Essay 3- Being an Example and Influence
By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman
“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”– Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
We next see Hezekiah’s call to civic leaders. “Then King Hezekiah got up early and assembled the princes of the city, and went up to the house of the LORD” (2Ch 29:20 NASB). The house of God was now in order, his first priority. Now the king’s vision is expanded to the civic authorities and leaders. A call back to God will only be received well in the civic realm when church leaders function correctly, and God’s house is in order.
The church in our nation has spent considerable time and energy pointing its finger at government and society without first judging itself. Those that judge themselves are wise, and judgment begins in the house of the Lord. This sequence is vital so that divine order flows through God’s heavenly government to the civic government and the people they represent. It is not that we take authority away from civic government, but that religious leaders influence, inform, and support our civic government.
In an article titled “A Call for Prophetic Leaders,” Sharon Hodde Miller writes about the common missteps of many Christian leaders of our day:
Even among leaders who do address hard topics, they tend to focus on the people “out there” rather than the brokenness within their own tribe. They rail against the sins of the world but never turn their gaze to the dysfunctions of their flock. That is not prophetic work since it only enforces our own self-righteousness, rather than indicting it. As pastor Jonathan Akin recently put it, “It takes much more boldness to call out the sins of the choir than it does to call out the sins of the culture.”
When I look at the world around us, I am convinced we need prophetic voices now as much as ever, because the Christian identity has come to mean something sentimental and comfortable, rather than radical and sacrificial. Too often, our messages sound like Christian versions of secular self-help, which might make us, feel good but will not motivate us toward true acts of courage. Affirmation is great, but it does not rebuke our idols.
That’s why we need prophetic voices, unbound by the worship of likeability, and committed to the integrity of the church. We need leaders who search themselves, and their people, and name the problems within, rather than focus on the problems of others. That does not mean we should be judgmental or harsh, but it does mean we cannot serve God and people-please.If we, as the people of God, want to be known as the people of God, then we need the correction of prophetic voices.[i]
Notice in the following verses that it was the city’s leaders that brought the animals for sacrifice. Because a clear vision was communicated clearly and the ordering of God’s house complete, the civic leaders were willing to buy into their prophet king’s vision without reservation.
They brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven male goats as a sin offering for the kingdom, the sanctuary, and Judah. And he ordered the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the LORD. So they slaughtered the bulls, and the priests took the blood and sprinkled it on the altar. They also slaughtered the rams and sprinkled the blood on the altar; they slaughtered the lambs as well, and sprinkled the blood on the altar. Then they brought the male goats of the sin offering before the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them. The priests slaughtered them and purified the altar with their blood to atone for all Israel, because the king ordered the burnt offering and the sin offering for all Israel.
(2 Chronicles 29:21-24)
It is important to note that the passage above documents the cooperation between religious leaders and civic leaders for the betterment of society. The church being a good example means addressing social problems that hinder the Gospel’s proclamation. Through involvement in the civic structures it seeks to influence, the church improves the general population’s quality of life. In an article titled “Influencing Government for Good,” Wayne Grudem points out that the church acting as a social and governmental influence is seen throughout the Bible:
Clearly, examples of godly believers’ influence on governments are not minor or confined to obscure portions of the Bible, but are found in Old Testament history from Genesis all the way to Esther (the last historical book), in the canonical writing prophets from Isaiah to Zephaniah, and in the New Testament in both the Gospels and Acts. And those are just the examples of God’s servants bringing “significant influence” to pagan kings who gave no allegiance to the God of Israel or to Jesus in the New Testament times. If we add to this list the many stories of Old Testament prophets bringing counsel and encouragement and rebuke to the good and evil kings of Israel as well, then we would include the histories of all the kings and the writings of all the prophets—nearly every book of the Old Testament. And we could add in several passages from Psalms and Proverbs that speak of good and evil rulers. Influencing government for good on the basis of the wisdom found in God’s own words is a theme that runs through the entire Bible.[ii]
Historically, we only need to look to the Protestant Reformation and later to the Wesleyan revival to see how society is influenced by vision, proclamation, and order in the church. Wesley struck the right balance between Christian proclamation and Christian service, as Irish Methodist scholar Dr. John McMaster outlined in a 2002 paper titled, “Wesley On Social Holiness.”
