Should the Church Concern Itself With Politics?

“When the civil authority trespasses the limits of its authority, it is the duty of the church to condemn such a violation.”

What is the role of the Church in society? Should it focus merely on spiritual matters, or does it have a responsibility to influence all aspects of human activity? How should the church navigate its relationship with other institutions, such as the civil government?

In an article entitled, ‘The Church — Its Identity, Function, and Resources,’ theologian John Murray (1898-1975) offers insights into the church’s mission to proclaim the whole counsel of God, particularly in light of Christ’s claim that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him (Matt. 28:18).

Murray argues that while the church ought to respect the spheres to which God has delegated His authority (namely, the family, the church, and the civil government), it also has a duty to guide each of them according to divine principles.

What happens when civil authorities overstep their bounds? How should Christians respond to laws that contradict God’s Word?

Contrary to the common notion that the church should remain apolitical, Murray argues that its mission is to uphold God’s will in every sphere of life. If Christ is Lord at all, he must be Lord of all.

Murray explains:

“The second aspect of this proclamation is the declaration of the whole counsel of God as it bears upon every sphere of human activity. The church is not to discharge the functions of other institutions. It must not invade other spheres. But the church is charged to define the functions of these other institutions and the lines of demarcation by which their spheres are distinguished.

“It would be a travesty, for example, for the church to discharge the functions of the civil magistrate either locally or nationally. But the functions and duties of the civil magistrate do come within the scope of the church’s proclamation in every respect in which the Word of God bears upon the proper discharge of these functions and responsibilities.

“When the civil authority trespasses the limits of its authority, it is the duty of the church to condemn such a violation. When laws are proposed or enacted that are contrary to the Word of God, it is the duty of the church in proclamation and official pronouncement to oppose and condemn them. And it is also the obligation of the church to inculcate respect for and obedience to all enactments of civil authority that are the legitimate exercise of its function.

“It is misconception of what is involved in the proclamation of the whole counsel of God to suppose or plead that the church has no concern with the political sphere. The church is concerned with every sphere and is obligated to proclaim and inculcate the revealed will of God as it bears upon every department of life.”

John Murray, “The Church – Its Identity, Function, and Resources,” Collected Writings, vol. I, p. 241

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