Should Christians Avoid Politics?

head in the sandFrom the archives. First appeared on 2/27/09. (Original discussion thread.)

If recent polls may be believed, most Americans now see their country as seriously troubled. For conservatives the times are especially disturbing. We are deeply opposed to the political philosophy now in power but are also alarmed at the resulting economic policies. We believe the solutions now in progress will be more damaging than the problems they are supposed to solve.

Among principled conservatives feelings about the situation range from intense frustration to utter futility. To many, the segment of Bible-believing Christendom that eschews politics is looking more and more like home. They are eying the creed that participation in politics has little or nothing to do with our responsibilities as followers of Jesus Christ and finding it increasingly attractive.

Over the last few months, I have also felt the appeal of tuning out. But certain realities have doggedly called me back to the belief that in a nation such as ours Christians can and must be involved in politics. And we have this responsibility even if—perhaps especially if—it appears we will accomplish nothing.

God cares what nations do

A principle feeding my conviction that believers should be involved in politics is the fact that God has expectations of nations. He is not “judge of all the earth” in a solely individualistic sense, nor is He concerned only with the salvation (and transformation) of individuals. Consider, for example, God’s rebuke of the nations in Amos 1:3-15. Here He finds fault not so much with how individual citizens have behaved but with how they have acted collectively as a nation. And they are judged accordingly.

Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron.” (NKJV, Amos 1:3)

What’s more, at least once in Amos the judgment of a nation has nothing to do with its treatment of Israel or Judah.

Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime. But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth; Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting and trumpet sound. And I will cut off the judge from its midst, and slay all its princes with him,” says the Lord. (Amos 2:1-3)

Here God holds the national entity called Moab to an ethical standard which it had violated by its handling of the remains of the king of Edom (a nation condemned for sins of its own in Amos 1:11). Apparently, God has ethical expectations for what nations do when acting as nations. In other words He cares about national policy.

Given the fact that policy in America is shaped by the involvement of the electorate, we cannot separate policy from politics. If God cares about what nations do as nations, He cares about what the United Sates does as a nation, and He cares about the politics that shape what we do.

We are the government

Amos and other prophets show that God expects nations to treat other nations properly. Similarly, Romans 13 reveals that God expects nations to govern their own citizens properly, and He assigns specific responsibilities to government. Verse 4 indicates that the governing authorities “bear the sword” and serve as diakonoi (servants) and ekdikoi (justice givers or punishers) for God. The words good and evil appear repeatedly in the passage, emphasizing that government’s duties are ethical and moral.

It’s impossible to take these verses seriously and conclude that God does not care what happens in Congress or in my state assembly. But the implications of the passage for a society such as ours extend much further.

By design, the United States is a nation of laws shaped by the influences of representative democracy. The founders did not aim to give every man an equal voice in state or national policy, but they did aim to give every man an equal voice in whom he would send to act on his behalf (not necessarily to vote as he would vote but to build policy that protects the best interests of his family and his nation). Regular elections—coupled with the right of public protest—were built in to ensure that policy-making is never wholly separated from the citizenry.

To say it another way, in America the difference between government and the governed is intentionally blurred by law so that citizens have governing responsibilities (policy-shaping responsibilities), whether they want them or not. To be a citizen is to be an indirect policy maker. In that sense, we are all “the government.”

The fact that we are all legally entangled in the policy-making process means that the question is not “Will I be involved in politics and try to shape policy?” but rather “Will I shape policy well or will I, by passivity and silence, shape it poorly?” What we commonly refer to as “not involved in politics” is just a way of saying “not putting any effort into policy-making responsibilities.”

Because our government is structured the way it is, the moral and ethical responsibilities of government in Romans 13 are our moral and ethical responsibilities as citizens. The only difference is that, for most of us, our involvement is that of indirect influence rather than direct execution.

The place of prayer

I have often heard that the role of the Christian in earthly politics is simply to pray. Isn’t this what we are commanded to do?

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

What the Scriptures require here is clear. Believers must pray for and about those in power and do so with the goal that they will essentially leave us alone.

The passage might seem to imply that we should also leave them alone, but that view extends the passage beyond what it actually says. Rather, prayer is never a substitute for action in Scripture, just as action is never a substitute for prayer. For example, Jesus commanded us to pray that the “Lord of the harvest” would “send out laborers” (Luke 10:2), yet He still commanded us to “go into all the world and preach” (Mark 16:15). The apostle Paul said it was “his prayer to God for Israel that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1), yet he included outreach to Jews throughout his ministry. Likewise the call to pray for “all who are in authority” does not preclude acting deliberately to influence them.

