Yes Politics Matters

If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ and take him seriously as your Lord, then you should care greatly about seeing the Lordship of Christ extend to every area of life. Your faith should in fact impact every facet of life. It is not just something you put on for Sunday mornings, or while in your own prayer closet.

Your faith is meant to impact all areas of life. And yet most Christians are not even aware of this basic biblical truth. They seem to think that the command of Jesus to be salt and light is just some optional extra, or applies only to others. So I spend plenty of my time just getting believers to open their eyes to their responsibilities in the social, cultural and political arenas.

Of course I have carefully laid out that case elsewhere, so I urge you to look at these two articles for example if you want more on this:
www.billmuehlenberg.com/1997/10/10/the-case-for-christian-social-involvement/
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/09/08/why-christians-should-be-interestedinvolved-in-politics/

But I am still in the ongoing process of answering believer’s objections about this. Criticisms of what I do and what my ministry involves come in on a regular basis. Too many Christians still seem to think that engaging in some of the critical political or cultural battles of the day are just a waste of time, and should not be bothered with.

I could provide many examples of this. Let me just mention one: a little while back a comment came in to my website, chewing me out for what I do. Then a day or two later another comment from this person – a Christian leader of some sort I believe – arrived, asking me not to print his first comment.

So I never did post it, but I of course ran through a mental rebuttal to his points. Let me here just offer his opening lines. This is what he wrote: “Bill, can you point me to the place where you deal with why Christians should spend so much time debating and talking about issues of state? It seems to me that you spend so much time nit-picking that there’s no space left for relational, incarnational, close-proximity love of enemy and neighbour which is surely central to the Gospel??”

His first query is easily enough dealt with. The Bible is where we are told to have an interest in every area of life. God created the state, culture, politics and society. Since these are his creations, we should be greatly concerned about them. But the two articles I link to above make this case more fully.

And what about his criticism that I am merely involved in “nit-picking”. Well, if he thinks standing up for the sanctity of human life is just nit-picking, then we must be on rather different pages here. If he thinks the slaughter of 45-50 million babies a year is not important to God, and just a bunch of nit-picking, then he must have a very different idea of WWJD?

If he really thinks that standing up for God’s institutions of marriage and family, defending them against a ferocious and unprecedented attack, is just a waste of time and mere nit-picking, then again, I am having a hard time finding much biblical common ground with this guy.

And why do I have a feeling that if he were alive during the time of Wilberforce he would likely have sent him the same sorts of criticisms? “Wilby old boy, don’t you know that relationships are where it is at? Why are you wasting your time on all this political stuff? You should simply love your slave-owning enemy, and not work against his livelihood. What does all this negativity and belligerency about slavery have to do with the centrality of the Gospel?”

Notice also the false dilemma he is offering us here: we are either into love and doing gospel stuff, or we are involved in social and political stuff. But why does he assume that to do one must exclude the other? How in the world can he make such a phony disjunction?

The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbour as yourself. That is a social command, and only can work in social relations. If your brother is in chains as a slave, what good does it do to tell him you love him and want to have a ‘relational proximity’ with him?

If you really love him you will want to see him set free from the horrible injustice and oppression of slavery. Otherwise all your talk of Christian love and relationship is mere baloney. As James so clearly states, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17).

As Norman Geisler says, “What sometimes escapes Christians is the fact that the responsibility to love other persons extends to the whole person. That is, man is more than a soul destined for another world; he is also a body living in this world. And as a resident of this time-space continuum man has physical and social needs which cannot be isolated from spiritual needs. Hence, in order to love man as he is – the whole man – one must exercise a concern about his social needs as well as his spiritual needs.”

Just this past Sunday I was in a church speaking about these very matters. Fortunately the pastor allowed for a Q&A time at the end where these issues could be thrashed out more fully. One gal asked a very good question about priorities, and how much time we should spend on these various Christian duties. She asked what percentage of time should be spent on things like evangelism and missions, and what percentage of time should be spent on things like social and political action.

I answered by saying that the example of William Wilberforce is quite helpful here. He did not see this as an either/or, but a both/and. He was up to his ears in both: sharing the gospel, and social action – especially in his work as an abolitionist.

I reminded my questioner that when he first became a believer (some four years after he was already in the English Parliament) he had the usual questions: Should I become a pastor? A missionary? He got some terrific advice from former slave ship captain John Newton who was now a vibrant Christian (and author of the hymn Amazing Grace).

Newton told Wilberforce this (or words to this effect): “Don’t you dare leave Parliament. You can do so much good for Christ and the Kingdom right where you are. Be salt and light there.” And Wilberforce heeded this wise counsel. And it is a good thing too. Millions of blacks today are forever grateful that they are now free men, and not still fighting the slavery issue.

This was all because Wilberforce saw no discrepancy between being a full-time Christian worker, and being a full time politician and social reformer. The two are really one and the same. So in answer to her specific question about percentages, I answered this way: “I think we should devote 100 per cent of our time to evangelism and sharing our faith. And I believe we should also spend 100 per cent of our time involved in social, political and cultural reform.”

Both are vitally needed, and both are fully Christian duties. We do not need to be forced to choose between one or the other. We should be doing both full time for the glory of God. If not, we are disobeying our Lord and failing in our biblical responsibilities.

And my critic is not alone or unique in his criticisms. Such critics have always been around. Back in Wilberforce’s day, there were plenty of such critics. Let me close with the words of just one: “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life” (Lord Melbourne, 1779–1848, a Prime Minister of the UK, and adviser to the Queen).

Fortunately Wilberforce completely ignored his complaint, just as I will be ignoring the complaint of my critic.

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