Today I’m asking the question “What role should governmental politics play in a believers life?”
As politics are an inescapable part of life I believe that it’s important to dispassionately explore what our response should be. Clearly politics are a controversial and often divisive issue, and one which at one point or another we have all been faced with formulating a personal opinion about.
I embark on this topic with a keen awareness that it is potentially a highly explosive subject. I’m going to do my best to tip toe my way through this minefield unscathed, however I realize that such an endeavor does involve inherent risk. But like a child with a box of matches I figure that if I burn the house down it will probably be worth it for the thrill of watching the match ignite.
Evidently political issues vary so widely from country to country and from decade to decade that it’s impossible to prescribe a one size fits all political manifesto. And, though the Bible clearly defines the values with which we are to treat our fellow countrymen, it doesn’t dictate the methodology.
As such, this article is not going to attempt to do what the Bible doesn’t. Instead we are going to explore the matter of our attitude to policy, and how we should relate to one another when we disagree.
I have found very little contemporary writing on the subject of fellowship and political dispute, which I find surprising considering just how pertinent the matter is for many believers. I suspect that this is for good reason, after all this is a difficult subject to write about without further exacerbating offense. However because 2 Timothy 1:7 tells me that I shouldn’t have a spirit of timidity, and because I started this blog with the intention of writing about real life issues, I’m going to attempt to wade into the deep end of this matter.
A quick side note – I felt that the matter warranted it’s full context to be depicted. It seemed to me that as many of the key issues interrelate that it would be highly ineffective to expound on one without paying credence to the others. As such this article has organically evolved into a jumbo edition.
I didn’t want to fragment the central ideology of my thesis by breaking it down into several different articles, and I also didn’t want my site to be monopolized for several weeks by this subject. So I have simply elected to divide this article into subsections, each of which approaches the subject from a slightly different angle.
I apologize to those of you for whom time is at a premium. I have endeavored to keep this article as succinct as possible, and I hope that you deem my thoughts worthy of your time. Hopefully my words are sufficiently pithy and engaging to sustain your attention!
The Bait of Satan
Before starting this article I feel that it is necessary to make a statement about the spirit I believe it needs to be received in.
Sadly there are many believers that are habituated to responding to disagreement with the spirit of offense.
Offense is what happens when we cultivate resentment. It’s the root of division, and the single biggest enemy of the unity of the body of Christ. It is the bait which satan uses to lure us into destroying the relationship which God desires for us to have with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
If we allow offense take hold of our heart through pride and a refusal to forgive then we quickly become isolated. As a result it becomes a lot harder for God to work through us. And as we are continually given opportunities to feel offended by the people around us this isolation can happen very quickly if we aren’t diligent about the attitude of our hearts.
This is particularly true when it comes to political discourse. Sadly many relationships in the church have been adversely affected because its members have harbored resentment due to political disagreement.
I exhort you to avoid falling into this trap whilst reading this article. For my part I have sought to stay focused on the Word and to avoid making any kind of a partisan commentary. However, much of what I share is not what is generally taught in mass culture, and as a result it might initially seem quite foreign to you at first.
The aim of this article is to untangle the falsities of mass culture from the Word. In the process of doing so you might realize that certain beliefs that you have been taught are not based in Biblical truth. And I realize that at the junction of personal culture, upbringing, and religious attitudes there is often a lot of sensitivity, and ergo, a lot of opportunity for offense.
I urge you to keep in mind that the enemy might well try to tempt you into a spirit of offense. I ask that if after prayerful consideration something of what I have written still doesn’t seem right to you that you simply forgive me and resolve to not let the enemy gain a foothold.
It can be extremely difficult to be objective about cultural beliefs. As such a reasonable evaluation of my thesis might require you to engage in prayerful consideration over a period of time. For this reason I urge you to not react out of the immediacy of your emotions, but rather to humbly give God the opportunity to show you otherwise.
All Just a Little Bit of History Repeating…
If we want to really understand the topic of politics and God’s kingdom we need to start by looking at the evolution of politics throughout the Bible. For this reason I am going to attempt to give you a (greatly abridged) overview of the history of politics in Biblical times.
