Jesus was strong on strategy. He understood God's plan and his every word and action was directed towards accomplishing that purpose. When well-meaning friends told him to go to Jerusalem, he declared that he would only go when the time was right (John 7:3-9). He set his own agenda and nothing could shake him from his course.
The social liberals who are driving political and social change in New Zealand have a clear agenda and an effective strategy. They have chosen their targets cleverly, and when they win one battle, they move on to the next target. Each new target builds on what has already been accomplished. Civil Unions are just another step toward their goal.
In contrast, Christians seem to be weak on strategy. We just respond to the world's agenda, so we end up fighting battle after battle that we cannot win. Getting repeated hidings might make us feel noble, but two decades of defeats on social issues has really damaged the image of the Church. Because we are always reacting, outsiders think we are angry, harsh and uncaring. The world that God loves sees us as cruel to solo mothers, hostile to homosexuals and unsympathetic to prostitutes.
Choosing the Battleground
A wise general knows that choosing the time and place of battle is one of the keys to victory. The social liberals understand this. One reason they have been so successful is that they have always set the agenda. When they experienced defeat, as with the abortion laws, they did not re-fight the battle they had lost. They shifted the battleground to the place where they were strong (the abortion supervisory committee) and won and even greater victory. Regardless of which political party is in power they have marched on towards their objective.
We will not turn the battle around by responding to the world's agenda. A skilful general seizes the initiative and takes the battle to a place where the enemy is weak and his army are strong.
We continually fight battles in areas where we are totally unprepared, so defeat is inevitable. For example, we defended marriage against civil unions, at a time when Christian's marriage was probably as weak as it has ever been. Marriage breakdown is almost as common in the church as it is in the world. We were not in good shape for the battle on this issue, so we got another hiding.
We are focussed on fighting symptoms like abortion, promiscuity, divorce and profanity But these are not the disease. These are in many ways the symptoms of the disease that we inadvertently tend to support, aid and abet, defend, protect, baptise and fight for-a system sick with consumerism, greed, fear, violence and misplaced faith (in the power of the economy and the state and its weapons). (Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 185)
The Kingdom of God has been losing ground in New Zealand, as the kingdom of the world presses against us. The most recent defeat was the anti-smacking legislation introduced by the Labour Government in 2008.
Some Christians have proposed a new political party to do battle on the smacking issue. This was unwise, as single issue parties usually get side-tracked and then side-lined. Although a majority of people opposed the anti-smacking legislation, this is not an election winning cause.
When a general loses a battle, he should not try to re-fight the same battle on the same battlefield. This tactic would just reinforce his defeat. If we persist with the campaign for smacking, we will turn a half victory in to a loss. Better to look for a place where the enemy is weak and attack there.
Attempting to prevent the world system from expanding into areas that it wants to go may not be the best good objective. A wise general does not attack the enemy at the point where they are strongest. That tactic would generally lead to defeat. The world is confident and expanding rapidly. We can expose what they are doing and speak against it, but we should understand that we probably cannot prevent the expansion.
We need to be careful about the perceptions created by our tactics. Losing a lot of small operational fights can translate into a serious tactical defeat. We have lost every fight for the last twenty years, so we are not taken seriously. We now have the reputation of a losing team and hold the wooden spoon.
We have lost our last twenty operations fighting against the symptoms of social change, but we have missed the causes of the radical change in the shape of society. The social change that concerns us has more deep-seated causes, which we have not resisted. We have been fighting losing battles, while a more important war has been lost. Sometimes a tactical retreat may make more sense than a drawn out series of operational defeats.
Alliance with the State
A wise general is very careful about entering into alliances. He understands that other generals have their own agenda and when the chips are down, they will always look after their own interests. Friends can often turn out to be enemies, once victory is won. In the past, the church made an alliance with the civil authorities and used the power of the state to enforce Christian standards on the rest of society. This worked for a while, but now the world is rebelling against constraints that it never accepted.
