In the last post (“Christian or American,” 1/12/20), we asked some hard questions about the church and believers. We suggested that many parts of the American church are losing their biblical identity. We further suggested that this is because many churches have bought into the world’s ways of thinking, and that they have tied themselves so strongly to Americanism that they are now dependent on America’s greatness for their own greatness.
This, friends, is nothing less than idolatry. How do we know it is idolatry? Simple. No man, no political system is perfect, nor is he or it the savior of a nation or the world. When we automatically equate “Christian” with “the right,” “the left,” “Republican,” “Democrat,” or any other earthly label, we have begun to cross that line. Another sign is when our favorite party or politician loses and we believe “the cause of righteousness” has been dealt a blow. No man, no earthly system is perfect enough to be equated with God’s cause of righteousness. There’s only one that carries that banner: the Lord Jesus Christ. Not even the church, Christ’s visible representation on earth, is perfect enough to be idealized.
I asked this question on social media a couple days ago, and I’m going to ask it here. (For those readers outside the US, just substitute your own national parties and politicians here.)
If you are a supporter of President Donald Trump, will you accept President-Elect Joe Biden as YOUR President? Will you commit to pray for him and the incoming leadership over the next four years? Will you commit to pray good for them, that they make wise and godly decisions and come to know the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you release any bitterness, anger, and ill will to the Lord in order that your prayers not be hindered?
If you are not a supporter of President Trump and the Republicans, will you commit to pray for the (soon to be former) President and his family? Will you acknowledge that good came out of the last four years? Will you pray for the good of the outgoing administration, including that they come to know Christ? Will you commit to releasing any bitterness, anger, and ill will to the Lord in order that your prayers not be hindered?
If you cannot honestly answer “yes” to these questions from your heart, then it may be time to ask the Lord,
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me (Psalms 139:23-24).
Who Are We?
Now we are going to return to the questions at the end of the last post. What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be the church?
In simple terms, a Christian is one who has been born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3). He has repented of his sins and trusted Christ for salvation (Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31; 17:30-31). Being a Christian means that one is made new. Not just new in terms of better, but new in terms of something that did not exist before. Totally new. And it’s all of God, from start to finish. Salvation is by faith alone. This is the gospel. It is about sin, repentance, and faith. Any definition of salvation or the gospel that is not based on that is unbiblical.
What does it mean to be a Christian, however? What are the priorities of a Christians? This is really where the rub is, isn’t it? Because so many people say, “A Christian should [fill in the blank].” Whether it’s advocating for social/racial justice, feeding the homeless, witnessing, voting, or whatever, everyone has a thought.
I suggest that this is the central responsibility of a Christian: the gospel. Everything else a Christian does is to be centered around this. Why is this so? Three reasons:
- Declaring the gospel is the God-ordained means of seeing people come into the Kingdom. God has not chosen to flood the world with angels to declare the message. He has chosen to use earthly, broken vessels to spread and live his message.
- It is the last recorded command that Jesus gave to His disciples before the ascension. Often, people save the most important things they wish to say until the last. This is no different. And we see that beginning to happen immediately. Jerusalem and the surrounding areas exploded with people telling the good news of Christ. And then the good news spread throughout the known world.
- No lasting change will ever come to this earth apart from the gospel. The best that can be accomplished is a race of highly educated, self-centered people that strive to outwardly conform to ever changing standards of a fallen society.
Beyond the gospel, a Christian’s first commandment is to love. Love God with all we are, and love our neighbors as ourselves (see Mark 12:30-31). There is little disagreement on this point between Christians. Most of us know on a basic level what these words mean (or at least we think we do).
So, the real questions here are very practical ones.
1) May a Christian engage in social or political activism (or must he do so)?
My answer to this is, “Yes one may.” But one must not confuse these things with his first responsibility to keep faith and declare the gospel. If we succeed in pushing through a political agenda or feeding the homeless and haven’t shared the gospel, what eternal benefit have we gained? Likewise, if we declare the gospel to a starving person, but do not help him with the basic necessities, are we not simply saying, “Be warmed and well-filled. . . and Jesus loves you”? (See James 2:15-17.)
Is there a must? No. There’s no command in Scripture to actively participate in political or social activism. However, for one who has been changed and called to love justice, mercy, and faith, it is hard to imagine one’s heart and conscience not being stirred.
2) Is it possible for a Christian to support the [fill in the blank] party?
In general, yes. To say otherwise, as I have seen on social media, is to call into question the salvation of a believer, and denigrate him in front of unbelievers. This, for a Christian, is inexcusable. It places a separate requirement for salvation (or at least an evidence of salvation) on the person other than faith. Jesus said the world would know we are His disciples by our love, not by our political affiliation.
A word of caution here (hopefully a balanced word). In supporting a candidate, party, or program, the believer must be willing to critically examine the basis of his or her support. Some Christians think that abortion is the only issue that matters. Thus, if a candidate agrees with 99/100 issues that they do, but is pro-choice, they wil say, “Nope!” Other Christians see other issues just as important and tend to support based on a broader set of criteria (and often those Christians who support a pro-choice candidate are themselves pro-life. Which is right? Both are. For both sides it’s often an issue of conscience. And we are sternly commanded not to judge the conscience of another (Romans 14). Every political party and political system in this world is sin-stained and corrupt because they are led by fallen people.
No System to Work, No Easy Answers
The real problem with these questions and this debate is that Christians assume many of these answers are easy. They are not. How does a nation deal with immigrant children separated from their parents? Can a nation pass pro-choice laws and yet also encourage programs that will have the effect of eliminating abortion? When same-sex marriage is legal in the nation, how is the church to repond to those couples? How can we affirm the uniqueness of individuals without giving in to the LBGTQ+ movement? How do we encourage true multiculturalism in the church without giving into the pitfalls of critical race theory?
The gospel is not a system to work. It is a change of the heart. And that change does not come immediately. It’s possible for one who is saved to not even believe some of the truths that we conservatives hold as “fundamental,” like the deity of Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture. It’s also possible that they don’t immediately change their perspective on issues such as racial justice, abortion, etc. Christians need to think deeply about such issues–that so many often find “easy” answers in Scripture regarding these issues testifies to the fact that their thinking is superficial.
Above all, we must remember that the gospel is not a political system. It is the means by which a holy God is reconciling sinful humanity to himself. The gospel has implications (see above), and believers would do well to think through those implications. But in the end we who follow Christ must place our hope–all of our hope–in Christ alone. Not in the fortunes of America or a political or economic system. Our citizenship in this world is transitory at best. We are aliens and strangers here. This world is not our home. It’s okay to do what we can to make the world a better place (Jer. 29:7), but don’t get too comfortable.