As evangelicals, we avoid the old “social gospel” like the plague, as well we should. The social gospel is what the Apostle Paul would call, “another gospel which is not another,” (Galatians 1:6) for it confuses the good news that Christ came to die for our sins with the idea that Jesus came to make the world a better place to live.
But as people who take the Bible’s commands seriously, we also feel a strong obligation to be salt (a good influence on our surroundings) as well as light (a provider of life-giving revelation from God). Both are mentioned together by Jesus in Matthew 5:13-16.
The late, great Christian philosopher Frances Schaeffer decried what he called, The Great Evangelical Disaster, in which American Bible-believing Christians dropped out of the larger society in the interest of sticking to the preaching of the gospel. In short, we over-reacted to the social gospel and chose light-bearing exclusively over salt-infusing.
Again, as people who take the Scriptures seriously, we do have some strong ideas about what governments should and should not do and how love should compel us to seek to influence our governments for the good of the governed.
But oh how we struggle, century after century, with getting this right!
Our challenge is to somehow involve ourselves in influencing our world – including the shape of our governments – for all the right reasons, without muddying our wonderful message with the grime of politics as usual. I see the following three dangers in mixing politics and religion:
- Most importantly, as with the social gospel fiasco, mixing politics with religion can lead us to neglect or forget the true mission of Christ: coming to seek and to save the lost through His substitutionary death.
A recent Christian book maintained that when non-Christians improve the larger society they are helping Jesus build the Kingdom of God. Wrong. By building the church, Jesus is building the Kingdom of God. The church is built on Christ, not on social justice.
- When evangelicals ally themselves with political figures and movements, those individuals and movements often win and the church always loses. The applause of this world is always a heady brew for those of us who are used to mockery and disdain. Generation after generation, Christian leaders are seduced into appearing on stage with political figures who profess the faith, only to be embarrassed when the true colors of the politician are exposed.
- Just as importantly, when evangelical Christians ally themselves with political figures, movements and parties, non-Christians of differing political persuasions are confused.
Some assume that church leaders agree with all the viewpoints of the political figure. Others assume that church leaders approve of the often sordid lifestyles of these political figures. They associate our wondrous gospel and our awesome God with political leaders they despise. They are offended by us, not because of our gospel – which is the only reason they should be offended by us – but because of our political bedfellows. This is tragic.
Even believers end up confused, thinking that politicians who have adopted Christian positions on the issues must have therefore become Christians.
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