Taking action when we have neglected prayer is foolish and irreverent, but praying when we ought to be acting is foolish and irresponsible. Imagine that fire fighters have been summoned to the site of a burning apartment complex. They arrive, take positions, unpack the hoses, and connect them to hydrants. But rather than douse the flames, they pull out their cell phones and repeatedly dial 911 as the building burns.

The analogy is imperfect. God possesses the power to intervene directly in the affairs of men and “put out fires” in response to prayer alone. But should we assume that direct intervention by Himself alone is His intention when He has not said so and has given us the means to attack the flames ourselves?

Morality shapes everything

A final reality that keeps me from adopting the “politics is none of our business” stance is the fact that the moral condition of a community impacts everything else in it. I cannot fulfill my responsibilities as husband and father as effectively in Sodom as I can in better surroundings. And if Lot chose poorly in going to “the cities of the plain” (Gen. 13:12), am I not choosing poorly if I allow “the cities” to come to me? What’s certain is that we and our families cannot be unaffected if moral decadence descends all around us (2 Pet. 2:7-8).

Proverbs underscores this principle.

A wicked man accepts a bribe behind the back to pervert the ways of justice. (Prov. 17:23)

The proverb describes a perilous situation. A morally corrupt man influences or makes policy but does not do so according to principle or law. He perverts “the ways of justice” by seeing that someone is punished arbitrarily rather than for wrong-doing. As this blight spreads in a community, people see less and less relationship between their behavior and what government does to them. Lawlessness increases, and eventually no one anywhere is safe.

If I live in such a place, I can only successfully protect my family and my property (God-given responsibilities) as God intervenes to prevent what is otherwise the inevitable course of nature. But will He intervene in that situation if I could have stemmed the tide of lawlessness years earlier but chose not to?

Just as declining morality ruins the relationship between law-abiding behavior and personal well being, it also ruins the relationship between labor and personal prosperity.

Much food is in the fallow ground of the poor, and for lack of justice there is waste. (Prov 13:23)

This proverb can be taken to mean that lack of justice has allowed the poor to be robbed, but the view that answers best to the evidence is that injustice has somehow led the poor to let their land lie idle. This meaning is more clear in the ESV.

The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice. (ESV, Prov 13:23)

The proverb describes a situation in which the land of the poor could have been producing abundance, but bad policy (or poor execution of good policy) made waste more appealing. The poor here probably feel that growing the crops will do them little good because the fruit of their labor will be taken away, either by robbers or by oppressive taxation. Either way, immoral policy has guaranteed that citizens and their families see little relationship between hard work and food on the table. As that relationship deteriorates in a community, production falls off. Soon there isn’t enough of anything.

We’re foolish if we believe that bad policy and moral confusion can spread indefinitely without eventually hindering our own ability to live and serve God. Yes, God can intervene to spare His children from the worst that lawlessness and want bring on a society, but should we assume that He will do so if we have the means to influence policy and morality for good but choose instead to “avoid politics”?

Some may object here that we “cannot legislate morality.” But in reality government exists for no other reason than to punish “evil” (what is morally wrong) and reward “good” (what is morally right). To the degree Christians can influence policy toward effectiveness in that purpose, we are wise to do so. To do less is to welcome a future of violence, chaos, and poverty from which God will have no obligation to deliver us.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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We seem to be working with different definitions.
The definition I'm using for "application" is something along the lines of "the process or result of using principles expressed in Scripture to direct conduct in particular cases and situations Scripture does not describe." Since the Bible doesn't talk about stop signs, obeying them would be application of the principle that we should be subject to the powers that be.

Likewise, the Bible does not say "be involved in politics" but it does indicate that we should do our work well (Col. 3:23, maybe Eccles. 9:10). It's our Constitution (and supporting documents such as the Federalist Papers, the wriitngs of John Adams, etc.) that informs us that politics is part of our work as American citizens.
(This is just one of the arguments that support the involvement idea, but even by itself it's enough.)

But if the word "application" is distracting, perhaps we can agree that the activity of identifying how stated principles must be lived in unstated situations is an important Christian responsibility--and use some other term for it.