Originally politics as we know them (i.e. man governing over other men) did not exist. Man had stewardship over the animals and the land, but in terms of interpersonal matters there was no need for politics as there was a clearly established order that was organically based in the love and fear of God.
Our role was designed to be a dependent one. God was our provider and our role was to trust in Him. God was in control of the world and our job was simply to control ourselves. God was the judge of life and we were purely to experience it. God ordained the rules of life and we were charged with obeying and living by them.
Life was good, simple, and wholesome, but then one day man decided that he wanted to be like God. Sin entered the heart of man and the natural structure of life was corrupted.
Mankind started believing that he had control of the world, and as a result we lost control of ourselves. We set ourselves up as our own judge, and the consequence was that we ceased to be able to simply enjoy the experience of life. We decided that we could author our own rules, and the outcome was that the natural order that God designed was defiled. Confusion and discord reigned. And, in our own foolishness, we believed that the solution was to try to regulate the mess ourselves.
As a result laws became necessary. The hearts of humanity had become corrupt and so the law had to be developed into ever greater levels of complexity in order to mitigate the corruption.
Eventually the Israeli people were founded through God’s blessing of Abraham. During this time God’s people were a very small group of people living in a fairly primeval sociological structure. However they eventually grew into a much larger population and became subject to slavery under a foreign dictator. In due time they were freed from this structure by Moses and God became their leader (with Moses as their mediator.)
Following this no central government existed for around two hundred years as the people followed God’s guidance under the direction of appointed mediators. This was God’s prescribed mode of operation in the fallen world.
However the people eventually decided that they needed a king. This was primarily because all the nations around them had kings, and they wanted to be like them. So they went to Samuel, who was mediator at the time, and they demanded that they be given a king to rule over them. This greatly displeased Samuel, because he knew that it should be God ruling over His people, not a king.
God was unhappy with this too as he didn’t want to turn His people over to a human being, even if he had the pedigree of a king. But, as always, God gave His people the freedom to choose. He recognized that they had the right to choose to forsake Him. And He recognized that an attitude of idolatry had already taken hold of their hearts. So he told Samuel: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” (1 Samuel 8:7-9)
So Samuel then proceeded in warning the people of the abuse of power that would happen if a mere man was in control of governing them: “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:11-18)
“But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:9-20)
So to teach Israel a lesson, God gave them the desire of their own hearts. King Saul was tall, handsome, self-willed and strong. He was also corruptible, and prone to evil. And so just as Samuel predicted he exposed God’s people to all the liabilities of politics: abuse, corruption, and deception.
Through this we can observe that politics were never God’s original plan for humanity. He wanted His people to be lead directly by Him. He knew that if a man was charge of he would be vulnerable to sin, and furthermore he would likely become an object of idolatry.
As such we can also observe that democracy was never God’s plan for His people. He declared in his Word that majority rule is not necessarily righteous. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)
However, despite all of Gods warnings, politics became deeply entrenched in the lives of God’s people, which lead to great amounts of suffering, destruction, and abuse. This continued all through the rest of the Old Testament era. Though some leaders were better than others none could ever be as righteous, just, or wise as God.
When we reach the New Testament we are able to directly observe God’s attitude to politics through the life He lead when he dwelled on earth in human form.
Jesus was subjected to a huge amount of politicking during the course of His life. Politics were a key influence on His life, especially during the years of his ministry. Many of Jesus’ followers were primarily interested in Him for political reasons, as they thought that He was going to deliver them from the corrupt high priests and the Roman government that was occupying Israel at the time.
There are many similarities between our world today and the period in which Jesus lived. At the time there was seething resentment towards those in political power. The Jews hated paying taxes, which they felt were unreasonably high and they hated the fact that their land was occupied by foreigners. Their religious beliefs only reinforced their resentment.
The masses were seeking a liberator. They wanted, or rather, demanded to make Jesus king, and that was something that the entire community was very aware of, including the local Roman authorities. Through scripture we gather that Jesus was aware of this fact too, because John 6:15 states “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force…”
Through scripture we know what the attitude of His heart was in regards to this matter. His position is aptly demonstrated in Acts 1:6, when the Jews asked Jesus “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (In other words, “Are you going to overthrow the Roman rule?”) and He responded “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
I believe that Jesus meant three things through this statement. Firstly, that God had a solution for them that lay far outside of the scope of current local politics. Secondly, that such matters were to be entrusted to God. And thirdly, that he didn’t want to be implicated in issues that would distract from his ministry.
