Since the results of the November 2006 election were so dismal, a number of Christian leaders are reassessing Christian involvement in politics. One editorial writer argued that time and energy have been lost with little to show for the effort. Can you imagine what our nation would be like today if Christians had not become politically active? This is not to say that politics is the solution to our problems, and if we only got the right people in Washington all would be right with the world. Politics is a reality in the world, and it is an area of God’s delegated authority to His creation. The argument that politics is bad for Christians was the point of John MacArthur’s Why Government Can’t Save You:
There was a time when nearly everyone could name off all the Ten Commandments, but today most don’t know what the Ten Commandments are. There was also a time when retail stores, dining and entertainment establishments, and all nonessential enterprises would be closed on Sunday out of respect for the Lord’s day. But now for most people in the West it’s fairly much business as usual on Sundays. Furthermore, there was a time (not so many years ago), when respectable citizens uniformly disapproved of homosexuality, adultery, and divorce; believed sexual promiscuity was absolutely wrong; disdained cursing or obscene language; saw abortion as unthinkable; and automatically held public officials to high moral and ethical standards. But today many citizens, when polled on such issues, view them either as acceptable practices, civil rights, or inconsequential matters.
“There was a time. . . .” Why was there a time? Because Christians took their faith seriously and applied it beyond the church doors and the Sunday school hour. America was a beacon of light to the world, and could be again, if Christians understood the comprehensive nature of the biblical message.
The late Francis Schaeffer asked a fundamental question of those who enjoyed the fruit of our nation’s Christian heritage: How should we then live? He not only asked the question, he attempted to answer it with a series of prophetic and provocative books and films. Charles Colson has updated the question with “how now shall we live?” by offering more specific solutions to today’s current problems. The gospel is certainly the first step in the process of social transformation, but it’s not the only step. It never has been: “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:1–2). Growth after birth is the goal.
MacArthur is concerned that some “believers have often displayed mean-spirited attitudes and utilized the same kinds of worldly tactics as their unbelieving opponents.” If this is the problem with Christian activism, then deal with it without condemning the whole process. Peter and Paul, and sometimes even Jesus, were not always “nice.” Taking a firm stand on moral issues may seem “antagonistic toward the very lost people God has called. . . to love and reach with the gospel,” MacArthur argues, but often times it’s necessary since some of these people are out to destroy the moral fabric of our nation. Christians have been nice, and the world has used this niceness to walk all over us. Niceness in the face of evil is often misinterpreted as weakness and irrelevance by non-Christians:
On an individual level, Christians have bought the lie that it’s better to be nice and to “get along” than it is to be right and stand up for the truth. We’ve accepted the notion that it’s wrong to be different, both inside and outside the church. And we’ve allowed ourselves to be manipulated by guilt to the point that we’re afraid to say no to anyone in the church, no matter what our responsibilities or priorities we already have.
I’m not opposed to criticizing the tactics, methods, and behavior used by some who present the claims of Christ to a lost world. My adage has always been, “Do not give the opposition any reason to reject your position other than the position itself ” (cf. 2 Cor. 6:3). But sometimes it’s the position itself that’s offensive no matter how well or compassionately it’s presented. Jesus Christ is an offense because He is a constant reminder of the sin that resides in all of us (1 Pet. 2:8; 1 Cor. 1:23). Jesus came to redeem us from our sin. This is offensive to people who don’t believe that they’re that bad. They resent anyone who insists that they might need a “savior.” If we think that a smiling face and an accommodating demeanor will lead people to accept the gospel and the moral worldview that goes along with it, then we are deluded. Stephen Brown makes the same point:
I believe that Jerry Falwell and many like him are hated, not only for the things for which they stand, but because they aren’t supposed to stand at all. They are Christians, and Christians are supposed to be seen and not heard; Christians are supposed to stay in church, smile, and talk about God; Christians are supposed to bless the mess of paganism and act like a kept woman.
Some argue that the gospel must precede social transformation, because being moral without Christ turns the gospel into a form of works righteousness. This can certainly happen. Many Americans have adopted a civil religion where morality is perceived to be enough, whether it’s advocated by a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or even an atheist. Passing laws to protect the unborn and to maintain the sanctity of marriage shouldn’t have to wait until everyone’s a Christian. Should we ignore good laws even if they are put into place by moral non-Christians?
For a number of years, Rome protected the church against radical Jews who wanted the Christian leadership rounded up and thrown in jail or worse. Paul considered protection by the non-Christian Roman civil government to be a good thing. He appealed to Caesar (Act s 25:11; 28:19) without agonizing over whether he was succumbing to “the deadly dangers of moralism.” Paul accepted the civil morality of the Roman empire as beneficial (cf. 1 Pet. 2:13–17) for the spread of the gospel (Acts 23–28).
In a book edited by John MacArthur and produced by members of The Master’s College faculty, we learn that Christians should recover a Christian worldview. There are even chapters on church and state, economics, and art in the book. The chapter on developing a biblical view of Church and State makes the good point that “Believers need to be reminded that there can be no healthy or lasting change of social structures without a redemptive change in people, which is why Christ came two thousand years ago.” So we’ve moved from preaching the gospel “is our only agenda” to teaching a broader agenda that includes changing social structures. But what are the particulars?
. John MacArthur, Why Government Can’t Save You: Alternative to Political Activism (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2000), 3–4.
. Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, 5 vols. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 5:79–277.
. Schaeffers own eschatological views, like those of MacArthur’s, created a roadblock that did not allow him to work out the full implications of what he thought needed to be accomplished. For an assessment of Schaeffer’s dilemma, see Gary DeMar, “Fear of Flying: Clipping Theonomy’s Wings,” Theonomy: An Informed Response, ed. Gary North (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), 57–64.
. Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcy, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999).
. MacArthur, Why Government Can’t Save You, 5.
. R. C. Sproul, “Foreword,” in Stephen Brown, No More Mr. Nice Guy!: Saying Goodbye to “Doormat” Christianity (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1986).
. Brown, No More Mr. Nice Guy!, 25.
. John F. MacArthur, Jr., “The Deadly Dangers of Moralism,” delivered at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California (2002: tape GC-80-257)
. John MacArthur, gen. ed., Think Biblically!: Recovering a Christian Worldview (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003).
. John P. Stead, “Developing a Biblical View of Church and State,” Think Biblically!, 293-294.