Us and Them: Public Theology in the Breach

January 04, 2023

by John Currie

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; (1 Timothy 2:1–8)

It was once taken for granted in the United States that crises and important occasions were marked by prayer. From 1789, when George Washington began the custom of setting aside days for national thanksgiving, to 1953, when Dwight Eisenhower opened his inauguration with a prayer he had written himself (and there are many more examples), the country has been blessed with a rich history of its political leaders prayerfully declaring their dependance upon God.

As grateful as we ought to be for this history, even as we are right to desire that kind of leadership, our first concern as the Church is actually not that our nation’s leaders would pray. Our first concern and commitment is that we should pray for them! That’s the prescription and pattern we see in 1 Timothy 2:1–8, where God has given us a foundational framework for all the church’s public theology: Deliberate dependence upon God through prayer for civic leaders and for the Church in society.

In this letter, the apostle Paul tells us that there is a right way for the church to behave as the pillar and buttress of truth in the world. He has written to instruct his pastoral apprentice, Timothy, how to put the church in order for its mission. And the first instruction he shares, in the first verse of chapter two is, “first of all…I urge prayers… for them!” “Timothy,” Paul’s saying, “I’m writing to equip you to put the church in order so that she might serve her purpose as the pillar and buttress of the truth.” And “First things first. . . pray!”

In times of cultural crisis our default focus is on what leaders are responsible to do for us. Our instinct is to appeal to and motivate our leadership to do what they are responsible to do. This is a great privilege we have as citizens of this nation. We have the freedom, responsibility, and right to use our voice and vote to call leaders to do fulfill God-given duties.

But in our anxiety to resolve the chaos and corruption in our culture we forget that first priority God gave His Church. And it is actually the most potent strategy we have to be the pillar and buttress of truth in our culture: Prayer for them.

Friends, there is no question that we live in a cultural moment that can be characterized as a revolution. This revolution is ideological, moral, social, and political, and it is hostile to anything resembling biblical Christian faith.

Nevertheless, we are called to pray for them.

If this seems like well-intentioned but naïve advice from an ancient pastor who has no idea what lay ahead, it may help us to get a glimpse of the darkening of culture in which Timothy was called to lead the church.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Tim 3:1–5)

I can’t think of a better summary of our current culture. This was written nearly two thousand years ago, but Paul could be describing headlines from tomorrow’s newspaper, or whatever’s trending on social media right now.

This imperative to pray first was delivered in a culture dominated by the love of self and of money; the culture of a proud, arrogant, abusive people who were rebellious toward authority and the family. In Timothy’s world, public defamation was commonplace. The passions of the public ran rampant, and betrayal and brutality were acceptable means of ambition. The orthodoxy of the culture was to indulge in whatever passion pleased you. And contemporary religion was a powerless, sham!

That’s the last-days culture Timothy and the church are called to dwell and fulfill its mission in until Jesus’s return. It is into that brutal, self-worshipping, tribalized culture of unleashed passions that God’s spokesman says First…pray.

A couple of years ago, Dr. Lillback took a group of us from Westminster to meet with a senator in Washington, D.C. Now, I am an immigrant to the United States. I was born in Scotland, grew up in Canada, and became a citizen 12 years ago. So, as we walked through the magnificent halls of power in Washington I thought, “What an amazing thing that someone like me should be able to walk these great halls.” Then I remembered that I’d been invited there, and that as a citizen, I, in a sense, belonged there. And then it occurred to me what an infinitely more amazing truth it is that, because of Jesus, a sinner like me should have right of free access to the throne of God in the halls of all authority in heaven and on earth!

You see, as Christians, before we are citizens of any earthly nation, we are, by God’s grace, first the people of God. As subjects of Christ’s kingdom and citizens of heaven, our greatest privilege and our source of real power is the access we have, not first to our congressional representative, or to the media, or to the voting booth, but the access we have been freely given to the throne room of the LORD God Almighty… through prayer!

There are two important categories for this primary strategy for public theology as Christians: first, the priority of prayer for Them, and second, the priority of prayer for Us.

Priority 1: Prayer for Them

The first thing to note is that by listing all those different words for prayer—”supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings”—Paul is covering all biblically prescribed types of prayer. Paul is saying that, all kinds of Scripturally prescribed prayer are to be made for all kinds of people.

Here’s what that means in the context of this passage: all people of all different tribes and groups! Just take a quick look at the logic of the passage. In verse 3 and 4, God our Savior desires all people to be saved. In verse 5, he stresses that there is one God and one mediator; Christ Jesus, who, in verse 6, gave himself as the ransom for all. This comes to a head in verse 7, where he defends the fact that he was appointed a preacher, particularly… to the Gentiles.

Continue reading at Westminster Magazine


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