He followed up this statement by a declaration designed to place His followers attention on what He wanted them to focus on: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus wasn’t unaware of the suffering that political policy was causing his followers. He was subject to the same policies as they were. But He was pertinently conscious of the fact that all political regimes are temporary, and His heart was resolutely set on eternal matters. Furthermore, He knew that God hadn’t authored His birth merely to have him deal with matters of Galileean political discontent. Jesus had a much bigger remit for his followers than the local politics of the day.
For these reasons John 6:15 says that when Jesus knew “that they intended to come and make him king by force, [He] withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” We see through this verse that Jesus intentionally removed himself from any political matter that was liable to distract from His ministry.
And this wasn’t the only time that Jesus avoided the instant gratification of temporary earthly power. In Matthew 4:8-9 we read that “the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” But Jesus wanted no part of it. “Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
Jesus never modeled any behavior that suggests that he believed that God’s kingdom was going to come through political reform. This isn’t to say that politics are unimportant, or that God doesn’t appoint specific believers with gifts and talents in this area (the lives of Daniel, Esther, and David are Biblical proof of the fact that He does.) It is simply to say that we need to avoid falling into the error of ascribing a level of importance to politics that Jesus never did.
So, to resume our overview of politics through the course of the Bible, we have learned three key facts:
- God didn’t design man to govern over other men.
- God equates the belief that men can solve our problems with idolatry.
- When God walked the earth His focus was on matters of eternal importance. He placed his faith for mankind’s salvation in His kingdom, not in a manmade political structure.
This is the foundation on which all conversations about politics in the body of Christ needs to be based on. It is in this context in which all our attitudes and opinions need to be placed.
Evidently we live in a fallen world that does not adhere to God’s sovereignty. As such, we need to follow Jesus’ example of living respectfully within the confines of the structure we find ourselves in. The rest of this article will look at what the Bible teaches about how to do so.
However the key point that I wanted to make before proceeding any further is that, as Dr Cloud and Dr Townsend wrote the book “How People Grow” “Independence is not an option for us. God existed without us, not vice versa. So the role that we must take in life is not only for dependency, but also against self-sufficiency. Our role is to recognize our limits and to transcend those limits by looking outside of ourselves for life.”
On that basis I believe we can safely proceed in our discussion of the manner in which we should engage in politics.
One clear theme in the Bible that pertains to politics is that sectarianism is sin. (Sectarianism is anger, hatred, or discrimination arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group.) Unity is absolute vital to the effective functioning of the church and, as such, the devil will do everything he possibly can to undermine it. He will try to bring division through offense, through resentment, through bitterness, through anger, and through prejudice. A divided church is an ineffective church.
It is for this reason that Titus 3:9 clearly warns us to “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.”
Recently I have witnessed instances where believers have trampled over one another in the name of political belief. They have been insensitive, provoked offense, and generally sown seeds of discord through dogmatic and insensitive declarations of their political beliefs.
This is not a new phenomenon. In the early church some of the believers engaged in exactly the same behavior, and the apostle Paul was not amused.
In 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13 Paul declared “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
In a modern context this text could be re-interpreted as: “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am a Republican,” or “I am a Democrat,” or “I am of Obama,” or “I am of McCain.” Is Christ divided? Was Obama crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of McCain?”
Paul wasn’t connoting that personal preferences don’t hold value. He was simply declaring that such beliefs pale into insignificance in comparison to the unity we should be pursuing in Christ.
Paul spoke with the authority of someone who had experienced the consequences of sectarianism. Prior to his conversion he had been a ferocious sectarian, unafraid to shed blood over his beliefs. He so strongly believed that Jesus was a heretic, and that those following him were contributing to the demise of society that he felt legitimized in persecuting and murdering them. As such he had personally witnessed just how costly sectarianism is, and it was on this basis that he warned the church of its perils.
Amazingly through God’s redeeming power Paul became the very person who brought forth the revelation that God’s kingdom is open to all people. As such the once renowned sectarian became a passionate advocate of unity, and his teaching changed the course of history. His testimony represents great hope to those that have been embroiled in the sin of sectarianism.