Shaynus's picture

edingess wrote:
As an FYI I noticed one post that was out of bound in my opinion and do not feel it merits a response. I will look at some of the additional thoughts Aaron has contributed and provide a response over the weekend. In the interest of transparency, you should know I am wrestling with this issue only recently, say six months or so. Please endulge me as I wrestle out loud on SI. Smile

Which one, out of curiosity?

edingess's picture

First of all, it is not MY constitution. It is the constitution of the country in which I was born. It was created 225 years ago by men who's Christian character I cannot ascertain at this point. I am not being anti or even unAmerican in this statement. I am simply providing a more crisp perspective. Should Christians view the Constitution of the United States as THEIR constitution? I do not think that is the business of the church. As far as I know, the constitution does not provide a prescription for the level of political involvement for it's constituents. In other words, there is no imperative in the document around political involvement.

Your view almost seems to imply that a Christian is bound by Scripture to agree with, support, and even promulgate this specific form of governing. I can't even come close to reading the text in that manner. Since the writers of the text knew nothing of the form of government we have in modern America, it seems to be that such a reading of the text is necessarily anachronistic.

Col. 3:23 speaks to the godly attitude that slaves should have as they serve their masters. We too should have the same godly attitude toward those we serve as employees. That is the principle of application for which I think you are searching.

I think that a reference to Ecclesiastics aimed at supporting "Scriptural principles" commanding American Christians to be politically engaged is a serious stretch. One could reply that proclaiming the gospel IS closer to obeying Ecclesiastes than political engagement and there would be nothing with which to respond. I would argue that both would be guilty of misapplying that text. My point is that this text does nothing to help in the discussion and you have not really shown how it does.

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. III John 4

edingess's picture

Quote:
Likewise, the Bible does not say "be involved in politics" but it does indicate that we should do our work well (Col. 3:23, maybe Eccles. 9:10). It's our Constitution (and supporting documents such as the Federalist Papers, the wriitngs of John Adams, etc.) that informs us that politics is part of our work as American citizens.
(This is just one of the arguments that support the involvement idea, but even by itself it's enough.)

But if the word "application" is distracting, perhaps we can agree that the activity of identifying how stated principles must be lived in unstated situations is an important Christian responsibility--and use some other term for it.

Allow me to provide an example of the subjectivism that your method risks introducing into the exgetical process. Scripture commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. Contemporary wives, in American culture who are radically hung up on emotions and romance will ultilize this command to create a principle from which they will manipulate their husbands. For instance, in order to love your wife like Christ loves the church, you must love her on HER terms. What does that mean? It can mean cleaning the house just the way she likes the house cleaned. It can mean taking her to expensive restaurants. It can mean a number of absurd behaviors that have absolutely nothing to do with a man really loving his wife. What you are doing is taking instructions given in a culture very different from our own and overlaying our culture's definition onto those terms. You are engaging in anachronism, in my humble opinion. Now, we all do this and it is admittedly very challenging to avoid. But avoid it we must. We begin with a simple understanding of what the text says to THAT audience and what it MEANT to THAT audience. From there, we avoid as many generalities as possible and move to application in modern culture. In the Mediterranean culture of that day, the laws were different. The command was to obey the laws and submit to civil authority. For us, we obey different laws and submission is slightly different ways. Obedience to the laws is one form of submission. Our good behavior and compliance as Christians can demonstrate that we are not insurrectionists.

Perhaps civil authorities desire to move our form of governing from "A" to "B." For some reason, Christians are being led to believe that it is their duty to preserve "A." Well, who places this duty on them? God or a man? Should we spend time in the Society of Christ debating which form of governing the civil authorities should have and spend energy rallying around one or the other? Is that what we are called to? Is that part of the mission of the church? Is it really the mission of the church to consult or advise civil authorities on the proper form of government? Surely if one works within the civil government and is responsible for such decisions, they must submit to biblical principles in their decision-making process. But that is about how an individual serves God in their secular career and has nothing to do with the question before us. Every Christian must serve their employer according to biblical mandates. It seems clear to me that the church has one clear mission given to her by Christ. That mission is the proclamation of the gospel which results in converts and affords disciple-making opportunities. From my perspective, the church influences morality within a given culture by preaching and living out the truth of biblical revelation.

