Christianity and Political Involvement
Plenty of Christians think it is unspiritual or unscriptural to get involved in politics. I disagree. I think the entire biblical revelation gives a clear mandate to get involved. Simply to fulfil our calling to be salt and light in society demands this of us.
Indeed, God created the state and is the one who insists that nations maintain justice and righteousness. How is that to be achieved if all Christians refuse to get involved? Sure, we have an obligation to preach the gospel and make disciples, but that is not opposed to social and political involvement.
Discipleship can and does include such involvement. While some Christians have chosen to opt out entirely, such as the Anabaptists, most Christians over the centuries have taken seriously their role in bringing the lordship of Christ to bear on every area of life.
Still, the critics will come up with all sorts of rather foolish and unbiblical objections. They think that to be involved in politics is unspiritual and unChristlike. They will even inform us quite proudly that Jesus never got involved! But it really does no good to argue that since Jesus did not go into politics, neither should we.
Of course he didn’t get involved in politics. Jesus was a man on a mission – one mission. The reason why Jesus came to earth was to die for our sins, and not get sidetracked on other issues, as important as they may be. He was born to die, in other words, and nothing would keep him from his divinely appointed task.
But the fact that Jesus did not do certain things is hardly a template for us. Jesus did not get married either of course. Does that mean believers should never get married? He did not hold a regular job all his life either. So should we all just quit our jobs as a WWJD statement? He did not get involved in helping the environment. So is it sinful for us to enter into environmental causes?
What Jesus did was unique, and we emulate him in some things, but not in all things. How many believers get circumcised today because Jesus was circumcised? How many wear sandals, eat while reclining, and walk only on dusty roads because Jesus did those things?
Christians who argue against political involvement also tend to have a rather poor understanding of the nature of politics. They will go on about “power politics” and how “power corrupts”, etc. But we must be reminded that politics is God’s idea; he is the one who ordained the institution of the state, just as he established the institution of the family. Both are means by which God brings about order and justice in a fallen world.
Sure, political power can be abused, just like parental power can be abused, or even pastoral power. That is what happens in a fallen world. Abuse of everything tends to happen. But God ordained the state to put the brakes on runaway power and abuse, as well as evil and injustice.
We need to reread texts such as Genesis 9:5-6; Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17. There we have clear biblical instructions on our responsibilities in the political and social world that we live in. As Gary DeMar once wrote, “The state, which is best described as civil government, has been given authority to maintain order in society, to punish the evil doers, and to promote the good. Politics, then, is not a necessary evil; it’s necessary because of evil (Genesis 4:4-15, 23-24; 9:5-7).”
His entire book is well worth reading in this regard: “You’ve Heard It Said” 15 Biblical Misconceptions That Render Christians Powerless (Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991). Another detailed look at some of these issues is Jesus Is Involved in Politics! by Neil Mammen (Rational Free Press, 2007, 2010).
And we need to be reminded that voting, paying taxes, talking to our elected representatives, lobbying for just outcomes, writing letters to newspapers, and a myriad of other political activities have nothing to do with “power” but everything to do with being the good citizens that we are commanded to be.
And Jesus of course had the leavening effect of the gospel on society in mind when he spoke of us being salt and light. It is only in the fallen world around us – including its political, economic, and social structures – that we can be light and salt. These are dark and fallen places that desperately need the biblical witness. Of course this includes telling people about the love of Christ, but it is not separate from Christlike actions and involvement in every area of life.
This is simply what it means to see the Lordship of Christ extended to all areas of life which God has created. This is His world after all, and He expects us to be his representatives in it. Satan may claim ownership of planet earth, but he is a false claimant and a usurper. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1).
Thus we have a heavenly obligation to reclaim occupied territory, and promote justice and righteousness as well as tell people about the liberating power of the gospel. All great Christians through the ages have taken this wholistic approach to Christian ministry and discipleship.
But by the contorted reasoning of some critics, Christians who get involved in these various areas are simply wrong – in fact they are living in sin and disobedience. I kid you not. That is the clear implication of some of these misguided teachings.
Thus by their thinking Wilberforce was simply wrong to do what he did. But do they really believe he was living in sin because of his political involvement? Do they really believe he was being carnal and worldly? Fortunately for millions of black slaves, he ignored the advice of those believers who told him he was wrong to be involved in politics.
