CultureWatch

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

Politics and Religion, Again

Mar 16, 2015

We all know that politics and religion are not supposed to be discussed in polite society. That is what we are told anyway. Well, I guess I am not all that polite – indeed I think this is a lot of baloney. So I will keep talking about both as long as I have breath.

Two recent episodes have served as the trigger for this article. One, a fellow elsewhere put up a post saying he was sorry if he offended anyone with his political posts, and that he would no longer do it. He said he would simply just seek to uphold Jesus, or words to that effect.

The second was the airing of a terrific film on television the other day: Amazing Grace. This 2006 movie is a powerful presentation of the life and work of William Wilberforce, especially his battle against the slave trade. It was great to see it once again, if even the last half.

The only other time I had seen it was when it first came out. It is a film all Christians should watch. I discuss it in more detail here: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/07/28/amazing-grace/

Coming as they did so very close to each other, the juxtaposition between the two could not have been greater. On the one hand we had a guy telling us that the gospel has nothing to do with politics, while on the other, we had a classic example of how the gospel has everything to do with politics.

So which one do we run with here? I certainly know who I am going to side with on this one. Of course while it is true that I know a fair amount about Wilberforce, I know next to nothing about this particular fellow. He may have good reasons for doing what he has done.

God may well have put it on his heart to ease up on political posts on the social media. But my real fear was the rather misleading and unhelpful message it sent out. The idea was that one either elevates Jesus, or one gets involved in political discussion. Take your pick.

But that of course is known as the logical fallacy of the false dilemma. No, we actually do not have to choose one or the other. As believers we can and should do both. It is a no-brainer: the two in fact go together. Anyone seeking to promote and elevate Christ will do so not just in the spiritual ether, but in the actual world we live in.

Presenting Jesus and sharing the gospel always has implications in all aspects of life. How can the gospel not impact politics, culture, society, and so on? A gospel message which is so heavenly minded that it is no earthly good is not the biblical gospel.

wilberforce 5Wilberforce of course knew this so very clearly. He lived his Christian life for the glory of God by both raising up Jesus and by getting fully immersed in the social and political issues of the day. These were simply two expressions of his one abiding faith.

Of course you may recall that when he first became a believer in 1784 he had already been serving as a Parliamentarian for four years. But with his newfound faith, he certainly questioned whether political involvement was the way to go.

Like so many other new believers, he tended to think of “full time Christian service” as only one thing: becoming a pastor (or, perhaps, an overseas missionary). He went through quite a bit of internal struggle and anguish over this. But two things happened on December 2, 1785 which really helped to seal his fate as a Christian politician.

One, he wrote to former slave ship captain John Newton, urging him to meet with him. The other was a letter written the same day by his friend and Prime Minister, William Pitt. As to the latter, Pitt famously urged Wilberforce to not pull out of political involvement.

As he wrote in his letter, “If a Christian may act in the several relations of life, must he seclude himself from them all to become [a religious recluse]? Surely the principles as well as the practice of Christianity are simple, and lead not to meditation only but to action.”

And his visit with Newton (the author of Amazing Grace) also moved in that direction, with Newton insisting that he had so much to contribute to the cause of Christ while in Parliament. As he implored Wilberforce, “God has raised you up for the good of the church and the good of the nation, maintain your friendship with Pitt, continue in Parliament, who knows that but for such a time as this God has brought you into public life and has a purpose for you.”

Very sound advice indeed. And fortunately it was heeded. As Jonathan Aitken writes in his biography of Newton, “The meeting between John Newton and William Wilberforce which took place on the evening of 7 December 1785 turned out to be of the highest public and political importance.”

It sure was. And the rest, as they say, is history. Today millions of Blacks the world over are so very thankful that Wilberforce did not latch on to the unbiblical notion that politics is not the stuff of Christian service. They are free today because Wilberforce put his faith in to action – even in the rough and tumble of political life.

Of interest, just seconds ago on another site and another post, dealing with how a Christian is being ferociously attacked for publicly standing up for the right of children to be raised by their own mother and father, some Christian critic came along and actually said this: “If the discussion hinders seeing people coming to Christ, then perhaps the discussion should not be had.”

I replied: “Regrettably there were people who told Wilberforce the same unhelpful thing: ‘If the discussion [about ending the slave trade] hinders seeing people coming to Christ, then perhaps the discussion should not be had.’ Most fortunately Wilberforce rejected such unbiblical advice.”

