For the past 2,000 years, essentially all progress on behalf of human rights and the spread of moral truth have depended on Christian involvement. Some of history’s most fortuitous moments resulting in the betterment of the human condition have come about when followers of Christ inserted themselves into governmental and cultural affairs.
Many today, however, would vehemently disagree with that statement. Sadly, most pastors today stunt their congregations' potential for impact by staying silent on cultural issues.
Many evangelical “celebrities” use their social media platforms to remind Christians that “our hope is not in politics.” It does sound pious to say that “Our allegiance is to God, not man. Our priority is the Gospel, not government.”
For many a zealous Christian today, the church’s position in relation to politics amounts to one of two choices: either you love the Lord and His Kingdom, or you have “gotten in bed with the state” and supposedly have your eyes only on this world.
Dichotomizing the landscape to only these two options is unnecessary and, I believe, misleading. The church’s posture should be, as Augustine taught, that believers are accountable to both the “city of God” and to the “city of man.”
For the Christian believer, of course our true home is heaven, and certainly our number one priority is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Savior. But should the church be politically vocal, and can we do this without compromising our loyalty to our King and His Kingdom? Absolutely. In fact, we have inherited many blessings today from courageous Christians before us who were intensely politically engaged.
Consider Melito, ancient Christian leader and pastor from Sardis (now Turkey). In 175 AD, Melito met with Emperor Marcus Aurelius, urging him to make Christianity the official religion of Rome. Melito reasoned that “church and state were complimentary works of God for mankind’s benefit.” He saw no conflict in meshing Christian beliefs with political discourse.
Most have heard of William Wilberforce and his crusades before Parliament to end slavery in Britain. Perhaps less well-known is his colleague Thomas Clarkson, but together they acted on their deeply-held Christian convictions, speaking publicly about (and to) the British Empire. They successfully engaged the help of Parliament member Thomas Buxton in their establishment of abolitionist societies, their work on behalf of child rights, and ultimately, the ending of slavery. Good thing that these men (and their contemporaries) were eager to have their Christianity shape their cultural involvement.
In his book Discovering An Evangelical Heritage, historian and theologian Donald Dayton documents the pronounced political involvement on the part of Christian converts to during the second Great Awakening of the 19th century. Dayton notes that evangelists such as Charles Finney were “instrumental in adding thousands to the active ranks of American churches,” but also urged that “these new converts become active participants in every forward movement of their time.”
Do we serve Jesus and live for heaven, or do we immerse ourselves in current events and cultural involvement? I believe that the answer is both.
For those who advocate political disengagement, it is helpful to remember all the immeasurable good done by Christians who were courageous enough (and wise enough) to understand the church’s responsibility to a lost world: servant of the poor Mother Theresa, civil rights reformer Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., evangelist Billy Graham, educator Jerry Falwell, prison ministry champion Charles Colson… to name but a few.
May the Lord empower us to also make a tangible mark for Christ in our world today -- in our culture and government as well. Children and youth need to be raised to believe in Jesus, but also to know that the call to discipleship also comes with a call to bold patriotism.
Dr. Alex McFarland is a youth, religion and culture expert, a national talk show host and speaker, author of more than 20 books and Exploring the Word on the American Family Radio Network, airing daily on nearly 200 radio stations across the U.S. He is also the host of the “Alex McFarland Show,” which airs weekly on NRB TV.