One of the many objections to Christians being involved in politics one will hear is something along the lines of “Christ, the Apostles, and the early church were never involved in cultural or political battles.” I am not exactly for sure how one could read the New Testament and come to that particular conclusion, but many evangelicals in our day firmly believe biblical Christianity pertains to the church only and not politics, education, or any mainstream cultural issues. Perhaps part of the reason for this dilemma is the fact some have lost a grasp on the historical background regarding the claims of Christ.
The Apostle Peter made the bold statement, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).” One of the neglected concepts around this verse in our day is that we rarely hear the truth that Augustus Caesar was heralded in his day to be the only way of salvation. In fact, the phrase Peter uses is the same as was used in that day to proclaim this message about Augustus Caesar, who was undoubtedly a powerful political ruler in his era. That truth means not only did the early church claim Jesus is the exclusive Savior and Lord, they did so in the face of Rome’s political message about salvation. Needless to say, that declaration by the church would have clear political implications. Augustus Caesar was frequently called the “Divine Caesar and Son of God” on coins in his day.1 The Gospel writers show the truth over and over again it is Christ who is the Son of God and the Divine One. It is the Lord who will have the kingdom and authority. All of these claims fly in the face of the ruling power of their day who was proclaimed to be the divine king and way of salvation. Therefore, the claims of Christianity inherently encompassed the political realm from the beginning. The only way one could miss this fact is to completely neglect the historical context in which the New Testament was written.
The Teaching of Christ
One of the clearest instances found about the political implications for Christ’s life is in the Old Testament prophecies about kings bowing before Him. I wrote about parts of that element previously on the blog and you can find that article here. As we come to His earthly ministry, Christ made this statement:
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. -Matthew 6:9-10
In what is frequently termed The Lord’s Prayer, Christ urges His disciples to pray for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We are to pray for His kingdom to come. What is the scope of this kingdom? It is the entirety of the earth because we are to pray for His will to be done everywhere. Do you think that claim is inclusive of political and cultural issues? If governments and kings are found on the earth, then Christians are to pray for God’s will to be done. Thus, clearly, this statement by Christ testifies to the comprehensive nature of His kingdom. It includes all of the earth, meaning that Christ’s kingdom will increase, and He has the title to all the nations and peoples as the Sovereign Ruler (see also Psalm 2:8).
Another text to this effect is found in The Great Commission given by the Lord Himself. One of these texts is found in Matthew 28:18-20, which says:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:18-20
The charge given to us by the Lord is to go out and disciple the nations. We are to proclaim the entirety of God’s Word and equip others to know how to live in obedience to Christ. Does the Word of God have anything to say about political and cultural issues? Undoubtedly, it does! Christ has all of the authority in heaven and on earth. He owns it all, and that changes everything, including the political realm. Not only that, but all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ (Colossians 2:3). Therefore, if a ruler is to govern justly, they must bow before King Jesus to know how they should undertake their duties. Does Scripture have anything to say about family life, education, and occupational duties? Once again, the answer is clearly in the affirmative! Then Christians are to be involved in proclaiming what Scripture says about all of these issues. Because Scripture pertains to all of life, part of the Great Commission involves not only preaching the Gospel that lost sinners may be saved, but also teaching the entirety of God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation.
The Example of The Early Church
If what I am saying is true, then we would expect to find examples from the early church in the book of Acts and the writings of the New Testament after Christ’s life, adding testimony to corroborate this idea. In Acts 5, the Apostles are found teaching the people about Christ. As part of their testimony to the authorities, Peter and the Apostles make this claim:
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. -Acts 5:31
The Greek word here translated as Leader by the English Standard Version is frequently translated as the word Prince by versions such as the New American Standard Bible or the King James Version. The idea being conveyed is that Christ is King. He is the Authority before whom all others must bow. No king, governmental official, or any other can touch His rule and reign because He is the Exalted Prince. Once again, a clear statement with political implications. The Apostles were explicitly saying Christ is the Leader above all others!
Another passage which we must consider is found in Acts 17 when Paul and Silas were being attacked by the mob in Thessalonica. Here is the charge brought against them:
And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” -Acts 17:6-7
What is the claim brought against these believers by the mobs? It is that they were proclaiming the fact that Christ is King, not Caesar. They did not just proclaim this in a home worship service privately, they publicly heralded this message. These Christians followed the pattern Christ had set for them. The Apostles and the early church understood Christ is the King. He is not one of many kings, He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the sole Ruler, and He holds the title to the universe. This Gospel was an offense to the political rulers of their day because those rulers understood the political nature of this message and the implications the claim of Christ’s Lordship has in that arena. Since Christ is Lord of all, then we must honor Him as the Lord and King in everything, and that fact plainly includes the political realm.
Summing It All Up
To my brothers and sisters who do not believe the early church was involved in political and cultural issues, I would humbly suggest you revaluate that position. The prophecies about Christ showed the fact kings and governments must bow before Him. His own words demonstrate the expansive and comprehensive nature of His kingdom pertaining to political and cultural spheres. Additionally, the testimony of the early church in the book of Acts is another piece of corroborating evidence lending credence to this claim. Scripture, as always, is speaking as a unified whole, calling for Christians to be involved and proclaim the Lordship of Christ in every area, including the political and cultural arenas.
Therefore, we as followers of Jesus must seek to live out the faith in these realms unto the glory of God. We cannot practice neutrality thinking politics and culture has nothing to do with our Christian faith. Instead, we must apply a robustly Christian method based upon Scripture in these spheres. It is imperative for us to proclaim the light of the truth of Christ. Our engagement in these realms is centered around the need for the Gospel to be preached so sinners may be saved, and we must proclaim the entire truth of God’s Word. We must take the Gospel and the Bible into political and cultural issues. These are the weapons God has given to us to wield for His glory and the good of others. May we do so for the glory of Christ the King!