Should Christians Stop Discussing Politics So We Don’t Offend People?
A new Barna study claims, “Just 30% of Americans Have a Positive View of Evangelicals.” Digging deeper in the study, one finds this: “Though there are some very polarized opinions about evangelicals and their politics, many Americans don’t know what to think about the demographic. According to the study, 46 percent remain neutral about the evangelicals.”
As a result of this study, someone posted the following:
The politically driven church has caused a great chasm between the church and those we are called to serve.
Our ineffectiveness with this gospel is not sin, the devil, or the world. It isn’t secular humanism, post-modernism, or socialism. It is the abandoning of the gospel Jesus brought for the desire of power, control and legislative morality. Us vs. them. It is the leaven of Herod and the leaven of the Pharisees.
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May we wholly return to our first LOVE and remember our ministry is the ministry of reconciliation not division.
The following is the first comment I posted:
This is a false narrative. Jesus was a great wedding guest by turning water into very good wine (John 2:1-11). He fed thousands of people (Matt. 14:13-21) and healed the sick (8:14-17). He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44), the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), and the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:43-48). Jesus didn’t say much about politics. Even so, there was a group of people who conspired to kill Him, and when given the chance to release Jesus from a horrible fate, declared that Caesar was their king (John 19:15).
The same is true in the book of Acts. Just preaching the gospel turned many people against the Christian message. Peter and others were arrested for preaching the gospel. Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and James, the brother of John, were murdered (12:1-3). Some were imprisoned (e.g., 12:3-5). Paul gives a list of the hardships he endured (2 Cor. 11:23-27).
The masses want someone who does not bring moral teaching. They want a live-and-let-live leader, especially one who makes fantastic campaign promises by offering prosperity for everyone. Jesus was initially beloved by the masses when He fed them. Here was a man who could create prosperity out of thin air. It was more fantastic than turning stones into bread:
Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone (John 6:14-15).
Herbert Schlossberg captures the mindset of provision-politics very well:
Rulers have ever been tempted to play the role of father to their people. . . . The state that acts like a wise parent instead of a vindictive judge has been an attractive image to many people. They include ecclesiastical authorities who have completely missed the point of the gospel warning to ‘call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven’ (Matt. 23:9). The father is the symbol not only of authority but also of provision. ’Our Father who art in heaven. . . . Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matt. 6:9, 11). Looking to the state for sustenance is a cultic act [an act of worship]; we rightly learn to expect food from parents, and when we regard the state as the source of physical provision we render to it the obeisance of idolatry. The crowds who had fed on the multiplied loaves and fishes were ready to receive Christ as their ruler, not because of who he was but because of the provision. John Howard Yoder has rightly interpreted that scene: “The distribution of bread moved the crowd to acclaim Jesus as the new Moses, the provider, the Welfare King whom they had been waiting for.”
The paternal state not only feeds its children, but nurtures, educates, comforts, and disciplines them, providing all they need for their security. This appears to be a mildly insulting way to treat adults, but it is really a great crime because it transforms the state from being a gift of God, given to protect us against violence, into an idol. It supplies us with all blessings, and we look to it for all our needs. Once we sink to that level, as [C.S.] Lewis says, there is no point in telling state officials to mind their own business. “Our whole lives are their business” [God in the Dock, p. 134]. The paternalism of the state is that of the bad parent who wants his children dependent on him forever. That is an evil impulse. The good parent prepares his children for independence, trains them to make responsible decisions, knows that he harms them by not helping them to break loose. The paternal state thrives on dependency. When the dependents free themselves, it loses power. It is, therefore, parasitic on the very persons whom it turns into parasites. Thus, the state and its dependents march symbiotically to destruction.
When the provision of paternal security replaces the provision of justice as the function of the state, the state stops providing justice. The ersatz [artificial and inferior substitute] parent ceases executing judgment against those who violate the law, and the nation begins losing benefits of justice. Those who are concerned about the chaos into which the criminal justice system has fallen should consider what the state’s function has become. Because the state can only be a bad imitation of a father, as a dancing bear act is of a ballerina, the protection of this Leviathan of a father turns out to be a bear hug.1
Politics is the extension of the personal as was the case of King David and his sins of adultery and being an accomplice to murder. His personal sins affected his family and the nation. Here is Nathan the prophet confronting him:
Those in places of political authority and power use their positions to implement laws that are immoral. Jesus Christ is the Lord over all of life. He gave the command to disciple the nations, not simply “preach the gospel” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Peter Enns, not someone I normally quote, is spot on with these comments:
Concerning the prophets, they weren’t predictors of a far distant future time, but conduits for the will of God for very present problems, often focused on the abuse of power by kings or priests. So think of the prophets as part of this check on power.
