A Biblical Call to Political Engagement
We are living through turbulent times. We face a deep economic crisis, financial uncertainty, increasing unemployment and, with all of this, poverty and need. Overseas we watch the horrors of the aftermath of violent insurrection and bloody war unfold in Sri Lanka, the crisis worsen in Pakistan and the threat increase with North Korea’s continuation of a nuclear weapons programme in defiance of much of the rest of the world.
And, as we turn in such a time to our political leaders for firm leadership and decisive action, we instead find Westminster embroiled in turmoil of its own as scandal after scandal unfolds and the political classes draw their knives and turn in on each other.
The question we must ask in all of this is how should Christians respond to such crises?
1. Christians must stand for righteousness
Jesus’ charge to the church is sobering,
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)
Firstly, consider what Jesus is not saying. He is not exhorting believers to undertake particular actions or abstain from certain behaviours. Rather Jesus is describing the Church of Christ as it is or, more properly, the Church as he has made it to be. The Church is salt and light. The implication for us, as believers, is equally profound. We too, if we are truly His, are called to be salt and light.
Secondly, consider the analogies of salt and light. Salt was used as a preservative to prevent meat from rotting. Light, in a society prior to the invention of the electric light-bulb, was incredibly brilliant in the midst of an overcast, ink-black night.
Jesus’ point is that the Church is made to be the spiritual agent by which corruption and darkness is held at bay. Christians have always known this to be the case and this is why men like Wilberforce stood against unrighteousness even when faced with almost overwhelming opposition.
(I say this as an aside in support of what was said on Sunday morning: the convictions of the British National Party (BNP) are utterly at odds with Biblical Christianity. There is no place for racial prejudice within the body of Christ.)
Christians are called to stand in this day and live out the Gospel. In doing so, my prayer is that our integrity and our love for our cities, neighbourhoods, colleagues and friends would shine forth brilliantly and that, in doing so, Christ would receive maximum glory.
2. Christians must continue in kingdom work
Jesus lived in a place and time of great political uncertainty. His opponents, the religious leaders and the Roman authorities, were driven as much by political pragmatism as ideological principle (an example of this would be when Jesus challenged the Chief Priests and Elders regarding John’s baptism and they refused to answer the question fearing that they would either upset the people or condemn themselves, Matthew 21:23-26).
Similarly, the early Church was birthed in a time of great unrest and persecution.
It is important that we remember how this infant Church responded to such hostility:
…they […] called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:40-42)
Note the response of the Church in such uncertain times. Suffering resulted in rejoicing. Persecution was received as a blessing. And in all this the work of the kingdom continued.
We may face poverty, hardship, difficulty and even persecution in the days to come. Those who recognise the sovereign hand of God at work in every circumstance will remain strong and steadfast. Those who continue to serve, work and proclaim the Gospel will rejoice as they see His light shine most brightly in the midst of the darkness.
With hardship and persecution comes changed lives and church growth. We see this in Acts, the church is persecuted and yet the ‘word of God continued to increase (Acts 6:7) and ‘those who were scattered went about preaching the word’ (Acts 8:4).
Such uncertainty can easily distract us from our holy calling. Christ calls us to count the cost. Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Christ calls believers, his Church, to shine forth his truth and his light even in the midst of the blackest darkness.
3. Christians must pray for our leaders
The Apostle Paul exhorts believers to be subject to governing authorities and reminds us, that ‘there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God’ (Romans 13:1). This statement is astonishing. Paul recognises that behind our government is the sovereign hand of God raising up and laying low politicians, political parties, nations and kingdoms in accordance with His divine will.
This should be of great comfort to believers. Prime Ministers may stand, Prime Ministers may fall, but the will of the Lord always endures. As we look to Westminster and see turmoil, we have confidence that God is at work.
Furthermore, this weighty truth should be a great encouragement for believers to pray. I leave this intentionally as my final point, because I want you, I want all of us, to feel the weight of this. Too often we have a diminished view of prayer. Someone once said (Oscar Wilde, I think) ‘that prayer is the scoundrel’s last refuge’. Unfortunately we too often turn to prayer because all else has failed.
When we see the glory of Jesus, our God and King who holds all things together by his word of power (Hebrews 1:3), we will have a renewed confidence in our prayer life. When we understand that He reigns over every authority and political power and, more than this, that He is actively at work today, at this very moment, our first instinct will be to turn to Him in humility, in gratitude and in prayer.