CultureWatch

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

Politics and the Gospel

Jan 7, 2020

Is political and social involvement part of the gospel?

This is not the first time I have written about the two subjects that are not supposed to be mentioned in polite society: politics and religion. And it won’t be the last time either – especially since some folks seem to think the two should have nothing to do with each other.

More specifically, there are always some Christians who think that we should not be involved in politics, or that the gospel has nothing to say to politics, or that Christians should just preach the gospel (whatever that means exactly) while steering clear of politics.

Over the years I have had many believers challenge me, saying I am amiss to be worried about political, social and cultural issues. I should just ‘preach the gospel’ they insist. Or at best, I should talk about ‘Christian’ things and stay away from ‘secular’ topics.

A recent comment to my site is one example of this. The fellow seemed to suggest that I am doing a great job when I talk religion, but not such a good job when my religion intersects with politics. Now I do not know the fellow, so I am assuming he is not some troll, but is well-intentioned and is expressing a genuine concern.

Admittedly, his comment can be taken a few different ways, but let me share here how I would respond to him. And since so many others seem to feel the same way, this is really a generic reply to all those who have such thoughts. What follows is his comment, and my more generalised response.

“Bill, your web-site is an outstanding source of Christian commentary, but I feel that it loses substantial focus when you move from the gospel to other domains, especially the political.”

Thanks ****. Your comment is similar to what I often get, so let me give a rather generic response. Mind you, I have written often on such matters before, so I am really repeating myself here. But some of those earlier articles that are worth reading include these:

billmuehlenberg.com/2019/06/21/on-christian-political-involvement/
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2013/06/18/yes-politics-matters/
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/09/08/why-christians-should-be-interestedinvolved-in-politics/
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2008/11/06/christian-political-involvement/
www.billmuehlenberg.com/1997/10/10/the-case-for-christian-social-involvement/

My answer somewhat depends on what you mean by saying that my site “loses substantial focus when you move from the gospel to other domains, especially the political.” If you simply mean I am less clear and focused in my political commentary than in my religious writing, we could discuss that. But hopefully my clarity and focus remain the same whatever I am writing about.

But it may be more likely that you mean something like this: ‘When you do this, you are heading down the wrong path and you should only concentrate on “gospel” issues.’ If that is what you mean, then I would have a few things to say in response. The main thing would be this: just what do you mean by the “gospel”?

If in your eyes it means only getting naked souls into an ethereal, cloudy heaven one day, to strum on harps, and nothing more, I would say your focus is far too narrow. Yes getting individuals right with God and enjoying eternal life is a major focus of the gospel – but it is not all of the gospel.

My reading of the Bible shows me that God is concerned about all of life – and that includes this life now, not just our next life. My understanding is that the Lordship of Christ should extend to every area of life, not just the “spiritual”. Our Christian faith SHOULD have an impact on the world around us, and that includes the political, the social, the cultural, the ethical – every part of life.

Jesus commanded us to be salt and light in THIS world, not just to pull people out of this world (Matthew 5:13-16). And he taught us to pray this way: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

It is never a question of saving souls or being salt and light, but both. That is exactly how the early church grew by leaps and bounds and overturned the pagan world: their gospel was about getting sinners right with God, but it also meant practical care and help for people and their needs.

James speaks about such practical religion when he says, “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?” (James 2:15-16).

All the great saints of the past knew that the gospel certainly has very real implications for politics, economics, and so on. Simply consider William Wilberforce. As a biblical Christian he spent most of his life in politics. He was a Parliamentarian and he fought the slave trade for decades.

Yes, plenty of Christians back then criticised him for this, claiming he should just stay ‘focused on the gospel,’ and not get side-tracked with all those other issues. Thankfully he ignored their unbiblical advice and stayed the course. The results have been the freedom of millions of Blacks and so on.

