Does Government Affect the Church’s Effectiveness?

Among Christians it is often debated whether a government can truly affect the church’s ability to spread the gospel. John MacArthur, for example, has written:

“The ideal human government can ultimately do nothing to advance God’s kingdom, and the worst, most despotic worldly government in the end cannot halt the power of the Holy Spirit or the spread of God’s Word.”

(from Why Government Can’t Save You: An Alternative to Political Activism)

In the end, MacArthur’s statement is certainly true. All who believe the Bible know that God will eventually succeed in all his plans to spread his Word to the ends of the earth. No human agency will ever ultimately prohibit God’s work. To believe otherwise is to disbelieve in God’s power to make Revelation 21-22 a reality.

But in his book Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture, Wayne Grudem disagrees with MacArthur with what I believe to be wise words. He writes,

“I think of the difference between North Korea and South Korea. Even if the dictatorial, oppressive government of North Korea has not completely halted the spread of God’s Word, its severe persecution has hindered it so much that millions of North Koreans are born, live, and die without ever hearing of Jesus Christ, and North Korea sends out zero missionaries. By contrast, the church in South Korea, where the government has allowed freedom, is growing, thriving, and sending missionaries around the world.”

Ultimately, no human agency, government or otherwise, will halt the plans of God for the gospel to spread to the ends of the earth. But in this brief moment of history, the government of North Korea enforces policies that severely hinder the spread of the gospel while the government of South Korea, by contrast, enforces policies that allow the gospel to spread. Grudem sites other examples:

“Or compare the relatively small, repressed church in Cuba, which is unable to send out any missionaries anywhere, with the growing, thriving churches throughout many Latin American countries that have more freedom. Governments do make a difference to the work of God’s kingdom.”

Grudem’s conclusion is straightforward and simple:

“This is why Paul urged that prayers be made ‘for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way’ (1 Tim. 2: 2). That is, good governments help people to live a ‘peaceful’ and ‘godly’ life, and bad governments hinder that.”

It is important as the USA begins a new year (in which we planning to elect a new president) for Christians to be involved.

First of all, we should pray, as Paul instructs us, for the governing authorities and for those seeking office.

Second, Christians who are called to serve in the political sphere should do so.

Third, we should vote, which is a particular blessed privilege for citizens of the USA. I have found choosing a candidate to be very difficult, but the hard work of learning which candidate will best lead our government to be a good one (in the Romans 13 sense of a good government) is necessary.

Fourth, we should influence government leaders and agencies with biblical principles through discussions, writing, and with every tool at our disposal.



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Jonathan Edwards
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