Politics and Worship, But Maybe Not in the Way You Are Expecting

This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines. (Amos 2)

When we read the Bible, or specifically, a book like Amos, we so easily read it as a newspaper article pertaining to a previous day’s events or a Facebook post that was posted a couple of hours ago. But, the Bible is not that kind of medium. It is a collection of writings that were written over many years and quite a few years removed from our current day’s circumstances.

Now, before you start flooding my social media with comments or start calling-up the elders to ask for my head on a platter for being blasphemous, I am not saying the Bible does not speak to us today. It does. I fully affirm the living and active nature of Scripture. I fully believe that the Bible speaks to life in the 21st century. I fully believe that God’s Spirit is present in our lives today by way of the preaching (by word and deed) and hearing of Scripture. I am merely trying to point-out that the Bible, and Amos in particular, was not written to specifically address politics and actions of the United States, the European Union, the town of Clarence, or any other national/geo-political entity of our day.

Looking at Amos in particular, Amos’ prophecy is directed toward a specific situation and people group at a specific time and place in history. Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t principled implications that can be drawn from Amos’ prophecy to our present day situations. There are. And, I hope to flesh that out here in a moment. What I am trying to say is that when we read a book like Amos, we need to make an attempt to try to understand the particular context in which it is written.

Amos lived in a time of uncertainty. His ancestral land had been split into two nations: Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Amos was from southern nation of Judah, and was called by God to prophecy to the northern nation of Israel. Both Israel and Judah struggled with maintaining faithfulness to God at the time of Amos. Judah faired better than Israel, but they both made poor choices.

But, Israel at this time was steeped in deep idolatry and pagan practices — mostly forsaking and desecrating Jewish worship of the Lord God. Though split and unfaithful to God, both Israel and Judah were recipients of God’s promises — they were God’s children, as disobedient as they were. Essentially, Amos is an account of a Jewish prophet speaking and calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God.

As political as the book of Amos is, it’s content is essentially an ancient account of church politics. And, not just content directed at leaders, but to all people in the worshipping community. Politics don’t just happen in capitol buildings, but in our day-to-day activities and relationships. I know we don’t call the nation of Israel a church usually, but that’s what they were in their time. Biblically, the idea of what we know as church, basically means a gathering of people for a specific purpose — that is, those called-out of the world to worship the Lord as a people. That is what Israel was. It was a people group gathered to worship the Lord. And, Amos’ ministry is one of calling the church of his day back to faithfulness to the Lord.

Now, as we move forward through the Biblical story and encounter Jesus, we see that he initiates an expansion of the church of God beyond the Jewish people group to include people from all nations and creeds. The church — those that follow Jesus — is a people group who have been called-out of the world to worship Jesus as Lord. We gather and interact with each other for that specific purpose. Rather than reading the book of Amos as a commentary on the politics of the United States or anywhere else in the world, I think it is far more fitting that we read the book of Amos as a stark example to the global church of Christ today.

Amos was addressing the injustice of the church of his day. Amos was addressing the sins of the church of his day. Amos was addressing the way-ward-ness of the church of his day. Viewed this way, Amos is not as much rogue citizen, criticizing the national politics of his day. Rather, Amos was a member of the ancient church seeking reform and repentance to the worship practices and attitudes of the ancient Jewish church. Amos prophesied coming judgment and discipline for Israel, if they failed to repent and reform. And, what he prophesied sounds very similar to anther situations many years later — after Jesus — when the Apostle Paul addressed the church in Corinth.

In 1 Corinthians, chapters 4-5, 6, 10, Paul notes many practices and attitudes in the church at Corinth that parallel the attitude and practices of Israel in Amos’ day. Paul mentions the Corinthian church’s arrogance, their sexual immorality, their injustice to each other, and their need to reform, or else discipline is on the horizon. Sounds very similar to Amos’ message to Israel, doesn’t it?

Paul even goes as far to say that he has no place to judge those outside the church, but he does have a responsibility to judge (speak truth, in love) to those inside the church. To me, this is where the book of Amos not only applies to the church of today, as a whole, but it also applies to each one of us, individually. We, like Amos, and like Paul of his day, are called to faithfulness to the Lord; and we all, who believe, have the responsibility to each other to call each other to faithfulness to our Lord and Savior.

When you encounter Amos or many of the minor prophets: Micah, Obadiah, Joel, etc. — I encourage you to read them (1) based on their own context and (2) by what lessons they present to us — the Lord’s church of today. What might those prophets be warning us? How might they be calling us to greater faithfulness to God and love and care for each other? What injustices or idolatries or immoralities might they be saying we need to repented of and reform — in the church as a whole, but specifically, in our local body, the Clarence Church of Christ?

Maybe Amos has more to say to our lives today than we think, but maybe it isn’t as geared toward geopolitics with the likes of Obama, Trump, Hilary, Isis, town supervisors, or school boards — but toward the politics of the church — how we worship the Lord Jesus and how we treat each other and how we represent Jesus in the world in which we live.