Others like Martin Luther King Jr also ignored this faulty understanding of biblical Christianity. And we are all the richer today for it, and we have seen more of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. So many people have seen the love of Christ in action in the social and political arenas. Praise God for these Christian voices in the public arena.
Suffice it to say, I see things quite differently than do those Christians who want nothing to do with social and political involvement. Their picture of the Christian life seems to be at odds with two thousand years of Christian history. It seems incredibly narrow and pietistic.
Of course I am aware that there has been a minority position – that of the Anabaptists – who decry all political and social involvement. That is a legitimate Christian option, but one which I obviously really struggle with. Thus the Amish today, for example, live in their little holy huddles. They are safe and uncontaminated from the world, but they are not in any significant way being a light in a dark world or being salt in a morally decaying society.
If believers want to place themselves in that tradition, that is their choice. It has been one option for believers over the centuries. But it has always been very much of a minority viewpoint, and it is a good thing too. If all believers had followed that position, Christianity would likely never have spread far nor had much of an impact, and slavery and a host of other social evils would still be upon us.
Indeed, it would likely have been seen as yet another pie in the sky religion, with no real bearing on our daily life. But it was exactly because the early believers did not buy into this dualistic and Gnostic thinking that they had such an impact, and that Christianity grew so rapidly.
For example, when a plague or pestilence decimated a town or community, the healthy pagans would flee, but the Christians would stay behind and nurse the sick and tend to the ill. That love in action made a world of difference, and it still does today.
We dare not think our faith has no bearing on the social or even political realities of the day. Great evils such as sexual trafficking must be fought on all levels, including the political and legislative. To do anything less is to fail to fully proclaim the gospel message and the mission Jesus has assigned us to.
33 Replies to “Christianity and Political Involvement”
Great article Bill.
I too find the Greek(?) thinking on this matter unsatisfactory. Without realising it, far too often, even Christians adopt views that come from Greek philosophy that are not supported by the Bible.
I would also recommend listening to David Pawson’s talks on being Salt & Light.You can freely download them from here: http://davidpawson.org/resources/series/salt-light
In it he discusses the importance of each believer being salt & light.
He also relates how Jesus’s teaching on being the salt & light is so often misunderstood. He provides an analogy comparing the literal use of salt (no not the kind of salt one uses to preserve food or give it flavour) in Jesus’s day with the effect Christians have on the world. Now, if you don’t understand what kind of salt is mentioned or what it was used for then it is very easy to misinterpret what Jesus said.
David also refers to a study done years ago which discovered that around 5% is needed to restrain evil and improve the situation. Of course when the number fell below 5% in the British parliament bad changes happened quickly (and I’m sure the same could be said of our country).
Thanks for the tip Matt.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
The issue of political involvement is an issue I struggle with. Although I agree with your comments, in the back of my mind I’m thinking, how far is too far. Are we forgetting the past and therefore likely to tread into it again? So my question is, where is the line we must not cross in this issue so as not to do what the church in the middle ages did?
Luke Belik (Toowoomba)
At the moment I don’t think we have too much to worry about in this regard. Christians today writing letters to MPs, or even running for Parliament, really will not lead directly to state churches and the like. As always the biblical balance is what we should strive for. If in the past an overly politicised gospel and church was a problem, surely today it is an under-politicised gospel, where we have no clue as to any political or social implications of the gospel. Today our main problem is getting Christians to take seriously their social responsibilities. If and when we get to the place of state churches and the like, then we can warn against those dangers. But at the moment we are nowhere near this place.
But you ask a good question and such matters need to be constantly thought through and prayed about.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I believe one major driving force behind Christian disengagement in this area has been dipsensational theology. More specifically, the disconnect that it teaches between the Old and New Covenants has the implication of cutting us off from much Biblical instruction on political involvement and honouring Christ in this sphere.
Additionally, the dispo argument that God’s Kingdom is not attached to ‘earthly’ Kingdoms (which is a half-truth, it isn’t; but it certainly has implications for earthly Kingdoms and demands their obedience to His rule), that this concept was finished with the people of Israel under the Old Covenant (who were an ‘earthly’ Kingdom) who were/are a different entity to the Church which is ‘spiritual’.
Practically, the Christians I have met who are dispo tend to be the ones who disengage as well; while those of a reformed/covenantal perspective on God’s people tend to be the ones with a position similar to yours Bill.
