LCN Article
Christians and Causes

July / August 2020

Wallace G. Smith

Our compassion for the world often makes us sympathetic to causes and movements that promise change. Should Christians join such causes?

God’s compassion for the world was so great that He sent His Son to save it (John 3:16–17). Moved by the same Spirit, sincere Christians feel that same compassion. They see a world suffering and long to make it right—a longing they will fulfill after Christ returns and they reign at His side.

At the same time, the world offers a host of causes, movements, and organizations, all desiring to improve the world in their own ways, through their own means. Many of their mission statements appeal to that same desire within us. God’s Spirit within us is stirred when we see unborn children exposed to the horrors of abortion, hatred unleashed against individuals due to the color of their skin, and leaders casting aside righteous judgment for naked, carnal politicking.

Such causes tempt us to join them in an attempt to make this world at least a little better here and now, but should we? Why not add our voice to a peaceful protest outside an abortion clinic? Why not hold up the arms of politicians promising to make a positive difference? Why not use our social media accounts to promote the slogans of organizations seeking change we wholeheartedly believe is needed?

Let’s start with a realistic look at the world’s movements and causes.

“Great Is Diana of the Ephesians!”

The Apostle Paul reached first-century Gentiles with the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, which includes obedience to God’s command against idolatry (e.g., Acts 17:22–31). This facet of the truth did not go unnoticed by idol makers—merchants in an industry we are told was quite profitable.

And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.”

Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord (Acts 19:23–29).

What motivated this protest—a riot so great that the local government feared Roman intervention (v. 40)—was not devotion to Diana, but concern for profits.

But the crowd did not know this. In fact, the people had different ideas about why they were rioting, “for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together” (v. 32). Yet, for two hours, the whole crowd chanted the slogan of the merchants: “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” (v. 34).

A Modern Example of an Ancient Reality

Too often, the causes and movements of this world mimic the protests of Ephesus. The streets are filled with people passionate about their beliefs and zealous for a particular cause. Yet, when we dig, we find individuals at the core of it all with beliefs and causes most of the effort’s “foot soldiers” would not even recognize.

For example, the words “black lives matter” express a truth beyond dispute: Black lives do matter! Those who think otherwise defy Almighty God, who made every human life in His own image for His own glory. With a name like that, one would think the Black Lives Matter organization is clearly worthy of support and encouragement.

If only that were true. Visiting reveals the goals of the organization’s leaders in their own words. Under the “What We Believe” portion of their webpage, they make clear that they desire to “do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege.” For those who aren’t familiar with the word cisgender, this means they work to make it easier for a man to declare himself a woman, for a woman to declare herself a man, and to convince people that such confusion is normal. They also declare their desire to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement” (by which they refer to the biblical design of the family—married parents and a father serving as head of the home) and to “foster a queer-affirming network” and free people from “the tight grip of heteronormative thinking”—in other words, to aggressively push society to accept homosexuality and other lifestyles as equal to or better than God’s own design.

In the Ephesian “Diana Movement,” those behind the protests had interests that many of the sincere participants knew nothing about. Likewise, if we donate money to the Black Lives Matter organization or add #BlackLivesMatter to our online posts, how do we know we aren’t lending support to agendas we would never agree with if we knew the details?

In fact, we don’t.

Again, those who disagree with the words “black lives matter” are disagreeing with the Creator Himself. Yet, organizations and movements are not necessarily defined by the label they present to the world. Jesus Christ commands His followers, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Following Christ requires a depth of discernment that few are willing to practice, because whatever we do, we bear God’s name (Acts 9:15) and are responsible for what we attach that name to.

Corrupted World, Corrupted Tactics, Corrupted Motives

In a sin-tainted world, no side of the political spectrum is without sinful tactics.

Many remember the final weeks of the 2004 reelection campaign for U.S. President George W. Bush. Running as the incumbent Republican, the President began to talk up an amendment to the United States Constitution that would protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman—a timely concern due to the May 2004 legalization of same-sex “marriage” in Massachusetts. That presidential election drew the highest percentage of Americans to the polls in almost 40 years. Many credit this record-breaking feat to the throngs of religious conservatives stirred by Mr. Bush’s stumping for the marriage-protecting amendment.

Yet, after the election was won, before he was even sworn in for his second term, President Bush announced that he was not planning to press for the amendment. Marriage was considered safe enough. Of course, the United States now lives in the aftermath, with same-sex “marriage” a reality nationwide.

It’s hard to say whether a push for a marriage-protecting amendment would have worked, yet it is also hard not to suspect ulterior motives in the campaign promise. Regardless, when all was said and done, many religious conservatives in the U.S. felt used and manipulated.

Even the pro-life movement—wrestling against the obvious evil of abortion—has recently been tainted with questions and controversy. In a May 2020 documentary, Norma McCorvey—the “Jane Roe” in the infamous Roe v. Wade case that made abortion-on-demand legal in the U.S.—stated that her later comments against abortion were not sincere. The picture painted is that she made them for the money, used as a “prop” by the leaders of the pro-life movement. She claimed she was giving the documentary interviewer her “deathbed confession.” However, many intimate friends and spiritual advisors who knew her were confused by her statements, as they believed—and continue to believe—that her convictions against abortion were very real.