Once again we see this very unhelpful false dilemma being pushed: we either uplift Jesus (whatever exactly that means) or we engage in Christian social action. And in this case, we either exalt Jesus, or we stand up for God’s design for marriage and family. Why in the world can’t we do both – simultaneously? Why in the world are we being urged to just do one or the other?

Millions of Christians over the centuries have done this very thing, with Wilberforce being but one example. Yes, it is possible God may call an individual believer to pull out of all political and social engagement perhaps for a season. But that would be the exception, not the rule.

For most of us Christians, we are called to engage, to enter into our world, to be salt and light in every area of life. And doing that is not the antithesis of promoting and elevating Christ, but a very integral part of it. The two belong together, and what God has put together no man should put asunder.

So the next time you hear some Christian trying to push this unhelpful and unbiblical false dilemma, remind him of what Hitler once said. He told the Lutheran pastor and Nazi-resister Martin Niemoller: “I will protect the German people. You take care of the church. You pastors should worry about getting people to heaven, and leave this world to me.”

We don’t need that sort of advice anymore – especially coming from Christians.

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18 Responses to Politics and Religion, Again

  • I’m guessing King David (a man after God’s own heart) would be in favour of Christians being inviolved in politics.

  • Esther got involved in palace politics, big time.

  • Thank you, Bill, for reminding us that God wants His people to evangelise and participate in public life, and not to ignore current social evils.

    Adrian Gallagher reminds us of David, a man after God’s own heart, being involved in politics.

    The Old Testament shows us how God’s people could be a blessing even in the public affairs of heathen kingdoms, as can be seen in the lives of Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon and Mordecai in Persia.

    Regards,

    John Ballantyne, Melbourne.

  • Bill,
    Thanks for this posting. It came at a most opportune time. A divine appointment some may say.
    A few days ago I was on the phone with my son and he was explaining to me his difficulty in relating to many people where he moved to in Houston. He said “most people here are very racist”. He is offended by all the racism he has encountered. You see I didn’t raise him that way and we lived in a neighborhood where racism wasn’t very prevalent. We are of European descent. My daughter married a Jamaican man and my son married a beautiful Mexican girl.
    My son went to FIU to get a degree in Religion and lived in a small apartment in Miami’s Little Haiti. He went on a mission trip with Tudor Parfitt to Papua New Guinea to study a tribe called the Gogodala who claimed to be of Jewish Descent. Tudor Parfitt is the one who discovered through genetic testing that some Jewish communities in Africa and India actually had a descent from Jews.
    My son later found some difficulty in breaking into the ministry at his age. (Many had questionable theology) So, he went to work as a oil logistics specialist. and continued his study of Christianity.
    My son’s discussion of his encounters with racism impacted me greatly and I had been thinking about it for several days when I read this blog. Because of the parallels with my son’s story, I wrote him a note encouraging him to address the issue. I asked him; With some study and prayer, how could he address the issue to make the world a better place? Especially since in my experience racism is actually more prevalent in the Church than in secular society. The racism he spoke of was from all races. White, Black, Latin, etc. I told him he didn’t have to become a Pastor or Missionary but he would always have to be a Christian.

    P.S. I was having a discussion yesterday on Facebook with several people about the prosperity Gospel and Joel Osteen’s new $10M house. I was told by several including a Pastor that I shouldn’t be attacking a ministry. It would damage the credibility of Christianity.
    My feeling is we MUST as Christians call out false profits where we find them. Joel Osteen has done more to damage the credibility of Christianity than any Facebook discussion will. My hope is that anyone would turn from Joel and Mammon and focus on Christ. Joel rejected the Gospel on the Larry King show (https://youtu.be/KwL1DThtxYg) and continues to lead people away from Christ.

  • Just one thing to say…Esther.

  • Well, I watched Amazing Grace again. What a man, what a fight, what a legacy! Would it not inspire us little folk to serve our Lord all the more, while the world implodes and is dying before us? I will never understand the road of least resistence when there is so much work to be done, where’s the light on a hill, and the salt? Great insight as usual, Thank you Bill.

  • If Christians stay out of politics then those who oppose Christianity have an open goal. Is that really what these short sighted “Christians” want, no voice for those who stand up for God?

    In some areas it is hard enough to find someone worth voting for as it is.