The civil government in New Zealand has proved to be a very fickle partner. The support of the Church has allowed the state to increase its power. Now it is using the power that we gave it to advance an agenda that is opposed to God's plan. As the power of the state increases, it has become more and more hostile towards Christianity. Christians might feel that they have been betrayed, but we should have seen this coming. Betrayal is normal in the world of alliances. Only God's covenant is certain.
The alliance partner we helped to victory has now become the enemy. For example, the church encouraged the government to develop social welfare systems, despite God's word giving it responsibility to care for the poor. Many Christians assumed that compulsory taxation would provide for the poor more effectively than Christian charity, but Social welfare has not eliminated poverty, and has probably made it worse. The more serious consequence is that, the enforced charity of social welfare has given the government the authority to take nearly half of all that we earn; a power that few ancient kings ever had.
Political issues have become so important in modern society because the state controls most aspects of life. By encouraging people to have more faith in the state than they have in God, we have given authority the state authority that it did not deserve. Nothing will change that until faith in the state gives way to faith in God.
Conservative Fellow Travellers
Forming alliances with fellow travellers may not the best tactic. People committed to the kingdom of God will be reticent about conservative politics. In a democracy, liberals and conservatives have a symbiotic role. When the progressive government is in power it pushes through laws to bring about social change. The conservative opposition fights against these changes tooth and nail.
Once the conservative government gets elected to power, it does not reverse a single one of the laws that it so bitterly opposed. The supporters of the conservative party do not complain about this, because they are glad that social change has been halted for a while. What they do not realise is that the conservative party has a different role. By not reversing the laws they opposed, the conservative party makes them mainstream. Once a law has the support of the conservatives, it is normalised.
People think that the role of the conservative party is to slow down social change. That is not true. The role of the conservative party is actually to cement social change in place. The slow change, but they never roll it back
Christians often support a conservative party, thinking they are opposing humanistic changes to the law. The reality is that they are supporting a process that strengthens secular humanistic change.
Leading the Charge
Christians can sometimes win a victory by taking up an issue where the liberal party has goes too far and made a change that most people oppose. Christians will get support if they lead the charge against the change. The anti-smacking law is an example.
The problem with leading a charge is that these issues are usually peripheral to the kingdom of God, so people get a misleading view of what we are about. Many people now view Christians as the "smacking people". Even if we had won the battle, we would have lost the war, because people got a distorted view of the Kingdom of God. A victory at the operational level may be a strategic.
Under estimating the Enemy
The most serious mistake a general can make is to over estimate the strength of his forces and under-estimate the enemy's position. Part of problem is that Christians are acting as if we were still in the majority, when we are really a small minority. As a minority in New Zealand, our influence in the political world is going to be very limited. To the world, we look like senile old soldier boasting of his war exploits, but not realising that the battle was lost years ago.
At the moment the social liberals are content to ignore Christians, because they know how weak we are. We should be careful, as if we keep annoying at them, they may react and clamp down on us. If they see us as a serious obstacle to their programmes, persecution could follow.
Leading the charge is dangerous, because it changes us from a minor irritant into the leader of their opposing army. It can also deceive us into thinking we are more stronger than we are. We look at the huge crowd following and assume that they are on our side, but that is not true. They will desert us when the real battle starts.
Before attacking the enemy, a wise general establishes a strong base that is easy to defend. The church in New Zealand lost the battle a good time ago. Those who lose a war, often end up getting a hiding. At the moment, we are being ignored, but there is a risk that the world will turn on us and try and finish the church off once and for all. That could be dangerous for God's people.
If you are getting a hiding, nostalgia about the past is dangerous, as it leads to a false sense of security. When you are getting a hiding, you had better be thinking about how you will survive. Thinking that you are still strong and powerful can leave you dangerously exposed, so wise people think about survival. We might even need to hide for a while, so we can regroup and develop a strategy to defeat the enemy.
