In a Monday meeting with evangelical leaders at the White House, President Trump reportedly warned of violence against conservative Christians if the GOP loses in November. Evangelicals, he said, were “one election away from losing everything.”
As evangelicals, we would do well to correct the president on this point. If an election can cause us to lose everything, what is it exactly that we have in the first place?
Surely we can be grateful for any public servant who upholds the First Amendment. And we should applaud fellow believers who ply their education and experience as lawyers to defend religious freedom (as long as they don’t seek to privilege Christianity legally above other religions).
However, the church does not preach the gospel at the pleasure of any administration or decline to preach it at another administration’s displeasure. We preach at Christ’s pleasure. And we don’t make his policies but communicate them. It’s not when we’re fed to lions that we lose everything; it’s when we preach another gospel. “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matt. 16:26).
And yet, swinging from triumphalism to seething despair, many pastors are conveying to the wider, watching public a faith in political power that stands in sharp opposition to everything we say we believe in. To many of our neighbors, the court chaplains appear more like jesters.
Something tremendous is at stake here: whether evangelical Christians place their faith more in Caesar and his kingdom than in Christ and his reign. On that one, we do have everything to lose—this November and every other election cycle. When we seek special political favors for the church, we communicate to the masses that Christ’s kingdom is just another demographic in the US electorate.
Let’s face it. Liberal and conservative, Catholic and Protestant, have courted political power and happily allowed themselves to be used by it. This always happens when the church confuses the kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this present age. Jesus came not to jump-start the theocracy in Israel, much less to be the founding father of any other nation. Even during his ministry, two disciples—James and John—wanted to call down judgment on a village that rejected their message, but “Jesus turned to them and rebuked them” (Luke 9:54–55). He is not a mascot for a voting bloc but the savior of the world. He came to forgive sins and bring everlasting life, to die and rise again so that through faith in him we too can share in his new creation.
At his trial, Jesus told Pontius Pilate that he was indeed a king—but the heir to a greater throne than the Roman prefect could imagine. “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). In it, yes. Even for it. But not from the world. Thus, it is not Pilate who decides Jesus’ fate. “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:18).
Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and a long period afterward that would be marked simultaneously by persecution and expansion of his kingdom. How? Armed with nothing more than his gospel, baptism, and the Supper, fueled by the freedom of grace and love of all people, the low and the high, who need to hear this saving message. If one wants to talk about real violence against Christians, surely the persecution of the early Christians should count. Yet every New Testament command on the subject calls us to love and pray for our enemies with the confidence that Christ is still building his church. Then why does the appeal to fear work so consistently with many who claim to stand in the line of Jesus’ disciples, to whom he said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32)?
This is not to say we should have no concern at all about the state of our nation. Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians called to avoid the responsibilities of our temporary citizenship, even though our ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). However, many of us sound like we’ve staked everything not only on constitutional freedoms but also on social respect, acceptance, and even power. But that comes at the cost of confusing the gospel with Christian nationalism.
The only Christian nation in the world today is the one gathered “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9) to be addressed by its king. In his Great Commission, Jesus gave authority to the church to make disciples, not citizens; to proclaim the gospel, not political opinions; to baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, not in the name of America or a political party; and to teach everything that he delivered, not our own personal and political priorities. And he promised that his presence with us is something that the world can never take away.
Anyone who believes, much less preaches, that evangelical Christians are “one election away from losing everything” in November has forgotten how to sing the psalmist’s warning, “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save” (Ps. 146:3).
Michael Horton is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California and takes questions at CoreChristianity.com.