July 7, 2011 Member Letter
July 7, 2011
Dear Brethren Around the World,
I hope this finds everyone doing well both physically and spiritually; but if you are in difficult circumstances, I hope you are finding help from God and support from His people. We all live in a world that is spiritually, and sometimes physically, dangerous; so let’s all be vigilant to look out for one another when we are in trying situations.
At this time we are making a slight change in our system of communicating with you. From now on, every other week we are going to be sending the member letter along with the Weekly Update. On the other weeks we will have the usual letter from Ministerial Services that has normally been the lead feature in every issue of the Weekly Update. The member letters will continue to focus primarily on spiritual issues, while the Weekly Update letter will be mainly for filling you in on the news of the Church. This will help streamline our communications with you just a bit.
As you know, we are nearing the end of the first phase of putting in place the long-term governance and administrative system for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, Inc. We will, of course, keep everyone informed as soon as possible of the decisions made in each step along the way. Regardless of the final shape our system takes, however, our primary challenges will lie in other arenas. I believe that most of God’s people are well aware of that and are more concerned about how we tackle the spiritual enemies we face than we are about the structure of governance we adopt.
Someone recently wrote to me about one of those enemies. His observation was that we don’t need to reduce “politics” in the Church, we need to eliminate it! I’m sure we would all agree, and I’m sure we would likewise acknowledge that no structure of governance or administration can constrain the human nature that brings politics into our relationships. Eliminating politics is a spiritual task!
Before going any further, let’s define some terms. In its purest form, “politics” simply means “of, for, or relating to citizens.” It is “a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs” (Wikipedia). There’s nothing wrong with that; and by this definition, when Christ returns, we will see “politics” at its finest! He will institute an art of running state affairs that will be the greatest, purest governmental system humanity has ever seen!
The way humans run things, though, has led us to broaden the definition; so “politic” and “politics” today can also mean “competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership,” “characterized by artful and dishonest practices” and “relating to the conduct of government characterized by shrewdness in managing, contriving or dealing” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
So, despite the positive definitions that can apply to words like “politics” and “political,” in today’s world people far more often react negatively to those terms and the people who bear them. Politics now has a well-earned reputation of being very dirty, so much so that the word itself is synonymous with some of the seamier sides of human nature.
Let’s not be too self-righteous, however, as though manipulation and scheming for power and influence is strictly limited to the arenas of government. In reality, it affects all of us. Politics begins early in life and is learned well in the social circles in school, on the playgrounds, in the workplace and within families (witness the little child who has figured out how to pit mom against dad in order to get what he wants and is already developing those skills!). It truly corrupts character and is one of the greatest plagues in human relationships. It is especially evil when it infects churches, which should be a moral bastion against such pollution.
At the heart of politics is self-will, and that’s why it is a spiritual enemy. Who among us, then, is exempt from the dangers of being “political”? Unless God is governing every thought and intent of our hearts, any of us can fall prey to this carnal behavior. The evidence is clear that this problem has tended to creep into the Church ever since it began in A.D. 31. That’s because Satan himself is always creeping around the Church, working to dirty us with this destructive attitude.
We see in Genesis 3 how politics first entered the human realm, as Satan pulled out all the tricks to sway Adam and Eve to choose his way instead of God’s. He twisted information, cast God in a bad light and outright lied—it was politics at its worst! By this time, Satan had mastered the art, practicing it first on the angels he influenced to rebel with him to support his selfish, sinful ambition to overthrow God. Nothing has changed to this day. The father of dirty politics persuasively, sneakily and cunningly appeals to the baser human nature of everyone.
We could recount many stories in the Bible that illustrate politics at work and its destructive consequences for individuals, nations and the entire world. Would we dare be so naive as to think it could not exist in the Church today?
How does it manifest itself? Just to give a few examples, we can see politics at work when people:
- Ambitiously strive for personal goals and put themselves and their interests first in trying to advance themselves.
- Use their power or position to obtain their own will over what is best for the whole body.
- Advance certain other people due to friendship, reward or payback for favors.
- Manipulate situations to get close to those in positions of authority, either to influence them or perhaps just for the prestige of being in some kind of “inner circle.”
- Shift blame when they’ve done something wrong in order to avoid accountability and responsibility and thus try to protect their place or position.
- Manipulate others, such as through controlling the flow of information or slanting of information.
People can slip into these types of behavior very subtly—just because a person is being political doesn’t mean he or she even realizes it! Do you think the mother of Zebedee’s sons or the sons themselves fully recognized the political game they were playing when they asked Christ for what they perceived to be the favored positions of sitting on His right and left hand in the Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28)? Do you think those Hebrew Jews who were neglecting widows of the Hellenist Jews were knowingly practicing the politics of prejudice (Acts 6:1)? Do you think Peter, or the others who fell in line behind him, really saw the gravity of his political hypocrisy until Paul confronted it (Galatians 2:11-14)?
Such behaviors usually create serious problems before we clearly see what is at work. That’s why we must be taking great care to be practicing “the politics of God”—His “art or science of running governmental affairs”!
When Jesus Christ returns, the government He establishes will be defined by truth, honesty, humility, love, peace, unity, service, encouragement, sacrifice, esteeming others better than ourselves, justice, mercy, etc. And those who rule with Him will be those who have learned already how to govern, and how to be governed, by those principles. God’s Kingdom is yet to come, but His people must be learning to live by those standards right now.
Paul put it this way in Colossians 1:12-13: “Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.”
“Conveyed” (“translated” in the King James Version and “transferred” in many of the more modern versions) means changed or removed. We are not yet literally in the Kingdom of God, but He has removed us out of darkness and we are to be living right now “in the light.” He has called us to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20), representing right now a governmental system noted for the righteous behavior of its citizens.
It is impossible in the space of such a short letter to adequately address a subject as huge as politics. My goal here is simply to raise a common but serious issue. Since we are now collectively thinking, praying and fasting about governance in the Church, we need to confront head-on the enemy of human politics. We all want to experience the rejoicing that comes from the governance of righteousness (Proverbs 29:2), but that’s not something that applies only to the few in certain positions. It applies to each and every one of us, and we must all rise to the challenge of eradicating politics from our thinking.
Let me leave you with this thought. Where I live is in a part of the country where one of the nastiest and filthiest of insects—cockroaches—commonly invade and infest houses, and virtually everyone has a battle on his hands to keep them out. Worldly politics is one of the nastiest creeping sins that can infest the house of God as well. There are basically three things to do to prevent cockroaches: You don’t bring them in from the outside, you stop them from coming in by repairing the cracks in your house, and you keep your house clean so they don’t have anything to feed on. Brethren, preventing politics in our spiritual house is no different—let’s not bring it in, let’s not give it openings, and let’s not give it anything to feed on in our hearts and minds!
May the grace and knowledge of God be with you all,