Society & Politics
Our Approach to Society and Politics
A lot goes on behind the scenes to maintain decorum in society. We do not normally bother to ask why we all use the same currency, or drive under similar sets of road rules. If we did, we would see that each of these broadly accepted norms and boundaries is the result of political intervention. History shows that a healthy, well-ordered society generally requires a group of people serving in governance roles. Just like all forms of power, the authority held within these governance structures and by those that hold political positions can be corrupted or held humbly as a gift. It is thus imperative that we, as Christians, earnestly invest in discerning how God is asking us to exemplify governance in the unique cultures we find ourselves.
The MI Approach to Society and Politics
Why Christians Should Care about Society and Politics
The church exists not for its own sake, but for the sake of the world (Gen 12:1-3, Acts 13:44-49, Rev 22:1-5). Likewise, every Christian—in service of Christ and the church—is commissioned to participate in the life of the world, and not just the church. In doing so, each of us acts as one thread in an intricately woven society. This interwoven approach enables the church to have a much fuller impact in enriching culture and “blessing the nations” than it ever would in isolation. Politics is important because it helps bind the tapestry of society together. Furthermore, political structures serve God and his people when they provide shared rules for how individuals and communities interact—rules that ultimately lead to mutual benefit and fullness of life. And so society and politics serve the church—acting as an embassy for the kingdom of God—by providing a cultural structure within which the church can reveal the truth of the gospel to the nations.
Why Government Officials Should Care About Christianity
Despite their different core identities, there are a number of ways in which the interests of the state and the church overlap. In general, they both want to provide what is best for the citizens of a country (albeit the church has a global mandate). From its conception, the church has been deeply invested in the service of the needy (Acts 6:1-6), and this stance of service continues in various ways from international aid organizations to local neighbourhood care by churches. The church has led society through the provision of medical services and the establishment of hospitals. Some of this work has shifted to the hands of the state, but a government that legitimately has the interest of its people in mind—from the elite to the marginalized—can find a significant advocate in the church.
It is also worth mentioning that faith-based populations have a powerful voice and impact on global issues. We do not have to delve too deeply into history to realize how strongly an impact religious movements—extremist and poorly represented or not—can have, from the universally inspiring posture of the late Mother Teresa to the harrowing effects of September 11, 2001 and the Crusades. It quickly becomes apparent that taking the values of faith-based populations seriously—particularly in countries that function as democracies—is both relevant and necessary.
Politics as a Response to God’s Call to Humankind
While the Bible starts in a garden, with one man and one woman, it ends in a city with people from every nation (Rev 21:22-26). The story of humankind can be expressed as that journey from the garden to the city. In politics, we see humankind answering God’s call to relate rightly to one another in the polis—the city—and to live together as a harmonious and ordered society. By responding to God in this way we help to create structures in which people can better express love towards one another and form communities that create cultural contributions.
How Theology and Politics Complement and Inform Each Other
While politics can address areas of societal need by providing a space where freedom and justice can be pursued and upheld, it has its limitations when we consider the immense nature of God’s desires for this world and the part we play in the fulfillment of his desires. Freedom and justice are only a partial contribution to the life God intends for us. The gift of theology to politics is offering answers to what the ultimate aims of human life are, what we are to build towards, and why we struggle to meet those ultimate aims. Through a running dialogue between theology and politics, politics gains a much broader perspective and theology gains an increased capability for public engagement.
Re-imagining What It Means to Do Politics Christianly
Culture is in a continual state of change both geographically and historically. We therefore always need to be re-imagining how the same gospel speaks to each culture through its various societal constructs. This is as true of politics as of any sphere within a culture; the way in which politics reflects gospel truths while engaging a unique culture must itself be unique in order for the gospel to be heard and understood. As such, a humble stance is needed—one which continually looks for ways politics can be developed by Christian faith. The Bible is primary to this work, providing numerous accounts of responses to diverse cultural situations. Becoming familiar with the stories of people like Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Paul provides a firm start to the work of re-imagining politics, by looking at how each of those individuals sought ways to live faithfully in their cultural situation.
Engaging as Christians with a Secular Society
Every society within which the church acts is on a journey of redemption. In the course of human history there has never been a perfectly Christian society. All Christians, then, are called to find appropriate ways to engage and communicate with the society in which they find themselves. For many of us, that society can be described as secular, pluralistic, and multicultural; there are many—sometimes conflicting—stories and little tolerance for claims of absolute truth.
As Christians, we need to approach society with humility, acknowledging the ways in which our responses have and do fall short (Rom 3:9-12). We need, however, to remember the universal need for God’s redemptive work and remain confident in the truth the gospel offers to the world. The salvation of the world does not rely on our ability to fashion the perfectly persuasive words, praise God! By immersing ourselves in the biblical stories, we can remain hope-filled, trusting that in the fullness of time, God will redeem all things to himself (Phil 3:12-21).
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