Friday, April 6, 2012

Frank Turek and Politics: Do Christians have to get involved in politics.

According to the Christian Post, Frank Turek told First Baptist Church of Charlotte, N.C. that unless they get involved in politics they won’t be able to preach the gospel. I empathize with Turek’s concern about the loss of religious freedom in America. There is no doubt that these freedoms are being pushed back ever so slightly with each passing week. However, Turek’s statement makes the preaching of the gospel dependent on an increasingly secular and godless government rather than on God. This has to be one of the most eccentric statements I have ever read from a Christian apologist, not to mention, manipulative and soundly unbiblical.

We are quite fortunate to have the witness of the NT revelation to help us understand how Christians should relate to their government, and to politics for that matter. We have specific instructions regarding the issue as well as some fine examples given to us by the first century church and the apostles of our Lord. The objective of this blog is to examine Turek’s remarks to determine if Scripture provides the kind of support that such a dogmatic statement merits.
The first passage that informs believers on the subject is Romans 13:1-7. In this text, Paul instructs the Roman believers to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Paul places no conditions on this subjection. In other words, our personal endorsement is not a prerequisite for an obligation to subjection to exist. Of course subjection to man is always overruled when that subjection contradicts subjection to God.

In addition, there is nothing in the text to indicate that Paul considered it appropriate, wise, or right for the Christian to manipulate the governing authorities toward a Christian worldview outside the normal role of evangelism for purposes of personal salvation. On the other hand, there are no prohibitions against it appearing in this text either. However, I remind the reader that this blog is dealing with Turek’s dogmatic assertion that Christians should be politically engaged if they want to be able to continue to preach the gospel. I have not indicated that I will be making a case against Christians being involved in politics, although I do have questions about that involvement, especially when it begins to crowd out the preaching of the gospel, which is the core mission of the church. In other words, when evangelical pastors spend more time pushing through a piece of legislation than they do shepherding their flock, I have to wonder if that is the true calling of the shepherd. I have no choice but to question that behavior. I am not drawing a conclusion in this blog. What I am doing is asking you to give the matter serious thought and examine Scripture as far removed from the 21st Century as you can and make up your own mind. The first point here is that Paul provides explicit instructions on church-government relations. We need to understand and appropriate them to our lives top to bottom.
The principle of Proverbs 8:15 comes to mind when I think about Christians attempting to shape the leadership of secular government. “By Me kings reign, And rulers decree justice.” God, not the church or the influential pastor, evangelist, or apologist is in charge of establishing leaders of nations. Paul repeats these very same instructions to Titus, commanding him to remind the church to be subject to the rulers, and to authorities. (Titus 3:1) To some, Paul apparently did not go quite far enough. He should have instructed Titus on political strategy, but he did not. His only strategy was to instruct Titus and the Roman church to live a life that did as much to support the gospel message as preaching it did.

Daniel provides us with sobering insight into the question of establishing governments. “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and He establishes kings; He gives wisdom to the wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.” (Dan. 2:21) Clearly God is the one who is maneuvering leaders to the lot He ordained for them, in the countries of the earth from the least of them to the greatest. Does this mean I believe we take a fatalistic approach to politics and socio-cultural issues? Not at all. While I deny that passivity is the right behavior, I certainly challenge the modern American Christian who seems to have the strongest tendency to baptize just about every Christian principle he/she can get his hands on in Americanism. The biggest problem with American evangelicals is that we are American Christians rather than Christian Americans. We have the greatest degree of difficulty separating our faith from our ethnicity as Americans. It is this issue that leads good men like Frank Turek to unwittingly place a burden on the backs of Christians that Scripture and God do not. This ideology leads to the view that it is a sin “not to vote.” Others claim that it may not be a sin, but it certainly is irresponsible. Still others say that a good Christian is a good citizen and a good citizen votes. Some will even say that you damage your Christian testimony by not voting. I vote every chance I get. But I do not engage in the legalistic absurdity of turning the right to vote into a biblical command. This is what happens when you are trained to be American first and Christian second. A good, responsible Christian citizen is busy giving his culture the gospel in whatever way God has called him to do it. It may be pastoring, teaching, street evangelism, one on one, or going door to door. The silliness of this may be observed in the number of “Christians” who vote and who do not share the gospel with a single person over the course of an entire election cycle. Worse, some of these same people will cast stones at a person for not voting and engage in illicit divorce, fornication, lying, slander, and a host of other behaviors that actually are clearly condemned in Scripture. Daniel tells us that God is in charge who setting up kings.
Paul tells Timothy that prayers and supplications should be made for kings and all who are in authority. Why? So that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness. (1 Tim. 2:1-2) Paul shared Turek’s concerns about Christians being able to lead a quiet and tranquil life. But Paul’s way of addressing the issue and Turek’s are fundamentally different. Paul called for prayer. Turek calls for political activism. Paul points to faith in God as the means by which we will live in tranquility and stands ready to accept the opposite should God so will it. Turek threatens the unsuspecting and uninformed that if they are not in the voting booth, their Bibles will be gathered up and burned in mass. I admit this is a scary scenario. I readily understand that religious freedom, to be specific, genuine Christian freedoms, are in serious jeopardy. But were they not also threatened in Paul’s day? Of course they were. Did the apostles set up political rallies designed to theocratize the Greco-Roman government? It seems not.