There is no more effective way by which to influence the moral climate of a culture and to experience genuine change than by the foolishness of the preaching of the cross. Hence, it stands to reason that integrating other methods such as political activism introduces the risk of detracting, not enhancing, the desired result. If preaching is God's method for moral influence and restraint, not to mention genuine change, why default to others?

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. III John 4

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

edingess wrote:
First of all, it is not MY constitution. It is the constitution of the country in which I was born. It was created 225 years ago by men who's Christian character I cannot ascertain at this point. I am not being anti or even unAmerican in this statement. I am simply providing a more crisp perspective. Should Christians view the Constitution of the United States as THEIR constitution? I do not think that is the business of the church. As far as I know, the constitution does not provide a prescription for the level of political involvement for it's constituents. In other words, there is no imperative in the document around political involvement.

It's true that there is no single statement that says "citizens should cast informed votes." If you're satisfied with isolating the documents individual statements from the ideas that are its foundation--and that are everywhere assumed in it, that's an option. But others approach the question in light of the question "Why is our government structured so differently from the monarchies of the era--and yet also quite differently from the notions of the French radicals?" The answer, in part, includes the fact that is was designed the depend on the informed participation of its citizens.
But it really is less difficult to see even than that. The Constitution refers to voting and this is, by definition, citizen participation in government. If everyone said "Oh, that's for other people to do," the government would rapidly collapse.

edingess wrote:
Your view almost seems to imply that a Christian is bound by Scripture to agree with, support, and even promulgate this specific form of governing. I can't even come close to reading the text in that manner....

I don' know where you're getting that impression. What we're bound to do is support the government that we have... and the one we have is the one I'm talking about.

edingess wrote:
Col. 3:23 speaks to the godly attitude that slaves should have as they serve their masters. We too should have the same godly attitude toward those we serve as employees. That is the principle of application for which I think you are searching.

What basis do you have for excluding the work of governing? First, the text does not say "employees." It says "slaves." We apply it to the employee relationship. It's the law of our land that informs us that governing is part of the work that is ours as citizens. But I think I'm getting pretty repetitive on that point.

edingess wrote:
I think that a reference to Ecclesiastics aimed at supporting "Scriptural principles" commanding American Christians to be politically engaged is a serious stretch. One could reply that proclaiming the gospel IS closer to obeying Ecclesiastes than political engagement and there would be nothing with which to respond.
The argument there relies, once again, on a false disjunction. There is no reason to suppose that one form of work excludes another. We all believe we should evangelize and mow our grass. I'm simply saying that we should evangelize and do our share of the work of governing (... and still mow our grass, unfortunately).

As for the hermeneutical process I'm using... I think I'll just leave it to readers to judge whether they think your analysis is accurate.
Just one point from that...

Quote:
Perhaps civil authorities desire to move our form of governing from "A" to "B." For some reason, Christians are being led to believe that it is their duty to preserve "A."

Your comment--along with several others--suggests you're not working from a well informed point of view on this. Our "civil authorities" do not get to "move our form of governing from A to B," because they're bound by the law of the land to preserve the form we have and are accountable to the electorate for what they do.

In any case, you're missing some possibilities here.
A) The view that there is no particular form of government that Scripture prescribes
Cool The view that all forms of government are equally good
C) The view that Christians have no responsibility to support one form over another
D) The view that Christians in the US have no responsibility to support one form over another in their own country

All of these answer different questions and can be affirmed or rejected independently (though it's harder to isolate B from C and C from D). In any case, I affirm A, reject B, affirm that C would apply to many governments, but reject D emphatically.

edingess's picture

Quote:
The Constitution refers to voting and this is, by definition, citizen participation in government. If everyone said "Oh, that's for other people to do," the government would rapidly collapse.

That is correct. It would collapse if no one participated. But that only begs the question of "Christian" participation. We make up such a small minority in American culture that our absence would be hardly felt. I speak of genuine Christians.

The right to vote and the imperative to vote are two different matters. Citizens have a right to vote IF they choose to do so. I hardly think that in the establishment of freedom the framers were interested in removing the freedom not to vote.

Quote:
I don' know where you're getting that impression. What we're bound to do is support the government that we have... and the one we have is the one I'm talking about.

