The election is gearing up next week and everyone is feverishly preparing for the event which may prove to be the most significant in its long-term effect upon our nation to date. For Christians, we are in a unique position as we live in this world but are not of this world. How do we understand and operate in the political landscape in a meaningful and godly manner that will be a blessing to the nation?
Christians are torn between the two positions. One of activism on one hand being totally immersed, working, praying and moving with a political party to enact change and on the other end of the spectrum there are those who believe that God is going to be in charge at any rate and is going to achieve His ends no matter what, so we don’t have to do very much and just get on with the business of the gospel. For those in the former position, the history of the early Church in Rome where the church and state where one has taught us bitter lessons on how the two cannot be merged. Yet even today we see stirrings of this movement amongst those who hold to dominionism as in the New Apostolic Movement which aims to capture political power in the seven crucial domains of our culture. In our own country this is not going to be so simple and some of us are going to be totally crushed by the results and face cynicism and frustration when political ideal come crashing against the rock of political machinations, corruption, compromise and out right evil. Still others have shielded themselves from these realities of life but have settled for a dour, apathetic attitude of resignation to our fate in this country only drawing comfort from our eternal hope in Christ when His kingdom comes. The answer to our dilemma lies somewhere in between I believe.
Let then look at the Word for some of the principles that should undergird our approach to politics in our community
The Principle of Separation:
Christians are uniquely separate from the state. Look at
1 Peter 2:11 (ESV) Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
We do not really belong to any state because our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God. Jesus state this more clearly in
John 18:36-37 (ESV) Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
It is clear from the passage that Jesus emphasis is not on the political process. Yes, He is king, but his kingdom is not “from this world” meaning it does not derive its processes and goals from the templates that normally apply to earthly kingdoms. Earthly kingdoms derive their dominion from political, physical and military power and their goals are prosperity and advancement of their physical borders and expansion of the temporal resources of their kingdoms. Jesus kingdom works on a whole different dynamic. His kingdom is about the truth. It is about the truth about us, our sin and impending eternal death and separation from God. It is the truth that Jesus is God’s Son and His death upon the cross will provide a way for people from every nation to be saved and enter fully into an eternal kingdom one day when Christ comes again. Straight away we will see that secular society’s most fundamental difference from Jesus kingdom is that primary focus. The former is all about hard power and dominion bounded within the constraints of time and the latter is about the truth about Jesus and his eternal rule in an eternal kingdom beyond the constraints of time. The political kingdom is about gaining the power to compel obedience and exact tribute to run a temporal society whilst the latter is about reaching to the hearts and souls for an eternal future. The former is about the transformation of society in order to change the individuals whilst the biblical emphasis is the transformation of the individual to change society. Hence for the Christian our focus must mirror that of our Savior’s and our primary attention it to our commitment to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must never shift our gaze from our focus on the truth. We must not be sucked into the naïve belief of political activism and place all our efforts upon secular restructuring of society as our end goal. Our ultimate aim must always be the truth. In many ways our paths may run parallel with political activism but ours must always transcend politics and have the bigger goal in mind.
How do we operate in a manner that will reflect our separation?
Mark 12:17 (ESV) Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.
Some Pharisees and Herodians were seeking to trap Jesus into uttering sedition remarks against the Roman government of the day which was uniformly hated by the Jews. After some perfunctory buttering up of Jesus, they innocently asked if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar knowing fully well that if Jesus were to side with the Jews and say no He would be liable to be charged with sedition or rebellion. If he answered in the affirmative, then they could destroy his religious credentials for compromising with the enemy betraying the Jewish people. Jesus answer was brilliant.
When He said render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s he was brandishing the common denarii which bore the image Caesar. It was right to give back to Caesar that which already bore his image. There is no betrayal of the Jewish nation as they lived in a Roman world and were only giving back to Rome that which belonged to Rome in the first place. Hence, we can draw the same inference in our own society that we too must give back to our society that which belongs to society. We pay taxes, contribute to our pension funds and participate in a political process that keeps our communities functioning. In other words, we give back to society that which is required to keep society a float.
