As I have established previously. Over half a century after the Church abandoned cultural domains due to fear of man, we’re living in the results.
“The fear of man bringeth a snare.” [Proverbs 29:25a]
“Satan spreads the net and fear drives people right into it.” – John Flavel
In my previous two posts, I attempt to establish a distinctly Christian approach to culture, politics, and government. In Part One, we established that politics is downstream from culture. In Part Two, we defined the purpose behind the Christian’s Role in Culture, Politics and Government. In Part Three, I’ll attempt to give some reasons why the church should be involved in politics and government (as best I can with God’s help).
Either God is sovereign over all things, including political and government activity, or he is not. Either we fear God or we fear man.
Should the Church Get Involved in Politics?
That said, we can do the right thing the wrong way and get politics and government wrong. As Christ-followers, we must (with God’s help) endeavor to do the right thing the right way. That is the path of humble obedience that honors God.
First, we must properly order our loves and allegiances:
“You shall have no other gods before Me.“
The primary role of a Christian is not political. However, there will be political and governmental implications flowing from our first love and primary allegiance. The first question of the Westminster Larger Catechism makes it clear. “What is the chief and highest end of man?”The answer, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”
“The sum of the four commandments containing our duty to God is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.”
Christians (who make up the church) commit the sin of idolatry when we place a politician, a political party or social cause above Jesus Christ. Christians also commit the sin of idolatry when we place our comfort, safety, family, affluence, status, worship preference, nation, identity or ourselves above Christ. Christ is the sovereign Lord over all domains of human existence. Our job is to tell the world this truth and live in a way that reflects it so that the world may know that Jesus is Lord of all (whether they accept it or not). Our first love and allegiance is to Him. He is our King and we represent Him.
Second, we must have a biblical understanding of government:
Government was instituted by God for a purpose and resides under God’s providence [Romans 13:1-2, Daniel 2:21, 1 Peter 2:14, Isaiah 9:6]. Government is ‘built into’ reality and in to the ordering of things. Whether you are observing a modern first world nation, or a small tribe, or a company, you will find forms of government.
The institution of government is a blessing from God.
Just government restrains evil and violence and sets forth the conditions for human flourishing and individual liberty to occur.
“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil…. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain” [Romans 13:3-4a].
“It [fear of civil governance] is necessary for the world’s peace, order, and comfort. This passion [fear] acts like a bridle, curbing our corrupt inclinations. If God had not planted it in us, our nature’s corruptions would make us incapable of any moral restraint from the most heinous and barbarous crimes. If fear did not clasp its chains and shackles upon our wild and boisterous lusts, we would suppress all milder motives and break loose from all bands of restraint; the world would be filled with disorder, tumult, theft, murder, and all manner of uncleanness and unrighteousness.
Decency would disappear from the world, No one would be safe; the capacity and opportunity to do mischief would result in the break-up of all societies, This observation is true: Whoever fears not the loss of his own life will master another person’s life. It is the law and the accompanying fear of punishment that keeps the world in order. People are afraid to do evil because they are afraid to suffer for it… Blessed be God for law and government.” – John Flavel
When evil men twist government and politics to their own selfish desires, it is a curse.
‘Unjust government operates outside God’s purpose when it violates, dehumanizes or exploits individual image-bearers, violates God’s moral law or good conscience. When this occurs, the Christian has two choices. Either engage or retreat (appeasement is also a retreat).
Third, we need a proper understanding of politics:
There are many definitions of politics. Merriam-Webster offers a helpful definition among several – “the art or science of government.” I try to keep things as simple as possible. So, politics basically describes the governing affairs (activities) of humans and societies. These activities create structures and forms of governance. Governance is ‘built into’ reality and the order of things.
Politics is a distinctly human cultural enterprise.
Politics is the behavior of humans in regard to governance. Behavior is always guided by worldview. The dominant worldview of a society will shape the characteristics of that society and its politics.
For example: Societies where Christianity is the dominant worldview will look a lot different from societies where Marxism is the dominant worldview. Hindu dominant societies are very different from Muslim dominant societies. Government and politics that emerge from different worldviews will take varying forms.
Forth, we must recover the true meaning and purpose of politics:
Currently, in the West, we have a new understanding and redefinition of ‘politics’. If you take a moment to ask people what they mean when they say, ‘politics’, their definition sounds nothing like the traditional meaning.
I submit to you the modern description of ‘politics’ sounds more like “sectarian tribalism” masquerading as politics. Melding the two definitions, “Sectarian Tribalism” is excessive devotion to a party or group that is marked by loyalty to one group over others expressing negative sentiments (or hatred) of outsiders.