It is entirely possible that Ms. McCorvey, facing the end of her life, was simply confused and guilt-ridden. Now that she has died, in this life we may never know. Regardless, as movements and organizations grow larger in this world, they often begin to transform into business ventures in ways that should leave us uncomfortable—a fact worth noting. The love of money is, indeed, the root of many evils (1 Timothy 6:10).

Fixing the Devil’s World with the Devil’s Tools?

Such tainted motivations and tactics surely do not characterize every movement in this world, yet neither should they surprise us. Whether deceitful or transparent, too many of this world’s causes and movements share two important characteristics: They are products of the devil’s world, and they generally represent attempts to improve the devil’s world using the devil’s own tools.

To be sure, God created the world and, ultimately, all authority rests with Him. Yet God’s word makes it abundantly clear that the world around us now is not as He would have it but reflects, instead, Satan the devil, who reigns over it. The devil said plainly to Jesus that all worldly authority “has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Luke 4:6). If the devil had been lying, that temptation would have been no temptation at all, since Satan cannot give what he does not have!

But he does have that authority in this present world—a fact Jesus supports three times in His own statements, calling the devil the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Paul refers to Satan as “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Revelation 12:9 makes clear that Satan continually “deceives the whole world,” and 1 John 5:19 says flatly that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”

Doesn’t “the whole world” include its causes, organizations, and political campaigns? Or does the Bible not mean what it says?

Consider our politicians. We should pray for all of our leaders, regardless of our personal feelings about them (1 Timothy 2:1–4). But will reelecting or replacing any one of them somehow remove or even significantly reduce Satan’s stranglehold on the world? God will allow leaders to reign so that His purposes are served (Daniel 4:17), but does the devil really care who is elected or which party comes into power?

Ultimately, no. As long as the leader is not Jesus Christ, anyone will do as far as the devil is concerned. And Church members who seek to publicly promote or degrade one political leader or another on social media delight the devil, regardless of their target. Surely, few things thrill Satan more than seeing God’s people invested in the things of his domain. He loves it when those who have been separated by God for holy purposes get drawn back into “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2).

Of course, while God may not subscribe to a particular party or policy, He certainly cares about human fairness and hates racism. He certainly cares about unborn life. And—while democracy is not God’s approach to government—no matter the approach men take, He certainly hates to see leaders abuse those they were appointed to serve.

But does God want us to use this world’s faulty, carnal tools to “fix” the world, now? Should we work to address the sins of the world with the devil’s tools? Or has He called us to address them in a different way entirely?

Psalm 11:3 presents us with a challenging question: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The question is rhetorical, because its answer is obvious: Nothing. If the foundations are destroyed, even the righteous cannot build anything of value atop the rubble—and the foundations of this world are shattered. Since the Garden of Eden, this world has been built upon sin.

Yet, God notices and honors those who sigh and cry over the many abominations done within this world (Ezekiel 9:4–6). What should we do with the emotions and concerns those abominations inspire within us?

Jesus Christ provides the answers in His example and His teachings. After all, isn’t the key question for every faithful Christian, What would Jesus have me do?

A Patient and Focused Savior

We must believe that, if we are stirred by the wrongs and evils in the world, the Creator of this world must be even more so. How eager He must be to finally right all wrongs, lift up the downtrodden, and put an end to wicked influence!

Yet, during His human ministry, He steadfastly refused all opportunities to involve Himself in the course of this world. He was sent with a plan and a mission, and He stuck to both.

We should not forget that first-century Judea was rampant with egregious injustices. In Jesus’ day, Judea was an occupied territory. Its inhabitants lived and died under the shadow of the Roman Empire. The Romans brought order, yes, but at the price of subjugation and domination. The Roman government, in some ways, was debauched. Jesus’ own trial shows how easily the powerful could execute the innocent. The first-century Church began amidst the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace—yet it was a peace provided by Rome’s overwhelming, iron grip.

The Jews, Jesus’ people, were socially oppressed and heavily taxed. Those taxes helped keep the order that Paul noted in Romans 13:6—order that allowed peaceful worship services, roads on which the Gospel could be spread, and other conveniences of first-century society. But those taxes also funded the crucifixion of Jews, furthered Roman military oppression, and paid for pagan, state-sponsored temples and festivals. If we are concerned that our modern taxes may be misused, we should meditate on what taxes paid to first-century Rome made possible.

Yet, in the midst of this oppression and injustice inflicted upon His own people, did Jesus Christ join or support any anti-Roman movements?

He did not. In fact, a careful review of His ministry demonstrates a dedicated detachment from the course of this world and a complete commitment to a mission accomplished by no carnal cause or movement.

