September 8, 2016

3 forms of gospel unity

by Jesse Johnson


Image result for unity

Yesterday, I argued that Christians ought to demonstrate practical unity in this presidential election. I laid out three different views of the election (vote Clinton! vote Trump! vote nobody!), and while I obviously don’t agree with all of those views—after all, they contradict one another—none of them can be clearly said to break Christian unity.

What do I mean by “Christian unity”? That the true gospel and doctrines of our faith must transcend pragmatic disagreements over politics. We should have more in common with other believers based on our statements of faith than we do based on our political outlook. 

We are all dual-citizens, but our citizenships have a hierarchy to them. We honor the king, but we fear the Lord. In other words, we vote but we ought not get too much of our identity from it. If we let the darkness of politics cover the light of our faith, then we are doing it wrong.

This is exactly why it is unacceptable for pastors to disregard Scriptural truth for political expediency. Making cavalier claims about the nature of saving faith in order to legitimize a politician demonstrates confusion about which citizenship should coloring our world view.

Look: I understand the argument about voting for Trump, I really do. And it is reasonable, permissible, and perhaps even good for the cause of our country given our current choices. But this election has brought out pastors who excuse the love of money, divorce, gambling, and pornography for the sake of perceived political alliances. That kind of calculated cunning creates disunity by calling what is evil good (Isaiah 5:20).

Instead Christians should cherish the unity we have in our gospel convictions. We are part of a body with “one faith, one Lord, one baptism” (Eph 4:5). In our singular church body we have different functions; some of us are even politicians! But the unity in our body does not come from our vocations or politics, but rather from having our identity knit in Christ (Romans 12:4-5).

It is these gospel convictions that empower our gospel witness, and any fissure in our unity of convictions presents a fracture in our evangelistic power. The church should stand for light and against darkness. It should be the beacon that warns the world of destruction while simultaneously offering rescue through Christ (Matthew 5:13). But we down play the sins of lying, pride, gambling, and divorce, when we excuse them with a “what do you expect?” or even worse, as the antics of a “baby Christian.” If we justify sin in our political leaders we lose our ability to confront the same sins in the world. If I can mix a metaphor, if the salt loses its saltiness then the lamp is put under a basket (Matthew 5:15).  Or to put it another way: Herodians would have had a hard time opposing divorce if they valued their politics more than their prophet.

Fortunately, we have not been called to be the kingmakers of political ruling classes. We have indeed been called by God—not to elevate political solutions, but proclaim the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:2). It’s that proclamation which gives us unity.

I strongly believe that Christians should be active in politics. I long for the day God raises up our generation’s William Wilberforce, and I applaud those who labor to protect religious freedom. There are many politicians who make extreme sacrifices in their lives to advance our nation’s good, and I’m thankful for them (Romans 13:4, 7). But I also remember that my unity with them comes through our common task in reaching the world for Christ, and not through their election (Matthew 28:19-20).

This then is the danger: permitting the gospel message to be superseded by any other cause is to illegally commandeer Christ’s pulpit and hand it to another.

Beyond unity in our gospel convictions and in our gospel witness, we are also called to unity in gospel Community.

Since the calling of the Twelve, political affiliation has been secondary to Kingdom affiliation.  If Matthew the Levi and Simon the Zealot can fellowship at the same table, so can we. And I don’t mean that as hyperbolically as it might sound. Ask yourself: if knowing someone in your small group is going to vote for someone different than you, will that hinder your fellowship?

As the adage goes, the church is the people, not the building. While a building is as strong as the bricks, a church is as strong as its unity in the truth. If the gates of hell cannot stand against Christ’s church, but virulent campaigning can, Satan needs new political operatives. If our love for party takes up more room in our hearts than a love for the people of God, 1 John has some harsh words for us.

I’m not trying to tell anyone who to vote for. Instead I am appealing for you to seriously examine how strongly you view unity in the church, and ask yourself: can someone the caliber of our candidates this year really break that unity?

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Dave


  • karolekay

    You say you’re not trying to tell anyone who to vote for, Jesse, yet you only criticize the pastors that try to justify Trump. In yesterday’s post, you made the false accusation that his “sole purpose” for entering the race was racially motivated. In your call for unity, you divide. If you can’t stay neutral in your political preference with this topic, perhaps you should have chosen a different one.

