California has recently passed laws that could silence Christians on the topic of same-sex sexuality. The law is written in such a way that the sale of Bibles could be banned in California. There are millions of Christians and large Bible-believing churches in California. How could this have happened?
A number of Christian leaders profess that the church’s job is only “to preach the gospel.” For example, in the book Blinded by Might, Ed Dobson, former board member of the Moral Majority and a personal assistant to Jerry Falwell, writes that he has “avoided all political activity.” He believes “that the way to transform our nation has little to do with politics and everything to do with offering people the gospel.”
And once these people embrace the gospel, then what do they do? Can they vote? Should they vote? Does it matter how they vote? Is politics morally neutral? Wait for the return of Jesus in the “rapture”? Following Dobson’s view and many who think like him, the nation could be 90 percent Christian and ruled by tyrants because Christians refuse to engage politically.
If the writers of Scripture, as instruments of God’s will (2 Tim. 3:16-17), did not think it improper to discuss political issues, then how can ministers who claim allegiance to an inspired and infallible Bible fail to address not only politics but every issue discussed in Scripture? The “all Scripture” that Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 3:16 is what Christians describe as the Old Testament, and it’s filled with instructions related to morality, authority, power and decentralized and limited civil government.
All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
“Every good work” includes politics since there were civil rulers in Israel and instructions about how rulers should minister in their civil capacity. It’s no accident that Paul describes the civil magistrate to be a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4). The Greek word translated “minister” is the Greek word diakonos, from which we get the word “deacon.”
Redemption from sin, the new birth, is the first step of many steps in what it means to be a “new creature” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). These first steps are described by the writer to the Hebrews as “elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 5:12), the milk stage of growth (1 Peter 2:2). The time must come when the student matures to become a teacher (Heb. 5:12). The goal is to grow in Christ. “For everyone who partakes of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (5:13-14). What civil governments do (rightly or wrongly) fall into the category of “good and evil.”
The “only-preach-the-gospel” mentality stunts the growth of the new convert. The writer to the Hebrews is adamant about development in the faith, so much so that he offers the following admonition to his readers: “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith in God” (6:1).
Charles Finney, best known as a revivalist preacher, saw an obvious relationship between evangelism and social reform. John Stott writes about Finney’s views:
Social involvement was both the child of evangelical religion and the twin sister of evangelism. This is clearly seen in Charles G. Finney, who is best known as the lawyer turned evangelist and author of Lectures on Revivals of Religion(1835). Through his preaching of the gospel large numbers were brought to faith in Christ. What is not so well known is that he was concerned for “reforms” as well as “revivals.” He was convinced … both that the gospel “releases a mighty impulse toward social reform” and that the church’s neglect of social reform grieved the Holy Spirit and hindered revival. It is astonishing to read Finney’s statement in his twenty-third lecture on revival that “the great business of the church is to reform the world…. The Church of Christ was originally organised to be a body of reformers. The very profession of Christianity implies the profession and virtually an oath to do all that can be done for the universal reformation of the world.”
These are remarkable words considering the general evangelical and fundamentalist attitude toward social reform in our day. Most Christians have no idea that a theology of reform was developed by men who are known only as “soul winners.” But when we dig a bit deeper into Finney’s thought, we soon learn that he too met resistance in his advocation of reform efforts. He was amazed that the church treated “the different branches of reform either with indifference, or with direct opposition.” Finney described opposition to reform efforts as “monstrous” and “God-dishonoring.”
After concluding that politics is an area for Christian ministry, there can be a danger in believing that politics is designed to solve our problems…