Christian mission through the government
So we no longer live in the Constantinian world in which government works with the church to direct society, and no matter how many books you buy and read arguing that the US is a “Christian nation,” this is not going to change anytime soon. But we do live in a democracy in which the church and Christians have considerable influence.
I believe part of the church’s mission is to speak up for the weak and vulnerable of society, and the more voiceless the person, the more important it is that the church speak for them. This makes abortion a particularly important issue for the church, as the unborn have no voice at all. But orphans, widows, the poor, immigrants, and many others marginalized by society should expect the church to speak up for their legitimate needs.
This must alway be done (1) in the name of Jesus and (2) for the sake of others. This is not at all about making the United States a nicer place for Christians to live — an entirely selfish motivation. It’s about speaking up for others — who may be Christians or not.
Part of it is Jesus’ call for his followers to be perfect as his Father is perfect. Part of it is love.
(Deut. 10:16-19 ESV) 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
(Isa. 10:1-2 ESV) Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, 2 to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
(Ps. 94:20-21 ESV) 20 Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? 21 They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.
(Jer. 29:7 ESV) 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
(Dan. 4:27 ESV) 27 “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
(Prov. 31:8-9 NET) 8 Open your mouth on behalf of those unable to speak, for the legal rights of all the dying. 9 Open your mouth, judge in righteousness, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
(Isa. 1:16-17 ESV) 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
(Jer. 22:3 ESV) 3 Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
On the other hand, I see a distinction between victimless crimes and crimes with victims — especially for those sins against society in general. When the church stands up for the oppressed, the church may make enemies of the oppressors, but the oppressed will hear the voice of God in what the church says. But when the church seeks to regulate consensual sexual behavior between adults through the government, we aren’t protecting people who cannot protect themselves. Rather, we’re judging those outside the church by the church’s standards in a way that simply doesn’t further the church’s mission.
First, it doesn’t work. Behaviors and culture aren’t changed by such laws. When the U.S. Supreme Court mandating gay marriage, it wasn’t to change culture but because culture had already changed. The church never found an effective argument to persuade a pagan culture why gay marriage is wrong. The usual argument was simply to refer to God’s plain teaching — but a paganized, secular culture doesn’t care about the Bible. It’s no wonder so few were persuaded.
Now, if we’ll pay close attention, I expect that over the next fews decades the societal cost of gay marriage will become apparent, and then we’ll have arguments to make to non-Christians. But not today.
This matters because it’s wrong for the church to use raw political power to impose laws on an unwilling, non-Christian public. Our weapons are persuasion, not raw power.
(2 Cor. 10:3-5 ESV) 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ … .
Godless, secular people may well buy the Congress and pass laws that the people do not wish for, but the church cannot impose laws solely because the rules of a democracy give us enough votes or money to get what we want.
And this position meshes well with the passages previously cited. Rom 1:18 ff gives no justification for trying make bad people good through the laws of the government. In fact, God himself turns people over to being defeated by their own sins — homosexual conduct being Paul’s most prominent example.
Just so, 1 Cor 5:10-13 tells us not to judge outsiders. When our standards as Christians radically differ from society’s standards about how to live, and we impose our values on the rest by raw political power, the outsiders will certainly feel judged. And if we make them into criminals for it, we’ll have separated ourselves from them contrary to Paul’s teaching.
Rom 13:4-5, however, approves of secular government executing God’s wrath against those who commit crimes, but Rom 12:19 prohibits the church from doing this.
(Rom. 12:19-21 ESV) 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Protecting the weak and oppressed is overcoming evil with good. But seeking to criminalize the private sex lives of non-Christians is private vengeance, because society as a whole does not agree that there is anything wrong with homosexual activity.
And so, in a democracy some issues arise that Paul does not directly address, but the principles seem clear enough. When our worldview overlaps with the worldview of the secular society in which we live, we may act through government to provide just and righteous laws that society as whole will see as just and righteous. But when our worldviews separate us from society as a whole, we are not called to impose our worldview on an unwilling minority. Not only does that make the church look evil to the world, but it just doesn’t work. We should stop tilting at windmills. But when there are people being oppressed and who cannot adequately speak for themselves — such as the unborn — it becomes incumbent on the church to speak for them even when the views are unpopular.
Therefore, the church should have been far more outspoken for the sake of slaves, women, the illegitimate, blacks, and gays — and many other groups that society has rejected with the church’s acquiescence — indeed, we were so acquiescent that we wouldn’t even tell our own members that it’s wrong to hate these people.