  • Jesus prophesied to His followers; “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” Matt 10:18
    Which is exactly what happened to Stephen, Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas etc etc.
    So this politics thing is all very New Testament too.
    For goodness sake, Paul was in chains and being questioned before King Agrippa, so he starts evangelising…
    Acts 26:27-28 “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
    Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
    We need more evangelising to the suits in Canberra…

  • I too watched Amazing Grace on the TV last weekend. It is a very inspiring story. I’ve long pondered the tensions which exist between faith and politics. One thing I know for sure: its not for the faint-hearted. Seeing the way our current PM is vilified for his faith is very sad. Most are completely ignorant to the enormous positive influence Christian faith has had on Western society.

  • Time is too short not to be involved. If we do not act now our Judeo-Christian values will be further eroded.

  • How having the discussion about whatever it might be, slavery, marriage can prevent someone from coming to Jesus Christ is beyond me and I rather suspect it is a smoke screen rather than a legitimate argument. I remember some of the responses Danny Nathalia received after he stood strong and refused to publicly apologize for never doing anything wrong int he first place. He received emails from people who were persuaded to become Christians because of his stand. It is time we replace the image of a mealymouthed Jesus with that of a savior who had the strength and courage to speak the truth in love at all times regardless of who was his audience The fear of man had no hold on him and yet, when the time was right he gave His life for those who crucified Him.
    The truth carries its own offense not because it is offensive but because our pride and self-importance rises up in protest and opposition to it. So, lets have the discussion as deep and detailed as it needs to be and push through the barrier of offense people like to put up in order not to have to face the issue. Better face it now than when it is too late.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors ~ Plato

    Those who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants ~ William Penn

    A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government ~ Edward Abbey

    Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter ~ Martin Luther King Jr

    The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing ~ Edmund Burke

    The fundamental political question is why do people obey a government. The answer is that they tend to enslave themselves, to let themselves be governed by tyrants. Freedom from servitude comes not from violent action, but from the refusal to serve. Tyrants fall when the people withdraw their support ~ Etienne de La Boetie

    You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life ~ Winston Churchill

    Resistance to tyranny is service to God ~ James Madison

    We do not want, as the newspapers say, a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world ~ GK Chesterton

  • Thank you for this. It is so right to get involved to promote righteousness in the land. One danger worth pointing out, however, and this has been observed over same sex marriage, is that, as Christians enter the fray, there is a temptation to deliberately avoid using biblical arguments, but to revert instead to sociological ones, thinking that this will get a better response.

    So, for example, traditional male female marriage is upheld because research shows that children do better under it rather than because it is what God has ordained. References to the sinfulness of homosexuality are also omitted.

    So yes, let us join the political fight if it impinges upon God’s truth, but let us do so as those openly standing on the authority of Scripture.

  • Thanks Peter. But both are appropriate in their own way. The truth is, if we want to get the biblical worldview into the public arena, we often have to learn how to share biblical truths using non-biblical language. As someone who has done thousands of media interviews over the decades, I can tell you that very early on I would have been dropped had I insisted on throwing in Bible verses into every interview I did, or letter to the editor, or article for a newspaper, or talkback radio gig, etc. There is certainly a place for sharing Bile verses. But all truth is God’s truth, so if we share the latest social science research on, for example, why children do better with a mother and a father, we are sharing truth – God’s truth.

    And of course it should be recalled that when Wilberforce got up in Parliament time after time as part of his efforts to free the slaves, he did not throw John 3:16 in every time. Wisdom in dealing with the world so that we can more effectively reach it of course has nothing to do with being ashamed of the gospel. It is called being wise as serpents and harmless as doves, as Jesus asked us to be.

  • Peter, to add to what Bill said in the previous post, when we seek to govern as Christians we must govern as Christians also for those who as yet have not bowed the knee to Christ. As the parliamentary prayer says “to the benefit of all people of this state and of Australia”. Not all people are Christians and yet need someone to govern them to their best interest even if they do not understand what is their best interest or at least don’t understand it from a spiritual point of view. As human government became necessary only after the fall it is in a sense subservient to the church which has the far more important task of convincing people of their need of a saviour. But government can be through its insistence on righteous laws be the “schoolmaster that leads people to Christ” and thereby aid both the temporary and indirectly the eternal needs of the people it serves.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennet

  • Bill: You are right on as are the comments posted. ‘Render unto God…render unto Caesar’ basically summarizes the issue.
    David A. Noebel

  • Thank you Bill and Ursula for your wise comments. I particularly had in mind the main campaign against ssm here in the UK, the Coalition for Marriage, where one of the Christian leaders in that group openly stated in a media interview that homosexuality was not morally wrong.

  • Thanks Peter. Yes that was a strange thing to say.

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