Christianity and Social Involvement
This article focuses on the topic of Biblical social involvement. As Christians we must respond to Biblical direction and to the needs of our time. For only when we do so are we being obedient to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This means that we take time to understand the Bible's teaching on this subject, and also that we analyze our current situation.
Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1:28)
Christianity teaches that, in order to understand ourselves and our world, we must go back to the beginning. Only when we see how God created the world can we know the purpose He still has for our lives. When we read Genesis 1 and 2 we see that God created all things "good," from the stars to the tiniest plants. And then He created man and woman in His image, with the direction to "fill and rule" the world for God's sake. God did not create man originally to have constant prayer meetings, but to be technically, creatively active in filling and ruling the earth. And mankind, especially redeemed mankind, still has this same "cultural mandate." Politics is not simply the result of the fall, but ought to be seen as part of the "ruling and filling" function man received at the beginning of creation.
Law as God's Word for Society
The obedience which God demanded from Adam and Eve is the same kind of obedience He still claims from all men and women. Jesus summarized the law by saying it meant to love God with all one's heart and mind and one's neighbor as oneself. The Ten Commandments show us God's demands for all mankind, not just for the already redeemed. Otherwise, mankind would not be guilty. Either God's law will be seen as the basis of all other laws in society, or man will make up his own ungodly laws. As the Protestant Reformation affirmed, God's law is the only guarantee of social freedom and justice.
Of course, after the fall of Adam and Eve (a real, historical event), the law and the governing authorities serve to restrain sin and punish crimes. Society needs policemen, and God has provided the law, to show what kind of acts are criminal. God's law threatens punishment, and a society which ignores God's law will eventually disintegrate into either totalitarianism or decadence.
Redemption's Influence in Society
We have the original "cultural mandate," we have God's law. But we have more. We have a living Savior, and we have the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit in our world. As God's kingdom spreads through the preaching of the gospel, so does the influence of His people spread through the societies in which they live. The church is to be a building with open doors and open windows. The fresh winds of the Spirit are to blow out upon the land. The love for God and one's neighbor takes on new urgency and new power in the light of the cross of Christ. The blights of feudalism, prostitution, slavery, racial prejudice, abortion, economic exploitation — all these ought to be eliminated where the gospel's influence is being felt.
The Lordship of Christ
Christ is our Savior and Lord, and not only personal sins, but also group and social sins are the objects of His transforming power. Both within and without the church, Christ's Lordship calls us to common action, common prayer, common discipleship. Think of the work of deacons, whose work in part is to care for the poor and needy in the congregation. If there is a church in Korea where the poor, the needy, the widows, and the orphans are not being helped spiritually and materially, then that church does not know the Lordship of Christ. If there are Christian students, businessmen, or housewives, whose daily activities are carried on without prayer, dedication and honesty, then these people do not know the Lordship of Christ.
Spiritual Warfare Against Satan and Sin
Christians are soldiers; the church is an army. We fight our own personal sins of lust and greed, of covetousness and apathy, but we are also called to fight the enemies of God. Our weapons are the gospel weapons of faith and proclamation, and we seek to conquer Satan wherever he rules. Communism, Islam, and Western secularism are all satanic forces, seeking to overthrow the gospel. A more insidious foe is theological liberalism, which seeks to undercut the authority of the Bible and destroy the message of salvation. The time between Christ's first and second comings is a time of struggle, of battle, of warfare for the hearts and minds of men. And, without question, this struggle has a political component.
We sum up this section on the Biblical foundation for social concern by saying that the Bible informs us about our cultural mandate, God's Law as His Word for society, redemption's influence, the Lordship of Christ, and our spiritual warfare against Satan and sin.
Social Concern and Evangelism
The High Priority of the Bible's Message: The Kingdom of God for Believers and their Children
As I have said, God's kingdom spreads today through the faithful proclamation of the gospel. Where the gospel of God's grace in Christ is not proclaimed in power, there God's kingdom cannot be established. Where men are not challenged to repent and put their trust in the cross, where people do not hear about the cleansing blood of Christ, there can be no Christian politics. Only believers, together with their covenant children, are members of Christ's kingdom. Without the pure gospel of the New Testament, summarized in the confessions of the Reformation, there can be no Christian influence in society. Trying to reform society without the message of salvation is like serving stones instead of bread for a meal: you have something on your plate, but you won't be nourished by it.
