Politics in the church?
Every now and then I hear someone contend, “We really should keep politics out of the church”. And whenever I hear it I am inquisitive as to exactly what it means. What exactly is it that is disturbing them?
The necessary separation of government and church
If the statement is referring to party politics (EFF, DA, ANC, etc.) then I agree wholeheartedly. The church should not align itself with a particular political party. Church leaders should not seek to influence a congregation to support a certain political party. Historically, when the church and state have become intertwined there has been an abuse of power. It is true of the Roman Catholic Church at many different times between the 5th and 15th centuries. It is also true of the Dutch Reformed Church and their so called ‘biblical foundation’ they put forward to justify apartheid and separate development.
There are three important things about the way the Christian (and churches) should relate to the government:
- God is not a supporter of the ANC, DA, EFF or any other party in South Africa! But he institutes government and ordains their rule (John 19:11, Romans 13:1b). Therefore, we are to recognise and respect the authority of government. God has given us government to act on behalf of the good of all people, to create social space for the display of good conduct, and to provides earthly justice and protection(Romans 13:1-4, 1Peter 2:13-17).
- We are to pray for the government as we are taught in 1Timothy 2:1-2 “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
- We are to hold the government accountable by shining the light of the gospel and speaking the truth of God’s Word without fear or favour (like the Old Testament prophets spoke God’s revelation to the kings of Israel and Judah).
God’s heart for social justice
My concern is that the statement, “We really should keep politics out of the church” is not said in reference to party politics but to the church entering into the realm of addressing social issues (that are also raised or engaged by political parties). These include issues like the plight of the poor, the needs of the disenfranchised, righting the wrongs of the past, race and racism, transformation, or discrimination against people who are vulnerable (e.g. immigrants). Are these matters that we should be talking about and grappling with as a church? Or are they political? Take the time to carefully read these passages:
He (God) executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, he lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves those who live justly. The LORD watches over the immigrant and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked (Psalm 146:7-9)
He (the LORD) loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love (Psalm 33:5)
The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the immigrant, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
Cursed is anyone who withholds justice due to the immigrant, the fatherless, and the widow. Then all the people shall say, “Amen”. (Deuteronomy 27:19)
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. (Proverbs 31:8)
This is what the LORD Almighty says: Administer true justice, show mercy and compassion to one another. Don’t oppress the widow or the fatherless, the immigrant or the poor. (Zechariah 7:10-11)
I (Job) rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him. The man who was dying blessed me; I made the widows heart sing. I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the immigrant. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth. (Job 29:12-17)
For he (Jesus) himself is our peace, who has made the two groups (Jew and Gentile) one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14a)
These are some of the passages that teach us about God’s heart for matters of social justice, and his call to the people who bear his name.
Because these passages are in the Scriptures, East Claremont has ministered in many different ways to the poor, those who are bowed down, the fatherless, the immigrant, and the widow. We need to continue to exercise Christian love, wisdom and ministry involvement in this regard. We have and should continue to take our faith into the public square.
The gospel is at the core of this call: we were once lost in the poverty of our sin. We were bowed down under the weight seeking wholeness everywhere but finding it nowhere. The great King Jesus, who has all the power and might chose to lay that down to come and die for us. He opened our blind eyes and set us free from the prison of our sin. He gave us what we did not deserve – and didn’t do it begrudgingly but bountifully and generously. And now we have a Father in Heaven who cares intimately for us, and although we are sojourners on this earth, we have an everlasting home in glory.
In light of these Scripture passages, and the gospel of Christ, what does it mean ‘to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God’? (Micah 6:8)