By Jeff Olson
Since the mid-1970s, America has experienced a strong resurgence of Christian influence in the political spectrum. Movements such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition became viable forces in the process and outcome of elections in our country. Beyond these organized groups, other people of faith have become more informed and active as citizens and some even as political candidates. This is good and how it should be, but it has presented a dilemma for the faith community because how we view, prioritize, and apply politics within our lives in the kingdom of man can place us in conflicting and compromising situations which may threaten or negate our identity and effectiveness in the Kingdom of God.
Since government is one of God’s ordained institutions and therefore derives its authority from God, it is within His design and purpose that it serve to preserve our God-given freedom to live, serve, and worship according to the scriptural precepts and the dictates of conscience. The Bible is not explicit on how strong a role Christians are to play in politics, but it does instruct us implicitly: God’s purpose and design for government (Exodus 18); the Christian’s relationship to government (Romans 13); the Christian’s obligation to government (Matthew 22:15-22); and the Christian’s universal influence on society and culture (Matthew 5:13-16). Given these general Biblical principles, it then becomes the Christian’s decision on how he or she will prioritize and balance the commitments to personal and family life, life within the Church’s mission, and in being the salt and light we are to be in all other aspect of our lives – including politics.
It is not the intent of this writing to link any particular brand of politics to the Christian faith because this simply should not be done. However, it does bear mentioning that whatever choices are made will be a direct reflection of not only a person’s values but also the source of those values. This is especially true for the Christian because the Christian faith is not only about relationship with Christ but also living in Christ through a Christian world view where every area of life is under His lordship and instruction. However, it is very important to distinguish between what is merely a belief in God and the Bible and what is a committed daily lifestyle of the Christian life under the principles, power, and will of God. We must always consider how Christians and the church are viewed by the world around us. One of my favorite songs is titled By Our Love. Its message is that the world will know us first and foremost by our love for God and one another. Our identity both from the inside out and the outside in must be measured most importantly by our relationship with and likeness to Christ and not as another special interest group, voting bloc, or American subculture interested primarily in specific policy proposals. Regeneration of our lost neighbors must be prerequisite to reformation of the national polity, if the latter is to ever become an enduring reality.
Given these considerations, the Christian must decide if Caesar or God deserves first priority in his or her life? Jesus’ passion was/is His love for the Father and His desire to be one with Him, and His desire should be the same for each of us. This oneness is not only to be enjoyed internally, but it is also to serve as a message and example to the world that there is only one true God. Much too often the world sees a jigsaw puzzle picture of Jesus through our differences in theologies, priorities, traditions, lifestyles and in our inconsistent or absent love for one another. This also carries over into our roles as citizens of the state, in that some Christians and churches have more of a consensus on social/moral issues and policies than on fundamental truths such as the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures. Lest we forget, God’s authority is total and complete while Caesar’s is derivative and limited.
Having said all this, the Christian’s role as a citizen of the state must not be marginalized nor neglected but thrive in such a way that Christ is honored and biblical principles are perpetuated. It is in fact a Christian’s duty to participate in public affairs because it is a part of his or her responsibility to bring all areas of life into conformance with the created order. Church and government must function within their ordained and defined roles while at the same time complementing one another. The concept of religious freedom and other God-given rights arose from: the core biblical truth of man’s creation in God’s image; humanity’s inherent worth, dignity, and unique capacity for faith, reason and reflection; and nature of free will. It was through the Christian’s dual role as citizen of the kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God that fundamental human rights and freedoms were first articulated, codified, and preserved. In America, this is well documented through her colonial/state civil/social orders and constitutions and her founding documents.
Political decisions play a major role in influencing and shaping culture. Therefore it is necessary that those decisions be informed by transcendent biblical principles and the lessons of history so that our culture can be one characterized by an environment that is conducive to liberty of conscience and freedom of religious expression – within the four walls of the home and church building, in the public square and beyond. Maintaining the freedom to live the Christian life, share and preach the Gospel, defend the sanctity of human life, and preserve time-honored, God-ordained social institutions should motivate us to lead the way in active and responsible citizenship where God has placed us. A Christian’s dual citizenship should make us the best of citizens, because we do out of obedience to God that what others do only if they choose or if they are forced. And, the Christian’s very presence in society means the presence of a community of people who live by the law behind the law.
Bringing about enduring Christian influence in America has more to do with vacation bible school and discipleship training than with political science and history. While all of these are very important and can be symbiotic, keeping first things first is even more important. In the long term, America will be changed only from the inside out, one heart and one mind at a time. Those who are truly regenerated will love God and indiscriminately share His love and spread His salt and light through all avenues of life, including that of politics. This is the great cultural commission of the Kingdom of God, and if carried out will permeate our social, educational, and political institutions, and help preserve all of our God-given freedoms.