Elections and Mission: A Response to Joe Carter and TGC
Yesterday, The Gospel Coalition published an article by Joe Carter called “Why Evangelicals Are (Still) Divided Over Trump,” the title serving as a reference not only to the enduring fight among Christian conservatives, but also to a similar post Carter wrote before the 2016 election. In yesterday’s post, he attempted to explain the two primary camps he sees among conservative Evangelicals, with a stated understanding that painting in broad strokes must, by nature, mean that he misses some important degrees of nuance. He presents the two primary camps as one prioritizing concern over the impact this election will have on transforming the country, and the other as prioritizing the impact this election will have on our gospel witness. As part of his conclusion, he presents the following:
…we need to make sure we’re on the side of the divide we intend to be on. To do this, the transformation side must ask, “How much gospel witness am I willing to sacrifice for the sake of preventing the progressive vision for America?” and the witness side must ask, “How much transformation am I willing to sacrifice for the sake of gospel witness?” We should do this while searching the Scriptures and praying fervently for God to show us where we should be standing.
This response to Carter’s article is not an argument that he is wrong in his presentation, but rather an attempt to answer those questions based on my own experience of searching the Scriptures and praying throughout the last five years over this very issue. Because, while Carter presents them as equally valid questions with equally valid answers that simply must be taken into account when dealing with one another, I believe there is only one appropriate way to answer these questions for Christians. And that one answer comes directly from the basic function of the church as described by Jesus.
Mission of the Church
The basic function of the church was defined by Jesus in a statement that we have come to call The Great Commission. Each of the gospels, as well as the book of Acts, contains some version of this statement, with mild variation that reflects the author’s understanding of it. Matthew, for instance, tells it chapter 28, verses 18–20 of his gospel as
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NASB)
Luke, in both his gospel (24:46–49) and his account of the early church, emphasizes a slightly different aspect of this commission:
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:7–8, NASB)
This phrasing is not unique to Luke. John and Paul, in their epistles, describe themselves and the other apostles as witnesses. In fact, nearly every epistle takes our task to make disciples as being a function of being witnesses ourselves; calling our attention back to the message we are to be witnesses to before building an argument for church behavior in the body or in the world from that basis. Everything about who the church is and what the church does stems from not only the message of the gospel, but from our work as witnesses to that message.
Voting As Witnesses
On these grounds, I did give a very brief answer to Carter’s questions on my social media yesterday. This article stems from the belief that the answer requires more space than Twitter can provide.
The answer to Carter’s first question, about how much gospel witness we are willing to sacrifice in order to maintain a certain version of America, is the most telling question of the two. The fact is, our work as witnesses is our core function as a church. We glorify God through our witness, we make disciples through our witness, we even witness to ourselves in our prayers and songs. Our love for one another is a witness, our sermons are a witness, our Bibles are records of witnesses, the Law is a witness to our need of Christ and our salvation is a testimony of the sufficiency of Christ to meet that need, the Holy Spirit “testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16, NASB). Individually and collectively, we operate and grow through witness.
Our Lord gave us a command to be witnesses, and any time we decide to sacrifice even one bit of our ability to witness for some other end, we are operating in defiance of His word and will. The answer to the question, “how much gospel witness am I willing to sacrifice for the sake of preventing the progressive vision for America?” must be zero. We have no other mission. Our mission as Christians is not to establish a Christian nation, it is not to prevent the spread of politics we don’t like, it isn’t to take control of the political process to make sure it looks how we want it to look. It is to be witnesses, and if we put our political agendas above our job as witnesses, we are in sin.
There is no equivalence between Carter’s questions. There are no shades of gray with this issue. We are either going to sacrifice our political aspirations in favor of maintaining our witness, or we will be in need of repentance. We are all on the witness side of Carter’s equation whether we mean to be or not, because the world is watching us as witnesses. What we do this week will tell millions of unsaved people who we believe Christ is and what we believe Christ wants His people to work toward; it will tell the world whether we truly seek a higher Kingdom, or simply control of petty earthly ones. May we take that fact as seriously as it deserves.
Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB),
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.Lockman.org