Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Tough Topic Tuesday: God, Government, and Gospel

This is Pt. 4 of our posts working through this work by Pastor Wayne Grudem.  The purpose of the series is to explore the relationship between God, the Government and the Gospel.

Pt. 1 is here.  Pt. 2 is here.  Pt. 3 is here.

D. Wrong View #4: Do Evangelism, Not Politics

A fourth wrong view about Christians and politics is promoted by evangelicals who essentially say, “We should just preach the Gospel, and that is the only way Christians can hope to change peoples’ hearts and change our society.” I call this the “do evangelism, not politics” view. It claims that the church is only called to “preach the Gospel,” not to preach about politics.

1. God calls Christians to do “good works”

Of course, we must insist that people can never earn their salvation by doing “good works.” The Bible insists that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and it also says, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Rom. 3:20).

But after people have trusted in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins, then what should they do? How should we live now as Christians? The Bible says we should be doing “good works.” In fact, right in the place where Paul writes a magnificent proclamation of justification by faith alone, he adds an important sentence about good works. First he says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:9).

Then he immediately adds,

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).

In another place he says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Certainly that means that we should do good to others, as we have opportunity, by being a good influence on laws and government and by having a good influence on the political process.

Jesus left us here on earth in part because he wants to allow our lives to give glory to him in the midst of a fallen and sinful world: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

If a pastor teaches his people how to raise their children, that’s “good works.” If he teaches them how to have good marriages, that’s “good works.” If he teaches them to love their neighbors as themselves (Matt. 22:39), that’s “good works.”

Should churches teach their people how to do “good works” in families, in hospitals and in schools, and in businesses and in neighborhoods, but not in government? Why should that area of life be excluded from the influence of the “good works” of believers that will “give glory to your Father who is in heaven”?

2. Influencing government for good is a way to love our neighbors 

Jesus’ command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39) means that I should seek good laws that will protect preborn children. It means that I should seek good laws that protect marriages and families. It means I should seek good laws that protect children from corrupting moral influences that want to use classrooms to teach that all kinds of sexual experimentation outside of marriage are fine and that there is nothing wrong with pornography.

In short, Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor” means that I should seek the good of my neighbors in every aspect of society, including government, by seeking to bring about good government and good laws. 

3. Obeying what God tells us is doing spiritual good because it glorifies God 

I cannot agree with people who say that Christian political involvement will do “no spiritual good.” If it is commanded in the Bible and it’s what God tells us to do, then by definition it is doing spiritual good. “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3)—therefore, following his teachings regarding government is one way of showing love to him.

In addition, when Christian influence brings about good laws that do good for society, we should expect that some people will realize how good God’s moral standards are and they will glorify God as a result. People will “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Even in the Old Testament, Moses told the people of Israel:

[The other nations] when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deut. 4:6).

4. Good and bad governments make a huge difference in people’s lives, and in the church 

When people say that the kind of government we have doesn’t make any difference to the church or to the spiritual lives of Christians, I think of the difference between North Korea and South Korea. These countries have the same language, the same ethnic background, the same cultural history, and live in the same location of the world. The only difference between them is that South Korea is a robust, thriving democracy with free people and North Korea is a Communist country with the most repressive, totalitarian government in the world.

And what a difference that makes in people’s lives. There is just a handful of Christians in North Korea, and they must exercise their faith in secret. Severe, persistent persecution has hindered the church so greatly that there is no missionary activity, no public worship, and no 9 publication of Christian literature. Millions of North Koreans are born, live, and die without ever hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By contrast, the church in South Korea, where the government has allowed freedom of religion, is growing, thriving, and sending missionaries around the world. It has one of the highest percentages of evangelical Christians of any nation (around 25%).

What is the only difference? The kind of government they have. One country is free and one is totalitarian. And in between these extremes fall many other nations of the world, governments more or less free and more or less conformed to God’s principles for government as taught in Scripture. Where God’s principles are followed more fully and people are allowed more freedom, the church will often thrive and people’s lives are better in hundreds of ways.

Governments do make a difference to the church and to the work of God’s kingdom. This is why Paul urged that prayers be made “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2). Good governments help people to live a “peaceful” and “godly” life, and bad governments hinder that goal.

Governments can allow churches to meet freely and evangelize or they can prevent these things by force of law (as in Saudi Arabia and North Korea). They can hinder or promote literacy (the latter enabling people to read a Bible). They can stop murderers and thieves and drunk drivers and child predators or allow them to terrorize society and destroy lives. They can promote and protect marriages or hinder and even destroy them. Governments do make a significant difference for the work of God in the world, and we are to pray and work for good governments around the world.

5. Christians have influenced governments positively throughout history 

Historian Alvin Schmidt points out how the spread of Christianity and Christian influence on government was primarily responsible for outlawing infanticide, child abandonment, and abortion in the Roman Empire (in AD 374); outlawing the brutal battles-to-the-death in which thousands of gladiators had died (in 404); granting of property rights and other protections to women; banning polygamy (which is still practiced in some Muslim nations today); prohibiting the burning alive of widows in India (in 1829); outlawing the painful and crippling practice of binding young women’s feet in China (in 1912); persuading government officials to begin a system of public schools in Germany (in the sixteenth century); and advancing the idea of compulsory education of all children in a number of European countries.

