On May 7, 2008, a group of evangelicals issued an Evangelical Manifesto. Now, I have not had the opportunity to completely digest the manifesto–it is a 20-page PDF document that I will need to print it, devour it (using pencils and making notes), and then digest it. A recent article on the Associated Baptist Press site gives some clues to the Manifesto and its general points. Here are some excerpts from the ABP article:
The Associated Press, which attained a draft of the statement in advance of the announcement, reported May 2 that the manifesto is “starkly self-critical” of the evangelical movement for focusing on secular politics to the detriment of the gospel proclamation that is at the core of evangelicalism.
It criticizes evangelicals at both ends of the political spectrum for getting so heavily involved in fighting over culture-war issues — such as abortion rights and gay rights — that they have earned evangelicals the reputation of being little more than a political special-interest group. The document is clearly aimed at the most politically active evangelical conservatives, however.
This is an issue I have been interested in for quite some time. I have been worried about such issues clouding the Gospel and slowing the work of the church.
First, some background: Theological Liberals went off the deep-end into the so-called “social gospel.” The social gospel seeks to correct social injustices like racism, economic inequalities, and all types of oppression. Unfortunately (and un-biblicaly), there is no “Gospel” in the social gospel. So, to correct the evil of racism, for example, is a worthy pursuit, but it is not salvific; it is not the gospel.
Is racism, for example, evil? Yes. Should we all work to end racism? Absolutely! Racism, however, is not the problem–it is a symptom of the problem and that problem is Sin.
As the ABP article points out, evangelicals have long been involved in fighting the so-called “culture war” over issues such as abortion and gay rights. While it is easy to see the ABP article is not particularly friendly to the conservative evangelicals, it does present an interesting perception of politically-active evangelicals. And, I’m sorry to say, I think their perception is right.
There are persons and groups in the evangelical community who have been called by God, I believe, to engage the culture, understand the “war,” and call the rest of us (Christians) to action. Men like James Dobson come to mind. His passion is the family and his work has been exemplary. But Dobson’s work, as necessary and as important as it is, is not the mission of the Church. The Church is called to “Make Disciples,” not save the culture.
Conservative evangelicals are, perhaps, standing on the precipice leading to the slippery slope of theological liberalism and, I’m afraid, some of us are inching ever closer.
Now, I do not think conservative evangelicals will reject the virgin birth of Christ or miracles or a historical Moses. But, conservative evangelicals do run the risk of having the wonderful truths of God and neglecting the Gospel. This will lead us to see political action as the true gospel, which is, of course, actually a false gospel.
There are many “dangers, toils, and snares” in this issue. First, political action, even if it leads to laws against sinful behavior, does not deal with the main problem of sin. In this sense political action is absolutely superficial because it does not deal with the root-cause of the problem–Sin. As we know, a law does not, in any way, guarantee acceptance or adherence–just look at the speed limit or so-called gun control laws.
But, even if passing a law guaranteed adherence, what good would that do? Do we believe in a works salvation? Certainly not! Even if you outlaw a sinful behavior and actually get sinners to stop doing the behavior, it gains us, and more importantly them, nothing, for it does not deal with their heart issue–the issue of their sin nature.
Political action does not equal evangelism because political action does not engage individuals with the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is about people, not parliaments. The Great Commission is about people, not political systems. The power of the Gospel is what changes hearts and without a change of heart (which is only accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit) any change of action is useless–because it does not deal with the problem of sin. Worse yet, adherence to laws may give non-Christians the false and spiritually-deadly impression that they are heaven-bound because of what they do or don’t do.
Second, the church is called, by God, to police the church, not the world. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 says:
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
In this letter, Paul is addressing a situation of gross immorality in the Corinthian church. He makes it a point to tell the Corinthian Christians that God will judge the world but it is up to us (Christians) to judge those inside the church (that is, the local church where we are members).
As evangelicals, we must concern ourself with the purity of our churches. Many well-meaning (but dead-wrong) evangelicals think that America is the new Israel. I’ve heard many pastors relate the responsibilities of Israel to America. At one point, I heard a preacher, while preaching through passages in Judges, rant and rave about the state of Israel and the current state of America.