Actually, I do not think Scripture binds Christian conscience to support our current form of government. One can certainly be a Christian and contend that our current form of government is misguided. They can even say they think this to be the case. What Scripture binds us to is submission to civil authorities to include obeying the laws of the land. Whether or not Christians SHOULD support or oppose our current form of government is actually bound up in this discussion. I think a Christian can support or oppose our current form of government without sinning. That is my point. There is no divine imperative that we do either. The divine imperative is a submissive and respectful attitude which inlcudes obeying the laws.

Quote:
What basis do you have for excluding the work of governing? First, the text does not say "employees." It says "slaves." We apply it to the employee relationship. It's the law of our land that informs us that governing is part of the work that is ours as citizens. But I think I'm getting pretty repetitive on that point.

I did not exclude the work of government from the perspective of government employees and public servants. In Greco-Roman culture, employees were slaves for the most part. You either owned your business, were involved in a trade, such as fishing, farming, tent-making etc., your were rich, or you owned your business. The role we relate to most from that culture as an employee is one of master-slave. The attitude of the Christian slave, servant, employee is important. By applying their heart to their work, they witness to the glory and presence of God within. Do you think I am off base. Yes, this is an excellent eample of the principle of application at work in exegesis.

Quote:
Your comment--along with several others--suggests you're not working from a well informed point of view on this. Our "civil authorities" do not get to "move our form of governing from A to B," because they're bound by the law of the land to preserve the form we have and are accountable to the electorate for what they do.

I think you are missing my point. What IF the civil authorities decide to move against the constitution? What then? Do we as Christians have some sort of moral imperative to step in and turn the tide? Take up arms? Engage in civil war? I well understand the legal frame of our system, at least enough to have an intelligent discussion around it. Are you saying that federal judges never legislate from bench ignoring constiutioinal law all the while? The logical end of your argument is that Christians are "protectors" of the current system of government and as such, we have a moral responsibility to react to any threats to that system, whatever their nature. My thesis is that Scripture places no such obligation on the Christian nor the church as an institution.

Regarding the different forms of government, my point is that everything being equal, such as justice, morality, treatment, etc., should Christians support one form over another? Of course I believe that Christians must oppose governments that are brutal, unjust, immoral, and unfair in how they treat citizens. The form of that opposition must come through the public proclamation of the gospel as the church of Jesus Christ, not as a political agent. The interest of the church is the kind of change spoken of in Scripture. The church should not be interested in moralism or moralizing a society using Christian principles. We don't want men to be moral, we want them to repent and place their faith in Christ! It is clear to me that the church is neglecting her core mission and in its place she is busy entertaining, engaging in self-help nonsense, non-exclusive and non-offensive social work, and political activism.

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. III John 4

Aaron Blumer's picture

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Just a reminder: this is not about "the church." It's about Christian living in a particular kind of society, the one we live in in the US.

When civil authorities act to "change our form of government" they are acting illegally. All citizens should oppose that. Since--as you've granted--Christians are obligated to obey the laws of their country, they should oppose it more vigorously than we would expect of the general population.
(Theoretically, there is a way to legally advocate for replacing our govt. w/something fundamentally different, but the question is so off-topic. This is about life under the laws we now live under.)

Whether our current form of government is superior to others is a completely different question from that of the OP. When I'm ready to take that one on, the title will certainly not be "Should Christians Avoid Politics?" As it is, the question indicates the thesis: they should not. ...nothing about the church, nothing about the relative superiority of one system over another. These are all distractions.

I've already repeatedly acknowledged that there is no legal requirement to vote but that the design and structure of our nation essentially deputizes its citizens. We are government whether we like it or not. The law just basically says its up to us to choose to do what we ought to do. What is legally required and what is morally obligatory are distinct, though overlapping categories.
(All that said, it's perfectly fine with me if everyone in America who is poorly informed abstains from voting. If only! It's just that it would be far better to be both well informed and vote.)

It's probably obvious to most people that it would be tragic and wrong for Christians to leave all the work of governing to the unregenerate. But, since Christian ideas are not exclusive to Christians, there would still be some Christian influence in government... for a while. But to withdraw influence entirely is to say...
(a) It shouldn't matter to us what our responsibilities are as citizens in this kind of society
(b) It shouldn't matter to us what kind of society our children, grand-children and neighbors live in
(c) It shouldn't matter to us that God cares what nations do

I haven't yet seen a biblical case for that kind of attitude.

edingess's picture

I have said (ad nauseum) that your argument is invalid because the conclusion does not necessarily follow from your premise. You say we should influence. You say we should engage. You say we should engage the culture. I don't disagree that Christians should engage their culture. I wholeheartedly agree. The problem is that you insist on a very narrow "type" of engagement, i.e. a political one. That conclusion does not follow from your argument and there is little by way of exegesis that you have offered to show that it does.