Dispensationalism is dominant in the Church at large – although it’s inconsistencies have been falling apart I think. I do not think it stands as Biblical.
Isaac Overton, ACT
Yes one’s eschatology can well influence us in these areas, and of course all dispensationalists are premil. But being premil need not necessarily lead to a complete withdrawal of social and political involvement. Consider Shaftesbury and Wilberforce for example. The former was premil while the latter was postmil. But both were up to their ears in social and political involvement. I write about this elsewhere, for example here:
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Thank you for the exhortation and encouragement, Bill. My husband and I have become more active writing/emailing pollies etc over the last two years with mostly (but not all) discouraging responses. There have been some big issues come before NSW parliament during the previous government – same sex adoption, humanist driven Ethics classes set up in competition to school scripture to name two.
“The truth is, we are to both reach individuals and also work for godly legislation – at the same time. We are to do both, not just pick one or the other. ”
But as you point out in your post Christianity, Society and False Dilemmas it really is a responsibility on our part, showing Christ’s love, by being a voice on issues which will ultimately undermine and destroy our society.
Knowing there is other Christians who take this responsibility seriously is an encouragment especially when we feel like we are hitting our heads up against a brick wall.
Yes quite right – we do need each other here.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I think there are too many Christians who live in fairy land when it comes to this issue, as Christians we are called to stand for God’s way and those Christians who try to make some sort of fine sounding argument against any involvement are fools, point blank – there is no excuse to sit back and let evil happen!
Thank you for another great post.
I too have wrestled with the question concerning Christian involvement in politics.
I have often heard, as you have, the argument that it is somehow “unspiritual or unscriptural to get involved in politics”.
It must be admitted that politics, if one allows it to do so, can become an all-engrossing preoccupation, colonising every waking hour of one’s life, and making a shipwreck of one’s faith.
However, as you remind us in your post, Christians are not to run to the opposite extreme by retreating into comfortable pietism and turning their backs on the world around them.
I’m reminded of the prophet Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, when he gave them God’s instructions: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7).
So that Christians can approach politics in a balanced way, here are seven rules of the thumb that I would suggest:
1) Before anything else, commit yourself to God and seek His will.
2) Start the day by reading the Bible and praying, before you pick up the morning paper or turn on the radio.
3) On Sundays, make it a general rule not to read newspapers or go online. Give your mind a much-needed respite from the whirl of world events that risk taking you far from God.
4) Don’t be distracted by non-essential things in politics (e.g., personalities, scandals, opinion polls and media beat-ups). Instead, focus on the long-term, big issues: the sanctity of human life, the value of traditional marriage, the importance of upholding sound educational standards, and the need to head off threats to our religious freedoms. These are the “key performance indicators” with which all Christians should be preoccupied.
5) Don’t rely on the secular mainstream media for your understanding of current affairs. Visit reliable websites such as Bill Muehlenberg’s CultureWatch to discover the important things that the media notoriously neglect to report.
6) Keep your fellow-Christians informed about these things, so that they will vote with discernment at election time and will always be alert to threats to society’s well-being.
7) Help sound Christian candidates to win preselection in political parties, and at election time please remember to vote for them!
Many thanks John
Wise words indeed.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
This is a great quote from one of the books I mention in my article:
“Remember too, that things like abortion and homosexuality and divorce deal with death and destruction and thus they are moral issues. Since they are moral issues, they are biblical issues. Being moral issues they are also issues of the law, for the law is the legislation of morality. Since politics is concerned with the law, they are thus political issues. Anyone who says we should keep the church out of politics is spouting nonsense. The church has to be involved with moral issues precisely due to the damage they cause to innocents. The church has to care about true social justice to obey the second commandment. The law is all about morality, and politics is all about the law, so how can the church not be involved in politics?” -Neil Mammen
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Yes, as Christians we have a mandate to be involved in all spheres of life: the politics, economics, industry, science, law, education, arts, media, etc. But we should think, act and speak as Christian and not the world when we are in these spheres. Although we will not always get it right, we should be at least striving to glorify Christ by upholding His teachings.
For example, with regards to politics. A person who professes to be a Christian, and who is also a politician, should should try to stay on course. Sadly we have seen Christians go into politics, get elected, and then end up being so PC and impotent (from a Christian point of view), that it becomes nauseating. It would have been better if they had never stepped foot into politics.
