The church and the state are both God-ordained institutions. We cannot combine the two or even eliminate the one or the other. You recall when the Pharisees confronted Jesus Christ on whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. He replied, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:17). It is very clear that there is a difference between Caesar’s domain and God’s Church.

A theological way to explain the different roles of the church and the state in society is to look at the primary focus of these two institutions. The church deals primarily with eternal issues, i.e. our eternal salvation which relates to the kingdom of God. The state deals primarily with temporal issues, which relate to the here and now, the material wellbeing of society. Thank God, he has made us to be both material and spiritual, and the two dimensions of our being must be attended to if society has to function in a healthy manner. Does the distinction between these institutions prevent the church and Christians to get involved in issues that surround politics of our day?

My area of interest is on the role of the church and Christians in civic affairs. Does the church have any role to play in civic affairs? The one function of the church that concerns us here is her role as teacher and moral guide in society. That is the main concern of our discussion. Briefly let us glean from the biblical and historical examples on the role of the church and individual Christians in politics. 

Lessons from the Scriptures

What is the role of the church and God‘s people in the social and political order of society? Many Christians struggle with this idea of the church and individual Christians’ involvement in socio-political-economic issues. Yet, Scripture has a positive record of such an involvement. We see that in the providence of God, Daniel became a political leader in Babylon and still maintained his devotion to God. Joseph ascended to political power in a foreign land and set forth economic strategies for the survival of a nation. Amos and many other prophets spoke into the political and social issues of Israel and the surrounding nations.

The Bible has examples of God’s servants speaking out when government officials practiced or promoted inhumane and moral evils. Classical examples are in Matt.14:1-4 when John the Baptist spoke against the evil deed of King Herod and ended up being beheaded, and in 2 Sam. 12:1-15 when Nathan the prophet spoke against the evils deeds in the life of King David. This is what being “salt and light” in the world means.

Jesus spoke into and referred to the political concerns of his day. His teaching radically challenged the status quo and demonstrated a new paradigm of leadership style (called servant-leadership, by implication). He spoke out against the abuse of political power and sought the just use of power.

Dr Jim Harris makes a heart-searching comment on the church and politics. He says, “Participation in politics does not detract from spirituality. In fact, a spirituality that is unrelated to politics is questionable.”[1]

William Wilberforce (1759-1833)

History has examples of Christians engaging in politics or civic affairs. There are examples of evangelical Christians who gave their lives to address inhumane practices and laws. They actively participated in politics fulfilling the Christian mandate of promoting compassion, justice, mercy, and truth in the world.

A classic historical example is William Wilberforce, a young British politician voted into parliament at 21years. In 1785, he was converted to Christianity, and with his newfound faith in Christ he contemplated leaving politics to become a minister of the gospel. Thankfully, it is said that his college mate, William Pitt, who later became Prime Minister in Britain, convinced him to stay on in politics. This is how Pitt wrote to his friend on this matter: “Surely the principles as well as the practice of Christianity are simple and lead not to meditation only but to action.”

Wilberforce stayed on. The consequent result of his conversion changed his approach to politics. Now informed by a Christian mind or biblical worldview, Wilberforce’s Christian faith meant action in a holistic sense. He could not stand seeing any inhumane vices, practices, and laws without addressing them.

One remarkable battle of justice Wilberforce fought as a Christian politician until his death was the abuse of human beings created in the image of God in the slave trade business. For more than thirty years, Wilberforce passionately and courageously laboured to get parliament to outlaw the abominable practice of slave trade in Britain. His dream was fulfilled a month before he died in 1833. He was a man who profoundly changed history by fearlessly addressing and confronting the social, economic, and political issues that affected humanity. All this was driven by his biblical worldview.

However, there is a price for such a stance. Wilberforce’s aggressive and unpopular crusade against the slave trade had a toll on his health and cost him politically. He suffered verbal abuse and was treated with suspicion by many of his countrymen and especially those who profited from the slave trade business. He stood his ground, convinced that what he was doing honoured God. Giving up was not on his agenda. Listen to what he wrote when he was being hassled to give up the fight: “A man who fears God is not at liberty to do so.”

Wilberforce challenged existing political and social order and advocated change driven by his Christian motif. His Christian worldview in politics led him to engage in more than just the issue of slavery. He fought for prison reform. He founded or participated in sixty charities. He advocated legislation to improve the working conditions of chimneysweepers and textile workers. He also recognised the importance of education in alleviating poverty. He morally supported and financially provided for all such endeavours. He spoke into the life of King George III. He cared for God’s creation, founding the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. And he championed missionary efforts, like founding the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Here is a man that has left a legacy of a Christian in politics. He demonstrates that sometimes we can improve the world we live in by political means. Our Christian worldview should not remove us out of the world and into Christian ghettos. Rather it ought to move us into action. It is said that “we cannot know God more without being moved to love others more and to care passionately about issues of justice, mercy and truth”.

Church and politics—which way to go?