The WCC's Degradation of Evangelism and the Bible
Today, as I also mentioned, the church is engaged in a struggle against theological liberalism. The various theologies of "liberation" coming out of the Geneva headquarters of the World Council of Churches claim Marx as an ally of the gospel. This is because the WCC no longer knows what the gospel really is. Instead of trying to spread Christ's kingdom through the pure preaching of salvation, the WCC seeks to promote revolution and justice in the world. The WCC does not see Christ coming to judge the living and the dead, but rather a gradual evolution to a so-called more humane society. The WCC does not believe that there is an eternal hell where all unbelievers will be punished, but rather that there is no after-life, or that all men will be saved, following the neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth. Evangelism and the Bible have been thrown upon the garbage pile, and secularist revolution has taken their place. This is the religion of the WCC.
The Dangers of Marxism
Mainline Marxism and its various offshoots, such as the neo-Marxism of Marcuse, have become an attractive philosophy to many contemporary students. Even in Korea, the underground circles at universities and colleges are often influenced by Marxist ideas. Many of these ideas sound noble and profound: the establishment of a common, shared social life, true help for the poor and oppressed, the elimination of exploitation and inequality. Yet we as Christians must be aware of the untruth and false presuppositions of Marxist ideology. Marxism is first of all a radically atheistic faith. No one can be a true Marxist without denying God's existence and denying the need of Christ's atoning work on the cross. Secondly, Marxism is in practice a ruthless system of oppression and cruelty: think of the Russia described by Solzhenitsyn, the Cambodian genocide of Pol Pot, the horrors of contemporary North Korea. Students, easily misled by their ideals, must see what Marxism is in reality: an anti-Christian system of repression and torture in the name of a glorious revolution.
The Honorable Christian Tradition of Holistic Ministry and Mission
Here we are thinking primarily of the long history of social good works which the church has produced down through the ages. Countless hospitals, special centers ministering to lepers and other outcasts, thousands of schools, institutions aiding agricultural and technical development — these are all examples of what the church has been doing as it spread from its original base in Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. While we cannot boast in ourselves, neither should we fail to remember what has been a part of the church's mission from its beginning: helping people with all their needs simultaneously with preaching the gospel to all. Evangelism has always been accompanied by this kind of "social concern" wherever the church has been true to the full calling of God.
The Harmony of Evangelism and Social Concern
While there is a high priority to evangelism in the New Testament, it is not the only thing we are informed about or called to do. Prayer, fellowship, being grounded in the Word, church discipline, the roles of elders and deacons, family life, and many other subjects are treated by God for us as tasks we have in the New Testament age. Proclamation is more than evangelism, because it also addresses the covenant community in God's constant care for His people. We also have more to do than the term "social concern" covers, since cultural tasks such as science, art, and philosophy are also part of our cultural mandate. But if evangelism and politics are centrally important, which they are, both of them must proceed on the basis of God's inerrant Word in order to be harmonious. And if we avoid an isolationist mentality (fundamentalism) as well as an assimilationist mentality (liberalism), true harmony can be achieved, and transformation and penetration of our cultures with the gospel may be possible.
Social Concern and Political Theory
Economics, Politics, and the Bible
In many cases, political theory circles around economic issues. Capitalism and communism, being the most aggressive economic theories of our day (along with the hybrid, socialism, and theocratic Islam), are always seeking to justify political action on the basis of purely economic considerations. How does one produce an optimum of material wealth for mankind? This is the primary question in the minds of capitalistic and communistic politicians. While it is often balanced by considerations about freedom and justice, economic prosperity is a central goal of modern politicians.
The Bible is clear that economic wealth, even for all the members of a society, is not in itself a blessing. Or, rather, while God does bless mankind with material wealth, if mankind misuses the wealth or is ungrateful to Him, wealth becomes a curse. The free West of today, having been blessed by God with material prosperity, is quickly abandoning Christian faith for secularism and decadence.
The Bible is clear on several economic issues: property, diligence, family, the good of the material, and compassion. Against communism and socialism, the Bible says that private property is God's idea. Otherwise stealing would be impossible. Secondly, hard work, diligence, is a great virtue in human life. No one is entitled to eat if he does not want to work. Thirdly, prosperity may be enjoyed by families as units and may be passed down through families. Fourthly, material objects and services are part of God's creation, and thus of themselves good. Fifthly, material objects and services ought to be shared with the poor by the rich.
