Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overpowered it. John 1:3-5
One of the ironies of last Wednesday was that it was the feast of the Epiphany. “Epiphany” derives from a Greek verb meaning to “shine upon” or “manifest.” Epiphany is the celebration of Jesus Christ as the light of the world, “The true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).
But Wednesday, January 6, 2021 was a day of darkness, chaos, and violence for America as a mob invaded the Capitol building to disrupt the democratic process including the certification of electoral votes for President-elect Biden. Lives were lost in this violence. Instead of celebrating the true light who gives light to all nations, many of us were glued to TV or social media, wondering whether the disturbing images indicated that the very heart of our democracy was at risk.
Why is that? Why has there been so much division of opinion (including accusations in social media among our own Anglican tribe) seeking to fix blame based on who we supported in the election? Is it possible that we have forgotten Who is in charge? Is it possible that we, too, have lost our perspective on power and influence?
I am grateful to the Rev. Dr. John Yates III who addressed this question on Sunday. You can find his remarks here at 18:55. Yes, we ought to be concerned about the state of our nation, the deepening divisions that have made this election and its aftermath so painful for all sides, and the increasing secularization of our culture. But as Rev. Yates reminds us, we ought to be more concerned about the state of our church, including the Anglican Church, within our nation because most Christians are indistinguishable from non-Christians. This includes our approach to politics, power, and influence.
The failure of discipleship among Christians has been a well-documented scandal by George Barna and others when surveying, comparing, and contrasting the lives of Christians and non-Christians. Dallas Willard called it, “The Great Omission,” the failure of the church to make disciples who actually reflect the image of God for “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:16 NIV). Instead, we mimic the ways of the world. With regards to politics, personalities, and power we say, “If only we could gain power in Washington, DC, then we could save our country and heal our land.” This is true of Christians right, left, and center. We pick our champions, fight for power, and perhaps even gain control only to discover that we, too, have been corrupted by our sin and our thirst for power.
Please understand that it is a good thing to have godly men and women serving in Washington, DC and in every seat of authority within our land. We ought to make every effort to elect such people because God is looking for leaders who will listen to him and proclaim and apply his truth to every situation as I point out in this week’s “One Big Idea” and in last week’s episode on biblical justice. This is especially true as we face a new administration that has indicated it will roll back many of the restrictions on abortion, reversing many of the gains made for the sanctity of life from the womb to end of life.
But this alone will not solve our problem as a nation. There are not terrible things in our culture because we vote the wrong way. There are terrible things in our culture because we love darkness rather than light: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19
This is the universal judgement, the “condemnation” (KJV), that we all stand under as human beings. There is enough blame to go around for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). This realization both humbles us and gives us hope because we, the church, are stewards of the one true light who gives light to everyone - Jesus Christ, his life, his transforming and healing love, and his power to reach our ruined hearts. Politics will not save us or heal our land, but Jesus can and will if we are faithful to him.
We are not, in fact, faithful when we surrender to the dark tide of anger, bitterness, malice, slander, and violence. Peaceful protest is a right, but when it turns to violence, as it has all over our country from both sides of the political stand-off, such protests reflect the chaos and lawlessness at the heart of the darkness that John describes in both his gospel and his letters. The image of the name of Jesus intertwined with the violence at the Capitol, with “Jesus 2020” signs as the backdrop, is an image incompatible with the Jesus of the Bible. John records another crowd with its own political agenda who tried to take hold of Jesus by force and make him the face of their cause. When Jesus saw the crowds coming to make him king, he deliberately withdrew from them (John 6:13). Jesus could never support those who became violent on Wednesday even if their participation began unintentionally.
How then can we be faithful to Jesus Christ, the only one who can deliver us from our own sin-ruined hearts? We must be a different kind of people in our approach to politics, power, and personalities. If we want to save our nation and heal our land, we must remember that God is in charge, follow Jesus, and say and do everything Jesus would say if he were in our shoes. God will call us where he wants us—from the corridors of power in government, to running businesses and education, to caring for the sick and the elderly. Wherever God calls us, we have the opportunity to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16) and to share the light of Jesus, the one true light who brings light to everyone. We can be examples of love, patience, kindness, gentleness, meekness, self-control, and civility as we engage those with whom we may disagree, in person and especially on social media. We can articulate a biblical vision of the common good that is an essential condition for democracy to flourish instead of losing that common good in political fights where the objective is simply to destroy the other, the “enemy.” In Jesus’ name, we can be bridge-builders instead of bridge-burners. We can be examples of sacrificial service and love for our world, our community, and our neighbor as we obey Jesus and live our lives as he would at every opportunity and in every relationship.
We are facing a Kairos moment—will we treat it as a God-given opportunity to repent, or will we surrender to the chaos? In a conversation with Os Guinness and other Christian leaders yesterday, Os reminded us that there are “silver linings” in this crisis. We have the opportunity to shed false identifications of the church with anything other than the Gospel. We have an opportunity to trust the LORD rather than the ruling elites and their power. We have the opportunity to reaffirm what is truly biblical and not just a product of American culture. We can repent of a fragmented faith that is personally engaging yet publicly irrelevant by bringing the love and power of Jesus Christ to bear on the injustices and wounds we see at hand just as Jesus would. Like Jesus, we can proclaim a fresh vision of the common good rooted in biblical values that is still politically relevant without being partisan. By his grace, we can actually reach and save ruined hearts with his transforming love in every sphere of life to which God has called us. In so doing, we will also change the social, political, and economic structures directed by our Christ-renovated hearts! And the only way this can happen is by each one of us turning our attention to Jesus, living his life increasingly, intensively, and together in the local church for the sake of our nation and the world.