One has to wonder why Christianity Today felt compelled to remind us of that fact. Is it all the recent (post-2004 election) media coverage of the relationship between conservative Christians and the Republican party? The series of articles in the May 2005 issue of Harper’s Magazine would certainly freak me out if I didn’t know better. Is a liberal evangelical like Jim Wallis holding CT’s offices at gunpoint? Or is somebody channeling his inner Bonhoeffer and pointing out the obvious: that when churches get too close to political ambition, bad things happen?
My money is on the third option, and I think it is a good thing that CT is stating the obvious. Politically active evangelical Christians tend to make two common mistakes in my mind: the first is the confusion of the United States with a biblical or Christian nation. While biblical principles certainly influenced the Founding Fathers, they were not the sole—and possibly not even the guiding—principles. Enlightenment principles were just as strong as biblical ones in Philadelphia in 1776. It is historical illiteracy if not outright revisionism to suggest otherwise. As the CT editorial points out, many of the Founding Fathers—the men who would be starting this “Christian nation”—were rather lousy Christians by most standards. Jefferson and Franklin were basically deists. John Adams was a Unitarian. Many others were typical Christmas-and-Easter-only Christians.
The second classic mistake is to confuse legislation inspired by biblical law with something that can save. We can pass moral legislation all we want—banning abortions and gay marriage, etc.—but all we’ll have are more moral people who are still screwed if they remain without Christ. Salvation is not found in Washington, D.C., or in your local statehouse, but rather in your local church on Sunday morning. That is not to say Christians should stop political advocacy. To be sure, I support 90 percent of the evangelical social agenda, but if political advocacy rather than Gospel advocacy becomes the calling card of the church (which seems more and more likely every day), then it will be derelict in its primary duty and seriously confused about the roles of Law and Gospel.
The fact is, biblical Christianity and the American civic religion are not the same thing, and we politically-minded Christians need to remember this so that we do not sell out or commit blasphemy when advocating for a more just nation. Our nation is just as flawed by sin as its citizens are, and is thus just as unable to bring about salvation by its own actions. The only nation capable of this is the worldwide Christian fellowship defined and held together by Christ, which all believers are a part of. Our loyality is first-and-foremost to this nation as its members presently here on earth. It this nation’s founding principles—the confessions of the one, universal, apostolic church—which should foremost be written on our hearts. With regards to the earthly kingdom, the Christian should defined it to the death when just in God’s sight, rebuke it when wrong, and preach the Gospel to it always. I think what the CT editorialist was arriving at was that those last two points are quickly forgotten when the church’s relationship with earthly power is too close.