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A Word Concerning the Political Christian

open-air-preachingIn MacArthur’s commentary on Titus, we find a complex tirade of sorts against the political Christian who involves himself or herself in an attempt to effect culture in America by getting involved in the affairs of the community. I do not propose to represent all of MacArthur’s thinking on this score in one small quote, the discussion is long and complicated, but this quote reflects a lot a comments that I read from Christians on social media and it is this attitude that I wish to address here… basically suggesting that political involvement is a compromise of the Christian mission to preach the gospel.

A brief cut from MacArthur’s book goes:

We must repudiate our confused loyalties and concerns for the passing world and put aside our misguided efforts to change culture externally. To allow our thoughts, plans, time, money, and energy to be spent trying to make a superficially Christian America, or to put a veneer of morality over the world, is to distort the gospel, misconstrue our divine calling, and squander our God-given resources… We are to change society, but by faithfully proclaiming the gospel, which changes lives on the inside… We must not be so engulfed in trying to force social behavior to conform to our standards that we become enemies of those our Lord has called us to win to Himself. We must reject sin and never compromise God’s standards of righteousness. But we also must never engage in defamation and denigration of the lost sinners who make up our corrupt culture. When Christians become political, sinners become the enemy instead of the mission field.[1]

Now there is much to discuss in this statement. He makes some good points, but also seems to misunderstand a good deal about the Christian’s relationship to the whole of Scripture and not merely his or her relationship to his seemingly narrow perception of what it means to “preach the gospel.”

Should we be careful not to confuse external morality with internal repentance and faith? Yes, we should.

Should we be careful not to confuse America (or Israel) with the Kingdom of God? Yes, we should.

Should we remember that the truest hope for this world is the return of Jesus Christ and not the election of a particular party to office? Indeed, we should.

Should we preach the gospel to bring about change from within? Yes, we should.

Should we recognize that the lost are not an obstacle to our purpose in this world, but rather that they ARE OUR PURPOSE? Absolutely.

Should the Christian, therefore, forsake involvement in the community, loyalty to the community, efforts to shape the community in favor of only “preaching the gospel?” NOT SO FAST. There is more to the preaching of and receiving of the gospel than “preaching the gospel” and “praying a prayer of salvation.”

Should the Christian abandon politics? NOT ON YOUR LIFE!

Politics, properly defined, cuts to the core of a vast portion of Biblical Theology as developed in the whole of Scripture and not merely in Titus, the gospels, and the New Testament. Israel was a nation, with laws, government, and a global mission that, not only permitted, but demanded political involvement, cultural shaping, and the proclamation and enforcement of moral & ethical standards.

When MacArthur says, “we…must never engage in defamation and denigration of the lost sinners who make up our corrupt culture,” we must also consider the proclamations of the prophets to the lost sheep of Israel, both Jesus’ and Paul’s proclamations to the lost Pharisees and rulers of both Israel and Gentiles.

Isaiah 26:10  But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.

Did they “defame” or “denigrate” these folks? If I were to make a list of the things said about or to the wicked of the world throughout Scripture, I would be hard pressed to define “defame” and “denigrate” differently.

Pro 25:26  Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.

Matthew 7:6  “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Matthew 23:33  You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Were these words spoken about Christians? No, but to and about the lost.

We are called to be the salt of the earth, a light set upon a hill (Matthew 5:13ff). This involves more than hiding in the bushes while the community crumbles into deepest darkness, hoping to merely pick off a few stragglers for Jesus, when those stragglers have gotten their fill of deepest corruption of body and soul.

The Torah, (all of it) when proclaimed, prepares the soil of the human heart for the seed of the gospel. The gospel takes root best in Torah rich souls. Until a person sees themselves as a sinner, a law breaker, a soul in need of salvation, there is no place for repentance, no capacity for hearing the gospel.

It is hard to walk the razor’s edge between hating the sin and loving the sinner, but that is little excuse for imagining that we should leave the world to its own devices, to grow darker and darker or to continue in unabated darkness until we perform some narrowly conceived job of “preaching the gospel.”

Scripture calls us to preserve justice in society… this is political; it involves judging the wicked for their wickedness… government. The first commandment to man is to punish murderers with death… this is political; it involves courts and trials and executioners…government. We are called to defend the widow and orphan… social action. We are called to force thieves to make restitution, and to hold rapists accountable for their actions… government. We are called to preach wisdom to society.

The son of David had a job to perform in the community, which included saved and unsaved souls. Isaiah 11:2-4, describes it quite politically, “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

It would be the height of neglect for Christians to check out of society in order to let the community rot, while we isolate ourselves to “preaching the gospel.” The Scriptures from first to last care about the condition of the community, care about the lives that all people live, even before they are “saved.” Shame on us, when we cease to do our best to save people from the consequences of folly, even before they accept the gospel.

Indeed, not only are those who have long heard the moral standards of God’s word better prepared to confront the gospel, the work of discipleship, after the unsaved have embraced it, is easier, the height attainable greater, human happiness richer, when they have been preserved from the sordid depths to which a life can sink when one’s very culture is devoid of Torah, when one’s heart plunges unchallenged into its own dark pools.

Should the Christian be political, caring about and getting involved in the life of his or her community? Absolutely. The Christian should be involved in the complete work of the Kingdom of God (drawn from the whole of Scripture) and not merely dedicated to some narrowly conceived work of “preaching the gospel.”

Soon, I want to reflect on the anti-political sentiment in light of Christian History

[1] John MacArthur Titus pg. 138

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