But what about people who refuse to relent from this sin? The following section of Titus 3 tells us exactly what we should do about them: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” These are words of warning we should all take very seriously!
God is so clear on the incredible danger that sectarianism poses to the body of Christ that He would rather that an unrepentant member of its body be cut off than have them infect everyone else with their poison. Like cancer, sometimes the amputation of a rebellious cell is the only way to avoid certain death.
On this basis I recommend that if you are friends with a believer who is unrepentant in their political insensitivity, who feels justified in driving a wedge between themselves and other believers over political matters, who uses social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to make brash and condemning statements about those of other political affiliations, that you should have nothing further to do with them.
If you have warned them twice, but they unrepentantly persist in trampling over you with their political beliefs, you should follow the Bibles instruction and end the friendship. This may seem radical, but it is necessary because “you can be sure that the person is warped and sinful.”
You should absolutely seek to convict any such believer of the sin they are committing, so that you have a chance of being reconciled to them and keeping the friendship. But if they have been so corrupted by the spirit of sectarianism that they are unwilling to accept the authority of the Word in this matter, then you should have nothing further to do with them.
Friends, you can be sure that this is what I will be doing.
Me, Myself, and I
Another clear issue in the body of Christ regarding politics is the sin of selfishness and self-centeredness. As we have just seen, democracy was never God’s plan, and is actually based on some very sinful assumptions. However it is the system in place, and as such it falls under the exhortation of 1 Peter 2:13-14 that we should “Submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
This means that if the authority in place decides to pass a certain law we are to submit to it. Submission does not mean grumbling, murmuring, and updating our Facebook statuses to say that we’ve decided to move to another country. These behaviors are all acts of rebellion and divisiveness. Submission means accepting the decision of another, whatever the consequences mean for us. Submission can be costly, and that is the very strength of it. Authority can only function to the extent that those under it are willing to crucify their flesh.
Unfortunately the mass culture of many countries has become so sinfully individualistic, so very selfish and “me” centered, that many believers will only peacefully submit to authority when it is in agreement with their personal beliefs. This isn’t submission. Submission is only in affect when we concede over matters we don’t agree with. Otherwise we are simply in agreement!
One can only wonder what disillusionment a believer is under that they don’t recognize the sheer impossibility of the democratic process agreeing with them on all of the matters all of the time!
Certainly in some countries there are policies that are not directly voted on by the general population. Under such political structures certain laws are only voted on by governing bodies. But these governing bodies are representational of the people as they have been elected into place through the democratic process. And as such the believers in that country have had an equal opportunity to state their personal preference in the choice of representative.
One vote is all any believer has the right to, and any rebellious behavior due to the tally not going the way they wanted is anchored in the sinful spirit of entitlement (entitlement being the belief that you should be treated better than those who are on an equal standing with you.)
We all have the right that our society has bestowed upon us – which is the opportunity to have an equal say in the elective process. However we are not entitled to a specific outcome. The extent of our right is a single vote, and any outrage over not receiving more than that is based in a spirit of pride and delusion.
There is only one occasion in which we should not submit to earthly authority. That is when we are directly banned from following Christ. If this happens we are to respectfully disobey. We have a Biblical example of how to do this in the form of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to obey a national decree to bow down and worship a gold idol that their king had set up to be worshipped, on pain of death.
It is important to note that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were highly respectful of the king when they declined his order. They continued to recognize his kingly title, and they didn’t denigrate or curse him. They simply stated: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16) They remained respectful and self-controlled, even though they knew that the king was threatening them with a very gruesome death!
It is also important to note that they did not engage in a political debate over human rights or the validity of their political position. They knew that such debate would be useless against the overwrought emotions of a man who didn’t recognize God as his savior. They refused to get embroiled in such an unproductive and futile endeavor. They simply stated “we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter” and left it at that.
Essentially Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego allowed God to be their defender. This gave God the opportunity to save them in a miraculous way, leaving the entire nation very clear on whom their rescue should be attributed to. The testimony of this was such that the king actually instituted a new law stating that it was illegal to say anything against the God of the Hebrews. In essence, the respect and obedience that they showed towards both God and the king actually ushered a new political paradigm into their nation!
