The church’s involvement with politics and culture has always been a subject of debate. Some believe that the church should totally refrain from politics, practicing faith quietly and being a gospel influence in predominantly social circles. Others believe that the church should infiltrate politics and culture in an attempt to “Christianize” the society as much as possible.
BY STEVE CHA
ONE IN A SERIES:
HOW WOULD JESUS VOTE?
In an attempt to answer this timeless question, we must look at what the Bible teaches concerning the church and politics.
Working in government is a vocation as much as it is working in the restaurant or entertainment business, which a believer is free to participate in. In whatever occupation Christians engage in, they are to do it to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). This means that Christians are to do their work with the utmost integrity, leading rightly as bosses and submitting humbly as employees (Eph. 6:5; 1 Pet. 2:18).
At the same time, Christians must never compromise their faith and values, especially if the government forces or pressures them to make decisions that would cause them to stumble into sin (Acts 5:29). Political work often times involves making choices that have moral undertones to them. In such cases, Christians must always do what is right to honor the Lord, even if it should incur the disfavor of the public. How a Christian goes about pursuing the right course of action takes discernment, especially when working with a group of unbelievers who are not open to the Christian worldview.
A Christian makes righteous decisions in the political realm because it is God’s will that all government institutions act in accordance with God’s righteous standard. Romans 13:1-4 teaches that Christians must submit to the government because God has ordained it to punish wrongdoing, reward virtuous deeds, and enact justice on behalf of victims.
A government cannot do this properly if their definition of what is right and wrong is skewed, which is what we are experiencing in many nations around the world. This is why Christians who are engaged in politics should use their God-given position or legal privilege to help enact civil laws that reflect God’s standard of justice for the government. These laws should be designed to punish criminals for acts such as theft, murder, false testimony, and to defend the poor, the weak, and the marginalized against unjust treatment. Practical ways that pastors and lay people in the church can make a difference in politics is to vote for laws that uphold righteousness and deflect sin in society, such as banning abortion, sex slavery, pornography, racism, and to support ethical laws or programs that would encourage the family institution, public safety, and equity.
It must be said that the job of the church is not to become a sort of governing institution that seeks to overtake the government and force conversions on heathens. Unprofitable things have happened in history when governments use religious identification to justify war or conquering other people groups. Jesus never forced the gospel onto unbelievers, although He warned of the eternal consequences of rejecting His offer of salvation (Matt. 7:23; 25:46; Jon 3:16-18).
However, this does not mean that Christians should totally eject faith out of the workplace.
Opponents of Christianity expect this of Christians when they advocate “separation of church and state.” The truth is: There can never really be a separation of one’s moral beliefs from the affairs of the state, because much of political affairs are intertwined with moral and ethical issues. 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 and to allow that to guide his or her actions in the workplace.
A Christian must not only exemplify Christian character, but to also work for laws or causes that support righteousness and truth. He must do everything in his power to also preserve the freedom of Christians to organize, worship, and proclaim the gospel to others. He should not be complacent about people in government or laws that persecute Christians and restrict Great Commission activities.
The church’s involvement in politics must always start with the desire to see people in the field come to know Christ. There is a clear difference in honoring God with our practices in politics and lording it over the public with threats and compulsion. The Bible teaches us that it is not laws that will change the hearts of the people, but the word of God through the gospel (Rom. 7:1-9).
That is why the church should be involved in politics. As in any other occupation, Christian politicians have the opportunity to evangelize unbelieving colleagues with the hopes that they might come to salvation in Christ. Only when the hearts of people are regenerated by the Holy Spirit and the word of God implanted in them, can we see changes in society.
A similar principle can be applied to Christians in the cultural debate. Should saints participate in cultural dialogue or retreat entirely? This is also a matter of discernment for the Christian. There are instances when Christians are better off not being 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 is extremely profitable. This includes television interviews, radio, publications, and public lectures. In such cases when there is potential for a large non-Christian audience to hear the Bible’s stance on given issues, and the Christian has the opportunity to be salt and light in front of them.
The church’s role in politics does not have easy, clear cut applications. The issue always comes back to the question of 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 government until Jesus returns to set up His kingdom. Neither will the world have a perfect culture of faith, righteousness, and unity until then. There will never be peace in a godless world. The focus of the church until the second advent of Christ is to be faithful to the Great Commission – which is evangelizing the lost and discipling people (Matt. 28:18-20).
That is the key behind a Christian’s involvement with politics. That is what it means for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10).
Steve Cha is the teaching pastor of Grace City LA.