If we think of the variety of answers to the question of the Christian’s (or the church’s) proper political involvement as along a continuum, what would be the two extreme ends?
On one end, we can see the idea that Christianity should be utterly involved in politics in an over all program of seeing the kingdom of God overtake this world entirely. This would be a position even more extreme than one which sees the church guiding or even ruling over the state, for it sees the eventual loss of distinction between the church and the state; the church is all there is, and it governs the world.
On the far other end, we can see a view which orients the church in totally other-worldly terms. Those with this view will have no involvement in any earthly politics at all; only that which is strictly church work will be endeavored.
Thinking about the positions which tend toward this latter end of the continuum, let us grant as true, for the moment, a statement like this: The church needs to be about the work of evangelism in relation to unbelievers and edification in relation to believers. This twin thrust is all that we need to concern ourselves with; it is not our business to get involved in the world’s politics.
Setting aside the short-comings of this statement (such as it’s ignoring of our Lord’s expectation that we should care for the earth He has given us), let us take into consideration the first of these two thrusts, that of evangelism.
What is the relationship of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the broad sense of morality that exists among all human beings? If we say there no relationship at all, will we not likely render the gospel unintelligible to anyone who might hear it? Suppose we say that all the talk about human morality that goes on in the broader culture outside the church is only so much blather bandied about by the world’s so-called “ethicists.” Then what exactly is the meaning of the good news that Christ saves people? He saves them from what? Sin and righteousness are indispensable concepts for any thinking about the gospel of Christ; and sin and righteousness are moral concepts. How can we say to lost people, ‘turn from your sin, be saved from it by faith in Christ, and God will freely give you His own righteousness,’ without the expectation that there is at least a fair degree of mutual understanding of the terms in that message? We might as well speak complete gibberish.
So we see that, in order to be faithful evangelists, we must be able to speak effectively to culture about moral goodness and moral badness. Obviously, we cannot suspend such conversations until after people convert and become part of the church, if the conversations are necessary for conversion to occur.
Moreover, our sharing of the gospel will only be effective, if we are credible witnesses, and this means more than living righteously ourselves. Our claim that the world is fallen into sin and that each person is a sinner who needs God’s grace will not ring true, if we are not willing to discuss the nature of goodness and badness in any and all contexts. In other words, for the church’s gospel message to make any sense, the church must often be heard talking about right and wrong in the public square. What sort of people would we be if we said we want sinners to turn to Christ, but we would not explain what a “sinner” is?
Furthermore, our public conversations must be more than theoretical; they must be practical, involving particulars. On at least a fairly consistent basis, we must be able to say, “this is good, but that is bad.” For example, caring for people in need is good, but exploiting people in need for one’s own advantage is bad.
If the church is known to be active in the public discussion of morality, constantly speaking as our Lord’s representatives, then our gospel message will make sense. Our terms will be intelligible, and our testimony credible.