The Bible is also clear that human governments have the task of making laws (echoing God's law) which guarantee the right of private property, penalize laziness, support the family structure, and stimulate compassionate use of wealth. Further, governments must stimulate the use of wealth for God's glory, such as establishing Christian institutions, giving full freedom for the gospel to transform social life.
Justice, Politics, and the Bible
A second focus of political theory is justice. How do we achieve a truly just social order? Again it is the laissez-faire capitalists and the Marxist communists who are the primary protagonists of our day. Capitalism tends to see in representative democracy the best guarantee that the rights of the individual are protected. The secular democracies of the West see justice as those laws which protect the individual's freedom (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, to echo the US Declaration of Independence). On the other hand, Marxists see justice primarily distributively that is, as a social distribution of the material goods of a state. Justice means equality for both political theories, but for capitalism it means equality of opportunity, while for communism it means equality of material welfare.
The Bible is clear that justice in society is a great good, but it differs from both capitalism and communism in seeing this justice as grounded in the God of the Bible. Furthermore, the Bible sees law not as a means to an end, as in capitalism and communism, but as the divine framework for human life. Justice in the Bible is not an unrestricted freedom for self-development (capitalism), nor a constant equality of material wealth (communism), but the order which God has given human social life. Murder is wrong and unjust because God says it is wrong and unjust. Justice, in the Bible's terms, is correspondence with God's law in the human social order.
The Bible is clear that human governments have the task of making laws which are just, that is, in accordance with His will. In criminal law, this means that punishment corresponds to actual crimes against God's order for society. For example, murder, in the Bible is to be punished by death. But this social order is also one in which the rich may not exploit the poor. God calls governments to punish such crimes as well.
The Anabaptist Model: Power Shunned
In church history, Christian groups have responded differently to political theory. One such response is that of the 16th century Anabaptists in Europe, who, in general, retreated from life into their own communities, refusing to bear arms or be policemen or have governmental functions. They shunned and avoided the power of politics, because they felt it was essentially a game played by unregenerate pseudo-Christians. True Christians ought never carry or use a sword, since our battle is spiritual. War is always wrong. There is no place for Christian political power in this world.
On the basis of the Bible, I believe that this Anabaptist attitude is wrong. Was not King David a spiritual man? Did not the Israelites fight for God's sake? While the New Testament has given us a New Covenant, it cannot be so completely opposed to the Old Covenant that they are enemies of each other. And doesn't Romans 13 teach that government is given by God, and that the sword is used on God's own authority? The Anabaptist attitude of pacifism and isolationism has no basis in the Bible.
The Roman Catholic Model: Power Abused
At the other extreme, Roman Catholics have often tried to justify their actions on the basis of their theory that the church must rule the world. Political power was seen as the means by which this rule could be exercised, and the Pope became simply one more political prince in Europe. The Inquisition was simply an extreme form of this mode of thinking, trying to eliminate all possible deviations by torture and punishment. Up until recently the Roman Catholic Church had no place for tolerance in their political model, since there should only be tolerance for the Roman Catholic Church. Even now, in Latin America, many Protestants suffer greatly because of this warped political megalomania.
The Calvinistic Model: Power Shared, Balanced, for the Glory of God
In the Reformation, Luther and Calvin labored to produce a truly Reformed church and a Christian social order. Especially Calvin and his followers formed an international network of Christian leaders dedicated to the proclamation of the gospel and to a renewed Christian political presence. While Calvin himself felt that monarchies, aristocracies, and democracies were all possible options (in the light of the Bible), those nations influenced by Calvinism sought more and more to be representative Republics, rejecting both autocratic monarchies and mindless "democracies." Ideas of freedom, equality, and brotherhood were thus engendered, but always within the Biblical framework of spiritual fellowship, responsibility, and leadership.
In the countries where Reformed churches grew and thrived, including the new colonies in America, political power was neither shunned nor flagrantly abused. Power was, instead, shared by the members of the society. Power was balanced, by attempting to disallow one area of government to become self-determining. And, most importantly, political power was seen to be derived from the Bible and from the God of the Bible. Political power was never autonomous, a law to itself, but always subject to God's law and with the aim of promoting the gospel.