America is not Israel. If there is a correlation between the Nation of Israel in the Old Testament and any group today, the correlation must be made to the Church. While Israel and the Church are somewhat different, they are certainly heirs of the same promises.
The problem we have, now, is that the church is barely distinguishable from the world, if at all. This is a huge problem, scripturally speaking. As evangelicals, we must first concern ourselves with reforming and purifying our churches and our people before we worry about cleaning up the world.
Third, the idea the “government” is responsible to solve the issues of the people is nothing more than Marxism. Today’s Political Liberals act in such a way as to show what they think: Government must solve all problems. Just look at Sen. Obama’s recent comments:
“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not.
“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” (From foxnews.com; read the article here)
It is clear that Obama, a political and theological liberal, thinks that Government is the solution. Religion is only to be clung to when the chief-religion of the government has failed to supply the people their opiate. This is Marxist thinking–the State is the object of religious devotion.
Evangelicalism must not go down this road or, for the sake of our own superficiality and our own expediency, we will lose everything we are called to be.
So, what should we understand about the intersection of Evangelicalism and Politics?
(1) The Gospel is about God’s work in Christ to save individual sinners. Since this is the case, conservative, Bible-believing, Bible-living evangelicals must care more about engaging individuals with the claims of the Gospel and of Christ than passing laws compelling adherence to biblical standards.
(2) The Gospel is about God changing the heart of individuals to desire to serve and please Him. We cannot do this (only God can) and we must not try to substitute adherence in outward actions only for true heart change.
(3) It is important for Christians and churches engage in social action. But, it must be realized that social action is to be done because of the gospel (as a means of common grace and to have an opportunity to share the gospel). Social action is not, has not been, and will never be a substitute for the Gospel.
(4) Evangelical churches must pursue the purity of the local church and purity of the people in the local church. We must make disciples and, in doing so, when necessary, we must engage in restorative church discipline (see Matthew 18:15-20).
(5) Evangelicals must keep their eyes on the things of God. In doing so, evangelicals will realize that a pure local church with pure people rightly bearing the name of Christ is a far more important prize than a dead, hell-bound nation with “good” laws and forced adherence. After all, we want our church members to be part of the “every tongue, tribe, and nation” of Revelation, not just “America” or another earthly nation.
(6) It is much more important to engage in personal evangelism than it is to engage in political action.
(7) As Christians who are also Americans, we must vote in such a way as to properly reflect our Faith. So, when it comes to things God condemns (like Abortion, Gay Marriage, Racism, etc) we must use our vote to fight against these things. Similarly, we must always stand up for and fight for our place in the “free market place of ideas” in the public square.
When you think about it, laws rarely, if ever, change the hearts of people. Usually, all a law does is inspire a half-hearted response of almost-conformity while still bucking against the law itself. On the other hand, history shows good examples of people with changed hearts working in such a way as to correct social injustices because of their changed hearts (William Wilberforce comes to mind).
It is much more important that our people not want to engage in sinful things like Gambling or Homosexuality, than to legislate laws forbidding the actions but neglecting the heart. If the people of our churches were properly discipled in the first place, no casino would long stay in business and abortion doctors would need to find extra work to put food on the table. Our problems are of our own making in this regard and discipleship, not political action, is the solution. Rightly engaging the culture requires Christians engaging the people of the culture with the Gospel and having God, through the Gospel, bring people to Himself.
So then, as evangelicals, we must dedicate ourselves to the local church and her people being everything that Christ has called (and died for) her to be. When we get that right–when are churches are more pure, when our people are more Christ-like, when our people live lives dedicated to the glory of God–then we will have an army of heart-changed people willing to sacrifice their lives to share the Gospel with the people of our nation. That will so change the face of our nation that we will not need to seek political means to change the actions of the people.
May God grant us the grace to share the Gospel as the primary means of engaging our culture and may He grant us the grace and strength to stand up (even in political arenas) for what is right according to Him and His word.