    • I edited this comment because you misquoted what I wrote yesterday. But as to your point about “only pastors that try to justify Trump,” that’s who I’m seeing. I’ve yet to meet a pastor that says “abortion is not a big deal because HRC is better than Trump.” I’ve yet to see a pastor posing with thumbs up in front of an abortion clinic. The moment I find that pastor, I promise you a blog post devoted to opposing it. But for now, what I see is many of the college students at my church, or many of the people who are on Christian radio exposed incessantly to the idea that Trumps lifetstyle, his divorces, his pornography, his gambling, his pride, his lack of repentance, and his mocking of veterans with a “what do you expect from a politician.” Or even worse, with at Thumbs Up!

      • jim doyle

        Amen, brother Jesse! I pray for a leader to call this nation to repentance, and hold accountable anyone who claims to be a Christian, to Biblical Christianity. Our job, and marching orders from our King is to take the “keys” of the kingdom, and unlock the gates of hell and usher them to the King. The Gospel goes forth my brother!!

        • Dave

          As you invoke Biblical Christianity, can you help me with a Biblical reference (preferably New Testament) that espouses a pre-millennial kingdom role for the worldly leader to “hold accountable” those outside of “Biblical Christianity” in the manner you suggest? Thanks!

          • jim doyle

            Hey Dave!
            I’m not saying that the “nations'” leaders are to hold anyone accountable of those who are outside the Church. But if the ones running for elected office claim to be christian, then, being in Christ, that should cause them to speak the truth of what they stand for,to all. And that means preaching the Gospel, to every corner of all the world. As Paul spoke: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” And maybe you’d agree with me, in saying that the only hope for this nation, is to repent and turn to God, living for Him. I didn’t express myself very well, because I don’t do this but very little. All I know, dear friend, is that the Church is completely different than anything we could ever compare it to in the world, and what it is doing is looking just like the world. We (I) as Church, must die to ourselves, and live for our King Jesus. I pray for this country that I love so much, but its only answer to all its problems, is Jesus, and Him alone. Sorry Dave, if I expressed myself so poorly.

          • Maranatha

            Dear Jim, I know this question from another brother, a German pastor. He thinks like you and prays for national repentance in the web, but he forgets the period of Laodicea we’re in right now worldwide (!), very shortly before rapture and judgement of the wicked world (Rev 6ff.). This is endtimes church, not Acts2. 😉 And today you cannot preach the pure gospel in politics as there is absolutely no fear of God anymore, even not in church (2 Tim 3,5). Nobody would elect your party because nobody wants to hear the biblical truth ( which is the only one, of course).

          • jim doyle

            I completely agree Maranatha. I do not have a “party.” My allegiance is to King Jesus and Him alone, I just know that so many folks, (even church folks) are perishing simply because they think some human can fix all this stuff, and we need so desperately to tell them the truth. Thanks so much

          • Maranatha

            Hosea 4,6! 😉 That’s always the same reason why the folks perishes: Israel in OT, the church in NT.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            I’m happy that you’re convinced we’re right at the cusp of The End, but many generations of believers past–even some who wrote some of the NT–have evidently thought the same.

            I don’t have any idea when that moment will come, only that–whenever it is–it’ll be unexpected. And I do not foresee any national repentance in the pipeline, either here or elsewhere. Rather, I think we’re working our way to that point where Jesus said, “When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on the Earth?”

      • robertetozier

        “…what I see is many of the college students at my church….” In our church, what do they see?

        • Well, so many of them go to Liberty, where they see their chancellor declare that Trumps ethics are not just good, but “Christlike.” Check out this story I wrote almost four years ago on this:

          • Dave

            Jesse, like you, I am also appalled with JF,Jr.
            But take heart! There are LU students and grads at IBC that number among the 7000 (1Ki19) who will be voting otherwise.
            Joshua 24:14-15.

      • karolekay

        You said he’s “a man whose sole political conviction seems to be racial division.” I’m almost 70. I’ve been interested in politics and active on the pro-life side for decades including participating in protests against Planned Parenthood. I can tell you there are “pastors” from liberal denominations who actively and visibly support abortion. I listen to Christian radio almost all day, and I’ve yet to hear the “incessant” excusing of Trump’s behavior. Again, I believe that’s another unfair, unfounded and inflammatory statement.

        My point is that if we cannot honestly and fairly discuss the issues, there cannot be unity.

  • Maranatha

    Jesse, you said to me you didn’t cite John 18,36 – why then? I find that the most important verse re. political involvement of christians.

