This article was originally at Advocates for Truth under the title “Politics and the Pulpit.“
As the election approaches, some churches may incorporate elements of politics, patriotism, or a discussion of voting. But is this appropriate to do in church? How should Christians and pastors think about this?
Politics in the Church
First, let’s clear away any misconceptions about what this article is and is not addressing. This article is not addressing the subject of whether individual Christians should be patriotic. There is a healthy patriotism that Christians can have. Neither is this article about separation of church and state. Churches and Christians have the freedom to address political issues in public and to let their faith inform their political views. What this article will seek to address is the extent to which the politics of our nation should affect what goes on during church services, particularly during worship and preaching.
Second, in order to answer this question, we need to know what the purpose of the church is. Briefly, the Church is charged with preaching the gospel (Romans 10:14-15), making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), being a pillar of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), living as lights in a darkened world (Ephesians 5:8-10), being ambassadors for God’s heavenly kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:20), worshipping God in spirit and truth (John 4:23), and enacting church discipline upon those who are living in unrepentant sin (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Can politics fit into any of these purposes? At a certain level, yes, especially as it applies to being a pillar of the truth. However, this does not mean that the church service should necessarily be full of political rhetoric or discussion. Let’s go through the practical application to the two primary elements of a church service common to most Christian denominations: worship (the platform) and preaching (the pulpit).
Politics on the Platform
Should politics influence our worship? The answer goes back to what the purpose of corporate worship is. Is the purpose of corporate worship to worship our country or its leaders? No, that would be idolatry (Exodus 20:3). All of our worship should be devoted to God alone. To elevate anything else either in our hearts or words to the same level as God himself or bring it alongside worship of God is spiritually dangerous.
What about doing things such as singing patriotic songs during a service or putting an American flag on stage? This is common in some churches. While such things may not be inherently sinful because there is no direct Scriptural prohibition, it seems to be extremely unwise. Why incorporate these elements of patriotism into a time or space which is meant to be solely devoted to God? At the very least, it could send confusing signals to those in the congregation, especially if they are foreigners or nonbelievers visiting your church. If the Church is meant to be ambassadors to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20), then the space which we have devoted to God and his kingdom should reflect our heavenly identity and his heavenly kingdom, not the things of this earth.
The one area where we could incorporate some potentially political elements into worship service is in prayer and thanksgiving. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 states, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” There is certainly a warrant for praying for our country and its leaders as well as giving thanks for the blessings which God has provided for us as Americans. Yet, as in all things, we must exercise caution and use wisdom so that our worship and thanksgiving serves to glorify God.
Politics in the Pulpit
Should pastors talk about politics from the pulpit? Again, we need to look at the purpose of preaching. First and foremost, preaching should be Christ-centered (1 Corinthians 1:23, 2:1-2). Preaching is ultimately about proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and his life, death, and resurrection and drawing us into worship of God. Next, preaching is about teaching and instructing (Colossians 1:28-29) so that we may become more spiritually mature and Christ-like (Ephesians 4:11-16). This can also include things such as giving gentle correction, a firm rebuke, and encouragement to the congregation (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 4:1-4).
Talking about political issues can certainly be a part of preaching because the Bible itself discusses political issues. When it tells Christians to do justice and love mercy (Micah 6:8), this has political implications. When the Bible tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31), this will have political implications. The Bible should inform the way we view political issues. At the same time, if preaching concerns itself primarily with political issues and not the gospel, then we have lost the main purpose of preaching. If political issues are to be brought up in preaching, it should be because the Word of God does so, not because the preacher has a political axe to grind and wants to use Bible verses to support his position.
However, this doesn’t mean that pastors can’t devote time to addressing specific issues which are on the minds of the congregation. This is part of teaching and shepherding the congregation over which God has made you a teacher or overseer. Sometimes, these issues are political in nature and will require special care and attention when being addressed. When talking about such issues, it should be done with gentleness and humility (Ephesians 4:1-3), as well as firmness and truth (Ephesians 4:15, Titus 1:9). Above all, pastors must strive to maintain the unity of the church (1 Corinthians 1:10) while at the same time recognizing that standing upon the truth of God’s Word can lead to necessary divisions (1 John 2:19). There’s a fine line between caution and boldness that pastors will need to seek through prayer and submission to the Holy Spirit.
The Church must always strive to fulfill its primary mission and goal of preaching and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, worshipping God, and making disciples, thereby bringing glory to his name. This could involve some level of discussing political issues during times of preaching or praying for those in authority as Scripture commands us. However, other elements of patriotism or partisanship, while they can have their proper place in the life of an individual Christian, would best be left out of the corporate gathering. Although they are not explicitly prohibited, too many risks present themselves which could lead believers into idolatry, distract them from the true purpose of the Church, or lead to confusion, quarreling, or disunity. Being excessively political could lead to confusion for nonbelievers or even foreigners who are visiting your church. All Christians and especially pastors must continue to seek wisdom (James 1:5) while trying to navigate when it is appropriate to address political issues in church.