Election Year – can’t you just hear those politically testosteroned muscles ripping through the debates? And isn’t it invigorating to join in the fray of championing our causes, bolstered by huge doses of cultural values and righteous indignation? Shouldn’t Christians be out there fighting for our causes at this key time? After all, isn’t that what Jesus meant by winning the world?
Clashing Kingdoms was the name of a series of radio programs I presented in the New York area some years ago. Mostly the programs were taken from my commentary on Matthew, which repeatedly pits Jesus against the prevailing religious culture of his society, Pharisaism. His antipathy for the religious formalism and legalism is most pointedly seen in Matthew 23 where Jesus utters seven “Woes” against the scribes and Pharisees. Five times he calls them blind guides or blind men. It is clear that Jesus’ understanding of spiritual reality differed sharply from that of the dominant religious culture of his day, Judaic fundamentalism.
I pondered this idea while eating in a posh Italian restaurant with thirty New York businessmen. Most of the men were rather avant garde Christians who meet monthly at Nicola Paone’s on 34th Street for fellowship and discussion about current events and how believers should be responding. I was pleased by the depth of insight of many of the men about how some Christian leaders are inadvertently casting a negative light on the Church by their harsh rhetoric and judgmental spirit. I agreed with that sentiment, but then I thought about Matthew 23. What’s the difference between Jesus and these fundamentalist bashers? The purpose and objects of condemnation seem to me to be vastly different. In Jesus we find one who openly criticized the church leaders of his day because of their hypocrisy. His motive was to show the falseness of the religious system. Never was his attack launched against the secular culture around him. His only comment regarding a very corrupt secular leader was Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.
In the case of today’s prophets who rail against secular leaders and secular culture, we see a very different dynamic. These cultural guardians are trying to marshal the power of the Christian community to re-impose Christian standards on our nation and hold society accountable for a lifestyle which only believers can hope to achieve. Yes, I deplore the indecency and immorality of our nation as much as you do. But way back in high school a wise Christian worker cautioned me against being overly judgmental of my classmates by asking if it is fair to hold them to a Christian ethic which I, even with the Holy Spirit and the church helping me, found it difficult to obey. I can still hear him saying, “So, Dave, do you expect them to behave like Christians without being Christians?” By heeding his advice I was able to maintain relationships with my godless classmates and see many of them come to know Christ.
Does that mean there is no room for modern prophets to speak to the nation? I think there is such a role, but perhaps today we need weeping prophets, like Jeremiah, more than thundering prophets like Amos! Let’s reserve the thunder for self-criticism, and let our tears speak for us if we feel the need to condemn the condemned. Who knows, maybe Jesus today would be most critical of the social guardians who pose as His followers, but who do not have His heart.
Dr. David Schroeder is the president of Somerset Christian College.