Christians and Politics

A couple of years ago I learned about something called Pulpit Freedom Sunday. I was puzzled because I thought every Sunday was pulpit freedom Sunday. But I was wrong. This day was organized to challenge IRS policy on political activity by religious organizations. A law called the Johnson amendment threatened the loss of tax deductible status if pastors engaged in politicking from the pulpit.  Pulpit Freedom Sunday supporters amassed legal teams and funding to defend Pastors who spoke out on candidates and policy. They hoped to bring cases to court, but the IRS wanted nothing to do with this fight and gave the challenge a wide berth.

President Trump in his campaign vowed to ”totally destroy” the Johnson amendment and in 2017  inserted a repeal into a tax bill. The repeal was removed on procedural grounds, but later President Trump effectively nullified the amendment by executive order, saying

“My greatest contribution to Christianity—and other religions—is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly,…”

Sermons about politics are something preachers have to think about, but every Christian has to determine the relationship between their politics and how they follow Christ. Whether we participate or not, politics shape our world. We all have to answer the question how does a Christian live in society that doesn’t always share our beliefs and values. 

We sometimes use a theological tool to help answer that question, the doctrine of the two kingdoms. That is, God is the ruler of the whole world, and he rules in two ways.  God rules the worldly kingdom, through government and law. God rules the heavenly kingdom through gospel and grace. Christians are citizens of both of these kingdoms and have responsibilities to both.

The Apostle Paul probably didn’t use the term two kingdoms, but he understood the idea. He lived as Roman, a Jew, and a Christian. He claimed his right as Roman Citizen to avoid being flogged (Acts 22:25 ). Paul used this fact to his advantage more than once. The same to his right as Roman to a fair trial. Yet Paul understood very well that he had two citizenships. He would also write, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus.”

In some ways Paul had it easier than we do. There was no confusing the Church of Jesus Christ with the Roman Kingdom. Rome require its citizens to worship the Emperor. Rome had some good laws and some really horrific laws. Rome had one standard for its citizens and another for slaves and foreigners. It was not founded on the principles of the Old Testament much less the teaching of Jesus. There was little chance of confusing the two kingdoms then.

For years I, like many others, claimed that we lived in a Christian Nation, but now that appears to be slipping away. Why?  My opinion is that for too long Christians living in our society did not truly believe in the power and effectiveness of the Kingdom of God and therefore did not practice its methods. Here’s what I mean.

We show our unbelief in the power of the Kingdom when we delegate the mission of Christ to others. We let government choose and enforce moral standards. When we let specialists with amazing gifts and resources carry out evangelism. When we see that the role of most Christians is to support the efforts of others. I am not against evangelism or morality. But I am opposed to letting others do the work Christ intends all of his followers to do. We are all called to go “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Living in Kingdom of God means each of us following Christ in what we believe and teach. For too long the commitment by too many to Kingdom of Christ has been so nominal that we are ineffective in our mission.  The Kingdom of the world with its ability to compel others through law and politics is an attractive alternative to the personally challenging way of sharing and living the gospel. Marketing, politics, brute force will not build the Kingdom of God. When we try and use them to that end, we will fail.

Now is the not the time for Christians to give up and retreat from society or double down on past mistakes. We are living at a time when people desperately need the gospel. We need churches where people know each other enough to draw strength and encouragement from one another to live as a holy people and where they are committed to each member being involved in the Mission of Jesus Christ. This is and has always been the way Christians have impacted their world and spread the Kingdom of God.