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Stumping on Sunday: politicians in the pulpit

During election years, it has been the common practice of candidates running for office to show up in churches on Sunday to do a little stumping from the pulpit.  It’s a very cunning strategy since politicians can address a large crowd that already has plans to gather and saves their campaign organizers from spending the time and energy of organizing more rallies.  And if the church happens to have a radio or television broadcast, the candidate might be able to get some free air time.

Joel Osteen was recently mentioned in an article stating that when politicians show up to his church, he doesn’t allow them any time in the pulpit, although he acknowledges their presence before his sermon.  For once, I think he might be correct about something.  When I used to attend Baptist churches, one of my pet peeves was when politicians would show up to make their speeches on Sunday mornings during campaign season and that was about the only time you would see them.  Any other time they were too busy to stop by.  But more importantly I have always been of the opinion that the main purpose for believers to get together on Sunday is to worship the Lord, not to glorify a man or woman running for a public office.  It especially did not sit well with me when they would boast about their credentials and what they would change if elected, then when elected their promises were shoved aside for what they really wanted to accomplish.  And some of what they wanted to accomplish was contrary to God’s word.

Before they address the congregations on Sunday, many times they meet or talk secretly with the pastor of the church some time during the week to get permission to speak and to listen to what the pastor’s concerns may be for his congregation or to get a few suggestions from the pastor on how to conduct their campaign.  Then when they arrive on Sunday, they are given a prominent place to sit in the sanctuary until it is their time to speak.  When I think about how politicians are and how they are treated when they visit most churches, I’m reminded of a couple of places in the scriptures–one of them in the Old Testament and one of them in the New Testament.

An Indictment Against Politicians

The first scripture brought to my mind addresses the intentions of politicians–

“Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me.  And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?  Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols; …

“Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” (Ezekiel 14:1-4, 6)

The elders were the civic leaders of Ezekiel’s time.  They came to him pretending that they wanted to hear a word from the Lord and a blessing when they knew that had no intention of being obedient to what God had to say.  They knew Ezekiel as a legitimate prophet and wanted to be associated with him to maintain the respect of the common Israelite who placed them in their office.  But God’s reaction was one of disdain towards them.  He knew that in their hearts they followed false religions and loved all kinds of sin, so the only message he had for them was to repent of their wickedness.  Until they repented, God had nothing else to say to them.

So it is with politicians of our day.  They come to church hanging on to their sins and to associate with the man or woman of God to make themselves look pure to the common folk and to receive an election blessing.  Maybe the best advice they should be given from church leaders is to repent of their wickedness.

An Indictment Against the Church

The second scripture addresses how people may treat the common man versus how they treat prominent members of the community–

“My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.  For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?  Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

“But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?  Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” (James 2:1-7)

In many churches there are designated seats reserved for church leaders and special visitors, which in most cases includes visiting dignitaries.  If you’re just the regular church member or regular visitor, don’t even think about sitting there!  Traditional churches have this reserved seating in the pulpit facing the congregation.  Wealthy politicians who are doing all kinds of dirt in their private lives are welcomed to ascend the “holy” pulpit area, but the common saint who’s living right and may not have as much as the politician is told that the pulpit area is off limits to them.  James calls this sort of favoritism a sin.

We’re so concerned about what wealthy people with connections will think about us that we lean towards favoring them over the poor sometimes.  And the wealthy politician is often the one using God’s name in vain in private.  If you rub him or her the wrong way, they might be the very ones to make it difficult for you to get certain things accomplished in the community.

The Acceptable Purposes for Church on Sunday

When we saints get together, there is very important business to tend to and giving politicians time to stump takes away from the important business.  That important business includes:

  • Prayer and supplication (Acts 1:14)
  • Ministering to the Lord (Acts 13:1-3)  You will notice that in these first two scriptures, God led the believers in the midst of their praying to choose people among them who had a special calling from God.  If they had unnecessary distractions, important decisions would have been needlessly delayed.
  • Ministering to the daily needs of the saints (Acts 6:1-6)
  • Collecting resources for poor saints (1 Corinthians 16:1-3)
  • Edifying the congregation with psalms, doctrines, and the exercising of various spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:26-31)
  • Partaking of the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 11:20-34)

All of these functions exalt the Lord and edify the church.  That’s what we should be about.

–posted by Harry A. Gaylord–


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