Christians and Politics

Sometimes I wonder just how out of touch I really am about what issues people really have with either Christians or the Christian faith. Recently, I asked a friend about topics I should address here in the Corner, and one of the topics he mentioned I mostly ignored, assuming that the answer to the question was so obvious that it didn’t even need consideration.

Boy, was I wrong! In less than a week, I heard the same question or comments directly addressing the question more than FIVE times! Here it is:

“Should Christians be involved in politics?”

I’ve heard and read very passionate arguments both for and against God’s people participating in political debate and working in politics, so it looks like it is time to just jump right into it!

Many Christians in the U.S. will answer the question with an adamant “no”. Most of those will give one or more of three basic arguments.

The first, and, in my opinion, the least compelling is based on United States tax law. The majority of churches in the U.S. are incorporated as tax exempt organizations under IRS code 501(C)3. One of the requirements for maintaining tax exempt status is that the organization and its representatives (staff, especially the clergy) may not endorse or encourage it’s clientele (parishioners) against voting for or against any political candidate while representing the church. Many (wrongly) interpret this as a prohibition of political discussion at all.

Therefore, the argument goes, Christians as a whole should not be involved in politics, especially the clergy, because if it is illegal for the clergy, it is at least unethical for the rest of God’s people.

I have two problems with this argument. First, it is a prime example of the Pharisee’s habit of taking a commandment and expanding it to ridiculous levels in order to safeguard from violating the original command. It is like the ‘Sabbath light’ – a lamp designed to automatically turn on and off during Sabbath because to flip a light switch is considered work, and work is prohibited on the Sabbath. Likewise, endorsing a candidate from the pulpit is prohibited, therefore no Christian should engage in politcs. Utterly nonsensical.

Second, there is some debate over whether the prohibition is Constitutional. I’ve provided links below to the official IRS statement about the Johnson Amendment (the rule in question) and arguments against it. Personally, I tend to believe that a pastor should preach what God has given him to say, and if it violates the tax code the church should seriously consider giving up tax exempt status in order to allow the pastor to preach freely.

In any case, there is no legal prohibition for Christians to engage in political activity other than as official representatives of a 501(c)3 organization – at least not yet.

The second basic line of reasoning against Christian engagement in political activity is that since we are instructed to be ‘in the world but not of it’ (a phrase not found in Scripture, although the concept is presented throughout) we should, as Paul says in Romas 12:18 to be at peace with all men. With the guarantee that any political view you hold will offend many and enrage some, we as Christians should limit our political activity to prayer.

The problem I have with this way of thinking is that throughout the Bible, from Samuel who anointed and advised the first political leader of the new Israelite kingdom to the Apostle Paul, who not only spoke of truth and justice to kings and political leaders but used his status as a Roman citizen to proclaim the Gospel to Roman authorities, God’s people have been active in political discourse. Beyond Biblical accounts, it is God’s people acting upon their conviction of God’s justice that have been actively responsible for the abolition of slavery on two continents, the establishment of laws designed to insure justice for the underprivileged, destitute, and marginalized and the founding of the United States. How then should we turn our back on our responsibility to bring as much of Gods justice and mercy to our land as possible?

Which brings us to the last argument, which is this: As Christians, we are citizens of God’s kingdom, and as such our allegiance is to Him rather than our government. Therefore, our engagement in the political arena should be limited to prayer, living a godly life, and obeying the laws of the land when they do not contradict God’s law. Anything else is idolatry.

The issue I have with this argument is that it ignores Scripture that indicate that withdrawal from attempts to influence our culture (and all politics is ultimately culture driven) is discouraged by our King and Savior. As the author of one of the articles linked below put it, “Rather than engage in the political process, Christians have a duty to elevate it.” In other words, when we express a political opinion, seek political office, and vote, we are called to “do politics” in a way that models Jesus’ teaching.

I believe that a large part of the confusion over whether Christians should engage in politics is due to the fact that we live under a governmental system that was unknown during Biblical times. The fact is, that the vast majority of people in Biblical times had absolutely no political influence at all in ANY nation, and the concept of voting for or participating in a political campaign is not addressed in Scripture – at least not directly.

However, throughout Scripture we are given examples of prophets, priests, and the leaders of the Church speaking God’s truth to the authorities as well as instructing them (and the people) to act justly, care for the poor and infirm, and protect life and property.

In theory, at least, in our country the ultimate political authority rests in “we the people”, who appoint (by election) representatives to enact and uphold those laws that will best benefit our nation. As Christians, we know that all nations are under God’s authority, and any laws that encourage actions or advocate against God’s principles will not benefit our country.

Given that, it is our duty before God not only to vote with wisdom and prayer, but to speak out in truth and (Godly) love about political (or politicized) issues that impact our individual and collective ability to follow a Godly lifestyle. It is also important that we speak out against wickedness and injustice whether it is popular or not.

