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JOE’S NOTEBOOK: The Coming Church Split, part 4

June 27, 2021

4. Ideologically Driven Versus Gospel-Driven

A final gap is widening between churches that appear to be driven as much by ideology as by the Gospel.

Particularly since the crisis hit in 2020, a growing number of church leaders have used their influence to weigh in on everything from politics, to partisanship, to masks v. no masks, vaccines, supreme court nominees, to tax policies, to immigration.

Tim Keller recently weighed in on his surprise over how partisan, political and ideological the church has grown in the last year. Rick Warren expressed similar concerns and surprise .

This is actually quite predictable for a culture that’s rapidly moving from Christian to post-Christian. It’s tempting to want to hang onto power, to blame the culture for changing, or to see politics as your salvation.

Leaders feel overwhelmed, and it’s easy to try to ‘conserve’ the little that’s left and rail against the new attitudes that are emerging.

Here’s my sense: the effective pastors in the future will weigh in from time to time on critical social issues that the scripture engages (racial justice, poverty, moral values, etc—all of which were transformed by Jesus and the early church and created a more equal world).

Both Jesus and the first-century church were paradoxically apolitical while being deeply subversive. They were apolitical in the sense that they were deeply nonpartisan (Herod was a tyrant, but Jesus wasn’t part of a group interested in removing him, and his Zealot followers soon found another agenda), yet subversive in that that they turned the world upside down through an ethic of truth and love that made existing politics pale by comparison.

Scroll through any social media feed today and you’ll see some pastors commenting on everything from which party to vote for, to tax policy, to Supreme Court nominees, and more.

In the long term, that’s probably eroding their influence with the unchurched (50% of whom by definition won’t agree with them), even if it shores them up temporarily among some of their tribe who thank them for ‘speaking the truth.’

And while local church leaders do need to engage the dialogue between masks or no masks, how we treat the vaccinated and unvaccinated, and safety protocols, there’s a difference between creating a safe space for people to gather and tilting the dialogue to an ideological rant against everything that’s wrong with whoever you don’t like at the moment.

There are two groups losing badly when things turn partisan and ideological:

the next generation

and, ultimately, the congregation itself.

The culture needs an alternative to itself, not an echo of itself.

Most people (including you, I suspect) are exhausted by the division, tribalization, and anger that characterizes culture today.

It’s pretty clear that the culture is tired of itself too, but it doesn’t quite know how to escape.

That’s the perfect opportunity for the church to simply be the church.

An exhausted culture needs an alternative to itself, not an echo of itself.

Authentic, grace-filled, hope-bearing, truthful people are what our friends and neighbors need.

A generation tired of hate, yet caught in its grip, will only be released from it if there’s a clear alternative.

Imagine, if in the next few years in your church:

Love surged.

Hope got fueled.

You could disagree but not be disagreeable.

You focused on what united people, not on what divided people.

In a divided culture, Christians should be the help and the hope, not the hate.

— Carey Nieuwhof

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