Is it right to preach politics from the pulpit?
If we were to take a public consensus on this subject, what do you think we would find? More than likely the world (i.e., society and current culture) will say “NO,” because that would be bringing “religion into the public sphere…and we just can’t have that.” Peel a few layers off of that onion and what you would really find lurking underneath is an “off-limits” sign placed against religious interference. “we don’t want your judgments influencing our behavior.” Religion, in particular Christianity, is often viewed as way too judgmental.
Ironically, if we interviewed those who profess to be Christians, we would find that their answer regarding the above question does not stray too far afield from public opinion (As Seen in a Recent Polling Example at Pew Research). Interesting, since Christians are those who should be influencing the surrounding culture/society, not the other way around…but…I get ahead of myself. Perhaps, at this juncture we would be better served by defining what “politics” are before we address the question as presented.
Defining our Terms…
According to the American Heritage Dictionary the term “politics” (noun) speaks about “the art or science of government or governing.”[i] Sounds like your basic boring definition that does little in shedding light on the subject at hand. At best, all we see is a reference to governing and/or government but the adjectival use of the word does help enlightening our understanding a bit. Used as an adjective “politics” is defined as, ““shrewd, artful, prudent, judicious.”[ii] Now if you take the time to look up those four words you will find that they speak of being wise/cunning in acting and/or judging matters (cf. Matt 10.16) affecting life.
Therefore, Politics is concerned about policies in the public sphere. Politics deal with matters of morality. It speaks of a governing body that rules in terms of justice in the public sphere; derived from ethical norms (i.e., laws, statutes, principles, etc.). The people that represent the civil government are therefore identified as politicians.[iii] Politicians and/or civil magistrates, consequently, are meant to be protectors of the people not enslavers.
A Dose of Reality…
Not too long ago, during breakfast at Frisch’s Big Boy, a family member made the following indirect question “why is there so much evil in the world?” This volley ball serve of an inquiry was in response to some of the criminal activity being witnessed in the world through various media outlets. The answer is rather simple, “We live in a fallen world.”
Like the .25$ slime you could buy at a vending machine on the way out of a grocery store, that answer sticks. However, because it is uncomely to sensible thought, it is constantly being wiped at to remove it. The thing is people are sinners, and while that fact might be troublesome to some of you, if we are honest and unafraid to own up to it, we can admit that there are many things that we have done in our lives we know to be wrong. Yet, we chose to do them in spite of the knowledge that said we shouldn’t.
Now if this is true of you and me, and it is, then what of those who serve in public office? What about those who deal in the sphere of public affairs? Those ruling members of our society that eagerly seek to (and most of the time do) invent policy to govern the people. Wickedness begets wickedness. Sinful hearts produce sinful activity. What is true of the common individual is likewise true of those in political leadership. I’m sure you’ve heard or at least thought that politics is dirty business. But what do you do when something is dirty? The short answer is you clean it up.
Where Should We Go…
Now the question of the day is should we see Christian preachers speaking on various political issues? Should we see Christian ministers proclaiming certain truths pertaining to the affairs of public life? Is it right to preach politics from the pulpit?
There are a few rabbit trails that we could travel down in discussing this question. I know because I’ve written and rewritten this material more than once, and my mind races in several directions all at once. Truly there are several branches of thought that we could deal with specifically in addressing politics and religion, and whether or not one should use their religious viewpoints to influence the ebb and flow of societal governance—i.e., the exercise of cultural mores. Perhaps, in the future we can get down to specifics, but for the time being let’s just deal with the overarching truth.
All political thought is driven by religious zeal. Not every political thought is driven by the Christian religion. However, here in the United States our governing bodies were established upon biblical precepts and statutes. Revisionists might cry until their eyes are puffy and their faces have broken vessels all about, but the truth of our early American roots is thoroughly influenced by the Christian worldview.
(This is not to say that every act, every policy, or every political maneuver has been consistently driven by this worldview. An honest review of history sheds some embarrassing light on this. But this does not remove the driving force behind our past leaders.)
Keep in Mind who I’m Speaking to…
Primarily, this message that I am about to give is for the Christian. Those who profess to be faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The key word in that phrase is the title “Lord.”
Already we have seen that necessary limitations have been set since the beginning. The Proverbs declare that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov 14.12). If we learn nothing else from our fore-parents (Adam and Eve), then it ought to be this truth.
