Christianity and Social Movements

In their sincere passion to fight against evil, many Christians try to promote and uphold whichever social and political movements they feel best represent their Christian values. Far too often, this results in Christians fighting against one another about which social movements best reflect Christian values, rather than actually uniting with one another to fight against Satan.

There are debates over racism, politicians, political parties, facemasks, vaccines, immigration, economics, the narrative presented by the mainstream media, education strategies, and on and on. Whenever these innumerable social debates occur, Christians can usually be found on opposing sides, with each side arguing that their side best reflects Christian values. Christians latch on to whichever side seems the most right, and they do their best to actively support the right side, with the goal of defeating the wrong side.

The Christian Response to Ungodliness in Culture

As people who live in a democracy, Christians are for the most part free to voice their opinions however they see fit. But, when Christians choose to actively support and participate in various political and social movements, it is crucially important that they realize that there is nothing distinctly Christian about their activism. Their opinions may be completely correct. They may even be founded on godly ethical principles taken straight from Scripture. The wrongs they seek to address may in fact be very real and harmful evils. But being correct and noble does not mean that a particular social movement is “Christian.”

Being a “Christian” means being “Christ-like”. Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. Jesus Christ most certainly fought against the ungodly aspects of his culture. Christ encouraged his disciples to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt. 5:12-16). The movement led by Christ was so successful in doing just that, they were accused of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). But Jesus never showed the slightest interest in joining in any of the various social movements of his day. Nor did his earliest disciples.

Jesus’s complete lack of interest in picking sides between the various social movements becomes even more significant when we remember that he lived in political volatile times that were filled with competing social movements. Not surprisingly, as Jesus gained popularity and influence, Jesus was continually challenged to voice his opinion on the various movements of his day to see which side he would choose. But Jesus continually refused.

The Taxation Debate

For example, on at least one occasion Jesus was asked about the divisive issue of whether or not the Jews should pay taxes to the oppressive Romans. Notice Jesus’s response:

Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

Matthew 20:19-21

Some have mistakenly thought that Jesus was saying “Yes, be a good citizen. Pay your taxes, vote, do whatever your country asks of you.” But if we pay attention to Jesus’s response in its original context, it means nothing of the sort.

The coin bore the image of the emperor, which the Jews saw as a direct violation of God’s law (Ex. 20:4; Lev. 26:1). The coin bore an inscription claiming that Caesar was the High Priest and Lord. Scripture teaches that the God alone is the only true Lord, and everything rightly belongs to Him (Ps. 24:1; 50:10; Hag. 2:8) and man is created in His image (Gen. 1:26-27).

By holding up the coin and asking about the image and inscription, Jesus skillfully pointed out that the claims of God and the claims of Caesar are mutually exclusive. If one’s loyalty is to Caesar, Caesar is owed everything, beginning with the coin that bears his image. If one’s loyalty is to God, God is owed everything, beginning with man himself who is created in His image.

In this way, Jesus transformed the question pertaining to the political and social movements of his day into a question that pertained to the kingdom of God.

The Uniqueness of Christianity

This episode and others (e.g. Lk 12:13-16) make it clear that Jesus did not come to answer our political questions or offer a new and improved way of running the kingdoms of this world (Mt. 4:8-11). Rather, Jesus came to establish a radically different kind of kingdom, one that is “not of this world” (John 18:36). The only instructions Christians are given in connection with governing authorities are to respect and submit to them, pay taxes to them, and pray for them (Mk. 12:13-17; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). And even these instructions are given not out of concern for how the government should be run, but rather to facilitate the spreading of the gospel (1 Tim. 2:1-6).

The point of all this isn’t to argue that Christians can’t have opinions about the various social movements that divide our society. The point isn’t to say that Christians can’t vote, can’t peacefully protest, and can’t voice their opinions. But Christians must remember that when they engage the problems of the world using these methods, they are not being unique from the world.

Anybody can add their two-cents on social media about the problems in the world. Anybody can donate to a political campaign. Anybody can rally support for a particular cause they believe in. This approach is not a uniquely Christ-ian approach, because Christ himself did not take that kind of approach. Our unique call as disciples of Christ has nothing to do with gaining enough influence to run the kingdoms of the world, and has everything to do with our unique way of living under the authority of God’s reign.

Ultimately hope for the world does not reside in the success of failure of our particular political or social movements. It resides in the willingness of Jesus’s disciples to follow His example by keeping His kingdom set apart from the world (the Bible’s word for this is “holy”). We are to be unique from the world by not getting sucked into the innumerable social and political conflicts that characterize the world.

Our citizenship is in a kingdom that is not of this world. The heavenly kingdom is a unique one, where we believe the world is changed, not by gaining enough power and influence to defeat our enemies, but by trusting in God’s righteous judgment even when our enemies defeat us. In Jesus’s kingdom, we find greatness, not in ruling over others, but rather in serving them (Mt. 20:25-28).

Next time social division raises its ugly head and we are tempted to pick a side and join the fight, let’s pick the holy side. Let’s pick the unique side. Let’s pick the sides the wins the same way Jesus won; by self-sacrificial love. Let’s pick the Kingdom of God.