The institutional church might become a dangerous place to be, so we need to get into a model of fellowship that will enable us to survive through tough times. I believe that we can still victorious, but that will not come by daydreaming about past victories and lamenting past failings. We need to regroup, and almost start again, on a solid foundation that is faithful to the word of God and anointed by this Holy Spirit.
We have suffered several defeats. The urgent need is to regroup on a strong base and retrain for the battle. When our base is secure, we can attack effectively again.
A wise general concentrates his forces in places where his enemy is weak. A better tactic for the advance of the kingdom could be to identify the areas where the people of the world are vulnerable and resist there. A number of problems are making people really uneasy; violence, economic crisis, loneliness, sickness are just a few. If Christians can demonstrate effective solutions to these problem, the people of the world will be drawn to these solutions.
If we are going to attack the world system, we should identify the places where it is most weak and attack where the world is vulnerable and establish beachheads.
Christians should concentrate their energies on places where they are strong.
i) The Gospel
We have a marvellous gospel. The fact that we are not alone in the universe, but are created by God who loves us is very good news. The truth that he is not playing games with us, but wants to be our friend is a marvellous message. Getting this message to the world is our most important task.
Sickness is terrible problem for our modern world. The medical profession has cured some diseases, but has left us more vulnerable to worse diseases that they cannot cure. Terrible pain and suffering is still the reality for many people. God has given his church the gift of healing and it is an important key to winning the battle in the modern world. When God heals someone with an incurable illness, it is hard to doubt his love. Jesus demonstrated this during his ministry, by focussing on healing the sick.When God heals someone with an incurable illness, it is hard to doubt his love. Jesus demonstrated this during his ministry, by focussing on healing the sick.
Modern society is full of lonely people locked in suburbia. God has given the church the fellowship that is the answer to their heart cry. The problem is that Christians are just as fragmented and isolated as the rest of the society. We should focus on building real Christian community, so that we can draw in and heal the lonely and hurting people of the world.
iv) Exposing Lies
The church has a prophetic role speaking God's word to the powers of the world. While we are minority, we cannot prevent the political powers from implementing laws that break God's law and moving our nation further and further away from God's Word. This will not bring blessing and may eventually lead to judgement.
We may not be able to prevent our nation from turning from God, but we should be warning of the consequences. We should be praying that God will raise up a prophetic voice in this nation to speak his word and warn of the dangerous path that we are taking.
We are strong and the world is weak in all these aspects of life. While we are a minority, we concentrate our forces on these activities. Once we have established a strong beachhead, we can broaden our battle lines.
If we marshal our forces wisely, the time will come when Christians are a majority in society. We will then be able to gain victory in the political arena. A wise general would be preparing for that victory now.
We need forerunners to get involved in the political process to learn for the future. They will find the battle hard and will have more losses than victories, but they will be gaining skills that will be essential in the future. I bless all Christians who are currently serving in Parliament. We should definitely not criticise them, because they are unable to establish a Christian programme. God has put them there to learn, so they can provide leadership in the future when we are in the majority. As power flows towards God, they will have the knowledge and wisdom to exercise political power wisely for his glory.
God will only back wise tactics. He will never allow a Christian minority to enforce his will on an unwilling world. One of God's greatest gifts to mankind is freedom. He will never force sinners to live righteously, if they choose otherwise. He wants people to obey him, because they love him. The most that he will do to make them obey him, is the Holy Spirit's stirring in their conscience. This means that God he will never back a strategy that requires us to use political power to enforce a Christian standard on a non-Christian world.
The state is the only institution in society that has the power to force people to do things against their will. This coercive power of the state is very dangerous and should be used sparingly. It should never be used to force people to live by Christian standards.