At least part of what it means for Jesus to be the super-fulfillment of Torah and the prophetic role is his ultimate rule over all rulers, all political regimes—a point made at great length in the book of Revelation. The Gospel, in other words, is the standard by which the rulers are judged. Not so much on the level of personal piety but on the level of how their rule actions affect people.
Rather, we, like the prophets of old, have the obligation to be sure that justice, peace, and righteousness remain the higher standard by which the state is held accountable rather than aiding and abetting the state to redefine and co-opt that standard.
Those who follow Jesus have an obligation to voice their opposition to corrupt rule, and to never allow the Kingdom of God to become enmeshed with political agendas.
Politicians and those who support them know the broader implications of what the “word of the cross” demands. In biblical terms, politics is not immune to its message or out of bounds to criticism.
We see this when Paul travels to Thessalonica. Notice the reaction of some of the Jews when Paul was “explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” and “this Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ” (Acts 17:3). Paul’s message brought division. While many believed, there were others who did not:
But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them (17:5-9).
Nothing was said about politics, abortion, homosexuality, oppressive taxation, or anything that many Christians discuss today. The offense was the gospel itself. If the gospel is true, as its critics understood, then it was inevitable that it would “upset the world.” The word translated “world” in Acts 17:6 is the Greek word oikoumenē that refers to the political world of the Roman Empire (e.g., Luke 2:1). This meant that Caesar was not a god to be worshipped. Jesus was the true King. That’s the biblical message, and the people in the Roman oikoumenē understand its message: “they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
They were right. There is only one King, and that King is Jesus. Preaching anything less than this is unbiblical and is not “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). The new birth is the first step, not the final act.
If the gospel does not bring about personal and societal transformation (reformation), then it’s not the gospel.
- Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: Christian Faith and its Confrontation with American Society (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 183-184.)
Jesus ran afoul of the religious and political leaders because He was a threat to their power and control over the people. Never the Church nor State can save. This is why the gospel itself brings division. Jesus said so:
“I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:49-53).
The apostle Paul wrote that “the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). The gospel itself divides people because it has implications far beyond what many people think “believing in God” should be like. We would fill churches with this type of message:
Come to Jesus and everything will be OK, and when you die, you’ll go to heaven. In the meantime, you can ignore what’s taking place in the broader world because this world is not our home.
There’s almost no direct preaching about politics in the New Testament, and yet those who preached the gospel of redemption were often beaten, imprisoned, and even martyred. The gospel brings with it a moral message. The “good news” is good because we are sinners and need reconciliation. Some people like their sin and are offended when someone points out their need for redemption. The gospel requires a change in lifestyle. Is it any wonder that people kick against the pricks of the gospel when Christians say abortion is murder and homosexuality is an abomination?
One of the reasons Israel was living under the heel of Rome was because it neglected the moral application of God’s law. The civil government of Israel had become corrupt at every level. The reign of Ahab and Jezebel is a microcosm of what happens when a comprehensive biblical worldview is abandoned:
In the episode of Naboth’s vineyard alone (1 Kings 21), several points of the Mosaic law are clarified, including: the inviolability of inheritance, the lawfulness of the right to private property, the existence of certain limits on the legal power of the state, the fact that the various powers of the state (executive, legislative and judicial) are all accountable to God (coram Deo), the gravity of giving false testimony and the penalties that follow, the need for the intervention of the prophetic ministry before the civil government, and, in 1 Kings 22, the dreadful nature of God’s judgment that, with more or less long-term effects, falls on very state that oversteps and scoffs at its legal limits. ((Pierre Courthial, The New Day of Small Beginnings, trans. Matthew S. Miller (Tallahassee, FL: Zurich Publishing, 2018), 285. [↩]