CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Yes Politics Matters

Jun 18, 2013

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.

[1410 words]

25 Responses to Yes Politics Matters

  • Hi Bill, I have to say this is a profound piece of writing. Possibly the most powerful message you could give at this time in Australia’s history. It is at the heart of where the church is falling short on this battlefield of life.

    You said, “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.”

    I will quote you on this! Thanks and God bless you!

    Lynn Nerdal

  • Hi Bill.

    Thank you for your stirring call to arms. It should be read aloud from every pulpit in the land.

    Not only did John Newton help inspire Wilberforce to persist in his crusade against slavery, but so did the great preacher John Wesley.

    In 1791, at a time when Wilberforce was feeling particularly despondent, Wesley, who was then very close to death himself, wrote a famous letter exhorting Wilberforce to persist in his efforts to oppose what he (Wesley) called “that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature”, i.e., slavery.

    He added: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you?… Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.”

    John Ballantyne, Melbourne.

  • Thanks John

    Yes it was a great letter. Here is the entire letter:

    Dear Sir:
    Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as Athanasius contra mundum, I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
    Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a “law” in our colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this?
    That he who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things, is the prayer of, dear sir,
    Your affectionate servant,
    John Wesley

    It was actually the very last letter he wrote.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • God bless you Bill, we need more like you to take the fight to the enemy. Thanks for not giving up.
    Garry Brown

  • Dear Bill, If Christians keep silent about the issues that matter, they will get the Government they deserve.
    Regards,
    Franklin Wood

  • Going to post this on my church Facebook page, I will then sit back and watch the show!

    Steve Davis

  • Well said Franklin, perhaps you should get onto national television and repeat it, it is something we all need to hear!

    Steve Davis

  • I think this is the best article on a believers need for political involvement that I’ve read in a very long time that wasn’t book length. Thanks for taking the time to share it Bill!!

    Joel van der Horst

  • Keep ignoring you critics Bill, as I do.

    John Heininger

  • As a family, we have been very discouraged by the churches we have been to for many years and their reluctance to care about prolife and other crucial social issues.
    For a couple of months we have started going to a new church and I suggested to my husband to invite the lead evangelist for lunch to discuss some things with him and see what his thoughts were.
    After politely listening to him tell us about the church’s mission to reach out to our neighbours and bend over backwards in making meals and serving them in every way possible, I gently asked him about what this church was doing about abortion, did they have a prayer group or would they consider starting one?
    Response:’ We are focused on telling people about Jesus and dont get involved in specific ‘issues’.
    Secondly I asked about same sex marriage
    Response: Well my position on samesex marriage is a conservative one, i dont really personally agree but many others at our church wouldnt be so conservative and may hold a different view. ( So much for upholding the gospel truth above personal views)

    Naturally such a wimpy, non committed response was a great disappointment to us.

    So many people, including Christians, do not seem to make the connection whatsoever between their faith and their involvement in political and social affairs, it is frightening.
    Thanks so much for your work Bill, it is so desperately needed.

    Annette Williams

  • Top-down transformation of a godless society alone will be about as useful as the dubious notion of trickle-down elevation of the condition of the poor via the advancement of big business. The call for us today is both to proclaim that the will of God ought to be done in a just society as it is in Heaven and to pursue all that leads to the rise of the Kingdom of God within the hearts of individual citizens of our nations. The Everlasting Kingdom calls its followers in this world to speak as prophets against sin and its ministers in this world.

    John Wigg

  • Keep on trucking Bill your voice is crucial at a time like this.

    Ernie Van Stralen

  • If it wasn’t for those who are actively hell-bent on destroying what our forefathers in quiet reliance on the blessing of Almighty God have built, a peaceful or at least as peaceful as it can be in a fallen world, place for their children and grandchildren to live, to praise God, to raise their families, which is us, then people like Wilberforce or today Fred Nile wouldn’t have to work so hard on maintaining or now restoring what is good. And, going on our current trend, what future are we preparing for those who come after us?
    I still think the analogy of the fence at the top of the cliff vs the ambulance at the bottom speaks well to this issue. How easy would it be, theoretically to acknowledge the sinful nature of man and make laws accordingly, knowing that if people may not do what is right, they generally, for their own comfort sake or a healthy residue of fear of the law will do what is legal. If that which is legal is also that which is right, how much physical heart-ache can shipwreck of faith could be avoided? To go back to your quote above, You said, “I think we should devote 100 per cent of our time to evangelism and 100% of our time to politics and social involvement”. I think, to do the latter also encompasses the former, but not the other way round. If you only do the former, you essentially just fiddle around the edges. It doesn’t mean that no souls will be saved, but if you evangelise in a cultural context where people actually know what you are talking about, you can then have the success stories of Billy Graham and the like, which Australia has not seen since the “sexual revolution”.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Slightly off-topic but most depressing are ‘Christians’ who sabotage their own position: www.crikey.com.au/2013/06/18/church-owned-aged-care-providers-dont-want-exemption-from-laws/

    Mark Wong

  • Who was the former high profile Victorian politician who told an audience of Christians that they should stay out of politics, and their leaders should just concern themselves with “tending the flock?”

