Christianity and Politics

In case you haven’t heard, this is an election year.  Our Florida Primary comes up in a week or so and early voting has already begun.  I thought it might be a good time to take a look at politics through the lens that shows us all things good and right and true—and that certainly is not the platform of any party or the policy websites of any candidate—but is of course the infallible and inerrant Holy Bible!  We’ll look at 5 points regarding Christianity and politics that are helpful to keep in mind as we approach the election season.

Point 1—A Christian’s Highest Commitment Is To Christ, Not To Country…Passions tend to run high in politics (though civility seems to run increasingly ever lower!).  Supporters become so convinced that their candidate is best and become so invested in him (or her) that normal, thinking, rational people can become somewhat unhinged.  Candidates can do or say no wrong in the eyes of their devotees while any competitor or opponent is seen as evil through and through!  I have never been a political activist but I can sympathize with the strong feelings in support of what and who I believe is good and right.  I too am not immune to a sense of bewilderment at how anyone could possibly support the opposing view.  Indeed, there are grand issues at stake, the choosing of who we call “the leader of the free world” is serious business, wanting to leave behind a better country for our children is a noble goal, and standing for morality in the midst of rampant sinful behavior is an enterprise in which few are willing to engage.  As Christians we should desire to be the best citizens we can be to the glory of God.  To the best of our ability, after biblical and prayerful consideration, we should vote in a way we believe would be pleasing to our Lord.  I stand when the national anthem is sung, I put my hand over my heart when we say the Pledge of Allegiance, I study and have taught the history of our country, I give great honor to those who so valiantly serve in our armed forces, I’ve sang the lyrics of “God Bless The USA!”, and I’m thankful that the Lord in His providence has allowed me to live in what I consider the greatest nation on the planet. That having been said, where is the primary allegiance of any true child of God to be placed, not to country but to Christ!

Jesus declared in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  Was the Lord telling the large crowd He was speaking to that they literally had to hate their families and their own lives?  No, but He was declaring in the strongest possible terms that any allegiance or relationship must pale, must strongly pale, in comparison to our allegiance and relationship to Him!  One more verse and then we’ll move on to the next point.  When asked by a religious leader what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded by saying that we were to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Matt. 22:37; Deut. 6:5).  Passion for politics is not wrong (or at least not necessarily wrong), but if we find our heart, mind, soul, and strength worked up more about the politics of our country than the person of Christ, then we have misplaced priorities.

Point 2—The USA Is Not The Kingdom of God…Scripture had promised a coming Messiah since Genesis 3:15.  Throughout Old Testament history the people of God longingly looked for the One who was to come and sit on the throne of King David.  Indeed what we call Passion Week (which culminated with the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord) began with the Triumphal Entry, where the people en masse praised Jesus and declared Him to be king as He fulfilled the prophecy of riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (John 12:12-15; Zech. 9:9).  Any politician would have relished such a rally taking place on their behalf and would have led a revolution to depose Pilate, Herod’s family, and Caesar from their respective positions.  The crowd hated the Romans who were in power and were chomping at the bit to find someone who would defeat them and bring a rise to the ancient glories of Israel.  But the next chapter in John’s gospel, far from finding Jesus ascending to a throne on the shoulders of others, instead depicts Him descending to the floor to personally wash the feet of His disciples (John 13:1-20).  Christ is King, but He would not be the king that people wanted Him to be (John 6:15).  Rome was not the kingdom that Jesus was most concerned about nor was it the kingdom that John the Baptist and Christ came proclaiming.  His Kingdom was not Rome then and it is not the United States now.  His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).  The foe Jesus would defeat was far viler than Pilate, Herod, and Caesar—and far viler any politician of today that we may think is terrible and dangerous.  The foe Christ defeated was none less than the devil himself (Col. 2:15).  The citizenship He would purchase for those who repent and believe in Him was of far greater worth than any national credentials this world could, can, or ever will be able to afford (Phil. 3:20).  The freedom our Lord bestows far surpasses any emancipation proclamation that an earthly leader could declare or a national military could win (John 8:36; Gal. 5:1).

Point 3—The American Dream Is Not The Gospel Of Jesus Christ…The American experiment, as some would call it, is truly a marvel to behold.  Our country certainly has many, many faults.  However, there’s no other country where so many people want to get in and so few want to get out.  There’s no other nation in existence where people can come with nothing and in a generation leave their children with an inheritance.  Only America has the nickname of “land of opportunity”, and for good reason.  Most people in the USA have a roof over their head, food on their table, and shoes on their feet.  There are certainly many families within our shores that struggle with basic necessities of life, but at least in America there are charities and programs available to assist in many ways.  I’ve known of several folks who have gone on mission’s trips to report back that even the poorest in our country are among the richest people in the world!  Certainly I’m grateful to live in such a nation where food, shelter, clothing, education, etc. are mostly readily available.  However, the American Dream is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  A car in every driveway and a chicken in every pot is not what success for an individual or a nation truly looks like in the scope of eternity.  I’m glad the USA is a place where people, including myself and my children and my grandchildren to come, can prosper, but in the words of Jesus, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul (Mark 8:36)?”

The gospel, for those who haven’t received it, is far from a dream, it’s more like a nightmare.  The gospel calls for people to repent (Acts 2:38; Acts 17:30).  To repent means that folks have to do what we are so irrationally hesitant to do, admit that we have done wrong and be willing to turn away from the sins which we coddle and justify.  Then, as if that weren’t enough, the gospel goes on to tell us to put faith in Jesus Christ, and in Him alone, forsaking all others, as the One who is the Savior, who is THE way, THE truth, and THE life and THE ONE without Whom no one will see the Heavenly Father (Acts 4:12; John 14:6)!  The so called “prosperity gospel” of our day (though it’s not the gospel and is nothing new) promises health and wealth and every other blessing (more material blessings than the American Dream could ever begin to promise!).  This “prosperity gospel” is quite popular, but Jesus’ genuine call that “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me—for whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” is one that still sounds as foolishness in the eyes of this world (Luke 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 1:18).  Yet the gospel, the true gospel of Christ, that of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus, to those who are being saved is still the power of God unto salvation and is what should be the primary and unashamed focus of every Christian no matter what nation in which they happen to reside (1 Cor. 1:18; Rom. 1:16-17; Luke 9:26).

 Point 4—The Leaders Of The Day Tend To Reveal The Hearts Of The People More Than They Direct The Hearts Of The People…After Moses and Joshua died, God’s people in the Old Testament were led by charismatic leaders called “Judges.”  They ruled the loose configuration of the tribes of Israel for about three centuries.  The last “Judge” was Samuel (who was also a prophet and a priest).  As he was entering his later years the people went to him and cried out to have a king so that they could be like other nations.  Samuel prayed to the Lord about the situation.  God told Samuel that the people would indeed be given a king; not because He wanted them to have one, but because the idolatrous hearts of the people and their rejection of the Lord would be revealed in their rejection of Samuel and in the faulty character of the king they would be given (1 Samuel 8:1-22).  This would lead to disastrous results.  Fast forward several hundred years, through a line of mostly bad kings, and you will find the story of Josiah.  He came to the throne at a young age and in the midst of a people who had long since forgotten their spiritual roots, even losing the very book of the Law of Moses in the Temple where God was to be worshipped!  Josiah tore his clothes and repented when he realized just how far the people had strayed from the ways that God had commanded.  He instituted several reforms: tearing down altars to false gods, observance of the Passover again where it had long been neglected, and the bringing in of genuine spiritual leaders such as Huldah and Jeremiah to stand for God.  Yet, the people’s hearts were far away from the Lord and the revival the good king tried to bring to the land, though real to him, was a farce to his constituents.  Josiah was killed by Neco of Egypt after reigning for over 30 years and was promised by God to be blessed with a heavenly reward with his fathers.  The unrepentant people, on the other hand, had set a destructive course straight for the Babylonian Exile (2 Chronicles 34 and 35).

I would love to elect Presidents, Congressmen, Governors, Mayors, and Councilmen that would: do away with the horrors of abortion, define marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, defeat every racist word and deed, and deny the occurrence of senseless, mass shootings.  I could list more things that I would love to elect someone or some group of people to do.  But you know as well as do I that no leader, from an elected President in this country to a despotic dictator in another nation, can change the hearts of people or keep them away from the sinful actions upon which they have their wills, quite literally, dead set.  I could list the names of some biblical and historical leaders that have had an impact, but it is largely true that leaders reflect the hearts, minds, and will of a people more than they direct them.  So, who or what can direct the hearts of a person.  Only one Person and one Message have that power.  The Person is Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and that Message is the gospel of Jesus Christ which can translate a person out of the kingdom of darkness and make everything new (Rev. 19:16; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Cor. 5:17)!

Point 5—Christians Are Called To Submit, Stand, and Make Supplications…As this article comes to a close, I want to be sure that no one has misunderstood me.  I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t be politically involved.  God has providentially allowed for us to live in a land where we can have a say, both through voting and even activism should one choose, and we should not abdicate that privilege and responsibility.  However, it has been my aim to point out a proper perspective on politics and its limitations and to point us towards what is most important, biblical concerns and Christian commitments.  So, however politically active one may choose to be, let me end with three roles that the Bible spells out for all Christians.

Paul lived under the reigns of Roman emperors far worse than any U.S. leader one could imagine.  In fact, he would be beheaded by Nero, an emperor who would feed Christians to the lions and light them on fire as street lamps during his parties.  Yet still, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of course, Paul wrote in Romans 13:1-7 that we are to submit to authorities and give honor (taxes, etc.) to whom honor is due.

                That having been said, our submission to authorities does have some limits to it.  Peter and John were called before the Council for speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus.  The leaders commanded them not to preach Jesus and threatened them with dire consequences.  Peter and John’s response was to tell the Council that they would obey God rather than men and let the ramifications be what they may (Acts 4:19-20).  The principle is clear, we submit to those in power unless they clearly and specifically command something that goes against Scripture, then we must stand and obey God.

                Finally, Christians are called to make supplications for those in power.  Paul instructed in 1 Timothy 2:1-3 that we pray for all, including kings and those in authority, (and I remind you this included wicked Roman emperors at the time), not so that the church could have a powerful political voice but so that believers might live quiet and peaceable lives and so that God’s good will of people being saved would go forth.