Government has long been viewed as a tool to accomplish lasting change in society. As the 2016 election approaches, many Americans are anxious about who our next president will be. This anxiety is even common among evangelicals who see the use of government power as a tool to fight secularism and make America Christian again. Others view election and politics as an instrument to create a society that reflects their worldview and system of ethics.
This view of government makes sense outside of a Christian worldview. The world’s outlook on life ignores eternity and places all of its stock in the temporal. People have one life to live and the government plays a major role in creating a utopian society that reflects their ethics. But the Christian’s outlook should be radically different since our lives are lived with eternity in mind. We’re “sojourners and exiles” who “have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 13:14). We await restoration — the return of Jesus when everything wrong will be made right.
I’m not calling for political apathy. I think that is irresponsible. Christians desperately need a biblical view of government and a just society. Instead, I’m calling for believers to cast their anxieties about the immorality of society on Jesus and be on mission in their neighborhoods and cities.
Ministry of Force
This usage of government as leverage to change society is mostly ineffective. Nancy Pearcey explains:
In recent decades many Christians have responded to the moral and social decline in American society by embracing political activism. Believers are running for office in growing numbers; churches are organizing voter registration; public policy groups are proliferating; scores of Christian publications and radio programs offer commentary on public affairs. This heightened activism has yielded good results in many areas of public life, yet the impact remains far less than most had hoped. Why? Because evangelicals often put all their eggs in one basket: They leaped into political activism as the quickest, surest way to make a difference in the public arena — failing to realize that politics tends to reflect culture, not the other way around. (Total Truth, 18)
Pearcey reveals an insightful truth: The political climate of the day is only a reflection of the culture. The government didn’t make America a homosexual-celebrating, baby-killing machine — it adapted to reflect the people’s desires.
Politics as a means of creating lasting change is unreliable. The government uses force as a means of carrying out social change. This use of force can be effective and is biblically ordained (Romans 13:1–7). But its success is limited and, if taken too far, inevitably creates a society of whitewashed tombs and underground sin. In the past, this approach gave some Christians the false comfort that we live in a morally upright nation, despite years of overt habitual injustice towards ethnicities that were not white.
The government doesn’t stand on a consistent ethical foundation. If we agree that politics reflects the society, the state’s ethical pendulum will continue to swing back and forth based on whom the people elect to power. Prior to 1962, sodomy was a felony in every state, but today it’s legal in every state. This reality exposes a radical shift in America’s ethics. In just over a generation, our government has enforced two extremely different and radical laws. Christians can’t depend on government if we want to see true change in our society. History has proven that the same monster created to work for us will easily be used to work against us.
Ministry of Persuasion
As we engage in political discourse and public policy, we must remember that political activism can only accomplish so much. Our hope is not in government to change our nation, but in the proclamation of the good news through churches and Christian families. God’s chosen instrument to change immoral America is not government or politics, but Christians on mission. It’s not government and its laws, but Christians and our love. The government is a ministry of force, but Christianity is a ministry of persuasion (2 Corinthians 5:11; Acts 18:4).
Again, Pearcey writes,
[Abraham] Kuyper argues that secularism is a comprehensive worldview and that Christians will not be able to counter it unless they develop an equally comprehensive biblical worldview. He bases the call to worldview thinking on the Calvinist emphasis on God’s sovereignty, which implies that the Lordship of Christ is meant to extend over all aspects of society — politics, science, the arts, and so on. This is not a theocratic vision, for the task is not to be accomplished by ecclesiastical control (that was the mistake of the Middle Ages) but rather by persuasion. (452)
The Lordship of Christ over all things means that our worldview should not be checked at the door when we engage culture. We’re on a mission to engage and persuade others with the good news — which will provide a fuller understanding of the meaning of life. The gospel narrative from beginning to end can be divided into four sections — creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. This narrative answers basic worldview questions:
What is ultimate reality?
Where did man come from?
What is our purpose?
What went wrong?
How can it be made right?
What should we look forward to?
The answers to these questions according to the Scriptures will radically shape our view of art, politics, science, vocation, economics, justice, and much more. Why? This narrative exposes the real problem and offers an authentic solution. It exposes sin and Satan, reminding us “we wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). Only the full counsel of God can deliver real change to a sin-sick society.
When we wake up each morning, we should have our minds on the mission. We have three jobs: proclaim the good news, view all of life through this news, and live out the implications of our message. Proclaiming the gospel is uncomfortable. Wearing gospel lenses requires meticulous thinking. Living out the implications of the gospel is demanding. But we’re called to believe, see, and do hard things, resourced by God’s lavish supply of grace.
We want to lovingly persuade our unbelieving neighbors, not with Facebook comments or tweets, but with the authentic gospel spoken in love and made evident by our lifestyle.