Monday, November 02, 2009

Politics in the church: Some thoughts

"Politics" within the circle of believers has been around since Adam met Eve.

Think about it - when the Fall occurred - Adam was quick to blame Eve who in turn blamed someone else.

If any pastor of a rebellious church ever feels alone. He should re-read the life of the ancients again - like Moses for example.

Imagine abandoning a life of prestige and wealth to go rescue a group of people only to find them - time and time and time again - threatening to kill you or deliberately disobeying you. Even God Himself lost patience with them.

And it took poor Moses to persuade God Himself to reconsider. Exodus 32:9 -14. Unfortunately for Moses, the Israelites soon (again) forgot this tremendous act of kindness and kept on rebelling, again, again and again. How sad. Imagine having to wander for 40 years!!! in the stinking scorching wilderness with that mob. (Hint to Christian leaders: Try going hiking with a bunch of disagreeable Christians complainers for just four days).

Even within the Early Church there were causes of discontent. There were two distinct groups in the church - one who wanted to reach out to Jews and retain Jewish Law; the other who wanted to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. (Read 1 Corinthians 1:10 - 3:23) The first group led by James wanted the Gentiles to incorporate Jewish laws and tradition. This caused a great deal of conflict.

The Apostle Peter also seemed to have lost the plot at one stage. Even though God revealed to Him the Vision at Joppa of the need to preach the Gospel to non Jews. Acts 10:9 - 38; Acts 11:1. Acts 15 and he was the first disciple to break with convention and a pagan, and worse, a Roman soldier, later, he wavered due to fear. Galatians 2:11-13.

11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Even after the miraculous conversion of Cornelius which occurred with the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit, some of the Jewish believers, ie. the Apostle James, still clung strongly to the Jewish Law and were insisting that "true believers" incorporate it into their faith or, an apartheid system making a distinction between Jews and non-Jewish believers.

This caused division within the church and even, the Apostle Peter made some errors in judgment despite his earlier supernatural revelation.

Reading through Acts, Galatians, etc.. you get the feeling that the Apostle Paul was a forthright person - a straight talker and this tended to irritate fellow believers. Its probable his "overseas" appointment (Acts 15:22) by the church leaders had something to do with his outspokenness. "Sending away" has a double meaning here.

Paul's strong views eventually caused him to be separated from Barnabas. Acts 15:39. It looks like he came to regret it. 2 Timothy 4:11. And in Colossians 4:10.

Disagreements. Conflict. All this from people who were filled with the full measure of the Holy Spirit. These are people who were personally taught by Jesus Himself! And yet their behavior was less than Christ-like at times. Think about that.
Its worth remembering this whenever we ourselves face similar problems.
(And we haven't even touched on the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Catholic vs Protestant conflict, the numerous bloody Religious wars fought between Christians and the constant fighting amongst various church groups even today.)

The cure can sometimes be as bitter as the disease though. Whenever there are sharp disagreements, its quite easy for both sides to become antagonistic and for the seed of bitterness to spread in. In attempting to resolve disputes, you've also got to watch yourself in case you yourself fall into sin.
There is a tendency in religious circles to view complex issues in very black and white terms and regard the opposing side as "the enemy" or worse. The early Christians once so victimized by the pagans, were themselves very ruthless with non-believers when they got into power. The same sad ironic story was replayed in the Reformation and in many many subsequent church revivals. Revenge and hypocrisy is an infectious disease.

That's why Paul wrote:

23Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.


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