Keep in mind that engaging in the political arena does NOT mean to descend to the mean-spirited name calling, ad hominem attacks, and emotional screeds that tend to pass as arguments of late. What I’m advocating is a calm, factual, Biblically based presentation of why you believe your stand on an issue is correct. If you can be persuasive, excellent, but if not, at least be peaceful.

Here are some links to articles that give some further perspective:

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Should Christian Leaders Stay Out of Politics? is an article by Michael Brown gives a bit more depth to the topic

Relevant Magazine has an excellent article entitled 7 Things Christians Need to Remember About Politics.

The entire article by Shane Idleman is a good read, but I think this quote is the most important:

“If God has called a man to preach and teach His Word, that will be his passion. If God has called a Christian to pursue politics, that will be his or her passion, and so on. Problems arise when we become judgmental and fail to respect our differences. Activists should not expect everyone to share their passion for politics, and those who believe Christians should stay out of politics must understand that God clearly calls some Christians to the political arena. God established the concept of government, why would He not desire godly leadership?”

This article gives more discussion, with plenty of Scripture, on the topic

Christians-count.org has a very good article about why Christians should be involved in politics, starting with the premise that we need government.

The IRS 2007 statement on Charities, Churches and Politics explains the Johnson Amendment.
The Regent University Law Review (vol. 21, 2011-2012) has an article by Erik W. Stanley entitled LBJ, THE IRS, AND CHURCHES: THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE JOHNSON AMENDMENT IN LIGHT OF RECENT SUPREME COURT PRECEDENT. It begins with a description of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”, which has since become an annual event.

Is History Written By Those Who Believe Their Writings Reliable?

Recently, I was surprised by an assertion that I had read about, but had not given much thought to since I’d never heard it before in personal conversation. After some inquiry, I found out that it is becoming a popular objection to the trustworthiness of the Gospel records.

The main premise of the argument is this: The New Testament accounts are unreliable simply because the authors of the books were followers of Jesus, and because of that were prone to exaggeration and fabrication.

Now, the person who presented this to me was quite convinced that this was not only a valid argument, but a powerful one as well. After all, if you can’t trust the authors to be accurate, you can’t reasonably believe what they write to be true. Therefore, the argument goes, Christianity cannot be true.

By the strict rules of logic, this argument is valid, but only if the premise is true. Show that to be false, and the conclusion becomes not only irrelevant but rather silly.

The premise (the text is unreliable because the authors believed the unique claims about the subject) is obviously false once you apply it to other works of nonfiction. If it is true, it is also true that all of the following are unreliable simply because the authors believed the facts presented are true:

* All history texts, both modern and ancient
* Any published scientific texts
* Any owner or service manual for a mechanical device
* All biographies
*Any courtroom testimony

… and the list goes on. My point is that just because the presenter of an implausible fact or historical event believes it to be true, it does not follow as a necessity that what he is relating is untrue. So, with the premise being shown false, the argument falls apart.

But the logical fallacy is not the only problem with this argument. It presupposes that the Gospel writers were purposely making up their writings in order to deceive people into believing that Jesus is the Christ when in fact he was not.

I’ve dealt with that idea before here and here if you want more detail and many resource links. Briefly, it is highly unlikely that the writers could have gotten away with it if that was their goal – there were scores (if not hundreds) of witness to the activities of Jesus alive at the time of publication who could easily refute their claims. The only Gospel account that is disputed by any available contemporary writings is the resurrection of Christ, and those few texts offer no evidence other than speculation to support the allegation. No body was ever found or said to have been found by contemporary writers.

It should also be noted that three of the Gospel writers did not start out as ‘true believers’, and not enough is known about Mark to be able to tell when he became a follower of the Christ. Two of the authors (Matthew and John) were disciples of Jesus, but even they admit that it wasn’t until after the resurrection that they realized that He was God. Luke was an historian (and probably a doctor); according to the introduction to the Gospel he wrote, his intent in writing it was to provide an orderly and factual account of the Christ. That many archaeological finds and ancient text corroborate formerly disputed passages and none have contradicted him is testimony to the truth of Luke’s Gospel.

So, because the Gospel accounts agree with known history on every point in which they can be verified AND there are no contemporary historical accounts that give any verified evidence to contradict them, the argument that the Gospels are untrustworthy because the authors believed that Jesus was the Christ falls apart on historical as well as logical grounds.

The Virgin Birth in Context

This time of year, skeptics tend to shift their focus from denying the possibility of the resurrection of the Christ to denying the possibility of the virgin conception and birth. I’ve detailed evidence for the authenticity of the resurrection in earlier posts, so let’s take a look at the nativity this time around.

