Beastly Governments


Which matters more: planting churches or electing politicians? There is a sense, of course, in which church planting connects with eternity in ways that 21st-century American politics does not. But this is not a zero-sum game whereby political effort equals less church planting. On the contrary, it may be that all the unopposed church planting we’re able to pursue today is the result of a lot of political effort in the past. And, if our current political trajectory holds, the political failings of today will produce an environment far more hostile to church planting in the future. Jonathan Leeman makes this exact point in his 2018 book How the Nations Rage:

No governments are all good or all bad. Even the worst help the traffic lights to work, and the best spend money they shouldn’t. God, furthermore, employs both the best and the worst for his sovereign purposes. Think of the death of Christ at the hands of Pilate. Pilate served God in spite of himself (Acts 4:27–28). All governments are God’s servants in that sense. Still, beastly governments ordinarily make the work of God’s people much harder and sometimes impossible. Christians should study what makes the difference and put their hands to building one kind rather than the other. 1 (Emphasis mine)

Leeman cites examples such as the persecution of the early church in the Roman Empire, the deportation of Israel by the Assyrians and Babylonians, the 17th-century Japanese shoguns who nearly destroyed Christianity as a religion in that nation, as well as the armies of Tamerlane who slaughtered nearly 5% of the global population. In each of these circumstances, the government made the work of the Great Commission more difficult and dangerous to pursue. The same dangers and difficulties are increasing today.


In 1831, while Alexis de Tocqueville was touring America, he cited that a judge in New York refused to allow the testimony of a witness who denied the existence of God because, in the estimation of the judge, the potential witness had “destroyed in advance all the faith that one could have put in his words.” 2 Compare the moral and religious posture of the 19th-century judge with that of the 21st century Senator, Dianne Feinstein, when she said that Barrett’s belief in Biblical teaching was concerning. In other words, Barrett’s view of life in the womb stood at odds with Feinstein’s political goals.  And, just last week, the House of Representatives passed, with the support of 47 squishy Republicans, the falsely-named Respect for Marriage Act which is an attempt to codify a redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions. If such legislation were to pass the Senate it would instantly be signed into law by the current President. In other words, over the last century, we’ve watched the rise of the new religion of secularism. Belief in God, once seen as a prerequisite to honest testimony, is now understood as a barrier to social progress. These cultural & political shifts will not make it easier for churches to plant churches, hire staff, discipline members, and staff their nurseries.


I have no intentions in this post to outline strategy. Of course, there are ways for pastors and Christians to throw the Great Commission baby out with the political bathwater. We can all see the implicit dangers of draping the pulpit with red, white, and blue bunting. We don’t want to conflate the church and the state. We want our political efforts to serve our ecclesial efforts. I hope to produce more on that in future posts. But if pastors do not teach Christians theologically robust forms of political thought and engagement we soon won’t be able to lead them to support new church plants. For us, Great Commission faithfulness and political engagement is not a zero-sum game. But, for the secularist it is. Their political focus is aimed squarely at the Great Commission, and if secularists have their way, we’ll plant fewer churches.

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. (Acts 17:26-27a)

Governments are established under God’s sovereign power. Good governments ensure safe cities, states, and nations that allow the progress of the church to advance. Evil governments restrict and limit the ministry of the church. We ought to leverage the political opportunities we have while we still have them. Future church plants depend on it.

[1] Leeman, Jonathan. How the Nations Rage (p. 101). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
[2] Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America (p. 103). Hackett

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