In Mark 12:13–17, Jewish leaders tried to pull Jesus into their own discussions about the morality of paying taxes. It was a trap, of course, as they were more interested in discrediting Him than hearing an answer. Yet Jesus, in His wisdom, did answer—though not in a way that aligned Himself with any worldly cause. Rather, He declared that we should “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 17).

In Luke 12, we read of a man who came to Jesus asking Him to judge between him and his brother concerning their inheritance (v. 13). The Messiah who will one day judge the entire world responded, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” (v. 14). Keep in mind, Jesus has literally been ordained by the Father to judge the entire world (Acts 17:31). In fact, in the Millennium, “He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off” (Micah 4:3). But Jesus refused to take that authority prematurely, even in such a small way. The world would have to wait.

In fact, Christ displayed a complete commitment to His Father’s timeline for addressing the world. For instance, Scripture records moments where the Savior was moved by compassion to address the suffering of specific Gentiles when their faith was strong—often highlighting their powerful faith to the Jews around Him (e.g., Matthew 15:22–28). Yet, He explicitly resisted opening up salvation to the Gentiles more broadly until it was the Father’s time, which came when Peter was divinely directed to baptize Cornelius (Acts 10 and 11).

Christ was utterly devoted to His Father’s purpose and timing. Luke describes how Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” (Luke 4:5–6). Jesus only had to pay the price of worshipping the devil (v. 7) and it all would be His to improve!

Of course, Jesus did not take that bait (v. 8). Christ will not compromise with the devil in an attempt to cure this world using its own means, methods, and institutions. Today is not His day to clean up the earth—that day will come in tomorrow’s world. He is not going to cut corners in the plan of God!

Drafted for the Most Important Cause

So, what would Jesus have us do?

The answer is abundantly clear. He would have us do exactly what He commissioned us to do—preach the Kingdom of God to the world.

Our Creator—Jesus Christ, the Son of God—became flesh and allowed Himself to be tortured and murdered to separate each of us from the world through the forgiveness of our sins and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God has called you and me to Him, and is adding us to His very family—so we must be about our Father’s business (Luke 2:49).

Do we believe or not believe that the message of the Kingdom of God is truly the only hope the world has? Do we believe or not believe that only that message connects all the dots and clarifies the real reasons for human suffering? And if we do not carry God’s message to the world, who will?

Jesus’ teachings contained in Luke 14:25–33 make plain the level of devotion true Christianity requires. He summarizes that requirement when He says, “whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (v. 33). “All that he has” includes portions of our hearts that we would be tempted to devote to other causes, messages, and missions. And “cannot” is a strong word.

In Luke 9:57–62, Jesus uses the requests of three “wannabe” followers to highlight the full price of discipleship and help us understand what it means to count the cost. For instance, He highlights that following Him often means that we are, in a sense, “homeless,” with no place on earth that we can truly call ours (vv. 57–58). And those who follow Him must be committed to completing what they started, looking forward to His purpose for them, with no turning back (vv. 61–62).

But verses 59–60 seem harshest to many readers: “Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.’”

It seems cruel, and we often distract ourselves from its meaning by trying to take its edge off—noting that, perhaps, this meant he wanted to wait for his father to die, which could take years. But Christ’s meaning is crystal clear: “The world is filled with those who are lost and perishing, and they busy themselves with the business of the perishing. But you go and preach the Kingdom of God.

The Cause of the Christian—Ambassadors for Jesus Christ

Of course, the obligation Christ presses upon His Church includes crying aloud to the world about sin and sparing not (Isaiah 58:1)! The sins of this world—the abomination of abortion, the scourge of racism, and the craven greed of so many worldly leaders—are part of the reason prophesied devastation is coming on the world ahead of that Kingdom!

Yet, are we to represent worldly organizations in our condemnation of these sins? Do we come in their name? No! God expects us to work together to provide a full witness—one that points clearly and unequivocally to Jesus Christ as the Authority behind our message!

We are ambassadors for Christ and His coming reign (Ephesians 6:20). In that role, are we to dilute our ambassadorship by serving two regimes? Or will it be clear to those who receive us exactly Whom we represent?

Our obligation is clear: We have been called to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Not the Gospel of Capitalism, Socialism, or Communism. Not the Gospel of Social Justice, Criminal Justice, or Environmental Justice. Not the Gospel of Republicans, Democrats, or Libertarians. Not the Gospel of Conservatives, Liberals, or Moderates. Not the Gospel of CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC. Not the Gospel of the Tea Party movement, Black Lives Matter, or the Pro-Life movement.

It is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. And we are to preach it unadulterated and unabridged.

Our Savior’s own cause is the cause to which we are to completely devote our lives. The banner in our hands is to be His banner, and His alone. And after our resurrection and glorification, when we charge out of heaven with Him to finally take this world from the devil (Revelation 19), that act will culminate lives that were lived walking side by side with our Husband-to-be, looking at the world as He looks at it, and longing to make it right the way He wants to make it right.

Jesus Christ will not share our devotion with any man-made social movement, and those devoted to Him will not desire to divide their devotion. They will say with Him, “Let the dead bury their dead. We will preach the Kingdom of God.”