It’s important to clarify at this point that simply because we suspect that a governing political party’s policies might one day lead to the pursuit of Christ being outlawed we are not entitled to act rebelliously towards them. Such justification is sheer conjecture, and a sinful excuse for rebellion.
It is also important to note that if a government does outlaw the pursuit of Christ it does not entitle us to rebel against everything else that they institute. It only means that we are free from the specific laws that state that we are not to practice our faith.
The Bible gives us a clear example of submission in the midst of persecution. The early church suffered great persecution under the authorities that were in power at that time. And yet they continued to do all that they could to demonstrate peaceful submission in every area apart from the specific laws pertaining to their faith. In fact the apostle Paul repeatedly advocated respecting cultural norms in the interest of maintaining political peace.
The political leaders of the time were deeply concerned that the early church was going to spearhead a political rebellion, and the local community was highly fearful that the church was going to undermine all their cultural norms. For this reason Paul created strong contextual guidelines for the church, such as the principle of women not preaching, and of slaves continuing to serve their masters. Paul knew that unnecessary discord between the church and the government would only breed contempt, which would in no way serve God’s purposes. He knew that it wasn’t the right time to fight for women’s rights or for abolition. Though these were righteous causes they weren’t anywhere near as important as the spreading of the gospel.
“R-E-S-P-E-CT find out what it means to me…”
Respect for the authorities in power is another absolutely clear tenet of the Bible that we should look at in our study of politics.
Respect is born out of faith: faith that God is the just, loving, protecting, powerful God that His word declares Him to be. When we have profound revelation of Gods awesome power we are free to respect the authority of unsanctified leaders because we know that the outcome is ultimately in God’s hands.
David is a great biblical example of respect. He was heir apparent to the throne of a king who had persecuted him mercilessly for years. But David respected him, even when he was subjected to great provocation. When David was given the opportunity to murder him, thus removing an undeniably unsanctified leader from power, David declared “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 26:9-11) David respected the authority that God had bestowed upon the king, even though doing bared the consequence of further suffering for him. He absolutely refused to do what only God has the authority to do. Ultimately his reverence towards both God and the king paved the way for great blessing later on in his life. God even commended David for being “a man after His own heart”. (1 Samuel 13:14)
Daniel is another great Biblical example of reverence for authority. Daniel was a man of immense political power, his position essentially being that of Head of State Affairs during the reign of three consecutive kings. The very fact that he managed to hold onto such a powerful position over the course of three different political eras suggests that he knew a thing or two about politics!
Daniel faced many temptations to be disrespectful to those in authority over him. A clear example of this was when his own life was put at risk. We read in Daniel 6:3 that “Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” As you can imagine Daniel’s fidelity to God and his consequent success as a political advisor provoked much persecution from jealous rivals.
These rivals orchestrated a cunning plan to trick the king into sentencing him to death, and the king regretfully fell for it. And so Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den, with the full expectation that he would be promptly mauled to death. However God saved Daniel, and his respectful attitude towards the king remained undeterred. Indeed, after he was saved his first words to the king were “O king, live forever!” He did not curse him, rebuke him, or disrespect him. Instead he continued to recognize the king’s authority, and he chose to bless him.
The whole book of Daniel is a testament to his respectful attitude to leaders who often made unwise, corrupt, and deceived choices. It’s important to note that as a result of his respectful attitude he gained significant favor, which he is thought to have used to greatly influence the decree that ultimately put an end to captivity his fellow Jews were subject to.
The theme of respect for authority is upheld in the New Testament too. Romans 13: 7 tells us that we should pay “respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” And Hebrews 13:17 could not be clearer about the importance of obeying political leaders. “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
It’s very important to note that this verse says that leaders are held to a higher standard. One day our leaders will have to give an account of how they kept watch over us. Ultimately any sin that they’ve committed against us will either be paid through the blood of Jesus Christ, or they will be condemned to the torment of hell. Either way we can have absolute confidence that any sin they commit against us will be avenged.
This verse also reminds us that when our leaders feel supported and loved they are able to operate a lot more effectively. It is a clear warning that every time we rain down resentment on our leaders we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.
