We saw last Sunday from Acts 17 that the early church and individual disciples did not need political means to “turn the world upside down.” They needed neither representative democracy, nor a constitutional republic, nor participatory government, nor a Bill of Rights, in order to effect great change on their neighbor and their nation. What they did have was a priority on the glory of God and to see that everyone turned from false gods to worship the one true God, through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Disciples today need such a priority no less than they, but for us, in the American West, we do have something the early church did not: participatory government. In other words, we get to vote on things. Our priority for the glory of God can be manifested not only as our hearts are provoked because “the city is full of idols” and our mouths are fueled to proclaim God’s glory, but also in how we steward the rights and privileges and responsibilities afforded citizens of the United States.
In order to vote responsibly for 1) policies, such as in referenda, and for 2) candidates, and for 3) parties, we start with an understanding of what the LORD says that government is for. We look primarily at a couple of Bible passages that describe the right operation of good government.
Governments are from God, and exercise their authority by God’s design and will. We are told:
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. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
From this we see several things about government. It is to punish the bad and reward the good. This necessarily requires us to sort out what is “good” and what is “bad.” In punishing the bad, the government has the power of enforcement, through the death of the wrongdoer if necessary (the “sword” is a reference to an executioner’s sword). Taxation and collection of revenues are legitimate activities of government. And, Christian citizens are also expected to give respect and honor to officer-holders, personally, not merely to the “office” itself.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, and intercessions 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. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
Christians are to pray for governing officials, and not merely democratically-elected ones. The content of our prayer is that they would govern in such a way that life for their citizens would not be characterized by chaos, anarchy, and war (whether economic, societal, or international). The purpose of such prayer – and hence, the purpose of good government – is not for personal wealth- and security-building, but for Christians, at least, to promote the mission of converting the lost. That is, so that believers are free to live their faith publicly.
Here, then, are quite a few guidelines or principles by which the Christian can assess policies, parties, and candidates:
If a policy has the effect of calling good “evil” and calling evil “good,” the Christian should oppose it.
If a party rewards evil and punishes good, the Christian should oppose it.
If a candidate pushes an agenda contrary to “peaceful and quiet life,” in which the Christian is free to go about the mission of Christ unmolested and all citizens enjoy a stable society, the Christian should not support him.
There are also sometimes political policies and agendas that are directly contrary to God’s revealed will. Some refer to this sort of policies as “straight-line issues,” because a line can be drawn more or less straight from Scripture to the Christian’s political position on it. Others are referred to as “jagged-line issues” because the path from Scripture to a Christian’s position is not so direct.
Straight-line issues that are of great consequence in today’s political climate include the following:
Abortion. God commands not to take innocent life, and to protect the voiceless and oppressed.
Marriage. God defines marriage as one man, and one woman, for life, bearing biological children.
Gender. God created male and female.
Christians should not support policies or parties that compromise on these, or on any other “straight-line” issues. (At the same time, we must be careful not to confuse “straight line” and “jagged line” issues.)
What about “character”? I’ll talk about this more in Sunday’s message, but for now, keep in mind how the LORD instructed the people in biblical times. In the Old Testament, for one example, Israel was told specifically to submit to Nebuchadnezzar, who was not a “good man.” Paul’s admonition regarding submission to government (respect and honor!) in Romans and in 1 Timothy were given at a time when the Caesars ruled Rome. Caesars considered themselves gods, and took all the political, financial, and sexual liberties such a status afforded them.
May the LORD grant us grace to steward our responsibilities as citizens in a way that glorifies his name.