The Church Must Not Rely on Shifting Political Winds to Face Our Cultural Storm

American churches are sometimes good at being spiritual hospitals, but often poor at training people to be good soldiers for Christ.

Churches and Christian organizations need to do the best they can to protect themselves from possible legal challenges at the local, state, and (eventually) national levels that sooner or later are likely to come. Free help rarely suffices: paying for efficient expertise is important. But even more importantly, Christians need to prepare spiritually for what’s ahead. We have to re-learn lessons from church history, and from persecuted brothers and sisters overseas, on how to live wisely, faithfully, and lovingly in an increasingly hostile culture. Will we be willing to suffer loss of popularity, or income, for our faith?

 

I was struck recently while reading the Book of Acts by the irony of Romans protecting Paul from Jewish plots. In Acts 23, a Roman tribune used a large detachment of soldiers to protect Paul from being killed by Jews furious about Paul’s message. This was around 57 A.D. Yet only ten years later, the Romans were the ones who actually executed Paul in Rome. It is a stark reminder of why Christians should not rely on shifting political winds. But far too often, we do.

The ongoing palace intrigue in Washington should not surprise anyone who looked closely at the former candidate who is now President. But for greater fear of the other candidate, evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Trump. This article is not a commentary on that decision, good or bad. It’s about the complacency that often follows such events, and our failure to foresee the unintended consequences of our choices.

I am an attorney and a seminary graduate, with friends who specialize in church-state law. They help churches and Christian nonprofits avoid legal problems and deal with them when they arise. One such friend recently told me about a legal issues presentation he and a colleague gave just before the last presidential election, which had the largest attendance ever at that event. Pastors and other Christian leaders were afraid of possible policy changes hostile to them so they showed up. Then, the year after the election, only a handful of people came.

This is extremely short-sighted. It presumes that the current administration will be a firewall from political and legal views that many evangelicals fear. But it forgets that politics and law both follow culture, and our culture continues to move decidedly in directions that will make it more difficult for evangelical churches and organizations. We need to learn how to row through cultural storms, rather than relying on shifting political winds to avoid them.

This short-sighted view also fails to consider the ripple effects the current presidency is having by mobilizing the other side of the political spectrum. In my own state, the anti-Trump backlash caused a significant shift in our state legislature, toward candidates opposing Trump and sometimes his supporters. Nationally, the same shift is expected this year in Congress.

This should not make Christians fearful, but it should make us sober. Churches and Christian organizations need to do the best they can to protect themselves from possible legal challenges at the local, state, and (eventually) national levels that sooner or later are likely to come. Free help rarely suffices: paying for efficient expertise is important.

But even more importantly, Christians need to prepare spiritually for what’s ahead. We have to re-learn lessons from church history, and from persecuted brothers and sisters overseas, on how to live wisely, faithfully, and lovingly in an increasingly hostile culture. Will we be willing to suffer loss of popularity, or income, for our faith? Or will our love of comfort eclipse our love for Christ? American churches are sometimes good at being spiritual hospitals, but often poor at training people to be good soldiers for Christ (2 Tim. 2:3). Bringing these lessons to modern ears is hard but it must be done, and soon. The church’s faithfulness and witness depend on it.

Steve Hall is the Executive Director of Joseph’s Way a Christian ministry dedicated to preparing churches and families for coming challenges. He is an attorney, a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and has served as a deacon and elder in evangelical Presbyterian churches. He is a contributor to CT and lives in Richmond, Virginia.