Increasing numbers of professing Christians are engaging in social and political "activism" for the astonishing purpose of attempting to coerce an ungodly society into adopting Christian standards of conduct. "After all," they say, "in this way we can begin to reclaim our Christian nation."
"Operation Rescue" is one example. Its founder, Randall Terry, explains that its purpose is to create social upheaval and thereby pressure government into changing the abortion laws. A typical brochure declares: "Rescues help produce the social tension necessary for political change ... whether for good or bad, political change comes after groups of Americans bring enough tension to the nation and pressure on politicians that the laws are changed."
No matter how commendable the goal of such tactics, there is not one example in the entire Bible of political or social "activism" ever being advocated or used by God's people. That fact must weigh heavily upon any consideration of this important topic. There are numerous cases of civil disobedience in Scripture, but it was never engaged in for the purpose of forcing an ungodly society to obey Biblical principles.
The Hebrew midwives, for example, disobeyed Pharaoh's edict and spared the lives of the male babies, even lying to cover up their "rescue operation." God was so pleased that their names, Shiphrah and Puah, have been preserved for us (Exo. 1:15-22). This was, however, a matter of individual conscience before God, not an organized attempt to pressure the pagan Egyptians by mass demonstrations into adopting Israel's God-given morals.
There are no Biblical examples to support today's "Christian activism." Christ "suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps" (1 Pe. 2:21). He sternly and repeatedly rebuked Israel's false religious leaders, yet He never spoke out -- not even once -- against the injustices of Roman civil authority! Nor did He advocate, organize, or engage in any public protests to pressure Rome into changing its corrupt system, or the society of His day its evil ways. He submitted to unjust authorities as Romans 13 tells us we should do today: "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously" (1 Pe. 2:21-25). No "activism" here! So it was with the apostles and the early churches.
If "Christian activism" is God's will, Paul would have been the first to pursue it fearlessly at whatever cost. Yet Romans 13 tells us to obey rulers, and 1 Timothy 2:1-4 to pray for them -- not to attempt to change them by coercion. It is not only foolish but counter-productive to attempt to persuade the unsaved to live like Christians. They can't do it -- and if they could it would only blind them the more to their sin and need of a Savior.
"Christian activism" involves today the well-meaning but foolish attempt to force "Christian principles" upon a godless society through more effective lobbying, larger demonstrations, and greater "social upheaval" than the homosexuals, abortionists, or pornographers can produce. But rather than pressure the ungodly to live like saints, we must win them to Christ that they might live wholly for God. As Christians, our personal lives must also be lived in obedience to God even if that brings us into conflict with civil laws. In addition to avoiding idolatry and immorality, Christians must preach the gospel to everyone everywhere, regardless of government edicts to the contrary.
There is a danger of being so caught up in the social aspect of good causes that one forgets that the soul must be placed before the body. The Great Commission does not involve exerting a Christian influence upon society. We are not to "change society," but to "convert individuals." There is much talk today about "changing the world for Christ." In fact, there is no Biblical teaching or example to support that popular slogan. Rather than persuading sinners to live like saints, we must call them to "repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).
Significant changes in society have been effected by preaching and example. Unfortunately, changes such as the abolition of slavery and the enactment of child labor laws, while improvements to be thankful for, have not made society any more godly. Nor is it any more likely under these better conditions that a higher percentage of mankind will end up in heaven than before. Even if such changes could be construed as "worth working for," many who call themselves Christians have become so absorbed in good causes that they have lost their fervor for saving souls. They have ended up joining forces with non-Christians who also espouse "traditional values," and promoting a compromised "social gospel" that cannot save.
We must denounce sin, call for repentance, and preach the gospel in convicting power. Yes, Christians should call for repentance from homosexuality, child abuse, pornography, and abortion, but we should primarily be calling for repentance for rebellion against God and rejection of Christ. Rather than indicting churches for their lack of "social concern," they should be held accountable for heresies and failure to preach the truth. We must denounce the destructive false teachings that abound, particularly psychology, which is the major vehicle of so much of this evil, and root it out of our churches, seminaries, Bible colleges, and universities. It is hypocritical for a church to protest the world's sins while tolerating and honoring those who preach a false gospel and are the enemies of the cross of Christ.
Instead of protests, we need prophets who call the world to repentance: Enochs who walk with God and warn of judgment (Jude 14-15); Noahs, "A preacher of righteousness" (2 Pe. 2:5), who warned of judgment to come and built an ark for escape. What if he had tried instead to reform society?!
We need Daniels: "Mene, Mene. Tekel. Upharsin." (Dan. 5:24-28) -- the handwriting is on the wall America! You've been weighed in the balance and found wanting! Murdered babies, the abomination of homosexuality, and society's flippant, deliberate rebellion against God arouses His anger! We need Isaiahs and Jeremiahs, who had never heard of making a "positive confession" or of the "power of positive or possibility thinking," but preached truth!
Today we are also seeing more and more professing Christians who want to become part of the ruling class -- they run for political office so they can then "influence government for Christ." They use the Old Testament examples of Joseph, Nehemiah, and Daniel, all of whom were placed by God in prominent positions in civil government, as justification for political activism today. But what they fail to recognize is that Joseph, Nehemiah, and Daniel did not run for elective political office, but were given offices either reserved or created for trustworthy slaves. Moreover, it is not the calling of God's people in this dispensation to get involved in the political process nor the functions of civil government. We have a higher calling; our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). We are strangers and pilgrims (1 Pe. 2:11), sojourners, not settlers (1 Pe. 1:17).
"Christian activism" is not Christian, and represents a detour from the straight path churches are to walk before the world. It can confuse the real issues, lead to compromise and unholy alliances, and divert time and effort that would better be used in proclaiming the Gospel of repentance of sin unto salvation. Weigh the demands upon your time and set priorities. Be fully engaged in rescuing souls for eternity.
* Adapted in part from an article published in The Berean Call.