Peter was not silent regarding the Christian’s relationship to secular authorities any more than Paul was. He wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” (1 Peter 2:13-15) Could Peter’s instructions have been more unambiguous? I don’t see how. Peter says that it is for the sake of Christ that we must submit ourselves to human institutions. He looks to the Christian group and its reputation in the culture. He hopes to demonstrate with action, with living, that what the group preaches is genuine. Part of that is proof is witnessed by the fact that the church was not to be viewed as a group of insurrectionists going against the authority for the sake of independence. Where it is possible, the church is to live at peace with civil institutions. It is only during times of contradiction that the church must cut against the grain. When the civil authority says to the church, you may not preach that gospel or you must not discriminate based on any human behavior, to include sexual behavior, then the church has no choice but to say she must obey God rather than man.
Where does Scripture instruct the Church to engage in establishing laws which unregenerate men must agree with and obey or suffer the consequences? It is true that the moral codes of human civil institutions have in back of them the fingerprint of the Divine. God’s moral law is etched in the conscience of humans. We have a proclivity for order, justice, and fairness. Only the Christian worldview can adequately account for this fact. But that is not the same thing as saying that it is the business of the Society of Christ to stand in authority over the unbeliever. Outward compliance to the law of God is self-righteousness. At best, the Church would create a society of self-righteous moralists who are no better off than Sodom or the Nazis. Is that the aim of the church? Is that the mission Jesus gave to the body?

Is Frank Turek’s statement true? Must Christians continue to be engaged in politics if they are to continue to be able to preach the gospel? Well, maybe yes and maybe no. If you mean that Christians must continue to be engaged in politics in order to preserve our freedom to preach the gospel, that answer might be yes. If that is your view, then it is better to be safe than sorry. However, it is my view, and I think Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ did not come to bring about political and social reform. The first century church knew nothing of political engagement. Even when the church was forbidden to preach Jesus Christ under punishment of threat and even death, still without waver, she continued to preach the gospel. There are no human laws powerful enough to stop the mouths of the prophets. There never has been and there never will be. God has promised that this word will continue to go out to the ends of the earth and then the end of time will come.
What the church must become comfortable with, and once against acquainted with is persecution. Persecution is to the church what workouts are to the human body. It serves to make her stronger, more faithful, focused, and more deliberate. But it seems to me that somehow, in America, the modern church, the visible church postulates that the secular government should be hers to shape and form in whatever way she pleases. What Turek’s view reveals is a desperate church fearing persecution at the hands of ungodly men. But the church, the Church has always been the object of persecution from ungodly men who despise the true God of Scripture. I would argue that we should not be surprised when a God-hating culture passes legislation that is not only inconsistent with but antithetical to biblical values. How then should the Church respond? With political activism? Not from what I read in Scripture. The Church should respond by preaching the gospel of repentance and faith in the only Son of God who died so that undeserving men might know the life and light that is in God.

One final thought regarding Christian politics, if there is such a thing. Jesus Christ Himself lived among a culture in Palestine that was one of the most moral cultures a person could find themself in. These religious zealots were extraordinarily passionate about God’s rules and laws. They kept parts of the Law to a degree that most of us are incapable of understanding. Yet, in the midst of this culture, Jesus called the most moral men from that culture, the leaders, the holiest of the holiest, vipers, wolves, liars, and self-righteous hypocrites. We are deluding ourselves if we think we are accomplishing anything by engaging in political activism because at best, it only creates the illusion of a changed life. The heart-change necessary for genuine, lasting change can only occur by the hand of God. And God was clear when He said in Scripture that He changing the heart by the foolishness of preaching! To Frank Turek and First Baptist Church of Charlotte, I would say, preach the word! God is faithful and will not allow it to return to Him void. It will accomplish, not our purpose, but His purpose. The best way for the church to approach political issues to thunder God’s word for the purpose, not of influencing laws in the culture, but for the purpose of changing hearts within the culture.

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