CultureWatch

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

Faith and Politics – Again

Sep 7, 2020

As always, some clear thinking on the matter of faith and politics is needed:

Discussions and debates about Christian political involvement will always be with us, and I will need to keep writing about this, as there always seems to be so much fuzzy thinking found in this area. While Christians can and do disagree on various aspects of this discussion, there are some positions being held to which clearly are much less helpful – and much less biblical – than others.

So I need to once again address some rather sub-biblical thinking here. Two main examples of this have arisen of late, so let me speak to both of them. While they involve my interaction with two other folks, I am not picking on them. Their thinking would be representative of how so many Christians think about such matters. So I am not picking on individuals here, but using a few case studies if you will to help me make the case for the bigger picture.

On Choosing Between Evils

The first oft-heard protestation coming from some rather misguided believers is that we must never choose between two evils. These folks are often purists who demand perfection in our choices, or nothing at all. This especially comes up during various election cycles, and it certainly has come up this year with the choice between Trump and Biden in the US.

How many times have we heard Christians say they cannot bring themselves to vote for Trump – no matter how utterly bad and anti-Christian the policies and platforms of the Democrats and Biden are. I need to keep pointing out some basic truths to these folks.

I need to remind them that Jesus is not running this year, so in a real world – in a fallen world – we have to make do with the actual alternatives at hand, and not some ethereal ideal that cannot be reached when it comes to preferred options in the November 3 election.

Yet these folks will go on about how we need some better alternative to run with. To which one can only respond: Yes, we all may well want something or someone ‘better’. So if and when this better alternative comes around, I do really hope these folks will let us all know who it is.

But in the meantime, as I keep saying, we live in the real world and we have to make do with what is in fact on offer. Biblical Christians of all people are to be realists. And that includes knowing about the limits of politics and politicians in a sinful and fallen world.

Speaking of which, I recently saw this making the rounds on the social media. It comes from the noted New Testament scholar C.E.B. Cranfield (1915–2015), although as yet I have not been able to track down where exactly it comes from. He said this:

Often the only choice open to the Christian in a particular situation will be a choice between evils; but he will realize that it is not a matter of indifference whether the greatest possible, or the least possible evil comes to pass, and that to help to bring about the greatest evil by refusing, out of a mistaken perfectionism, to choose the least is surely to be guilty of dereliction of duty.

Another person rightly reminded us of how God himself has at times told his people to choose between various evils. Recall the stark choices that King David had to deal with as found in 1 Chronicles 21:11-13:

So Gad went to David and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.” David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”

While this was God’s judgment on David for his sinful actions, the point remains that in life we often have to choose between various less than ideal options. We need to prayerfully and carefully make such choices, and not opt out altogether until some unobtainable perfect option comes along.

On unhelpful false dilemmas

Another common and unhelpful example involves something I get all the time from various believers. It is the old furphy about the need for Christians to stay away from politics and to simply preach the gospel. This view does disservice to both alternatives. Just who is it that established politics and government in the first place? And just what in fact is the gospel?

But so many Christians try to push this fallacy of the false dilemma onto other believers. As but one (of many) examples of this, I recently got this sent to me by one Christian:

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.

What follows is the response I shared with him – and to all who would hold such a view:

Thanks ****. 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: 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.

There are of course many more sorts of unhelpful and often unbiblical views on the matter of Christians and political involvement. I have written plenty of pieces on these matters already, and it looks like I will keep having to do so, given that the need for believers to demonstrate some mental and moral clarity on such things may be at an all-time high these days.

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20 Responses to Faith and Politics – Again

  • Thanks so much Brother for this balanced article. I have never been as politically minded or active as I have become in the past few years. I believe we must do both. I have always voted, but confess that in recent months have become severely jaded by what is on offer. I understand that I have a God- given responsibility and privilege to vote – it is sobering to think of all the blood that has been spilled over the years in other countries where people risked and lost their lives for simply exercising that right!

    I am currently in touch with the Victorian representative for Riccardo Bosi’ new party AustraliaOne and offering my abilities/gifts to help build this organic movement before the next Federal election. He stands very strongly for many of the issues close to my heart as a believer and I believe has the qualities of a good leader.

