Monday, November 28, 2016

By Dr. Edward E. Hindson

Much is to be said in favor of political involvement by the Christian community. Politics, simply defined, is the life of the city (polis) and the responsibilities of the citizen (polites). British evangelical John Stott states that, in its broadest sense, politics is concerned with “the whole of our life in human society.” Therefore, it is “the art of living together in community.” In a more narrow sense, he also observes, it is the “science of government” whereby the adoption of specific policies are “enshrined in legislation.”[i] In this regard, he argues, true Christianity cannot – indeed, it dare not – become isolated from society.

Richard Neuhaus stated that “religion is the heart of culture, culture is the form of religion, and politics is a function of culture.”[ii] In this sense, religion and politics are inseparable expressions of human culture. Now we stand at this great moment in history. Concerned about the unprecedented advance of secularism in our society, we cry out against it. But can we really stop it? Evangelical social involvement has brought many issues to the forefront of the public policy debate. Some progress has been made but little legislative change has been effected that cannot be undone by different administrations.

All of this should not surprise us. Believers are citizens of two kingdoms, one heavenly and one earthly. That is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). As long as we are living on earth, we have a God-given mandate to do all we can to influence this world for the cause of God and Christ.

Human Responsibility

Scripture is filled with a wide variety of responses to politics and governance. The Judges of Israel, for the most part, were miserable failures at human government. Saul lacked the character and skills of leadership. David and Solomon were relatively successful rulers, but each sowed the seeds of future destruction within his own administration. Most of the prophets had strong political opinions about their rulers’ personal lives and their administration of justice. Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah were directly involved in giving advice to political rulers. Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther also served in places of responsibility within hostile pagan governments.

When Jesus gave to His disciples the Great Commission to evangelize the world, He said, “All authority [Gr., exousia] in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18). On the basis of that divine authority, He commissions us to be His representatives here on earth. As such, we can neither abdicate the sociopolitical consequences of discipleship, as did the medieval monastics, nor hope to bring about His kingdom on earth by the mere use of political or legal force. Therein lies the tension between religion and politics, and therein must come the solution.[iii]

Jesus’ Example

Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God contradicted every prevailing view of religion and politics in His day. He rejected the asceticism and isolationism of the Essenes. He refused to play the games of political accommodation that characterized the Sadducees and the Pharisees. He confounded the Herodians and refused to give cause to the Zealots (see Matt 22:15-46). He stood alone with a uniquely new message, emphasizing that the kingdom of God was within the hearts of true believers. Thus, they were free from the suppression of political domination or the corruption of political compromise. They were citizens of heaven as well as of earth, and their mission on earth was to make people citizens of the kingdom of God.

Jesus offered the people of His day a new perspective on politics and power. He clearly announced, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Ironically, His own disciples struggled with the issue. At the time of His Ascension, they asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). He reminded them that He had another priority, namely to preach the gospel to the whole world (v. 8). By the end of the book of Acts, we find the apostle Paul “preach[ing] the kingdom of God,” free from political entanglement (see 28:31).

Seduction of Power

In this same manner, our Lord reminded Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). When Pilate became frustrated in questioning Jesus, he threatened, “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or crucify you?” Our Lord replied, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11).

The word power in this passage translates the Greek word exousia (power in the sense of authority). The more familiar word dunamis (power in the sense of force or might) is not used in this passage. Therefore, Christ was not threatening Pilate with a display of force; rather, He was reminding Pilate that all human authority is delegated authority, whereas the exousia of God is absolute and unrestricted. Thus, true power in the world derives from divine authority and not political force. He who was the embodiment of divine authority stood like a divine enigma on the landscape of humanity reminding us that even the best political solutions are temporary without Him.

Theological and Philosophical Basis

If Christians are going to seriously influence American political and social life, we must understand what we are trying to accomplish. We are not merely advocating the election of certain officials as an end in itself. Francis Schaffer clearly understood this when he argued that Christ must be Lord in all of life. He wrote, “He is our Lord not just in religious things and not just in cultural things … but in our intellectual lives, and in business, and in our relation to society, and in our attitude toward the moral breakdown of our culture.”[iv] Acknowledging His lordship involves placing ourselves under the authority of Scripture and thinking and acting as citizens of His kingdom as well as citizens of earth.”

It is in this regard that the Christian understands that the wrongs of society are not merely social ills but spiritual ills. As such, these problems require spiritual help, not merely political readjustment. Ultimately, there are no permanent political solutions to the problems of society. But that does not mean that we should retreat to a monastery and advocate social anarchy for the rest of the world.

Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God contradicted every prevailing view of religion and politics in His day.

Because the Christian is a citizen is a citizen of two kingdoms, one earthly the other heavenly, he has an obligation to both. He cannot divorce himself from either or both. He is under divine mandate to both. Nevertheless, he realizes that one is temporal and the other eternal. The divine mandate does not prohibit his involvement in the temporal; in fact, it enhances it. The Christian cannot merely sit by and passively watch society self-destruct. Something within him, namely the Spirit of God, cries out for truth and justice. Wherever that cry has been articulated into action, truth and justice have often prevailed to the glory of God.

[i] John Stott, Involvement: Being a Responsible Christian in a Non-Christian Society, vol. 1 (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1984), 31.

[ii] Richard J. Neuhaus, “The Post-Secular Task of the Churches,” in Christianity and Politics, ed. C. F. Griffith (Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1981), 1-18.

[iii] See Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict (Grand Rapids: Morrow/Zondervan, 1987); T. Demy and G. Stewart, eds. Politics and Public Policy (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000); B. Ashford and C. Pappalardo, One Nation Under God (Nashville: B&H, 2015); Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

[iv] Francis Schaffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1984), 39.