Democracy, Freedom, and The Gospel
We may say, then, that behind the free West's democracies stands the important influence of the Reformation, and particularly Calvinism. Now, of course, these same democracies seek secular philosophies to justify themselves. But we as Christians cannot be so blind as to ignore the Bible in our evaluation and use of political theories. And we must seek to be creative again in our time, seeking to find the Bible's perspective on the political questions of our age.
More than anything else, perhaps, we must fill in again the meaning of the word "freedom." This is the most ambiguous word there is, meaning a thousand different things to a thousand different political theories. But we as Christians know that true freedom comes only in obedience to Jesus Christ, and that the gospel must be at the heart of any society which calls itself free. And this is the freedom we proclaim to the world.
Social Concern and Political Strategy
Biblical Political Objectives: Freedom for The Gospel in All of Society
In our day, totalitarianism, communism, Islam, and other religions block the progress of the gospel. In Russia believers are not allowed to educate their own children in the ways of God. In Turkey, Christians are tormented and persecuted by Moslem fanatics. In America, Christians are systematically ridiculed and maligned in all the media. Against this background we see our political strategy emerge. Where the government is a force hindering the progress of the gospel, there we must work to change the situation so that the gospel may have liberty to do its work. Where the government says, "You may not educate your children," there we say, "No." Where the government says, "You have no rights," there we say, "No." Where the government allows the media to caricature the Bible, there we say, "No." And this saying no is thus the path to our political strategy.
Further, where the church has become lethargic and timid, or has accepted a de facto Anabaptist view of politics, there we must work to make the members of the church aware of their Biblical, political duties and calling.
The Dutch Model of Christian Political Parties: the ARP and the GPV
G. Groen van Prinsterer and Abraham Kuyper are two names you should always remember when you think about Christianity and politics. In the 19th century, they were leaders of the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) in The Netherlands. They sought to rouse the sleeping giant of the orthodox Reformed Christians to labor for Christ in the political arena. And, to a great extent, they were successful. That is, God blessed their labors with much fruit. Perhaps the crowning achievement was the law, passed in 1920, recognizing the rights of Christian schools to use tax money for their support.
Today, since the ARP has disappeared into the nebulous, theologically liberal Christian Democratic Party, CDA, the small party called the GPV represents what Groen van Prinsterer and Kuyper stood for in the past. The Reformed Political Alliance (GPV = Gereformeerd Politiek Verbond) stands for the principles which motivated thousands of Reformed Christians in the 19th century to abandon their passivity and lethargy, and to labor to open the way for the gospel to penetrate and transform Dutch culture. The Bible and the Reformed confessions are the basis of the party, and its members are committed members of the Reformed Church. An automatic ally of neither capitalism nor socialism, Reformed political thought seeks to analyze social problems and realities in the light of the Bible and to seek realistic, Biblical solutions.
The Impotence of the US Model of "Separation of Church and State"
It is apparent to me that the model of Christian political involvement which the USA presents to us is inadequate, theoretically and practically. The idea of two non-Christian parties, Democratic and Republican, representing Christian ideas in political thought is simply impossible. At every turn, within these parties, distinctly Christian motives and goals are disallowed and undercut, because the parties themselves are at root hostile to the Lordship of Christ in political life.
One of the great myths of Democratic-Republican ideology is the "separation of church and state." As Francis Schaeffer shows in his latest book, A Christian Manifesto, this dogma has been used again and again to nullify and corrupt Christian values and goals in recent American history. What was originally meant as a way to prevent the establishment of one church body in the nation has become the way secularists try to eliminate Christian influence in all of public American life, from education to the media. And Christians have not yet woken up to the reality of this great secular hoax.
Lawmaking and the Bible
Christians ought to form political discussion groups with the aim of forming Christian political parties. I believe this should be true in Russia, in Moslem-dominated countries, as well as in America. The aim should be to seek ways in which the gospel may be set free to set people free. That is, the goal of proclaiming salvation in Christ to the nations should be the great purpose motivating our political activity. But along with this should be attention to Christian law-making: For it is concrete laws which regulate taxation, establish criminal offences and penalties, allocate funds to various agencies, etc. And it is this very concrete process of legislation which demands our attention and energy. There can be no Christian-politics without Christian law-making as a goal.