On the other hand, we are to give back to God what belongs to God and that is an even greater responsibility than giving back to Caesar the few coins in our purses that bear his image. When Jesus commanded conformity to state laws, he subtly undermined its final authority with this phrase. Hence our responsibility to society is limited and temporal. At a much deeper level we all bear the image of God created by Him to reflect who He is, to resemble Him and represent Him. Hence our commitment to Him is a whole life commitment that ultimately will include the coins but goes far goes beyond the coins. When the clash of the two inevitably occurs as in Acts 4 where Peter and John were warned against preaching the gospel they replied,
Acts 4:19-20 (ESV) But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Ultimately our commitment is to remain true to our original purpose of being imprinted with image of God in our souls to commit our lives with integrity and purpose for the furtherance of His kingdom by our ministry of the gospel.
We are obligated to participate in society no matter how cruel or unfair the system. In fact, few governments today can even come close to matching the gratuitous violence corruption and evil of the Roman government of the day. Hence, we need to vote, pay our taxes and even participate in government by standing for elections because Christians have an obligation to render to our government what is theirs by divine mandate.
The Principle of Engagement:
Although the Christian is to be separate they are also expected to be engaged with society. Their engagement is firstly a reflection of their love for their neighbor
Mark 12:29-31 (ESV) Jesus answered, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these
For the exiles in Babylon God spoke through Jeremiah;
Jeremiah 29:7 (ESV) But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
They were not to be apathetic or resentful or even seek to undermine their cruel captors they were to seek the welfare of a city in which they were woeful exiles without any rights at all. The reason for the engagement of the Christian with the state is because it will result in blessing both for the state as well as church in general. Look at the example of Joseph in Genesis where we see Joseph an alien in Egypt rise to the height of political power as Pharaohs right hand man. God used him in that unique capacity mightily to be a blessing both to Egypt his exiled country and his own people when he managed the economy averting a mass starvation and death in the crisis of the famine.
Paul encourages the same.
1 Timothy 2:1-2 (ESV) First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
We seek the welfare of the state by our prayers believing that it is God in the end who is responsible upholding these leaders of the state. The reason for our support in engagement is that we will have a society that works, with peace and freedom so people can live without oppression and under these conditions we have breathing room for the gospel to proliferate.
Romans 13 goes even further than this and establishes the fact that even the state of which the Christian is an alien and exile in is established by God and its authority flows from God to govern. Hence our engagement is obedience
Romans 13:1-3 (ESV) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,
Yet the authority is so that they will rule with righteousness and justice which is the basis of all society for without this fundamental bedrock of civilization all societies will collapse.
Peter echoes this in
1 Peter 2:13-14 (ESV) 13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.
The common theme to both passage is justice. The state exists to establish justice because only in a just society will there be human flourishing. History will quickly show us that one the state is corrupted, and justice is no more, the fall of the state will soon follow. Hence the authority of the state is God’s common grace to the world. Justice and order will also provide the space for the gospel to be preached and people to be reached.
The engagement of Christians is both as subject to the authority of the state and yet to hold the state accountable for the way it rules. Governors are sent by God “to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good”
Hence the Christian engages in society as its conscience reminding the state of its divine responsibility. Hold the state and its stewards accountable to the truth.
Christians are about truth and all truth is God’s truth at the end of the day. We are to speak truth to power as John the Baptist did as we read in
Luke 3:18-20 (ESV) So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.
John the Baptist held his ruler Herod accountable morally and judicially. He took his brother’s wife and hence did not act in a manner reflecting the truth of what a marriage should be. He did “evil things” which historically was indiscriminate murder and mayhem. He slaughtered hundreds of innocent children in Bethlehem. Emperor Augustus reportedly quipped, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than son” (Macrobius, Saturnalia, 2:4:11) as he killed his wives and three of this own sons in his own paranoid delusions.