Titus 3:1 reiterates the importance of a peaceful attitude when it comes to politics. It tells us to “be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”
Respect isn’t just something we should demonstrate when our leaders are good and pleasant, but also when they act cruelly towards us. Peter 2: 18-19 tells us to “submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.”
There are serious consequences to be faced when we fail to show respect to our leaders. Romans 13:1-5 warns us that if we do not respectfully submit to those in authority we will incur the full force of God’s wrath. “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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 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, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”
This attitude of respectful obedience extends to the issue of taxes. When Jesus was asked whether He should pay taxes (after all, should the son of God have to submit to the taxman?!) He declared “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) And He left it at that. He didn’t grumble, He didn’t accuse Caesar of being a thief, or speculate on how Caesar was probably going to misappropriate His money. He simply accepted that a proportion of His money belonged to the government that was providing his town’s infrastructure, and he went about God’s business.
The continuation of Romans 13 reiterates the importance of peaceful submission in the area of taxation. It tells us that “because [our leaders have been instituted by God] you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed.” In this matter the Bible is explicitly clear.
Political Humor, a Window into the Soul
Humor and politics have always had strong connections, and for good reason. Satire is an essential tool in exploring and unmasking the vice, folly, hypocrisy, and foolishness of certain policies. As such political humor can be edifying, and a therapeutic outlet for the legitimate concerns of constituents. Humor can also be used to convict, and can be a helpful tool in our ministry of reconciliation.
However when humor is misused as a means to impart hatred, rebellion, disrespect, and curses it is sinful. Humor that is designed to hurt and maliciously offend has absolutely no place in the church.
I recently encountered a startling example of this when a group of believers I know reveled in a joke on Facebook the punchline of which was that they wanted their president to die. Clearly their belief that it was appropriate to wish death on a man simply because they don’t agree with his political policy was absolutely sinful.
One could say “But it’s just a joke!” However Luke 6:45 tells us that “the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” and Proverbs 18:21 warns us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
We need to be very careful about discerning the attitude of our heart when we make political jokes. James 3:6-8 tells us “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
The heart of the aforementioned joke was disrespect, hatred, and a lack of reverence for the edict that followers of Christ are to impart blessings, not curses. There is nothing edifying or educative to be found in such “humor”.
Romans 12:14 instructs us to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”
John 13:35 declares that the way the world will know that we are different is by our love. Political jokes based in hatred and contempt do great detriment to the testimony of the believers that propagate them, however innocuous they might seem at face value.
Our mouths are to be sanctified for words that are going to edify others and bring glory to God’s kingdom. There should be no hypocrisy in between the values of love we represent, and the words we espouse. James 3:9-10 warns us: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”
So by all means believers should engage in political humor. But as we do so we need to carefully monitor the attitude of our hearts.
When reading the comments of many believers about political policy I am frequently reminded of the Jim Carey movie “Bruce Almighty”. In this film Bruce is an average guy who operates under the strong belief that if he could just be in charge of running the world it would be a much better place. He feels that God is a selfish, insensitive, inept person who would be better off being replaced. Then one day he gets his wish and God hands over to him the opportunity to be in charge. It doesn’t take Bruce very long to realize that running the world is an extremely complicated job, and that the ramifications of his every choice go far beyond what he could ever imagine. It eventually dawns on him that it’s absolutely impossible to please all of the people all of the time.
It is quite tempting to think that we are wiser and more competent than our political leaders. The reality is that most of us are not. These leaders have graduated from the most prestigious universities, hold law degrees, have high level military experience and many years of running cities and regions. The fact is that simply in order to sustain the grueling process of election one has to have a high level of knowledge, education, training, and stamina.
Those that indulge in fantasies that they are intellectually superior to the people running their nation, even though they themselves barely made it through high school, are struggling to hold down a job, and spend most of their free time hanging out on their couch covered in Cheetos dust, are operating in deception, pride, and foolishness. (I realize that this is a cheap stereotype, but I think most of us can recognize that those that complain the loudest are often the ones who should be the most circumspect of their own shortcomings!)
Most of us have absolutely no idea how incredibly complex the realities of running a country are. And most of us would fail lamentably if we were ever dropped into such responsibility. There is innate wisdom in humbly recognizing that your political leaders probably do know better than you, rather than placing your political intellect on a pedestal that God – or some blogger – will have to lovingly knock you off of.
