How can we apply a Christian worldview to social and political issues? I would like to set forth some key biblical principles that we can apply to these issues.
A key biblical principle that applies to the area of bioethics is the sanctity of human life. Such verses as Psalm 139:13-16 show that God’s care and concern extends to the womb. Other verses such as Jeremiah 1:5, Judges 13:7-8, Psalm 51:5 and Exodus 21:22–25 give additional perspective and framework to this principle. These principles can be applied to issues ranging from abortion to stem cell research to infanticide.
A related biblical principle involves the equality of human beings. The Bible teaches that God has made “of one blood all nations of men” (Acts 17:26). The Bible also teaches that it is wrong for a Christian to have feelings of superiority (Phil. 2). Believers are told not to make class distinctions between various people (James 2). Paul teaches the spiritual equality of all people in Christ (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). These principles apply to racial relations and our view of government.
A third principle is a biblical perspective on marriage. Marriage is God’s plan and provides intimate companionship for life (Gen. 2:18). Marriage provides a context for the procreation and nurture of children (Eph. 6:1-2). And finally, marriage provides a godly outlet for sexual desire (1 Cor. 7:2). These principles can be applied to such diverse issues as artificial reproduction (which often introduces a third party into the pregnancy) and cohabitation (living together).
Another biblical principle involves sexual ethics. The Bible teaches that sex is to be within the bounds of marriage, as a man and the woman become one flesh (Eph. 5:31). Paul teaches that we should “avoid sexual immorality” and learn to control our own body in a way that is “holy and honorable” (1 Thess. 4:3-5). He admonishes us to flee sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18). These principles apply to such issues as premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.
A final principle concerns government and our obedience to civil authority. Government is ordained by God (Rom.13:1-7). We are to render service and obedience to the government (Matt. 22:21) and submit to civil authority (1 Pet. 2:13-17). Even though we are to obey government, there may be certain times when we might be forced to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). These principles apply to issues such as war, civil disobedience, politics, and government.
Communicating in a Secular Culture
How can we communicate biblical morality effectively to a secular culture? Here are a few principles.
First, we must interpret Scripture properly. Too often, Christians have passed off their sociological preferences (on issues like abortion or homosexual behavior) instead of doing proper biblical exegesis. The result has often been a priori conclusions buttressed with improper proof-texting.
In areas where the Bible clearly speaks, we should exercise our prophetic voice as we seek to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). In other areas, concessions should be allowed.
The apostle Paul recognized that the first priority of Christians is to preach the gospel. He refused to allow various distinctions to hamper his effectiveness, and he tried to “become all things to all men” that he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). Christians must stand firm for biblical truth, yet also recognize the greater need for the unsaved person to hear a loving presentation of the gospel.
Second, Christians should carefully develop biblical principles which can be applied to contemporary social and medical issues. Christians often jump immediately from biblical passages into political and social programs. They wrongly neglect the important intermediate step of applying biblical principles within a particular social and cultural situation.
Third, Christians should articulate the moral teachings of Scripture in ways that are meaningful in a pluralistic society. Philosophical principles like the “right to life” or “the dangers of promiscuity” can be appealed to as part of common grace. Scientific, social, legal, and ethical considerations can be useful in arguing for biblical principles in a secular culture.
Christians can argue in a public arena against abortion on the basis of scientific and legal evidence. Medical advances in embryology and fetology show that human life exists in the womb. A legal analysis of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision shows the justices violated a standard principle of jurisprudence. The burden of proof is placed on the life-taker and the benefit of the doubt is given to the life-saver.
This does not mean we should sublimate the biblical message. But our effectiveness in the public arena will be improved if we elaborate the scientific, social, legal, and ethical aspects of a particular issue instead of trying to articulate our case on Scripture alone.
Christians should develop effective ways to communicate biblical morality to our secular culture. Law and public policy should be based upon biblical morality which results from an accurate interpretation of Scripture and a careful application to society.
Christian Principles in Social Action
How should Christians be involved in the social and political arena? Here are a few key principles.
First, Christians must remember that they have a dual citizenship. On the one hand, their citizenship is in heaven and not on earth (Phil. 3:17–21). Christians must remind themselves that God is sovereign over human affairs even when circumstances look dark and discouraging. On the other hand, the Bible also teaches that Christians are citizens of this earth (Matt. 22:15–22). They are to obey government (Rom.13:1–7) and work within the social and political circumstances to affect change. Christians are to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:1–4) and to obey those in authority.
Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to leaven hidden in three pecks of meal (Matt.13:33). The meal represents the world, and the leaven represents the Christian presence in it. We are to exercise our influence within society, seeking to bring about change that way. Though the Christian presence may seem as insignificant as leaven in meal, nevertheless we are to bring about the same profound change.
Second, Christians must remember that God is sovereign. As the Sovereign over the nations, He bestows power on whom He wishes (Dan. 4:17), and He can turn the heart of a king wherever He wishes (Prov.21:1).
