11-04-2012 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

“The Problem With Politics”

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of all the political rhetoric, the surveys and polls, the news coverage we’ve had to deal with this fall. I’m tired of negative campaign ads, quotes taken out of context, the deliberate distortions of words, the win-at-any-cost / take-no-prisoners / demonize-your-opponent mindset.

Some of you probably already know that the term “politics” comes from two Latin words: the first is “poly” (meaning “many”), and the second is “tick” (meaning a “blood-sucking parasite”).

I’m just kidding. Actually the word originally came from the Greek politikos, which meant “of citizens or the state.” In time the word came to refer less to citizens, and more to the state, the officials or rules that govern us.

I’d like to set aside all the political stuff we’ve been hearing, the stuff on the nightly news, to remind ourselves that human wisdom and methods cannot address the real issues of what is wrong with people. As Christians with a biblical world view, there are a few basic things we should be able to agree on.

1. Human institutions cannot transform hearts.

Can we agree that society is pretty messed up? And can we acknowledge that sin needs more than political solutions? That politicians cannot deal with sin in the human heart? (Indeed, some of the most infamous sins of our time have been committed by politicians!)

Can we admit that government — our legal system — cannot transform hearts? Can we agree that passing more laws cannot make people more loving? Or kind? Or giving?

At times in history leaders have tried to force hearts to change, of course, sometimes with disastrous results. In the Middle Ages, kings launched military crusades in the name of Christ, determined to take back the Holy Land and conquer the Muslims there. In one battle, the Christian armies gained the upper hand and at the point of a sword gave their enemies a choice: die or convert. Not surprisingly they chose to convert and were marched en masse through a river, a priest standing alongside, declaring them baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those men may have gotten wet, but I doubt their hearts were touched — at least not by God’s love and grace.

Still, some seem to think we can legislate Christian faith and values by decree. Sixty-one years ago a Senator from Vermont submitted an amendment to the US Constitution that stated: “This nation devoutly recognizes the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Saviour and Ruler of Nations through whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God.” It didn’t get out of committee, but that didn’t stop new Christian amendments from being submitted nearly every year in the 1950s (eight in 1959). [Richard Pierard, Christian Social Ethics (Perry Cotham, ed.), p 85-86]

About the same time “under God” was added to the pledge (1954), “In God We Trust” was officially declared the national motto (1956), though the first coin with that motto appeared in 1864. The idea caused some concern, however, and when President Teddy Roosevelt commissioned a gold piece in 1907, he deliberately omitted the phrase. He insisted the motto “not only does no good but does positive harm and is in effect irreverence which comes dangerously close to sacrilege.” [Richard Pierard, Christian Social Ethics (Perry Cotham, ed.), p 94]
It might be a nice gesture, but stamping those words on our money doesn’t make them true. This afternoon hundreds of people will spend thousands of dollars at the Casino — and every dollar, each bill and coin will declare “In God We Trust.” But how many of those people do you think actually trust in God?

Years after Roosevelt [1976] someone observed: “If we are still the same old self-seeking, greedy, ruthless, envious, gluttonous, malicious animals we were before, then taking on the phrase ‘under God’ is indeed ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain,’ the essence of profanity indulged in on a national acale.” [Dean Kelley, quoted by Richard Pierard, Christian Social Ethics (Perry Cotham, ed.), p 102]

Government can’t force individuals to believe or trust in God — even if it’s stamped on the coins. Government can’t force people to be more loving or kind or generous.

2. Government has its place.

There is a place for government, to be sure. The Bible says that God raises up countries and rulers — political systems — and he brings them down. “He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.” (Dan 2:21); “…there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Rom 13:1)

A couple of reasons for human government:

a) To promote good behavior — good morals and ethics.

Proverbs tells us, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Prov 14:34) Though righteous decrees can bring blessings, they still cannot cure sin in the heart.

b) To set limits on bad behavior.

The Bible reminds us that human nature — without some sort of governing authority — will slip into chaos and anarchy. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25, NASB)

We all benefit when we have basic rules for getting along with each other — guidelines for living in a civil society. In fact, the NT speaks about our responsibility toward secular government and leaders.

1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7)

As followers of Christ, we have a God-given responsibility toward our secular government. In simple terms: (1) Submit (v 1); (2) Do what is right (v 3); (3) Pay taxes (v 6); (4) Respect and honor (v 7). I’m not going to take the time to discuss the implications of all this; obviously other verses of Scripture offer balance. Submit…but not when submitting means going against God; respect and honor…but that doesn’t mean you have to agree mindlessly with leaders.

There is a delicate balance between submitting to God and submitting to the authorities ordained by God. After Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, the apostles faced a decision and informed the authorities: "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.” (Acts 4:19) Later they reaffirmed their decision: “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29)

Since human government is imperfect, Psalms asks the question, “Can a corrupt throne be allied with you — one that brings on misery by its decrees?” (Psalms 94:20)

Beyond all that is yet another responsibility for Christians — (5) Pray for those in authority.