    God bless you Bill – Keep speaking/writing – I am listening as are many others that I have sent your articles to and we are grateful for your sound mind and clarion call to be salt and light in this very present darkness.

  • Many thanks indeed Kaye. Bless you.

  • Could not agree with you more Bill. Well written.
    As one well known American Pastor said;
    “We the Christians are all in are plane reading our bibles and singing Ha la lo Ya safe in the knowledge the right pilots are taking us safely to our destination. Then all of are sudden are Terrorist group jumps up out of their back seats and runs forward to the front of the plane to gain entry into the cockpit so that they can take over that plane. So what do you do? Pray to the Lord in the hope that he will rapture all of you out of that plane or do you come against the invaders in order to protect those in the plane.” What do you think the Lord would want you to do? Rev 3 1:3 Wake up Church! Wake up! The Church needs to repent, not the nation. The Dragon is at our door and he does not take kindly to Christians, our brothers and sisters living in Hong Kong are a testament to that. Sorry Bill, I am on your side, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. The Church needs to wake up to themselves, we have been like are Ishmael trading off our Christian Heritage for are piece of bread. Most of us don’t even know what our Australian Christian History is about, let alone the Early Church History. Even the Jews held on to their history. Time we learnt, because just maybe it will give us are purpose to fight for and try to hold onto what we have left.

  • Addressing the concerns of your correspondent quoted above – he’s seeing something real happening but I believe he is in error about what’s behind his observations. He says that he works in the university setting and has noticed several things –
    1. young believers in the uni setting are ‘more educated on cultural issues’ (I presume he means more than Christianity);
    2. these young believers have little understanding of the Gospel; and
    3. he has watched the majority of young church people (in the university setting) fall away from the faith
    He believes that these things are happening because young believers are arriving at university with no knowledge of the Gospel and a Christianity that is ‘only cultural,’ believing this is what causes them to ‘fall away.’ I think he is partially correct in that these young believers have little understanding of the Gospel but I think he is wrong when he says that they bring a ‘cultural Christianity’ to university with them. I believe they come to their university education with the basic Christianity they were brought up with, but they pick up the ‘cultural’ leanings when they get there. The basic Christianity they have been taught at home has not taught them to address and answer the cultural ideas that they will encounter at university. Because they are not equipped to defend Christianity from these ideas and answer the challenges from rabid Marxist lecturers and professors, their Christianity falls away and they become victims of Marxist cultural indoctrination.
    Reverting to teaching ‘Gospel only’ without also educating our young people culturally and politically will produce Christians who are not equipped to be salt and light in our society. We not only need to teach our young ones the salvation message of the Gospel but also the truth of Christianity, and how it applies to the whole of life, or we will lose them, and most likely our culture with them.

  • A challenging post, Bill.

  • Thanks Bill, no wonder we don’t have enough Christians in parliament if Christians believe that they should stay out of politics. Yes, the church should repent if it teaches such things as we have let this ‘lie’ develop and are reaping the consequences with more abortions happening than people killed in wars.
    Re Billy Graham’s comment – I think it is taken out of context by the person wanting to justify not having anything to do with politics – but well answered Bill. I read that Billy Graham would go to both Democrat and Republican conventions, if invited to speak. Whereas today, the parties are so different with the Democrats taking out ‘under God’ in their Pledge of Allegiance, therefore I think Franklin Graham only spoke at the Republican convention.

  • I have never been a political Christian until recently. I will actually be voting for the first time this year. I am 54 years of age. I am kind of ashamed to admit that. In a short time, due to what is taking place in America, it has caused me to dig deep and learn about political matters. In the past few months, I have become increasingly more political. Not only do I share the gospel message but I share and expose the lies from the Democratic party because of it I have 8 family members who have never been political who also will be voting for the first time this year. Trump 2020. Great article thank you for sharing. God bless you and yours.

  • Thanks Rosa – well done.

  • The political realm is the “art of negotiation” that sealing the deal the “win/win scenario” which opens the door for the progressive acceptance of evil by the state as each and every law is intended to guide behaviors in one direction or another in accordance with the current social contract. Increasing the state is in the business of calling evil good and good evil in defiance of the ultimate reality that good is good and evil is evil for which each and all shall be judged accordingly. The state is becoming increasingly intolerant of the Good having rejected the Object Good. Come,Lord Jesus.

