“Just Preach the Gospel” Is a Prescription for Disaster
In addition to those who are arguing for third parties, others are claiming that Christians have no business being involved politically. The following email I received is a typical example of someone who says no to all politics and social action:
“Would you not see that the main concern of the church is to preach the gospel, baptize, disciple believers in matters concerning their lives as believers in Christ JESUS? HE himself did not come to affect or change political, social, or economic status in the present world. Noah was not commissioned to alter social conditions. PAUL in his ministry and mission did not focus on changing the social status of the then known world. His message was, ‘And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. . .’ [Rom. 12:2]. . . . ‘And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.’ [John 14:3].”
Let’s look at the opening question which is more of a statement. Certainly Christians are to preach the gospel, baptize, and disciple. Notice how the writer wants to limit discipleship to “matters concerning their lives as believers in Christ JESUS.” Discipleship is being limited to the personal. But Jesus doesn’t put a limitation on the broadness of discipleship (Matt. 28:18–20). Notice that it’s “nations” that are to be discipled. In a short response to the emailer, I pointed out that Jesus did not marry or have children. He didn’t own a house or have a job. In fact, He didn’t own anything: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20).
If we follow the logic of the anonymous emailer, Christians should not marry, have children, own a home, or posses anything other than the bare necessities of life which would make us perpetual beggars. Many Christians with a similar worldview don’t seem to have a problem taking advantage of what the “world” creates. Christians bellyache and become super-spiritual by claiming that they are above the things of the world, but they don’t seem to have a problem using the internet, driving automobiles, and shopping at the local mega-mart. “Everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:2).
Someone might respond by claiming that marriage, having children, and owning possessions are found elsewhere in Scripture. If this is true, and it is, then the same can be said about social issues and politics. Civil government was a large part of the Old Testament. Two books of the Bible are called Kings. When Jews did participate in government, they ended up ruling in a very dramatic way. Consider Joseph and Daniel. Instructions related to civil government are given to Moses in Exodus 18. Then there are the very detailed unfolding of God’s law in Exodus 20–23.
How is it possible for Paul to describe the civil magistrate as a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4) and then maintain that Christians should avoid any participation with this ministry?
Paul called on his rights as a Roman citizen when he was about to be beaten by the Roman government:
“But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?’ When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, ‘What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.’ The commander came and said to him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ The commander answered, ‘I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.’ And Paul said, ‘But I was actually born a citizen.’ Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains” (Acts 22:25–29).
Seemingly not learning his lesson, Paul later appealed to Caesar (25:11).
Romans had the rights of citizenship. Jews did not. The Jews were captives in their own country. They couldn’t get involved in politics since they didn’t have any political standing. Their own legal system was curtailed by the provincial government that was ruling over them. Israel’s lack of governmental position was not normative. This was not the case during the time Israel was a sovereign nation running its own affairs.
What about the emailer’s claim about Noah? Noah is said to have been a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). Again, he was more than this. He had the skills of a farmer, engineer, and carpenter. It’s hard to believe that there weren’t social and political sins in his day that he preached against as he and his sons constructed the ark. The Bible is filled with moral instruction that touches on every area of life, social issues and politics included.
Did you notice that the emailer makes no mention of 2 Timothy 3:16–17?: “All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Every good work includes politics. The claim can’t be made that politics is a special case because it’s “dirty” (sinful) since every area of life is “dirty.” Divorces occur. There are corrupt people in business. There is no place to hide from sin. Politics is not sinful in and of itself. Sinners make occupations and relationships sinful. Politics is dirty because Christians (1) fail to get involved to clean it up or (2) succumb to the temptation of power and corruption. Again, this is no less true of business, journalism, banking, or sports, including Little League.
Then there’s the effect of non-involvement. If Christians don’t get involved, this does not mean that we will be immune from the effects of government. The laws that anti-Christians enact will still apply to us.
Marvin Olasky, in his review of James Davidson Hunter’s book To Change the World, makes an excellent point:
What we don’t need is another denigration of Christian political involvement. Hunter suggests that Christians political involvement. Hunter suggests that Christians should “be silent for a season and learn how to enact their faith in public through acts of shalom [peace] rather than to try again to represent it publicly through law, policy, and political mobilization.” I’m all in favor of compassionate activities, but can we afford political silence in this time of liberal aggression?1
First, Christians were nearly silent for decades. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that Christians re-entered the political arena. By then, radical liberalism had taken over every major institution in our nation. Second, Christians aren’t trying to impose the Christian religion through politics. Third, everyday there are numerous “public acts of” peace performed by Christians in America. This hasn’t stopped secularist from furthering their anti-Christian agenda. Jesus performed numerous public acts of peace, and didn’t stop His enemies from crucifying Him.
- Marvin Olasky, “Silent Treatment,” World (June 5, 2010), 30. [↩]