The Bible restricts the civil government to a very limited the role. The role of the state is limited to punishing crime, and crime is mostly limited to theft and violence. Punishment of crime constraints the worst excesses of sinful men, but they are still be free to live as they choose. Some will persist in choosing evil, despite the consequences. That is their right. Most people will be constrained by the threat of punishment, so the punishment of evildoers contributes to an orderly society. The state cannot force evil people to be good, because it cannot change their hearts. The most that the state can do is restrain their evil.
Christians throughout history have been tempted to use the power of the state to enforce Christian standards on the world. These attempts have always failed, because God will not back them. The evil they have feared has usually increased. For example, prohibition was not able to prevent the consumption of alcohol. The unintended consequence has always been an increase in the power of the state.
We should only attempt to implement Christian laws when the majority of people are Christian, or if the majority of people accept Christian standards. The battle in the marketplace of ideas must be won before we can achieve victory in the political area. We are currently a long way from that goal. While most New Zealanders accept the wisdom of Jesus, they are very hostile to the idea of Christians imposing their standards on the rest of society. (I suspect that God agrees with them, as he has never forced people to obey him).
Changing the Culture
Culture influences law, more than the law influences culture. We have to change the culture, before we can change the law. The Christian influence on our culture has been declining for a long time. Before we can win victory in the political arena, we must win the battle for our culture. If we wish to influence our culture, Christians will have to get more involved in music, television, film and the other media that shape the culture of the modern world.
The most urgent task in these times is evangelism. We must win hearts for the Lord. As people come Back to Jesus, we can teach them the benefits of living in obedience to him. Only when a majority become Christian, or at least accept the benefits of living under God's wisdom, can we to implement laws based on Christian standards.
We still have a lot of work to do to persuade the world of the benefits of God's way. In the current debate, we have been better at communicating our hostility to civil unions than persuading people of the benefits of Christian marriage. Most people now see Christian standards as restrictive and contrary to the New Zealand way.
Division of Labour
A division of labour is important when dealing with social change. Like an American football squad, we need both an offensive team and defensive team. Conservative think tanks provide important leadership for the defensive team, by exposing the flaws in liberal agenda. However, just as the defensive team is less likely to score a touchdown than the offensive team, proving bad ideas wrong will not get us to a better society.
Conservativism is a good tactic, but a poor solution.
Resisting undesirable change is a sensible tactic, but it should not be our only one. Conservative policies cannot produce a good society. The society that we are seeking has never existed, so it cannot be achieved by going Back to what existed in the past. Resisting change makes sense, but it will not get us to where we want to be.
While we need conservative people to explain why liberal solutions will not work, we also need visionary thinkers to develop and promulgate a vision for a better world. Sound defence will win battles, but we will not win the war unless our offensive team can articulate a compelling and practical vision for the future. People will only join our cause, if the Kingdom of God sounds exciting and plausible. We cannot beat something with nothing.
The offensive team needs a very different set of skills to the defensive team. Sharing an exciting vision needs different talents to exposing flaws in bad ideas. This can cause misunderstandings between the two teams.
The people defending at the front line often find visionary thinkers to be impractical and out of touch with reality. They are tempted to turn their skills at exposing bad ideas onto those who are describing the glorious future of the Kingdom of God. These people deal with details, so they are not moved by vague strategies.
The problem is that getting to our ultimate goal is a gradual process. There are several different ways to get to where we want to be. At times we will advance in one direction only to meet a setback forcing us to probe a new direction. This is the nature of progress. The visionaries can map out broad strategies, but they cannot provide the detailed plan that the defenders usually deal with.
Nevertheless, we must know where we are going. A clear vision of our ultimate goal will help us decide between different strategies and tactics. If we do not know where are going, we will often take the wrong path. We may even go the wrong direction.
Visionary people also get frustrated with those resisting the worldly agenda. The current system seems to be so far removed from the Kingdom of God that trying them better seems like a waste of energy.
Visionary thinkers and political conservatives often do not understand each other. However we need both, for the Kingdom of God to come.