Another presidential election cycle has ended, and some frustration and disappointment exists in the Christian community. Exit polls show that almost eighty percent of evangelicals voted for Romney, whose views on social issues more closely aligned with traditional Christian teaching. It is understandable for these evangelicals to experience some post-election blues. No one likes losing an election.
Some Christians, however, experience spiritual angst when their candidate fails to win office. How could a sovereign God allow the wrong candidate to win? Is this some sort of divine judgment? Or will we now experience some divine judgment since America has made the wrong choice?
I think these questions are probably the wrong ones to ask. At various times in the history of the church, Christians have blurred the lines between the church and the state. Doing so might seem like the pious thing to do at the time, but it sure doesn’t help the mission of the church. I think many American Christians need to wake up and see that they are putting too much faith and hope in the American state and not enough in Christ.
In an attempt to highlight the distinction between America’s government and Christ’s church, I offer three things to keep in mind.
1. Voting is not a sacrament.
The church has not always agreed as to what the sacraments are or how they work, but the church has always agreed that we have some. The universally recognized sacraments are baptism and communion. These sacraments relate to our entrance into the holy community and our partaking of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Lately, however, it seems that American Christians want to add voting to the list. Too many of us speak of voting as if it is some holy rite. Some of us claim that when Christians don’t vote it’s a sin. Nonsense. We need to stop talking in this manner.
2. Our leaders cannot save us.
Only Christ can save. It’s idolatrous to think that if only we had the right president, everything would be right again. Obama was rightly mocked for his mild messianic complex, but I often wonder if my right-leaning friends are looking for a political messiah of their own. I endured too many complaints from evangelicals about their options for president. No one was excited about either candidate. Too liberal. Too Mormon. Electing a president will not get us back to the Garden of Eden.
3. America is not the Kingdom of God.
Viewing our nation-state as the earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of God is one of the biggest problems the American church has. Charlatans like Glenn Beck and David Barton promote this error, attempting to replace orthodox Christianity with an American civic religion. On the day of the election Mitt Romney issued the following tweet, which expresses this same idea. America is not the hope of the earth. Christ proclaimed by his church is the hope of the world.
We call ourselves “one nation under God,” which is true, because every other nation in the world is under God’s sovereign control. We’re not however a Christian nation. As Al Mohler said, “Better to say that this is a nation whose citizens are overwhelmingly Christian.” As Paul said, our citizenship is in heaven. The church is the only Christian nation.
American Christians are grappling with some of the same questions that Roman Christians dealt with 1600 years ago. Many Christians of the late third and early fourth centuries felt that the Roman Empire was the only hope for the earth and that the Roman Empire was the Kingdom of God on earth. In 410, the Goths sacked Rome, and many Romans felt spiritual angst, wondering how a sovereign God could allow this to happen.
Augustine of Hippo wrote his magnum opus, The City of God, to explain to Christians that though Rome may fall, Christ’s city is eternal. The city of man and the city of God are not the same city. Some of us have dual citizenship, for a time. You could say we have green cards here. God does not tie his plan to this geo-political state called America. He’s tied it to his Son. America will prove as ephemeral as Rome, but Christ’s kingdom is eternal.
Some Christians will find these thoughts controversial. Let’s talk about it.