I actually have three different stories here that lead to my point, that point being to be effective Christians, we need to know the task assigned us. Sound familiar?
I told you yesterday that I had heard two effective, moving sermons that I needed to "digest" before turning into messages. About twenty minutes ago as I type, digestion on one of them occurred.
This was a sermon by David Jeremiah on the raising of Lazarus. One (just one) of his main points comes with the fact that while Jesus Himself did the miraculous, He made the people gathered do the "mundane" tasks of rolling back the tomb and unwrapping Lazarus. At first glance, this seems like the glorious TV surgeon who walks into the operating theatre, makes a few cuts and stitches, grabs a towel to clean his hands, and says, "Close up for me" as he leaves. But it's not, not when you frame it in terms of the Christian's new life. We are expected to "roll back the stone" by the preaching of the Gospel and witnessing; Jesus miraculously comes into their heart; and then it is our responsibility to "unwrap" the newbie by teaching him the Gospel.
Now one of the things I always mentally do during most any sermon is look for the "other-testamental analogue"; that is, if something happens in one Testament, it often has a similar occurance in the other. Here, I saw that analogue as Saul's big sin in I Samuel 13. Saul was the first King of Israel, and counted on guidance from the priest Samuel, the nation's spiritual leader. Saul had gathered the army of Israel for war against those pesky Phillistines. Samuel instructed Saul to wait seven days until he came to do the proper sacrifices. But just as Jesus had tarried days before arriving at Bethany- with Lazarus dying as a result- Samuel tarried past the seven days. The ever-fearful Israelites began to slowly go AWOL, and Saul knew he had to do something before the army dispersed.
But he did the wrong thing- he took up the job of Samuel and did the sacrifices himself before the people all scattered. Not surprising when you figure at his annointing he was found hiding in the baggage (I Sam 10:22). He took on the task of God (or at least his chosen servant) instead of doing his own job- rallying the troops. Even when his successor David was crushed by the kidnapping of his own families, he knew the job at hand was to rally the troops (I Sam 30), and he did so. Saul, as temporal leader, should have spoken to his men, encouraging them through the waiting, that they didn't lose heart until Samuel got there. Instead, he lost heart and panicked, and tried to do something that God reserved to Himself. And thus, he lost everything.
Which brings me to my final story. FoxNews reported yesterday that nearly 1,000 pastors, under the guidance of a group called Alliance Defending Freedom, are going to play a game of dare ya with the IRS. Every election year, the IRS warns pastors that preaching politics from the pulpit is against the Establishment Clause in the Constitution, and could result in the loss of their church's tax-exempt status. Generally, the IRS is all bluster and rarely does anything about violations. This group is going to preach politics anyway in an effort to force the IRS to act, at which point they will take it into the courts and try to get the action overturned as a free-speech issue.
Many Christians will loudly say, "Of course it's a free speech issue! Why shouldn't pastors be able to guide their flock in any way their conscience leads them?" And I agree- to a point. And the point of Saul is that point.
A pastor's job when preaching is twofold: evangelize and edify. Or, if you will, "roll away the rock" and "unwrap Lazarus". The goverment's job is "lead the citizens" or, again if you will, "rally the troops". If a note about politics is a tangetal issue in a message that brings the Gospel and enlightens the faithful toward the Word Of God, so be it. But if a sermon is focused on candidate, issue, platform, or personality, it has no part in a church. If a pastor feels the need to speak his mind on a political subject, there are rallies and speaking opportunities by the score. Let him go there. The church is for the preaching of the Gospel. Period. And there will be repercussions for crossing that line- just as there was for Saul.
You ask why it is that there is such a severe battle going on about whether "a Christian shouldn't vote" one way or the other? Why Christians cannot even agree on what SHOULD be preached about politics? Because pastors HAVE preached politics from the pulpit... while the army slowly drifts away. A good exmple of this is the Catholic Church preaching for years in the battle against abortion and renmoving prayer from school- both solidly Democrat ideals- while their parishes have voted Democrat for every Presidential election except Reagan's two terms and Nixon's second. There are more than enough people discussing politics and what it means to the voter's moral stands. Preacher, you want to keep your congregation, the Church in America, from drifting away? PREACH GOD.
I have never been afraid here to say when I think Christians are fighting the wrong battle. And perhaps it is not the wrong battle. But the pulpit is the wrong place.