Thinking Biblically About Political Activism

Photo: GTY

As election season draws near, it is important for Christians in America to remember where our true citizenship and priorities lie. In the book, Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong, Dr. John MacArthur explores some biblical principles that must be considered as the Christian seeks to think rightly about government and political activism.

Though you might not know it during election season, true Christianity is more concerned with saving souls than it is with gaining votes. The Great Commission is not a call to effect policy change, but a command to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I [Jesus Christ] commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20). Rather than concentrating on political issues and debates, believers should be consumed with their responsibility as Christ’s ambassadors. That is the church’s mandate. When other priorities and pursuits crowd out the Great Commission, both the message and the mission get confused.

The term evangelical comes from the Greek word that means “gospel” or “good news.” It was coined by Martin Luther to refer to Protestants as those who were defined by the gospel of grace. Sadly, five centuries later, evangelicalism is more often associated with partisan politics, at least in the eyes of the world, than it is with the good news of salvation. Such is indicative of the misplaced priorities that have plagued American evangelicalism for decades. Rather than focusing on the God-given priority of evangelism (from the same Greek word that means “evangelical”), American evangelicalism has spent billions of dollars and millions of man hours fighting to legislate morality. Not only is it a battle we cannot win (since legislated morality cannot change the sinful hearts that make up a depraved society), it is also a battle we have not been called to fight.

Only the gospel, through the power of the Spirit, can effect real change in society—since it transforms sinners from the inside out. After all, there are no Christian countries, only Christian individuals. Hence, our commission is to proclaim that gospel faithfully in whatever context God puts us. When we allow ourselves to get distracted by politics, we inevitably neglect our responsibility to preach the gospel.

Political activism can also tempt us to blur the lines regarding our mission field. Those in an opposing political party become “enemies” rather than lost souls who need Christ preached to them with love and compassion. Those who share our political convictions are embraced as “brothers and sisters” even though they may also be lost souls who need Christ. Ungodly partnerships can develop when true Christians join hands with cult groups and other unbelievers based on shared political ideologies. And unbiblical perspectives can be adopted, based on maintaining the party line, even when those views don’t square with Scripture.

Though He was talking specifically about money, Jesus’ statement that “no one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24) serves as an appropriate warning for those who attempt to mix biblical Christianity with political activism. The two are not the same, and in fact are often at odds. In many cases, evangelical pastors, leaders, and lay people need to refocus their efforts on Christ’s command to tell the world about Him. If our highest aim is to glorify God, we will make His priorities our priorities and embrace the mission He has given us to obey.

John MacArthur, “God, Government, and the Gospel,” in Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong, (Harvest House Publishers: 2009), 122–123.