(Continued from part 1.)
Theologian Wayne Grudem, author of Systematic Theology and two condensed versions, and most recently Politics According to the Bible, debunks in the latter’s chapter 1 this belief:
Why should Christians do politics? What we really need is persecution.
Or: Christians’ only calling is to preach the Gospel and prepare for persecution.
Or perhaps: If we get too much into politics, we’ll inevitably neglect the Gospel.
In reply to that last, I must say that I’ve come to see how even Reformed Christians, who have an amazing heritage of figuring out where sin comes from (the human heart) sometimes show a strange propensity toward shifting evil’s causes toward a Thing, such as politics. And reacting against that, they may (this doesn’t apply to everyone) subtly begin to think that getting rid of the Thing, such as downplaying or ignoring certain vocations, is the way to fix our problem.
Scripture would seem to disagree strongly. Government is God’s servant (Romans 13) and Christians have many different gifts and callings, all driven by the Gospel, that help build the Church (1 Corinthians 8). If Christians in the past have opted to idolize a calling, such as politics or social work, instead of the Gospel, is that the Thing’s fault? No! It’s the Christian’s fault.
Preach the Gospel, not as a replacement for good Things, but as the way to transform them.
That was the warm-up act (and I’ll likely have more thoughts on this soon). Now for Grudem.
7. Doesn’t the Bible say that persecution is coming?
Sometimes people ask me, “Why should we try to improve governments when the Bible tells us that persecution is coming in the end times before Christ returns? Doesn’t that mean that we should expect governments to become more and more anti-Christian?” (They have in mind passages like Matt. 24:9–12, 21–22; 2 Tim. 3:1–5.)
The answer is that we cannot know when Christ will return or when the events preceding his coming will occur (see Matt. 24:36; 25:13). What we do know is that while we have opportunity, God tells us not to give up but to go on preaching “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and doing “good works” (Eph. 2:10) and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). That means we should go on trying to influence governments for good as long as we are able to do so.
If all the Christians who influenced governments for good in previous centuries had just given up and said, “Persecution is coming and governments will become more evil, so there is nothing we can do,” then none of those good changes in laws would have come about. There would still be human sacrifice and burning of widows alive and slavery and racial discrimination protected by law. That mentality would have been a defeatist, fatalistic attitude, and it would have led Christians to disobey many of God’s commands for how we are to live our lives during this present age. Instead of giving in to such a hopeless attitude, courageous Christians in previous generations sought to do good for others and for governments, and God often blessed their efforts.
8. But won’t political involvement distract us from the main task of preaching the Gospel?
At this point someone may object that while political involvement may have some benefits and may do some good, it can so easily distract us, turn unbelievers away from the church, and cause us to neglect the main task of pointing people toward personal trust in Christ. John MacArthur writes, “When the church takes a stance that emphasizes political activism and social moralizing, it always diverts energy and resources away from evangelization.” [MacArthur, Why Government Can’t Save You, 14.]
Yet the proper question is not, “Does political influence take resources away from evangelism?” but, “Is political influence something God has called us to do?” If God has called some of us to some political influence, then those resources would not be blessed if we diverted them to evangelism—or to the choir, or to teaching Sunday School to children, or to any other use.
In this matter, as in everything else the church does, it would be healthy for Christians to realize that God may call individual Christians to different emphases in their lives. This is because God has placed in the church “varieties of gifts” (1 Cor. 12:4) and the church is an entity that has “many members” but is still “one body” (v. 12).
Therefore God might call someone to devote almost all of his or her time to the choir, someone else to youth work, someone else to evangelism, someone else to preparing refreshments to welcome visitors, and someone else to work with lighting and sound systems. “But if Jim places all his attention on the sound system, won’t that distract the church from the main task of preaching the Gospel?” No, not at all. That is not what God has called Jim to emphasize (though he will certainly share the Gospel with others as he has opportunity). Jim’s exclusive focus on the church’s sound system means he is just being a faithful steward in the responsibility God has given him.
In the same way, I think it is entirely possible that God called Billy Graham to emphasize evangelism and say nothing about politics and also called James Dobson to emphasize a radio ministry to families and to influencing the political world for good. Aren’t there enough Christians in the world for us to focus on more than one task? And does God not call us to thousands of different emphases, all in obedience to him?
But the whole ministry of the church will include both emphases. And the teaching ministry from the pulpit should do nothing less than proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). It should teach, over the course of time, on all areas of life and all areas of Bible knowledge. That certainly must include, to some extent, what the Bible says about the purposes of civil government and how that teaching should apply to our situations today.
This means that in a healthy church we will find that some people emphasize influencing the government and politics, others emphasize influencing the business world, others emphasize influencing the educational system, others entertainment and the media, others marriage and the family, and so forth. When that happens, it seems to me that we should encourage, not discourage, one another. We should adopt the attitude toward each other that Paul encouraged in the church at Rome:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. . . . So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother (Rom. 14:10–13).
For several different reasons, then, I think the view that says the church should just “do evangelism, not politics” is incorrect.