It is often said that “great minds discuss ideas, and weak minds discuss people”. In my writing, I find it very difficult to leave out the names of people. After all, people have ideas; and we tend to connect the two. The difficulty lies in the fact that the minute a name is mentioned, the reader tends to lose focus on the idea.

Recently, I have heard several people make that mistake. What do you do when two people are running for public office and neither one of them, from our point of view, is qualified? The emotional responses are easy: “I will just stay home; “I won’t vote”; or “Now is the time to vote for a fringe candidate”. That would be all right if people were the issue, but government is about ideas and principles rather than people. Can we really make these very important decisions based on frail, fallible humans? If so, I would never vote.

The Curse in the Local Church

If I can claim expertise in any area, it is that of ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. This comes not only from experience gained by thirty-seven years in the pastorate, but also from much research, study, teaching, and publishing. What I have discovered is that local churches very often are all about people, not ideas. The emerging and emergent churches have begun their cultural tsunami on this shifting sand. The traditional church has been mired in the same problem for years, and as a result is finding it easy to fall into man-centered worship and ministry.

Of all the church splits I can remember, only a handful were due to differences concerning biblical truth, theology, doctrine, and ideas. In most cases, those church fights were about people. This is the very reason the majority of our churches fail to experience spiritual or physical growth. Perhaps we should ask, is it possible to grow a church built on truth, doctrine, theology, and biblical ideas?

An Application

And now, with all this in mind, how will you decide whom to vote for? The problem is that there has never been a perfect candidate. Give me a name, and I can find some moral, spiritual, or social failure. You will have to admit that every candidate for whom you have ever voted was in some way flawed. Some are better than others, of course, but all are flawed; so that at least makes the playing field level.

Choosing leaders or servants becomes much easier when we base our choices on ideas. For a believer, the decision is basic. While we normally base it on “what I think”, “what I believe”, “what I want”, and “what I like”, that suddenly turns into a human focus. I am pleading for a godly focus.

The question we should be asking is this: “What has God clearly said in His Word?” This is assuming, of course, that we know what the Bible has set down as the final word on each issue. In our circles, many people – both in the pew and in the pulpit – know about the Bible, but fail to really know the Bible. This, then, is how we should make our decision: consider ideas – what God has said, and not just what we think He has said.

Some Key Ideas

Forget the names of the candidates. Instead, discover what their ideas are, and then compare them to God’s standard. Make a list, a long list, and then decide what ideas we are obligated to support no matter how flawed a certain candidate may be. You may argue that you can’t separate the two; but if that is true, you have missed the whole point of this lesson.

What are some of these issues? How can I test a candidate’s ideas? During my years in the pastorate, just prior to any major election, I would choose to preach an election message. (Don’t get me started!) This was after the pattern of early colonial pastors.[1] The message was not about people or parties, only about ideas, some of which were marriage, capital punishment, abortion, infanticide, sodomy, war, morality, authority, and separation of church and state.

To miss the point, one would have had to be asleep or have a false allegiance to a political party or an unnatural attraction to a person. So, I have made up my mind. If this election were only about people, I would stay home or choose some ineffective fringe candidate in order to make my personal point. As for me, I intend to speak for truth and for ideas. The flawed candidate who is closest to God’s perspective on truth gets my nod. How easy is that lesson? Now, it is time for you to take the exam. Don’t fret – I will not be grading your exam; I have no right to do that. God Himself will do the grading.

[1] Headly, J.T. The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution. New York: Charles Scribner, 1864