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Is it possible for the church to be apolitical?

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church-state-christian-flagWeary and wary from the Religious Right’s checkered history of unhealthy political alliances, many pastors and churches have opted for disengagement altogether.

Or the illusion of disengagement, that is.

As Andrew Walker reminds us, “It is impossible for churches to be apolitical because Jesus is a King. He isn’t a pious emblem to tuck away into our hearts with no earthly effect.”

The Gospel we preach is inherently political. Indeed, as Walker continues, “Jesus is Lord” is “the most political statement ever uttered in the cosmos.” The question, therefore, is whether our churches are honest enough to connect the dots for God’s people:

The church that insists on calling itself “apolitical” or relegates “the gospel” to a message of pious sanctimony unbothered by earthly affairs has a tragic misunderstanding of what “politics” really is, and how the church’s very essence is fervently political in nature…

The early church knew this. Its statement that Jesus is Lord was a direct political assault on the claims of Caesar. Caesar was threatened by the church’s message because the church pledged allegiance to a higher authority, and in doing so, subjected Caesar’s temporal authority to Jesus’ kingly authority…The early church was political, and so must we—but political as the Bible defines political, not as how FOX or MSNBC define political.

It’s one thing to avoid the overt co-opting of the pulpit that we’ve come to behold — to cease with overly simplistic voter guides and cheap endorsements of particular candidates. It’s quite another to ignore or avoid the widespread cultural implications of the Gospel.

Such a withdrawal opts for a witness that is either completely silent on earthly affairs and institutions or selectively avoids the moral and spiritual issues of the day based on political heat. In effect, this puts Cultural Consensus before King Jesus, making for a pretend place wherein issues of sexuality, racial injustice, abortion, and religious liberty are “too political,” but human trafficking and global poverty are somehow not.

As Walker concludes:

The declaration “Jesus is Lord” is the political constitution of the church. That declaration orders our life together, as that is what politics is chiefly about. It sets the parameters of our obedience and dictates how the goals of the Kingdom become our concern. So Christians who labor in the public square out of obedience to Christ aren’t laboring away under abstract metaphysical concepts about human nature; we labor out of the belief that every life is precious in the eyes of God, so anything that attacks the image of God is an attack on God’s fullest image, the Christ. We labor to protect the dignity of the trafficked, the unborn, racial minorities, the immigrant, and the poor because these people bear God’s image in full. We labor in the political square not out of the hope that Christians will be ultimately understood or appreciated, but to bear witness to the coming Kingdom and to announce, as Carl Henry said, “the criteria by which God will judge men and nations.”

It is impossible for churches to be apolitical because Jesus is a King. He isn’t a pious emblem to tuck away into our hearts with no earthly effect. Rather, understanding the political implications of confessing that “Jesus is Lord” places great demands upon us as his disciples as we bear witness to this truth in the public square.

Read the whole thing here.

For more on this question, see Jordan Ballor and Robert Joustra’s new collection of essays, The Church’s Social Responsibility: Reflections on Evangelicalism and Social Justice.

Also, Russell Moore’s practical advise to pastors offers a good example of how to faithfully ride the tensions at play:

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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