Christians and PoliticsFebruary 7, 2014
Each time I moderate the discussion centering around John Calvin, I inadvertently see the same reaction from students. While some of them find something to emulate from Calvin’s handling of the church in Geneva, the majority of my students responds with the same “you can’t legislate morality” sentiment. I wonder if I can challenge that sentiment just a bit here.
I absolutely agree with the understanding that Jesus’ primary function on this earth was the transformation of the heart and not to overthrow the Roman government. In fact, remember when after the feeding of 5,000 Jesus had to withdraw from the people because He knew that they were going to come and take Him by force in order to make Him a king (John 6:15)? Certainly, the largest part of that which drove them to want to do so was the fact that they would be the first welfare society on the earth. After all who wouldn’t want to have a king that can miraculously feed everybody without their doing any work for it? But I do believe that another reason why Jesus withdrew was because He did not want to engage in a political challenge to Rome, that was not His mission after all. His primary mission was to offer His life as substitutionary atonement for the sins of humanity and Jesus stayed focused on that.
Allow me to submit to you that, while we are certainly to emulate Jesus, we must do so intelligently and in the way that is biblically defensible. As such, it is not valid to say that because Jesus did not get involved in politics, neither should we, for at least two reasons. First, our political environment is completely different today from that of first century Rome. There was no context within which a Jew could get involved in the political process of the Roman Empire without being perceived as a threat and ending up crucified.
Second, our mission on this earth is not to offer our lives as a sacrifice for sin, but to be light and salt in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). As salt, our presence is to preserve the wicked and sinful generation in which we operate. I like the way Craig Blomberg expresses this idea as he comments on this passage in The New American Commentary: “Of the numerous things to which salt could refer in antiquity, its use as a preservative in food was probably its most basic function. Jesus thus calls his disciples to arrest corruption and prevent moral decay in their world (Craig L.Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 102). And again, “Christians must permeate society as agents of redemption” (Ibid.). As lights, we are to let Jesus, who is the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5), shine through us exposing the deeds of darkness and illuminating the rest of the world in pointing the way to God. Nowhere in Scripture do we have an instruction to limit our saltiness or our light to the church contexts alone. No, we are to shine brightly in all contexts in which we currently find ourselves.
We are to share the good news of salvation with the lost and dying world first, and we are to do everything within our power to preserve the moral standards of our society, even including participation in the democratic political processes of our nation. It doesn’t have to be either or, it can, and, in my opinion, should be both and. Both light and salt. Both shine and preserve. Both share the gospel and participate in politics for the purpose of advancing God’s kingdom in every arena.
We know that in the end it is not going to be our efforts but God Himself who will make all things new, but nevertheless we are not to ever quit trying to do everything within our power to continue spreading preserving influence of the gospel around us. Including political involvement, whether it may be opining on the current events in light of biblical message, staying abreast of the latest developments in the political arena in order to ascertain their scriptural significance, educating those around us of what biblical values look like, and voting those values. Withdrawal from the political process in the name of our Christianity in the nation where we can still make a difference is tantamount to restricting our saltiness to the boundaries of our church buildings. Whatever we do, Blomberg is absolutely right in his warning that “we dare not form isolated Christian enclaves to which the world pays no attention.”
- Simon V. Goncharenko, PhD
Adjunct Instructor of Theology and Church History