Whenever the subject of politics is brought near the corridors of the church, immediately one starts to hear voices of protest from within and outside church. Traditionally, politics have been labelled as a “no go area” for Christians and the church. This issue of Reformation Zambia is an attempt to make an intellectual, theological and practical inquiry in this thought-provoking and important subject of “church and politics”.

The role of the church and Christians in politics

Let me first define some working terms, which will be helpful in our inquiry on church and politics. By “church” I mean both the individual believers and the institutional entity or corporate body of such individuals. By “politics” I mean all activities relating to governing, guiding, or building civil society. The word “politics” has its root in a Greek word, which relates to issues that concern the “polis” or “city state”—that is, the whole of life in human society. I am aware of the limitations of these definitions but these would be our working definitions in this issue of Reformation Zambia.

Politics is an issue of wisdom and not an issue of right and wrong. Therefore, it is not morally wrong to participate in the political process and it is not morally wrong to completely refrain from the political process. As a wisdom issue, there are factors that we need to be aware of as we strive to please the Lord and plan for effective involvement in politics.

A good place to start our discussion is to make an inquiry as to why politics are considered a no-go area for Christians and the church. Traditional position holds that religion and politics don’t mix. This position justifiably leads some Christians to stay away from any civic involvement, informed by the teaching of “separation of church and state”. This position makes a good number of Christians to relax in their comfort zone and simply watch the affairs of the nation from the terraces and not participate on the field of play. Only when things go wrong politically or economically do we see them pull their sleeves and dust their whistles in order to take their self-ordained positions of referee and pass judgment bent toward criticism.

An inquiry in the traditional position of separation of church and state leaves us with several practical questions, such as: Can the church practically and truly be both faithful and at the same time politically neutral? Should Christians seek political office or exclusively focus on charity and evangelism? When and how should the church and Christians engage in politics, if at all there is place for them? If Christians stay out of politics, who is going to run our nations? What is the Christian’s and church’s role in society and politics?

A common response from some concerned evangelicals is that religion and politics represent two different worlds—two different kinds of power and domain. Therefore, politics and religion should be kept in separate compartments. The rationale to this position goes way back to Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 AD) who thought in terms of the sacred/secular divide of the two kingdoms—the kingdom of God, which is the church’s responsibility, and the kingdom of the world, which is the sphere of politicians.

They are several challenges to this school of thought that is at odds with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus instructed his disciples not to withdraw from the world but to remain and work to transform it. Our Master calls us to act justly and responsibly in this world and not to withdraw into Christian ghettos. Like the saying goes, salt in the salt seller preserves nothing!

John Stott, commenting on Matthew 6:13, says, “When you see meat rot, don’t blame it, because that’s what meat does when it is not preserved—blame the salt.” Similarly, when we see moral decay in the world of politics, we shouldn’t blame the world because that’s what it is meant to become when “the salt of the earth”—the Christians—opt to stay away.

Brethren, we cannot continue complaining about the decay in politics and society and at the same time decided not to take part in the God-ordained process by which the same might be changed. The answer is for more Christians called to politics to seriously take this responsibility. Get involved!

In this issue of Reformation Zambia, I have tried to give something of a biblical and historical rationale for the church and individual Christians’ involvement in the political life a their country. Pastor Choolwe Mwetwa gives us his own experience as an example of a gospel minister’s involvement in civic affairs. And finally, we interview Mr Ernest Mwansa, a former MP and government minister, in order to get an intimate view of his journey as a Christian in politics. The interview is rather long, but when you start reading it you will not want to put the magazine down until you finish it.