By K. Rex Butts
“Don’t touch politics with a ten-foot pole” was the advice I once was told as a young minister. That seemed like wise advice at the time but apparently, it was advice only for ministers and not for other Christians, which may have contributed to the morass evangelical Christianity finds itself in today. Now I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, to stay away from partisan politics but I do believe that Jesus is Lord, a claim that is very political and my interest is with the Kingdom of God. But I am concerned that too much of Christianity in America is being formed by partisan politics rather than the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.
This article in The Atlantic by Peter Wehner, The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart, has received a lot of attention. Wehner describes the partisan political climate of America and the impact it is having among evangelical churches. You don’t have to agree with every little thing said in the article to know the negative impact of partisan politics on Christianity. If you’re a pastor, in a new church plant or established church, you’ll likely find that the article describes what you’ve seen taking place and may even have concerns for in your own church.
There are two quotes from the article I want to share. First, James Ernest is quoted as saying, “What we’re seeing is massive discipleship failure caused by massive catechesis failure.”
That we have a problem with discipleship among Christianity in America is not a new revelation. For the last twenty years, the missional church movement has renewed the focus on discipleship and there are numerous books, articles, and blogs that have contributed to this conversation. Here at Mission Alive, we recognize the importance of making disciples. One thing we have learned about making disciples is that it requires more than just the traditional preaching/teaching. In other words, the formation of disciples requires more than just didactic instruction and I agree. Yet, if the failure of discipleship is, even in part, a catechesis failure then we must give more attention to the importance of preaching/teaching.
A second quote in the article comes from Alan Jacobs, who says, “People come to believe what they are most thoroughly and intensively catechized to believe, and that catechesis comes not from the churches but from the media they consume, or rather the media that consume them. The churches have barely better than a snowball’s chance in hell of shaping most people’s lives.”
My own observations suspect what Jacobs sees. It appears that there are plenty of Christians who mass consume social-critic commentators on podcasts, YouTube, etc… and cable news on both the right and left because that’s all they seem to talk about. If this phenomenon hasn’t already reached the level of idolatry, then it’s on the verge of doing so as many people seem to regard these commentators as having the knowledge and wisdom for life. And of the many consequences, one may be that the Bible and Christian faith is now being filtered through the views of these commentators rather than through the indwelling Spirit who makes Christ known to every believer.
I have nothing against news, listening to podcasts and YouTube videos. But there’s a big difference between listening to people whose aim (telos) is the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God versus someone whose aim identifies with the American left or right.
What can we do as church leaders? What concerns you most when you think of the way that partisan politics is shaping the Christian landscape in America? How has partisan politics impacted your ministry context and how are you responding?
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with powerthrough his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rootedand established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
~ Ephesians 3:14-21
K. Rex Butts, D.Min, serves as the lead minister/pastor with the Newark Church of Christ in Newark, DE. He holds a Doctor of Ministry in Contextual Theology from Northern Seminary in Lisle, IL, and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, TN. He is married to Laura and together they have three children.