Christians and Politics
An earlier article looked generally and briefly at three different theological worldviews in relation to the political domain: this follow-on article looks at the outworking.
The previous article outlined three of the main Christian attitudes to political engagement:
Non engagement (My Kingdom is not of this world)
Indirect engagement (Come let us reason together)
Direct engagement (Obey my commandments)
Regarding the above, one respondent stated:
“I struggle to place myself in one of the three categories with any accuracy.”
The remark is one with which many will identify.
Outline of three positions
The ‘indirect’ and ‘direct’ models are mostly post-millennial i.e. teaching a particular ‘church age’ (which may or may not be 1000years) prior to Jesus’ return1. These two postures however differ in how they see the church engaging with the world.
The ‘indirect’ approach would place its main emphasis on inter-action with the world’s socio-political organisations and systems; with the view that the latter will ultimately accept that the Christian way as being the superior social model. It is believed that communities will be ‘redeemed’ through both the acceptance by secular leaders of Christian principles and the impact of believers who have attained positions of influence (in politics, civic offices and public bodies). Loving persuasion is the ethos.
However, the ‘direct’ engagement position would have the state and the offices of state bound to encourage and even enforce through legislation, the commandments of God. It would be an obligation on the state to support the church in what is commonly called the establishment model of church/state relationships. Society would be run on Christian lines in accordance with Augustinian/Calvinist ‘City of God’ philosophy.
Meanwhile, the non-engagement model is Dispensationalist, believing that the period between Christ’s ascension and His return is the ‘church age’ in which the sole purpose of the believers is to evangelise the world. Social action and political engagement are meaningless distractions.
Analysis of theologies
Whatever elements of biblical teaching these three models might use to justify their respective positions, the ‘direct engagement’ model is the one with the least biblical support.
There is no way in which a secular state can be expected to be a loyal and obedient supporter of the institutional church, far less the body of Christ; and the recent and worldwide push towards the acceptance of homosexuality as a valid lifestyle is a classic example and outworking of this flawed thinking.
In a similar fashion the two World Wars and the continuing global conflicts since disprove the ‘golden end-time age’ which is posited by post-millennial theology (whether of the Calvinist or Charismatic variety). A secular state will never be inclined towards accepting a role which is subservient to the church. (This is illustrated in countless revolutions and most recently in the constitution of the European Union. )
Neither is there any way in which the Bible teaches that mankind's problem (sin) can or should be overcome through political action.
With regard to the (generally) new-church/charismatic 'indirect engagement' view that societies can be ‘redeemed’, this sidelines and – in the worst cases – denies God’s redemptive plan of personal and individual salvation through Jesus Christ2.
Meanwhile the ‘non-engagement’ stance, while being enthusiastic to Christ’s call to be ‘light’ ignores his parallel injunction to be ‘salt’ in the world.
In summary we need to avoid the notions that God’s call and purpose for the church is to –
seek to dominate society (the Calvinist/direct engagement model)
regard the gospel as being a call to Christianise society (found principally in the new/charismatic churches)
disengage entirely from society (the Dispensationalist view)
Christianity is not –
an imposed ideology (and it is highly disturbing that at the extreme end of theonomy and Christian Reconstructionism there is a strong resemblance to the imposed totalitarianism that we see in radical Islam3 )
merely a preferred or even superior socio-political model (essentially the Gospel preaches transformed lives at the level of the individual; not ‘redeemed’ communities)
a detached ‘other worldly’ position which – in terms of social engagement - is so heavenly minded as to have no earthly locus or interest.
The biblical balance is to be both salt and light. This requires the body of Christ to ‘preach the Gospel’ and to be a ‘sweet aroma’ into the surrounding world (2 Cor. 2:14). However, in terms of ‘saving the world, God has only one plan; and that is to see individuals at a personal level accept Christ as their saviour (Acts 17:30-31).
There is no Plan B. Jesus is to make a return to earth but as His return draws ever nearer things in the world – and in the church – will get worse not better. But God’s call is not to successful but rather to be faithful.
The Post-Millennial expectation of a world that gets better and better towards an ultimate golden age for the Gospel prior to Jesus return was very popular teaching in the 19thcentury. Needless to say the two World Wars in the 20th century; and the ongoing ‘wars and rumours of wars’ in the 21st century have largely discredited this notion. But more importantly Scripture clearly teaches that things will not only fail to improve but will in fact get worse prior to Jesus’s second coming. (Matt 24; Mark 13; Luke 17:28-30) Luke 21; 2 Tim 3:1-13; 2 Tim 4:3-4; 2 Thess 2:3-10; 2 Pet 2:1-22 et al.)
In response to his disciples’ questions regarding his return Jesus outlined five principle features in his Olivet discourse (Matt 24:1-26):
wars, famines, earthquakes and pestilences
worldwide persecution of Christians leading to
betrayal amongst Christians
apostasy, false teachers and prophets, and cults
love growing cold
The history of Christian engagement with socio-political issues is littered with examples of organisations which have been established by sound well-meaning believers but have – in the developmental process – shipwrecked the faith.
These Christian initiatives, it would seem, have been so intent on maintaining a relationship with the fallen society with which they engage that the Gospel is lost; and ultimately the organisation, from a Gospel standpoint, becomes irredeemably dysfunctional. Examples of this include the Samaritans, Barnardos, National Childrens’ Homes (now renamed Action for Children). There are other very recent examples of Christian initiatives which are in great danger of falling into this ditch, but it is not the purpose of this article to further explore this syndrome.
Theonomy and Christian Reconstructionism is the subject of the third article in the ‘Drilling Down’ series. It is (Sept 2012) in course of preparation.