Solid Snippet Article #041
Biblical Problems With Christians and Politics
I only get to do this once every four years. As you probably know from your Facebook feed or whatever connection you have to the American outside world as I sit in the solace of my office, itís voting season. People are sick of ads, opinions, and politics in general. But in the same breath they tell you that they will present their personal views. As the pastor of a church, whether you think it right or wrong, I refuse to endorse any candidate or publicly (especially from the pulpit) speak on the issues and people running for office.
I have several reasons for this policy. The first is most important, that I donít believe anyone except Jesus can reverse the mess that our world and country have found themselves in. While the Presidential office of the United States is an influential office to hold, and the person chosen will affect the vision and direction of America, there are two other branches of our government that are supposed to hold one another in check. Beyond this small fact that seems to disappear in the political craze (-iness), is that unless I personally know the candidate well, I will not know, despite his speech and promises (that are always broken because this person is a mere mortal, not an always faithful God) what the person will truly do as president.
Second is that when I preach and teach, I wish to speak to everyone, no matter what their political affiliations. If I choose one candidate over another, the other side will not be as open to the messages I preach, thinking I donít think theyíre godly or something, because we canít resist bringing God into politics and using politics as some kind of litmus test for whether or not someone is saved. Iíve watched this week especially (the week of the elections) as people have played so close and fast with the mixing of religion and politics online that they are crushed or reacting to the election results with incredibly unChristlike actions and words. Since when does the Church allow Satan to so easily distract and divide brothers and sisters in Christ? Donít unfriend me because I chose differently! Were we truly friends? To maintain a prophetic voice to the whole world, I pick the side of God, not a party.
Third, I have found that my opinions on Scripture are quite influential to the people in my congregation. What happens when I speak authoritatively (or so their minds accept it to be) on other matters and subjects, such as politics? As with discipleship, I want people to research, be well informed, know the facts and their own convictions, especially in matters where the Bible does not directly speak to an issue in their lives. So also, I believe that we mature through the process of research and learning in politics, of praying and asking God whom we should choose that would best honor Him. When people come to me asking my opinion about a matter of holiness or conscience, I make sure that they have researched for themselves before I add my input. When I tell people my views, they tend to think that my views are the right ones. I donít want them to vote for this person or that person because their pastor does, so I feel my influence is more imperative in spiritual matters rather than politics.
So am I a horrible pastor for not letting my religion inform my political views and the political views of my congregation? What about the issues? What about the Christian presidential candidates? How could I not join with my ďbrother in ChristĒ to vote for that person because he says he is a Christian? Oh man, am I even going to make it to heaven because I donít spoon feed my congregationís political choices to them and even begin to insinuate that they need to ďvote their values not their walletsĒ (a coy way of saying vote republican)?
I donít think so. And hereís why: I do indeed allow my religious inclinations to inform my politics, and I do indeed speak of politics from a religious/biblical view from the pulpit. But I do it in a way that makes my conscience clear before God. I donít stump for either party. I stump for Jesus. My spiritual convictions are the very basis for how I vote and how I speak about American politics. My education and understanding of not just the Bible but also history help me to make decisions in the voting booth that I can live with, and I believe will honor God as well as I can in this climate and fallen world.
So what kind of political preaching do I do from the pulpit, or what kind of religiously informed views do I spew from the sacred desk of our church? What does this religious leader endorse and what values do I pound with my position, authority and influence? Iíll show you. This is my politically motivated and charged religious plea to my congregation and to Christians every four years.
I Have Dual Citizenship
Usually around Independence Day or weekend, I pull out of the mothballs and dust off my sermons on being a citizen of heaven first, and then of some nation. I preach against nationality and pride and all of the things that blind us to our true citizenship. I talk about our privilege of serving Christ wherever we have been planted, whether that be in America or somewhere else. I talk about the bigger picture so we donít put blinders on during elections and national holidays that tend to fuel our desire to fit in with others and push our nationalism to a disgustingly malicious stench to other believers around the world.
We happen to be on the same team when we are Christians with others in those other nations. There are wonderful privileges, rights and benefits we enjoy as Christians that no country can give us. My nation is great, but Godís Kingdom is greater. Paul talked about being a member of Godís Kingdom in these ways using the word and idea of citizenship, I believe, on purpose. We can allow our nationalism and geographical pride to divide us with other believers, or we can humbly thank God that ďevery knee will bow and every tongue will confess to GodĒ (Isa 45:23; Rom 14:11; Phil 2:10-11; Rom 10:9; Rev 5:13; 7:9-10).
Aside from this, we are made a different kind of Kingdom, not of this world, but of God Himself (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6). We are citizens of Godís Kingdom as well (Eph 2:19-22; Phil 3:20-21). This means that we fight for Jesus first, that we stump for Jesus first, and that God is our Leader, not a mortal human being. God is perfect and His rule is just and good. Iíd rather have Jesus anytime than sort through who promised what and why they failed to deliver.