I agree with the skeptics that the idea of the virgin birth of the Christ is, at first look at least, a bit ridiculous. In the history of the human race, such an event, other than the Gospel accounts, has never been seriously offered as anything more than myth or fairytale. It certainly hasn’t been observed in modern times, and medical and scientific research is apparently quite conclusive that human parthenogenesis is not possible.

And yet, every year Christians worldwide celebrate this impossible event. What possible reasons could they have for believing such a silly thing?

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The “One Less God” Argument

Richard Dawkins and other popular atheist authors and advocates are quite fond of the ‘one less god’ argument, and I’ve heard and read quite a few different self-proclaimed atheists using it lately.

It goes something like this: “We’re both atheists; neither one of us believes in Zeus, Pele, Odin, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just believe in one less god than you. So, believing in YOUR god is just as ignorant and silly.”

I have to work very hard to be charitable when presented this argument. First, it really isn’t an argument; it is a statement of belief. Second, as an argument it is not only logically nonsensical, but relies on a category error to reach the conclusion offered. Continue reading

The Power of Questions

Here’s a question all of us apologists have asked at least once if we are serious about presenting Christ to those who are steeped in a different worldview:

“How do I effectively show them that their worldview is false and destructive without alienating them or shutting them down completely from hearing the Gospel?”

The usual answer I hear is profoundly true: “Follow the leading of the Spirit, and do so with love and an attitude of peace” BUT it isn’t really a complete answer.

You see, God has given us tools to use, and it is foolish for us to either ignore them or fail to learn and be able to use them when appropriate.

One tool is that of the simple question. Simply asking pointed questions with the proper attitude can point out the fallacies and consequences of a worldview without being snarky or confrontational.

Remember, the goal of presenting the Gospel to those who are skeptical or even decidedly opposed to Christ is not to ‘make the sale’; it is to give them enough information and reality to think about for them to come to the point where they can clearly see who Christ is, and then decide whether to follow Him or not. It is God’s work to bring them to Him; it is our task to live our lives and present His truth in such a way that they will hear His voice. Continue reading

But Jesus Never Claimed to be God!

This is another old argument against classical Christianity that I still hear rather often: “Jesus never claimed to be God” usually coupled with “so clearly he wasn’t”.

While there is no place in Scripture where Jesus said the words, “I am God”, the assertion that He never claimed to be God is quite very inaccurate. The argument comes from a basic misunderstanding of first century Jewish culture as well as Biblical illiteracy. No serious student of the Bible can make such a claim unless he ignores or discounts major passages of the Gospels.

The way in which Jesus claimed to be God is best summed up in the Homan Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics:

“In the first century, much like today, to say “I am God” would be almost meaningless. Even Roman Emperors were ascribed deity or claimed deity for themselves. What Jesus did do was claim to be a very specific God to a specific people in a very specific way. And the way in which He made His claims was unambiguous and unmistakable to those people.”
==Powell, D. (2006). Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics (pp. 310–311). Nashville, TN: Holman Reference. Continue reading

Example of a Common Apologetics Failure

I observed a conversation last week that is a perfect illustration of something that has bothered me for a very long time. It shows the most common mistake that people make when trying to present a defense of the Christian worldview to a nonbeliever. This one thing, in my opinion, has served to turn people away from Christ rather than encourage them to seriously consider the Gospel more than any other single mistake we make as defenders of the faith and presenters of the Truth.

I’ll tell you what happened, and you’ll probably guess what the monumental mistake is before I’m even done:

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“Swooning” and the Resurrection

Every Easter season, it seems that at least one old supposed refutation of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ is itself resurrected and trotted out to ridicule the central tenet of the Christian faith: that Jesus was crucified, died, and by His own power was raised from the dead three days later.

I was a bit surprised to see what is commonly referred to as the ‘swoon theory’ being used by quite a few people this time around, particularly since it has been so thoroughly disproven many time in the past. But, since it seems to be fairly popular once again, I’ll briefly deal with it here.

The variations of the swoon theory all state that Jesus did not really die when crucified; he merely became unconscious (“passed out” or ‘swooned”) and woke up while in the tomb. Sometime before the discovery of the open tomb, he either rolled the stone away himself, or someone opened it for him, and he simply walked out.

There are so many ways to refute this argument that it is hard to decide where to start. I’ll begin with a quick rundown of the relevant facts of the case, using the eyewitness accounts recorded in the Gospels. Continue reading

The Best Apologetic is Also the Oldest!

I’m often asked “What is the best apologetic argument?”, and in almost every case, after a few questions, it’s clear that the real question is “All of this apologetics stuff is just too overwhelming. Can you give me a single, easy to remember argument that I can use whenever I have to defend the faith?

Before I give you the answer that I’m sure most of you expect, please read this post to the end; there is an apologetic argument that you MUST use in EVERY defense of the Gospel, but I don’t think it is what you expect me to tell you.

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