We have also seen Christian lobbyists, such as the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), who pride themselves with being “a political force”, but, who, on the other hand, have given away much ground, for example, to the homosexual activists, and then come out swinging and pounding their chests saying, “We oppose homosexual marriage”.
ACL has been slowly legitimising the recognition of homosexual couples for years (read below of their submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission). Any blind bumble bee could see that they were supporting the homosexual movement inching their way toward the bigger prize: “gay-marriage”.
So my point is: By all means Christians should be concerned about the world they live in, but they should approach things, in whatever sphere that maybe, with a thoughtful Christian mindset, which is solely concerned about honouring God rather than man.
Submission to the
Australian Human Rights Commission
Protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity – Public Consultation
“ACL shares the AHRC’s opposition to unreasonable discrimination towards LGBTI people, for example, in relation to the provision of government services by Centrelink and Medicare. In supporting the removal of these restrictions, ACL also notes that Commonwealth legislation introduced in 2008 to improve the financial and legal rights of same sex couples to, inter alia, inheritances, superannuation benefits and social security income support has removed many of the pre?existing barriers to members of the lesbian and gay community. ACL supported these changes by the Government.”
(Page 4 of 11) http://australianchristianlobby.org.au/wp-content/uploads/101126-ACL-submission-to-AHRC-on-anti-discrimination-law.pdf
Trevor, I have read the above submission and would be grateful if you could show me the paragraphs which show that the ACL is “supporting the homosexual movement inching their way toward the bigger prize: “gay-marriage”.” Perhaps I have missed something in the document. I am not being sarcastic or cynical but I am genuinely trying to see for myself. Thanks Trevor.
Hi, Steve — Yes, the ACL’s submission to The AHRC seems fairly benign but this is how we are think now. That is, with a more critically eye one can see that it is, once again, simply the thin edge of the wedge.
Here’s a good test, replace the words where it says “LGBTI” or “same sex couples” or “lesbian and gay community” (which is all one and the same) with the word “polygamists”. We would see then by what has occurred that polygamists have just been afforded a whole raft of support; moreover, this shift has allowed polygamy to be legitimised and recognised in our society as a certain lifestyle.
So with regards to ACL, they wanted the “removal” of certain “restrictions” that homosexual couples faced. They claim these were discriminatory. But were they? As we know, the restrictions have been in place — and for good reasons. Like polygamy, our society once said “we are not going to recognise the union of homosexual couples”.
Now homosexual couples have the same benefits and safe guards as heterosexual couples have with regards to their inheritances, superannuation and the likes. If this is okay, why can’t a polygamists do likewise? Besides, there are other legal and protected ways so they can leave their material goods to someone they want to; it is called a will.
This is why I said ACL was “supporting the homosexual movement inching their way toward the bigger prize: “gay-marriage”. ACL might not have intended this to have happened, but this is what they have done whilst supporting homosexual couple in these other areas.
There is nothing wrong with ACL endorsing trying to prevent the bullying and blatant slandering toward homosexuals. This is a good thing, that is, a Christian approach. But they have gone further than this.
I hope this helps, Steve. And thanks for asking.
The book AMISH GRACE written about the massacre at a Amish school in 2006 did show the impact Amish practice of Grace had within the wider community. It did say that the Amish act as volunteer fire fighters and sent crews to help with Hurricane devastated areas, but is that all they do.
John Ballantyne hit the nail upon the head in his points to Christians. I think it is essential that we concentrate upon policies and not people. However I am getting to the point where i see both major parties as different shades of the same thing, whilst the Greens I see as having policies that are antipeople, antiGod and pagan.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my query Trev, do you think they know they are doing this?
With regards to “… do you think they [ACL] know they are doing this?” Well, Steve, put it this way, the Australia Christian Lobby have had this pointed out to them on a number of occasions by a number of people, but they don’t see it this way.
In all honestly ACL have a skewed view with regards to how to approach the homosexual movement and a few other things, such as defending the slaughter of unborn babies in Australia.
But this matter of allowing homosexual more rights and with it more recognition and social acceptance has huge ramifications; as we are now witnessing – and which will soon spread and be supported through every sphere in our society, ie education, economics, law, arts, etc.
ACL have actually dismissed Christian principles, and convincing others to do the same, and thus taking the Christian community down the road of becoming complicit in supporting the homosexual agenda.