Therefore, we must recover the true meaning and purpose of politics. Let’s focus on three teleological questions. Teleology means ‘purpose’. When we know something’s purpose, we can properly understand its use and relationship to reality. Chainsaws and scalpels both cut things. However, they have two very different purposes. Here are three questions that help us drill down into the purpose of government, politics, and the church.
1. What is the purpose of government?
2. What is the purpose of politics?
3. What is the purpose of the Church?
Politics describes the governing activities of humans in society for good or for ill. Either political activity cultivates, promotes and protects righteousness, justice, peace, and human flourishing or it promotes evil and death. Politics can be used for either purpose. But, politics is not an end in itself, it is merely a means. The means and the ends should be equally important to the thoughtful Christian.
Fifth, we can look to our Bibles for examples of political activity for guidance.
Legitimate political activity is legitimate cultural activity. The Bible is full of ‘political’ characters. Both good and evil. Moses, Abraham, Daniel, Nehemiah, David, Esther, Nicodemus, and Paul expressed political influence in their place and time. While not it’s primary purpose, there are strong political implications and themes running through scripture.
Sixth, we can challenge the privatization of faith and abandonment of cultural domains by the church.
Our Christian forbearers would not recognize the modern privatized Christian faith. Even as it is commercialized, Christians are trained to keep their faith to themselves. This is bad theology. Christians cannot retreat from the ideas, institutions, laws, edicts, and movements that harm our neighbors and still claim we love God or the people God created in his image.
Christians who decry cultural engagement or specifically political engagement don’t realize they are the beneficiaries of their Christian forbearers who set the conditions for their freedom (to decry cultural or political engagement in the first instance). In other words, they saw off the limb on which they sit. If it wasn’t for the Church, the Reformation would not have occurred, slavery would not have been abolished and America would not exist (neither would hospitals, orphanages or the scientific method). All these emerge from the Christian worldview.
Some Pastors and elders say, “We shouldn’t get involved in cultural or political issues!” What they really mean is, “We don’t want to take a public position on a controversial issue that could be interpreted by unbelievers as ‘political.'” In other words, some Christian leaders desire to appeal to the world by not offending the world’s political sensibilities. They would rather appease sinners than call sinners to repent. I’ve heard this drumbeat before from Christians. Humans are culture-making creatures. It is impossible for humans not to be involved in culture. Andy Crouch defines culture by saying, “Culture is what humans make of their world.” Culture includes politics (the governing behaviors and activities of humans).
Seventh, we confront sinful fear of man by offending the world… its the loving thing to do:
Some Christians fear that taking a stand might offend someone. God forbid standing for righteousness creates controversy and offends someone.
Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the Kingdom, and the Bible are controversial and offensive to the world. The unbelieving world hates God, hates the Bible, and hates Christians. In fact, there was a time when Christians were so offensive, they were thrown to the lions, burned at the stake, crucified and sawed in half. By trying NOT to offend the goats, we offend and abandon the sheep and leave them to the wolves.
Issues like, human trafficking, corruption, pornography, debt-bondage, abortion, medical euthanasia, dismantling of the nuclear family, identity confusion, etc. left unaddressed by the church bring death to society. This creates an “anti-culture” and the result is “deathworks” (topics for another time). Examples here: one, two, three, and four.
We should not confuse offending the world with being mean or hateful or bigoted. The world knows timid Christians are afraid of being called names. So, name-calling is a very effective tactic used against us. The world desires the church not only tolerate but celebrate and promote sin. Therefore, sinful fear of man drives many pastors and well-meaning Christians into the snare of complacency, appeasement or silence.
For example: Pastors will gladly speak out against the scourge of human trafficking or poverty because the worldly culture has accepted those positions. Pastors avoid issues like abortion, pornography, ideological indoctrination, and gender confusion because the worldly culture has ordered the church not to speak on those issues. Fear drives them into a snare. Meanwhile, evil is allowed flourish.
Fear of offending someone or creating controversy acts like a prison. Many rationalize, justify and defend their position by stating that the church ought not to involve itself in cultural or political issues. Leaders can cover it up with theological garb and try to proof-text congregants into submission. But, at the root is fear of man. Discerning Christians can see right through the smoke and mirrors. So, stop it!
What most seminarians don’t get is that theological training and resources are widely available for free or low cost. So, the “leave theology and biblical understanding to the trained experts” is losing ground. And, pastors are losing their status chasing after professional careers. Nowhere in the Bible does God insist that only seminary graduates are capable of the proper handling of God’s Word. Training in wisdom, public theology, and cultivation of an integrated Kingdom vision are hard to find in seminaries. Most are focused on professional career advancement and marketable managerial skills instead of training pastors and theologians. I’m not against seminary training (some of my best friends and mentors have degrees from wonderful Christ-centered institutions). Seminaries are a means, not an end.
