Source Document: gotquestions.org/church-social.html
If ever there was a time when social unrest and disagreement is prevalent, it surely has to be now.
I ran across an interesting overview that questions how Christians should react to social issues and causes, that I am going to share with you in its entirety. Obviously this is a complex subject and there are numerous aspects that cannot be covered in a relatively short post, but it definitely does merit our consideration and serious thought.
For those of us who claim to be ambassadors for Christ, “some” often present a “mixed message”, when addressing prevalent social issues and concerns. On the one hand, we advocate committing our lives to Jesus, and aligning ourselves to the will of God for our lives, and on the other hand, we dive right into the pressing social issues and concerns, by providing our opinions to those within the unconverted world, and those who are within the Kingdom of God, as if they are one and the same audience of hearers. The New Testament rarely, if ever, does that. The message is singular throughout the entirety of the New Testament and I can’t help but feel that somewhere along the line, we’ve lost the ability to discern what indeed our message, as the Church, the body of Christ, collectively and individually as Christians, should be consistently focused on, especially as it pertains to fulfilling the Great Commission that Jesus gave us, if indeed we are called to be ambassadors for Christ.
What follows is the entire post that gotquestions.org has to say about this pressing issue within the church.
This issue is the cause of much controversy in the Christian community. Each of the two extremes is represented by those who feel very strongly that their position is the “Christian” one. On one hand there are those who spend many hours writing to their Congressmen, picketing abortion clinics, campaigning for conservative candidates and using all means available to influence and improve the quality of government to conform it to the Christian worldview. At the other extreme are those who take Jesus’ words “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) as their motto, refusing to vote or get involved in any effort to affect the culture in which we live.
There is no doubt that we should be good citizens. Romans 13:1 tells us, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Christians should be exemplary in their conduct regarding the laws of the land, choosing to disobey only those laws/rules that directly contradict the revealed Word of God. Abortion, for example, may be an abomination, but no one is forced by the government to have an abortion, as is the case in China. The Chinese Christians who defy the law and refuse to have abortions are obeying the biblical commands “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19) and “you shall not murder” (Romans 13:9), thereby obeying the Word of God rather than the laws of man. But such instances are very rare in contemporary Western culture.
Perhaps the best way to understand our responsibilities in the social/cultural arena is to look to Jesus for our example. Jesus lived in one of history’s most corrupt societies. But He perfectly maintained His Father’s perspective on social and political matters, even though He lived in a society that was every bit as pagan and corrupt as today’s culture. Cruel tyrants and dictators ruled throughout the region, and the institution of slavery was firmly entrenched. Legal and economic oppression of the Jews by Rome was rampant, dwarfing anything we experience today. But even in the face of such tyranny, Jesus never issued a call for political changes, even by peaceful means. He never attempted to “capture the culture” for biblical morality. He did not come to earth to be a political or social reformer. Rather, He came to establish a new spiritual order. He came not to make the old order moral through social and governmental reform, but to make new creatures (His people) holy through the saving power of the gospel and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. He knew what many today fail to grasp: governments and institutions are made up of people. When people’s hearts are changed by Christ, godly governments and institutions will follow. If the hearts of the people are corrupt, getting them together in groups only multiplies the corruption. What we need is not better government, but better men and women in government.
So what is a Christian to do? Can Christians shun all political and social efforts to affect the culture? Certainly, if our consciences convict us to do so and as long as our motivation is pure and not an effort to appear holier than those who do choose to be involved. Pride is too often the by-product of completely withdrawing from the culture. We are to be in the world, but not of it, and part of being in the world is modeling Christ-likeness for the world and Christian love toward one another.
Can we picket, campaign, and lobby our elected leaders on issues of concern to us? Certainly, as long as we keep the ultimate goal in mind—to win people to Christ. Too often that goal and the activities described above are in conflict. Take, for example, the misguided efforts by a small fringe group from Kansas who show up at the funerals of homosexuals with signs declaring “God hates fags” and “burn in hell.” How likely is it that such cruel and vicious behavior will convince unbelievers we serve a loving and merciful God who will forgive sin? The cause of Christ is not advanced by this type of activism, no matter what the motivation. Even the most gracious efforts to “clean up the culture” will not protect or expand the cause of Christ. Ours is a spiritual battle against worldly ideologies and dogmas that are arrayed against God, and we achieve victory over them only with the weapon of Scripture. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
The picture of the Christian in the world is well illustrated by the analogy of the train station. We (Christians) are waiting in the station to board the northbound (heavenly) train. We are surrounded by people who are preparing to board the southbound train, completely unaware of its tragic destination. Should we spend our time and energy pleading with them to switch trains? Or do we merely tidy up the train station instead? The answer is obvious, and those who would tidy up the culture for the culture’s sake are not only missing the point, they are misunderstanding the reason God leaves us in the world—to be His witness to the lost and condemned. Such a mission is far more “good and profitable to men” (Titus 3:8) than any amount of social or political activism.
For your consideration.
Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!
You bring up a lot of good and difficult questions. Maybe one of the biggest problems is the churches are freely embracing gay marriage. Pro-life stances are also controversial subjects within many churches. Change starts not only in hearts but inside the church.
Hi Pete, absolutely. If the hearts aren’t changed inside the church, it’s going to be pretty difficult to change hearts outside of the church, when those inside the church, also need changing. Accommodating the world’s standards at the expense of God’s standards is a step backward, not forward. Sad situation all around. God’s blessings on you and yours, Pete.
