Pleasing God or Pleasing Men?

The Poison of Politics

Unless you've been away from a television or radio over recent weeks and months, I'm sure you've had more than enough of shady political maneuvering and deceptive theatrics by government officials and the media. However, few of us may recognize these events as a darker reflection of one of the rampant problems in our churches and religious organizations throughout the Christian Era. If there is a terminal disease in the Church of Jesus Christ, it is the poison of politics.

By politics, I refer to human decision making founded upon the desire to please and appease people more than God. It is the careful calculation of choices arrived at by factoring in the personalities and parties involved, as well as the consequences of decisions upon ourselves and/or our loved ones. Like those in the mirror of government affairs, it is the conscious setting aside of principle and law for the sake of expediency that ultimately proves itself as both self- serving and disobedient to the Word of God. It is the sacrifice of what is right for what is expedient.

The poison of politics, as defined here, is a problem addressed directly in the Scriptures. Our Lord constantly confronted the religious factions of His day, like the Herodians, Pharisees and Sadducees, as in Matthew 23:15-46, where He chides them for their self-serving setting of rules for others. How different from the Apostles in Acts who, when faced with decisions that could have meant their death or prison, made it clear "..We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

The Apostle Paul had to deal with the problem of factions in the first and third chapters of First Corinthians. He also confronted the issue of pleasing men several times in the same letter:
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.
I Corinthians 4:6

And again:
Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. I Corinthians 7:23

And in his epistle to the Galatians:
For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

So also, Jude warns us in the last days of "..Having men's persons in admiration because of advantage." (v16b)

The examples set before us in the New Testament put many in the Gospel ministry in our day to shame. The warnings sounded by the apostles go virtually unheeded, and the Church is the worse for our failure to deal with the problem. We have far less at risk than the apostles did, nevertheless there are too many among us who have sold out their loyalty to the Lord and to the Word of God for the "pottage" of prestige and the illusion of power.

This has been a root of the spiritual declension seen across our nation since the end of the Civil War. If we would dig deep enough into the roots of Liberalism and Modernism and look closely enough at the sources of Conventionism, past, present or future, we would find the struggles of otherwise obscure men for notoriety and recognition by their peers whatever the price. We would uncover self-serving denials of sacred Biblical doctrines identical to the Pharisees of Jesus' day whose foremost error was substituting the words of men for the Word of God (Mark 7:7,8). It is politics that, if left to flourish, will ultimately destroy any association or fellowship, no matter how fundamental its origins or history. It is a warning to us in the IBFNA, lest in days to come we too become the byword and hissing that marks other groups we can list today who have succumbed to this fatal disease.

The fruit of politics has brought us to a state where para-church organizations wield far too much power and influence over local churches and other ministries. It tempts schools to try and buy control over camps for the exclusive hiring of their students for summer staff and undermine the testimonies of other fundamental schools in competition for student dollars. It is the bitter fruit of schools and mission boards, now fat with investments and admirable cash balances, to usurp the authority of the local churches, wielding political influence over them in the selection of their pastors and in church planting programs. It is the threat of Conventionism to keep pastors quiet when they see error in their association's actions or leadership, lest they be blacklisted with no hope of future recommendations to better pastoral positions. It smacks of the old Ministers and Missionaries Retirement Fund the Conventions still use to keep their pastors and missionaries touting the party line. It is political indenture that can transform us into the servants of men when the Scripture clearly states "..owe no man anything."(Romans 13:8)

The most vulnerable target of politics, however, is within the local church itself. When we idolize personalities, when we give special considerations to our best contributors or when we favor certain families and names in our congregations, we have brought the fire of politics into our own bosoms and we have been burned. It is the temptation to overlook the sins of some and to minimize the offenses of others because of who they are. The Biblical principles, however, must still apply no matter what kind or size of organization or organism we may describe. It must still be the Lord's work, done in the Lord's way without regard for the persons or reactions of men. How do local churches lose the authority of the pastor and become deacon controlled except when they accept the "necessity" of church politics. Is it not the source of discord being sown among sound brethren because we have become respecters of persons, in clear contradiction to Scripture? How do congregations become market driven unless they have a higher regard for the words of men than for the Word of God? Is it not politics to ask the people what they want in a local church rather than inquiring at the mouth of God in His Word?

Last but not least, within the local church, politics has transformed the minister of the Gospel into a distant and powerless caricature of a prophet of God. When we find ourselves measuring our words carefully in anticipation of the reaction they may evoke from our people, are we not playing politics? As a result, we pull our punches from the pulpit and fail to declare all the counsel of God's Word that our people really need to hear. Instead, we learned to be more clever than forthright, more gray than black and white, less specific and more general, even more principled than applied, all to the detriment of our congregations. In the process the honor of God and His Word have been subjugated to the changing whims of the people, and we have been so brazen as to call this progress in the work of the Lord. We desperately need to be reminded, yet again, that what made the ministries of the apostles so powerful was their fearlessness of men. It is a trait desperately missing today, and one that prayerfully needs to be restored before it is too late.

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. Hebrews 13:5,6

Dr. Charles L. Dear