And he was involved in countless other social, political and philanthropic causes. His faith saw no division between proclaiming the gospel and living the gospel in very practical ways. But see more on this incredible Christian here: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/08/the-reformation-of-morals/

The truth is, if our gospel is purely a privatised affair, reduced to a sermon on Sunday, or to our own private prayer closet, it will have little impact on the surrounding world. But it should – not only because this is part of what it means to be a Christian witness in a dark and needy world, but it will also attract people to Christ.

Any cursory study of church history will reveal these truths. Wherever the gospel went, social action went as well. Hospitals were set up, schools established, prison reform undertaken, and a million other works of Christian activity. Yes, souls were saved, but actual physical lives were helped as well – something Jesus always insisted on.

So I see no dichotomy here. We are never told to pick one or the other: preaching the gospel or doing the gospel. It is always to be both, simultaneously. We are to tell people about their need for salvation in Christ, and work to transform the political and social landscapes, as much as is possible in a fallen world.

Now, if I entirely misread what this person said in his original comment, my apologies. Perhaps what he in fact meant was that he does not like my political views because they are maybe too conservative or something like that, while his are more to the left. If so, then we may have to agree to disagree on some things! I have elsewhere made the case for my more or less conservative take on things as a Christian.

But as I have mentioned, plenty of people have similar sorts of concerns about how the gospel and politics relate – if at all. So to restate my case is always worthwhile. Let me conclude this piece with two quotes. The first is from Christian ethicist Norman Geisler:

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.

The second is from a well-known American Christian who has put his faith into action in the political realm, Dr. Ben Carson:

I believe it is time for us to stand up and be counted. We can no longer be passive because the Judeo-Christian way of life in America is at stake. We need not be ashamed of our faith, and we certainly should not allow those who believe differently to change who we are in order to be politically correct. Yes, we should accept them with brotherly love as we have been taught, but we should never compromise our belief system. We do believe in God, and we do believe in the right of everyone to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We do believe in an orderly government that facilitates these goals rather than impedes them. It is time to set aside political correctness and replace it with the bold values and principles that founded our nation and caused it to race to the pinnacle of the world faster than any other nation in history. It is time to stop apologizing and to start leading, because the world is desperately in need of fair and ethical leadership.

Oh, and one final word: the main reason I write about political and social issues is because I believe this is what God wants me to do. If so, I dare not disobey his call upon my life!

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14 Responses to Politics and the Gospel

  • Like you, Bill, I disagree with your well-meaning correspondent who feels that your CultureWatch web-site “loses substantial focus when you move from the gospel to other domains, especially the political”.

    The Bible commands us to love both our Creator and our neighbour.

    One important expression of loving one’s neighbour is, I believe, to be willing to take a stand against social evils in this world.

    I shudder to think how much more depraved the world would become if Christians turned their backs on the evils of abortion, the drugs epidemic and family breakdown and ceased to be salt and light to the world.

    Keep up your good work, Bill.

  • My belief is that Christians should absolutely be involved with every aspect of our society; including politics and, in these troubled times, especially in politics!

    We are to be “salt” in our society!!

    What right has Satan and those who belong to him to have free reign in any area of our society? If Christians are silent, that is the alternative!!

  • Amen! When the scriptures speak of judging the nations that is precisely what they mean. We see in prophecy how God, who sees things at every level at the same time, at one level sees entire nations working as animals or beasts. I.e. whole nations appear as organisms and, as such, the whole nation is judged for the action of the entire nation. Yes Christians are a new nation, a new prophetic organism (the bride) but that does not mean we are not still part of each nation which is and is going to be individually judged. Do we think God judged Israel and Egypt and Assyria and Ethiopia etc., despite there being both righteous and wicked in these nations, and does not judge Australia?

    Omniscience means things are conceptually sliced and diced in many different ways. If spiritual truths are not reflected in our lives in the working of physical/material actions then all that demonstrates is that we are hypocrites (actors) and if we are not faithful in the the small (material) things why would anyone give us authority over the greater (spiritual) things?

