The fact that Christians are called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ calls for engagement of the world. It is an engagement that seeks the kingdom as Christians are taught to pray so that God’s will may be done here on earth as it is in heaven (cf. Matt 6:10). This engagement involves a number of issues that are also issues within the political sphere and so short of remaining completely silent, which is not an option, I see no possible way of avoiding the ongoing political conversation.
Fortunately for me, most Christians likely agree with me. Unfortunately for some of them, that is probably the extent of our agreement. In my opinion, the way in which many Christians have engaged in the political process is unhelpful, at best, and harmful, at worst. For starters, trying to legislate morality has yet to make the nation a more moral and just society. Beyond that, most politicking I observe from Christians feels, smells, tastes, sounds, and looks like it is coming from a card-carrying Democrat or Republican rather than from a disciple of Jesus. That is, this politicking is more about advocating for a particular political candidate and party than it is for the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is something wrong with this! At best, it does nothing to help Christians bear effective witness to Jesus. At worst, it hinders the ability to witness for Jesus.
So what should be done differently? Is there a different way? I say “Yes!” In short, it’s the way of Jesus. It was the way of the earliest (pre-Constantinian) Christians too and it changed the world. So here is where contemporary Christians must ask why the earliest Christians did not have any political involvement like Christians have today and yet those Christians revolutionized their world?
The earliest Christians were engaged in their culture in a grass-roots like movement by merely living out the life of Jesus as a community of churches. They stood out among their culture because of their unwavering commitment to their confession that Jesus is Lord. While they were taught to be respectful of the governing authorities and obedient to the laws of the land, they were not advocates of those governing authorities. Their confession was a proclamation of one person: Jesus Christ! As a result their lives felt like, smelled like, tasted like, sounded like, and looked like they belonged to Jesus. This included a very strict standard of morality because they were called to live by the Spirit rather than the flesh. The loved their fellow Christians and neighbors by liberally sharing with anyone who had need. That same love extended beyond as they were known for welcoming strangers into their communities and offering hospitality to them as though they were offering it to the Lord. Such love was a way of doing justice and showing mercy. It is also important to remember that while the pagan culture around them was a violent culture, these Christians were people of peace. They neither resorted to violence nor championed violence.
Collectively, this way of life was just as important as the gospel they proclaimed because taken together it proclaimed the emergence of the new age of God’s reign in Jesus Christ. Proclamation is always in word and deed and the deed must always be consistent with the word, lest it be a proclamation of hypocrisy. When Christian witness is reduced to deed only, Christianity becomes nothing more than a social movement. When Christian witness is only in word, Christianity becomes nothing more than a religious philosophy. Christianity is only to able to affect change for the sake of God’s kingdom and glory as the gospel is proclaimed in word and deed, which is exactly what the Spirit empowers the church for.
When looking back on the earliest Christians, their way of life opened up opportunity after opportunity to invite non-Christians into their community. Consequently, they were able teach and make disciples of Jesus out of those people as who confessed faith in Jesus Christ and were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
As I have already said, I don’t see how Christians can pursue God’s kingdom agenda and avoid addressing many of the issues that are also political issues. Yet I seriously doubt Christians will have any kingdom impact so long as the means by which it pursues this impact is through the power structures of state politics. I don’t believe this means Christians cannot vote, as they are given the right to do so, or say what they believe about a specific issues when asked to opine.* But when Christians sound more like a spokesperson for Democrat and Republican ideology than a witness of Jesus Christ, the ability of speaking (in word and deed) prophetically and pastorally to both neighbors and the larger society is lost (in part because Christians become divided by partisan politics).
There are a lot of questions such as how does this all impact the way Christians address issues like global poverty, abortion, war, human-trafficing, abortion, etc… I don’t have answers to all those questions and even if I did, it would really too much to address in one blog post. But with or without answers to every specific issue and regardless of what affect Christians have, Christians should adopt the way of Jesus, the way in which the earliest Christians engaged their world, because it is the right way.
* I am writing this post in response to another Christian who requested that I share some thoughts on the sort of political engagement I believe Christians should exhibit.