The Church, Christians, and Politics

7:02 AM Memorial Day is fast approaching. Years ago Jacque Ellul warned us that the greatest danger to liberty in Western society proceeds from the military-political state born of a dream of utopian perfection on earth. It seems clear to me that Ellul has touched on something of very great importance. As one who rejected out of hand the para-Marxist realism of my practical theology professors in Basel, I find it just as easy to part company with those on the theological right who argue that evangelicals should inject Christianity into politics. A close reading of the Gospels would show that the opposite is true. Neither Jesus nor His disciples ever engaged in or showed any interest in politics. Our Lord refused to be the political liberator of Israel. I fully agree with the Anabaptists that the state is meant to be secular and that a dualism exists between church and state, between political power and the proclamation of the Gospel. There is in my opinion neither “Christian” liberalism nor “Christian” conservatism. Equally valid (or invalid) perspectives can be found on both sides, but there are no Christian grounds for preferring one side over the other. If Jesus was a capitalist (or a socialist, or a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Libertarian), I fail to see anywhere in the Gospels where He has made that known to us. The fact is that political loyalties are always relative and determined for purely individual and conscience reasons.

To state that the church should reject any form of allegiance with politics does not, of course, imply the separation of church from society or that Christians should not hold or express political views. Quite the opposite is true. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord over all things means that we will seek to be biblically informed about our political decisions and discussions. But it does not mean that a Christian politician can claim to support distinctively “Christian” policies any more than an auto mechanic can claim that he practices distinctively “Christian” car repair. It is the duty of the church to penetrate society as salt and light – this is acknowledged by all – but it fails in that duty when it rubberstamps the platform of politicians of any stripe. According to the Scriptures, the church is not a political community at all. It is a brotherhood that proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord and that expects the coming of his kingdom – or, to put it another way, a brotherhood that lives with a view to the time when Christ will ultimately prevail over all earthly kingdoms. The church knows, therefore, that it lives in the midst of an eschaton that has not yet come, and that the polar realities of the church and the world are the twin sociological units within which it lives. We must be very careful, then, not to confuse the kingdom of heaven with the kingdom of man even as we love and serve the world in Jesus’ name. Whatever political differences exist between Christians can be transcended by the common ground of the cross and empty tomb.

(For more, see The Jesus Paradigm).

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, Why Four Gospels?, and Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?)