It’s a simple question, but it often draws a heated response. Should Christians be involved in politics?
Some say, “Absolutely not!” They’ve given up on the political process. Or they say we’re not here to build a ‘Christian theocracy’ – that this isn’t our arena as Christ-followers, that we should stay clear of politics and let the world-lings hash out all the problems of governing. They don’t want to be caught up in a ‘nutty nationalism’ that replaces God’s kingdom with allegiance to a civil government. And many of them don’t plan to vote in this presidential election since, in their estimation, neither candidate behaves like a Christian.
But others think political action is a way to influence the culture and save our nation from God’s judgment due to the corruption of our public morals (as in Sodom and Gomorrah). They think it’s a form of spiritual malpractice to let the common morality disintegrate when Christians could be influencing the cultural trajectory.
Both sides have good points. But what does the Bible say about a Christian’s involvement in national, public issues?
- God’s people should pray and work to improve the nation where God has placed them:
When the Jews were exiled to Babylon for seventy years, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah – “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7 NIV)
- Jesus said God’s people should cooperate with the national government where they live, even if it is corrupt:
When the Pharisees and Herodians confronted Jesus with a trick question about paying taxes to Caesar, he famously said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. (Matthew 22:21 NIV)
People often quote this to prove that Christians should have nothing to do with civic government, but the context is actually the opposite. Jesus’ enemies wanted him to dismiss civil government’s authority and say he was leading a messianic rebellion against Rome, thus causing his arrest. (He was actually accused of that at his trial by some of the same enemies in Luke 23:2.) Instead he taught that the people of God have a dual obligation – (1) To cooperate with the civil government and (2) To render to God what is His. He taught this very same approach later through two of his hand-picked apostles.
- God commands his people to submit to the governing authorities of the nation where they live.
As the apostle Paul writes to Christians under Roman persecution, he says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:1-7 NIV)
Obviously this doesn’t sit well with some believers, but it’s clearly an instruction to the church on how to deal with an ‘un-Christian’ government. Even when being persecuted by that government.
- God’s wants His people to pray for civic government and its leaders.
In Paul’s letter to the young missionary Timothy, he gives these instructions to Christians living in a Roman colony: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-3 NIV)
Notice Paul’s evangelistic reasoning. We pray for our government and its leaders so we can have a better environment for reaching out to lost people.
- God expects His people to show respect for governmental authority.
I know. This is a tough one. When Peter wrote to the scattered, persecuted Christians whom he called “God’s elect, strangers in the world”, he said:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, 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. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-17 NIV)
So – it’s clear that God expects His people to relate to civil government in a respectful, cooperative way. But the Bible gives a couple of caveats about that issue:
- Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36). His supernatural kingdom comes first.
- The apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). When civil government (in their case, the Jewish theocracy) demands that we obey them rather than God in a matter of conscience, we refuse.
Otherwise, believers have certain obligations to the civic government appointed by God.
But does that include voting? Well, what if the apostle Paul had written a letter to the Romans with news that they could now vote to pick the next Caesar? Probably both contenders would’ve been corrupt or even brutal, so how would Christians have exercised their new ‘right to vote’?
I bet they would’ve been excited about the freedom to choose their leader, and I suspect their main questions would’ve been, “Which Caesar will be the least likely to persecute the church… which one will be the most friendly to our community as we pursue the mission to preach Christ to the world… which one will be the most likely to be touched by God’s grace?”.
What do you think?