good evil and evil good.”

    If we do not speak, then we are complicit in our silence of “calling good evil and evil good”. Yes, it is and will be hard work to figure out how to craft positions that we can agree on, and we will not all agree on all these positions. But we need to speak with the voice of prophesy. If we do not, we will become increasingly irrelevant and marginalized.

  • Jason says:

    If you find you are getting consistent push back for ” being a liberal, having a liberal agenda, or being in love with Obama.” it IS possible that it is everyone else. However, if you are never being accused of “being a conservative, having a conservative agenda or being in love with Trump”, it could be that you have a distinct liberal-left slant and you are not in fact simply seeking “peace and justice”.

  • Pam Adams says:

    Jason,
    What you say is refreshing to me. I think Dordt lost a wonderful professor and Northwestern gained one.

  • Matt Huisman says:

    The gospel is not fundamentally political. But I do agree with you that the political has a place in church, even though I’m certain we will disagree on what needs to be done and by whom.

    The gospel compels us to love our fellow man; there are many ways to do this. It does not compel us to take things by force from others and give it to the state. We may agree to do this, but it’s not because Jesus said so.

  • Beth Jammal says:

    By it’s nature, politics divide. Christ wants to unite His children. We can have different opinions and solutions. That is how God created us.

  • William Harris says:

    Can we really ask some one else to be prophetic? “Unmuzzle the church” sounds compelling, but that remains as a plea for a certain kind of speech, one that will satisfy our tastes. We will feel better, surely, since at last some one gets us, but the the conditions will remain unchanged. So obviously, more ‘prophetic speech’ will be needed. Rather than “unmuzzle” perhaps the better path is to deepen the church, to make people more conscious of the claims of the Gospel on our lives and how that intersects with our Monday-Saturday living. This will rarely be prophetic living, but it will be of the sort of my late father-in-law, the factory foreman and Republican, hiring ex-cons — the practical deeds of righteousness and mercy. And some may rise up to challenge us with a Word from the Lord.

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