Many of you have asked me what I think of the recent Chick-fil-A controversy. I usually stay away from whatever is trending and buzzing. I’m a shepherd and a Bible teacher rather than a trender and a buzzer. Since you asked, here is my perspective on the Christian and political involvement in light of the recent history of the American church:
Books and sermons on a Christian’s relationship to government often fail to distinguish between political power and cultural influence. The primary passages on this subject (Matt. 5:13–16, Rom.13:1–7, 1 Tim. 2:1–4, 1 Peter 2:13–16) clearly teach us that our role is to use whatever position we have to influence society toward righteousness as we submit to governmental authority.
Biblically, influence and power are not the same. The influence is ours, but the power is God’s. Historically, when Christians confuse the two, we lose both.
Confusing influence and power diverts our energies from the only true hope for any society: the transforming power of new life in Christ. The Bible says we’re new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), endowed with power from on high (Acts 1:8) to live a life distinguished by God’s presence in us (John 14:20).
Where we choose to invest our time and resources depends largely on where we think the solution is. As more and more of us decided that the solution was in political power, it changed our priorities.
We know Christ commands us to influence our culture. And we know that one of the primary ways we do this as Americans is by voting. But, these are the questions that bother me most when I think of all the time and energy Christians have poured into the pursuit of political power in the decades since I first trusted in Christ:
- America hasn’t become more righteous; it’s become more decadent. What would have happened if we had devoted more effort to equipping Christians to get out and tell others about Christ and less to equipping people to get out the vote?
- Families aren’t getting healthier; they’re falling apart. How do you think the families of our country would be different if we had been more passionate about transforming families in the way Christ values—through the hard work of disciple-making in the context of authentic spiritual communities and less obsessive about entrenching the family-value message in Washington DC, or boycotting certain businesses, or eating at a particular restaurant?
- The church doesn’t have more impact; its influence is almost negligible. What if Christians had spent more time studying their Bibles and praying for their neighborhoods, communities, states, and nation, and less time glued to conservative talk radio and cable news while worrying about exit polls and economic trends?
Confusing influence and power also deflects our focus from the final destination of human beings—either with Jesus forever in heaven or estranged from God forever in hell. The Bible says we’re ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) representing Him as strangers and pilgrims (Heb. 11:13). Our earthly citizenship is only temporary because we’re citizens of a better, heavenly country (Heb. 11:16). Our true identity is in Christ and our true citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).
We said we were standing for righteousness. And we made our stand through our vote. But these are some more questions that bother me when I think of the way Christians have viewed their world through the political prism since the Jesus Movement revival:
- What happens when the judges have all been appointed and the lawsuits have ended? Only faith in Christ can change a life on the inside.
- When the schools have all been reoriented and the curricula have been sensitized to God’s eternal truth, what then? Classrooms will still be full of rebellious hearts. Only God’s Spirit can internalize the Word of God.
- What happens when the wars have been fought, the soldiers have come home, and the suffering is over? Jesus Himself told us that peace couldn’t last. Only in His kingdom will the world know lasting peace.
- When the votes have all been counted and even if our side wins, what then? Each and every man and woman, boy and girl who has lived in the most righteous nation in history yet has not heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ will, when they die, slip into the darkness of a godless eternity.
I agree with C. S. Lewis who said, “A sick society must think about politics, as a sick man must think about his digestion.” And I agree with Christian leaders who tell Christians to think about politics in our sick society.
I just think we’ve been thinking about politics too much. It’s time to think a little less about our power to make a difference in this world and a lot more about our influence to make a difference in the world to come.
While our confusion with influence and power dissipated our energy and focus, it also distilled our message. But not in a good way.
Tomorrow I’ll write about our political messages from the perspective of those listening who do not yet belong to Christ.