In the next few weeks, we will look at some biblical principles Christians might want to apply to moral and political concerns. And then when we continue to look at threats to the church we might be better able to see that avoiding politics is not the answer.
As recently as 1947, theologian Carl Henry warned his post-war contemporaries that historic Christianity risked losing influence because of its hesitancy to apply the gospel to ‘pressing world problems’. In Henry’s day, many evangelicals were tempted to or had already withdrawn from the public square. As a result, evangelicals were becoming increasingly inarticulate about the social reference of the gospel. Henry rightly feared that this withdrawal signaled to the world that Christianity could not compete with other ideologies. Instead of withdrawing, Henry encouraged Christians to apply the fundamentals of their faith to the full range of issues the gospel speaks to, including politics, the foundational arena where people’s public lives are ordered. Over the last few decades, with the rise of secularism and the sexual revolution’s repudiation of Christian sexual ethics, biblical principles have been steadily pushed to the periphery of the public square. As a result, it is not uncommon for Christians today to be uninformed or confused about how their faith ought to influence their public engagement.
In today’s hyper-politicized environment, some argue that Christians should not associate too closely with elected officials or political parties, because it conflates the responsibility of the church with that of the state. Some take this view and argue for full withdrawal from the public and political space. On the other end of the spectrum are those who argue for heavy involvement with politicians and partisan politics. You can guess which group I am with.
Without a doubt, we live in a time of acute political polarization. The toxic tone and extreme partisanship in politics can be discouraging. Thus, it is no surprise that withdrawing from the political process has become a temptation for many Christians. If God is sovereign and controls the heart of the king (Prov. 21:1) do we really need to get involved in the messy world of politics? Because political engagement can be divisive, shouldn’t Christians abandon politics and direct their energies toward more spiritual pursuits?
There seems to be much confusion as to just what politics is? Politics is intimately connected to community…how we relate to other people…and inextricable from the concept of loving one’s neighbor. It is how groups of humans organize their affairs. If we become wrongly convinced politics only deals with a narrow subset of clashing politicians, and thus withdraw from politics at large, society…and our neighbors…will be worse off. In some circles there seems to be an assumption that politics is inherently defiled and that political activism is inappropriate for those serious about the gospel. Those who hold this view suggest that because Jesus’ final command was to make disciples (Mat. 28:16-20), Christians should exclusively focus on sharing the good news and discipling others in the faith. They argue that because political engagement does not lead someone to faith in Christ, it should not be a top priority. However, upon closer examination of Scripture, this objection fails to account for a broader perspective of politics that incorporates how people order their lives and affairs and the reality that the Christian worldview has much to say about civic responsibility. The Bible teaches that governing authorities have been instituted by God (Rom. 13:1-7). Paul says that government is “God’s servant”, and carries out the God-ordained task of administering justice. Although God is sovereign, He often chooses to use human means to bring about His will and implement His plan. This would include taking a stand against evil. Communities must form or support a government to employ this God-given justice mechanism. The role and purpose of the state as well as the Bible’s consistent concern for meeting both spiritual and temporal needs point to the conclusion that Christians must, as they have opportunity, seek to engage the political process in a God-honoring way.
The Bible contains numerous examples of God’s people engaging in politics as part of a holistic approach to ministry that meets practical needs.
> Joseph and Daniel served in foreign administrations and used their influence to implement policies that benefited society.
> The prophet Jeremiah instructed the exiles in Babylon to seek the welfare of their new city. The people were commanded to pray for the city. (Jer. 29:7). A thriving society would benefit God’s people as well as the city’s inhabitants.
> Jesus engaged in holistic ministry, caring for the physical and spiritual needs of people; feeding the hungry and caring for the sick were extensions of the message He preached.
> Paul also advocated a comprehensive approach to ministry: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone”. (Gal. 6:10) Also: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”. (Eph. 2:10)
> Facing sedition charges, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen. (Acts 25:10) The apostle was comfortable working within the political and legal system of his day to pursue justice against false accusations.
> Paul instructs Timothy: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings, and for all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
The Bible is clear, in both the Old and New Testaments: as the realm where we order our shared lives, politics occupies a significant place in society and is a central area of Christian concern. Politics is unavoidable. Because government and its laws are an inextricable part of our lives, there is no way to avoid some level of involvement. Christians, although “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) in this world, are nevertheless citizens of the “City of Man” as well as the “City of God”. Christians ought to endeavor to be good citizens of both cities and leverage their influence for the advancement of laws, policies, and practices that contribute to the flourishing of our neighbors. Thus, Christians have a biblical obligation to engage in politics and the political process. All we have to do is figure out the right way to do that!
Next week we will continue with this phase of ‘Politics and the Church” before we return to following how failure to take a stand and desire to not ‘offend’ has led to many of our world problems. He who hesitates is lost!!
“The biblical admonition to engage in “Good Works” has public significance and is therefore inescapably political.” [“Biblical Principles for Political Engagement: Worldview, Issues, and Voting”]