Political Action or Gospel Advance: Fighting the Culture War
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Aug 25
According to Allie Martin of AgapePress, a black pastor is urging a partnership among evangelicals and Roman Catholics to fight the culture war. "The pastor of a Maryland church is encouraging black pastors to partner with white evangelical churches to help foster social and political change. Bishop Harry Jackson is pastor of the 2,000-member Hope Christian Church in Bowie, Maryland. He spoke last weekend at the 'Justice Sunday II' event held at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, which was held to educate people about the role of courts in everyday life."
"Jackson said unity is crucial for moral and social victories. 'I believe that what God is doing today is calling for the black church to team with the white evangelical church and the Catholic Church and people of moral conscience.' Jackson, who also serves as chair of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, says all Christians must take action to stop the moral decline of the nation. The High Impact Leadership Coalition is seeking support for biblical principles of righteousness and justice in America via a petition on its website called the 'Black Contract with America on Moral Values.' The petition invites Christians and politicians of all races to advocate policies and legislation that promote family reconstruction, wealth creation, education reform, prison reform, health care, and African relief -- all issues the group says need to be addressed to improve the 'plight of black America.'"
While we certainly affirm the need for social and political change and recognize the scourge of moral decline in America, a few problems emerge from such urging, and indeed the whole "Justice Sunday" concept. First, social and political change is not our calling. While we need, want, and indeed fight for such change, the issue has to do with how we go about obtaining that change. The gospel is the only dynamic that will bring real and lasting change. We preach the gospel that people might be saved. As persons are saved, social and political change will follow. Our task and focus must be the gospel, not political action. The Baptist Faith and Message of the SBC notes that "The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends." We can involve ourselves in politics, but our focus is Christ (Jn. 18:36; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 4:5).
Second, taking action to stop the moral decline of the nation is not our calling either. Such a goal is nothing short of pharisaic legalism and was roundly condemned by our Lord. Further, as persons adhere to a moral code apart from Christ, they become secure in a salvation that is non-existent and thereby become hardened to the gospel. Hell is filled with moral persons. Moreover, genuine moral values will only be achieved through the regenerating power of the Spirit as the gospel is proclaimed (Jn. 8:12-59).
Third, while we can affirm a unity between black and white evangelicals, we cannot join hands with Roman Catholics or people of moral conscience who reject Christ. It is certainly fashionable today to join with Catholics or moral persons of other faiths to fight for a common goal. The problem lies in the fact that we are commanded to "...not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14-15)?" At the same time, for the sake of unity, the offense of the cross is removed. "But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23)."
Fourth, why would we seek such a goal anyway? Have we forgotten our goal is the conversion of men for the glory of God? How easy and flesh satisfying it is to use political means to achieve personal preferences of morality and legislation. How difficult it is to lay our lives down for the sake of the gospel. Our calling is to suffer wrong that we might demonstrate the power of the gospel in our lives for the glory of Christ (Phil. 1:29; 1 Pet. 2:13-25).
Fifth, when Christians focus on political action and lobbying, they necessarily set themselves in an adversarial position against the world. No doubt exists that we are to be different from the world. However, we are not to fight the world. Rather, we are to seek to win the world to Christ. As we go toe to toe with the world, we necessarily forfeit our opportunity to preach the gospel and foster in them a hatred toward us and indeed in us a lack of love toward them. These things are contrary to our calling and the gospel. "Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11)."
Sixth, the church should not seek to become a political action committee. Rather, the church should seek to be salt and light in the world. Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:13-16)." This is the mandate for believers. It is not a mandate for moralizing unbelievers who would join with us. We are to let the power of Christ that has transformed our lives so shine that men are attracted to Him, not repulsed by our political and moralizing rhetoric. The light to which Christ refers is the gospel. That is not to say that we should not be involved in politics or speak in the public square. It is to say that things like "Justice Sunday" confuse the people of God and generally turn our activity from the gospel to political activism. Let us speak the gospel when seeking to influence this culture.
Seventh, to believe that the plight of black America will best be helped through government as opposed to the gospel is naïve and misguided. "...policies and legislation that promote family reconstruction, wealth creation, education reform, prison reform, health care, and African relief" may appear to be the answer, but they are not. Government policies and legislation directed at these issues typically are inefficient and immoral. They are inefficient in that programs are implemented at great expense with little resulting impact. At the same time, these programs create a dependence upon the government by the people which fosters sloth in terms of work ethic and abuse of the system. These policies are immoral in that redistribution of wealth (forcibly taking money from one group and giving it to another) is the typical means of funding such programs. Let Christians come together and minister in the black community rather than come together to fight (Acts 2:42-47).
While the High Impact Leadership Coalition is seeking to help black America, Sudan is mentioned in their petition. We should certainly call upon people to pray for those who are suffering in Sudan. Private funds should be funneled to the proper parties as part of the problem lies in the fact that aid sent through the government fails to reach the hands of those who need it. Missionaries are on the ground in Sudan and more should be sent. As the gospel is preached, the real key to its advance will be to see indigenous converts engage their people with the gospel. For that dynamic we must pray.
These things we may affirm. But, how do we accomplish the ultimate goal? By joining hands with unbelievers and forcing the issue of morality in America? Again, the Baptist Faith and Message of the SBC affirms that: "All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth." Two key phrases stand out in terms of method and are worth repeating. First, "Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ." Second, we should be careful "to act in the spirit of love without compromising [our] loyalty to Christ and His truth."
My prayer is this: may Christ cause us to be the church, not just another lobbying group. May we embrace His word: "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here (Jn. 18:36)."