For more than a century, Christians have been stretched by the tension of a fundamentalist strand on one side and the evangelical strand on the other, each pulling backwards against the other like a rubber band being pulled apart by two opposing hands. The result has indeed been tension.
On the one hand, the fundamentalists have sought to protect the purity of the gospel against outside attacks. This fundamentalist tendency seeks to shield the church from outside influences but also has the rather unintended effect of shielding those outside from the church’s influence. Not only is the church protected from the world, but the world is also “protected” from the church.
Evangelicals, on the other hand, have sought to establish the necessity of salt stinging and light shining. So, under the theological influence of Carl F.H. Henry and the popular influence of Billy Graham, the evangelical movement sought to engage the culture, taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ. Henry would initiate Christianity Today magazine and Graham would begin the practice of meeting with Presidents. Evangelicals clearly won the debate, but the tension still abides. There are still Christians who wish us to “stay out of politics.”
Because our culture feels so “politicized,” many would prefer we not to get mixed up in politics. Surely, it would be easier if we didn’t have to deal with the deceit and obfuscation made popular by modern magistrates. Even though withdrawing would be easier, I don’t think it is the faithful course for Christians to follow. Here is why.
In Deuteronomy 17, the Lord gave instructions to Israel before she took possession of the Promised Land. In these instructions, Israel was taught about the proper function of authority (the king). In effect, the king’s role was to institute the righteousness of God. A primary function of government, then, is to administer and uphold justice; upholding justice demands following the commands God has given. This was true for ancient Israel, and it is true for us today.
Obviously, we do not live under the rule of a Davidic king in the land of Israel, but the basic principle of Deuteronomy 17 still holds. Paul explains (in Romans 13) that government is to approve of what is good and punish what is evil. No doubt, Paul understands that good and evil are established by God, not merely by man. Thus, government still exists to uphold the righteousness of God (which is good).
Christians have an obligation to do their very best to uphold the righteousness of God in every aspect of life—including public and governmental aspects of life. Such upholding of righteousness in the face of injustice is at least a part of what it means to be salt and light in an otherwise dark and decaying world.
Practically, this upholding of righteousness means Christians must participate in public debate, must participate by voting, and must care about what happens in the greater world of government and civic life. To withdraw from these responsibilities is not to care more about God and the gospel; it is actually to care less about the gospel and about people in general. Listen to how St. Augustine explains it,
For both the physician is irksome to the raging madman, and a father to his undisciplined son,—the former because of the restraint, the latter because of the chastisement which he inflicts; yet both are acting in love.
In other words, Augustine understands that doctors and dads must intervene if they care at all for their patients or their children. Love compels their engagement—even if their engagement is taken as a negative or unpleasant intrusion. Augustine explains further,
But if they were to neglect their charge, and allow them to perish, this mistaken kindness would more truly be accounted cruelty. For if the horse and mule, which have no understanding, resist with all the force of bites and kicks the efforts of the men who treat their wounds in order to cure them; and yet the men, though they are often exposed to danger from their teeth and heels, and sometimes meet with actual hurt, nevertheless do not desert them till they restore them to health through the pain and annoyance which the healing process gives,—how much more should man refuse to desert his fellow-man, or brother to desert his brother, lest he should perish everlastingly…
If the Christian cares at all for his fellow human being, he will not withdraw or be silent on matters which others have politicized. The greatest commandment is to love God with heart and soul, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. These two great loves compel our engagement in “political” affairs such as the protection of human life and the honoring of the institution of marriage.
In my opinion, then, each Christian should take up the shaker of the gospel and sprinkle its salt of truth into the world on issues important to the day. Likewise, each individual Christian should both live and act in a righteous manner to shine the light of truth for others groping in the darkness to see. That’s the way things look to me (and to Augustine). Your opinion, as always, is welcome.
- Can a Christian vote in good conscience for Mitt Romney? (matthewtuininga.wordpress.com)