McCain or Obama?

I, like most of the people I know, have been very attentive to the upcoming presidential election. In what has been the longest campaign of its kind in history, so much distortion, half-truths and outright lies have been told (by people on both sides) that I find myself succumbing to politics fatigue. Less than 3 weeks left and I wonder how much more political palaver I can take.

The only thing worse than the political campaigns are the apocalyptic warnings that are being sounded from the right and the left. Somehow, it seems to be more fitting coming from the latter than the former–not because I agree with the left. Hardly. But because so many on the right are quick to invoke God, the Bible and Jesus in getting out the vote.

Lest I be dismissed as a pietist or a liberal, let me simply restate my views on these issues.

I recognize the church has a prophetic role to play in relation to political powers. “Speaking truth to power” may have been sloganized by liberals but it is an apt description of the church’s responsibility to civil authorities. This is a part of the church’s calling as the pillar and ground of the truth.

As “citizen-kings” I believe Christian Americans have a responsibility to try to direct public policy and laws toward justice and mercy. I have written on that before. But I do not think that any church should allow itself to be co-opted by any political impulse that results in the confusing of its message of Jesus Christ crucified. Yet, such confusion emanates from well-meaning but misguided political activism by churches done in the name of Jesus.

My wife and I sat next to a young man from Hawaii on an airplane a few years ago. The conversation we had with him illustrated the mixed messages that too often are being sent by conservative Christian churches. He was raised by his parents to be atheistic, but he was very open to discussing what the Bible says about Christ. When he finally pegged us as “conservative Christians,” I asked him what he knew about Christianity. He responded by saying that all he know about “conservative Christians” is that “they want to force their political agendas on everybody else.”

Caricature? Of course. But his perception is far from unique. It is too common, and much of the presidential political activism that churches are promoting feeds those mistaken ideas. That is why I think it is vitally important to distinguish between what a church does and says and what individual Christians say and do in the political arena. I largely agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones on this point when he said, the rise of evangelical interest in politics is “sheer folly” because “you can’t reform the world.”

The church is the only institution that has been commissioned with the task of preaching the Gospel. God forbid that we should trade that mandate for any level of political influence held out by either Democrats or Republicans.

As the campaign winds down (and no doubt, heats up even more), I will work to remember Psalm 146:3, which says,

Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.

Whether McCain or Obama wins the election, the kingdom of Jesus Christ will continue on. If your man wins, he will not be able to do what we desperately must have done. If your man loses, his defeat will not be even a speed bump in slowing the advance of the eternal cause and purposes of Jesus Christ.

Remembering that will help get us through not only the next 3 weeks, or 4 years, or 8 years, but also the rest of human history.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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