John Piper says 'political flag waving' has no place in 'Christian worship'

Passion/Garrett Lobaugh
Passion/Garrett Lobaugh

Amid a contentious election season, theologian John Piper has emphasized the importance of grounding Christian advocacy in biblical truth while respecting the separation of church and state, stressing that “political flag waving” has no place in “Christian worship.”

In a recent episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, the 78-year-old chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, addressed a question from a listener named Matthew concerning the distinction between speaking truth to power and engaging in political flag-waving. 

Piper outlined six characteristics of what he termed "bad political flag-waving," including prioritizing party allegiance over ethical principles, conflating moral stances with political affiliations, placing undue hope in political solutions for societal issues and misapplying biblical teachings to justify partisan agendas. 

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“Bad political flag-waving means foregrounding partisan politics in settings where they do not belong — for example, in Christian worship. Making the case for a party’s political platform belongs, for example, at the national convention of the party. That’s where you can wave your flag properly, but not in Christian worship,” he wrote.

Conversely, Piper, who pastored Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for almost 33 years, advocated for a clear and biblically informed approach to "speaking truth to power," a calling he said is incumbent upon all Christians.

“Speaking truth to power in a truly Christian way is always a call to repent and trust the forgiving grace of Jesus,” he contended. 

Piper also delved into the “separation of church and state,” clarifying his stance that while Christians should actively participate in societal discourse, they must refrain from leveraging governmental power to impose religious beliefs. 

“[No] human government should ever use its biblical right to wield the sword to enforce a religion or to oppose a religion as such. And the reason I used the phrase as such is to distinguish that bad action of forceful establishment or forceful maintenance of religion from the good action of creating laws that might fit the morality of a religion but not at all be part of prescribing or proscribing a religion as such,” he said.

Piper highlighted the importance of addressing the spiritual needs of all people through the Gospel message, emphasizing the necessity of faith and repentance for true transformation.

“By all means be willing to lose your life to speak the truth to power and weakness. But always keep in mind the vast difference between this and political flag-waving,” he said. 

This is not the first time Piper has waded into political territory ahead of an election season.

In 2020, the pastor explained why he thought it would be wrong for him to support either candidate in the election that year. Though he refrained from mentioning any candidate by name, he compared one candidate who supported policies that endorse “baby-killing,” “sex-switching” and “socialistic overreach,” suggesting Joe Biden, to the other candidate, who he said was guilty of sins of “unrepentant sexual immorality” and “unrepentant boastfulness,” referring to Donald Trump.

“I will not develop some calculus to determine which path of destruction I will support,” he wrote at the time. “That is not my duty. My calling is to lead people to see Jesus Christ, trust His forgiveness for sins, treasure Him above everything in this world, live in a way that shows His all-satisfying value, and help them make it to Heaven with love and holiness. That calling is contradicted by supporting either pathway to cultural corruption and eternal ruin.”

In 2017, Piper also called the president “morally unfit” due to “immoral behavior in the past, and his ongoing unwillingness to renounce it as evil.”

In a 2020 op-ed for The Christian Post, former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson called Piper’s stance “ridiculous.”

“Pride doesn’t kill babies. Boastfulness doesn’t tear them apart in their mothers’ wombs. Arrogance doesn’t cause a baby to flee for their lives as sharp instruments seek to rip them limb from limb while they are still alive. No. Abortion does that and abortion alone,” she wrote.

“We can’t legislate pride or boastfulness or arrogance. But we can legislate abortion,” Johnson added. “In fact, we can make it illegal. And that is what is on the line. Life is on the line. The innocent lives of precious babies are on the line. Not pride. Not arrogance.”

Evangelist Franklin Graham also said he disagreed with Piper’s reasoning, adding: "He is wrong on this issue.”

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