Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Great Omission

Do we really love our neighbors if we’re not fighting injustice?

“You pastors should worry about getting people to heaven and leave this world to me.” These words, spoken by Adolf Hitler, were directed at Martin Niemöller, a German submarine commander in World War I and a minister of the gospel. The fuehrer was banking on the Church’s indifference to matters of state. He hoped that the German clergy would be so exclusively focused on winning souls for Christ that they would neglect their duty to redeem the nation’s culture and political institutions for the Kingdom of God. Tragically, he got his wish.

An early supporter of the German chancellor, Niemöller soon found himself an enemy of the state. At a time when many pastors swore an oath of allegiance and obedience to Hitler, Niemöller demanded an end to the government’s meddling in the churches and denounced its anti-Semitism. As a result, he spent seven years in a concentration camp. In his travels to America, Niemöller addressed more than two hundred audiences, sometimes concluding with a poem that has become famous: “First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

While pastors such as Niemöller and Bonhoeffer were a thorn in his side, Hitler would applaud many in America’s clergy today, including James L. Evans, pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church, whose July 8 editorial, “Why it's right for us to be on the side,” decries the notion that Christians are called to reform their society. In his message “The Christian and Government,” John MacArthur states, “There is no biblical mandate for us to spend our time, money, and energy in matters of civil government. [The Church] cannot afford to become a flag-waving, protest voice for governmental change. That's not its calling.” For MacArthur, the Christian’s responsibility to government is confined to two things: “submit to the government and pay your taxes. That's our duty. Beyond that you ought to be busy doing the things that are eternally valuable to the Kingdom.” Hitler would have reveled in such statements.

In his book “Why Government Can’t Save You, An Alternative to Political Activism,” MacArthur maintains, “A certain amount of healthy and balanced concern about current trends in government and the community is acceptable, as long as we realize that such interest is not vital to our spiritual lives, our righteous testimony or the advancement of the kingdom of Christ.” Christians who campaigned to end the slave trade, including William Wilberforce, thought otherwise. They understood that concern for the oppressed is a vital component of our Christian responsibility to love our neighbors. Today, some believers are lobbying governments to abolish child sex trafficking and other injustices. Is such activism not vital to our righteous testimony?

Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, writes in his book “Simple Prayers for a Powerful Life”: “As God’s people, we bear responsibility to cry out in prayer for the poor and the oppressed. But in order to work for social justice, we must have courage and be willing to sacrifice our resources for the sake of others . . . Let there be no doubt—concern for the oppressed is a major concern for every believer” (p. 98-99). The recent General Assembly of the Canadian Christian and Missionary Alliance encouraged delegates to a renewed commitment to restore justice to their nation (www.cmacan.org). Guest speaker Dr. Rock Dillaman challenged constituents to “look like Jesus” by “being a voice for justice.” Distancing ourselves from the “social gospel,” he said, should not mean “pulling away from compassion for the hurting and justice for the oppressed.”

Likewise, when asked about our Christian responsibility to government, Dr. Richard Lawson, director for Mission Advancement in the U.S. C&MA, replied, “What about promoting government action that attempts to defend the rights of the downtrodden? I think this is the clearest point where the Constitution and the Bible come together.”

Recently, a pastor challenged me to find biblical support for Christian political activism, adding that Jesus was so focused on His Father’s will that He didn’t have time for political agendas. Yet much of what our Savior commanded would necessitate some level of political involvement. As Christ’s ambassadors, His people are under a mandate to be “salt and light” in their societies (Matthew 5:13–16). Salt acts as a preservative. It prevents decay. As followers of Jesus, are we not to use our influence to preserve righteousness and goodness in our neighborhoods, schools, communities, and the nation at large? Should we allow our government to degenerate into lawlessness while we fill the baptistery and plant churches? Should we look the other way while unborn children are slaughtered in the womb, disabled people starved by judicial decree, and our fellow citizens are being plundered by government agencies that covet their property?

Dr. James Dobson writes, “We live in a representative form of government where we are its leaders. It means that every citizen has a responsibility to participate in the decisions that are made, and that includes people of faith using their influence for what is moral and just” (Pamphlet: Why Christians Should Vote). While voting is one way we can do this, there are a myriad of others. We’ll talk about them in an upcoming post. I’ll also include some “sound bites” (or the online equivalent) by respected Christian leaders who have challenged believers to be more proactive in their civic duty.

4 Comments:

Blogger CrimsonLine said...

Amen, and amen.

July 27, 2006 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you made some really good points. I agree that the Church is not to sit idly by while our country goes down the moral tubes. I think in the last 50 years many churches had the attitude that the government was "good" so Christians didn't need to get involved. They weren't very involved in evangelism, either.

The Church is just waking up from a long slumber. Christians didn't do much when prayer and the Bible were kicked out of schools and abortion and divorce were made very easily accessible. We still need to be on our knees, but we need to be doing much more as well.

July 31, 2006 4:42 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

As usual, you make a powerful case. Citing Hitler's wish for ministers to remain on the sideline is damning indeed.

August 08, 2006 5:18 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Thanks for the positive feedback, Beth!

August 09, 2006 12:44 PM  

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