First a word on the curious title for the sermon. In the American colonial era, ministers used to preach sermons to prepare congregants for their civic duties at election time, and these sermons were called artillery sermons. The custom may have begun (back in England) with messages that were preached to artillery companies prior to their election of officers. But the term broadened, and here we are.
What I would like to do this morning is declare an authoritative word to you in the light of our current political season. Given the inflamed state of our postmodern politics, it might seem that we are always in a political season, and that is actually part of our dilemma.
“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
Summary of the Text
What we have in this text is a very succinct definition of what have come to be known as sins of omission. A sin of commission happens when someone does the evil thing. He does it, and so he is the sinner. A sin of omission is when an evil is about to happen, and someone who has the means to prevent it does not prevent it. He doesn’t do anything, and hence he is the sinner. In short, you can sin by doing absolutely nothing.
The context of this verse in James has to do with entrepreneurs who boast in their conceit about their ability to go here and there, do this and do that, and make a pile of money. But, James responds, your life is a small little wisp of fog rising off an obscure creek, about fifty yards back from the highway. For such an ephemeral one to boast is evil. But James hastens to add that it is not enough to avoid the evil—one must also do the good that is before you.
This coming Tuesday, our city is holding an election for city council. There are three open seats, and there are six candidates running. Each registered voter gets to cast up to three votes in this election. The election is a city-wide horse race, meaning that the top three vote-getters will take office and, if you follow me closely, the other three will not. If you are interested in narrowing your options down, three of the candidates used what can only be called “a drag show fail” to drum up support. They apparently did not know what might most appeal to you.
So the immediate point of application is this—followed by a brief explanation, and followed right after that with some general observations on questions you might need to answer. Here is the charge: anyone who lives here in Moscow, and who is qualified to vote in this election, must vote in this election. It would be a sin not to. Sitting this one out is not an option. This is an election that will have significant repercussions for a number of individuals in our community, and for a number of institutions. This includes entities like Logos, NSA, Christ Church, and so on, not to mention numerous individuals. And so this means that if you do not vote, and a year from now we find ourselves getting hassled by a city council that is now hostile to us (surprise!), and your lack of participation in the election was the reason for it, then you will have a great deal of trouble praying with us for a successful outcome of the upcoming hearing which will determine whether NSA students have to park their cars on top of the other students’ cars. To save room.
So that is it. We have no business binding your conscience on the content of your particular vote. But we are saying that you have an obligation before God to vote.
Yeah, But What About . . .?
Perhaps some of you have been in conversations with co-workers or neighbors about your involvement with “that church.” And so is this an instance of us “flexing?” Is this an instance of Christ Church, aka the Death Star, finally “making our move?” I want to provide you with a few things that you can say in all such conversations, and say with confidence. You can say these things with confidence because they are true.
Political, Not Partisan
We believe, and have taught for years, that the Christian church is inherently political. At the same time, we have diligently avoided partisan politics, and will continue to do so. Here is the difference. Politics is not our savior, but politics will most certainly be saved. We therefore avoid every form of “vote for Murphy” partisanship. Christ Church never wants to fit in with the old jibe about the Episcopalians, which was that they were the Republican Party at prayer. That was a century ago, as they are now the Democratic Party at a séance. At the same time, we recognize that the resurrection of Jesus most certainly has an agenda for our earthly political system. If our presence here in town were a political irrelevance, this could only mean that we were deeply compromised. So we are political, not partisan.
Repenting of Cynicism
Any thoughtful person who watches our clown-car-parade of a culture, a pandemonium that is punctuated at regular intervals by elections, is going to be tempted to become cynical. He will tell his wife that if God had wanted us to vote He would have given us candidates. He will tell his children that they shouldn’t vote because “it only encourages them.” He might be prevailed upon to vote in a hot presidential election, but for the most part he is lethargic. But, as we can tell from the huge turnout in presidential elections, compared to the small turnout for local elections, people really have their priorities upside down. Local is far more important than people think, and cynicism cannot wave that reality away.
A Decisive Point
Our local progressives have made a great deal out of the fact that we want to “take Moscow” for Christ. And this is quite true, we do. But we simply want this in the sense intended by the Lord Jesus in His Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), and in the sense that is desired by every evangelical Christian church. The means we intend to use to accomplish this will be Word and water, bread and wine. We intend to labor quietly with our hands and minds. We are resolved to show hospitality. We intend to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, providing them with a thoroughgoing Christian education. Sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it?
In my father’s application of the principles of war to evangelism, he has taught for many years that a decisive point is one that is simultaneously strategic and feasible. If we were to take New York City for Jesus that would certainly be strategic, but how feasible is it? If we were to take Bovill, Idaho for Jesus, we could do that in three weeks, but how strategic would it be? But small towns with major universities (like Moscow and Pullman, eight miles apart) are decisive points. They are simultaneously strategic and feasible.
But all of this is to be accomplished without any coercion, through the power of love, good works, true community, good work, and persuasion. We don’t need to deface anybody’s yard signs.
So our agenda for Moscow is simply this. It is to be the right kind of left alone. Our interest in this particular city council election, when it comes to politics, is entirely defensive.
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
1 Tim. 2:1–4 (KJV)
We take that defensive posture politically so that we might be on the offense when it comes to sharing the gospel. Why? Because God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
We are not interested in meddling with the affairs of others. We are not going to make the Moscow Food Coop sell Doritos.
You may have missed it, but one of the big reasons why Calvin was enabled to become the influential force that he became throughout Reformation Europe was because of the city council elections in Geneva in 1555. You may never have heard of those particular elections, but you also might be living here in Moscow because of them. I am not saying that our election is as important as that, or important in the same kind of way, but I am saying that local obedience is always important. Never underrate the power of Christ in your immediate surroundings.
All of Christ for all of life means two things that are relevant here. Christ is over all, and Christ is in all. If He is in all that means that reformation begins in the heart, in the family, in the parish group, in the neighborhood, in your car, in your business, in your child’s education. All of for Christ, in Christ, through the power of Christ.