Conservative political leader Paul Weyrich caused a stir in Washington recently by calling on those who still believe in our traditional, Bible-based Christian culture to separate themselves as much as possible from a corrupt, disintegrating America.
Mr. Weyrich is understandably upset at the numerous political losses conservatives have suffered of late, especially the acquittal of President Clinton in the Senate. "Politics has failed," he asserts, because most Americans are no longer moral. Questioning the value of participation in institutions dominated by the secular left, Mr. Weyrich worries that fighting on the liberal turf may accomplish little and exhaust conservatives.
What should Christians make of this argument? First, while we should always pray and work for revival, we shouldn't be surprised or alarmed to find ourselves in the minority. The Bible strongly implies that true Christians would constitute a minority in most times and places. When Christ instructed us to enter the narrow gate to salvation, He also said that few would do so. Most would take the wide gate to destruction. And the Apostle Peter refers to Christians as those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout the nations, which doesn't exactly give one hope that Christian majorities will exist within those countries.
A difficult fact for many to accept is that the United States never was a Christian nation, in the sense of having a special relationship with God. Neither was the late Roman Empire nor Elizabethan England, both of which believers also mistook for God's chosen vessel. Christ said that His kingdom is not of this world, so Christian nations simply do not exist under the New Covenant. God draws people, not countries, into His kingdom; God's covenant is with the church, not with any this-worldly nation. Countries such as the United States have been influenced by Christianity, but since the time of Christ not one actually has been Christian.
So should we withdraw from the political life of the republic into a kind of monastic seclusion? Throughout history this has been a constant temptation for Christians frustrated by the world around them. It's certainly true that the church, as an institution, has always been severely weakened whenever it has become political or dependent upon civil government. But Christians, as individuals, are under what theologians call the "cultural mandate." Being in the world, as distinct from being of it, we are called to work for its good. That includes being engaged in politics and other parts of the world's "turf."
The civil governments of this world do not exist by happenstance. They are part of God's method of restraining the natural consequences of the fall. God providentially sets up civil governments not to bring about His kingdom directly, but to preserve societies from degenerating into chaos, which is their fallen tendency. God preserves societies not for their own sake, but so that He can redeem His chosen remnant within them. The preservation of societies is no small matter, then, and Christians are called to be part of it.
The Old Testament model is Israel in captivity in Babylon. The Israelites were away from their true home, the promised land, and they longed for it.We too are not in our true home, which is heaven, and we long to be there.
Like Israel, we should never fall into the ways of this alien place, nor ever serve its gods. But also like Israel, while we are away from home we are supposed to seek the good of the land in which God has placed us. Jonathan Edwards compared our situation to that of travelers taking refuge at an inn. They never mistake the inn for home, and they're ready to leave when the time comes. But while they're at the inn they want to keep it in good repair.
This means maintaining a careful balance: not putting our hope in political matters, but also not retreating from them. Of course, we shouldn't be surprised if often we lose in this foreign land. But even then we can be fully confident that we haven't really lost, because we know how everything turns out: A day is coming when everyone will be resurrected, either for eternal life or for punishment, when truth and justice will be vindicated, and when "every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God."