Grant Swank
Sometimes church is more politics than gospel
By Grant Swank
June 24, 2009

When I first went into the ministry, I carried with me the 'layman's view.' That is, I trusted everyone — especially the clergy. And more particularly those who had risen above local clergy to some 'higher position' within the system.

As years passed — and it took some years to pass — that notion started to wear down a bit. Then it kept wearing down more so. Then finally truth broke through so as to lead me to conclude that sometimes 'church' is more politics than gospel, than truth, than Jesus-sharing.

Oh, boy, is it ever!

Now go all the way back — way back — to the first century. It was the same then. Only then it was not so much the church as it was the temple. Now I ask you for a quick answer: Which held sway at the temple: politics or truth? You got it: politics.

In fact, it was religious politics that killed Jesus. Roman politics merely provided the means to see through the crucifixion ached for by the temple crew.

Go back even further than all that. Flip over history's pages into the Old Testament. Now which held more sway: the primitive politics of the local yen or the prophet's preaching of truth? You got it: primitive politics. That's when the local heathen — sacrificing their animals in the name of Jehovah but neglecting their obedience to the divine — hatcheted the prophets for pressing the truth.

Now let's come down through church history to scan the events' tops of things. What about the medieval period when the Holy Roman Empire held power? If you dared to step out of line of the Roman church politic, heaven help you.

It became worse as time moved on into the sixteenth century. Ask Martin all about that one! It was he who bucked the system in order to press for the truth. And we all know what anguish he had to put up with, fortunate indeed that he did not end his earthly stay tied to a pyre for a torch blow.

And then what followed the Reformation is more of the same: step out of line — whether Catholic or Protestant — and you might find yourself burnt alive. Many did.

Now today, they don't burn you alive, they cut you up into little pieces for the ecclesiastical power plays of the 'church.'

It has happened to far too many good people out there in the gospel work. Some are laymen conveniently fed to the political tables for carnal consumption. But far more innocent, pure clergy have been offered up as the sacrifice for political maneuvering within the 'church.'

I know. I was one of those offered up.

The higher-up over my particular station heard a tale told once at a Christmas clergy / spouses dinner. The tale was that I had said that it was time to get rid of the higher-up-one. It was a lie. I never said that. But the higher-up-one believed that. From that moment on, he held it against me, he plotted for my demise. I never dreamt of what was going on.

In time — and it took a few years for him to see his plot through — he left the scene. Another higher-up came into power play. That higher-up one had told me that I was to agree with him to charge an exorbitant amount for a young couple to cough up in order to use his church for their wedding. I could not agree to the outrageous amount demanded. He never forgot it. He set his sights on ousting me, if ever he could.

Well, because he followed the previous higher-up, he now had the power to see through the killing. In the meantime, there were some in my congregation who called the higher-up on the phone, complaining about nonsense things in the church. (Ever had any of those creatures hanging around the holy altars of worship where you hold forth?)

Those phone calls were the ammunition the higher-up ached for in order to bring down the curtain on my ministry. He waited. He schemed. He did his homework in dirty fashion behind the ecclesiastical curtains till the time was ripe.

Then on one Sunday evening, the higher-up and his henchmen showed up at my residence to deliver the sword's shining blade. It took but a brief time to see through the execution.

From that, the truly Higher-Up-One saw through a deliverance from the churchly politics in order for me to continue the genuine gospel work of the true church.

Yet through it all, I came to experience (more than I had ever wanted to know) of what it is true, oh, so awfully true: the church sometimes is more politics than truth.

If only the young, green ones could get hold of that postulate when first walking into that first pastorate. But it can never be. They would not believe it. They are not seasoned yet. Try to tell them and you are labeled the troublemaker, the old fogy, the neurotic senile wretch.

So those of us who have traveled the journey are left to watch and pray. In time, more are fed to the political slaughter. Yet, once again, such challenges the truly Higher-Up-One to get hold of another bloody mess from which to resurrect a wiser servant.

God be with you if you have ever trekked this painful path. God be near you with a few understanding, TRUSTWORTHY friends who can genuinely empathize with you, intercede for you, carry your burdens for you, and help you through to another daylight of gospel rest.

Believe me, in time, you will come upon that gospel rest — personally and deeply. And for that, you will never ever be the same.

© Grant Swank


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Click to enlarge

Grant Swank

Joseph Grant Swank, Jr., is a pastor at New Hope Church in Windham, Maine... (more)

More by this author