1 Peter 5:5 tells us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” By all means we should have our own opinions. But we need to humbly recognize the reality of their limitations.
Capitalists, Communists, Idealists, and Other Things that End with “ist”.
Having lived in both Europe and the United States I’ve been able to experience for myself both the negatives and positive aspects of capitalism as well as a more communistic approach. However much fundamentalist proponents of both ideologies would deny otherwise, it is only logical to conclude that there are distinct advantages to both systems, just as there are disadvantages to both.
It seems to me that there is innate danger in our elevating any one system as being “the solution” to mankind’s problems. When we do that we enter into the Babylonian spirit as we imbibe the pride of Lucifer that tells us that we can be like God.
So how are these systems flawed? Well, historically, there is much evidence as to why extreme communism does not work. Essentially the system fails because when it comes to mankind absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that those in charge invariably end up abusing their position. As a result those who have been good stewards are stolen from, and the spirit of entitlement is rewarded.
The evils of extreme capitalism are less obvious to those inside its system as the issues it creates are mostly hidden under the surface. Selfishness, materialism, superficiality, destructive consumerism, immorality, and a lack of regard for the needs of others are all fostered when rampant capitalism is held up as being the solution.
Unfortunately in the western church, especially in the United States, many believers are completely unaware of how indoctrinated they are in this capitalistic philosophy. They believe that the rest of the world envies them, and they fail to understand how disgusted many nations are by their unbridled consumerism, their blatant disregard of the cost it carries for certain ethnic groups and the irreverence they hold for the toll which such mass consumption takes on the world’s eco system. I personally believe that it would behoove the North American church to take the perils of capitalism just as seriously as it does the perils of communism.
It is not my intention use this article to endorse any specific political agenda. I simply feel that it is important to point out the potential areas of spiritual blindness, cultural indoctrination, and hypocrisy that might be affecting our political perspective. It is only through the process of sanctification, of setting ourselves apart from the innate lies of our culture, whatever that culture is, that we will be free to truly live in righteousness.
Another pitfall we need to avoid as believers is that of committing the act of heresy when it comes to our preferred choice of political leader. When we feel strongly about a certain leader it is easy to fall into equating our preference with God’s preference. However when we elevate a certain party as being “God’s will” for our nation we commit a grave sin.
We are entitled to believe that a certain party would be better for our country, and to deem that certain policies that a party endorses are not biblical. But the moment that we start declaring that we know God’s mind on the matter of who should lead our nation, or that we imply that something is in scripture which isn’t, we are in absolute breach of authority.
We are also acting sinfully when we represent a certain political party as being “all good” or “all bad”. Such condemning, judgmental, and prejudiced beliefs are not at all in line with God’s teaching on how we are to treat others. Besides which such fundamentalism defies the gift of logic which God has given us.
The bible teaches that the fruit of the spirit (listed in Galatians 5:22-23) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Any time we relate to supporters of another political party in a prejudiced or judgmental manner we are acting in the flesh.
Self-control is especially important in this day of Facebook and Twitter. As much as impulsively ranting about the shortfalls of a certain political belief might bring a certain level of temporary gratification, one is likely offending a number of fellow believers in the process. Such behavior is in no way edifying to God’s kingdom, and is a great sign of spiritual immaturity. Furthermore it completely undermines our testimony of being redeemed into a life of love and self-discipline.
When we use the pulpit to influence followers towards a certain economic agenda, when we claim that one economic structure is more Godly than another, when we abuse our power over those in our charge by pressurizing them into supporting a specific political ideal, and when we elevate politics to the level of scripture, we are completely whoring our position as representatives of Christ. And one day we will have to give account to Christ as to why we did something He never did during His time on earth.
Magicians Hats and Gullible Believers
I personally believe in the importance of believers exerting a great deal of flexibility when it comes to choosing which political party they are going to vote for. Clearly there are certain issues such as abortion rights and gay rights that are deeply interlinked with biblical doctrine. However it is my personal belief that politicians often use these issues to win votes, and that believers often guilt their fellow believers into feeling like they have to pledge alliance to a certain party over one or two key issues.
