Just a few days ago, one of my readers sent me an interesting E Mail question:
I recently talked to a student of the “Masters College” who didn’t feel comfortable focusing on politics at all. His reasoning was that Jesus didn’t get into discussions about the local politics and said to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. He pointed out that Jesus seemed to advise us to submit to the government that God allowed to be put in place.
Ironically, while some pastors preach that Christians should not be involved with politics, the political landscape continues to threaten more and more religious expression. From prohibiting prayer at a public school, to censoring theories of Intelligent Design in classrooms, to outlawing public displays of a cross even as memorials for fallen policemen, to agendas seeking the same kind of Hate Speech legislation in America that already poisons Canada (where it is against the law to be critical of homosexuality or the religion of Islam, even in a loving, respectful discussion) our once open society is becoming increasingly hostile toward Christian values and Christian liberty.
Not only do Christians have a responsibility to stand up to the tide of the times, I am convinced things would not be so bad had we drawn a line in the sand much earlier. Yes, of course, Jesus is our example, but Jesus spoke out quite dramatically against the political structure of ancient Israel, namely a corrupt priesthood (part of the Sadducee party) led by a High Priest put in place by the Roman government. No, Jesus did not go to the polls and vote, but then, no such opportunity existed for First Century Jews. Agreeing to pay taxes did not mean Jesus merely stood by without speaking His mind. Indeed, it can be argued that Jesus’ outspoken comments against the political machine of His day were the very catalysts of His execution.
How about Jesus’ followers? Paul would serve as a good example inasmuch as he penned about half of the New Testament books and Paul would be at odds with many of today’s church leaders.
Often, I hear Christian speakers suggest that we should just stand on the sidelines, allowing the chips to fall where they may, even as Christian freedoms are eroded before our very eyes.
“ If America turns sour,” they say, sounding very pious, “ and goes the way of a dictatorship, so be it. After all, persecution is good for the church, isn’t it? Besides, maybe the next wave of persecution will bring about the Great Tribulation and then Jesus will return just seven years later.”
Well, Paul believed in the Second Coming. He also longed for a more peaceful world in the present. To him, they were not mutually exclusive ideas:
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:1-4)
On a first glance, this passage would not seem to have anything at all to do with politics, but we must ask our selves: What is the benign motive behind any kind of political involvement or activism? Would not the ultimate goal be to bring about a more peaceful society?
With such an understanding in mind, we see Paul making two important points:
1) There is nothing wrong with desiring a peaceful life. Indeed, God wouldn’t be urging us to pray for peace if peace wasn’t His ideal. This flies against the myth about “persecution being good for the church.” True, God can bless His people even in times of persecution but Paul certainly did not desire those trials or feel he had to cooperate with bringing them about.
2) Peace is evidently conducive to the spreading of the gospel. Yes, the gospel has also been known to flourish in the midst of persecution, but apparently it spreads even better in a benign environment. Peace and the gospel go hand-in-hand.
Most Christians had no legal rights in those days. Very few were Roman citizens. They did not live under a democracy as we do. Prayer was their only opportunity to influence the imperial decisions. Today, we live in a unique time in history when the governors and the governed are one and the same. If Paul were alive now, could we picture him offering additional instruction along with the command to pray? Would he not also ask us to vote, write our senators, lobby for causes, etc? Of course he would. In Paul’s specific case, he was a Roman citizen (a rare privilege for Jews under Roman domination) and he used that citizenship to his advantage by appealing to an audience with Caesar while on trial before Governor Festus and King Agrippa (Acts 21). But knowing that most of his brothers and sisters had no such similar recourse, he called them to the only means possible for changing the hearts of kings and emperors, prayer. Prayer is still our most treasured asset in present day society but it is no longer our only opportunity. Remember, Jesus taught us that “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded. (Luke 12:48)
As Christians encourage a free society, they realize that freedom of speech protects all messages, not merely the Christian message. We know that if we do not stand by another person’s rights to express even the ideas we disagree with, then sooner or later any opinion is in jeopardy.
