Anyone who has read this blog would know that I have a lot to say about politics. But I don’t believe I have expressed many political opinions here. I have tried to be a-political and may even appear to be anti-political.
This is because I believe that somehow we have confused our Christianity with politics. And I believe that we the church in America have compromised our witness and our mission by doing so. Let me illustrate.
A number of years ago, when I was pastoring, a woman from our church came to me with a complaint about something that was going on in town. I honestly can’t remember what it was, but it was something that struck her as a terrible evil; some blasphemous movie or something like that. She wanted to organize a group to picket. I told her that if she felt that’s what the Lord wanted her to do, she should go ahead.
“Nonono!” she said, “this is something the church should do.” I tried to explain to her that I didn’t think the church as the church should be involved, but that she was perfectly free to do so herself and to talk to anyone else about being involved.
“But isn’t that the church’s task – to fight sin?” she asked. My reply was, “No, the church’s task is not to fight sin, but to rescue sinners.” She left in a huff and I don’t think I ever saw her again.
Did I get it wrong? I don’t think so! I don’t see the New Testament church “fighting sin,” at least in this way.
It’s not that the New Testament doesn’t have a lot to say about sin. It does. There are lists of sins and vices throughout, and strong exhortations regarding sin. However, these passages generally fall into three categories.
First, there are the passages that tell of the sins of the world “out there”; passages that clearly show that mankind is fallen, lost and in need of Christ. These passages are not given as a club to use to put people down, but to show them that they are sinners in need of a Savior. They are there to show people their need. Romans 1:18-3:20 is probably the longest. It shows that “all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is immediately followed by God’s remedy for sin in the work of Christ.
Second are the passages much like those above, but these are given to show the Christian what he has been rescued from, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is one such passage. It lists a number of vices and then tells the readers “ … such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.” We’ve been rescued from this, Paul tells his readers and, in a sense tells them,” … now live like it.”
The third group of passages speaks of dealing with sin in the church. “If your brother sins” says Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17, this is how to deal with him. Paul tells his readers how to deal with a sinning brother and why. It’s to maintain a pure church and to restore the brother (1 Corinthians 5:1-8; Galatians 6:1, 2).
I see very little, if anything in the New Testament about “fighting sin,” except in the life of the believer and the church. Yet that seems to be a major concern of much of our preaching and political action.
Am I saying we are not to speak out about present day evils “out there”? No I’m not. I believe we are to speak out, for the above three reasons and also as part of our duty as citizens of a representative democracy. If we are members of that “government of the people, by the people and for the people” then we are obligated.
But we are told that “ … our citizenship (Greek: politeuma) is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). We have a dual citizenship. Our first responsibility is as citizens of Heaven, not as citizens of America. We can claim our citizenship in America, as Paul did his citizenship of Rome (Acts 16:35-38; 22:25-28), but even here we should remember that our primary responsibility is to (literally) “ … conduct ourselves as citizens (Greek: politeuomai) in a manner worthy of gospel of Christ … ” (Philippians l:27).
The danger is when we confuse our responsibility as citizens of Heaven with our responsibility as citizens of America; when we confuse the church with America; when we see sinners as enemies of the state rather than as people in need of a Savior; when we seek political solutions first, rather than cleaning up our own act.
There are sins and evils in this nation that need to be dealt with. But while I believe we can do many things to limit their effects, we will not see them eradicated before the second coming.
And by politicizing these sins we may be cutting off our opportunities to point people to the Savior.