Spearheaded by the Alliance Defense Fund, a grassroots coalition of 1,500 pastors recently declared October 7, 2012, “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” The effort asserted the church’s right to publicly address specific political (read: election year) issues without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. Pastors so inclined would preach sermons in the name of free speech to engage their congregations in particular and pertinent political discourse. While no pastor would endorse who should be president, they would “preach” so there was no mistake who the president shouldn’t be.
Ultimately, Pulpit Freedom Sunday was an open challenge to the IRS daring it to cross the line drawn by the coalition of pastors. Articles report that pastors even sent their sermons to the IRS enticing it to knock the sermonic chip off the pastors’ shoulders. Would the IRS dare take on the religious establishment?
In no way do I suggest the church or her pastors are categorically or biblically prevented from serious political engagement. Our prophetic ministry requires sober involvement in matters of justice and protection of “the least of these” within the providentially-arranged confines of our political system. While we must recognize the limits of the City of Man and prioritize our citizenship in Zion, we nevertheless serve the kingdom of God by promoting what best serves the eternal interests of our fellow man.
Yet, although we may straddle two kingdoms, most of our weight rests in God’s kingdom. We cannot confuse our true home and our role as ambassadors from an otherworldly kingdom. Our interest is not in tax breaks and freedom of speech, but in the courageous proclamation that Jesus is Lord despite being afforded any freedom for proclaiming it. Also, we must be clear about the responsibility of the institutional church’s responsibility in public affairs and that of the individual Christian’s responsibilities.
That said, however, the American church is often like the hapless gal who always falls for the overtures of her careless, on again-off again boyfriend. He says all the right words; promises all the right feelings. And she falls for it every time, only to be stood up until the next time he needs her.
The political (conservative) establishment and her candidates say all the right words. They promise all the right “protections” and “freedoms.” And the church fawns all over them as the champions of biblical Christianity. The church is nothing more than a voting bloc easily courted with pro-life roses and a corsage blossoming with family values. But when the dance is over the church is left empty-handed and disenfranchised. There’s always next year.
The IRS is not the church’s enemy. We do not preach to challenge the IRS. We preach to challenge Satan and “the rulers . . . the powers . . . the world forces of this darkness . . . the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6.12).
The church has nothing to prove to the IRS. She has everything to prove to “the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3.10). There is no need for us to pick a fight with the IRS because it’s the least of our problems. The apostolic ministry of preaching “Jesus is Lord” will bring the fight to us. In fact, NT preaching was often deferential to the governing authorities while strongly exhorting counter-cultural holiness in the church.
While the American church loves the hype of political attention, we must realize every Sunday morning is an outright rebellion against Satan and his minions. Faceless organizations and institutions aren’t our foil. Satan is. We gather to take on the gates of Hades, not the Johnson amendment. Denial of free speech or tax exemptions will not keep anyone from heaven. Denial of Christ will. So we preach Jesus Christ (not constitutional freedoms) as Lord and we’ll not have to go looking for the IRS. Christ’s enemies (such as they are) will come looking for us. And when they do let’s pray they don’t find a political force to be reckoned with, but a humble, worshiping people to be joined on the journey to Zion.