1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone —

2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior… 1 Tim 2:1-3 (NIV)

Remember, these words were written during a time when Rome, an oppressive foreign power occupied the land. Early believers were taught to pray for those in authority, even when that meant praying for an unelected dictator!

As Christians, we should be engaged with society…to be responsible citizens, participating in community. In this country, unlike many in the world, we have the privilege to select our leaders. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, this country has been blessed beyond comprehension with personal rights and freedom.

We should not take this lightly. So God’s Word tells us to pray for those in authority! Make requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving for them all. That might be difficult for you, especially if you’re wanting to see someone voted out of office.

It reminds me of Fiddler on the Roof. A young man says, “Rabbi, may I ask you a question?” Certainly, my son. “Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?” A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!

We should pray for our country and our leaders. We should also pray to know God’s perspective on current issues and study the candidates and issues as we exercise our right to vote.

As we vote, however, we should be careful not to think that the government or a political system can cure our social ills. Don’t vote under the illusion that politics will provide the answer to our problems.
Ultimately, people need a Savior — not a politician.

3. People need a Saviora spiritual solution.

If you believe all the negative campaign ads, you’ll have no one left to vote for. The most common campaign slogan seems to be: “Throw the bum out!” But just remember, you’re dealing with humans. If you throw out one bum, you merely put in a different bum. Politicians (like humans) are not perfect.

Human solutions are limited at best. At worst, human solutions give us a false sense of security. They make us to think we are actually solving problems — at the risk of missing the real solution to our troubles.

It’s like someone taking an aspirin for what he thinks is a “headache,” when the problem is really a brain tumor. An aspirin won’t cure a tumor. An aspirit won’t solve the problem.

Laws and government help with superficial matters. They can reduce chaos and anarchy in society. They can establish rules for our own safety. It’s good to have laws that make everyone drive on the right side of the road and stop for red lights. Without such laws, we’d see chaos and anarchy. Without oversight, each man would do what was right in his own eyes. Each man for himself! So we need government’s help with such matters.

But for the real, core problems of humanity, we don’t need a human solution. We don’t need a political aspirin. We need a spiritual solution! One that deals with the human heart — with all of its selfish, sinful, corrupt attitudes.
Jeremiah, the OT prophet, tells us: The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9)

So this Tuesday don’t expect to find solutions to heart problems on the ballot. Those are found in the pages of this Book!

Trust in politics, and you’ll get political answers. Trust in this Book, and you’ll discover supernatural answers. If you trust in human institutions (like political parties or governments) more than you trust in God, to me that seems to border on idolatry.

The Bible tells us that in the end times there will be many “false messiahs” (Matt 24:24). I don’t think that phrase refers only to strong, dynamic leaders. I think “false messiahs” can include various philosophies, ideologies, educational systems, political parties, pop psychology, new age world views, and much, much more.

Why? Because “false messiahs” offer hope, but it’s a false hope. It’s hope based on empty promises, deceptive words, shaky or rotten foundations, distorted ideas, and corrupt morals. Even if they look good on the outside, inside there is no substance — false messiahs.

It’s like putting lipstick on a pig. No matter how you doll her up, she’s still a pig.

Jesus warned us about “false messiahs” because he knew our nature. We want to believe, so if we’re not careful, we can be taken in by fancy sounding words — fooled by ideas all dressed up in fine clothes and wearing lipstick — false messiahs.

The Bible warns us: See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Col 2:8)

So as America searches for political salvation this week, we need to remind ourselves about the futility of trusting in the wrong thing. Trusting in a political party will not be your salvation. In fact, it could be idolatry — worshiping the wrong god, false messiahs

Real issues require a real Savior. What’s really wrong in our society — as well as in our own lives and families — requires more than the empty philosophies this world has to offer.

Conclusion: Sin is not solved by electing a new senator or congressman. Dysfunction in the community is not cured by passing new laws.

If you vote for a president to fix the economy, remember that presidents can’t fix the things that wrecked the economy in the first place. A president can’t fix what’s in our American hearts — the greed, the selfishness, the sense of entitlement, the arrogance.

We’ve been buried under an avalanche of political slogans, charges, and counter-charges. There is no shortage of words these days — from politicians, reporters, commentators, and pundits. But with all this talk filling the air, it’s important to pause and ask ourselves: “Is there a word from God?”

Our primary problems are not jobs and the economy; neither are they Wall Street or Congress, national defense or Obamacare.

Our worst problems, as we’ve seen, stem from sin in our hearts, from our selfish, rebellious attitudes. Our poor choices lead to broken and wounded spirits — in ourselves and in others. Our futile, humanistic thinking gets us into trouble time and time again.

As you vote, the first vote you should make is a personal decision for the Lord Jesus Christ. Will you pray for God’s supernatural help for yourself, your family, your community, your country?

The Problem with Politics