Third, Christians must use their specific gifts within the social and political arenas. Christians have different gifts and ministries (1 Cor. 12:4–6). Some may be called to a higher level of political participation than others (e.g., a candidate for school board or for Congress). All have a responsibility to be involved in society, but some are called to a higher level of social service, such as a social worker or crisis pregnancy center worker. Christians must recognize the diversity of gifts and encourage fellow believers to use their individual gifts for the greatest impact.
Fourth, Christians should channel their social and political activity through the church. Christians need to be accountable to each other, especially as they seek to make an impact on society. Wise leadership can prevent zealous evangelical Christians from repeating mistakes made in previous decades by other Christians.
The local church should also provide a context for compassionate social service. In the New Testament, the local church became a training ground for social action (Acts 2:45; 4:34). Meeting the needs of the poor, the infirm, the elderly, and widows is a responsibility of the church. Ministries to these groups can provide a foundation and a catalyst for further outreach and ministry to the community at large.
Christians are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13–16). In our needy society, we have abundant opportunities to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet significant social needs. By combining these two areas of preaching and ministry, Christians can make a strategic difference in society.
Fallacies and Tactics
Let’s now focus on some logical fallacies and tactics used against Christians. We need to exercise discernment and be on alert for these attempts to sidetrack moral and biblical reflection on some of the key issues of our day.
The first tactic is equivocation. This is the use of vague terms. Someone can start off using language we think we understand and then veer off into a new meaning. If you have been listening to the Probe radio program for any time, you are well aware of the fact that religious cults are often guilty of this. A cult member might say that he believes in salvation by grace. But what he really means is that you have to join his cult and work your way toward salvation. Make people define the vague terms they use.
This tactic is used frequently in bioethics. Proponents of embryonic stem cell research often will not acknowledge the distinction between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Those trying to legalize cloning will refer to it as “somatic cell nuclear transfer.” Unless you have a scientific background, you will not know that it is essentially the same thing.
A second tactic is what is often called “card stacking.” That is when an opponent has a selective use of evidence. Don’t jump on the latest bandwagon and intellectual fad without checking the evidence. Many advocates are guilty of listing all the points in their favor while ignoring the serious points against it.
For example, the major biology textbooks used in high school and college never provide students with evidence against evolution. Jonathan Wells, in his book Icons of Evolution, shows that the examples that are used in most textbooks are either wrong or misleading. Some of the examples are known frauds (such as the Haeckel embryos) and continue to show up in textbooks decades after they were shown to be fraudulent.
A third tactic is “appeal to authority.” That means a person is relying on authority to the exclusion of logic and evidence. Just because an expert says it doesn’t necessarily make it true. We live in a culture that worships experts, but not all experts are right. Hiram’s Law says, “If you consult enough experts, you can confirm any opinion.”
Those who argue that global warming is caused solely by human activity often say that “the debate in the scientific community is over.” But an Internet search of critics of the theories behind global warming will show that there are many scientists with credentials in climatology or meteorology who have questions about the theory. It is not accurate to say that the debate is over when the debate still seems to be taking place.
A fourth tactic often used against Christians is known as an ad hominem attack. This is Latin for “against the man.” People using this tactic attack the person instead of dealing with the validity of their argument. Often the soundness of an argument is inversely proportional to the amount of ad hominem rhetoric. If there is evidence for the position, proponents usually argue the merits of the position. When evidence is lacking, they attack the critics.
Christians who want public libraries to filter pornography from minors are accused of censorship. Citizens who want to define marriage as between one man and one woman are called bigots. Scientists who criticize evolution are subjected to withering attacks on their character and scientific credentials. Scientists who question global warming are compared to holocaust deniers.
Another tactic is the straw man argument. This is done by making your opponent’s argument seem so ridiculous that it is easy to attack and knock down. Liberal commentators say that evangelical Christians want to implement a religious theocracy in America. That’s not true. But the hyperbole works to marginalize Christian activists who believe they have a responsibility to speak to social and political issues within society.
A sixth tactic is sidestepping. This is done when someone dodges the issue by changing the subject. Ask a proponent of abortion whether the fetus is human and you are likely to see this technique in action. He or she might start talking about a woman’s right to choose or the right of women to control their own bodies. Perhaps you will hear a discourse on the need to tolerate various viewpoints in a pluralistic society. But you probably won’t get a straight answer to an important question.
A final tactic is the “red herring.” That means to go off on a tangent (and is taken from the practice of luring hunting dogs off the trail with the scent of a herring). Proponents of embryonic stem cell research rarely will talk about the morality of destroying human embryos. Instead they will go off on a tangent and talk about the various diseases that could be treated and the thousands of people who could be helped with the research.
Be on the alert when someone in a debate changes the subject. They may want to argue their points on more familiar ground, or they may know they cannot win their argument on the relevant issue at hand.
A person with discernment will recognize these tactics and beware. We are called to develop discernment as we tear down false arguments raised up against the knowledge of God. By doing this we will learn to take every thought captive to the obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
© 2007 Probe Ministries