Wesley’s own regular practice was to go to the poor and often these ‘common wretches’ found a sense of self-worth. Wesley’s opposition to the widespread use of liquor was not, as often thought, moralistic, but economic. Half of the wheat produced in Britain was going to the distilling industry which made wheat expensive and in turn made bread expensive and beyond the means of the very poor. Wesley was in reality attacking inflation. Expensive meat was caused by gentlemen farmers finding it more profitable to breed horses for export to France and to meet the increasing demand for horse carriages. Pork, poultry and eggs were so expensive because owners of large estates were earning more from cash crops than from leasing land to small tenant farmers. In response to these economic problems, Wesley called for Government intervention, increased employment opportunities, a prohibition on the distilling of hard liquor, a reduction in the demand for horses as an additional tax of gentlemen’s carriages and a tax of £10 on every horse exported to France. Wesley also advocated the discharge of half the national debt.[iii]
A great example of social involvement in the twentieth century was the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson in Los Angeles. “Sister Aimee,” as she was known, had an excellent vision for the church but an equally arresting idea for helping the needy in her city in the 1920s and 30s. As Roberts Liardon writes in an article about McPherson:
Aimee Semple McPherson did not hold back when it came to her passion for revealing God’s glory and majesty. She believed a great God would help her do great things-and He did. She broke the mold when it came to evangelism and accomplished more in her short lifetime than almost any other evangelist in the early twentieth Century. God chose this unusual vessel to leave His mark on modern culture in unprecedented ways; from building the largest church auditorium of her day to launching an international radio station to creating a world renowned Bible school to founding a dynamic global denomination. Her legacy is still felt through the massive social services provided through Angeles Temple and its affiliate, The Dream Center–housing, feeding, and training thousands of homeless and needy daily (www.angelestemple.com). A Christian of strong purpose and far-reaching vision, God used this stylish woman to accomplish what no man had yet been able to do in ministry. Not only was she one of the first internationally renowned female Pentecostal evangelists, but she was also the mastermind behind one of the largest and most successful churches of her day.[iv]
When the church gets it right, the city, state, and country will respond. How often does a religious leader receive the city’s key from the mayor of a major U.S. city? Aimee Semple McPherson did just that, but, as Liardon continues, just look at how much Sister Aimee’s organization did for L.A.’s social needs at that time. She used what she had to alleviate the suffering of millions.
All of these ministries were in place so that when the economic collapse of 1933 debilitated America, Angeles Temple, with the help of KFSG, was in a position to meet the needs of a nation in its most desperate hour. Angelus Temple provided meals, clothing, medical care, and other services to an estimated 1.5 million needy people. Aimee’s soup kitchen reportedly fed some 80,000 people in its first month of operation. The clothing, blankets, free medical clinic, and homeless shelter all came about through the fundraising broadcasts of KFSG.[v]
In his article “Politics: Why Christians Must Be Involved,” Richard Doster explains how Christians can be agents of change and why that is essential:
God cares about our spiritual lives, but He also cares about food, water, jobs, and housing. When God commands us to love our neighbors, He means to love them holistically. That means we’ll care about laws that protect preborn children. We’ll care about policies that defend marriages and families. If we love our neighbors, we’ll naturally be concerned about the corrupting moral influences that creep into public schools.
The church isn’t the kingdom of God, says writer and Prison Fellowship Ministries founder Charles Colson, but by expressing concern for these issues Christians reflect the love, justice, and righteousness of God’s kingdom. In Colson’s view, the church becomes a compelling presence when Christians — in their homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces — exhibit a vision that “holds the world accountable to something beyond itself.” Christians understand human nature for what it really is, Colson says, and that perspective affects the civic conversation. According to Colson, human politics is based on the premise that society must be changed in order to change people, but Christians understand that it’s the other way around: People must be changed in order to change society.