    Ross McPhee

  • I just wanted to add that our peaceful and prosperous beginning as nation was in itself a legacy of the reformation and various revivals in Britain. There always appears to be a lag between that which is believed and done and the consequences thereof a bit like the time lag between the cause and the effect of a tzunami.
    The fact that we are still living within comparative ease and prosperity has emboldened fools to think they can do what they like with impunity, but should not deceive those of us who should know better.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • I appreciate your articles very much. I thank God for someone who is willing to stand up and speak the truth, and speak it bluntly.
    The church is heading for apostasy, but you need to keep warning, as did the prophets of old.
    Keep up the good work, Bill, I’m praying for you.

    Alison Ferguson

  • Many thanks indeed Alison – much appreciated.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Ah Bill, as per your referenced quote: “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life” (Lord Melbourne, 1779–1848

    Sarah Hanson-Young is doing much the same to Cory Bernardi, albeit in a more blood-letting, career threatening manner.

    From the ABC yesterday, www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-18/sarah-hanson-young-wants-cory-bernardi-disendorsed-over-bestial/4763712

    Hanson-Young’s, and other politicians’ tactics aggravate me to no end. In the ABC article Bernardi apparently “links” homosexuality to Bestiality. Right! For Cory to be equating Homosexuality and Bestiality they need to be side by side; however, there are at least two steps removed between the two, in the slippery slope he describes. So that is a big fat, unequivocal NO to Bernardi equating the two concepts. The concept of the slippery slope operates on the principle of culmination, not linking or equating. People who deny the concept of the slippery slope are typically egotistical, selfish, short-sighted, ignorant, victim-seeking, self-serving, agenda-hiding, emotive train-wrecks! And this behaviour is coming from our politicians!

    All Bernardi is saying is: “Look, the slippery slope you all denied is progressing, even before the first slip has finished.”

    The Christian Voice is sadly weakening in this Age of the Offended, and I will not be surprised, but saddened, if Bernardi is forced aside.

    Sorry if this is slightly off-topic.

    I know it’s probably a little worn out as a quote these days, but Edmund Burke’s words are apt: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.” If that is not a Call to Arms, I don’t know what is.

    Matthew Patchon

  • Thanks Matthew. Yes I sprang to his defence at the time:

    www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/09/19/in-defence-of-cory-bernardi/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • What this fellow was stating sounded like Emergent Church type philosophy. They emphasise relationships amongst each other and endearing oneself to the greater population. And they emphasise this to the detriment of doctrine or apologetics or social action (unless that social action is charity and feeding the poor). They avoid any dichotomist thinking – eg good verse evil, right verse wrong.

    So pronouncing thinks like abortion, gay marriage, Islamisation, socialism etc., as evil or even just morally wrong is discouraged. They won’t speak out in ways that compromises a ‘relationship’ with the secular society.

    How they would have confronted the Nazis is beyond me…

    Damien Spillane

  • “Faith alone will not save you, Good works are also necessary” so says the Bible.
    As Christians we can and should expect to be attacked for what we stand for and what we do. This means that we are doing the right thing. Notice how those who oppose you (and us) are always angry people. They lack God’s Grace in their lives.
    So keep up the nit-picking Bill. You are a good and faithful servant.

    Madge Fahy

  • Stop trying to help our families, our Churches and politicians by warning them of where their tolerance is leading to, and do what so many seem to be doing, even from our pulpits, that is, make scriptural guidelines grey, question the scriptures authority, it`s reliability, and make scripture culturally subjective. Teach that Hell is only temporary, God`s wrath is always redemptive, and universalism is the thing to be teaching the world. More bums on seats, less guilt, more freedom and love everyone into separation from God, is this what it means to shed light and tell the Good News? Keep at it Bill, though I think most of your good work only hits the converted. (though hot coals on peoples heads is meant to reveal sin and shame) I`d prefer to read your articles as encouraging me to “Do More”, and put into practice what I supposedly believe.

    Johannes Archer

  • Keep up the good work Bill. May God bless you abundantly!

    Jia Yek

  • The bible says to “overcome evil with good”, not just hold it at bay, balance it, but overcome it, banish it altogether if that were possible in this life.
    Glad to see that “recognition of foreign marriages bill” defeated yesterday, ptl!
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

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