Furthermore, I am not saying that politics and government ought to over-shadow the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. I’m not saying that at all. However, from God’s Word flows the truth about reality and a moral imperative that is undergirded and infused with the Gospel of the Kingdom. We should not confuse the Good News (proclamation – how we’re saved) with God’s commands (how to live).
We speak from the Bible about issues that affect God’s image-bearers. But, we do so carefully and fearfully to ensure that our first love is God. When we speak about cultural issues, we are discipling the nations, pointing them to Christ and commanding them to obey Him (not our political inclinations). This is extremely difficult to do because Christian leaders are under social pressure to keep silent about the deathworks and evil all around us. Nevertheless, our fear of God, love of the truth and love for the lost will offend the world. That is a biblical reality.
Eighth, we must understand that the Bible is a worldview book and God is sovereign over all things, even politics:
If our worldview is not big enough to contain politics, then our worldview is too small.
Attempting to avoid politics is a political act that will have political ramifications. At the end of the day, avoidance is a deflection and cover for fear. Again, fear is a tyrant that can drive Christians into many snares. Taken to its logical conclusion, this non-political illusion is unlivable within the Christian worldview.
When the Church abandons cultural domains like politics and government, bad ideas take root. Those ideas become laws and inflict harm on the most vulnerable in society. Do Christians not believe that we won’t be held to account for stepping aside while other image-bearers of God are harmed, violated, enslaved or killed? [Proverbs 24:11-12, Matthew 25:35-40, Micah 6:8]
“In the beginning God created…” The conditions have been set by the creator. Within those conditions God’s co-regents operate. We exercise dominion and stewardship over all which God has placed in our care. Dominion is not domination. Stewardship is not tyranny. Don’t allow the world to redefine the meaning of these biblical principles.
Loving God above all else puts our human tasks and activities in the right perspective (including politics). Our loves and allegiances must be ordered under God. He is our primary love.
Christ is King and sovereign over all things… All things means “all things.”
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” [Colossians 1:15-20]
Ninth, we must be ready for every good work and proclaim the only hope for a dying world:
We must have a proper understanding of God’s Word and ordering God as our first love. Fearing God, not man, the Christian has permission and a compelling reason to engage in legitimate political and government activities. We can joyfully and boldly enter political activities in ways that honor the God who created all things and instituted government in the first instance. In doing so, we bring a good into the lives of other humans who bear God’s image. He also calls us to be his witness, to show no partiality as we do justice. Doing justice is often a political act that is expressed in most instances through government.
The Christian engages in political activities because we love and fear God. In doing so, we love our neighbors as well. Historically, Christians shaped the societies and times in which they dwelled. Christians were different – set apart but never apathetic to the people and communities around them. As a people redeemed through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, they lived redemptive lives and cared for people. Our hope is not in the state or politics. Our hope is in the risen Savior, Jesus Christ. We are the bearers of hope. Hope and love can be expressed anywhere, even politics.
Tenth, Christians must be courageous in the place and time God put them:
We are not called to a “holy huddle”. We are called to disciple the nations (societies). It is no accident that we live in this place and time in this cultural moment (Act 17:26). We obey God’s commands as individuals and collectively as His Church. From the pulpits to the pews, we each have a role to play. We have a prophetic voice. We understand what is wrong with the world and the solution. We worship a God who is sovereign and is not indifferent to the evil in the world. He will hold us to account for what we say and what we don’t say.
When Christians who bear ‘the light’ retreat inside the walls of the church, the world becomes a very dark place. Jesus Christ carried out his ministry in public, therefore, we must recover a public theology and put to death our privatized faith.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 5:14-16]
Every Christian has the opportunity to be courageous in their time. We are to be salt and light in the world God created that is marred and distorted by sin. We bring Hope.
When it comes to politics and government, we can celebrate what is good, contribute what is missing, fight what is evil and restore what is broken. We can rest at night knowing our God reigns and is sovereign over all.
Parting Encouragement for my fellow pilgrims from all places and times:
“We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. We will cast down the powers of darkness that are in the world by our faith and zeal and holiness; we will win sinners to Jesus; we will overturn false systems; we will convert nations. For God is with us, and none shall stand against us. This evening let the Christian warrior sing the war song and prepare for tomorrow’s fight. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.” – C.H. Spurgeon (adapted by Alistair Begg)
Dive Deeper: Here are resources on the Christian tradition of resistance against tyranny (click here)