Perspective: Religion and Politics
- Thursday, October 31, 2002
The age old adage goes, "Religion and politics don't mix." Period.
End of discussion, right? That may indeed be a popular philosophy, but does it square with the teaching of the Bible? Or does it square with the philosophy of our nation's founding? This basic question must be faced during this election period.
It is true that the eternal is more important than the temporal things of this world. There is no doubt politics is a part of the temporal. However, simply because it is less important eternally does not mean that Christians are to ignore it completely.
"Politics" is a word that many people consider synonymous with "dirty." There are certainly plenty of examples that would support this view. Is it possible that politics has gained that reputation because Christians have avoided taking it seriously? Far too often, Christians have even failed to vote, much less take a close look at the character and positions of a candidate that will have a positive or negative effect on our culture.
Unquestionably, the church was a vital part of our nation's founding. Had it not been for the clear preaching from the pulpit, the moral force of this nation would have been lacking. The pastors of the churches in those early days played an important role in the call for freedom, as expressed by one writer: "During the revolutionary era, the pulpit played a key role in encouraging dissent. The political activism of these black-robed ministers earned them the name 'the black regiment.'" (1) These pastors understood that Christianity was not to be seen as isolated from every other area of life. To have avoided this fact would have been to deny that Christianity is more than just something you "add on" to your life, but rather, it is something that permeates every aspect. In Biblical Christianity, it is improper to draw a hard distinction between the sacred and the secular. Everything we do is to be considered sacred, and should be carried out "as unto God." (2)
Historian John Wingate Thornton details how the "election sermon" in early America made a profound influence on the culture of that day. He states, "Indeed, the clergy were generally consulted by the civil authorities; and not infrequently the suggestions from the pulpit, on election days and other special occasions, were enacted into laws." (3) This demonstrates the reality of what John Quincy Adams meant when he said "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity." (4)
The annual "Election Sermon" was a perpetual memorial that continued down through the generations from century to century, and "still bears witness that our fathers ever began their civil year and its responsibilities with an appeal to Heaven, and recognized Christian morality as the only basis of good laws." This reflects the words of the prophet Habakkuk 1:4 -- Therefore the law is ignored, And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted. In other words, without God man will only produce sinful and unjust laws.
Not only did the churches and pulpits of our young nation preach the "election sermon," but they also called the church and the citizens to days of "fasting and humiliation," and to days of "thanksgiving." They expressed that they did this to "seek the Lord for His direction," to "entreat the help of God," as well as for "humiliation to seek the face of God." (6) The civil authorities sought the aid of the pulpit because they recognized a deep need for God's favor and direction to build a nation of freedom and justice. If we are to keep a nation of freedom and justice, we too must recognize that God is the source of wisdom and protection. We must have pulpits that fearlessly declare the truth of God to all the situations of civil life, as well as religious life.
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