But political involvement from Christians does more than protect the gospel. It is also a part of the gospel.
As an evangelist, nothing is more important to me than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Still, Evangelicals tend to stress one side of this message to the neglect of the other side. Side A (the most familiar part) is that Jesus came to forgive us and heal us from the sins we commit. But there’s a flip side:
Very early in Jesus’ ministry, he read a passage of Scripture aloud in the synagogue and then claimed that He had come in fulfillment of the words.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:18-19, From Isaiah 61:1-2)
Notice the phrase “preach good news to the poor.” This is what the very word gospel means, good news. Typically, we take that to mean, “the good news that we can be forgiven of our sins.” True enough, but only partly true. Think. If forgiveness from sin is all of the good news, in what way is our message a gospel for the poor? Apparently Jesus is also talking about the good news of being delivered from the effects of sin. In the case of the poor, the specific sin they are being rescued from is the greed and apathy of a society who cast them aside. But Jesus came to right many wrongs in addition to poverty. He intended a complete deliverance from sin across the board, be it the psychological effects of a dysfunctional family, or the spiritual/ physical effects of a demon, or the cruelty of an unjust government. Ultimate freedom will not take place until people die and resurrect in heaven, or experience the total redemption of the world in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, whichever comes first. In the meantime, God calls upon His children to eradicate sin as much as possible.
The ancient Jewish understanding of Messiah was that of a man who would rescue God’s people from her oppressive enemies. One of the problems Israel had with Jesus, is that He did not free the Jews from the Romans. Scripture does teach that with Jesus’ second coming, He will do exactly this, rescue Israel from surrounding, attacking nations and rule the entire world benevolently. Christians and Orthodox Jews both await this triumphal king. They merely disagree as to whether or not he already visited the Earth once before. No, the belief in a future kingdom is not a cue for Christians to go out conquering the world out of force as if they were on a Jihad. (Relax. Take a deep breath. Stop clutching your chest.) As I said earlier, the only purpose of Christians is to keep society free for everybody. Neither does the belief in a return of Jesus translate into any notion of Jews receiving preferential treatment by God. Israel may be the vortex of prophetic events but it is the entire world that Jesus comes to deliver. In the meantime, Christ asks us to announce His kingdom peacefully, helping people as best we can (Matt 28: 19-20).
He also reminded His disciples that prior to the final commencement of God’s rule on Earth, that same kingdom had already entered history in embryonic form:
Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20)
The kingdom of God is wherever God rules. If He rules in your heart, your heart is His kingdom. If He rules in your church, your church is His kingdom. Right now, in some unseen dimension known as heaven, God already reigns and someday Jesus will return to Earth, making Earth His kingdom.
“Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10)
But even as we await Christ’s ultimate rule, there are many injustices that God wants to intervene with. One who truly loves God, loves people. If we love people, we must protest when they are mistreated.
This means that part of the gospel is speaking out against evil. Abolitionists used Christianity to condemn slavery. Martin Luther King used Christianity to condemn segregation. Deitrick Bonhoffer was a Lutheran pastor who lived in Germany under the Nazis, so for him, a love for Jesus translated into a protest against Hitler. Such obvious examples from history serve to remind us that when Christians speak about what’s going on in the world and call others to moral/ethical action it fulfills our biblical mandate. Sometimes that means political involvement. Other times, it means speaking out when the political paradigm of a country makes true democracy impossible and verbal protest is all we have left.
In summary: Christians are not called to force any kind of theocratic monarchy upon their country even though they look toward a day when God Himself will bring about such a kingdom. But we are to preach the gospel and protect the freedoms which enable us to preach the gospel. This includes the good news that we can be forgiven of our sins and also the good news that we can be delivered from the effects of other people’s sins. The latter will not reach complete fruition until a person dies and goes to be with God in heaven or witnesses the second coming of Jesus, whichever comes first.
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE New International Version NIV Copyright 1973, 1979, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Bob Siegel is a radio talk show host and columnist. Information about his radio show can be found at www.bobsiegel.net.
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