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Great discussion Bruce. Jesus also proclaimed his ministry as one that feeds the poor, heals the sick, and lifts high the downcast. Bottom line is our lives are not lived in a vacuum and we are on this earth to live together. Love your neighbor and all that good stuff. But when it sways into the political realm (not a long sway, I admit), then things typically get more divisive than loving. Instead of us doing what Jesus did or proclaimed, we fight amongst ourselves as to what we believe is right and wrong, what actions give us the best end case (regardless of motives or even sometimes of morality). So it’s a sticky wicket. It seems to me that if we focus on taking personal responsibility, and not rely on the government, business leaders or even the church to “fix” all that is broken, then we can carry out our call to love without all the wickets.
Hi Tim, personal responsibility in how we act towards others, both inside and outside the church, is obviously a biggie. When we start to rely on our own methods versus God’s mandate, via accommodation at the expense of God’s will, a lot of things do indeed get “sticky”. Really a mess. Blessings, Tim.
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Thanks for the article, Bruce. The analogy of the train station is an excellent one.
Thanks, Tom. I thought so too! Blessings!
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This is a very thought-provoking post that I have been mulling over for days. On the face of it I wholeheartedly agree that the church’s focus is not to be upon reforming corrupt human institutions. The job of the true church is to provide a place for fellowship and worship and edification apart from the world, and to equip the saints to grow in holiness and to live and to spread the gospel.
On the other hand, to stand by and watch impassively as the government and those around me commit abortion and openly practice and approve of every abomination imaginable doesn’t quite feel right either (the article’s casual reference to abortion really got under my skin – “Abortion, for example, may be an abomination, but no one is forced by the government to have an abortion” – what, so then abortion should be something a believer should not be concerned with or offended by?). In my opinion, it is questionable whether anyone who is not grieved and outraged by egregious sin to a significant degree actually belongs to the Lord. Second Peter says about Lot living in Sodom, “for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard (2 Peter 2:8).
I went back and reread a good potion of the New Testament fishing for what scripture has to say on this. Again, I found no call or mandate for the chuch to put their focus on worldly affairs, government reform, or the like. On the other hand I did note that John the Baptist lost his life for openly preaching righteousness to Herod the governor. I also noted that Jesus certainly preached righteousness and criticized the Jewish establishment to the point that they crucified Him (notwithstanding that this was the Father’s plan).
So while the church as a God-ordained organization should keep its focus on the gospel, the gospel includes the preaching and declaration of righteousness and truth in the face of lies and corruption. Not with an eye toward mending an institution, but with an eye to the conversion of the hearers. (And certainly all must be done humbly and earnestly, in LOVE, with clean hands and a pure heart, not with hate or hypocrisy.) The New Testament preaching was always “cutting” and “convicting” of sin and unrighteousness while at the same time proclaiming forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
With this in view I think the answer is to keep our eyes on the gospel while humbly and gently standing for truth and righteousness, in love, in whatever little corner of the world God has called us to occupy. There is a good chance that some may be offended and we may suffer for our witness (the gospel is guaranteed to offend), but “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
While I agree with the overall thrust of the message, to me the “train station analogy” presents a false dilemma and oversimplifies things to the point of absurdity. It is not possible to persuade anyone to change to the northbound train without first cleaning up the bench I’m sitting on (personal holiness and integrity) or without mentioning the deporable conditions and corruption in the rest of the train station (i.e. sin and its consequences, both immediate and eternal).
I think there is a ditch on both sides of the road, and it would be a mistake to substitute politics for the gospel (as so many do), but it would also be a mistake to give tacit approval to sin and wickedness by my silence because I somehow think that a Christian is not supposed to engage with (and oppose) the corrupt culture (as so many others do). It’s not for nothing that Christians have been persecuted by governments throughout history. As was said, it’s all about where our focus is, as well as the condition of our hearts.
Food for thought.
Thank you, Bruce, for reliably sharing so many relevant and thought-provoking posts on your blog.
Blessings to you,
Hi Craig, I agree with some of your observations and the manner in which some things were articulated would not have been the way in which I personally would have worded it. Yet it contained the essence of what I believe is the root of the issue and it was a voice speaking other than my own. I know there are a lot of nuances involved and there is always a danger of going to the extremes. I would obviously support voting for individuals who would advocate Christian principles, in elections etc and military service for the peace and protection of our country is another aspect I would support. I think what we are seeing now in the far right Christian Nationalism approach via gaining and maintaining political power at any cost, is what bothers me the most, especially when it is cloaked as being “Evangelical”. It’s a “heady” subject, I’ll grant you that, but as far as the Christian Church is involved, I think it’s pretty easy to see that we’ve dropped one spiritual mandate and replaced it with another worldly one. Obviously not the first time that has happened in history, but it becomes a little unsettling when it’s happening right on your own door step, in the here and now. Of course, it’s always been there, but now it clearly steers the ship and we’re not only off course but we’ve radically changed course and we’re heading for a different shore. The mandate of the Great Commission is focused on winning souls with hearts that are changed into a holy nation, that is not of this world, not pursuing worldly political manipulation that gives power to enforce objectives by decree, over those who are opposed. We’re actually feeding the process that will foster our own decline, brought on by resentment to those whom we impose. How twisted is that? That is exactly what happens when individual hearts aren’t changed. Failed at achieving from the inside out, just impose by the outside in. Yes, I can see how that would work, especially when our numbers are dwindling and resentment grows. Not so much.
Anyway, as you said, Craig, food for thought. I’m glad I got those old grey cells of yours moving. Always good to hear your thoughts. I’m just one little sheep, in the back 40, trying my darnedest to keep my Shepherd within ear shot. Blessings brother, keep em coming when you have the time. Love in Christ – Bruce
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100% agree, Bruce, well said. I’m working on a reply but have been delayed by some personal and medical challenges over the last week. Talk soon! Love to you and Peg!
No rush at all, Craig. Take your time. Praying those personal and medical challenges dissipate! Blessings brother.
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