    You see, the point is not only having Matthew the Levi and Simon the Zealot at the same table: because NONE of both is regarded as Levi (priest in the old covenant) or Zealot (political rebel) when being a totally new creation in Christ as born from above through baptism in the Holy Spirit. The hierarchy of heavenly kingdom should be very clear, for BOTH of them. Know what I mean?

    In practice, you will have the same corruption of the body of Christ as in that social gospel debate. Only a political, earthly kingdom gospel then. Read how the Lord reacted in both cases after the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6,15.26-27!): What was and is His focus? That only is important to me in that debate.

  • Archepoimen follower

    Christian unity demands reliance on the Gospel, on this we agree. However, in my understanding, God is the giver and taker of life, not man. Anyone who advocates a candidate who encourages the taking of life both at the beginning and end, like HRC, has indeed abandoned the Gospel. To claim that advocating either of these candidates is not reason for breaking unity is false. For all of Trump’s bluster and lack of morals, he acknowledges his past views on abortion as erroneous. I will accept his sorrow as repentance until proven otherwise over an avowed abortion proponent every time.
    Do I wish that a God-fearing, Jesus-loving man or woman was an option, absolutely!
    Life, of all humans, is a Gospel issue.

    God is indeed sovereign! He will always remain faithful.


  • Maranatha

    Here’s another point of view, but this is IMO the FATHER’s plan, perspective and action, but not relevant for the disciples of the SON Jesus Christ: Bachman refers to the book of Daniel.

  • Wow… this is a fantastic article, and spoken with a lot of conviction and biblical wisdom. Thanks Jesse! I found both articles from the last two days to be extremely helpful, though I think this one is even better 😉

    • Thanks Matt. I’m grateful for your ministry brother. Press on.

  • Adam

    ‘If Matthew the Levi and Simon the Zealot can fellowship at the same table, so can we.” AGREE! And the same holds true for the Calvinist and non-Calvinist. Tired of Christians dividing over this issue. You said a lot of things in your article that both camps can and should unite on. Regardless of what camp you are in, both are called to exalt Christ and preach the Gospel of Grace. Let God take care of the means to the end.

    • I hadn’t thought about this post from that perspective. I agree there are some parallels, but also a key difference. I think its good and healthy that different churches have different focuses on theology. If someone wants to speak in tongues in a worship service…well, there are churches where they do that, but they can’t do that at a church I pastor (for one of a million examples). But it wouldn’t be helpful to have a church for Trump! and a church for #NeverTrump.

      • Maranatha

        Jesse, Adams post sounds to me like Romans 14,5-6 or even Philippans 1,18 but you are right: things are not parallel here. In many cases (not all, but many or even most!) Gods Holy Word is VERY clear in ONE direction and one single meaning only. The problem is: not every of Jesus’ disciples is on the same level of spiritual growth, insight and knowledge of scripture – but most of them want to discuss everything they have not (yet) understood. This practice in “modern arguing” as the world does has entered the church, too. The spirit of political correctness and tolerance does not allow one firm sense – and when you argue compliant to scripture in ONE way, everybody would call “woe!” at you, even if they didn’t proove it right. This is no question of “different focus on theology” – here you are trapped into PC speech as well. 😉

        Dear Adam, if you read this: Please think about the biblical fact that the Levi and the Zealot BOTH are in Christ a whole new creation and have nothing in common with the men or objectives they were/had before (Galatians 3,28!). So they meet at the Lord’s table not as Levi and Zealot but ONLY new created and born from above as brethren in Christ. And their perspective will never be orientated on earth and politics, but only on heavenly goals. Such character is the kingdom they both target.

        • Adam

          My point was simply that while the post was on the subject of unity among Christians, here is another thought…I know my comments weren’t politically orientated but instead theologically based.

          You said, ” Dear Adam, if you read this: Please think about the biblical fact that the Levi and the Zealot BOTH are in Christ.” Well, I agree. And the same hold true for the Calvinist and non-Calvinist. That is my point; both are IN CHRIST, therefore, there should not be a division in the body because of these differing positions

          • Maranatha

            OK then I perhaps misunderstood your post. Forgive me!

      • Adam

        Not saying that it is not healthy to have different theological positions, but staying specific to my post, the different positions taken by Calvinists and non-Calvinists seems generally to be more divisive than healthy.