You state that obeying the laws of our land demands that Christians oppose, even more vigorously than others, any attempt by civil leaders to circumvent legal change in the form of governement. I could not disagree more. Obeying the laws of the land and opposing those who don't are two separate behaviors. There is no law, to my knowledge, requiring me to vigorously oppose law-breakers. We have law enforcement and a judicial system for that work. If I take your position, then it is perfectly acceptable for Christians to behave the way they have in the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case. And I do not think it is. See http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/2012/03/trayvon-martin-george-zimmer... my blog for what I believe should be the Christian guidance around that issue.

Finally, it is about the church. It is about the American church.

Our responsibilities as Christians are to be the light He called us to be in the culture that He placed us. Our concern is not influencing government, it is not even creating a moral environment and it certainly isn't running government. We have plenty of ungodly moralist running around in the name of Christ and they live in darkness. Our concern is the eternal condition of the unregenerate. And that concern produces gospel proclamation. The church influences her respective culture and immediate community by being a faithful witness to the truth of Jesus Christ in her message, with her life, and in her praxis as a community within a community. She lives this way for all to see and hence, she is a city set on a hill, a light that cannot be hid, shinning her light in the darkness of a wicked, godless culture and a government that is governed by godless and wicked men.

It is a stinging indictment and a foolish non-sequitur for you to say that anyone who disagrees with your idea of political involvement doesn't care that God cares about nations and what they do. When a believer submits to the civil authorities, they are being responsible Christian citizens. That is all Scripture requires. When a believer prays for civil authorities, obeys them, and preaches the true gospel to them, they are showing concern for the society in which they live. And when a believer obeys God's commands regarding how they should relate to civil authorities in obedience, submission, respect and prayer, they demonstrate that God's concern for the nations is also their concern.

It is egregious legalism for you to claim that the only way Christians can be good, responsible godly citizens who care about the cutlure, the country, and the future of their grandkids is to be engaged in political activism to some degree. In so doing, you indict those who refuse to vote because they object to a godless culture and a wicked system that seems to continue to preserve American hedonism to the extreme.

The holy grail of Americanism is actually the Achilles Heel of the Church: autonomy - independence. The more we think like a true American in that sense, the less we think like a believer. The American worldview is antithetical to the Christian worldview. I blame most of the problems in the American church on American culture. The condition of the church is not the result of a lack of political involvement. It is a complete and wholesale abandonment of true pastoral responsibilities to disciple and discipline those for whom they shall give an account. Our problem is sin and that sin is mostly entering our ranks via cultural ideologies that are staunchly American in nature, top to bottom.

Satan once appeared to man as a serpent. Ever since, he has mostly appeared to us as clergy. In America, he appears to us as clergy pretending to care about all sorts of social and poitical causes but who don't preach the cross and who are too busy being politically engaged to manage the spritiual growth and sanctification of their own congregation. If you care about your grandkids at all, show them what it looks like to love Jesus with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. If God opens their eyes to the truth, it won't matter what culture they find themselves in, they will be fine.

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. III John 4

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Well, I think I'll concede that I'm missing your point. Not missing my own, though. Biggrin

Quote:
I have said (ad nauseum) that your argument is invalid because the conclusion does not necessarily follow from your premise. You say we should influence. You say we should engage. You say we should engage the culture. I don't disagree that Christians should engage their culture. I wholeheartedly agree. The problem is that you insist on a very narrow "type" of engagement, i.e. a political one. That conclusion does not follow from your argument and there is little by way of exegesis that you have offered to show that it does.

Well, it continues to look like you're not actually seeing my argument. I never said, "engage the culture," for example. That topic was simply not on the table.
Anyway, here's another summary for what it's worth.

Conclusion: Christians should not abandon politics.
Premises (yes, there are more than one):
1. Because God cares what nations do (and we should care what ours does)
2. Because our government is structured so as to make us an inherent part of it (and we should our part well)
3. (A defensive point): Prayer is not substitute for action or vice versa (so prayer is not an "out")
4. Because our involvement shapes what sort of world our neighbors and children live in (so we should act in the interests of our neighbors and offspring)

As for "little by way of exegesis," the essay supports premise 1 from Scripture. Premise two is not a biblical argument. Premises 3 and 4 both have several supporting Scriptures briefly interpreted.
In the discussion I've mentioned several other passages that fit into the overall argument in one way or another.