    So many scriptures tell us this from the Good Samaritan to the Parable of the Talents where God expects a return on His investment to the spiritual significance of the woman who gave her entire money, one mite, to God etc. etc. etc. We, as humans, have been given much authority over this world, as sort of a sand pit, to train us up for what we are meant for. That is why this world is temporal and why death was created because it was well known that we would muck things up, but from this world those who do right and those who want to do right but fail, would be trained up and given the authority that comes from being a Son of God.

    I know it is hard for people to conceptualize the calling which we have been given but it really should be reasonably obvious that becoming a Son of God is not a small thing.

    When we are told to love God with our heart, mind, soul and strength we should be able to realize that the fourth thing in that list only currently works in the material realm.

    Politics is not only working in the material realm but also has profound effects in the spiritual and also for the judgement of the nation. This is why those who have a calling to work in politics, and to do right, should not be despised for doing so. Despising those who do this as somehow being less spiritual to those who ignore politics is only playing into Satan’s hands and allowing him to use human authority for his own purpose.

    Eph_6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world’s rulers, of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
    (MKJV)

  • Part of it I think is Gnosticism infecting Christian thinking -the spiritual is all that matters – along with that the thought that the earth is satan’s domain so we shouldn’t be involved. (heaven being God’s domain So as his children that is where our involvement should be). Some might point to our citizenship being in heaven So we are just passing through here on earth, like if I as an American was on vacation in France, and we shouldn’t get involved, like if I was on vacation in France I wouldn’t get involved in French politics and local French issues.

    So much focus is on prayer and YES it is important but it isn’t everything. The apostles didn’t just “go to their prayer closets” and pray all day “God please change the world, God please change the world” they prayed then get up and did something. I once wrote to people it was time to get off our knees and on to our feet.

    And for those who really just want to spread the gospel and nothing more think about this it is much easier to do in a truly free society than a repressive one. Where there is more involvement of Christians in the society the freer it tend to be. Being involved makes your soul saving job easier!

  • While we’re talking about the unmentionable duo of religion and politics, let’s remember that the religious freedom bill is still open for discussion and submissions but not for very long. It is imperative to get that draft into the very best possible form as we may not get another chance for a long time to come.

    Can we expect an article from Bill M on this topic soon?

  • Thanks Bill. I did do a piece on the earlier draft of the bill, but not yet on the newer version. it is found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2019/09/04/on-religious-freedom-legislation/

  • I hope you won’t mind my saying this, Bill, but unlike the guy who inspired this piece, I read ONLY your social, political, and cultural commentary. I can only read so much, and there’s plenty of teaching on theology, apologetics, etc. out there. You, on the other hand, are one of the few Christian thinkers who addresses culture and current affairs with such boldness and biblical accuracy. I always leave feeling empowered. Thank you for helping me Watch Culture the right way (no pun intended).

  • Many thanks indeed Norah.

  • I saw your earlier piece on the first draft of the religious discrimination bill.
    It’s fair to say that the people in Attorney-General’s Dept must have used
    the Sex Discrimination and Racial Discrimination Acts as templates for the
    recent attempts to manufacture a draft bill on religious discrimination but
    the faults in those older laws were just carried over. We need only consider
    the controversial Sections 18 and 18B of the Racial Discrimination Act. Here
    the wording is such that if you do a thing for two or more reasons with one
    reason being “discrimination”, then you are assumed to have done the deed
    solely for “discrimination”. So your love of God and neighbour doesn’t count
    as far as the Human Rights Commission is concerned.

    The same problem exists in the draft bill on religious discrimination.

  • If I had to do it over again, I would also avoid any semblance of involvement in partisan politics. An evangelist is called to do one thing, and one thing only: to proclaim the Gospel. Becoming involved in strictly political issues or partisan politics dilutes the evangelist’s impact and compromises his message.-Billy Graham

    I am seeing the slow destruction of Christianity but not from the outside but from within as many young believers are more educated on cultural issues with little understanding of the gospel. I have worked in the university setting for years and watch the majority of young church people fall away from their faith but for many it was just cultural. It is notable that in the first centuries of Christianity that believers were absent from the interaction that is being advocated here but our darkest moment occurred when the church leaders formed an alliance with Constantine. We gain social status even impacting the norms but lost our soul even the loss of the gospel itself. The same applies here as I have personally struggled for years on this issue as I noted my own heart so spiritually dry due to my political zeal not seeing my political opponents as lost souls but combatants. We may won a few cultural battles but in a few years Christianity in the USA has become a shallow faith voided of substance which will only perpetrate our loss as vibrant churches in our society.