During the history of the church, Christians had a decisive influence in opposing and often abolishing slavery in the Roman Empire, in Ireland, and in most of Europe (though Schmidt frankly notes that a minority of “erring” Christian teachers have supported slavery in various centuries).  In England, William Wilberforce, a devout Christian, led the successful effort to abolish the slave trade and then slavery itself throughout the British Empire by 1840.

In the United States, though there were vocal defenders of slavery among Christians in the South, they lost the argument, and they were vastly outnumbered by the many Christians who were ardent abolitionists, speaking, writing, and agitating constantly for the abolition of slavery in the United States. Schmidt notes that two-thirds of the American abolitionists in the mid– 1830s were Christian clergymen who were preaching “politics” from the pulpit, saying that slavery should be abolished.

The American civil rights movement that resulted in the outlawing of racial segregation and discrimination was led by Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist pastor, and supported by many Christian churches and groups.

There was also strong influence from Christian ideas and influential Christians in the formulation of the Magna Charta in England (1215)15 and of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1787)16 in the United States. These are three of the most significant documents in the history of governments on earth, and all three show the marks of significant Christian influence in the foundational ideas of how governments should function. These foundations for British and American government did not come about as a result of the “do evangelism, not politics” view.

Schmidt also argues that several specific components of modern views of government had strong Christian influence in their origin and influence, such as individual human rights, individual freedom, the equality of individuals before the law, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state.

As for the present time, Charles Colson’s insightful book God and Government (previously published as Kingdoms in Conflict) reports dozens of encouraging narratives of courageous, real-life Christians who in recent years, in causes large and small, have had significant impact for good on laws and governments around the world.

When I look over that list of changes in governments and laws that Christians incited, I think God did call the church and thousands of Christians within the church to work to bring about these momentous improvements in human society throughout the world. Or should we say that Christians who brought about these changes were not doing so out of obedience to God? That these changes made no difference to God? This cannot be true.

I believe those changes listed above were important to the God who declares, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). God cares how people treat one another here on earth, and these changes in government listed above do have eternal value in God’s sight.

If the Christian church had adopted the “do evangelism, not politics” view throughout its history, it would never have brought about these immeasurably valuable changes among the nations of the world. But these changes did happen, because Christians realized that if they could influence laws and governments for good, they would be obeying the command of their Lord, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). They influenced governments for good because they knew that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

6. Doesn’t the Bible say that persecution is coming? 

Sometimes people ask me, “Why should we try to improve governments when the Bible tells us that persecution is coming in the end times before Christ returns? Doesn’t that mean that we should expect governments to become more and more anti-Christian?” (They have in mind passages like Matt. 24:9–12, 21–22; 2 Tim. 3:1–5.)

The answer is that we do not know if Christ will return next year or 500 years from now. What we do know is that while we have opportunity, God tells us not to give up but to go on preaching “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and doing “good works” (Eph. 2:10) and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). That means we should go on trying to influence governments for good as long as we are able to do so.

If all the Christians who influenced governments for good in previous centuries had given up and said, “Persecution is coming and governments will become more evil, so there is nothing we can do,” then none of those good changes in laws would have come about. Instead of giving in to such a hopeless attitude, courageous Christians in previous generations sought to do good for others and for governments, and God often blessed their efforts.

7. But won’t political involvement distract us from the main task of preaching the Gospel? 

At this point someone may object that while political involvement may have some benefits and may do some good, it can so easily distract us, turn us away from the church, and cause us to neglect the main task of pointing people toward personal trust in Christ.

Yet the proper question is not, “Does political influence take resources away from evangelism?” but, “Is political influence something God has called us to do?” If God has called some of us to some political influence, then those resources would not be blessed if we diverted them to evangelism—or to the music ministry, or to teaching Sunday School to children, or to any other use.

In this matter, as in everything else the church does, it would be healthy for Christians to realize that God may call individual Christians to different emphases in their lives. This is because God has placed in the church “varieties of gifts” (1 Cor. 12:4) and the church is an entity that has “many members” but is still “one body” (v. 12).

Therefore God might call someone to devote almost all of his or her time to the music ministry, someone else to youth work, someone else to evangelism, someone else to preparing refreshments to welcome visitors, and someone else to work with lighting and sound systems. “But if Jim places all his attention on the sound system, won’t that distract the church from the main task of preaching the Gospel?” No, not at all. That is not what God has called Jim to emphasize (though he will certainly share the Gospel with others as he has opportunity). Jim’s exclusive focus on the church’s sound system means he is just being a faithful steward in the responsibility God has given him.

I think it is entirely possible that God called Billy Graham to emphasize evangelism and say nothing about politics and also called James Dobson to emphasize a radio ministry to families and to influencing the political world for good. Aren’t there enough Christians in the world for us to focus on more than one task? And does God not call us to thousands of different emphases, all in obedience to him?

The whole ministry of the church will include many emphases. And the teaching ministry from the pulpit should do nothing less than proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). It should teach, over the course of time, on all areas of life and all areas of Bible knowledge. That certainly must include, to some extent, what the Bible says about the purposes of civil government and how that should apply to our situations today.

Courage and Godspeed,


References available in the original document found here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I missed the first 3 parts of this series. I wish more people thought carefully about connecting the Bible and public policy the way Grudem has.