For many years, I have been unable to shake a growing conviction that too often we as citizen-Christians have put too much hope for lasting spiritual change in our American political system. I fear we have grown accustomed to putting more confidence in government than in God Himself. There seems to be an underlying assumption that we can effect spiritual transformation through the elective process. Simply stated, we often feel that if we can elect enough "righteous" people, our nation will experience an awakening of godliness.
Following this last round of elections, a number of editorials were written about the demise of the Religious Right. Some were quite insightful (see, for example, Cal Thomas, "Religious Right: RIP"). Few, however, offered solutions that Bible-believing Christians can affirm. No doubt, we have been assigned by our Lord to have a redemptive influence on fallen culture. Part of that assignment is to voice our convictions and vote our conscience in the political arena. We must never apologize for nor retreat from fulfilling this duty. God's Word remains steadfast and true: Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people (Proverbs 14:34).
When a columnist editorializes that Bible-believing Christians have allowed political engagement to become a substitute for our primary calling, it is a healthy thing to consider and evaluate. Does the argument have merit? Have we failed to fulfill the Lord's primary assignment to His people? There is no doubt our evangelistic effectiveness has decreased over the past few decades. Yet God's primary call remains unchanged. We are to make disciples of the peoples of this world — including those in our own nation.
During the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4 and Luke 4), satan caused the kingdoms of the world to pass before Jesus' eyes in a moment of time. Surely past kingdoms, such as the Assyrians, Persians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans, flashed before the eyes of our Lord. There is no reason to doubt that satan showed Jesus future kingdoms as well — up to and including the brief time in the 21st century A.D. when the United States would be the world's sole super power. Satan's offer was tantalizingly simple, I will give You their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over unto me, and I can give it to anyone I want. If You, then, will worship me, all will be Yours (Luke 4:6-7). How many of us would have jumped at the chance for this kind of power? Jesus, however, resisted satan's offer, quoting from Holy Scripture, It is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only (Deuteronomy 6:13, as cited by Jesus in Luke 4:8).
What is particularly noteworthy of this exchange between satan and Jesus is the limited power satan had to offer — "all this authority." Jesus knew this was a shallow substitute, not even a second-best choice, for God's plan of redemption. Salvation will never come to a fallen world through earthly powers or governmental actions. Redemption is an inward experience of transforming power wrought by the Spirit of God as an act of God's grace.
Following the resurrection, Jesus told His disciples, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18, emphasis supplied). This statement clearly reveals that, as a result of the resurrection, there is no limitation of authority that Jesus commands. At the cross, God's plan of salvation was completed. Earthly powers are of naught when placed alongside the authority of our Resurrected Lord. Flowing from this authority, Jesus has given very clear marching orders to His Church. To paraphrase, Jesus told His disciples, "Since all authority is mine (both in heaven and on earth), I charge you to be continually about the task of making disciples of the peoples of the world, wherever you may go at any given time. I am with you as you go."
The fundamental "marching order" of the church is not to usher in the Kingdom through political change, as attractive as that may appear. His mandate to us is to usher in spiritual change through the transformation of individual lives by conversion. Once individuals are dramatically changed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, they will begin to influence the prevailing culture accordingly. As they voice their convictions and vote their consciences, society will be affected for good. Evil institutions will crumble. Systemic sins such as abortion, alcoholism, prejudice, pornography, and drug abuse, will be quelled by the overpowering effect of righteousness. Only the reign of His righteousness manifested in the holy lives of His people has the power to exalt our nation.
What editorialists such as Cal Thomas have rightly noted is that when we focus so much of our energy and hope on political change, we often dilute our energies for evangelism, missions, and ministry. For the follower of Jesus, it is not an either/or proposition — either be salt in the society or minister and witness in the Name of Jesus. It is both/and — introduce men and women to Jesus as the Living Lord and Savior. Then, as individuals are saved and their lives are transformed, godly influence upon society will increase and righteousness will prevail.
We are called to a dual role. As evangelists of the Resurrected Christ, we must never replace personal evangelism with political activism. As prophetic voices of the Most High, we must never stifle our cries for righteousness and justice in our sin-darkened world. Our call is clear. We are salt ... and we are light! Let us not grow weary in well-doing. Let us hold high the banner of the cross.
I continue to long for another Great Awakening to occur in our nation. The election of a particular candidate will never by itself usher in the reign of God's righteousness. Lasting cultural change only occurs when many hearts are transformed by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and begin to live out their Christian values in their homes, the workplace, and the civic arena. While the corrosion of culture is a serious problem, it is but a symptom of a much deeper reality — the rule and reign of spiritual darkness across the North American continent.
Southern Baptists have grown anemic. Our energy is depleted. Our faith is under siege. Our hope is fading. What must we do? We can begin by answering three questions! Will we redouble our efforts to win the lost at any cost? Are we willing to become the laughingstock of a culture gone awry? Do we really believe the Gospel of Christ remains the "power of God unto salvation"? Let us pray earnestly and work diligently for a transformed culture — by sharing the Gospel of Jesus with as many people as possible within our spheres of influence. The final victory of the Christian life is yet to come. When He comes, it will come! To God be the Glory!
Morris H. Chapman is a member of Thompson Station Baptist Church in Thompson Station, Tennessee, and is president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee.