Church bells have been used throughout church history for various reasons. Church bells have been rung to announce times of prayer, begin church services, mark the hours in a day, and even to announce momentous events for the community.
Church bells have been used to announce a person’s death and to encourage people to pray for the person’s soul. Hence, John Donne’s famous poem “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” which talks about how, when the bell tolls for a dead person, it wounds all of humanity, not just the person who died. Church bells have indeed been a significant mainstay of church life.
During the French Revolution of the late 1700s, the revolutionists found a new use for church bells. Since the church had become too intertwined with the aristocracy, the French Revolution did not look kindly upon the church or its priests or its traditions. The Revolution saw churches as unimportant at best.
The Revolution did find a use for the church bells, however. All across France, it was decreed that church bells be melted and made into what the Revolution felt was truly valuable: things like coins and cannons. It should make us sad seeing something sacred and beautiful melted down into something that is valuable only for its political purposes.
“It should make us sad seeing something sacred and beautiful melted down into something that is valuable only for its political purposes.”
It’s an election year. And election years are appropriate times to be reminded that it wasn’t just the French Revolutionists who looked at churches and saw the potential for coins and cannons. We must be realistic that, even today—and even from opposing angles—we should expect politicians to try to use churches for the kinds of things politicians find valuable during an election year.
This isn’t because they are necessarily bad people. After all, it’s their job to get as many votes as they can, and they probably believe they are doing what’s best for their nation. Sometimes they’re right. Even still, how should we feel about seeing the sacred church getting treated as if it’s valuable only for its political contribution?
Let’s not forget that Jesus found himself in a similar position as the church finds itself in an election year. Jesus had just finished feeding the crowd of 5,000, and the crowd’s political ambitions were starting to churn. Here was someone who could feed 5,000 men at once. He could heal the sick and even raise the dead. If Jesus could be made their king, they would have the most invincible army in history!
“Jesus found himself in a similar position as the church finds itself in an election year.”
Jesus foresaw their ambitions. That’s why John 6:15 says,
“Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
Jesus refused to be made into a political pawn for any particular party. In the same way, the church needs to remember its identity—not as a plump voting bloc but as a God-sent agent of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says,
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
What does all this have to do with your everyday moments? Well, as long as there are elections to be won, you and your church are going to be taught to think of yourselves as valuable only insofar as you are getting with the program—that is, someone else’s political program.
“The church needs to remember its identity—not as a plump voting bloc but as a God-sent agent of reconciliation.”
Christians shouldn’t quarantine themselves from political concerns. But we also shouldn’t stand for seeing something sacred getting melted into something which is only useful for political purposes. In an election year, you are going to be coaxed into seeing your church as valuable only insofar as it can help get X politician elected or get X legislation passed.
That’s when we must not forget, as Hebrews 12:28 says, that we have received “a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Let us redouble our efforts to be light in a dark world, and to do the good work God has given us of reconciling people with God and reconciling people with people. Renew your confidence in what God can do through the church, without buckling under the pressure to reduce our churches to coins and cannons.