For the Christian we know that in order to be able to set limitations, authority must be had by the limiter. Christ Jesus demonstrated His authority over all by laying down His life and taking it up again. No one took it from Him, He gave it freely for His people. His holiness and righteous life paid the penalty for our sin. Therefore, He has revealed Himself as our Head, and the Husband of the Bride; which is the Church. Remember the true Church of Jesus Christ is not a building, not a denomination, nor truly divided by a branch of theology…it is the people who are called by His Name that are the Church.
Zone of Authority…
When we think of government, we tend to think of it in the civil sphere—i.e. civil government (here in America we see it at the local, state and federal levels). But there are other governing bodies that God has created. We have the government of the Family, the government of the Church, included with the government of the State. And we must not forget that there is also self-imposed governing. We are told to govern our lives, to stop sinning, choosing instead the paths of holy righteousness. Doing right and refraining from doing wrong. Being humble and not puffed up with pride. Loving rather than hating.
What then is Jesus’ zone of authority? Is it limited to the Church? If you buy into the “two-kingdoms theory” popular in many Christian circles, then you will see a necessary divide between the secular (public/political) and ecclesiastical (church/private) spheres. This is an example of a false dichotomy. No such divide exists, except in the minds of mankind. God’s Word contains no boundaries in relation to Christ Jesus.
One of the things that got the apostles in trouble in the Roman world was that they professed “another king, Jesus” over and above “the decrees of Caesar” (Acts 17.7). This was not limited to a private faith, but included the public sphere. For the Christian faith “advocate[s] customs” that are contrary to pagan culture (Acts 16.21). In short, contrary to public opinion within today’s Christian community, the apostles did address political issues of their day. They advocated a way of life that was counter-cultural. And while it might be appropriately argued that it started with individual hearts (personal governance), this naturally seeps into the other governing bodies established by God—i.e., family, church, and state.
Source of the Teaching…
Though Christ Jesus is said to have been made lower than the angels for a time (Heb 2.7, 9), He was still equal with God the Father (John 5.18; 10.30). While the incarnation—Jesus, the Living Word putting on flesh (John 1.14)—was an act of humility by taking on the form of a slave (Phil 2.7), His status remained in the form of God (Phil 2.6).
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1.15-17; emphasis added).
Please notice the authority Jesus has over all things. That phrase is repeated several times. What do you suppose all things means? ALL THINGS.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28.18b).
All authority, means all things, which is why we see the phrase “in heaven and on earth.” There is no limitation on the sphere of Christ’s authority. No realm of human existence that is beyond His authority. He is Lord over all…drum roll, including POLITICS. For the civil sphere of governance was created (established) by Him. So that the civil ruler might serve as His minister (deacon) to punish evil and uphold the good (cf. Rom 13.1-7).
So, the answer to the question of whether or not it is right to preach politics from the pulpit is YES.[iv] In fact, you would be hard pressed to proclaim the Word of God at all if you did not do so. The Bible speaks on many subjects, but one of particular interest to the Lord God is in righteous living. Makes sense when you consider mankind’s image bearing status.
I will close with a couple sobering thoughts:
“Too often Christians limit the effects of the saving work of Jesus Christ. We are willing to turn to Jesus Christ and entrust Him with our eternal destiny but we are often unwilling to submit to His instructions concerning the affairs of this world.”[v]
“Men may be induced to abandon their old religion and to adopt a new one; but they can never remain long free from all religion. Take away one object of worship and they will soon attach themselves to another. If unhappily they lose the knowledge of the true God, they will set up gods of their own invention or receive them from others’ (Archibald Alexander…p. 18).”[vi]
If the Christian will not speak authoritatively in the public sphere (politically), either out of fear or obstinate refusal, then nothing less than tyranny should be expected.
[i] “politic,” s.v., The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition (New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 2007), 651.
[ii] Ibid., 651.
[iii] Ibid., 651. An accurate definition is “1) One actively involved in politics. 2) One who holds or seeks a political office.”
[iv] “The Bible never condemns political involvement…The desire to retreat from political concerns is mostly a recent phenomenon.” Gary DeMar, Myths, Lies & Half Truths: How Misreading the Bible Neutralizes Christians (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2004), 132, 133. Respectively
[v] Gary DeMar, God and Government: Issues in Biblical Perspective, Vol 2 (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2001), x.
[vi] “From an engraving in ‘Evidences of the Authenticity, Inspiration and Canonical Authority of the Holy Scriptures’” (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1836), quoted in DeMar, God and Government, vol 2, 4; Cf. 243.