Ask Steve: Church and Politics

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Question: Steve, what role should the church play in the arena of politics and cultural debate?

Answer: The church’s engagement and involvement with politics and culture has always been debated, resulting in different views. Some believe that the church should totally refrain from any involvement in church and politics, practicing faith quietly and being a gospel influence in predominantly social circles. Others believe that the church should heavily infiltrate politics and culture with the attempt to “Christianize” the society as much as possible.

In attempting to answer this unique question, we must look at what the Bible teaches concerning the church’s involvement with politics and cultural debate. Politics is a government vocation, and as such, it is very much like other vocations that Christians partake in, whether paid or volunteer. In whatever vocation Christians engage in, they are to do it to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). This means that they are to do their work with the utmost integrity, submitting to bosses (Eph 6:5; 1 Pet 2:18) so as to be a godly model of service to authority. At the same time, Christians must never compromise their faith and values, especially if the government job forces or pressures them to make decisions that cause them to stumble into sin (Acts 5:29). Political work often times involves making choices or enacting laws that have a definite moral overtone to it. In such cases, Christians must always do what it right to honor the Lord, even if it should incur the wrath of the general public. How a Christian goes about pursuing the right course of action takes discernment, especially if they are working amidst a pack of unregenerate people who are not open to the Christian’s ideas.

PolA Christian makes right moral choices in political work because it is God’s will that the government acts in accordance with what is just. Romans 13:1-4 teaches that Christians, like other people, must be in subjection to the government because God has ordained government to punish wrongdoing, reward virtuous acts, and enact justice on behalf of victims. A government cannot do this properly if their definition of what is right and just is skewed, which is what we are currently experiencing in many governments around the world. That is why Christians who are engaged in politics should use their God-given position or legal privilege to help with the enactment of civil laws and statues that capture God’s will for the government. These laws should be designed to punish criminals accordingly and to defend the poor, the weak, and the marginalized against unjust or oppressive treatment. Practical ways in which pastors and laypeople can make a difference in politics is to endorse and/or vote for laws that oppose abortion, sex slavery, pornography, immoral sexual institutions, racism, and to support effective and ethical ways to assist widows, orphans, and the poor who desire to cooperate with efforts that will pull them out of their financial calamity.

It must be said that the job of the church is not to become a sort of nation or governing institution that seeks to overtake the secular government and force conversions on heathens. Dangerous things have happened in history when governments used religion to justify war, murder, or conquering of other tribes and nations, all with impure and unbiblical motives. Jesus Himself never forced the gospel or the Christian lifestyle onto unbelievers, although He warned of the eternal consequences of rejecting His offer of salvation (Matt 7:23; 25:46; Jn 3:16-18; 8:24). For political organizations, run by professing believers, to force or pressure Christianity onto unbelieving subjects is to go against Jesus’ command of reaching the lost with compassion, while honoring their choice of accepting or rejecting His word. Governments that have done this in the past exemplify a blatant misuse of the Christian faith in politics.

Pol 3However, this does not mean that Christians should totally eject their faith out of the workplace. Hostile unbelievers expect this of Christians when they advocate a “separation of church and state,” as if the state is somehow neutral ground. The truth is: There can never really be a separation of one’s Christian beliefs from the affairs of the state, because a large dose of political affairs have much to do with issues of morality and ethics. There is no neutral ground. Both the word of God and the world’s philosophy have presuppositions regarding how life is to be conducted morally, which is why the Christian must be grounded in the truth of Scripture in His work in politics. He must not only work for laws and organizations that support righteousness, but must do everything in his power to preserve the freedom of Christians to organize, worship, and proclaim the gospel to others. This means that he should not be complacent about laws that persecute Christians or heavily restrict the Great Commission.

When it all comes down to it, the church’s involvement in politics must always start with the desire to proclaim the gospel to the lost. The Great Commission is as necessary in a restaurant business as it is in politics. There is a clear difference in honoring God with our practices in business/politics and lording it over the public with threats, anger, and compulsion. The Bible teaches us that it is not external laws that will change the hearts of the people, but the word of God in the gospel (Rom 7:1-9). That is why the church should be involved in politics with the goal of bringing the gospel to unbelieving colleagues and partners in the field with the hopes that they will be saved. Only when more and more hearts are regenerated by the Holy Spirit and filled with God’s word can we see the changes we want in society, all to God’s glory. The same applies to government and politics.

A similar principle can be applied to Christians in cultural debate. Should saints participate in cultural debate and dialogue, or should they retreat altogether? This is also a matter of discernment for the church and the individual Christian. There are certain cases in which Christians are wise not to be involved in certain forums because their efforts are akin to casting pearls before pigs (Matt 7:6). This includes internet forums like response columns or webchat dialogue. However, there are other cases in which dialogue may be extremely profitable. This includes television interviews, radio, or publication. In such cases when there is a potential for a large non-Christian audience to hear the Bible’s stance of given issues (ex. religious plurality, homosexuality, euthanasia, abortion), then the Christian can use that as an opportunity to speak up for what is right, according to Scripture.

We live in a society that is getting more degenerate with each generation, which is why Christians need to shine light and truth into this dark age in order to convict and pierce the conscience of the unbelieving public. However, the Christian’s effort would not be complete, and may even be in vain, if he did not tie his discussions to the gospel. Without a clear explanation of the gospel, the Christian’s presentation on any given issue would not make any real sense to the unbeliever. The unbeliever would not understand why the Christian believes the way he does about the controversial issue. But most importantly, the unbeliever will not have a chance to be evangelized through this process, which is the ultimate goal of all apologetics. Biblical arguments on a given topic might convict an unbeliever, but will not change his heart. Only the gospel does this. This is why cultural debates should have an evangelistic focus, no matter what response comes from the debating opponent or the public.

The church’s interaction with politics and cultural debate does not have easy, clear-cut applications. The issue always comes back to how much should faith be mixed with politics, or how much should faith shape politics. The Bible teaches that the world will never have a perfect, God-pleasing government until Jesus returns to set up His millennial kingdom. Neither will the world have a perfect culture full of faith, righteousness, and unity until the return of Christ. There will never truly be peace in a godless world. The focus of the church until the second advent of Christ is to simply be faithful to the Great Commission – to evangelize the lost, teach God’s word, and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:18-20). That is the key behind a Christian’s involvement with culture and politics. That is what it means for God’s will to be done (Matt 6:10), as one day it will be when God’s perfect government and culture comes to earth.