If John the Baptist is any kind of model for New Testament church leadership then a lot of Christian leaders have a glaring omission on their resume.
Many, if not most evangelical pastors have a stock answer for sidestepping involvement with the civil magistrate. They will tell you that they avoid mixing church and state in the pulpit and in their ministry, but encourage members of their flock to get involved in civil government if they are so led. As for them, they are not so led – but thanks for asking.
MYTH: The doctrine of separation of church and state means Christian pastors must distance themselves from any involvement with civil leadership.
Most have bought into the Enlightenment doctrine of separation of church and state. Any slight hint of church influence on matters of state is to be avoided at all costs, as the ACLU is quick to remind everybody. As we all know, they are not shy about slapping lawsuits on any hapless person who wanders off the reservation. Although they may chafe on occasion, many churches have been willing to go along to get along with this, the prevailing spirit of the age.
And that works out well for Caesar too – he prefers to pretend he is god rather than acknowledge that he is in any way accountable to God. Christian pastors are a visual reminder that he might be accountable, so he prefers to avoid them. In practice, it’s mutual avoidance, not mutual admiration.
Which brings us to a very fundamental question. What exactly does the Bible say about the subject of political action? The Bible speaks to every area of life, does it not? — “that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished for every good work.” What — even political action? How can that be a good work?
Well, when you stop and think about it the only political action recorded in the Bible is that which transpires between leaders of church and state. Search the Bible from cover to cover and there is no door-to-door distribution of brochures, no electioneering, no formal debates, no fundraisers, no elections. Nor is there anything else that we normally associate with political action in modern America. What kind of democracy is that anyway?
Instead, when things go awry in the body politic we see Moses in the court of Pharoah, Samuel in the court of Saul, Nathan in the court of David, Elijah in the court of Ahab. Many other similar examples could be cited in the Old Testament.
Their message was always approximately the same: “Excuse me Mr. King, but I’ve noticed that we seem to be getting a little bit off the track here in terms of the law of God. What were you planning on doing to fix that?”
The clerics of the Bible seemed to ignore the doctrine of separation of church and state somewhat with impunity. Thankfully, the ACLU wasn’t invented until the 20th Century or there could have been problems.
But that was then, this is now. That was God dealing with His Old Testament earthly people. Things are different now under the New Covenant with God’s heavenly people. Aren’t they? History MythBusters decided to check it out and upon closer investigation found contrary evidence.
John the Baptist was the first major Christian leader we met up with in the pages of the New Testament. Perhaps he could be considered a prototype. The Bible records that John the Baptist was sent “to prepare the way of the Lord.” In some less dramatic sense we reasoned, are not Christian pastors likewise sent “to prepare the way of the Lord” in their own sphere of influence?
Would it not follow that church leaders should look to John the Baptist as an example for what it means “to prepare the way of the Lord?” What exactly does it mean to “prepare the way of the Lord?” That was a key question for the investigation.
What’s the first thing that pops to mind when you hear the words, “John the Baptist.” Well, probably “baptism” right? We know that John was a baptist (small b, although some of my friends would claim otherwise).
What else do we know about John besides the fact that he was into organic gardening? This brings us to the other hidden dimension of the life of John the Baptist, which History MythBusters uncovered. This is the secret side of John’s life that is rarely discussed. After some careful detective work, we found it hidden in plain sight in the gospel of Mark, Chapter Six.
It appears from the record that John the Baptist had somehow gone out of his way to get himself into the court of Herod. What in the world was John doing in the court of Herod, the local representative of Rome?
It turns out he was proclaiming the crown rights of King Jesus over Rome in very practical terms. John insisted that Rome was subject to the law of God. “It is not lawful for you to have this man’s wife,” is the sum and substance of what we were able to glean of John’s message to Herod.
Most Christians know that John the Baptist was in prison at the time of his death when Herodias tricked Herod into killing him. But why was John the Baptist in prison in the first place, we wondered.
Most Christians assume that he was in prison because Herod was persecuting him for his faith. If that was your assumption you would be wrong – it was just the opposite. Herod was trying to protect John and prison was the safest place for him. Herod’s prison was the 1st Century version of the Hanoi Hilton.
And who was Herod trying to protect John from and why was he trying to protect him? If you guessed Herodias, you would be correct. She was not a woman to forget a snub. But beneath his gruff exterior, Herod had a soft spot for John the Baptist. How do we know this? Strange as it seems, John was building a relationship with the tyrant. They were actually friends.
He certainly had mixed emotions about John. In the beginning Herod feared John because his exposition of God’s righteous law pricked his conscience. He was very perplexed by John, but Mark the evangelist reported that he enjoyed listening to him (Mark 6:20). That was why it grieved Herod when Herodias manipulated him into having John executed.
Case Closed: In preparing “the way for the Lord” John the Baptist declared His priestly and prophetic ministry in the Jordan River. “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” he declared. When Jesus came up from His baptism, God Himself affirmed His priestly and prophetic ministry: “This is my beloved Son…. With whom I am well-pleased.”
Only one thing remained for John to do: He had to prepare the way for the Kingly ministry of Christ and that task could only be accomplished in the palace of Herod. It is clear that he felt a particular burden in this regard. Pastor, if you have rejected political action and delegated it completely to your congregation, you are neglecting a major line item on your Biblical job description.
Rather than having no responsibility for “political action,” it turns out that Christian pastors are the key players in Biblical political action. But you are probably thinking, what do I do? How do I start? Like anything else it takes practice. History MythBusters will be exploring the practical aspects of this responsibility in our next case report:
MYTHBUSTERS CASE#3b: The Apolitical Pastor Equipped