From Philippians this article shows that church politics can only be conquered by having the mind of Christ.

Source: Australian Presbyterian, 2011. 3 pages.

Politics: No Entry Church politics dishonours Christ and harms his people

A place for politics in the church? There is none, according to God's Word. Yet "church politics" is often used to describe certain forms of activities in sessions, presbyteries and assemblies and even within the congregation itself. The phrase either explains, justifies, endorses or dismisses particular ways some Christians operate in these situa­tions. It is not generally condemned. Many see "church politics" as an inevitable feature of the Christian life. Such have sadly resigned themselves to "the reality".

For some it becomes "if you can't beat 'em, then join them!" This way of thinking is especially so for those who are training for, or just entering the ministry, or are newly-elected elders to meetings of our ecclesiastical gatherings, particularly those with personal plans and agendas to promote.

However, the phrase accurately describes what can happen in Christian circles. This is how things may be done in city council meetings and parliamentary sessions in spite of rules, regulations and laid-down procedures for the honourable gentlemen and ladies concerned. Groups secretly or sometimes openly meet beforehand clustered out­side or perhaps inside during meetings. Even texting, emailing or blogging during meetings is now becoming an acceptable means of doing it!

We are reminded that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). In Rome, Paul relates how he himself was the recipient of Christians operating politically against him while he was having enormous gospel opportunities even while under house arrest. They were just doing what other Romans did in similar situations. He also records how in Philippi some Christians were playing the game within the church that pagans played in civic, official gather­ings.

In Philippians 1 it is extraordinary that Paul can refer to the fact that the gospel had penetrated "Caesar's household". Whoever could have imagined that the first generation of Christians would see the gospel make its way into the very administrative heart of the Roman Empire? He states that "the whole of the Praetorian Guard", the crack regiment of the enormous Roman army had heard the gospel. This was also true of "all the rest", referring to imperial public ser­vants who administered this vast empire. Some had believed. This is why the letter can close with "All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household" (Phil. 4:22).

While this was happening, guess what some Christians in Rome were doing? Remember that these were those Paul wrote to in the Epistle to the Romans when he returned to Corinth (Rom. 16:23) and before he was imprisoned in Palestine for over 2 years (Acts 24:27).

These Christians had also been well calibrated by the culture of Rome before their conversion. They dearly needed to be recalibrated because of what some did to Paul when he was there. "Some preach Christ out of envy." The term he used indicated that they were bad-mouthing him, harming his cause.

In order to prejudice the outcome of a trial in Rome, you did this in public to the prisoner as he waited trial — in this case, for Paul's appeal to Caesar to be heard. It is the equivalent today of trial by media before the case ever reaches the courts. In addition, they saw Paul as a "rival". They were convinced if they did this they would "afflict Paul in his imprisonment" (Phil. 1:15-17), which is what was typically done in the judicial context when you disliked a person or saw them as a threat to your agenda.

Now to the problem of politics inside the Philippian church recorded in chapter 2:3. The command was to do nothing from "rivalry and pride", literally "vain glory". Both terms were common-place in this Roman colony. They describe those who were moti­vated by jealousy or a personal agenda, however well disguised. The latter term was used of those who were seeking personal glory and praise as power brokers in the secular world. In the same sentence Paul continues that they must "in humility count oth­ers more significant than themselves". Politics does not happen when you adopt that mindset towards your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Later in the letter Paul strongly exhorts the two women who were his fel­low workers, having worked "side by side" with Paul "to agree in the Lord" (Phil. 4:1). It may well be that they were the cause of the difficulty Paul refers to in 2:3.

The problem occurred because these Christians were calibrated by secular society since divisiveness and power broking were endemic in meetings in secular culture, something that is well documented from ancient sources. How did Paul seek to recalibrate them?

God's solution then is His solution now. What follows immediately is the command that all Christians are to have "the mindset of Christ" (2:5). Jesus was not there to promote Himself — it is well known He was not in the power or pride game. Although the Son of God and equal to the Father, He laid aside the glory that belonged to God, became a menial servant, died the most humiliat­ing death possible, "even death on a cross".

There was nothing in His thinking about position and power but rather the rescue operation that would bring salva­tion to rebellious and totally undeserv­ing sinners. The Glory of God the Father will be brought about when every knee will bow before Jesus acknowledging He is now the Lord. There was no vain glory with Him.

He did not achieve this by ever playing the political game in Jerusalem as the High Priest and his cronies did. They were so good at doing that. He did not seek glory for Himself but by total self-giving He met the immediate needs, and finally the most pressing need, of all humanity. His example shows what true humility is and all Christians must have this mindset, according to Paul.

In the game of church politics there is no place for biblical humility when moves are taking place to achieve goals at the expense of brotherly relation­ships. In His Word, God demands that His children are to be recalibrated by the mind of Christ.

Where politics is played on Sundays or in Sessions or prevails in Presbyteries or asserts itself in Assemblies, Christians are behaving like pagans and the outcome is never glorifying to God and His Son. Paul calls upon all the church to work out the consequences of their salvation, and this is done when we are calibrated by the mindset of Jesus. There is no place for the Christian prima donna or the male equivalent, standing in front of a grand piano, out-performing others and saying, "look at me, look at me, look at me", as sometimes happens in political circles. In this great passage in Philippians 2:1-18, it is not sufficient that Christians understand the eternity of the Son, His victory over sin and death and His supreme place as Lord of all. We must see this was written to recalibrate us so that we adopt the same mindset as the Lord Jesus.

While much more could be said, the text says what is needed. It is a stark reminder to us that in our churches, in our denominational meetings, and in our schools and colleges wherever when political devices enter in, it is not a facilitator or blessing but a hindrance and a curse.

Church politics ultimately diminishes the work of God, dishonours the Lord Jesus Christ, and harms His peo­ple and the proclamation of the wonderful gospel that had worked so well in the household of Caesar and still works throughout the world today. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that it is dumb and devilish and destructive. Furthermore you don't fight fire with fire as some do in response. The Christlike mindset is the only way to do the work of the gospel and ministry. Politics was definitely not the way the Lord Jesus did things, nor must we.

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