With what has been shared, the question is: How should we get involved? First, let me correct the notion or the understanding that when I say we should get involved I am saying that local churches should endorse candidates or political parties, or sponsor or finance political campaigns. I am not saying that. However, it is clear that the church and individual Christians have a God-given mandate to be “salt and light” in the world.

Take a look at some of the issues our politicians and government officials debate, legalise, or even finance with our taxes. They all have a direct effect on our families and society. Politics affects us all, from the street sweeper to ministers of religion. I believe we should all take an active interest in the laws and policies that affect the way we live. In Zambia, for instance, currently there is a debate on legalising homosexuality. Should we as a church or Christians speak out on such issues or simply remain silent in our holy huddles? If we decide to speak out, which platform do we use to speak to society? If we do not speak out or engage, how do we fulfil our God-given duty to preach the truth and rebuke error and demonstrate our “salt” mandate?

In conclusion, let me provide some ideas about how and where the church and individual Christians can engage in the politics. 

Role of individual Christians

  1. Let us educate ourselves with respect to our history as well as current events in our land.
  2. Let us give ourselves to serve on local boards or committees in our communities.
  3. Let us develop a biblical perspective on politics and increase our knowledge of how the political system works.
  4. Let us encourage those whom we perceive to have a calling in politics to run for local, parliamentary, and national office, and let us support them in prayer.
  5. Let us support or enter into careers that foster respect for humanity, uphold morality, and advance the good of our people.
  6. Let us enhance and inculcate the spirit of community volunteerism and patriotism in our church members.
  7. Let us get to grips with at least one or more issues and work with other Christians to develop a biblical perspective on this issue and lobby intelligently.
  8. Let us vote with discernment for or against men and women in politics.

Role of the church

The primary call of the church is to reach the world with the good news of salvation in Christ and not to moralise our society. However, the church has a role in politics.[2]

  1. To provide a prophetic ministry in society. By “prophetic” I mean speaking into policy, evil structures, or specific issues, which dehumanise and undermine the imago Dei. The prophetic role must apply relevant moral norms to the current political concerns of the day. The church has the responsibility to continue engaging with government on justice, corruption, leadership, housing, education, health care, security, policy, and whatever else is morally important. This role demands that the church should also positively acknowledge the good and disapprove the bad promises and policies of government. The need to have an understanding of these issues and the mind of God in Scripture with respect to such issues is necessary in order to speak into these matters prophetically. Kenneth Kaunda, commenting on this role, says, “What a nation needs more than anything else is not a Christian ruler in the palace but a Christian prophet within earshot”.[3]
  2. To serve as an agent of reconciliation. Politics happen in a divided pluralistic society and often causes divisions, disputes, and conflicts of interest. Where this happens, the church—as a body that is non-partisan—can bring the warring parties together and find a basis for compromise and reconciliation, whilst individual Christians continue to have a God-given duty to reconcile individuals to Christ and to one another at an interpersonal level. At the community level, the church can have an influence, which individual Christians cannot.
  3. To teach and educate her members to be responsible and diligent citizens of the nation. The church has the responsibility to disciple its members into being obedient and law-abiding citizens. The “salt and light of the world” message can only be effectual when the church faithfully teaches its members their duties as citizens. The absence of true disciples of Christ in politics has led to the increase of secularised policies and practices in politics.
  4. To spearhead a ministry of prayer for the nation. Apart from the individual prayers for the nation and its’ leaders, it is important and biblical that there should also be corporate intercession for our nation and the world at large in our churches. This is something that is rare in most of our churches and where it is done it is with very little enthusiasm.


Let me end by saying that, in a sense, politics is a vocation. Therefore, not all Christians will show the same enthusiasm in matters of politics. We should take the matter as an issue of calling. Just as some are called to be pastors, teachers, engineers, doctors, and lawyers, politicians should also be recognised and encouraged in our churches. If we are to bring soundness and lasting virtues in civic affairs, we need suitably qualified and gifted Christians saying “yes” to the political career. In addition to this, given the pressures and temptations which politicians face, they will need all the prayers and pastoral support from the church.


Eden Martyn, Out of the ghetto, unpublished article, April 2011

Gidoomal Ram, How would Jesus vote, London: Monarch Books, 2001

Harris Jim, Church and politics, article, Wynberg: Cape Town

Kaunda Kenneth, Kaunda on Violence, London: Collins, 1980

Melvin Tinker, Evangelical concerns, Glasgow: Mentor, 2001

Santa Ana Julio De, Toward a church of the poor, New York: Orbis, 1979

Stott John, Issues Facing Christians Today, London: Marshall & Pickering, 1999

[1]Dr. Harris Jim,Church and politics–unpublished Article, Wynberg: Cape Town1992


[2] Adapted from an unpublished article, “Out of the ghetto”, Martyn Eden, April 2011

[3] Kenneth Kaunda, “Kaunda on Violence”, Collins, 1980, p.45-46