Issues such as abortion and gay rights are undeniably important issues, and should absolutely factor into our voting choices. However we also need to bare in mind that any prospective political leader represents a wide range of policies, and that it is the totality of these policies needs to be carefully assessed.
For example, if a leader is strongly against abortion, but his foreign policy endorses the unnecessary death of millions of children in other countries, it might on balance be best not to support him being voted into power.
It is my personal opinion that many prospective leaders have used issues such as abortion rights and gay rights to affect a sort of magician’s trick. Just as a magician gets us to focus so intently on the hat we don’t notice the way in which they’re deceiving us with their other hand, some politicians use moral issues to take our attention off other policies that are just as evil, but simply less blatant. (This is by no means to say that every pro-life candidate is acting manipulatively, only that we need to beware of the global picture of what they represent rather than to basing our judgment of them on just one or two key issues.)
Voting for a certain party because your family has always voted for them, because of one key issue, or because a fellow believer has coerced you into feeling like you should do is sheer foolishness, and an abdication of the responsibility you have to exercise the discernment and wisdom that God has given you.
It’s important that we pay attention to all the issues, that we refrain from impulsiveness, and that we avoid being duped by the manipulations of guilt driven politics when casting our vote. We should all read the fine print first!
Talkin’ about a Revolution
I hope that my biblical take on submission and respect hasn’t left you with the impression that I don’t empathize with the general frustration with politicians. I assure you, I fully understand why many of my fellow believers feel great righteous anger over their communities unmet needs.
It would be insensitive to not feel anger and deep concern over evidence that suggests that some of those in political power are not doing all that they could to help their constituents. But though I believe that the anger is Godly, I don’t believe that the direction it’s going in is. In reality when we look to the government to fix such issues we are looking in the wrong direction.
The fact is that we are God’s body, commissioned to help heal the fallen world. However much of God’s body is currently paralytic, stuck in a comatose state, resigned to complaining that no one is doing the job that is actually theirs to undertake. Undeniably it is so much easier to dump the blame on the government, rather than looking at our own failure to heal our community. It’s a job that many of us would simply prefer to outsource to someone else.
Isaiah 61:1 declares that “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on [us], because the Lord has anointed [us] to preach good news to the poor. He has sent [us] to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”
The best way to make the government redundant is to step up to what Christ is calling us to do. If God’s people truly engaged in what it means to love others as we love ourselves there would be much less need for benefit programs, law enforcement, and economic bailouts.
The Bible does recognize that not all governments are effective governments, and it gives us the strategy with which to counteract this through Peter 2:15:“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”
There are many practical ways that we can meet the needs of our communities. Much of it is self-evident. It’s simply a question of taking initiative and being willing to be inconvenienced.
One of the great weapons of change that we have at our disposal is the power of prayer. Philippians 4:6 is very clear on how we are to deal with dissatisfaction and concern: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
The disciple Timothy knew the great importance of us praying for our government. He wrote “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and those in authority, that we might live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
We should not pray that God put a certain person in power or that He remove a certain person from power. Such prayer is witchcraft, as it is an attempt to use a spiritual means to serve our own purposes. Rather we should pray that God removes any spiritual blindness from the elect and that they be surrounded with Godly advisors so that they might grow into intimate relationship with Christ, and learn to seek His guidance in all they do.
Matthew 5:44 encouraged us to “Love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us].” How powerful it would be if the elect knew that even the believers that don’t agree with their policy were still praying prayers of blessing over them! What a witness of love that would be!
Indeed, it is through the power of blessing our leaders that we align our nation for help from the only one who can actually bring true restoration – the Eternal God. For He has made this promise to us: “If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
So if we want to see our land healed we shouldn’t grumble, cast curses, and rebel, but rather we should humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways. No politician on earth can stand in the way of us doing that! And by doing so we make way for the only kingdom that will endure forever – God’s kingdom.
I hope that this article has allowed you to evaluate the attitudes of your heart in regards to your government. If you feel convicted of some sin then please take the opportunity right now to confess your transgressions to God, and to ask that He cleanse you from them.
I invite you to share this article with any believers you know that are acting in an unsanctified manner in the name of political belief. My prayer is that this article helps edify and reconcile the body of Christ. May there be an increase of peace and unity!
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