John the Baptist was not afraid to speak truth to power and paid the ultimate price for it.
We see all across the bible examples of believers speaking truth to power and holding kings accountable. Hence when we vote in elections we participate in the process to holding governments to account.
Daniel was advisor and the conscience to King Nebuchadnezzar
Daniel 4:27 (ESV) Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity
He walked King Nebuchadnezzar through his own trials when he was struck down for his arrogance cautioning him to live righteously.
In the book of Esther, we read that she was the only person who stood between the people of Israel and a genocide. Her uncle Mordecai rightly pointed out that it was God who put her in this special position to act to save their people. After all what were the odds of a Jewess being chosen in a beauty contest to be the queen of Persia over all the rest of the native Persians?
History has shown us the example of Christians like William Wilberforce whose lonely voice in the British Parliament persisted as the conscience of the nation always reminding them of their corporate sin of slavery. Only after only more than 40 years was slavery finally over turned by an act of Parliament. He wrote “A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all”
A true faith is one that works and the one that works engages in society in which we are ultimately strangers and aliens. Hence the Christian in society and in politics is both separate and yet engaged. An alien and yet the best citizen.
The other shining example is that of South Africa where the iconic pictures of Nelson Mandela shaking hands with Bishop Desmond Tutu at the “Truth and Reconciliation” initiatives allowed a battle-scarred nation a chance to pause and come clean and receive grace and forgiveness.
Our engagement is to be based on a platform of truth which is integrity hence the rule of law, fairness and purposed for the betterment of society. As a church we should never be aligned to any particular political party even those who claim the mantle of even our own faith. Faith based parties will always use religion to achieve political aims with the former always subservient to the latter and that’s when the wheels will fall off the wagon at some stage. Our values will transcend political parties. We are to vote for candidates that most closely resemble our own commitment to truth yet wisely recognizing that all humans are flawed and sinful so all too often it might be the case of choosing the lesser of two evils. The counter reaction would be to throw one’s hands up in the air and declare as Mercutio did in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet “a pox on both your houses” and walk away. We engage in the political process for the betterment of society and to be the conscience of the state trusting that it is God who is behind our efforts. We will never for a moment believe that using the levers of power is the only way to save society or further the interest of God’s kingdom. Our engagement is the blessing of common grace God has bestowed upon society and the effects of the state will necessarily always be limited and temporal and never ideal.
This brings us to our passage in Acts 4 where the church gathers to praise God for the release of the imprisoned Peter and John. They quote Psalm 2 in Acts 4:25-26 (ESV)
Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain?26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
The early church’s understanding of persecution and political machinations was based on a solid understanding of the sovereign power of God. The “Gentiles rage and peoples plot “describes the political process that is ingrained into our society. Even the kings and rulers arraying themselves against the Lord will never prevail
Psalms 2:4-6 (ESV) He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
God will frustrate their rebellion.
God will establish the rule of Christ over all the world
Psalms 2:8-9 (ESV) Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Whether we are involved in the political process in running for government or voting at the booth we do so trusting that it is ultimately God’s sovereign power that will overrule in the end. God is the one who is intimately involved in the political process as we see in Daniel 2:21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings;
We need to believe that it is in the end God who will re-establish perfect justice and peace in the full consummation of his kingdom and whatever small victories we might savor on this side of the second coming are just foretastes of the real justice that is yet to come one day.
As we move forward into the coming elections let this matter be one of prayer and reflection of what our role and our vote for the betterment of our country be. We seek the welfare of our city like Jeremiah spoke. We are in a unique position not unlike Queen Esther to whom Mordecai challenged Esther 4:13-14 (ESV)
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Our time has come, we have come into this kingdom for a time such as this …let’s all make our voice heard and our votes be counted next week.