Is the biblical command to win souls for Christ inconsistent with awareness of and involvement in politics?
Should we abandon our political concerns and just “preach the gospel”? This concern for the primacy of evangelism, although well-intentioned, will ultimately destroy the very thing it considers most important.
Paul urges that prayers be made for those in political authority. I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1-4). The immediate result of such prayer is the possibility of a “peaceful and quiet” life. But Paul does not stop there. He goes on to say that God wants “all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Prayer for those with political authority results in political stability. Political stability provides the best conditions for the spread of the gospel. Consequently, those with a great concern for souls should not only pray for evangelists, they should also pray for politicians.
It is a regrettable truth that persecution often has the result of purifying the church and sharpening the zeal of Christians. Although the result is positive, it is unfortunate that this zeal is not brought about by the obedience of the saints, instead of by the malice of persecutors. An obedient church would work and pray for political stability — and then take full advantage of that stability by preaching the gospel and building up Christians.
It is a tragedy that Christians often use times of peace and prosperity to advance themselves and not the kingdom of God. When that stability is threatened and Christians seek to protect it, it is legitimate to ask why. Is this just another special interest group watching out for itself, or is it a more biblical response?
In spite of the fact that a stable political situation provides the best opportunities for evangelism, Christians fail to take advantage of the opportunity. In a peaceful and stable society, the door is wide open for the proclamation of the gospel. A mere handful of churches labor in the harvest. Because of the lack of prayer and Christian influence on government, the government becomes increasingly godless. This cannot happen without creating an official hostility to the church, and the open door begins to close. The creaking of the hinges awakens a slumbering church, and it begins to take fuller advantage of lesser opportunities.
The fact that this is a general pattern does not mean it is the biblical pattern. The passage in 1 Timothy clearly teaches the proper relationship between politics and evangelism. Political stability should be desired because God wants all men to be saved. There is no conflict between such political awareness and the proclamation of the gospel.
Paul also teaches us that political involvement is a matter of prayer. We should not be like those who determine that the situation is desperate and that prayer is now necessary. “What? Has it come to that?” Prayer is not the last resort, used only when we have nothing left to do. Rather, it is the foundation of all action.
Political action without prayer is futile. Prayer without involvement is hypocritical. God does not permit us to say to the needy, “Be warmed and filled” when we have the means to help them at our disposal. We would add insult to the sin if we also stated, “I’ll pray for you.”
In the same way, we should not think that a quick prayer for political leaders will discharge our spiritual obligation. The prayer (like all prayer) should be informed, and it should lead to action.
Those who become so involved in the political process that they forget the Great Commission are obviously hindering the cause of evangelism. The Christian who is concerned for souls can see this error clearly. But less obvious is the error addressed here: the error of concentrating on evangelism to the point where evangelism suffers. Not only does God want evangelism to go on, He wants it to go on it a certain type of society — a stable one. He has instructed us to pray accordingly. If we overlook this command, we may be found guilty of obstructing the very thing we consider primary.
Originally published in The Hammer, a publication of Community Christian Ministries in 1986 (Vol. 5, No. 2).