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Politics and Religion

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Senior Pastor Oakwood Presbyterian Church

QUESTION: “Isn’t it wrong for a government official to make decisions for others based upon their religious views?”

ANSWER: This whole issue is much more complex than you are making it out to be. No leader makes decisions or acts contrary to their own religious views. What do you expect a leader to do - make decisions that are contrary to the will of God, as he or she understands it? And if the leader doesn't believe in God, whose will should they try to lead by - their own? The forefathers of our country? The public opinion polls? Where do their ideas and principles come from?

     It helps if we think in terms of "worldviews" instead of "religions." Dr. Armand Nicholi of Harvard University once said, "Whether we realize it or not, all of us possess a worldview. We make one of two basic assumptions: We view the universe as an accident, or we assume an intelligence beyond the universe who gives the universe order and, for some of us, meaning to life." When a person makes a choice between those two assumptions, they lay a foundation for their worldview, and by extension, their views on philosophy, morality, politics, etc. Is killing wrong? In all circumstances? Is there such a thing as a just war? Does life begin at conception? Is there an objective, Divinely-ordained standard for marriage and family, or are these man-made traditions that can be altered? All answers to these kinds of questions will be based upon a person's worldview, and that worldview must encompass both the physical and the metaphysical, the spiritual and the material (even if it denies the existence of anything spiritual). You can't separate a person's "secular" opinions from "religious" opinions - they are all interdependent.

     My point is that "strong religious views" shouldn't disqualify a politician or anyone in public discourse. What's the alternative? Weak religious views? That would be a sign of intellectual laziness...not a characteristic I want in a leader. No religious views? There is no such thing. If a person has committed himself to a worldview that denies or ignores the existence of God, they aren't either secular or uninfluenced by religion. They have a view of the world and spiritual matters that has a huge impact on how they will live their daily lives and how they will govern others. If this is a position they've come to after in-depth study and investigation, then it is a strong religious view, and one that I want to know about as I vote.

     When we vote for our leaders, we should be studying their worldview; assessing their character; measuring their positions and actions against their worldview to see if they are acting with integrity; and then choose a candidate who consistently leads based upon a worldview that most closely reflects our own. Just once I'd love to listen to two presidential candidates have an honest debate about the foundational issues – a worldview debate. There are two kinds of politicians that I won't vote for or trust - those who appear to have a worldview that is too far removed from my own; and those (many) who vote with an eye only to public opinion polls, special interests, or self-interest.

     Don’t let anyone try to convince you that a Christian politician or a Christian voter has to suppress or deny their convictions when it comes to public policy or debate out in the pluralistic marketplace. We live in a time in America where there is a back-lash against some strategic mistakes of the “Christian Right,” as well as an understandable fear of Islamic fundamentalism. As a result, many people want to muzzle anyone who has “religious” views, especially if you feel strongly about them. We must not concede to this mindset. We must show others that everyone has a worldview based on faith in something, and by our words and our works we must show that the Biblical worldview is the right one – the one revealed by the true Creator of the universe and His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Content with Church

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     I had lunch one day with a friend of mine who is the senior pastor of a large church.  His church had just finished a major building expansion, which has provided them with a huge, gorgeous worship and education facility.  I was anxious to hear about how much my friend was enjoying the new building and the ministry opportunities that came with it.  But, much to my surprise, he had only negative things to say about the building.  After listing complaint after complaint for several minutes, he finished by saying, “Congregations that don’t have a building should be thankful.  If I had my choice, I’d sell our building and have our church meeting in rented facilities until the Lord returns!”

     I may have just caught my friend on a bad day – maybe his congregation is experiencing conflict over the color of the carpeting in the sanctuary, or the size of the nursery, or the wattage of the light bulbs.  But it was a good reminder to me that, even when it comes to our churches, it is very easy to find yourself looking enviously at the greener grass on the other side of the fence.  

     Are you content with your church?  The Apostle Paul once said that “there is great gain in godliness with contentment” (I Timothy 6:6).  Contentment is a fruit of the Spirit that drives out envy, resentment, and frustration.  We usually think of contentment in terms of our money and possessions, but I think that we are just as likely to be discontent with our church and envious of other churches.  We find ourselves saying, “If only we had the youth ministry that church has…”, or, “If only we had musicians that other church has…”, or, “If only we had the educational programs that my friend’s church has…”.  A seed of discontentment takes root in our hearts, and, if it’s fed with constant sprinklings of envy, it blossoms into frustration and disdain for your own church family.

     I think that this kind of discontentment with church has been intensified in our mobile and media-saturated culture.  Through travel, television, radio, and the internet we are exposed to thousands of other churches, ministries, and preachers – something that Christians a century ago couldn’t have imagined.  This is certainly a blessing in many respects, but it also gives our restless souls many opportunities to look longingly at the green grass beyond our ecclesiastical fences.  The problem is that you can’t really know a church from a distance.  If you get close and get involved, you’re going to find that sinners saved by grace are the same “works in process” no matter where you go.  

     So how do we find contentment in our own church setting?  Paul was ministering in a Roman prison when he wrote, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13).  He wasn’t content because of his circumstances – he was content with Christ no matter what his circumstances happened to be.  And He believed that Christ would meet his spiritual needs and enable him to be faithful no matter how easy or difficult his ministry context happened to be.

     Being content with your church doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the strengths of other churches or to the weaknesses and failings of your own church, and it doesn’t mean just accepting the problems of your church.  But it does require that you intentionally focus upon the blessings that the Lord has given to your own church and thank Him for them.  It also requires you to accept the Lord’s will regarding the current state of your church, believing that He has supplied everything that your church needs – in terms of spiritual gifts, leadership, workers, and material resources – to do all that He is calling your church to do right now.  It also requires a commitment on your part to be part of the solution to the problems that you see in your church, at least through the means of prayer.  And it requires that you trust that the Lord will provide all that is needed in the future to become the church He has designed.

     The promise of our Good Shepherd to provide green pastures for us is both for the present and the future.  You will not be totally satisfied in this life, but if He has provided you with a church family where the Word of God is faithfully taught and proclaimed and the people of God love each other with the love of Christ, then He intends for you to rest, be fed, and be content there.  If you’re feeling spiritually discontent and unfulfilled, maybe it’s because you’re spending too much time looking over the fence!  

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