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The early Church was largely silent in the political arena. Christians were a minority group, sporadically persecuted and pre-occupied with evangelism, and pastoring converts, resolving doctrinal disputes and developing Church structures.
The medieval church voiced its views in every debate but became so corrupt that its voice was seldom distinctively Christian.
The Reformers sought to restore the Church’s purity, though Calvin allowed the Church a voice in law making. The 18th century revival was primarily spiritual but Wesley was also ‘a prophet of righteousness’ who stimulated the likes of Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect to seek political reform and the abolition of slavery. Lord Shaftesbury continued that, speaking out on child labour, the plight of lunatics, women working in the mines, homelessness, the London slums and education. For much of the 20th century the Christian voice in politics was indistinct and for the most part Evangelicals opted out of the political arena.
There were two reasons for this. First politics was seen to be a dirty business and a distraction for the Christian priority of evangelism. Politics was also becoming increasingly complex and many Christians did not know how to relate their biblical faith to the contemporary issues facing Governments. The respected evangelical leader, John Stott, was an exception to this, as his book “Issues Facing Christians Today” demonstrated.
Stott understood the cultural mandate given in Genesis. God made us social beings with obligations to Him and to each other. We were created to “fill the earth and subdue it… to rule over every living creature” (Gen 1:28) and to be accountable to Him for how we do this. Adam and Eve were different but interdependent and together bore the image of God, giving us a pattern of unity in the midst of diversity.
Tragically, humankind’s rebellion (Gen 3) distorted the divine images in us, distorted our relationship with God, with the land and with each other. This created divisions and conflict that are difficult to resolve. The Babel incident (Gen 11) was an early example of pride, vanity, conspiracy and even war. A biblical response is found in Romans 13:1-7. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities for there is not authority except that which God has established…” Romans 12 &13 together with Revelation 13 make it clear that the authority of Government is not absolute. Any Government that turns its back on God loses its authority.
Jesus’ teaching adds to this when he addresses the difference his disciples should be making. First we are to be salt and light, agents for change in society, fighting corruption and nurturing healthy development. Secondly, we should render to Caesar what we owe Caesar, always remembering that Caesar is God’s agent not an autonomous power to do as he pleases. St Paul recognises that this includes paying our taxes and voting responsibly. If and when Government acts contrary to God’s revealed we will also have a duty to speak prophetically against those acts. We will do that conscious of the end time’s perspective when Jesus returns. His teaching about that (Matthew 25:31-46 and Luke 16:19-31) is an important reminder.
The point I am trying to make is that the Bible gives us clear teaching that there should be a Christian voice in politics. There are Christian MPs in each of the political parties but they are a minority and need, at the very least, our regular prayer support. The three historic parties have a Christian group, the CCF, LDCF and Christian on the Left. They don’t fight each other like their host parties but come together in shared projects under the umbrella of Christian in Politics.
Inevitably, some of the Christian MPs will be defeated in future elections or reach an age when they wish to retire. They will need to be replaced by younger Christian voices, deeply rooted in biblical teaching, filled with God’s Holy Spirit and actively supported by Christian prayer. We are not all called to stand for election but we are all called to prayerfully support those who are. If we are complaining about the state of British politics, is that a sign that our Christian salt and light are not at work?