The Worldwide Lordship of Christ and International Cooperation
Lord Acton said, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." This commonly-accepted cliché is false. For the Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe and possesses absolute power over all His creation, and He is not in the slightest corrupt. Secondly, human, power, while it often does tend to corrupt, is like many other good things, which in the hands of sinful men is terribly abused. Think of sexuality and money, for example. But Christians involved in politics, realizing the sinfulness of their own hearts and the deceitfulness of sin will be the first to confess the need for Christ to be Lord and not they themselves.
And then, Christian politics tends to an international vision, preventing geographical and cultural blocks from developing. The worldwide Lordship of Christ creates a worldwide brotherhood of those seeking to worship and serve their risen Lord. This puts all political action in its proper perspective.
Social Concern and Political Action
Social Action not Restricted to Politics: Charity, Relief, Work, Rehabilitation
It is important to realize that, while social concern is particularly focused on politics, this ought not to be its only focus. The tremendous variety of life ought to prevent us from becoming simply "political animals." The life God has created is not a drab uniformity, but a great kaleidoscope of colors and movement. And sometimes it is better to forget politics now and then, and simply to be involved in the modest yet crucial work of "helping our neighbor." This could be one of the lessons of Christ's story about the "good Samaritan." Think of the work of Mother Teresa in India, the relief efforts of the American organizations such as World Vision, and the adoption agencies in Korea such as Holt. These are also examples of Christian social action, without question.
The Need for Analysis, Thought, and Concrete Plans
If laziness is a sin, then it is doubly a sin when it has to do with such all-encompassing tasks as Christian political action. We ought not to think that Christian politics can be generated merely out of enthusiasm and a few cheap slogans. No, genuinely Christian political thought, like all genuinely Christian thought, takes time and energy. For the world of our time is a fiercely complex world, full of contradictions, mysteries, and racked by the power of sin and institutional inertia. The first task of a Christian political action group is prayer. Then Bible study. Then a church history review. Then an analysis of our particular setting. Then a setting of goals. Only then should there be work on some immediate, concrete plans. But then again, we shouldn't be afraid, either, intimidated by government, political traditions, or church conservatism.
Begin where You are: Christian Political Discussion Groups, Reading Materials, Projects
In the Korean student world of 1984, students may be divided into the politically active and the politically inactive. Sadly, most evangelical Christians fall into the latter category. Yet the result of such a non-active role is the automatic capitulation to the leadership of non-Christians in Korean political life. And this spells disaster for the future of Korea. No, I believe God is calling you, calling all of us together, to reflect about our responsibilities in His world. And that means: begin where you are. Pray about it, study the Scripture, read about church history. Use some of the books available which wrestle with the question of political involvement from a Christian perspective.
A Christian Political Vision for Korea: The Gospel, The Church, The Christian School, The Christian Political Party
I began this article by talking about the Biblical foundation for social concern and political involvement. I must reiterate that it is only insofar as the Bible calls to such concern and involvement that we are obligated to it. The Christian life is not one of listening to one's own heart or mind, but of listening and responding to God's voice in the Scriptures — and to respond by saying, "Where God calls, there I will follow."
Those who have been won for the gospel wish to give their lives for the gospel. Those who know the Lord Jesus Christ personally wish that all mankind might know Him, for to know Him in faith is to have eternal life. And this is the gospel which must lie at the heart of all Christian political thought and activity.
The Bible calls to faith in Christ, and then to fellowship in the church. This is important in Korea, particularly, because of the many church splits and hostilities which exist. Christian political action will be doomed if it is not accompanied by the struggle for true church unity, on the basis of the Bible and the Reformed confessions.
And then, I believe, the Bible calls us to establish truly Christian schools, where Christian parents are in control of curriculum and staff. For Christian life is life in the covenant, where believers are called to bring up their children in the teaching of the Bible. And in our day, the establishing of such Christian schools must involve political action, for at present it is forbidden by the government.
Centrally, in my opinion, Christians are called to form organizations which recognize and put into practice the Lordship of Christ. One of these organizations ought to be a Christian political party, whose express purpose would be to serve God and the Korean people by promoting the freedom for human life which only the gospel promises and can guarantee. I sincerely hope and pray that God might give you such a vision and equip you to carry it out, in faith.