The Changing Politics of the Church of Christ

COCWhen you read the title of this post you probably thought it was another article about some controversial worship issue within the Churches of Christ. It’s not. This is actually a post about politics. Specifically, the growing acceptance of political involvement and political speech within the Churches of Christ.

Several decades ago our fellowship was decidedly apolitical.  Growing up, I can’t remember a single sermon from the pulpit on politics. There was never any mention of elections, Republicans, Democrats, who we should vote for, or even why we should vote.  It was simply a discussion that did not take place in church.  Ever.

I never asked why. I assumed it was the same way in every other church (my Southern Baptist friends have since corrected such naivety). Turns out, the reason had to do with our historical roots in the Restoration Movement and the theology it shaped. Early leaders like David Lipscomb were so apolitical they not only avoided preaching politics, they encouraged Christians not to vote at all.

Lipscomb asserted that we belonged to another Kingdom and should devote ourselves solely to it. He also believed that political parties led to violence and divisiveness. For him, and other Restoration leaders, politics had no place in worship. Nor did the American flag, patriotic hymns or the celebration of national holidays. All of which were noticeably absent in the Churches of Christ.

yes on 1But I see it changing.  This election season, I noticed a few Restoration Movement churches with Yes on 1 signage on their marquee. I’m sure no one thinks much of it because a lot of churches have the same signs, but I see it as evidence of a continuing change taking place within our movement. The same thing happens every December as more and more Churches of Christ, ironically, fight to “keep Christ in Christmas.”

I say ironically because, not that long ago, a Christmas tree in a Church of Christ was as rare as a baby grand. We didn’t celebrate Christmas because we didn’t know when Jesus was born, and besides, we were supposed to remember his birth on way more than just December. To make our point, our song-leader always lead “Joy to the World” sometime around mid-July.

But when the secular-progressives (as Bill O’Reilly calls them) started attacking Christmas, the Churches of Christ suddenly got very pro-Christmas. The same thing happened with other issues. As the culture shifted away from traditional values, we got more interested in protecting and defending those values in the political arena. In some cases, I even heard of Church of Christ preachers openly supporting specific candidates or parties.

Some see it as a needed change. The culture is changing and the church can’t sit on the sidelines. We have to be involved in shaping our country’s direction and the Christian voice is desperately needed in American politics. I get that, but I still lean to the old ways here. Mark it down! I’m a “traditionalist” for once!

I’m not as hard-core as Lipscomb though. I do think Christians need to run for public office and vote in elections. I just don’t think it’s my job to tell them how to do either. Therefore, my preaching is (mostly) apolitical and I don’t align with a specific party. I think it’s a mistake to do so because there are Christians in both and Christian elements in both platforms.

My primary task in preaching is to keep people focused on the Kingdom of God and to encourage them to establish its principles in their families, careers, lives and communities. I see how that can easily cross paths with politics, but I think it’s a dangerous intersection. Whenever I near it, I always look both ways and tread with caution.

I’m curious what others think.  Do you see our political involvement changing?  Are you hearing more political rhetoric from the pulpit these days? And do you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing? 

8 thoughts on “The Changing Politics of the Church of Christ

  1. How fitting it is that I was just having a similar conversation with my 16 y.o. daughter about politics and Christianity!

    I was lamenting American Christianity and its love affair with politics (I may have been influenced by a video of N.T. Wright). From the outside one might get the impression that Jahweh is a U.S. citizen who votes Republican, and is a big fan of football and hunting. All of which are fine things, I’m told. But a brother or sister across the isle in “church” may believe with all their heart that He is more closely aligned with the ideals of the Democrat party. The problem is that those opposing views cause a rift – a tearing asunder of the local body, if not the body of Christ in America as a whole.

    It is because of this that I believe that David Lipscomb was closer to the mark than not. Yesterday a great preacher from the sovereign nation of Texas by the name of Rick Atchley tweeted out that he has yet to hear of somebody being converted to Christ by a Christian rant on social media (this is loosely paraphrased). And isn’t that quit similar to the political rhetoric that many of us engage in (of which I am just as guilty)?

    I think your stance is both reasonable and Christ honoring. I hope that very conservative approach catches on.

  2. the “war on Christmas” certainly seemed to be a tipping point for churches of Christ to reenter (or enter ,as it were) the political arena more formally. Fueled by conservative news outlets, I see the trend continuing, for better or worse. The church was notably silent during the Holocaust and the civil rights movement (which occurred in their own back yard , mostly). I think getting involved now on smaller issues like abortion regulation and cultural issues which irritate them runs the risk of looking hypocritical and self serving. Just a thought.

  3. I am 55 and was born and raised Church of Christ. I still believe they truly try to follow the bible the closest of all. But stop attending 4 years ago, because of this very problem and prayer after prayer asking to protect our military people that are DEFENDING OUR FREEDOM. Since WW2 our military is not defending our freedom. There is not one Church of Christ in middle Tennessee that can stay away from political opinion
    or this military false hood. I hope God forgives me for not worshipping him in public.

    • Tommy, I understand your frustration. Try being a divorced man who is scorned by brethren everywhere he turns… 🙂 But I have to remember that the church is NOT perfect… by definition. And as you said “they truly try to follow the bible the closest of all”… some have very poor attitudes, etc. But I’m following God, not them. Even Jesus, among the first century Jews… who didn’t seem to get it at ALL, didn’t walk away. He kept on among them–imperfect as they were– because they WERE the chosen… (please don’t interpret this that “the church of Christ is the only ones”… 🙂 but only that we shouldn’t be surprised that God’s people are any different than they have ALWAYS been… Prideful fallen men. “Thank you Father that I am not like them…” 😉

  4. Russ, Really? You don’t remember Batsell Barret Baxter preaching about the Catholics and that Christians should NOT vote for Kennedy because he was a Catholic? And the discussion during Vietnam that Christians should or should not serve in the military? We were very vocal after Roe v Wade… I was a bit young to be involved in the discussion about Kennedy but read about it… Yes Lipscomb was TOTALLY apolitical, but he was considered by those I knew (and studied under at Lipscomb) the aberration… The church I have been part of and read about has always been political… although most issues were those we “agreed to disagree about” (pacifiism, etc) It has only recently become quiet… and decided to let evil control the agenda… I think sometime we like to re-write history as we wish it were… or picture the whole church as we experienced it…

  5. Pingback: Top 5 Posts of 2014 | Ramblings

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