Perhaps you know my friend, John Q. Partisan.
John’s Facebook page is filled with fiery denunciations of the politicians he dislikes, the party he considers the enemy, and the positions he finds abhorrent. When you talk with him, every conversation seems to find its way back around to politics in the end.
You find that John makes casual comments indicating an assumption that everyone agrees with his political positions—or should.
But what if John is also a Christian? My observation is that John Q. Partisan does not make a sharp distinction between his political ideology and his Christian theology.
The Difference Between Political Ideology and Christian Theology
This is problematic, though, because political ideology and Christian theology are not the same thing. A person’s political ideology is the constellation of beliefs regarding what a government is for, and how it should function in a society.
Christian theology, on the other hand, is the story of all that God is accomplishing in and through his creation. When we conflate the two we may take on the perspective that views about politics are a matter of Christian faith.
The harm in that perspective is that it divides Christians against one another. Paul calls on Christians to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NRSV). There is, he says, one body and one spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith and one baptism, and one Lord and Father of all (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Notice that he does not mention one party and one ideology. Partisan politics is not what unites the body of Christ! It must not be allowed to divide it. Whatever else may be true of Christians, if we share the common confession of the Messiah, then all else is secondary.Partisan #politics is not what unites the body of #Christ! Click To Tweet
A Danger Against the Gospel
All of this leads to the most pressing danger of confusing political ideology with Christian theology: it erects a political test for what constitutes true faith. If we can’t tell the difference between political ideology and Christian theology, we might conclude that if a person disagrees with us on politics then that person’s faith in Jesus is suspect.
I was once cautioned concerning a Christian leader: “You have to be careful of him,” I was told. “He’s really liberal.” The leader’s Christian service was called into doubt because of his political opinions.
This may seem trivial, but it is a profound danger to the faith. For the person who cautioned me, the leader’s spiritual health was measured according to a political yardstick. In other words, something was added to the gospel. For that person, conservative politics were bundled together with Christian faith.
But Paul opposes any such addition: “if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!” (Galatians 1:9)
The problem in the Galatian churches was that a physical test—circumcision—was being added to the pure gospel as proclaimed by Paul. Throughout Galatians, he argues in the strongest possible terms against adding anything whatever to the gospel, because any such an addition threatens the faith itself.It is far too easy to serve our political masters, at the expense of our master in heaven. Click To Tweet
The Strength of our Faith
Ultimately, this is why I resist John Q. Partisan’s conflation of political ideology with Christian philosophy. If Satan cannot stop John from becoming a believing member of the church, then the next best thing is to stop him from being effective.
What better way than to subtly insert new material into the faith such that Christian is divided against Christian? Then he confuses the pursuit of his political ends with his work for the kingdom of God. Then he winds up serving earthly political lords, and not the Lord in heaven.
It is time, then, for the church to put our political ideologies behind us, in terms of deciding what is important. It is far too easy to assume that the ideals of our faith track perfectly along with ideals of our political parties, and to take our cues from them, rather than from God’s word.
It is far too easy to put our faith in the service of our ideology, and to abuse the former in the service of the latter.
It is far too easy to serve our political masters, at the expense of our master in heaven.
Unless and until we sever the too-easy identification of political ideology with Christian theology, we will debase our faith for the good of temporal, earthly, political ends.
Also published on Medium.