By Jonathan David Faulkner,
I will be honest; it was hard to get on the internet last week, especially after Tuesday Morning when over 500 Evangelical Leaders met with Presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump. I read some of the more legitimate articles on the subject, Jerry Falwell Jr. and James Dobson’s comments on the meeting, notes from those outside of the group of “Evangelical Leaders.” I took it all in, saw the article about Trump’s Constantinian style Conversion to Christianity (wasn’t he already a Christian, something about a speech at Liberty?) It was hard to read all of it, it really was, I mean, both sides were just aghast and fighting with one another. It was, for lack of a better term, pathetic.
All of it leading to a deeper disillusionment with American Christianity. One that would have grown this week had I not read any of those articles and simply heard the promises Trump made to Evangelicals. Promises like allowing Religious leaders to endorse presidential candidates and creating a “Christian Advisory Panel” that includes Michele Bachman, Falwell, Dobson and others, members of that Old Guard Fundamentalism that at one point was a very good thing for the church in America (I mean, it gave us Jim Elliot, so it wasn’t always bad). Now claiming that Trump has “Accepted Jesus into his heart;” An ideology many Christians in the coming generation have abandoned because it is simply not biblical (See the book of Romans).
Of course, I am not questioning Trump’s conversion (though I am personally skeptical of it) the fruit of his life will determine if it is true or not. But I am wondering, what are Dobson and Falwell and others, the “Old Guard” actually “Guarding?”
I mean, if you are a guard you must be guarding something, either as a leader or a knight or a soldier or whatever, you are guarding something. My question is, what are they guarding, because it does not seem to be the Gospel.
What do I mean? The Gospel is by its very nature unifying to those who believe in Christ. In its truest, unadulterated form, will bring the believers together and through that unity and love draw in outsiders. This point is not in dispute, that’s why we do not only verbally speak the Gospel message we actually live it out. The idea is a two-fold evangelistic approach of living out and speaking, you must let your actions back up your words. It would not be enough for me to talk about encouraging my girlfriends walk with the Lord daily, I actually have to do it by 1.) making sure I am walking with the Lord daily so I can lead her by God’s grace and 2.) by asking her what the Lord has been teaching her and actively showing her what God has been showing me. If I talked about those things and my actions did not back them up I would simply be doing lip service to what I want to do. But if people see her grow closer to God and be encouraged in Christ then they will know that I am not merely talking about doing such a thing but actually doing it.
It is the same with the Gospel, we must live it out and proclaim it. But here’s the thing, part of proclaiming the Gospel is living it out. It also means that instead of throwing in our lot with a man or woman whose rhetoric and life have been openly lived in sin for the sake of having some government influence we should be focused on the building up of the Church and the Kingdom of God where our true and genuine future hope and citizenship lie. Since the church gained power under Constantine it has misused and abused that power in many ways. If the Gospel is in ruins because non-believers see Christians seeking worldly power and caused greater division instead of relying on the God who is all-powerful and Sovereign then the Gospel has not been guarded, it has been left in ruin.
They are not guarding the church, the simple act of doing something so divisive (there was another group of Evangelicals that support Hilary) that it would deepen the already surgically deep wounds in the American Church then you have not guarded the church. The church is meant to be one body, one people (read Galatians) and to not follow any other Gospel but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If your actions cause division in a body that is mean to be one and it becomes two factions (or in our case many factions) then you have not guarded the church by promoting unity and grace among all believers. The catholic (universal) church can be the most influential and greatest influence in the world, in fact, it actually is, but when it is divided, when the American Church looks more like Ephesus or Corinth, you have failed to defend it against Heresy and Division. If all people see of the church is a group of people divided and bitter because of your actions then you have denied them access to the true and pure gospel.
They are not guarding the individual people: A short study of history tells us that Christians who gain and use power often leave the commoner open to more persecution and hatred based on actions. Just look at those who act as though all Christians are like Westboro, the regular, bible-believing Christian becomes the target of outrage and hatred because to some the name “Christian” means hatred because of what one group in Topeka Kansas has done. The people always suffer, whether it was the oppressive authoritarianism of the Medieval Church in the High Middle Ages or Christians in Germany who persecuted the Confessing Church for not backing Hitler or whatever example you want to use. The Common people, those outside of the clergy or those outside of those 500 evangelicals who met with Trump in New York, the everyday Christian suffers. Granted, so do the Clergy who oppose such a group.
So what are they guarding? If it is not the Gospel, if it is not the Church, if it is not the individual people, then what are they guarding? It would seem the answer to that would be simple and sad…”Earthly Power.”
See, since the 1950’s the church has had a perceived Earthly power, I say perceived because while the church did have great influence and it did help define policy and while Christians still made up the majority of the population of the United States (they still do by the way). “Christian Power” was still a bit of a misnomer and the power Christians did have was often misused or not used at all (which was the case during the Civil Rights movement). But that’s what Dobson and Falwell Jr. and so many others are clinging too so viciously, they want that power, as if Christians can’t effect change without a role in government (because Jesus was an ally of the state, you know…that killed him). They want it so bad they will even meet with a presidential candidate who has made a living by living a life that is in almost all ways contrary to the Gospel. As if the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are dependent on Christians holding influence in the government. Or the Gospel needs a lobby to be spread effectively.
It has become for Dobson and Falwell and others an idol of clay and wood. It cannot see them, it cannot hear them and it cannot do anything for them. Earthly Power will not save the American Church from itself or from the direction our society is taking. In the end it will only make things worse for those who are genuinely trying to live out the Gospel. It will lead ot the ultimate destruction of the American Church and not its rise. Just like the Authoritarianism of the Catholic Church in the 14 and 1500’s the desire for power will become our downfall and only further divide and destroy us. These men are watching the church they helped build slide into perceived irrelevancy and they are quite literally grasping at any tidbit that can be dropped to them by almost anyone. Like the Prophets of Baal they want fire to fall down from heaven but they are relying on man-made means to get it.
Here’s the thing I wish I could say to these Evangelicals (who I do believe are sincere believers): We do not need some Earthly power for the Gospel message to spread like fire throughout the land. We do not need to have our voice heard in the government to have the most relevant message of all-time. We have that solely in one place and one place alone. The Gospel of Jesus Christ which has been passed down throughout the ages by men and women who knew, like I do, it to be true because it was confirmed over and over again by God the father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit which dwells within us. The Godhead three-in-one, that is where our power lies, that is where our relevancy lies, that is where our hope lies, that is where our joy lies and that is where our love lies. That is truth and it has been the same since it was first given to us when God created. Because man changes, God and His truth do not.
Does that seem harsh to say to men who have gone before us? It is meant to be an exhortation, men who did a pretty good job at one point building the church in America. In the hopes of seeing them restored to seeking after the Kingdom of God by God’s means and not by mans. The only hope for the American Church is a total reliance in the sovereign God of the Universe. To rediscover the greatness of what God has given us and to turn from the idols of earthly power and trust wholly on God.
It’s time to stop waffling, either we follow God, or we follow Baal.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry