To what extent should the Church be politically active?

Before we begin to answer this question we must first make a distinction between the Church and the individual Christian. When we refer to ‘the Church’ we are ultimately referring to a body of Christian believers. We may use the term to refer to either a local church, a body of believers congregated in one particular place, or in reference to the worldwide church, the body of believers existent worldwide. In either case, ‘the Church’ refers to a body of believers. This is distinct from the individual Christian, by which we mean one solitary believer. The Church is made up of many individual Christians – as a body we refer to them as ‘the Church’.
Let us firstly consider the role of individual Christians in politics. We know from Acts 22 that the Apostle Paul enacted his rights as a Roman citizen and it was perfectly legitimate for him to do so. As British citizens we have rights that we should feel free to enact, just like Paul did as a citizen of Rome. One right we have is the right to vote. There is no part of Scripture that forbids voting and, given our civil right to do so, it is perfectly legitimate for us to take part in electing those who are to represent us. As such, we can say with confidence that the individual believer is at liberty to exercise their right to vote.
We can also argue that it is legitimate for individual believers to be politically active in other ways. We can firstly make this case on the basis of Christian liberty. There is no portion of Scripture that forbids active involvement in politics. As such, we can conclude that it must be acceptable for us to be involved in politics. Indeed, if there is no reason for us to assume that we cannot be politically active we must conclude that it is a legitimate activity. Secondly, we can argue that if it is acceptable for us to elect our representative, having concluded that it is, it must also be acceptable for us to petition our representative for there is no other reason to have one than for them to represent our views. Thirdly, it is possible to cite examples of believers in the Bible holding positions of authority such as political office. Joseph is a prime example of this:

“You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” (Gen 41:40-41, ESV)

There are also other OT examples such as the Judges and the Kings. However, it can be argued that these, being OT examples, are specifically in relation to the leadership of God’s people. In the case of Joseph this is clearly not true; but there are also NT examples. We read of Sergius Paulus in Acts 13 of whom we are told:

the proconsul [Sergius Paulus] believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. (Acts 13:12)

We do not read of Sergius Paulus being told to leave his political office by the apostles on becoming a believer. We also have no reason to assume that he did leave this office. By this, we must conclude that he was a believer who held a political office and that this was acceptable.
So, it is possible for us to hold that individual Christians are at liberty to engage in political activity. There is no scriptural warrant to suggest that they should not be involved in politics. Also, we see in both the OT and NT some who held political office as believers. There is no suggestion that they left these posts once they believed nor is there a suggestion that they were encouraged to leave these posts by the apostles or any portion of Scripture. As such, we must conclude that political activity on the part of the individual believer is legitimate.
Let us now consider the extent to which the Church, as a body of believers, should be politically engaged. In a magazine article (Lacey, ‘Why I am a Baptist’, Grace Magazine), Nigel Lacey states that:

the local church is a quite separate institution from the state with the secular authorities playing no part in the affairs of the churches. The state, therefore, cannot validate the appointment of ministers nor can it regulate any aspect of the life of the churches. On the other hand, the churches cannot appeal to the state to suppress heresy.

It is quite right that the Church and State are entirely separate entities. It would be disastrous if the State began to dictate matters of faith and practice for believers and were given an authoritative say in who can and cannot be elected to office in the Church. However, if we rightly want the State to have no involvement in Church matters the Church must give up any right to speak on matters of the State. We cannot insist the State have no role in our churches and then insist that our churches must have a say in matters of State.
We have already seen how Christian liberty allows individual believers to be politically active. Nevertheless, this concept cannot apply to the Church in the same way. <!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:"Cambria Math"; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:1; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-format:other; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:0 0 0 0 0 0;} @font-face {font-family:Calibri; panose-1:2 15 5 2 2 2 4 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:swiss; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-1610611985 1073750139 0 0 159 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-style-next:"No Spacing"; margin:0cm; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi; mso-fareast-language:EN-US;} p.MsoNoSpacing, li.MsoNoSpacing, div.MsoNoSpacing {mso-style-priority:1; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin:0cm; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi; mso-fareast-language:EN-US;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi; mso-fareast-language:EN-US;} .MsoPapDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; margin-bottom:10.0pt; line-height:115%;} @page Section1 {size:612.0pt 792.0pt; margin:72.0pt 72.0pt 72.0pt 72.0pt; mso-header-margin:36.0pt; mso-footer-margin:36.0pt; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;}

–>All believers are called to a saving knowledge of Christ and to live according to his commandments. Despite this, the Bible has not given instructions for every minor eventuality of life with a direct ‘do’ or ‘do not’. Naturally, where the Bible states that the Christian is to do, or not do, something it is our duty to act in accordingly. However, where the Bible is silent about a specific action what is the believer to do? Provided the act, or non-act, does not contravene a stated Biblical principle we must conclude that the act in question is morally neutral and the believer is therefore free to act as they see fit. The believer cannot help but come into contact with such issues on occasion.

By contrast, the Church does have a specific calling: to promote the kingdom of God through the proclamation of the gospel and to disciple those who believe it. For the Church to divert its time and energies to anything other than this specific call is to minimise and sideline what God has called it to do. It is, in fact, disobedient of the Church to focus its attention on anything other than proclaiming the gospel and discipling those who believe it. It is on this basis that it is wrong for the Church to become politically active. As Nigel Lacey points out:

Once the local church is seen as a campaigning body with secular, political intentions it has compromised its great calling to preach the gospel to every creature.

It is quite legitimate for individual Christians to exercise their democratic right to vote and lobby their MP, or even to become politically active themselves. However, for the Church to become a political body is to divert its energies and attention away from its principle task of proclaiming the gospel to all men everywhere. All time, money and effort spent on political activism on the part of the Church is time, money and effort diverted away from sharing the good news of the gospel.
It is also wrong for the Church to become politically active as it causes division amongst its members. As Christians, we are to be united around the gospel. Many good Christian men and women may differ in their political outlook. Some will highlight social policies, such as tackling poverty, as most important when casting their vote whereas others highlight moral issues, such as abortion, as most important. With different parties placing greater emphasis on different policy areas individual Christian believers must vote for whom they feel most appropriate. Inevitably, this will lead to variations within the Church body but need not be divisive when it is in no way a focus of the Church.
For the Church, however, to affiliate to a political party is disastrous for two main reasons. Firstly, those of a different political hue to the Church become isolated and divisions are immediately drawn between believers. Each individual may vote for their party of choice for equally valid Christian reasons and yet, when the Church affiliates itself to a political party, the Church becomes divided. Secondly, any political affiliation to a secular organisation will inevitably lead to compromise. Either the Church will have to soften its theological stance when a policy contrary to the teaching of the Bible is adopted or the Church must court accusations of hypocrisy by supporting a party that adheres to policies that the Church teaches are contrary to the Bible. In either case, because the Church has moved away from its primary function, its ability to fulfil its calling and proclaim the gospel is severely impeded.
So, we can conclude that individual believers are at liberty to exercise their democratic rights and even become politically active. However, for the Church to be politically active is problematic. Primarily, it detracts from the Church’s calling to proclaim the gospel. Moreover, political activity on the part of the Church causes needless division amongst believers. Rather than uniting around the gospel we end up dividing over politics. As such, we must conclude that the Church, as a body of believers, should not engage in political activity.