        • Maranatha

          Dear Adam, here you would have to define first what is a “Calvinist” or a “Non-Calvinist” or what you account them – they are only terms without substantial definition (yet). If you mean e.g. that a Calvinist emphasizes more on the sovereignty of God in chosenness, agreed. And the Non-Calvinist stresses the responsability of men in conversion. But without definition, it is just terms. We cannot divide about terms we did not define. Here just two sides of a medal are accentuated, both are true. In this case, you have indeed TWO sides to consider. It is the divine paradox here we will only understand in heavenly state, but not here on earth in condition of sinners. Therefore, dispute and quarreling about a divine paradox is nonsense. 😉

          • adam

            Agree again – “quarreling about a divine paradox is nonsense.” Yet so many still insist on doing so and consequently dividing over it. That was the central point of my first post.

  • Nigel

    Thanks Jesse. Very clear now.

    1 Cor 1:10 “I appeal to you brothers, by 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 judgment.”

  • Jason

    To use the verse my son has (since memorizing) continued to repeat “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.” (Psalm 71:5) Hopefully, he can apply it when his youth isn’t so current!

    We’re pretty good about pointing out Adultery as wrong, but it’s closely related issue of Idolatry is accepted in many forms. People who are hopeless without certain political victories and hopeful when they get them, those who believe money will solve their problems, those looking to various self-help gurus to give them the secrets to life, etc…

    If loyalty to something other than God is what’s coming between ourselves and another believer, we’re not focused on what matters most.

  • alexguggenheim

    It would be interesting to see you take on Thabiti Anyabwile who is sponsored by The Gospel Coalition and who has, both he and them, advocated for Hillary Clinton, he much more directly thus, I suggest him and not them.

    As you been pointed out, while we have dual citizenship, when we permit “the darkness of politics to cover the light of our faith”, we err. Anyabwile has elevated his political identity, based heavily on anthropologically ased racial identity, in a manner which I believe significantly diminishes, if not at times obliterates his gospel witness in light of his advocacy of BLM and further politicized speech in which he advocates for Clinton who has proved to be far more than merely a liar but utterly corrupt. (The Gospel Coalition, regardless of the qualifying statement at his blog stating that this is not necessarily representative of TGC’s views, are giving him the platform and audience so this attempt at hand-washing is nonsense).

    Peter states clearly about our identity as believers:

    But you are a chosen race (γένος/genos), a royal priesthood, a holy nation (ἔθνος/ethnos), a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

    While I do approach the overall issue with a Lutheran based two-kingdom theology, (which I believe is superior to the “Reformed” brand and particularly its modern expression but that is a debate for another day), still, even within the framework of a two-kingdom construct intended by God, your principle that, “the darkness of politics to cover the light of our faith” stands – though I would challenge when and where one might claim that light is being covered with respect to essential left kingdom protocols such as a strong support of law-enforcement and so forth which as elements of divine establishment principles for nations, states, tribes and other forms of community establishment.

    Anyabwile advocates for his racial or left-kingdom identity and mostly in a politicized form. Yes, he has been challenged by a few but mostly by outlier Doug Wilson and tepidly by others. The push back is always ceded in the constant, “you’re not black, you just don’t understand and likely you’re simply unconsciously racist” argument formulated, not in the wisdom of the Scriptures of temperament of God’s Spirit but an argument constructed by rather manipulative and dishonest organizations who are using the politicization of race as a control mechanism to dispossess an silence others, but I do not wish to get sidetracked there.

    The point is, Anyabwile advocates, strongly, for Clinton and for all the wrong reasons which I believe ultimately blankets his credibility of what Peter describes is our overriding identity.

    • Thanks for your comment Alex. I moderated some of it (the parts about race and TGC, because frankly I don’t think they were accurate). Your point about Thabiti…I tired to deal with that in the post before this (linked in my first sentence). I think Wilson’s back/forth with him was profitable and sufficient. I wound’t say anything different than Wilson did there.

  • tovlogos

    “Since the calling of the Twelve, political affiliation has been secondary to Kingdom affiliation. If Matthew the Levi and Simon the Zealot can fellowship at the same table, so can we. And I don’t mean that as hyperbolically as it might sound. Ask yourself: if knowing someone in your small group is going to vote for someone different than you, will that hinder your fellowship?”

    That depends — in a consistent fellowship where everyone is submissive to the Word,
    I have seen the Scripture repeatedly bring light into people views in conflict with it.
    If someone is proactively competitive about justifying Sodom, which was left in the Genesis 19 journal as an example of something not to do, that’s a problem for me.
    I can’t shove Genesis 19 under the rug, as the present administration has; and have “Christians” come and tell me it okay, now.