In Philippians, the Apostle Paul warns the church that we are in the midst of a “wicked and perverse generation.” For every generation of the church, this has been true, but in the lifetimes of most in the American churches, we have never seen a culture that is more hostile to Biblical truth. We are being pressured to accept the “inevitability” of the redefinition of marriage that would allow two men or two women to marry. We are being pressured to abandon the defense of the sanctity of life by acquiescing to the legal right for a woman to kill a child in her womb or the legal right for a family to kill a dying relative.
The state has appropriated the church’s obligation to care for the poor and in the process, created entitlement programs that plunder the property of citizens and result in cycles of government dependency and poverty. The wicked and perverse generation of which we are in the midst is killing its children and its elderly, redefining the family, and creating a toxic economic environment that hurts the poor and creates perverse disincentives.
Meanwhile, the Christian community is divided. Some have pledged that they will not vote for a Mormon. Some don’t want to be involved and oppose the church’s involvement in the political sphere because, they argue, the Gospel is above politics. The Gospel is the only message of hope that the world has and any efforts that the church makes that are not directly focused on the spread of the Gospel is wasted efforts. I am inclined to agree with these brothers and sisters. My point of departure from them, however, is the true nature of the Gospel.
I absolutely affirm that it is an historical fact that Jesus Christ came to earth by way of a virgin birth, lived a sinless life, voluntarily gave His life on the cross in the place of sinners, was buried then raised by the power of the Holy Spirit on the third day, and then ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father until He returns to make all things new. He did this so that men would not face eternal damnation in hell. He did not do this so that men would have more comfortable lives on earth. What I believe, however, about the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation, colors my view on what responsibilities the church has when it comes to involvement in political life. To those who argue that the church has greater and grander things with which to be concerned, the Gospel is something that is isolated and quarantined. These men view the Gospel as something that is indescribably powerful, but remarkably narrow. The Gospel is limited to that which you present to the lost man on the street or preach at a revival. Isn’t it strange, however, that that which is the source of life ceases to be of relevance when we start to talk about the trajectory of that life?
There never comes a time in the life of a redeemed man or woman when he ceases to need the Gospel. There is no area of our lives in which the Gospel is irrelevant. The Gospel should impact the way that we raise our children, order our households, perform at our jobs, relate to strangers, honor our parents, and engage our culture. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and it is, in fact, so powerful that it takes that which was dead and lifeless, rotting and worthless, and breathes new life into it. No part of a Christian’s life, from the mundane to the profound, should be animated by anything less than the Gospel.
All of this means that there are Gospel implications for each area of our lives. The Gospel changes the way that we live and think, and imposes upon us an obligation to care about those who do not live and think in the way that the Gospel demands. The Gospel makes us debtors to all men. It obligates us to care about the soul of the sinner, plight of the poor, the suffering of the sick, and the welfare of the widow. These concerns are not optional concerns. The good works unto which we are saved do not form a buffet line for us to pick what is most appealing and pleasant. These are the works that the Lord has left to us to accomplish.
Many Christians would agree with what I have written, but answer saying that political involvement is not the furtherance of the Gospel. When we speak out against abortion or the redefinition of marriage, we have compromised our message and we no longer exclusively preach “Christ and Him crucified.” No, the message isn’t compromised. The message is rightly applied to every area of our lives. Nowhere in Scripture is the church confined to the eschatologically significant portions of the Gospel, and THAT is what critics of political involvement are really advocating. If the message is not directly and unquestionably related to eschatological aspects of the Gospels (i.e., where a person’s soul will spend eternity), then that is simply not a message the church should preach. I would argue that that is a naïve, dangerous, and arbitrary emasculation of the power of the Gospel. Christ did not come and die to end abortion or to institute free market economic reforms, but He did intend for the men for whom He did die to save to work for the eternal AND temporal good of mankind. This includes clear advocacy of political and social policies that protect life and promote liberty. The rights that we are granted by God’s natural, providential ordering of creation (i.e., “natural rights”) are rights that no man or government can trespass, and the church has an obligation to work to protect those rights.
The message of the Gospel is absolute and unchanging, but the way that it is manifested in the wider culture may be different depending on the needs and structure of the culture. In our current context, our government is “of the people” and we have a right to speak and act. I would posit that when our speech and action has the potential of improving the lives of people by minimizing suffering, protecting the sanctity of life, and defending liberty, Christians have a Gospel obligation to speak and to act. It is unloving and sinful to see a neighbor in material or physical need and fail to act. One way in which we can act is to support political policies that provide the proper cultural framework that will meet those needs. I can give my neighbor food from what I have, but I can also work to ensure that our community provides opportunities for my neighbor to work in order to buy his own food. There are appropriate times to do both.
None of this means that the church should abandon preaching the eschatologically indexed aspects of the Gospel. It does mean, however, that the church should do both. There have been politicians in history who have used the church as a vehicle for political gain. Their official statements following natural disasters include a promise to “pray for the victims.” Some are genuine, and others simply play to an audience sympathetic to that kind of language. Because the possibility of abuse exists, does that mean that the church should abandon the obligation to be politically involved? It certainly does not. It simply means that the church must be wise to choose selfless leaders and spokesmen who will truly speak and act based on the principles described in Scripture and never act to further a personal agenda or seek personal gain. The church has an obligation to preach the whole Gospel that demands that believers be wholly transformed. This includes temporal as well as eternal aspects. The church must address both. When your water is shut off, “I paid my electric bill” is not a valid defense. Fulfilling one obligation is not an excuse for ignoring another obligation.
When the church fails to preach the whole of the Gospel, the church fails to do that which it has been established to do. A church that makes an idol of politics is just as dysfunctional as a church that sequesters itself in the desert. Not every local church can do everything or tackle every issue, but every local church should be working to see the lost saved and the redeemed equipped and motivated to impact the world with the temporal aspects of the Gospel message. Every church should work to feed the poor, to care for the widow, and to comfort the sick. Engagement in our culture is a Gospel issue and every Christian and every church, therefore, has a Gospel obligation to see to it that that work is done.