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.