Kathy Vandergrift’s and Doug Vande Griend’s contributions on the role of the church in addressing societal issues are intriguing. Their differing perspectives help us think through how God’s people should disciple the nations (Matt. 28:19).
Some argue that the institutional church should never speak out on political issues. I hope you’re not one of them. Abortion, for example, is clearly a political issue. So is the use of nuclear weapons. I hope we can agree that these are politicized issues that, nevertheless, our churches should address—as they have.
Vandergrift urges the institutional church to step up and address governments and other community leaders on important issues. She says the church needs to add a strong biblical voice to the many others advocating for the public good in our respective democracies.
Vande Griend, however, cautions that we need to respect the God-given boundaries of the institutional church within our differentiated society. The church as institution has neither the authority nor the know-how to speak out on divisive issues, and doing so may well fragment or polarize our church(es).
I’ll leave it to you, reader, to mull this over. Both authors do us a real service in giving us a common framework in which to discuss this.
Personally I believe that the institutional church can and should speak out on any number of significant societal issues. But we need to take Vande Griend’s warnings to heart: don’t say more than we should, don’t pretend to speak for all, and don’t get in over our heads. The institutional church is a worshiping community, not a public soapbox or a think tank of refined social analysis.
When Abraham Kuyper posited sphere sovereignty, he also posited sphere universality—the interweaving of the many spheres of life. I take this to mean that the institutional church must proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ within its walls but also beyond them.
It must do so in keeping with its own area of authority and insight: clearly and boldly proclaiming biblical principles and leaving the specific working out of those principles to others. It must speak confessionally and only confessionally, meaning that it should only speak to power if and when we can “testify together” with one voice.
On some societal issues we should say lots, because Scripture and the confessions (including our contemporary testimony) say lots. On others we should say little or stay mum altogether—because Scripture and our confessions are silent or because we are too divided in our opinions.
Our denomination should not push specific policies, political agendas, or programs. Let’s let the church as organism sort that out. But as a confessing community, let’s communicate clearly and succinctly what is preached regularly from our pulpits.
Our denomination has received appreciative responses from politicians and bureaucrats because, unencumbered by party politics, we could clearly place our finger on the heart of an issue by allowing the light of Scripture to illumine it. Biblical conviction and simplicity still speak to power.
My sincere appreciation to both authors! I hope you will find them as instructive as I have.
And let’s keep talking.