In the introduction to his Sunday sermon, a pastor referred to the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:25, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city and house divided against itself will not stand.” After the service, he was approached by a visitor who said, “When you began your sermon by talking about how ‘a house divided will not stand,’ I thought your message was going to be political.” She was thinking of the political divisions in our country and expecting that the pastor would use his Sunday sermon to address them.
Why is it that our pastors do not use the pulpit, or the church bulletin, to promote a political point of view?
We may find this woman’s expectations about a Sunday sermon troubling, but we probably are not surprised at them. We know that many preachers use their pulpits for political messages. They endorse candidates, comment on legislation, and freely give their opinions about foreign policy.
Why is it that our pastors do not use the pulpit, or the church bulletin, to promote a political point of view? It is because behind these practices lies the idea that the mission of the church is the transformation of human society by means of social reform. But the Bible from beginning to end tells us that the problems of this world, age-old problems such as poverty, war, disease, and injustice, will never be eradicated; we are not to look for a golden age in this world because the world’s problems have their roots in human nature.
God’s word reveals the nature and extent of the problem. After they fell into sin, God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden. They were no longer fit for the garden with its tree of life. The way back to paradise was permanently barred by the cherubim with the flaming sword (Genesis 3:22-24). By this, already God tells us that paradise cannot be restored in this world. And from there forward, Bible history tells a story of crimes of man against man: of murder, theft, injustice, cruelty. The Bible tells us that the problems of society which we see throughout history and down to our own day are really only the symptoms of something deeper. Man’s problem is not just with his neighbor or his environment; it is with his Creator. The real problem is the distance that sin has placed between man and God.
Man’s solution to his problem with God is always some kind of program of moral improvement. But only God Himself could bring about reconciliation between Himself and man. This He did through His own Son, who became a Man and atoned for human sin by His sacrifice on Calvary.
Political programs have their place. As citizens we are right to be interested in them and concerned about them. But we have a better message to proclaim in our pulpits, as well as in our homes and communities. Unlike human programs for reform and improvement, God’s program of salvation for sinners was completely successful. Jesus Christ really did take away our sins and reconcile us to God. He really did win eternal life for us. Let it always be God’s “program” that we proclaim from our pulpits and promote in our churches.
John Klatt is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Loveland, Colorado.