Political and Civil Involvement for Christians
While preaching, I have made a few references lately that I thought could stand a little more explanation. They were just passing references and far from main points. Nevertheless, it would be good to make intentions and meaning clearer when possible.
One of the greatest happenings in all church history is what happened in Ephesus when the Gospel was preached there in the middle of the first century. I don’t know of anything else quite like it in the annals of history.
Ephesus was one of the great cities of the ancient world. To talk of Ephesus then would be like talking of New York, Hong Kong, or London today. Ephesus was home to the temple for the goddess Diana, who was worshiped throughout Asia. There was a thriving manufacturing industry that sprung up around this temple to supply people with small shrines to Diana they could purchase and keep in their homes. From the biblical account, it seems there was a high concentration of demonic activity there that went along with dark occultic practices.
Paul had made a brief visit there and then returned to spend two years preaching the Gospel, organizing a church, and discipling the believers. Acts 19 recounts how this whole city was turned upside down by the Gospel. Let’s look at what happened.
- Paul baptized the twelve followers of John the Baptist who had not even heard of the Holy Spirit. (1-7)
- Paul went to the synagogue and later to the school of Tyrannus to preach the word of the Lord. (8-10)
- Paul worked an unusual number of powerful miracles, including healing diseases and casting out evil spirits. They even took pieces of cloth from Paul to the sick and possessed and they were healed. (11-12)
- Traveling Jewish exorcists began invoking the name of Paul to cast demons out of possessed people. Seven brothers, sons of Sceva, did this in one particular instance. The evil spirit answered by acknowledging Jesus and Paul, but asking who they were. The possessed man then beat all seven of them until they were naked and wounded and they fled. (13-16)
- Great fear came on all the city because of the power of the Gospel. (17)
- Many believed and actually confessed their sins. Many were involved in various occultic aspects and their confession and repentance involved the burning of numerous monetarily valuable books. (18-19)
- The Word kept spreading and Paul stayed for a season. (20-22)
- Demetrius, a silversmith, raised a complaint against Paul and the Christians because their idol trade was being ruined. (23-41)
The whole socioeconomic climate of the city was affected by the preaching of the Gospel. A major city was turned upside down in two years by the preaching of the Gospel.
I have referenced the happenings in Ephesus several times. I typically point out that Paul turned the city upside down in two years and he did not do it by having a million man march on the courthouse, hosting a tea party, or endorsing a particular candidate for public office. He did it by preaching the Gospel. He did it by determining not to know anything among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Whenever you pit preaching the Gospel against political action, you are running a few risks. Certain apathetic people use that juxtaposition to do neither thing. Some assume you are saying Christians should neither care about nor be involved in civil and political concerns. Here is a good place to add some clarification.
The Bible does speak to our relation to civil government.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Romans 13:1-7
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. Matthew 22:17-21
And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. Jeremiah 29:7
Certainly we should be good citizens and we should take a serious interest in the government of our land. In saying what I did about Ephesus, I am not suggesting Christians should not care nor participate in any way in politics or the government. I am saying that however that concern and participation is manifested, it should not be in a way that obscures, neglects, adjusts, compromises, or forsakes the Gospel. Also, whatever form that involvement takes, it should not assume the place of our ultimate hope nor obscure the fact for us that our great warfare is not physical and neither are our greatest weapons.