  • In discussing why “the majority of young church people (in the university setting) fall away from the faith”, one reason often heard is that “science proves the Bible wrong.” So people argue that death ruled for millennia before Adam, if he ever existed, so why blame Adam for sin and death and who needs Jesus, if he ever existed. Sadly the church has failed miserably to defend Genesis as real earth history – without which the Gospel is meaningless – and many otherwise excellent Christian apologists can’t defend genesis as true history. So it’s no wonder “young church people fall away from the faith” when challenged.

    Ironically those who ridicule Christians for blind faith leaning on the crutch of a God who fills the gaps in our knowledge of science, fail to realise that their belief in millions of years of evolution requires truly blind faith that nothing turned into everything, then dead stuff became alive and got more sophisticated, all directly contrary to known laws of science, for no known reason which is in itself illogical. It makes much more sense to believe that there is a God who has the power and will do do all those miracles – and who made sure we had the Bible to explain it to us.

  • Thanks Bill for this timely article, and it’s always interesting to see the wisdom evident in many of the readers’ comments. (E.g. Rosa C’s new-found eagerness to vote for the first time in her life is amazing, and Peter N’s contribution certainly fits with my experience and observations.)

    Re ‘faith and politics’ in Australia, for a staggering demonstration of the increasing level of fuzzy thinking one need look no further than the results of the same-sex marriage survey. Even so-called Bible Belt electorates supported it. Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in his memoirs is reported as recalling sharing a flight with today’s prime minister Scott Morrison on the day the same-sex marriage survey result was announced:
    “Scott was utterly deflated. He couldn’t believe his own electorate had voted ‘yes’. ‘I don’t feel this is the country that I grew up in anymore.'”

  • While we may not expect an increasingly godless Western culture to accept God’s honest truth when it comes to lawmaking and the pursuit of a truly ethical society, our 21st-Century edition of Babylon the Great ought to be held accountable by the servants of God and the Lamb.

    To hope to hide our heads under our armpits until we wake up in Heaven will not do: The Paraclete sent for us from Heaven is not only defence lawyer for the people of Christ arraigned in the courts of the world and its public opinion. He is also Christ’s prosecutor to convict the world about sin, righteousness and judgement (John 16: 8-11).

    We may not expect to be welcomed as “insiders” by the world and its systems. That doesn’t stop us “aliens and sojourners” from calling a lost world to account for its sins … and to repentance.

    I doubt real, godly social change can be effected “from the top down”: Both grassroots level change effected by spiritual revival in response to the Gospel and courageous, godly national leadership need to happen together.

    To sit silent in the face of a rising tide of godless legislation and anti-Christian social changes is surely tantamount to being guilty of acquiescing in the works of Satan in the world.

  • The problem Kerry is too much of the church is still feeding the milk to kids, and often adults, in fact one could say we are breastfeeding the word to kids. They are ready for meat but we still give suck. So of course since we refuse to give meat Satan gives his meat. Yes the gospel is important but they also need to know how to counter the lies of today’s world. The ark is a great start we keep showing kids the “bathtub” ark and while cute there is NO way all the animals would fit on a ark that small. So naturally when this is pointed out by the world it sows doubts. They’re going to eat meat The only question is whose??

    Politics and culture affect our ability to share the gospel so they are of vital interest to those wanting to share the gospel. If we ignore politics and culture we might find we no longer have the ability to share the gospel. Hard to share the bible chained to a boxcar awaiting arrival at a death camp.

  • Amen!

    I understand there are quite a few Christians who are trying to get Jesus to run for President sometime in the near future. …

    Seriously. How are we supposed to “make His paths straight” if we don’t get involved? Clearly there is only one side of the battle who would prefer Christians give up doing good and we know which side of the battle is expert at deception, having invented it.

    It’s not only politics that evil forces work to prevent good people to not be involved with either. There are myriads of ways in which Christians are often confused and misdirected and deliberately confounded to attempt to make their efforts to do good fruitless and to divide them over irrelevant and confusing issues. This is why an army has one commander and why Jesus made the point about the good Samaritan. There is synergy when people work together and a house divided against itself simply cannot stand.

    Jehovah Nissi means “The Lord is our Banner” but until we come to proper understanding, unfortunately, that call looks set to fall flat. People either learn things the easy way or the hard but there is no escaping Truth. One way or another people will learn.

