Driving through some parts of Kentucky it seems that you can hardly make a turn without seeing a church. Someone told me that the county they lived in had 66 churches. Churches have been part of the American landscape for all of our history. But more and more it seems that churches are to be seen and not heard. The culture is perfectly OK with churches meeting on Sunday, visiting the nursing homes, prisons, and hospitals, and running food banks. All of these are a big part of what Jesus called churches to do and churches who do not do these things are failing in their mandate from Christ. But should churches be more? Should they have a voice in culture, government, schools etc.?
In Matthew 5:13 Jesus taught that Christians, embodied in local churches, are the salt of the earth. In ancient cultures, salt was a vital substance. It was not only used to enhance flavor, but was necessary as a preservative to prevent corruption of food. When Jesus told his disciples that they were the salt of the earth, he was telling them that through the teaching of Christ and the Christian mission, the earth can be kept from corruption and rot. But how can the church carry out the mission of being salt to the earth?
In order for this mission to be carried out, churches cannot be just Sunday meeting places and rescue shelters for the impoverished. They have to have a voice in cultural debate. They cannot sit silently on the sidelines. When society has opinions that are opposite to what God has revealed about Himself and His wishes in the Bible, it is the job of the church to influence that society. It is not the churches job to take authority over the society, but to attempt to influence the society. This is how the church is salt to the earth. This requires the church to interact with, tolerate, and love not only its members, but all parts of our society. It requires the church to hear those who disagree with us, love those who are different from us, and minister even to those who refuse to believe in Christ.
Many people believe that because America is a place that has no state religion, then the church should be silent in the affairs of the society at large. The church should only speak to those willing to enter its doors. But is the silence of the church a good thing for our communities? There was a time that when questions of morality and ethics arose the church was listened to, if not always heeded. But do our communities even care to hear the opinion of our churches anymore? Our prisons and jails are overflowing, our young people are addicted, our marriages are falling apart, and our school systems are struggling. Many believe that the church has no answer and that the Christian religion is just an impediment to the evolution of society. But do you really think society would be worse if marriage vows were kept, if parents loved and nurtured their children, if children obeyed their parents, if people loved their neighbor, and if children grew up knowing they were the pinnacle of God’s creation and not a cosmic accident? Even though the church does not always live up to these things, these are the high ideas that we strive for.
So should churches have a voice in the culture? Absolutely.