This also means that we play on the team of Christ. So there is no reason for fellow believers to remotely be at odds with one another. We live and love in a beautifully unified body of Christ, where He is King and where our uniquenesses fall under His Spiritís direction and leading. We bring our flavors of personality to the unified body of Christ. From the diversity of our lives, the Spirit brings a unity of purpose, of worship, and of action. I have found that political parties will champion only one part of Godís commands, commitments and desires. We must be more balanced than that.
Now I live as a dual citizen in a certain land and because of my birth or ability to be a citizen, there are certain rights and privileges I enjoy. One of them is to vote. So I do my best to be well informed without being crazy about it. I donít scour the internet everyday all day long to find dirt on candidates. I have a life in God. Iíd rather study the Scriptures than politics. But I get as well informed as I can, and then I go and I vote. I do my part as an individual to obey the laws of the land. So I do vote. I donít believe you should just not vote. But you should pick the person after prayer and study that you believe would best represent your views.
Iíve heard it said that Iím not picking my pastor in chief but my commander in chief. Thatís a great line, and itís true. This president is not my pastor. But, just like all of us, no matter how much a president tries to be objective, their personal views, beliefs and environment will certainly affect the way that they rule. Just take a minor gloss of the Old Testament Kings and you will see that their life and beliefs colored how Israel dealt with all things.
So I search for someone I think would be best at making choices more suitable to godliness for our nation, since they have that kind of influences as the President of the United States. I may not be voting for my pastor, but Iím voting for someone who is human and cannot so compartmentalize their life that their beliefs will not ever affect them in their choices. If that were true, they would be a sociopath, and someone without any conviction or character. And I donít want that at all.
Jesus is the Answer
Next, I preach that Jesus alone is the answer for Americaís, and the worldís, problems. No president can cure all of our problems all at once. Unfortunately, America is in so much of a mess right now, and because of the lack of true leadership in this country for a very long time, divided more than ever on values, vision and a host of other elements that glue this country together in unity, that no one president or one term (even in eight years) can ďfixĒ America (where fix is whatever subjective action you mean by it and I mean by it, because we donít even talk about America in objective terms anymore).
If Jesus is the answer to all of our problems, it is more effective for America to come to Jesus (even one at a time, which is what my job entails as a believer and pastor) than to put our trust in a presidential candidate and that personís promises and plans. Do you realize how close to confusing Godís rule with manís rule we get when we vote? Take a look at this. The candidates this year had promises. God has promises in His Word. The candidates have a plan for America. God has plans for us. The candidates will use authority. God has complete authority. Itís like weíre voting for mini gods, and we as believers get all caught up in all of this, not remembering that they are mere humans who will most likely be unfaithful to their own promises and values and plans.
Hereís what the Bible says about politics: We trust in the Lord rather than in military might, political power or any other form of human ability (Psalm 20:7-8). Donít fear the leaders of this world and donít waste your life on conspiracy theories (Isa 8:11-15). God is our only King (1 Sam 8:4-18) and human leaders will take advantage of us by nature. The very phrase ďJesus is LordĒ was a Christianís subservient way of saying Jesus is divine authority, not the Caesars of Rome who declared themselves divine.
This does not mean that we should hide away from politics. It is clear that God wants us to choose Him as King, and the Bible talks about Jesus reigning physically on the earth as King in the Millennial Reign (Dan 7:15-22; Rev 20:1-6). Hebrews 1:8-9 quotes the Old Testament to remind us that Jesus rules on the throne. Jesus is King and He will reign completely.
Human Leaders Should Fear God
But shouldnít human leaders follow Godís rule? Werenít the kings of Israel subject to God as true King? Sure, it was supposed to be that way. There were three offices in Israel, that of the priests, prophets and kings. The priests took care of the duties of continuing in faith with God. They worked in the sacrificial system, the legal system and the temple. The prophets were designed to be Godís mouthpiece so that the kings would hear from God and do what He said. The Kings were chosen and anointed for service to God by the priests and prophets. It sounds like a good system, until the kings decided they wanted to do their own thing, so they killed the prophets. Now there is no voice of God to hold them in check.
But it was a common principle for the kings to fear God and His wrath when they did not follow His ways. David is a man after Godís own heart who sought to follow His ways (Psalm 77:13; 119:11, 18). But then you have kings who refused to follow His ways (Psalm 2:10-12). The Bible prescribes that human leaders do best when they follow Godís ways. It is for that reason that I search for a candidate who will adhere as closely to the biblical idea of morality when they are ruling. But I canít see their heart. I can only gather through observing their lifestyle, their behavior and their speech if they will be godly or not. And I can be wrong. Politicians make a living fooling people into marking their checkbox on the ballot. We each do the best we can in politics, but our concern is more with what God says in His Word and how to bring about His Kingdom through one individualís life change at a time.
