Preachers, Politics, and Spiritual Authority

Across the Internet, well-known Christian preachers are “breaking their silence” in order to urge Christians not to vote for Donald Trump. Others are “finally speaking out,” suggesting that a Hillary Clinton presidency would signal the end of our republic, if not the world. While the political axe may differ, the public grinding of it by Christian ministers produces the same result: their spiritual authority is necessarily diminished.

An older Presbyterian author once wrote that Christian ministers are “the appointed guardians of sacred things,” whose entry into the political fray signals an abandonment of their spiritual purpose. A pastor is supposed to be the one man who consistently reminds God’s people that we are but “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), that our “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), that we await “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder God” (Hebrews 11:10), and that “here we have no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14), and thus “we desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). The world is quite adequate to agitate political conflict; it lacks no resource in turning our eyes to the things of the earth, in producing fear, and in tempting us to place our hope in political parties and in the men and women who do or do not represent them. Fox News and CNN, the Washington Post and the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post and the nightly news and Facebook all teem with reminders that people who stand outside of Christ necessarily place their hope in the kingdoms of this earth. Their fancies and fears rise and fall with each new exit poll. The Word of God, however, reminds us that Christ is on His throne (Psalm 110:1), and that He will soon return to judge the living and the dead (John 5:25-29), thus inaugurating an eternal Kingdom (Revelation 11:15).

Of all men, Christian ministers should stand as heralds of this one true King, proclaiming the Good News of His everlasting kingdom, and calling men and women out of the darkened nations of the earth and “into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Of all men, we should trumpet the words of the hymnist, which cry, “Put not your trust in princes, nor for help on man depend! He shall die, to dust returning, and his purposes shall end!” Of all men, the Christian minister should recognize that the kingdoms of this earth come and go; nations rise and fall; leaders wax and wane, and the Lord is sovereign over it all. Of all men, the Christian minister should and must represent the interests of his King and of the kingdom to come (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

John Albert Broadus was a 19th Century Baptist preacher and seminary professor, whose On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons remains a masterpiece. He cautions that when a minister begins to take a political stand, “The irreligious, and many of the brethren, forget all about the religious aims of his preaching, in the one absorbing inquiry how much he will help or harm their [political] party. Thus has many a good man, who was honestly striving to bring politics under the control of religious principle, been brought, before he knew it, into the position of a recognized political partisan.” Though the minister might have good and sacred motives for recommending one candidate or party over another, the damage to his spiritual authority is nevertheless real. “The association which once connected [such preachers] in the popular mind with unworldly feelings and eternal interests, is broken. Their power of turning men’s eyes away from the things which are seen to the things which are not seen, is seriously diminished. They become comparatively unable to accomplish the great object which a good man in the ministry must cherish, the object of saving souls.” A Christian minister does the most good in this world when he most fixes the eyes of men and women upon the cross of Christ, and on the eternal Kingdom that His cross has secured.

When men see that a Christian minister’s hopes and fears are invested in this world just like other men, then they naturally assume that he is no more invested in the world to come than they themselves are. How can such a man lead other men to Christ’s spiritual Kingdom when the kings of this earth draw his interest and attention more than the King whom he professes to serve?

As political speech increases, spiritual authority necessarily diminishes.

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