As far as I can tell, the actual argument of the piece is holding up pretty well. Unless I missed it, there hasn't been any biblical case here for the idea that God does not care what nations do (as a that reason we shouldn't care either). Haven't really seen a historical or political-theory argument that our government is not structured in such a way that we're all included in it. The other premises have been similarly passed by, for the most part.
Most of the counterargument has had to do with points that are not in dispute or not directly relevant, or both (like what the church's mission is, for example).

edingess's picture

1. God cares about what nations do.
2. We should care about what nations do.
3. The only way for us to care about what nations do is political activism.
4. Therefore, Christians must engage in political activism.

This is your argument. I agree with 1 and 2. But as you can see, 3 is clearly open to challenge. It is where your argument fails. If you admit that Christians can care about what nations do in ways other than being politically active, then your argument collapses entirely. And I think that case is easily made. If it was possible for Paul to care about what the nations did without being politically active, surely it is possible for us to do the same. Were there groups in the Greco-Roman world who engaged in their brand of political activism? Of course. Did these include genuine Christians or better yet, were these methods officially blessed by the Church or endorsed by the apostles? Not that I can see.

We are not part of the government. The government is one that is created of the people, by the people, and for the people. I am not part of the US government, nor are you. You are part of a country that affords you a certain level of say in who actually is part of that government. There is a big difference here. It follows that this premise, which appears to me to be a major one, one necessary in order for your argument to remain valid, fails.

Pray is not a substitute for action. Prayer IS action. Praying for the civil authorities IS action. I fail to understand why you think praying is not doing. Perhaps our theology of prayer is fundamentally different. I am consistently reformed in my views, to include my views on prayer. God accomplishes His purposes in the earth through a variety of means, prayer being one of them. According to Paul, we pray for civil authorities SO THAT we may lead a tranquil life. In other words, one means by which the believer is able to lead a tranquil life in this world is by praying for the civil authorities according to the will of God.

Premise four seems to assume or even demand a certain kind of involvement that you continue to put forward, while at the same time failing to make a sound case for why "that kind" of involvement is the only or even the best kind of involvement. You also continue to imply that there are enough of us in this nation of hedonistic narcissists to actually make a difference from a temporal perspective. I think such a position is untennable from the start.

Perhaps we should turn to your exegesis specifically and discuss your methods and conclusions so that we can once for all settle the fact that your argument has, in my humble opinion, no real exegetical support whatever to support it.

Since you are the one laying this burden on the believer and you have taken up the positive side of the debate, it is up to you to make a positive case for your assertions. If I can show that your premise is faulty, weak, or false, your argument becomes suspect, or perhaps false. Your claim is that believers are obligated to be politically involved and that Scripture, rightly understood, strongly supports this view. My counter argument is that a proper exegesis of the text does nothing, absolutely nothing, to support your argument. Therefore, the more dogmatically you hold to the view, the more dangerously close you come to holding a legalistic view of political engagement.

Since God cares about what nations do, all the nations, why is it that we as believers should not care about what ALL the nations do and engage in global politics to produce the kind of change that biblical ethics would mandate? You continue to look through the grid of Americanism in your exegesis in order to prop up your argument.

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. III John 4

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm going to have to disengage from this one and move on to other things.
Appreciate the challenges to my thinking.

Just one more observation in the interest of clarity.

Quote:
1. God cares about what nations do.
2. We should care about what nations do.
3. The only way for us to care about what nations do is political activism.
4. Therefore, Christians must engage in political activism.

"Political activism" is not a term I have used and isn't really an accurate one for what I'm talking about (though I certainly do believe some should be activists).

The word "argument" is somewhat ambiguous. There's the overall argument of the piece, then the arguments (really sub-arguments) that form that overall argument.

Your summary above is sort of close to one of my sub-arguments. In reality, it goes like this: God cares about what nations do. We should also. We should not avoid politics, thinking that what our government does is none of our concern.
(I've still omitted several premises. The argument is a http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/554926/sorites ]sorites --or a close cousin, as are the rest. Breaking them down into all their syllogisms would be pretty tedious.)

