Whose World Is It?
In the circles in which I cut my eye teeth as a believer, Christian social action was seen as the providence of individuals, not the church. The church was forbidden to take the initiative in addressing current social problems, the main exception being charity. The return of the Lord was seen as the only solution to the social problems that vexed humanity. We should concentrate on our own spiritual lives and on personal evangelism, we were instructed. After all, “this world is not our home” and “you don’t polish the brass on a sinking ship.”
If anything, the opposite trend is visible today. In fact, I would venture to suggest that evangelical Protestantism has become so closely identified with the political status quo that it is blind to many serious evils in contemporary American society. Only the most ignorant cultural observer would be unconcerned about the obvious fact that evangelical Christianity is too closely linked to political conservatism for its own good.
I call it the cult of “Americanism.” American Christians, filled with “patriotism” and love for their country, are so busy waving pompoms for political “conservatives” that they fail to take a good hard look at the country’s foreign and domestic policies and say, “We have failed to live up to biblical standards of righteousness.” We are, of course, quite willing to cite Proverbs 14:34 when it suits our fancy (“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people”), but we tend to define national sin only in the most individualistic terms (e.g., murder, theft, etc.). What we fail to see is that warmongering, hubris, and unethical government policies are the truly national sins. We have forgotten that one may never in the name of serving Caesar do anything that is contrary to the ethical principles of Christ and His Word.
Not everyone is silent on these issues, of course. As in the days of the Barmen Declaration in Nazi Germany, some believers are attempting to convince church leaders and others that the state does not have the right to define what it means to be Christian, and that the religious community precedes, and takes precedence over, the political community in its act of self-definition. Indeed, they argue that the state has no rights in this area at all. Hence their condemnation of any political group that would exploit the church in order to validate and legitimize its political regime.
Thus, as regrettable and tragic as the lack of personal evangelism is today, an equally serious failing is the identification of Christianity with American nationalism. I say it is equally serious for the very simple reason that Americanism is idolatry, and a very dangerous form of idolatry at that. For in embracing nationalism, Americanism identifies Christianity with the American way of life in a way that actually hinders personal evangelism. After all, a person can argue, I am a church member, I have been baptized, I am a political conservative, hence I must be going to heaven. It is because of this way of thinking that we literally have millions of Americans going to hell thinking they are going to heaven.
Yes, God is the Savior of individuals, and we must preach His Gospel to every creature. But He is also the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. This is God’s world, not Satan’s, even though it currently (and temporarily) lies under enemy occupation. Thus Christians must act like leaven, permeating society with the truth of the Gospel, and proclaiming with the Barmen Declaration, as did Bonhoeffer, “We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords – areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.”
September 7, 2004
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. His latest book is Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon.