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Friday, August 10, 2012

Christians and Politics

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb 11:13).

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one (Heb 10:32-34).
There is a recurring theme in Scripture. The repeated concept is that we, as believers, are strangers in a strange land, visitors just passing through, "ambassadors for Christ", "exiles" waiting to go home. So I keep running into this mental conflict. Are Christians supposed to be involved in politics or not? If we are, how do we correlate that to the passages (and others) that I've listed? If not, why not?

So, what do we know? We know that Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" (Luke 20:25). I've seen accounts of people coming from a Christian position and arguing that we ought not be required to pay our taxes to the government. Jesus disagrees. Now, using legal, political means of controlling taxation, limiting taxation, and the like are probably something we are allowed to do. But it would appear that Jesus would argue against tax revolt.

What else do we know about the Bible and politics? Well, we know that God cares about politics. We know that "He removes kings and sets up kings" (Dan 2:21). We know that "there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom 13:1). We are clearly told "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will" (Prov 21:1). We know that God is intimately involved in human power and politics, and rightly so. The Bible even includes recommendations for what the character of a leader should be. "Look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people" (Exo 18:21). And, of course, if it is true that "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight" (Prov 9:10) and we want wise leadership, it would be natural that we'd want to have god-fearing people in leadership.

We also know that God uses people to intervene in politics. He called Saul and He called David to be kings over Israel. When the Jews were in jeopardy in captivity, Mordecai asked his cousin, Esther, in a position to influence the king, "Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). We know that Joseph appeared on the scene (via evil means but by God's plan) to regulate Egypt and guide her and his family through a 7-year famine. Thus, the involvement of believers in the political arena is often guided by God, not excluded. And we can say with absolute certainty that there is at least one area where all believers ought to be involved in politics: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim 2:1-2). I would suspect that many Christians are more involved in political activism than prayer for those in leadership positions. Over against that, prayer is commanded while political activism is not. That would seem to be backwards.

Wayne Grudem wrote a book entitled Politics - According to the Bible in which he tries to lay out a biblical perspective on Christians and politics. In the beginning, he warns against five false views:
1. Government should compel religion.
2. Government should exclude religion.
3. All government is evil and demonic.
4. Do evangelism, not politics.
5. Do politics, not evangelism.
If you think about them, I think you can easily agree and, further, see how recognizing them would encourage balance. His position is what he terms "significant influence".
The "significant influence" view says that Christians should seek to influence civil government according to God’s moral standards and God’s purposes for government as revealed in the Bible (when rightly understood).
So there is stuff taken right out of Scripture and there is helpful input from a believer. Still, I'm not clear. Are Christians supposed to be involved in politics or not? If so, how much so? Influencing civil government toward God's moral standards is a nice idea, but how far do we go with that? I notice, for instance, that the New Testament saints didn't appear to attempt to influence their civil governments. Indeed, in early Church history there was almost a universal distancing of Christians from politics. On the other hand, we are indeed commanded to be "salt" and "light". We are to pray for those in leadership. We are to live our lives in accordance with biblical principles and biblical morality and encourage others to do so as well. (That is, if "biblical morality" is God's version of "good" and, by extension, "good for you", why would we not want to encourage others to align themselves with His standards?)

In the end, I'm not sure I can align myself with those who say, "It's a sin not to vote." I'm certain I cannot align myself with those who say, "It's a sin not to be involved in politics." Political activism, as good as it may be, is not a biblical command. We are commanded to pray for our leaders. When we substitute activism and voting for prayer, that would be a sin, since one is commanded while the other is not. On the other hand, if we are to be light and salt in a world that badly needs it and if we believe that God's version of "good" is good indeed, it would seem like abstaining from all such activity would be a mistake if not a sin. Living it would be most important. Praying about it would be a command. Voting on it would be adviseable. Perhaps you can see that I'm just not entirely sure how far I can go with all of it.


David said...

Based on all this, I think you can view being in politics as the same as being a missionary. Some are called to do it actively, the rest are called to support it. Not everyone is cut out for politics, just as not everyone is cut out to be missionaries. So, if you feel compelled to be involved in politics, do so as a Christian first, Republican/Democrat/Silly Party second. If you don't feel compelled, then pray, support, stand behind. And those that are compelled and those that aren't shouldn't think less of each other, because we are all members of One Body, but not all body parts do the same thing. It would be arrogant for a missionary to say all non-missionaries are sinners, in the same way a political Christian would be sinning for saying all non-political Christians are sinning. We all have our own job to do.

Stan said...

But ... I know you've been told it's a sin not to vote. Is it? If not, why not? And what do you mean by "support" (in the "pray, support, stand behind" phrase)?

David said...

It is our responsibility as Christians to live in this world as best we can. Part of that responsibility is to participate in the governmental process, in our case voting, petitioning, obeying the law. So, while it isn't directly a sin not to vote, it is a failure on our part to be responsible American Christians and thus really borders on sin.
And by support, that would be obey the law, defend those laws that would most align with Scripture, and help those government officials doing the job we aren't called to do, either through letters of support or concern, giving of our time and energy, or even monetary support, just like we would support our missionaries.

Bryan said...