The overall argument includes 3 additional sub-arguments.

2. To a significant degree, this is indeed a government "by the people." We should not avoid politics thinking that we have no responsibilities in that realm.

3. Prayer is not a substitute for action or vice versa. We should not avoid politics on the grounds that we can pray instead.

4. This one is a bit more complex than it may seem: The moral character of a society affects everything else in it. Our involvement in the political process influences the moral character of our society. We should not avoid politics thinking there will be no important negative consequences for our neighbor and our posterity.

Those are the four subarguments of the essay. Pretty sure more arguments exist, some of them better than these.

edingess's picture

Thanks for the interaction. My final response to your closing is as follows:

By political activism, I mean actively engaging in the process by at least voting.

I still think your argument lacks cohesiveness in that the third sentence (We should not avoid politics...) is disconnected from the first two. It is quite a leap in my opinion.

The counter to your argument is not the opposite of responsibilities in the realm of government. It is specifically how you assert those responsibilities should be carried out. I say preach, pray, and obey. You say be politically active.

I have answered 3 several times. Pray is action according to Scripture. You never explained why we should view pray in a passive sense. Scripture does not view it that way, ever.

Political engagement will not affect the moral character of a culture biblically. Scripture does not instruct us to make moral men. It commands us to make disciples. What business does the church have with trying to create a bunch of moralists. Isn't this precisely what Liberal theology and now the Seeker movement have done for years now? This is exactly the problem in Christendom. We think WE can change things and so we come up with strategies to enhance the culture, make it more moral, get it to live on Christian principles, so-called. In the end, we produce a bunch moral, God-hating deists and we actually delude ourselves into thinking that we have actually accomplished something when we have likely made things worse. In the end, there simply aren't enough of us to make a difference, not really. The only hope for our culture is the power of Christ and the cross preached everywhere. If our hope is in political involvement, then we have a sorely misplaced hope.

Let us get back to the basics of Christian doctrine and praxis, to the preaching of the cross, to the authority of Scripture, to making disciples, to being the light God has called us to be. Then let us see what happens. Maybe God sends revival or maybe He sends tremendous persecution. Either way, His glory will reign.

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. III John 4

Joel Shaffer's picture

Quote:
Political engagement will not affect the moral character of a culture biblically. Scripture does not instruct us to make moral men. It commands us to make disciples. What business does the church have with trying to create a bunch of moralists. Isn't this precisely what Liberal theology and now the Seeker movement have done for years now? This is exactly the problem in Christendom. We think WE can change things and so we come up with strategies to enhance the culture, make it more moral, get it to live on Christian principles, so-called. In the end, we produce a bunch moral, God-hating deists and we actually delude ourselves into thinking that we have actually accomplished something when we have likely made things worse. In the end, there simply aren't enough of us to make a difference, not really. The only hope for our culture is the power of Christ and the cross preached everywhere. If our hope is in political involvement, then we have a sorely misplaced hope.

You know you are really preaching to the choir here on sharper iron. Over the past 5 years that I've been a poster here, what I've seen as the general consensus is that most do not put their hope in politics and as far as I can tell, are not trying to create a bunch of moralists in our nation. They would be the first to tell you that it is the gospel of Jesus that changes lives, not living by Judeo-Christian values. They would even tell you that disciple-making is what the church is called to do. Yet they see some value in taking part in the political process, not as a church but as individual Christians. I wonder if because your neck of the woods is the Bible belt, you constantly see conservative evangelical and fundamental Christians that are mixing their politics with Jesus (which leads to a distorted gospel) that you feel you have to passionately warn those who do see some value in participating in politics not to fall into the same trap as those around you........

edingess's picture

Clearly Aaron and I disagree. I wonder what you mean. The dichotomy you establish between Christians and the Church is a false one. The Church is Christians and Christians are the church.

Since very view have chimed in, I have no idea what people in SI believe. There was another who seemed to have serious disagreement with me.

The debate between Aaron and I seemed to clearly indicate that we are not on the same page. I find you post a little confusing to be honest. In addition, I don't think the problems in the church are exclusive to the bible belt. The gospel is not preached in far more churches in every region than it is. Arminian and Semi-Pelagian theology has crowded out the gospel when taken to its logical end. We are left with a life coach rather than a Savior and soteriology is far more deistic than biblical.

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. III John 4

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