This post is the second on a series on the Christian’s role in regard to politics and government. Part Two is better understood by reading my previous post. Click here to read “Politics is Downstream From Culture”
“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)
When Christians who bear ‘the light’ retreat inside the walls of the church, the world becomes a very dark place.
Hundreds of books have been written on the topic of the church’s role in culture, politics and government. Some are helpful others are quite harmful. My intent is to bring clarity and point to a biblical vision for the individual Christian’s role in culture, politics and government. Our roles and expressions will be different but our cause is the same. We are His ambassadors, reflecting His glory and offering a reason for the hope we have. Please note, I am making a distinction between the individual Christian and the institutional church in this post. We’ll dive into that later.
Let me begin with understanding a few things and some approaches we are NOT to employ:
1. I understand the modern over-emphasis of the social implications of the Gospel at the expense of the salvific Gospel is problematic and heretical. I reject the liberal theological approach and understanding of the Gospel, also referred to as the ‘Social Gospel.’
2. I understand that our battle is not against flesh and blood. It is a spiritual and a battle of ideas (the mind).
3. I understand we are to approach culture and society as Christians not politicians or “culture warriors.”
4. I understand putting our faith, hope or trust in anything except Jesus Christ as Savior is idolatry.
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. They built hospitals, orphanages, built cathedrals, wrote music, poems, and books, and involved themselves in all manner of social and cultural activities. They abolished the universal historical slave-trade and sacrificed themselves for fellow image-bearers because human beings mattered.
A redeemed and transformed life transforms society.
How Christians abandoned positions of influence in society.
Secularism did not occupy society in America by dislodging Christian ideals of freedom, virtue and faith that formed the foundations of America. In the mid-19th century, Christians vacated the public square as a fearful overreaction to the liberalization of biblical faith. In other words, instead of engaging bad (heretical) ideas in the public square, Christian leaders thought it best to retreat inside the institutional church. This left societal domains deserted and empty of Christian influence for the most part.
Nature abhors a vacuum and Satan knows a good deal when he sees one. So, secularism didn’t invade as much as it occupied the empty cultural spaces left by the church (Christians). We simply allowed secular armies to march through the institutions of the church, the family, education, arts & media, and government. They took them over with little to no resistance – they are little more than squatters on Christian properties. Dark ideologies such as Atheism, Nihilism, Marxism, and Secularism took up residence on prime cultural real estate and inside powerful institutions, not lost but vacated by Christians.
During this period we observe the bifurcation of the Gospel and a reduction of the Christian vision. The “Gospel of the Kingdom” was deprived of its societal impact/implications and was reduced to a plan of personal salvation plus a pursuit personal holiness. In other words, the Gospel was rendered to a King without a kingdom and rendered Christians to a lifetime of holy navel-gazing. This theological movement finds a perfect home in a mid-20th century American culture growing more individualistic and autonomous. It fit nicely in our distinctly American “It’s all about me” ethos. At the end of the day, all evangelicals could do was get people saved (fire insurance) and focus on personal piety (moralism – being a good person). Remember, this result began as well-intentioned response to liberalism invading the church.
From a cultural study perspective, this over-reaction and retreat into the institutional church creates the conditions for liberalism to gain a foothold in the evangelical church. It’s a form of theological loss aversion. This is the reason why the woke social justice movement is gaining ground inside the institutional church. Christians of goodwill are simply not equipped to deal with the realities of life in the 2020s and are grasping for the tools offered by worldly culture. Instead of the robust practical and spiritual resources offered through biblical faith, the message has been reduced to, “get people saved from hell, be a good person, and everything else will be okay.”
As an aside, this is a big reason why the church in America struggles with discipleship and forming biblical community. A limited individualistic personal understanding of the “Gospel” lacks the force and inspiration to compel Christians to go and make disciples. In America, we want our Christianity the way we want our McDonald’s burger… “I want it my way” and “I want to be comfortable!” The result is a ‘Privatized’ faith instead of a public theology.
Honestly, there never was a “Culture War”, there was a slow abandonment. Limiting the Gospel to a personal plan of Salvation, a focus on personal holiness, a rise in biblical illiteracy, and side-lining of prayer and social engagement in order to form a ‘holy huddle‘ resulted in a removal from prayer in schools, dismantling of the biblical sexual ethic, legitimizing no-fault divorce, legalized abortion, rise of pornography, out-of-control fatherlessness, sexual confusion and legalized euthanasia. All the while Christians are told, “this is not our problem.”
As we see throughout the Bible, God works through His people. Our job is to know him, love him, worship him and be faithful in the moment. We demonstrate our love for God and the Lordship of Christ over our lives by serving him in all areas under his rule (everything – Psalm 24:1).
We cannot retreat from the ideas, institutions, laws, edicts and movements that harm our neighbors and still claim we love our neighbors. If we love God, we will love our neighbors. Christians ought to desire the best for all image-bearers as we bear witness to Christ as Savior and King. We offer hope by pressing into the darkness and chaos not by retreating from it.
Remember, when Christians who bear ‘the light’ retreat inside the walls of the church, the world becomes a very dark place. Christ is King over all domains of society, that means academics, art, music, media, politics, family, government, etc.
Below are some verses to meditate on and below that, a helpful video on Christians and politics.
Philippians 2:15 ESV
That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
Matthew 13:43 ESV
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.