Worship and Public Policy (1)
Praise the LORD!
Sing to the LORD a new song,
And His praise in the assembly of saints....
Praise the LORD! Psalm 149.1, 9
A curious state of affairs
It is curious to consider, and a challenge to explain, the lack of Christian impact in the public square in America today.
On the one hand, Christian leaders have been quite visible advocating for certain policies, supporting this or that candidate, and loudly denouncing views with which they disagree.
Add to that the fact that, according to an ABC News Poll, something like 83% of all Americans consider themselves to be Christians. And, while we understand that “Christian” can mean different things to different people, the Barna Group, a leading Christian social research agency, estimates that 45% of all Americans claim to be “born again.”
That amounts to something like 150 million Americans who profess faith in the resurrected and reigning Lord Jesus Christ!
So it’s curious why there is so little correspondence between the teaching of God’s Word on such topics as personal morality, the role of government, the purpose of culture, ethics and civility, the education of children, sex and marriage, etc., and the actual state of affairs in the nation today. Since the Kingdom of God, to which all Christians have been called (1 Thess. 2.12), is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18), we can say this much, at least: Christians are having little apparent Kingdom impact on the public policies of our nation.
And explaining that, as I said, can be a bit of a challenge.
Avenues of explanation
Why is this so? We might offer a variety of explanations for this seemingly contradictory situation.
Some Christians insist that faith and politics don’t mix, or that somehow they exist in two different “realms” and shouldn’t have any meaningful interface. We can be good Christians, on the one hand, but that doesn’t have anything to do with our political views. Most Christians who hold to this view do so unconsciously: they simply have never considered whether their faith in Jesus has anything to do with the workings of culture or the institutions of our society.
Other Christians might simply regard politics as a “lost cause” and prefer to invest their time, energy, and resources in more rewarding and eternal endeavors, such as worship or missions. Politics can’t save us, so why bother with it?
Still others might say they’re doing their best to act and function as Christians in the public square, and they don’t agree with my point about the disjunction between what we profess and what we actually see. They think things are going just fine, quite in line with their understanding of Christian faith.
But everything and everyone they support struggles against the currents of cultural, social, and moral life.
Each of these views, and probably several more, exist among professing Christians today. And each of them should be held up to the scrutiny of Scripture. For at the end of the day, the followers of Jesus Christ have always believed that the Bible must have the last word on all matters of faith and life. We’re only truly following Jesus when we’re following Him according to His Word, and not according to what we feelor what the spirit of the age commends.
And so we need to consider what the Word of God has to say about the relationship between the life of faith and life in the public policy arena – and first of all, whether there actually isor should be any relationship between these.
All of a piece
The short answer to this question is simple: As Psalm 149 demonstrates, Christians worship God both as an act of religious devotion and as a matter of civic responsibility. Both the sanctuary and public square afford opportunities for believers to worship and serve God, and our faith is only fully operative when we are worshiping the Lord in both venues – and everywhere in between.
Of course, I’ll need to unpack that assertion a bit more.
Psalm 149 is written in the form of an inclusio. An inclusio is a literary form that begins and ends in the same place. As our text for today demonstrates, Psalm 149 begins and ends in worship: “Praise the LORD!” To insist that the Christian life begins and ends in worship will not, I suspect, draw too many protests. Salvation is all of grace, God in His lovingkindness provides for us every day of our lives, and we are being kept by God’s Spirit for eternal glory in the new heavens and new earth. For the Christian, every week and every day should begin and end in worship.
But what we see in Psalm 149 leads us to consider that, not only the beginning and end of our lives, but everything in between as well, including our relationship with government, is bound up in our calling from and duty toward our Savior and King. We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, so that every moment and activity of our lives is only our “reasonable” service of worship to God (Rom. 12.1).
Christian life, in other words, is all of a piece, and in all of it we must be conscious of our duty to worship and serve God. And, as we shall see, this includes our participation in matters of public policy.
1. What do we mean by “public policy”? Who makes public policy? How does public policy affect the populace? Should we care about public policy?
2. What do we mean by “worship”? What is worship? What is it for? When should we worship? How should we worship?
3. Apparently, worship relates to public policy. How we worship can actually affect public policy. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Next steps – Conversation: How should a Christian understand the relationship between faith and policy? What does your church teach on this question? What do your Christian friends think?
Our book, The Highest Thing, provides an opportunity to review the Biblical basis, forms, and purpose of worship. Order your copy by clicking here.
Need a boost in your daily Bible study? Our Scriptorium studies come to you each day, unpacking the truths of Scripture in daily studies of individual books of the Bible. Each week’s studies are combined into a single, free PDF which you can download for personal or group use. To begin subscribing to Scriptorium daily studies, use the pop-up at the home page.
The Fellowship of Ailbe is supported by the gifts and prayers of its readers, students, and friends. Please seek the Lord about sharing in the financial support of our ministry. You can give online through PayPal by clicking the Contribute button at the website. Or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452. Thank you for sharing with us.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.