It was the Sunday before a General Election and I was preaching in an evangelical church. Although I did not presume to tell the congregation which party to vote for; I prayed publicly for the candidates and assumed that we would be exercising our vote. Following the service I was approached by someone in the congregation, protesting that Christians should have nothing to do with such ‘this worldly’ affairs. Was he right?
Christians are saved to do good works. ‘We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works’ (Eph. 2:10). Although we are justified by faith alone, saving faith never remains alone but produces the fruit of good works. The process of transforming us into the likeness of the One who gave his all for others begins in the heart but is evidenced in the everyday life of society. Paul urges the Galatians, ‘As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially (but, as the parable of the Good Samaritan demands, not only) to those who belong to the family of believers’ (Gal. 6:10). To do this, some involvement in society is inevitable.
The twin models of salt and light, used by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, call for a distinctive moral presence, which has both bite and brightness. Our salting influence does good to others not as humanists seek to do but as Christians seek to do. It is only if we also display gospel light that this will be made clear.
Such witness, however, must not be mistaken for evangelism. It is a fruit of the good seed, not a method of sowing. ‘In social action it is God’s activity as loving Creator and Preserver of his world that we imitate rather than his action for our salvation. He did not, and did not need to, send his Son to die for this’ (A.N. Triton, Salt to the World, 1978, p.17). Have you ever noticed that the same Jesus who was moved by the spiritual state of the five thousand (Mark 6:34) was also moved to compassion for the physical needs of the four thousand (Mark 8:2)?
A vital contribution
Christian believers do, in fact, have a distinctive contribution to make to political discussion. Even under the infamous totalitarian regimes of Eastern Europe evangelicals were often commended for the absence of narrow partiality in their outlook. The God who sends the rain on the just and on the unjust alike is concerned for the well-being of the whole community, unlike some politicians we could mention. The Bible shows, however, that the root of our society’s ills lies much deeper than an uneven distribution of wealth. The selfishness, lust for power and opportunism of much current political philosophy are all evidences of man’s spiritual blindness.
At best, politics can achieve only limited aims. Romans 13:1-5 shows that God has delegated to the state, as his servant, the authority to punish wrongdoers. Even fallen man has some awareness of this authority in his conscience, the conscience he is so keen to smother by escaping into his own virtual world via online gaming, social media, TV soaps, etc. The apostles respected the rights of civic officials to maintain order but did protest at the abuse of these rights when they were unjustly applied (Acts 16:37). The politicians who make the laws and the bureaucrats who administer them are at best fallen creatures. We should never expect too much from unconverted politicians. The best of their programmes cannot bring in the kingdom of God.
Christian involvement in political processes, however, does not mean we reduce the eternal dimension of the gospel to party politics. The very fact that there are genuine Christians in each of the main parties is a salutary reminder that the Bible is more clear about the grounds of justification than it is about the optimum level for bank interest rates. What we can and do insist on is the power of the Saviour to change the hearts of the people who can change the politics of the nation.
However clear we may be about the application of Bible principles to current issues, we cannot simply impose the Christian way on others. Believing God’s Word to be of universal application, however, we can commend his laws as beneficial to his creatures by rational arguments. Within a framework of common grace we can properly claim, for example, that even voluntary euthanasia is the thin end of a very thick and dangerous wedge.
What steps can we take?
We have a clear duty to pray (1 Tim. 2:1-2). ‘The Christian church does not have to be perfect to make an impression on society. But it has to have love and it has to have spiritual power. It is the church’s capacity to lay hold on the power of the Spirit which differentiates it so sharply from the world’ (Sir Fred Catherwood, The Better Way, p. 140.)
We can, and should, vote in elections. God proclaims that, ‘By me … nobles rule on earth’ (Prov. 8:16) but the means by which he appoints them in our society is the ballot box. As free citizens, we can influence public opinion. The Lord counselled the exiles to ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile … because if it prospers, you too will prosper’ (Jer. 29:7). Have we lacked the courage of our convictions and failed to speak out when we should? How many letters have we written to the press, or how many telephone calls have we made to the media?
Individual letters to our MPs are still the most effective way to influence a single issue. Informed, sincere but not preachy letters will be read, counted and weighed to find out whether he or she retains the support of the electorate. Our kind of democracy is not perfect but it is under this system that God has called us to live and to witness for him.
At the very least the Christian can be essential leaven in the corruption which surrounds us. Daniel was in a minority in a pagan court but he took a stand and was a major influence for good. According to our gifts and calling we may be able to act as salt in the student union, the staff room, or even in the council debating chamber.
The Bible never envisages that the Christian should be seeking to influence the nation about politics and nothing more. Our witness to God as the Lawgiver is to be matched by our witness that the same God is also the Life-giving Redeemer. It has been said that man is not an angel, so he needs to be persuaded of the rightness of God’s way, but neither is he a devil, so he can be persuaded of it. The Christian’s political involvement aims to do just that.