  • Anthony Cieszkiewicz Sep 7, 2020, at 11:16 pm
    The political realm is the “art of negotiation” that sealing the deal the “win/win scenario” which opens the door for the progressive acceptance of evil by the state as each and every law is intended to guide behaviours in one direction or another in accordance with the current social contract.
    Anthony, it appears that you are presenting a form of existentialism here, and assuming that this is the only way politics can be conducted.

    I believe that politics can be done better because the political sphere has been captured by the cultural warriors of the present. However, they can be recaptured.

    For example, this is a quote I snatched from a browser search: “The lockdown is authorised by the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic)”

    What a title for an Act of Parliament! It uses airy-fairy words to convey nebulous ideas and represents the standard approach taken by cultural warriors to enable almost anything to be done to advance their war against Biblical values and Western civilization. State of Emergency declarations were previously made under an Act called the “Emergency Services Act,” a title which was much more concrete and forthright, and which would not have envisaged anything like the powers which the Premier is currently using (and abusing).

    This illustrates the possibility that government and politics can be conducted along more Biblical lines: confronting evil, commending good, and not over-reaching to intrude into personal lives or trampling on our hard-won freedoms.

  • @Rosa, thanks for your inspiring comment. I too am becoming more vocal about political issues here in the US. I am also praying that Hispanic and black voters especially will not vote for the corrupt communists who have sold them identity politics all these decades.

    Please keep our pro-life, Bible believing candidates in prayer. Some of them are being physically threatened.

  • We are still very confused by the legacy of historical “fundamentalist” breakaway movements, from those who would prove their faith by works. Those – most of us now I think – who just preach the simple, plain, Gospel (the fundamentals) have lost sight of the bigness of the Gospel and of the Lord’s victory at the cross, his resurrection and ascension.

    Early Christians were not killed for preaching that you can have a free gift or a personal relationship with Jesus. The early Church were tortured and died for a political message, that is, for proclaiming that we have a new King, one Jesus. This is a truth that Caesar and the State cannot abide. It means that Jesus is King and Lord of everything and everyone, now and in history. And it is a truth that has been so neglected from the pulpit that the congregation inside the building are as genuinely confused as the heathen outside the building. Today’s generation, including those with a voice in society (politics, media, education) are like an unreached people group.

    Missionaries happily exchanged their comfortable lives traveling to the ends of the earth to serve unreached people for whom King Jesus died. We Christians need to do the same, serving the unreached people group in our own back yards – and this means reaching cultural influencers and getting involved politics, media, education with the message that Jesus is King. But first the Church, the pulpit, the pastors must preach it. Jesus is King in all these areas and His children have a duty to proclaim and live it.

    Psalm 110:1 has been fulfilled and speaks of where we are today. It is echoed often in the New Testament.

  • John Agelico, pardon my choice of words that lead to suggest that I am a proponent of “some from of existentialism” as I was sharing from my perspective the relentless drift to the left in the political realm legally surrendering a inch of ground to the left which stateside has been the drift of abortion rights for example. Initially prohibited to legalized but rare, to common place to fully funded by the state to now include political resistance to any “born alive” laws. The abortion of children outside the womb (all too common experience in the USA) is gaining populist sentiment in the legislative chambers with some contending up to the age of three some more or less. I have no issues with the politics of addressing prudential issues by which men good will may disagree. IMHO we are in the realm of politics between men of good will and self-serving men for which there is little if any room for compromise.

  • Hi Mr Muehlenberg, thank you for another thought provoking read. I was listening to an Eric Metaxis interview on YouTube over the weekend and in it he said that approximately 30 million Christian Americans did not vote in the 2016 election. (I am assuming that was in the 2016 election). That figure is quite staggering and might help to explain why the Democrats still have the power they have. As a Christian I look at the policies of the Party, not the individual, and sometimes that means choosing the lesser of two evils. I believe we as Christians cannot complain about the direction of society if we do not take the time, make the effort to educate ourselves on the policies offered and then prayerfully take the action and vote. Prayer is so important, a priority, but we must also act because at times inaction can have more dire consequences than action. Praying God’s Blessings upon you, your Family and your Ministry. God Bless! Robyn

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