It's funny that you posted this, as our pastor just did a sermon on this last Sunday. Here is a quote from John MacArthur that I had read not too long ago:

"When the church gets a moralizing, politicizing bent, it usually has a negative impact on its evangelizing mission. Because then it makes the people hostile to the current system and they become the enemies of the society, rather than the compassionate friend. – John MacArthur

I think it is important to do what you feel lead to do in politics as a believer, but we have to remember that politcis does not change people - God does!

Stan said...

And what was your pastor's take on it?

Bryan said...

Well, his main focus always is the gospel. Sharing the gospel with others, as it is God through His son Jesus' finished work on the cross that will change people. He spoke that with some, if they know you are adamantly for one side or the other, they will not even listen anything you have to say - even if they are drowning and you are trying to tell them that. So my pastor spoke that he would never put a sign in his yard for someone as it might impede his opportunity to share Christ’s love with someone. That being said, he did speak of the importance of voting, voting for things and people that match up with what the Bible teaches.

I have to say that for me, in the upcoming election, I don’t know that I will vote, as neither of the candidates that are running strike me as someone that matches up with my beliefs. But that being said, should a Bible believing Christian vote for a Mormon (Romney) just so that an unbeliever (I know he says he is a believer, but I think otherwise) like Obama doesn’t win? Thoughts from you guys?

Stan said...

That position was John Piper's position (not siding with a candidate or political position, but teaching what's right and encouraging people to do and vote what's right) recently that caused all sorts of complaints.

I have never found a candidate who "matches up with my beliefs". Not one. Even close. I'm not looking for perfection or even close. I've voted in the past for those who support similar values to mine, who at least lean in my direction, even up to and including McCain who was not very close at all. Romney, on the other hand, is not as close as McCain was and, worse, not definite to even tell where he actually is. He seems far too similar to the present administration and far to malleable to pin down. I'm not making the mistake of perfectionism, but I would have a hard time in voting for a chameleon like Romney.

Bryan said...

I would agree with you, in that, I am not looking for perfection, as there was only one man who ever lived who was perfect. I figure when He comes back, voting will be a non issue. I have been extremely disappointed by the candidates trotted out in the past few elections. I guess maybe that is why I have become so disenfranchised with politics – to the point of not wanting to be involved AT ALL. But I can’t come to grips with that being the best course of action either. I guess I figure if we can get more and more people to trust Christ as savior and repent & turn away from their sin, won’t all of the problems just go away?

Stan said...

Yes indeed! That was the point of this post.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Voting or not voting isn't a sin.

But, taking part in the political process is part of being an American citizen. If you don't vote, you have no right to complain about the political system gone awry - after all, if you don't what you can to improve it.

As I have previously stated, most of our politicians are either pagans or usually acting as pagans, so whether one is a Mormon pagan or one professing another pseudo-Christian belief (like Obama), you end up being unable to vote if you chose to only vote for Christians.

I would never vote for a Mormon or other unbeliever in a primary, but in the presidential election I will always vote for the lessor of two evils as my duty to do what I can to slow the destruction of the country.

Stan said...

Couple of quick clarifications here, Glenn.

1. I've never decided who I would or wouldn't vote for based on their religion. I don't favor Obama because he's a "Christian" nor do I have a problem with Mitt because he's a Mormon. My problem with Mitt is I have no idea who he is, what he stands for, or what he'll do.

2. I've voted in every election I can remember. I've rarely voted for someone because, "Gosh darn it! They're just great!" I haven't expected perfection. Indeed, I've rarely found a candidate who agrees with my views. In the last election, I voted for McCain as "the lesser of two evils". In this election, however, I have absolutely no reason to believe that my vote can improve the political system or stop the destruction of the country. I can vote for Obama or Obomney. I can vote against the devil I know in favor of the devil I don't know. In this election, it seems pretty bleak.

Oh, and I haven't decided yet.

Bryan said...

Yeah, I would heartily agree - because, at least with Obama, you know (to a certain degree) what he will do. Romney has flip flopped all over the board so much it is difficult to know what is going to happen if he gets elected. At least we as believers can take rest in knowing that God is in control. Made me think of an earlier post you had written.

Stan said...

Yes, indeed. If I was counting on "the right guy" or even "the right government" to keep me safe, I'd be in a world of hurt. Knowing, instead, that "all authority comes from God" makes it so much better.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I thought this article on the subject was thought-provoking:

Stan said...

But ... I've never considered the possibility that I couldn't vote for a Mormon any more than I could for all the other non-Christians who have run.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

That puts you in a rare bunch of Christians. Almost every Christian I know or talk to say they can't vote for a Mormon. Yet somehow they don't have qualms about voting for other unbelievers.

Stan said...

I'm not voting for a pastor or an elder. It's not church leadership. If biblical Christians didn't seek the overthrow of the pagan leadership they endured, I have no reason to believe that Christians alone ought to be in office today.

My problems with Romney are not his religion, as bad as that may be, but everything else he stands for and, more often than not, the complete unknown of what he stands for. I know statism is being invited in with, as an example, universal healthcare, but Obama copied Romney's plan on that. Romney is not pro-life, a sad disappointment.

I'm being forced to choose between the devil I know and the devil I don't know. "Mormon" is the least of my worries.