Christians and Politics
We live in very difficult times concerning the church’s influence in culture. We seem to be losing ground daily. This is not to say the church has nothing more to offer the world, but an admission that the world increasingly doesn’t want to hear it. Simply put, the church in America is being violently shoved to the margins by those in our society intolerant of our “intolerance.” I am concerned by the moral and spiritual direction in which our country is headed. Like many of you, I have strong political opinions, and from the looks of Facebook and Twitter, so do my “friends.” Some issues are old: abortion, gay rights. Others are new: gun control and the debt crisis. Mixed together with new phenomena like the 24-hour media and the Internet, ours is a time when the political conversation has become dishearteningly toxic.
Sadly, this toxic tone and the church’s loss of cultural influence have caused some Christians to become angry and bitter. Most Christians are not like this, but there is a vocal minority whose tone is hateful, and they love to rail against those not like them. Spend a few minutes in their company, and you’d think their political opponents pose the greatest threat to the church, not just the nation. Such a mindset betrays their true feelings: they are more interested in everyone agreeing with their politics rather than winning souls for King Jesus.
So this is our current situation: on one side, a hostile culture fixated on rejecting every godly virtue; on the other side, an embittered minority of Christians with very strong political beliefs. If the church is to become influential once again in our country, we must navigate these difficult waters with truth and grace. What counsel or command does the New Testament offer in times such as these?
Paul warned Timothy and Titus about infighting. “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (2 Tim. 2:23; cf. Tit. 3:9). Christians should be discerning about those issues that matter not at all in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not wrong to have political opinions, even strong ones. But if such ever compromises brotherly love and congregational unity, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. It was for this very reason that the Civil War left such a bitter taste in the mouth of David Lipscomb. Brothers have no business fighting one another on matters so carnal. There is arguably no greater mark of our being the church of Christ than our love for one another (John 13:35). When we quarrel over politics, we lose that powerful witness.
I have heard Christians say terrible things about our President. With the privilege of living in the land of the free and the home of the brave comes the right to free speech, and many of the president’s policies should trouble the child of God. But just because it is a constitutional right to speak out against tyranny does not excuse our being rude and insulting towards our rulers—the President, Congress, or any other civic authority.
In his day, there would have been much for Jesus to disparage about Tiberius Caesar. On one occasion, the religious leaders attempted to bait Jesus into doing so, but he caught them off guard, saying we should give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what is due God (Mark 12:13-17). This message remained the same throughout the New Testament: “Honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:17). In addition, God’s people are commanded to pray and give thanks for civic leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2), and to submit to their authority (Rom. 13:1; cf. Acts 5:29). But much of what is said by Christians about our government is no longer motivated by honor, prayer, gratitude, or submission. If we are to reclaim cultural influence, we must learn to speak truth to power uncompromisingly, but also with love and respect as did Daniel, Paul, and Christ.
It is too easy and too common to bemoan the moral decay of America, all the while refusing to deal with spiritual failures in our churches and in ourselves. Paul was clear we have no right to judge non-Christians, but we should be disciplining one another out of love. Judging non-Christians is God’s responsibility, not ours (1 Cor. 5:12-13). To bemoan the spiritual decay of our country is, in some way, to deny that the world has always been under the influence of Satan (1 John 5:19). And to point a finger at national wickedness while refusing to exercise church- or self-discipline makes us look ridiculous. It destroys our witness. Jesus warned of such (Matt. 7:3-5). In my experience, many in the world know about their sin. But they are unwilling to deal with the speck in their eye when they detect unwillingness on our part to deal with the canoe in our own.
Arguably the most poignant words Jesus ever spoke to this subject were said to a government official: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). God could have chosen to save the world through the political process, but he did not. He chose to do so through evangelism, through the foolishness of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:18). Christians must confess that patriotism can become a cover for idolatry; that the church outlasted Rome, and it will outlast America should Jesus tarry long enough. Always and forever, we are to set our minds and affections on things above, “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). We have a hope in Christ that cannot be touched by any earthly government. Let Congress pass her laws and the President sign his executive orders; meanwhile, Christians will continue to sing with joyful chorus, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13).
I care deeply for my country, and I yearn in my soul to see her once again be “One Nation Under God.” But nonetheless, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
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