  • Thanks Albert. While I hear what you are saying, I must disagree. Because I am a biblical Christian I cannot go along with unhelpful and unbiblical false dichotomies. I know full well that as a Christ follower I am to both share the gospel and be salt and light. I am to seek the salvation of others and also seek godly and righteous government. Scripture NEVER forces me to choose just one or the other, so as an obedient Christian I of course will continue to do both.

    In doing this I will follow in line with 2000 years of Christianity. I will continue to admire so many who refused to let an unbiblical false choice stymie them. I will run with Christian heroes like Wilberforce who shared the good news of Christ AND worked his tail off in politics and the wider culture. And millions of blacks both then and now are so very thankful that he did, and that he rejected the cries of the critics that he was wasting his time and should pull out.

    But I have already written dozens of articles on these matters explaining my position in greater detail, including the one above. But see also this one: http://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/12/06/christianity-society-and-false-dilemmas/

    And you are quite amiss of course to try to claim that the early Christians were somehow dead set against cultural and political involvement. Um, they had no choice in the matter: they were obviously a persecuted and illegal sect, fighting simply to stay alive! So of course they were not involved in politics back then – they were not able to at all! Thankfully after the hardcore persecution lifted, they were able to let their faith have an impact on all of society. They rightly saw to it that the Lordship of Christ was applied to every area of life.

    Moreover, it is interesting that folks like John MacArthur who once used to warn Christians against political involvement are now fully involved in the political and social battles of the day. I am glad he has seen the light. He now fully realises that our very freedom to worship and preach the gospel is at stake here. Franklin Graham certainly agrees 100 per cent with this. And I am certain his father Billy would too if he were alive today.

    Sorry, but if you have become jaded and disillusioned with politics and the culture wars, that is between you and the Lord. But pushing such cynicism onto all other believers is hardly helpful. Thus I most certainly will keep doing what God has called me to do, as will millions of other biblical believers. But thanks for your thoughts.

  • Another thing I would mention is the early christians were under a empire they couldn’t just vote Caesar out of office. the political system of today is so much different that then. today’s system requires active involvement of the christian because it is those who are involved that can change things.

    An American founding father said “our constitution is only for a moral and religious people it is whole inadequate for any other”. He know that with out the bounds of christianity and morality NO government of the democratic type could restrain the evil that is inherent in the human heart. without God only an authoritarian dictator can control the populace. The fleshy heart or the Iron first one or the other MUST be present. in my email I have as my signature “If man will not be governed from within, he must be governed from without.” within referring to the Holy Spirit and his moral guidance and without referring to government. the more God a society has the less government it needs. Conversely the less God it has the more government it needs and without God it needs TOTAL government.

    I understand your burnout. that is the problem with knowledge once you have learned something you can’t unlearn it you can’t unsee it. It is especially hard in todays world with so much going against us it get demoralizing fighting. best thing to do is take a break and get yourself together spend time with God and family and friends and get yourself back to feeling good. If and when you are ready to reenter the battle you will know. Soldiers usually go on tours of duty with time in between tours. some soldiers come out new ones go in. perhaps your tour has ended and you need to be out for awhile. if you get called for another tour you’ll know. Sometimes we think we have to stay battling 24-7-52 (this make more logical sense: hrs/day then days/wk THEN wks/year) for all our lives but you have to take breaks or risk becoming worthless to the kingdom. even fighting solders go on leave and R&R. sometimes a week or month “vacation” from the battle can do wonders for your moral and your abilities.

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