Three overtures are coming to Synod 2018 having to do with the church and politics. Classes Minnkota and Columbia think the denomination has overreached its spiritual sphere and waded too deeply into political waters. Classis Minnkota wants “all agencies of the CRCNA to take up ecclesiastical matters only and to refrain from political advocacy.” Classis Columbia, however, draws the line at “political lobbying” while allowing for advocacy. Both overtures worry that denominational political activity will divide the church.
Classis British Columbia South-East (BCSE) also perceives that our unity is “threatened by a deep and growing divide and confusion about the practice of political discipleship.” But instead of shutting down political activity, it encourages the denomination “to foster discussion and education focused on the biblical principles for public discipleship,” which includes political discipleship.
I toyed with naming this editorial “Divided by Politics.” Our culture’s political polarization has infected our churches. We do not agree on what political policies we think Christians should support or oppose. In the United States especially, and to a growing degree in Canada, members of the Christian Reformed Church are split politically left or right. But why is a community that shares a common faith, a common Reformed tradition, and a common Bible so divided politically? It is time we determine whether our faith is shaping our politics or our politics has been shaping our faith.
Classes Minnkota and Columbia seem to assume that our political divisions are insurmountable, and we should simply not provoke the divisions further. Classis BCSE, however, thinks our political division stems from our failure to adequately teach our members how to connect the dots from our faith to our politics. I lean toward Classis BCSE’s approach because I believe that if this underlying issue is not resolved, stopping political activity is only a Band-Aid solution at best. Granted, we may never reach full political agreement. But surely we can have greater political common ground than we have currently.
The institutional church should not be reduced to either a political lobby group or a provider of religious goods and services. In fact, the New Testament Greek word ekklesia, from which we get the word “ecclesiastical,” was originally “a political term in secular Greek—the citizen assembly of a Greek city (Acts 19:39)” (Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd ed., p. 47). A nonpolitical term for religious organizations—thiasos—was common during the New Testament era. Yet the early church chose to use a politically charged name, akin to our modern terms City Hall, Congress, or Parliament, to name itself. Why? If our churches today went by the terms of “the Congress of President Jesus” (because Caesar was “Lord”) in Los Angeles or “the Parliament of Prime Minister Jesus” in Toronto, would not non-Christians think those terms are political? Is our current assumed definition of “ecclesiastical,” therefore, too narrow or unbiblical? Has it been shaped instead by our culture?
As I suggested in last year’s editorial, “Church and Politics” (Nov. 2017), we need to have tough conversations about church and politics that draw from various traditions, not just the Kuyperian one. And I don’t think synod is the best place for these particular conversations. They are best facilitated in a forum that allows for deep, civil deliberations from our best thinkers with as few side political agendas as possible. Perhaps we need a task force to organize and structure such a forum. Regardless of how, where, or when, we desperately need these discussions.