Note: In light of the upcoming elections in just a few short weeks, guest blogger Jordan Tong has offered a few thoughts about how, as Christians, we should view our role in the political process and our responsibilities as Christian citizens.
What are the two things you are not supposed to discuss when talking with a stranger? You got it – religion and politics. Nothing stirs up tension like these two all-important topics. However, an equally heated controversy is a right Christian understanding of politics, and more specifically, how involved Christians should be in politics. As with many Christian doctrines and practices, we often struggle with balance. For example, we choose grace at the expense of law or God’s sovereignty at the expense of man’s responsibility. Veering into one ditch or the other is our natural tendency. And there is no exception when it comes to Christians and politics. Two faulty extremes are common.
The first extreme is what Wanye Grudem in his book, Politics According to the Bible, has called “do evangelism, not politics.” This view basically states that the job of the Church is to preach the Gospel only and not concern itself with politics. One may say, “The Gospel is the only way to change people or society, so ALL our focus should be there.”
Of the many problems with this view, three stand out.
- First, the Bible has much to say about government. It speaks of the proper role of government as a God-ordained institution (Rom. 13:1-7). It gives a framework for good government principles (see Levitical law), and it gives commentary and judgment on good and evil social leadership (see Daniel, Isaiah 13-23, and Amos 1-2). Should we not also concern ourselves with such large portions of Scripture?
- A second flaw with the “do evangelism, not politics” view is that it fails to see how politics (and specifically national laws) affect our ability to evangelize. While God can certainly do as he pleases in the hearts of men, one only needs to see the striking dissimilarity between North and South Korea to understand how politics can severely hinder evangelism. In addition to hampering evangelism, immoral governments that codify immoral principles propel a society deeper into hard-heartedness – most certainly a gospel issue!
- The final flaw in the “only Gospel” view is that it limits the Gospel to heart change and the realm of the spiritual, akin to a heresy called Gnosticism. While Gospel change starts in the hearts of men, it works itself out in their actions toward God and their fellow man in society. Christians are called to obey ALL of God’s commands (Matt. 28:20), created for good works (Eph. 2:10), and called to let their light shine before men.
While the “evangelism only” ditch certainly has its perils, the opposite is equally dangerous. The “do politics, not evangelism” view is not one that many Christians would publicly hold to, but in practice is one to which many tacitly adhere. But what should be seen plainly is that the Spirit of God is stripped from the picture when we think politics is the supreme engine of change. Liberals think we can create a more utopian society and conservatives think we can force change in the hearts of people via law, but both are man-centered views. The law cannot create utopia (consider Babel) nor can it change the hearts of men (Rom. 8:3)– only God can do this through Christ. So while we do not do away with the law (Matt. 5:17, Rom. 3:31), neither do we believe it has the power to save.
So what is our solution? How should the Christian see and understand his role in politics? As Wayne Grudem points out, the proper view is significant Christian influence on government.
We hold two parallel truths in our hands:
- The law matters. It curbs sin and promotes justice. The law reveals sin in our hearts. Government policies and laws can help or hurt the Christian cause. Government can promote good and punish evil or it can promote evil and punish good. As citizens in a democratic republic and Christians commanded to obey God in all things, we have a duty to spread the Gospel of the kingdom of God, including all its earthly ramifications.
- The law is powerless to save. The only means of salvation is through repentance and faith in Christ, brought about by the work of the Spirit. True and lasting change does not occur, either individually or societally, without the Gospel.
Holding these truths in our hands, we should follow the example of Christ. Jesus met the physical needs and the spiritual needs of those around him. As he healed the sick and transformed the heart, we too must shape the earthly culture and pursue the hearts of men. We are not called to one or the other. We are called to both. As we do not reject sanctification in favor of regeneration, neither should we reject political and societal influence in favor of evangelism. We are called to both.