Election Sunday

Update: John is posting the text of his sermon on his blog. His posts, more helpful than mine, will actually help you thinking about voting.

Yesterday was election Sunday at Eden, where the morning service featured a full sermon, prayers, and theme looking at the relationship between us and the World. We relate to it according to several key principles, and our action in the World is vital to our place here living in it.

We thought about what a godly leader is, and contrasted the church’s leaders with civil ones in the children’s time under the theme of Saul’s acceptance by the people given his height and Eliab’s similarly favoured situation. I think the most distinctively Eden-like thing about the service (and this would please my family back at home) was the gentle way this was related a few times throughout the service to encouraging us to engage properly with the world, not in a self-interested way. So, we should not favour the Christian leaders per se, nor expect them to check all the boxes in Titus 1 (and for another interesting thought along those lines regarding setting standards for those even in the church, take a look at Sibbes’ The bruised reed, ch. 4, Christ will not Quench the Smoking Flax). Similarly, we should not make our decision based on our concerns alone, like abortion, the family, and so on; let alone our very selfish concerns like religious liberties.

If we are to really be integrated with the world, we ought to be looking for leaders who through God’s commonly-given grace can address rightly the main concerns for society as a whole. I was really piqued by the NUS’ campaign to vote for any party that would pledge to scrap tuition fees, because this is in fact precisely the sort of un-democratic thinking that evangelicals of our flavour do not like. It is because of our bigger vision for the church in society that we avoid this weak and short-sighted integration and want to be genuinely involved in the political process as a way of ordering all of society.

On the other hand, there was a good, “moderately realised” eschatology in what we heard yesterday in the way it was clear that the church had a unique place in society only on account of our message of salvation and clearer understanding of what is right before God, and not because the political sphere is in some sense a direct extension of the kingdom. Some brothers go very far with that, saying that as the end times draw nearer it is the goal of the church to grow in power until it subsumes secular authorities as the gradual kingdom growth we see now is enough to fully realise Christ’s reign over time; this is often bound up with millennial ideas. Much more tempered and common in England is the view that we should get lots of Christians into politics in order to be represented there because the church in its rightness in some sense ought to be more in charge of many things. Against both of these, we had a calm presentation of the way politics were part of the world, not the kingdom, and that we engage there not as conquerors, by separation, but as we do in part of the world where we live, by being thoroughly in it and active as part of it.

The preacher was John Hayward from the Jubilee Centre whose main concern seemed to me to be firstly excite us about this area where we can and should be acting, and showing us ways to learn more to properly fulfil our civic duty; secondly, to explain what it is that we should be basing our policy decisions on. That is, our engagement with the world is as part of the world, so we cannot turn an election about health, education, law, and so on into a decision on our separate criteria, but we do not have to be uncritical and entirely accept the world’s agenda. We have a different set of priorities, and a different way of understanding what the right policy decision is in each area, and we want to see candidates elected who agree with us on what we conclude should be done. John was clear that it takes long and hard work to appreciate God’s character from the bible so as to be able to discern what the right way of living is, but very helpfully drew out seven points, things it seems God wants to see honoured by his creation. Very briefly summarising the sermon:

  1. De-centralisation of powers, 1 Samuel 8:11–17. This is a huge theme for Israel, as all the historical books are coloured by the balance between king, tribes, temple, priests, and Levites. David was a great prophet, priest, and king, but tore the nation apart in his misrule. There is only one we can really trust with that much power. [As an aside, John mentioned again that the idea that though David did have salvation grace, but hardly ruled as we would expect a Christian leader to; this should make us pause to hold our leaders to too high a standard personally.]
  2. Stewardship of creation, Genesis 1:28.
  3. Personal responsibility, so that we must be dependent on others and others on us for a healthy society; 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12.
  4. Parental responsibility, Deuteronomy 11:18.
  5. Family concerns; note that in Leviticus 25 no individual can own land, but only families.
  6. Responsibility of communities to maintain order, Numbers 35:6–28.
  7. Compassion in communities, Zechariah 7.

For the Hope people back in Hampshire, you might be interested to note that the Westminster Declaration you were keen about has, I think, not been mentioned at Eden yet. Perhaps there is nothing to read into that.

So, it was a good and thoughtful day. We were certainly given a lot to think about. Choir formal in the evening had a half-and-half mix of politics and theology, so the election is clearly a very major item in everyone’s thoughts. We can only hope and pray that God’s kingdom will come, pinning our future expectation only in the ultimate expression of his will done.

[As a final tangential aside, Don Carson’s editorial in the issue of Themelios that came out today is thought-provoking, and applies a similar concern in a different direction.]

PS. If any Eden friends have different memories of the service, do correct me; I am sure in my bias I might have heard and scribbled somewhat about what I wanted to hear.