Should You Be a Political Activist?
Should you be a political activist?
Maybe. Maybe not. While I think that's a good question to think about (with others and an open Bible), I am more interested that there is freedom given for godly saints to answer that question in different ways. I think Christian charity should make more room for different good responses to that question. We must enlarge our view of faithfulness.
WHAT’S REQUIRED OF EVERY CHRISTIAN
Let’s start with some of what’s required of every Christian.
Christ calls all of us to be the salt and light (Matt. 5:13–14). All of us, therefore, should have a seasoning, preserving, and illuminating influence in this dark and perverse generation. We cannot transform the world into something salvageable (1 Cor. 7:31), but we can influence the world for good as recipients of God's salvation and "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior" (Titus 2:10). We ought to work to diminish participation in sin, expose the existence of sin, proclaim that Christ is Savior and Lord, and supply a heavenly contrast that attracts attention to our Lord and his gospel.
Further, Scripture commands all of us to pray for the improvement of our societies and those who lead them:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1-4)
Such prayers are “good,” because they lead to good outcomes: peaceful and quiet lives which allow people to come to knowledge of the truth. And, historically, Christians have understood that what is prayed for in private is to be labored for in public. We are not only to earnestly make "good prayers," but also be a people “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).
If you’re a Christian, you’re called to enthusiastically labor for good works. A fallen and sinful world is filled with opportunities to do good as God's people so that we can proclaim the excellencies of him who calls from darkness to marvelous light. And to all of this, the church says, "Amen!"
A VAST UNIVERSE OF GOOD WORKS TO DO
These opportunities to do good should be a point of celebration; however, they’re also a place of contention. We pit one good work against another, or we require every other Christian to take up the same good work that we are most passionate about ourselves.
When we do this, we end up shrinking faithfulness to Jesus into our smaller expressions of it.
Yet there is a vast universe of good works to do. There are multiple courses of action that are equally faithful to God. The Bible does not offer a list of all the good works because there are countless ways this will play out in each Christian's life.
Some may frequently protest; others may never participate in one.
Some may vote; others may not vote at all.
Some might become an activist who labors to be an agent of change in society; others may focus their attention on their own affairs and seek to honor Christ in the quiet confines of their day-to-day lives.
Some will go out; some will stay put.
Some are prone to mourn in compassion, while others are prone to rejoice in hope.
Some will tweet much, some will tweet little, and some will not tweet at all!
Some will believe that much can change in the present world through faithful labor; some will believe that much won't change in a fallen world and so they’ll spend their energies in what they deem more fruitful.
Some will, "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself" (Prov. 26:4); others will "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes" (Prov. 26:5)!
All of it is faithfulness. There is a time and a season for everything (Eccl. 3:1–8).
There’s much that we all must do. We all must pray consistently with the shape of our Lord's agenda (Mt. 6:7–13); we all must abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:22); we all must be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14); we all must repent and believe the gospel (Mk. 1:15) we all must obey all of Christ's commands (Matt. 28:20)!
But this doesn’t mean that our obedience is going to be utterly identical. Sure, there are many ways it should be identical (like our belief in the gospel), but there are many, many ways it should look beautifully diverse (like our efforts to adorn the gospel).
CHARITY & FREEDOM
What’s often missing in our calls to action is charity and freedom. We need more charity that says, "Even though you don't agree with me or take up the cause I am passionate about—I still welcome you and affirm you as my family in Christ."
We also need to give more freedom for different believers to do different things—things consistent with Scripture—and still be regarded as equally faithful to the Lord. You don't have to be an activist to love Jesus. You don't have to march in protests to be faithful to God. You certainly can do those things to the glory of God, but you don't have to do those things to give glory to God.
Perhaps you are not an activist, but you should be! Or perhaps you are an activist, and you shouldn’t be. Let everyone be convinced in his own mind, and let everyone be careful not to judge what his brother has concluded in his. Some will partake as unto the Lord, and some will abstain as unto the Lord. God welcomes both—and so too, should we (see Romans 14).
It’s really quite simple: if the only way to be faithful to Jesus is your way, then you have lost Jesus. Disciples are called to observe Jesus’ commandments, not yours.
We all must be extremely careful not to teach as doctrines the commandments of men (Mark 7:7). Just because you have a good idea to honor the Lord doesn’t mean I am required by God to participate with you. Believers don't "cancel" each other due to matters of conscience, but rather we extend charity to each other where we disagree. We need to make room for each other in Christ, for God has made room for us all.
WHAT GOD WILL RECOGNIZE ON JUDGMENT DAY
We tend to think God prefers lives full of big events and epic efforts of faithfulness. Some insist that loud and big solutions are the only faithful way forward, that anything short of a revolution is unacceptable. But Jesus hasn’t called us all to revolutionize our governments or to change all the unjust policies of our communities. Perhaps some of his people will be used by him to bring about dramatic change, and praise God if so!
But most Christians cannot effect change on that level and will not effect change on that level. Often, we are not providentially given access to make such adjustments. Sometimes we will have good desires without particular outlets for such good works. Galatians 6:10 says, "As we have opportunity—do good to everyone." Usually, we don’t have opportunities to make world-shifting changes. While we can certainly be bright influences in a crooked and dark world, we will always live in an evil age until Christ makes all things new (Rom. 8:19).
Therefore, let's keep in the forefront of our minds what Jesus will recognize at the final Judgment. His words stand out with refreshing simplicity in a world that seems fixated on large and loud responses. He doesn’t want us to miss the many opportunities he has given to be faithful to him by overlooking the small things. Here’s what Jesus says:
The King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:34–40)
Jesus will bring up the good works that people may not have noticed. He will honor the religion and regard the good works that many saints overlooked. It's significant to note that what Jesus recalled, the righteous didn't even remember! To be sure, there are louder, more easily noticed obediences. But quiet obediences are equally noticed by God. Just because someone is living a quiet life doesn't mean that that life isn't godly and dignified in every way.
DON’T SHRINK FAITHFULNESS
So as we seek to stir up one another to love and good works, let's be careful not to shrink what faithfulness is.
Let's make room for different burdens in the brethren.
Let’s encourage one another to pursue diverse good works throughout the church.
And let’s remember that Jesus measures differently than we do. That small obedience from a saint that we might conclude is an insufficient expression of faithfulness, Jesus may well regard as more than enough.