I was told recently by a well-respected Christian leader friend of mine that we (those who are real Christians) should be a people of praise rather than a people of politics.
My initial response was unrepeatable and remains unprintable but, in the cool light of day, I thought I would examine this premise and its ramifications, going back to when I first became a Christian as a teenager. Prior to my conversion, I had taken a more than a passing interest in politics and my views were decidedly left wing. Then I joined the Plymouth Brethren and was told that politics was a no-go area for an earnest Christian, given the kingdom that we should aspire to and promote is God’s and is one that is not of this world.
There have been many developments between then as a teen, who despite a rebellious streak deferred to my elders, and now as an old codger who sees himself as a “gospel preaching, community activist, watchman on the wall”. When I studied early PBism around the middle of the nineteenth century, one of its most prominent movers and shakers was John Nelson Darby. There is a story when the matter of whether or not to open London parks on a Sunday was hotly debated. Many Christians in the keep Sunday special camp were against this but not Darby. His argument was that the parks should be open, but only the pedestrian gates. His logic was the larger gates used typically by the rich folk with horses and carriages should be closed because they could visit the parks on any of the other days. As for the poorer people, Sunday was the only day they had when they could enjoy God’s clean air and beautiful natural world. I suspect though that other than making his views known in his own close-knit circle, he did not do so outside that, for getting involved in “politics” was not something PB types were keen on.
Since then, I have traveled the world and hob knobbed with Christians of varying persuasions and have been convinced by the arguments of thinkers like John Stott that not only was being involved outside the close confines of ones own church’s mission or the legitimate duties one has as a citizen and worker the right thing to do, even if involving non believers, but was theologically mandated. It is partly why, around the turn of the millennium, I switched jobs from that of computer consultant to community worker (I discussed this in my book “Outside the Camp”). While not being active politically from an ideological or party basis or being active as a campaigner, I have rubbed shoulders with politicians of various persuasions, and significantly contributed to various aspects of community life, especially that which comes under the umbrella “social justice”. I have followed the lives of people like William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose activism, relentlessly pursued, made a huge difference and are good examples of people of praise that were also people of politics.
There are many areas where one can get involved and make a difference, depending on one’s gifts, interests, opportunities etc., and one is spoiled for choice. Mine happens to be homelessness and in doing so I find myself working with people of all faiths and none and with the broad aim to improve the lives of the people we are trying to help. But there is another area and it is one that is more contentious and borders on what we might broadly call political. It is wading in with an opinion on pressing issues of the day. I am mindful, I can do so without penalty other than invoking displeasure in others, including fellow Christians, unlike in many places today where civil liberties etc. are more restricted and historically, notably in New Testament times, when the price to pay was a heavy one.
There are many issues with potentially huge consequences, irrespective of what way they resolve, that face us right now, e.g. Brexit – leave with a deal or without a deal; Coronavirus – take the vaccine of not; (and the biggie as far as I am concerned) the next US President – Biden or Trump? I have strong opinions on all these questions, and a lot more besides, and have argued my cases, forthrightly when the opportunity arose (although I tred, not always successfully, NOT to make these falling out issues). I do not apologise for doing so and I recognise these can be unhelpful distractions, compared for example with our obeying the Great Commission to make disciples of Jesus. While I agree, as a believer in Jesus, I am heading for glory and need to make that my primarily goal and encourage others to join me, I am still required to do good while I am here down on earth, and it is part and parcel of carrying out the original Great Commission – to love my neighbour. As for “people of praise” and “people of politics”, the former should lead to the latter and the latter should be informed by the former.