On the Plains of Moab Blog
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July 10, 2017, 3:46 PM

Partisan Spirit

It has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:11-12 ESV)

Writing of Thomas Jefferson’s hopes for political unity during his presidency, Jon Meacham writes in his biography, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (Random House, 2013), “Jefferson’s hopes of enduring political unity were never to be realized. In early 1801, even before Jefferson declared that Americans were all Federalists and all Republicans in his inaugural address, Albert Gallatin [TJ’s Secretary of the Treasury] reported the reality on the ground in the capital: ‘You may suppose that being thrown together in a few boarding houses, without any other society than ourselves, we are not likely to be either very moderate politicians or to think of anything but politics.’ Federalist Simeon Baldwin shared the sentiment, writing, ‘The men of the different parties do not associate intimately.’ Yet another observer said, ‘No tavern or boarding house contains two members of the opposite sentiments.’ Jefferson did try. ‘Nothing shall be spared on my part to obliterate the traces of party and consolidate the nation, if it can be done without abandonment of principle,’ he said in March 1801. Thirty-four months later, after the partisan wars of his first term, he struck more practical notes, accepting the world as it was.” (p.372)

Jefferson, as president, wanted to move past what he called “the extremist, apocalyptic rhetoric of …the ‘gloomy days of terrorism’ of the 1790s.” However, given the reality of human nature, John Quincy Adams was surely correct when he noted in his diary, “Political war was to be the rule, not the exception, in American life.” (pp.373).

On the face of it, it is as I mentioned in the sermon a couple of weeks ago, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” And we thought that politics got nasty in this last election cycle! Friends, politics has always been nasty. Potential power always brings out the worst in humanity. And it’s not hard to do.

As we see in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, it was a problem in a place where it was not supposed to be a problem. Party spirit in God’s church. Rancor. Division. And to this Paul exclaims, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13 ESV). The answer is, “Absolutely not! Are you crazy?” The God of Jesus Christ. The God of grace and peace. This is the reference for every Christian action or thought. Paul says, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10 ESV). This means, as he expounds further in his letter to the Philippians, being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility counting others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Having this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (2:2-8 ESV).

That is the reality that believers in Jesus are to grow up into. Following the course of the world is not an option, though it seems to be our default –even in the church! Politics is way too often a pathetic way of life. The current course from the contemporary crop in DC doesn’t give me much reason to hope. Politicians, pundits, media and social media pontifications from all angles, are not putting humanity in the best light these days. Nevertheless, I pray (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-4).

But when it comes to the Church. I have more than a vested interest. The world can be the world. But the Church doesn’t have that option.

Jesus Christ is not divided. The Body of Christ shouldn’t be, either. We are His Body. We are the Bride of Christ. We are the new Israel. We are the children of Abraham. We all share the same ambassadorial role in the Kingdom of God. What might this look like if we doubled down on that God-given reality within our own congregations?

You know, taking God’s Word seriously is dangerous and disruptive and uncomfortable to the way things are.

Coram Deo,

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