In my first post on this topic we looked at the two dominant sides of the current debate on Christians and political involvement. Now we must look at the biblical evidence for both and see why each side believes as it does.
Before we begin to look at the case for political activism among Christians, let’s take the time to remember an important truth: this is not a “pillar of the faith” of historical, orthodox Christianity.* In my opinion this is not a matter to withhold Christian fellowship over if two people disagree. We must always remember to “keep the main thing the main thing” and focus on our unity with other Christians rather than our differences.
That said, this debate has caused a great deal of emotion on both sides. Unfortunately, the anger has generated a lot of heat, but not much light.
So why do some Christians feel so passionately about the need of Christians to fight our cultural decline and uphold standards of morality and decency in the world? Simply put, they believe that they are God’s children who must reflect His character and stand for His reputation in His world.
Let’s be clear that most in this camp are not theonomists. In other words, most do not think that the Old Testament Law is binding on society today, and few are trying to usher in the earthly reign of Jesus via legislation.
What they are saying, though, is that it brings God glory for people, even those who are not Christians, to act morally. For a great defense of Christian activism, read this excellent post by John Frame. I can’t encourage you enough to start with that post; Dr. Frame is a noted author and it is a good work. Go read it.
Consider also this quote from John Piper:
Justice is God’s creation. Honesty is God’s design. Integrity is the work of God – even in unbelievers – just like their head and heart and hands and feet are his work…The honesty and justice of unbelievers is like a seashell washed up on the beach. There’s no life in it. But it does have a kind of beauty…Since the partial external conformity of unbelievers to God’s designs of justice and honesty does in one way delight the heart of God, it was right for William Wilberforce to devote twenty years of his life in Parliament to the abolition of English slave trading, even though the great majority of those merchants who gave up the trade did it under constraint and not for any holy reasons at all. It was the work of God’s grace that rid England of the barbarisms of the African slave trade. And therefore the Lord looked down with delight on February 22, 1807, when the House of Commons passed the decisive bill. The same will be true when persevering pro-life forces bring an end to wanton, legalized child-killing in America….My prayer is that the truth of God’s pleasure in public justice will inspire many in our day to take up the mantle of William Wilberforce and wear it into battle against the manifold injustices of our day. (The Pleasure of God, 263)
There are also many verses in Scripture that speak of God’s desire for all people to act morally. Consider Proverbs 14:34, which says “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Since sin is a disgrace to any people, it stands to reason that for the dignity of America and its people that Christians should advocate for morality.
Jesus also tells us in Matthew 5:14 that “You are the light of the world.” Christians are told that they shine God’s light into the world, and one way we can do that is by advocating for morality. Failure to live out our morals and advocate for political power and against sin is a failure to act as the salt and light of the world, which Jesus commanded Christians to be.
Another biblical argument comes out of Proverbs 24:11-12. In those verses, the author laments those who don’t stop a death when they knew it was happening, because God will judge their inaction. So to avoid God’s judgment, a Christian must get involved (and most pointedly here in the effort to end legalized abortion).
Christians who align themselves with the concept of social activism also see America as a unique opportunity to affect our culture via politics. In most countries and throughout history the average person has had no say in the laws of their country. In America, though, we practice a Federal Republic form of government (along with a few other modern countries), which empowers citizens to govern and change society. Since we have the ability, if we fail to act then we commit the sin of omission.
Next, we will consider the arguments behind those who believe that political activism is misguided, and that the church should stay out of political matters.
*In my opinion, the pillars of the faith that I am willing to take a major stand for are, (1) The authority and inerrancy of Scripture; (2) The full humanity and deity of Jesus Christ; (3) The Trinity, i.e. that God is one in essence and three in Person; (4) that eternal life is received as a gift from God on the basis of faith alone in Christ alone. Other than those, everything else is at least open for discussion and understanding.