Christian Politics Redux
© 10.03.08 By D. Eric Williams
Back in the late 70's and early to mid 80's I was part of a "Social Action Team" at a Spokane Washington church. Our job was to write white papers, opinion pieces, letters to the editor, initiate and back local "conservative Christian" legislation, help organize pro-life and anti pornography marches and work to elect "conservative Christian" city council members and county commissioners. It was a lot of fun. I had an OP-Ed piece or two published in the Spokesman Review along with countless letters to the editor. I also appeared on local television several times, including a televised debate/discussion with a PhD toting representative of Spokane school district 81. I used to think that I held my own in that discussion but a recent review of the tape was a painful experience. I was 20 something at the time and my arrogant and aggressive behavior did a splendid job of camouflaging any intelligence or insight I may have possessed at that stage in my life.
The goal of the Social Action Team was to usher in the kingdom of God by capturing the local political parties and reshaping them to fit our understanding of a Christian political party. A lot of time and effort were put forth to accomplish these goals but in the end it was unsuccessful. Yes, we had our triumphs here and there; zoning changes to keep purveyors of pornography at bay, a man elected to the city council, loss of business for local abortionists and so on. But in the end, very little was accomplished - all the sound and fury notwithstanding.
The reasons we achieved so little and were not able to sustain our efforts for more than a few years are a lack of foundation and an inability to recruit and train others to the task; obviously the first problem led to the second. Before anyone tries to grasp the mantle of authority, they must first accomplish the task of working out the basics of their salvation. In other words before a person takes on responsibility outside his own "house" he must have learned to imitate Christ in the fundamental issues: personal behavior, attitudes, governing his sphere of influence and so on. For instance, any man who aspires to leadership within the Church must be more than simply willing. Indeed he,
must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Tim. 3:2-7)
Now, I realize that qualifying for Church leadership and desiring to serve God beyond your primary sphere of activity are not exactly the same thing. However, the principle is the same; until you have mastered the basic obligations of Christlikeness, you have no business grasping for more responsibility. Until you understand how the kingdom is supposed to advance you have no business marching off to war. For it is in these areas of basic responsibility that we initially confirm our salvation. This is what Paul is writing about when he instructs the Philippians to "work out their salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). In other words, confirm your faith by your attitudes and behavior. Work to cultivate the new creation by putting off the old man and putting on the new. Strive to be transformed by the renewing of your mind and in expressing the law that has been written upon your heart. Labor to walk even as Jesus walked by overcoming lawlessness as defined by the objective standard of God's word. Knowing all the while that it is "God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:13 - For more on this see the newspaper article, Some Assembly Required).
A man who confirms his faith by being above reproach, a husband of one wife, sober-minded, self controlled and so on is qualified to take on more responsibility within the Church. Likewise, a man who has cultivated the new creation as it pertains to his fundamental duties is ready to tackle other tasks beyond the basics such as civil leadership - but not before.
Thus, the first step in reforming the political process is to disciple men in the ways of the kingdom. Believers must be taught the whole counsel of God and be held accountable for their behavior. They must learn to govern their own house. They must be willing to slog away at the task of working out their salvation over the course of years before they attempt to govern others. Really this is just common sense. However, too few Christians are willing to apply themselves to the task. Additionally, too few Christians understand that this world will change by the power of the Gospel not through the political process. Thus, they dismiss the need for personal piety, evangelism and the duty to bring their sphere of influence under the authority of Christ. Instead they look to the legislative process as a means of societal change.
Nonetheless, once a man has mastered his foundational responsibilities he is ready to conquer new territory. This should first take place on the local level rather than the national stage. In other words the mature Christian man should get to work at the precinct level: first as a "grunt" but with an eye toward becoming the precinct chairman if he is equipped for the task. If he aspires to political office, he should begin with a run for the city counsel, county commissioner or county sheriff. After that - assuming he continues to recognize Christ's authority as he adds to his realm of responsibility - he is ready to move to the state level: representative, senator and governor. In other words, like anything else in life the path to political influence is traversed one step at a time. Moreover, a man may only continue down that path if he is successful in maintaining a righteous walk.
Meanwhile the local political machine (manned by kingdom world-view Christians), should continue to function and expand its reach and influence. At the same time the Church must be teaching men who have been called to the ministry of civil government ( Rom. 13:4 and so on), concerning the "proper behavior" of civil servants (1 Sam. 10:25). Obviously this is a long term project. The work and time requirements are daunting; are you willing to take the first step?