We’re having to write this two months before Inauguration Day. But one doesn’t need the gift of prophecy to project that Christians will divide over the new administration. Each side, in an attempt to support or challenge an unprecedented and tenuous administration, will inevitably find itself at odds with others. Some Christians will call for eternal vigilance, looking for signs that the new president is promulgating yet another injustice. Others will be tempted to defend his every move. Inevitably, the rhetoric will drift toward the apocalyptic and remain mired in the partisan, and the name that will continue to be above every other name will be Donald Trump.
“Love your neighbor” means we all are called to engage in our nation’s public life in one way or another. But when cultural engagement leads to ecclesial divorce, something has gone seriously wrong. More than ever, we evangelical Christians are finding it hard to live under the same roof. When asked about the family, we sneer, “We’re not like those Christians, those hardly worthy of the name.” Some have even filed for divorce with the evangelical adjective.
Can we then be mystified when news pundits and social media mavens identify us only by our allegiance to—or repudiation of—this king or that, instead of the King of kings? Some Christians have claimed that the evangelical vote for Trump has set back the cause of the gospel 50 years. Others are equally sure the gospel would have been set back by a different election outcome. One wonders if our raised fists and ugly rhetoric directed at brothers and sisters is the real scandal.
The early Christians took a decidedly different approach, under a regime that is best described as both anti-life and immoral. They recognized that their faith would be anti-relevant (Matt. 5:10–11). When they preached and practiced the gospel, some rioted in the streets (Acts 19) and others sought to kill them (Acts 7). They preached that God “commands all people everywhere to repent”—from emperor to slave, from the urban elite to the rural poor. They called men and women to repent not of their politics but of their sins, and to join the radical fellowship of the Lord in whose name they were baptized and broke bread together—Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women.
Really. In their fellowship were both Greek and Jewish supremacists; oppressors and oppressed; chauvinists and feminists. And when, from time to time, they started dividing by identity or social class, they got an earful from James (James 2) or Paul (Eph. 2–3). They probably got this idea from their Lord, who had welcomed into his fellowship both a revolutionary (Simon the Zealot) and a collaborator with the oppressors (tax collector Matthew).
To be sure, when it comes to core theological affirmations, we can rightly expect the church to be united in one voice. But the early church quickly recognized that members would also have strong opinions about secondary matters, where no explicit biblical teaching exists and where we must exercise prudential judgment. That’s fine, Paul said. “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” (Rom. 14:1). If someone wants to divide the church over such matters, he added, “keep away from them” (16:17).
Neither Paul nor Jesus suggests that it is the church’s moral or political purity that makes Christians stand out in a pagan society. Rather, the church of weak, misguided, and partisan sinners is united by something that transcends our foolishness: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Our main political task in this new administration is more urgent than ever. Along with doing our civic duty as we see it (and we will see it differently!), we can speak charitably to one another about our disagreements, taking the time to find out what each of us really believes and why. We can stop saying implicitly or explicitly, “I have no need of you.” And we can continue to literally break bread with one another, in our churches and in our homes, praying earnestly for one another, warmly calling each other brothers and sisters in Christ. Among the divinely inspired reasons for this familial metaphor of the church, there is this: you cannot divorce your siblings.
Mark Galli is editor in chief of ChristianityToday.
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