This World is Not My Home
Throughout the New Testament, the writers liken our current situation as Christians in this world to that of the stranger or alien from a far off land. That stranger has no rights here. That stranger is not treated so well here. That stranger doesnít belong and is not comfortable in a foreign land. We work here on this rock, but this is not our home. The moment we try to fix the worldís problems with politics or economics or some other worldly bandage, we miss the great message of the Gospel, that only Jesus could redeem this world. It is not that we shouldnít care, but that we shouldnít expect these human institutions to do the work of God.
Peter reminds us that the world will bring fiery trials (1 Pet 4:12-14) and John reminds us that we may be in the world, but we are not of the world (John 17:14-18; 18:36). To be in it is to share it with others who are not part of Godís Kingdom yet. But to be of it is to be influenced by the world and to become worldly, rather than to influence the world with Godís Kingdom values. Voting does not accomplish that goal nearly as well as living before others and sharing Jesus with them. The gospel prescription for Kingdom change is one person at a time from the inside out, not a person who can decide what a nation believes and practices.
Christianity was born in the midst of a Roman Empire that sought its demise. With the beginning of martyrdom with Steven in Acts 7, the Church was on the ropes. They hoped that by killing the apostles they could destroy the Church and shut everyone up. They hoped that by killing random Christians they could destroy the growth of the Church. But as Tertullian, a fourth century Christian scholar reminisced, ďThe blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.Ē Because they continued to persecute Christians, the Church grew faster under pressure.
Christianity does not fare as well when it has an earthly kingdom that is for it rather than against it. In the fourth century, a Roman Caesar named Constantine sent mixed signals to Christians in the empire. He supposedly fought with a cross on his shield and when he got done with all the killing with his armies, he came back and caused the Council of Nicea to happen in 325 AD. This helped all the Christians get on the same page, and as part of his work, Constantine legalized Christianity as a legitimate religion, and even made it the religion of Rome! But in doing so, he weakened the forward focus on the coming kingdom of Christ and Christians have focused on trying to fix this kingdom rather than work for Godís Kingdom ever since. Follow through history and youíll find that the Church serves Christ much better through persecution than through governing. Intentions aside, the end product did not go well.
One of the saddest and most deplorable problems of mixing Christianity with politics is that dejected feeling of ďGodís will not being doneĒ and the resulting trying to square what Scripture has ďpromisedĒ if we vote for ďGodís man.Ē Such believers resign themselves to ďthe Lord wills itĒ or discuss how this actually hastens the end times. Did God really not see this coming? Was this really Godís defeat?
Christians know well the story of Godís ďdefeatĒ at the cross when Jesus, His Chosen Son, died. But wait! In that death which the devil and the world saw as a defeat was actually Godís victory over sin and death! When has God ever lost or been defeated? Never. We get so comfortable with this world and its trappings, its economics, its principles, its politics, that we miss the fact that God is moving in much bigger ways than an election. Iím not saying He isnít in it, but that He is more concerned with one person coming to Him than the host of the Christian Right voting for ďGodís man.Ē
God is interested not in the politicians and leaders, but in each one of us. While they have focused on the masses to win an election by promising whatever will make your finger quiver for their name on that ballot, theyíll say or do it, or at least give lipservice to it. They focus on the masses. God focuses on one. He focuses on you. Give the government its due, but give God His due.
Thereís a time in the life of Jesus when the religions leaders of Israel wanted to trap him politically to expedite His death and removal from their land, to get the Romans to do what they werenít allowed to do (Mark 12:16-17). So they brought Him a coin, and it had Caeserís image on it. The question of the day was, ďShould we pay taxes or not?ĒWhen someone brings Him a coin, Jesus famously asks, ďWhose image is on it?Ē The people answer, ďCaesarísĒ and Jesus says ďGive to Caesar what is Caesarís and give to God what is Godís.Ē What bears Godís image, according to the Bible? Humanity does. Go ahead and give the government what belongs to them. God is more interested in what belongs to Him.
Donít give yourself away to a politician. Give yourself away to Jesus. Youíll never be ashamed later when you find out what that politician actually stands for or is willing to accomplish. Youíll never be dissatisfied with His rule in your life. Heíll never let you down and never leave you hanging. Heíll take care of all your needs. He wonít keep you poor or keep you rich. Heíll keep you in Him. Heíll love you instead of lie to you.
Some may conclude that I am so pessimistic about government and politics that I should just shut up. Well, thatís your opinion and in America, youíre still entitled to it. I do not expose my views of politicians or issues that I personally hold from the pulpit or in public. You have to ask me alone what I believe in these matters. Will a day come when I need to espouse my views publicly? Perhaps if this world keeps going the way it is and Jesus tarries. But for now, I feel that I maintain a prophetic openness to all by trusting more in Jesus than in this world. Am I a pessimist about government and politics? Nope. Just human government and politics. The government of our King Jesus looks quite optimistic! And Iíll discuss that all day long.