A series of articles have been published since the death of Jerry Falwell that encourage Christians to take a non-Falwellian approach and get out of politics. Daniel Vestal, a former Baptist pastor writes that it’s “time to unyoke Christians” and “party politics.” I don’t find Vestal making the same argument to liberal Christians and their identification with the Democrat Party. It seems that only Bible-believing Christians are the ones who are called on to lay their principles aside.
A number of Christians profess that the church’s job is only “to preach the gospel.” This was the emphasis of Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson in their book Blinded by Might. Dobson, former board member of the Moral Majority and a personal assistant to Jerry Falwell, writes that he has “avoided all political activity” as the pastor of a Baptist church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While his personal beliefs about the moral direction of the nation have not changed, what has changed is that he now 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? Does it matter how they vote? Is politics morally neutral?
Aren’t there implications to the gospel message? Jesus and the New Testament writers certainly thought so. Jesus said that you will know a converted person by the fruit his profession produces (Matt. 7:15–23). A “profession of faith” does not validate a person’s conversion. James tells us that faith without works is dead (James 2:14–26) “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27). Should Christians stay out of politics if laws are passed that hurt orphans and widows? Homosexuals are pushing to have laws changed to allow “gay couples” to adopt children. Many of these adoptees are orphans.
Maybe the advocates of a “just preach the gospel” message have a limited understanding of the comprehensive transforming effects of the gospel. Paul told the Ephesian elders that he did not shrink from declaring to them the “whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). A reading of Paul’s letters to the churches will show that he spent as much time on Christian behavior after conversion as he did on correct doctrine. He wrote about the “renewing of the mind” (Rom. 12:2). Certainly an application can be made about education, entertainment, and reading material since we are not to be “conformed to this world” (12:2). Paul also discusses such “secular” issues as “contributing to the needs of the saints” (our duty to the church) (12:13) and the ministry of civil government, including paying taxes “to whom tax is due” (our duty to the State) (13:7). Politics is one area where many Christians want to draw the line. Jonathan Mayhew argues (1720–1766):
It is hoped that but a few will think the subject of [civil government] an improper one to be discussed on in the pulpit, under a notion that this is preaching politics, instead of Christ. However, to remove all prejudices of this sort, I beg it may be remembered that “all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” [2 Tim. 3:16]. Why, then, should not those parts of Scripture which relate to civil government be examined and explained from the desk, as well as others. Obedience to the civil magistrate is a Christian duty; and if so, why should not the nature, grounds, and extent of it be considered in a Christian assembly? Besides, if it be said that it is out of character for a Christian minister to meddle with such a subject, this censure will at last fall upon the holy apostles. They write upon it in their epistles to Christian churches; and surely it cannot be deemed either criminal or impertinent to attempt an explanation of their doctrine.
Mayhew’s point is well taken. 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 entire created order is open to discovery and study.
Paul repeats the commandments prohibiting adultery, murder, and theft (Rom. 13:9), and sums up his specific exhortation on the law with the general command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (13:9). These instructions came after Paul informs the Roman Christians that the civil magistrate is a “minister of God” (13:4) who is to make a determination between good and evil behavior (13:3). What standard should the magistrate (God’s civil minister) use to make these determinations?
These commandments have multiple social applications. Certainly the civil magistrate is to find it his duty to love his neighbor by not burdening him with excessive taxation and bureaucratic entanglements to frustrate his God-endowed freedoms to earn a living and provide for his family. No doubt the magistrate is to work for a civil order that results in a “tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:2) for the people of God. In the first-century, all that these Christians could do was to appeal to God with “entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings” since they had no freedom to petition the Roman Empire with their political wishes (2:1). God through His mercy has established the United States as a civil society in which we can through our voice and vote make changes for the betterment of everyone.
. Daniel Vestal, “Time to unyoke Christians, party politics,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (May 17, 2007), A15.
. Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, Blinded By Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 21.
. Jonathan Mayhew, A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (January 30, 1749) in Thornton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution, 47-48.