Why buy campaign ads when you can get a free, tailor-made campaign event in front of 3,000 folks during Sunday morning worship at your neighborhood evangelical church? In what surely would make our Baptist forefathers roll over in their graves, a Southern Baptist megachurch — First Redeemer Church in Cummings, GA — gave over its pulpit (there are other ways to describe this, but I will refrain) for a campaign speech by former Southern Baptist turned Roman Catholic, Newt Gingrich. Put into perspective, this made First Baptist Church of Jacksonville’s introduction of Gingrich at the conclusion of their annual Pastor’s Conference look not quite as morally negligent by comparison.
Since First Redeemer Church and their Pastor, Dr. Richard Lee, offered their sanctuary as a campaign stop last Sunday for another Catholic, Rick Santorum, it seemed only fitting that Gingrich stand behind the sacred desk during the main worship service on this Lord’s Day. What would a church service be without politicians trying to woo the faithful? At least Gingrich didn’t have his campaign sign posted on the front of the pulpit like Rick Santorum. I suppose Mr. Gingrich having the endorsement of the church’s pastor is even better than a campaign placard.
If Gingrich were not running for the Republican Presidential nomination and, if the Georgia Republican primary were not nine days away from this campaign event and, if Gingrich were not one of the most unqualified men — character-wise — to run for the Presidency, then one might be tempted to overlook this unhealthy mixture of politics and religion. Don’t get me wrong. I think that Christians should be involved in the political arena. Our voices should be heard in the town square and at the ballot box. However, Christians — particularly Baptists — should never substitute worshipping politics (and politicians) for worshipping the One, True God! Of course, that’s something that our Baptist ancestors — like Isaac Backus and John Leland — knew all too well. It’s something that this generation of Baptists — if you can still call them that — have sadly forgotten.
But, what can we expect when First Redeemer — along with a growing list of other churches, mega and otherwise — are removing “Baptist” from their name? When I first read that Mr. Gingrich had spoken at First Redeemer Church on a Sunday morning, I thought, “This couldn’t be a Baptist church, could it?” Sadly, it was. This is one of the few times that I was glad that a church no longer publicly identified themselves with the Baptist name (even if they are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention). If this church and her pastor don’t know any better than to allow politicians to troll for votes during what should be set aside as a time of worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, then they are not worthy of the name Baptist.
And, Mr. Gingrich’s charade that he was speaking to the assembled faithful as just a “citizen” would be laughable if it were not so sad. The man is not just a citizen. He is a candidate for the Republican nomination for President, who, nine days before an election, was allowed by the undershepherd of this flock to stand behind the pulpit and proclaim disingenuously that he was not speaking as a “religious leader” or as a “saint” — right on both counts — but as just a “citizen.” We already knew that Mr. Gingrich is a man with no shame. Apparently he was not the only one at First Redeemer with no shame on Sunday!
XVII. Religious Liberty. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. (emphasis added) The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.
When will we learn that Christians should not look to politicians to solved the nation’s ills? If we truly believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is transformative for individuals and for our culture, we would stop the flirting and other untoward behavior that seems to characterize much of the modern church in America. It seems that far too many conservative Evangelicals — including not a few Southern Baptists — “have sold our birthright for a mess of pottage.” (h/t to GA pastor and blogger William Thornton for that quote) In the end, we will just have a mess — a mess of our own making!