A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Let the Church be the Church
November 17, 2016
With national elections occurring this month, our November prayer focus has been on our political leaders. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 advocated prayer for governmental leaders at a time when Caesar was anything but friendly to those who worshiped the God of Abraham and confessed Jesus as Lord. The burden of their prayer was that the church have room to be the church, “that we might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” The passage closes with the sweeping claim that God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” Really?!
Does God get what God wants? Will everyone “be saved” because that’s what God desires? Is God’s will imposed on our world, or does God desire for us some things that God then leaves in our own hands? Biblical interpreters have wrestled with these questions for centuries. Yet, difficult as this passage may be, it points us toward a hope and a strategy as we move forward from the national elections.
Salvation for America does not rest in Donald Trump’s hands, any more than it has in Barack Obama’s. We have but one Savior, Jesus of Nazareth. The church’s first allegiance is to him alone. No matter who is president, to be the church is to take our cues from Jesus first. We pray that our civic leaders may rule with and be ruled by godly wisdom. But our hope for the kingdom where all is set right lies not with them, but with Jesus.
Some of us have been greatly grieved over Mr. Trump’s victory, while others of us have rejoiced. Some of us are distraught over the divisive rhetoric of his election campaign, while others believe he has the capacity to unite our polarized nation. Some see his election as evidence that we need to be more attentive to the plight of forgotten middle Americans, while others believe it strikes a crippling blow against many who have long struggled on our social and economic margins. Hopes and fears for what lies ahead both abound among us.
From its inception, America has aspired to be a place where justice and truth embrace. It has imagined itself a city set on a hill, a less-than-perfect yet earnest attempt to demonstrate what is best for all humanity. Liberty. Justice. Equality. Opportunity. Peace. America has aspired to shape itself by the standards of the kingdom to which Jesus and the prophets before him pointed. Here we have made a home for the world’s refugees. Here we have welcomed people of every race and class (though we have certainly betrayed that welcome with contrary words and actions and attitudes toward peoples from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as native North Americans). Here we have developed a safety net for those who cannot fully support themselves. All this we have done through the machinery of government by the people and for the people.
But now we face the possibility that our government may move in a different direction. We have long expected our government to be the advocate and protector of the disadvantaged and dispossessed. What if government prioritized instead the welfare of America’s majority? What would be the fate of minorities, of the downtrodden, the marginal, and the foreigner?
It would be high time for the church to rise up and be the church, to strengthen its resolve to proclaim in word and deed Jesus’ Gospel – good news to the poor, freedom for the oppressed, release to captives, healing for the broken. (Luke 4:16-19) Whether it lives under the hostility of Caesar’s empire, or the shelter of a government committed to compassionate care for all, the church’s Gospel calling does not change. The church does not have the resources of the state at its disposal to meet the vast needs of those on the margins. But surely it ought to be prepared to shoulder more responsibility for the ministry of Good News to the poor, especially if the state reduces its support for them.* Were the church to give itself more fully to minister to the least and the lost – whatever the state’s commitment to their welfare may be – I suspect it would be far less consumed by things that divide it but are of scant consequence to the world outside its front door.
And so we pray for our governmental leaders, that they may rule in a way that grants us space to do the Lord’s work. To proclaim the Gospel faithfully in word and action, in the power of the Spirit. To bear witness to the Sovereign who alone reigns supreme, whose kingdom is just as near today as it was a month ago, a decade ago, or a generation ago. Beloved of God, it’s nearer than we think.
For the sake of the Gospel,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
*This is why our commitment to our Freedom Rising initiative needs to be as strong as we can make it.
Click here for the directory of archived letters and sermons.