As they enter the public square, God’s people recognize the authority of Christ’s kingdom, they bring its ethical standards into the stream of history, and — through them — Christ’s kingdom breaks the “vicious and otherwise irreversible cycles of violence, injustice, and self-interest.” As God’s people engage in debate — as they create, shape, and lead public policy — it’s evident that Christ’s kingdom has, in Augustine’s words, equipped them to be the best citizens in the kingdoms of man.[vi]
A more recent example of civic involvement comes from Fresno, California. In a 2015 article titled “The Church as Civil Stewart,” The Center for Community Transformation at Fresno Pacific University shared how Jesus modeled Christian responsibilities in society.
Jesus’ relationships with tax collectors, soldiers, rich rulers and the like are demonstrations of Christian’s call to civic stewardship. Jesus invited Levi, a tax collector “with the usual reputation for cheating” (Luke 5: 27b TLB) to follow Him. Levi’s affirmative response was swift and joyful. Following the invitation Levi threw a banquet in honor of the Lord and asked other tax collectors and notorious sinners to be his guests (Luke 5:27-29). This relationship aroused frustration and anger in the religious leaders. They accused Jesus of eating with the undesirables of society. Jesus informed them that His mission on earth was to call sinners, not the righteous, to repentance (Luke 5:30-32). Jesus’ demonstration of unconditional love changed Levi’s life for good and enabled him to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. It opened the door for the transformation of others and is a reminder of the civic responsibilities of Christians.[vii]
TCCT shared how they have put civic stewardship to work in their local community:
Recently, the ministry and other Fresno faith-based organizations, have partnered with the City of Fresno with what many see as a win-win situation. With the recent financial crisis in the country, the city had to cut back programs and services and even close the doors of some of its parks and community centers. As a result, the city has established relationships with faith based and other community benefit organizations to provide non-religious programs and services during normal service hours. The city then allows them to use the parks and community centers for religious programs and activities when the community centers are closed.
Our partnership came about because we developed relationships through the years with our district’s council members. The council member for our district, the police chief as well as the mayor and other officials are often invited to our special events. Annually, we hold block parties with Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life – a collaborative with police, faith based, and community organizations. At the block party we have publicly and sincerely acknowledged specific school officials, city officials and law enforcement officers for the good work they have done in our neighborhood. We pray for them and give them an opportunity to address the neighborhood and for neighbors to address them.
Last year we met with local officials and shared our need for a facility to provide services to the children and families we shepherd. As a result our local councilmember arranged for us to visit several of the closed or underused community centers. In the end we collaborated with the city to serve at the Lafayette Park and Community Center. At this location, we partner with Every Neighborhood Partnership to host the Saturday Sports Program. We also partner with Fresno State’s Partners in Art program that is working with the children and youth in the neighborhood to design and place a mural on the park’s brick wall. In our first six months there, we have held a Resurrection Egg Hunt, our Grand Opening, Vacation Bible School, a neighborhood picnic and soon will hold our annual Block Party. We also hosted a community meeting with residents and the developers of a retail establishment proposing to locate in the neighborhood.[viii]
It seems evident from the scriptural record that Hezekiah held his religious and civic leaders accountable to something beyond themselves. This good example then sets the stage for an entire nation turning back to God. This is revival as it should be.
[i] Miller, Sharon Hodde. A Call for Prophetic leaders. n.d. 29 October 2020. <https://www.propelwomen.org/content/a-call-for-prophetic-leaders/gjeb5p>.
[ii] Grudem, Wayne. Influencing Government for Good. 14 October 2015. 29 October 2020. <https://www.christianunion.org/publications-media/christian-union-the-magazine/past-issues/summer-2015/975-influencing-government-for-good>.
[iii] McMaster, John. “Wesley on Social Holiness.” 2002. 29 October 2020. <https://www.methodist.org.uk/downloads/wc_Eur_John_Mcmaster_Wesley_on_Social_Holiness.pdf>.
[iv] Liardon, Roberts. Beauty, Courage, and Vision: How Aimee Semple McPherson Changed the Face of a Nation. n.d. 29 October 2020. <https://www.identitynetwork.net/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=38682&columnid=2093>.
[vi] Doster, Richard. Politics: Why Christians Must Be Involved. 4 November 2014. 29 October 2020. <https://byfaithonline.com/politics-why-christians-must-be-involved-2/>.
[vii] Center for Community Transformation. The Church as Civic Steward. 13 April 2015. 29 October 2020. <https://cctfresno.org/church-civic-steward/>.