It is clear that ACL like rubbing shoulders with politicians, and in doing so have adopted some of their worst traits, particularly in the area of “compromise”. They believe they are doing their members and the Christian community a favour if they come up with a “win”, when in reality they simply give away more ground to the tide of secular humanism.
Most professing and practicing Christians when they understand what ACL are doing give them a big miss. They realise they are not true representatives of the Christian community at all. On the contrary, and it is a sad thing to say, ACL have become, and increasingly so, part of the problem.
Yes sadly the ACL compromised big time here, despite the pleas and warnings of basically every long-standing pro-family organisation in the country. As the new kid on the block, they foolishly thought that if they could persuade the government to hand the militant homosexual lobby 98% of what they wanted on a silver platter, they would gratefully accept it and quietly go away.
Any general who does not know the opposition will never be able to properly mount a campaign against them. This faulty plan has backfired big time, and now we are all picking up the pieces. Now the activists are correctly saying, ‘hey, you gave us everything we demanded – so now just give us the word marriage’. They are quite right. Why should we give them (that is, their relationships), every single social, political and legal bit of recognition available, and then withhold from them the one word that encapsulates it all.
But I have written about all this in detail elsewhere:
Our job has been made much harder because of all this, but we must persevere and keep fighting the good fight.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I have actually heard this from the pulpit (some years ago):
“You can’t legislate morality.”
So very very ignorant. And dangerous. And it came from someone who I actually respected greatly too. But what is a law against murder or robbery if it is not making a moral statement? Christians who decide not to get politically involved should not complain if they find themselves later living in a society that is run by people who hate them – and the consequences of that, not just for them, but for those they love.
We owe it to God to influence all levels of society with His Kingdom. Yes, the devil might still gain some ground for a time, but remember that God is watching us, and wants to see which Kingdom we really want to live in. That of light – and being prepared to fight for it – or just to shrug and say, oh well, God will fix the darkness in the end? I don’t think God will reward that, and I think there are enough Scriptures I could cite – especially from Jesus – to back that up.
Thanks again Trev, your comment “Most professing and practicing Christians when they understand what ACL are doing give them a big miss.” I will follow suit and also give them a big miss. While I am at it Trev, do you have anything on the Canberra Declaration?
To Mark Rabich – your comment – “Christians who decide not to get politically involved should not complain if they find themselves later living in a society that is run by people who hate them – and the consequences of that, not just for them, but for those they love.” Pure GOLD mate!
If you don’t mind, since I was one of the authors of the CD, here is my take on it:
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Steve, what the ACL have advocated in that submission to the AHRC is a subversion of the biblical understanding of the role of civil government. We learn from Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 that the role of the state is to reward those who do good and punish those who do evil. Given that we must also use a biblical definition of the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’, I find no justification for a Christian organisation to be asking the government to reward evil in the way that the ACL has asked various governments to reward homosexual behaviour by granting those who practice it various state benefits.
Ewan McDonald, Victoria.
Thanks Bill, of course I do not mind, I appreciate your input!
Thanks Ewan, sounds reasonable to me! I suppose some of these things just slip under our radar from time to time and we do not realise it until it has come to pass.
Bill, I just read the link and accompanying comments, it was a good article and I can see the difference between the Canberra Declaration and the ACL. The Canberra Declaration affirms the Christian stance on marriage and family and does not deviate from that focus whereas the ACL appears to have fallen into the soup by bringing up our obligations to not persecute homosexuals and thereby inadvertently deviating from the real issue. True Christianity by default does not advocate the persecution of anyone so in hindsight, I suppose it was irrelevant for the ACL to bring this up. They would have served the purpose far better by concentrating on the Christian position on marriage as the Canberra Declaration does. Now Bill, Ewan and Trev, am I on the right track in my summation? This is how I learn, by getting the opinions of other Christians and I thank you all for your input so far. So some feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Steve, there is more information concerning a Christian response to ‘relationship registers’ at this link:
Ewan McDonald, Victoria.
Steve – You are right on the mark.
Thanks a lot Trevor and Ewan, this is how you learn sometimes. Have a wonderful Christmas gentlemen!
thank you for this document it really inspiring and it has biblical supports.
Kalungi Dennis, Africa
ACL = Appeasing Compromisers for Labor.
Jonathan Sarfati, US