Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Pastor's involvement in Politics?

From time to time I take heat for the various political comments I make or analysis I offer here on Reepicheep. Some folks think a pastor should be careful not to become too involved with or overly focused on politics and making comments about the same. Certainly my main calling is preaching the gospel, administering the sacraments, prayer, and general nurture of the specific flock God has called me to, so I take seriously such warnings. I wouldn't want to obscure the gospel with too much focus on political matters.

I see this blog as an extension of my pastoral ministry, but it also has an obvious personal flavor that should not be confused as an official statement from Redeemer (the church I am called to serve) or the Presbyterian Church in America (the denomination that holds my ministerial credentials).

I have been reading LOTS on John Calvin these past few days and came across some helpful information from Calvin and about Calvin that concerns the very question of a pastor's involvement in politics.

Calvin was asked to be involved in the ecclesiastical ordering of the Church in Geneva, Switzerland. At the same time, the civil magistrate of that city asked for his legal counsel about civil legislation in light of his training as a lawyer. Calvin found himself wrapped up in matters of church and state regularly. He actually voiced frustration about the dual role he often found himself in. In 1556, after being at Geneva for 14 years, he wrote a letter to his friend Nicholas Zerkinden revealing his feelings about involvement in politics-

You will ask why I should mix myself up with those affairs which do not become my profession, and engender great animosity against me among many- Though I rarely meddle with these political matters, and am dragged on to them against my inclination, yet I sometimes allow myself to take part in them when necessity requires it...I wish I had been at liberty to demand my exemption. But since I returned here 14 years ago, when God held out his hand to me, men importunately solicited me, and I myself had no decent pretext for refusal. I have preferred to bestow my pains in pacifying troubles to remaining idle spectator of them.

Discussing Calvin's involvement in civil affairs Owen Chadwick observed- "One of the consuming passions of Calvin's life was a hatred of public mess."

I relate with that passion, indeed it fuels much of what I address politically on this blog. Another Calvin biographer, Ronald Wallace, gives this helpful analysis of Calvin's involvement with politics-

Calvin's method of "pacifying troubles" in Geneva were those of a churchman rather than of a politician. He suggested practical improvements to the city council in their system of poor relief and in their care of the city hospital but he did not try to provide a blue print for social reconstruction. He never suggested any changes, for example in the very complicated set-up of councils in the political structure of the town.

His program could be described as one of social sanctification rather than of social reconstruction. A transformation first had to be brought about in the personal lives of Geneva's citizens. This was to be achieved chiefly by two means: through social discipline, and through the sacramental power of the Word of God.

By "social discipline" Calvin meant civil order through reasonable laws and ordinances. He saw a strong social structure as most conducive for the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Of course, the Word of God is the catalyst for heart change. From changed hearts will come godliness individually and a godly society as a whole.

I steer clear of political commentary in my preaching and teaching unless a moral issue has to be addressed. A faithful pastor must address the morals of the day regardless of the consequences. Whether it be abortion, sexual immorality, neglect of the poor, etc., a pastor will address these issues if he is preaching through the bible faithfully. As for my blog, I am more free with my commentary but still try to address political issues as they relate to moral ones. I see Reepicheep as far different from Redeemer's pulpit.

I'm glad to know the question of a pastor's involvement in politics has been a struggle since God gave pastors to the church. If Johnny C was frustrated, that tells me something about the complexity of the issue.


Woody Woodward said...

Dear Pastor, I remember a few years back when I came to you with a heartfelt desire to teach an adult Sunday school class on a very important subject of my passion, “spiritual gifts!” I will always remember what you shared, “As far as a controversy, bring it on! I have never run from lively Biblical dialog, even on a topic I may not totally agree.” Open mindedness with a teachable spirit is good, is what the Bereans of old followed in Acts 17:11.

Jack Sawyer said...

A new book by David VanDrunen is out that might be of interest to you/your readers: "Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought." Much of the book is drawn from Calvin's views.

Wes White said...

Tony, good post. I think you've captured the balance here. I have struggled with this as well. One thing that has helped me is that we have Democrats and Republicans in our congregation. This has actually helped us to focus on being the kingdom of Christ. I do think, though, that you give a good idea of how a Pastor could be constructively involved in politics in a helpful way. Thanks.

Rick Calohan said...

I am encouraged and reminded that we should pray for our leaders even if we are opposite of them on the political spectrum as is done regularly at Redeemer without bias to either side of the aisle and with absolute moral clarity.

The beauty of your blog is that you can be you, you can address the issues of the day, even when you and I have disagreed you have been civil not only in your observations but in your responses.

I am reminded of the Latin phrase “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda.” In English it means, “The church reformed and always reforming.”

More often than not I have heard you, Nathan and Brian, remind us that in order to reform the culture we must first reform the church.

As the Apostle Paul reminds us:

Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”