One of the issues surrounding the current schism within Coral Ridge PCA is the assertion by new pastor Tullian Tchividjian that politics should not be preached from the pulpit. This question of how involved church leaders, and pastors in particular, should be in local and national politics has interested me for some time. I'm a very opinionated and politically informed person. My initial tendency is always that the church should be actively involved in influencing the political realm at every level and in every way, but is that the Biblical view?
We had a discussion about this a few weeks ago in our officer training session, in which our pastor talked about what he called the traditional southern presbyterian view on the church and politics. It's traditionally been taught in churches like ours that the purpose of the Sunday morning worship service is, well, the worship of God; and that the pastor's priority is the exposition of the Word of God to the people. The southern presbyterian view is that it's the pastor's job to inform the people from the pulpit concerning the Biblical principles that govern every area of life - including public policy and political thought. It is then incumbent on the individual members of the church to go out and apply those principles to every aspect of their lives, and to the political and public policy debates. When church members get involved in the local school board, run for other public offices, and vote for candidates that align with Biblical principles as outlined from the pulpit on Sundays, the church is then indirectly, but effectively, influencing the political landscape.
I've always found it disturbing to hear pastors telling members which candidates to vote for in elections, and using their pulpits to endorse certain campaigns. It happens quite a lot in many of the black churches here in Macon, where a church service can resemble a political rally at times. (On a related note, the "reverend" Jeremiah Wright is coming to Macon this month to "preach" at St. Paul AME.) However, I also tend to think that we as Christians have a duty to be involved in our government and in the making of public policy.
So, is Tchividjian correct in steering Coral Ridge away from it's high profile association with the religious conservative movement under Dr. Kennedy? There is no question that Dr. Kennedy sought to directly shape the political landscape both through his preaching and related ministries. His sermons, which were aired on television and radio for years, would often take on legalized abortion, homosexuality, evolution, and the idea that America had strayed from its founding Christian principles. He was a member of the Moral Majority, and was constantly quoted as wanting to "reclaim America for Christ." Some have accused him of being a Dominionist - of wanting America to be ruled by Christians, according to Biblical Law - however, I don't see his teachings going to quite the extremes of Christian Reconstructionism.
Tchividjian, on the other hand, seems to fall more in line with the southern presbyterian model, and is certainly of the opinion that preaching should be expository in nature. While I have a tendency to enjoy hearing Dr. Kennedy calling America out, I also tend to think that preaching should be more focused on explaining the Scriptures. Don't get me wrong, the Bible has a lot to say about many of the hot button political issues of our day, and when a pastor is preaching from the whole of Scripture he should not be afraid to explain the truth on each of these issues. It's difficult to know where to draw the line.
I suppose my view is that the pulpit is the place for revealing God's will through his Word, and that pastors should stick to doing just that. If that means pointing out what the Bible says about a particular political issue, then so be it. But politics shouldn't be the dominant topic of discussion on Sunday mornings. On the other hand, we are called to change our culture, not withdraw from it, so it's up to us as members of the body of Christ to go out and apply the principles explained to us from the pulpit in our communities.
I'm seeing more and more of the younger generation of believers displaying an almost knee-jerk reaction against the evangelical church's association with the "Christian right." Unfortunately, I think it almost always seems to be an overreaction. So many of the leaders within the so-called "emergent" movement are so heavily focused on running away from the issues typically emphasized by traditional evangelicals like Dr. Kennedy, that they end up glossing over or totally leaving out the true Gospel, replacing it with just another warmed over version of the heresy of the social gospel. It's probably true that the younger crowd of believers these days would not respond well to Dr. Kennedy's brand of preaching. However, I hope that we don't go too far in our attempts to appeal to the surrounding culture.
I'm excited about Tchividjian and the possibilities he represents for moving our denomination into the future. I hope, and have every confidence, that he will remain true to the Word of God.