Broadly speaking, within the Christian community there are two divergent ways of looking at the political process and our civic opportunities or responsibilities. There are those who exercise their civic right to participate in the political process and there are those who think it’s wrong to do so.
Let’s look at the definition of politics. It is simply the term for “the science or art of administration of government.” The word itself needn’t be a disgusting or dismissive word; it just describes how a nation’s governance comes about.
What we’ve come to identify with politics is the unseemly and contemptible conduct of our elected officials, and the crony capitalists with whom they conspire, for more money and power. It’s no wonder many Christians want nothing to do with the corrupt “ruling class.”
Another reason many Christians won’t participate in local or national politics is because of the following statement made by Satan: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matthew 4:8-10, NIV). The reasoning is that Satan must have had the right and ability to give those kingdoms away because he has dominion over them; and because of that, we shouldn’t participate in his methods of governance. But keep in mind: Satan is the father of all lies. “He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44b, NIV).
To be sure, Satan is the god of this world as we are told in 2 Corinthians 4:4: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (NIV). And Jesus calls Satan the “prince of this world” in John 12: 31. But whether or not Satan had the ability to grant rulership of the kingdoms of this world is a moot point, because ultimately God reigns supreme in the heavens and earth and it is he who allows kings to reign and rulers to rule. “This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (Daniel 4:17). Also, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1, NIV).
A prime example of God’s hand in selecting human leaders is the story of Saul in 1 Samuel 8 and 9. Israel wanted a king—which was not what God wanted; but he acquiesced and chose Saul. There are a couple of things to note in this example. First, God was willing to listen to the people and yield to their will. If he did that for malcontents who rejected him as King, how much more might he be willing to do that for those who seek to do his will? Wouldn’t he be more prone to answer those who petition him for guidance in using one of the very benefits he’s allowed them—the opportunity to choose their leaders? Second, the man God chose ultimately turned out to be a dreadful king, not because God made a poor choice, but because Saul made poor choices. It is flawed reasoning to suggest we shouldn’t vote on our laws or for our leaders for fear that it might ultimately turn out poorly; that’s always a possibility because people are imperfect.
There are two other Scriptures used by those who argue against participation in politics. One is John 18:36: “. . . My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” Here, Jesus is responding to Pilate that he was, in fact, a king, but that his Kingdom was a heavenly Kingdom yet to come. It wasn’t his time to establish his Kingdom on earth and, for that reason, his servants weren’t authorized to fight to prevent his arrest.
Another important Scripture used on this subject is Philippians 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (NIV). This is probably the primary Scripture people use to preclude themselves from participation in local, state, or national politics. The King James Version uses the word “conversation.” A look at Strong’s concordance clearly allows for the word “citizenship” to be used, but parenthetically notes that the meaning is “figurative.” It’s right and proper to claim “citizenship” in the Kingdom of Heaven; but we’re not there yet. It’s a Kingdom yet to come and, at that time, we will be living there in the Kingdom of God, literally, not figuratively.
It would be more accurate to say we have dual citizenship. Here’s the dictionary.com definition of citizenship: “the state of being vested with the rights, privileges, and duties of a citizen.” Clearly, we are also citizens of whatever country in which we were born. In my case, I’m an American, a citizen of the United States, and am able to exercise all of my rights as a citizen if I choose to.
Looking back through the Bible, we read about how the patriarchs let their light shine among the rulers and kings of their time and, for the most part, were influential. Some even played important roles in governments. Joseph and Daniel became top officials because of their wisdom, intellect, and ability to lead—all while serving God.
The prophets were integrally involved in appealing to the leadership. They courageously spoke out against corruption and consequently weren’t often popular among the hierarchy. Still, they let the chips fall where they may and did what God expected of them by pointing out the sins and transgressions of the rulers and the people. They didn’t just judge and condemn the rulers; they genuinely tried to get them to change unlawful customs and traditions that were harmful to the country.
One such example is found in Ezekiel 18:21-23, where God is talking to Israel through Ezekiel about turning away from the sinful way of life, which leads to death. Here God is virtually pleading with Israel to keep his decrees and do what is right so they may live and be happy. This message is found throughout the prophetic books. The prophets preached God’s way of life so people would prosper and be able to live in peace.
The ancients lived under monarchs and dictatorships, but still did what they could to influence change when change was needed. Even under the rule of despotic dictatorships there were people of God who were able to persuade the rulers to be kind and upright for the good of the people.
The historical accounts of Joseph, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Mordecai, and others testify to the fact that God doesn’t expect his people to divorce themselves from those in power and the politics of the time. God’s people were able, with his help, to transform godless cultures for the betterment of the citizenry and for God’s glory.
Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” Deuteronomy 4:6 says, “Keep therefore and do them [the commandments and statutes], for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”
Even the calloused and cruel Roman Empire became a better place due to the positive influence of Christians. “Historian Alvin Schmidt points out how the spread of Christianity and Christian influence on government was primarily responsible for outlawing infanticide, child abandonment, and abortion in the Roman Empire (in AD 374); outlawing the brutal battles-to-the-death in which thousands of gladiators had died (in 404); granting of property rights and other protections to women; banning polygamy [which is still practiced in some Muslim nations today]; prohibiting the burning alive of widows in India (in 1829); outlawing the painful and crippling practice of binding young women’s feet in China (in 1912) . . . .” (Why Christians Should Seek to Influence Governments for Good, p. 8, a booklet by Dr. Wayne A. Grudem, adapted from his book by the same title, published by Zondervan, 2010.)
It was the influence of William Wilburforce, a devoted Christian, who helped bring about the end of slavery in England in 1840. The antislavery movement spread to America, thanks largely to Christians. Yes, there were Southern Christians who opposed the abolitionists, and one of America’s worst wars resulted. Still, the antislavery movement prevailed.
We can see the positive influence Judeo-Christianity has had throughout the ages, even though almost all of the world’s governments have been antithetical to God’s way. The United States of America, on the other hand, was set up not as a secular monarchy or dictatorship, but rather as a constitutional republic by godly men with godly aspirations for our country. Like no other government ever formed by men, our Founding Fathers, inspired by God, brilliantly put together a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” It was specifically designed for the people to be involved in making laws and governing. It is a blessing that God gave this country a government which actually gives its citizens the privilege of being involved in their own governance as one of their many benefits.
Furthermore, our founders had God in mind, that we should be ever mindful of him and the Natural Law, which is defined as: “a principle or body of laws considered as derived from nature, right reason, or religion and as ethically binding in human society.” The founders collectively knew our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. In order for the Republic to succeed and endure, we would need to govern ourselves by adhering to the Laws of God and Nature. That being the case, it would have been essential for moral and religious people to participate in the lawmaking and law-upholding processes, which would have necessitated the involvement of Christians—if they wanted the country to flourish with God’s blessings.
Looking back, at what point would the modern day apolitical churches have made their decision to no longer participate in the political process? Wouldn’t they have wanted a voice in the arena of lawmaking all along, and wanted to assure the best candidates were elected? What kind of world would it be if all of God’s people throughout the ages had kept silent and not sought to influence society by being the salt of the earth and the shining city on the hill as instructed by God? Would we just sit back and try to be good examples in our communities by going to church and preaching the Gospel while refusing to incorporate Christian values into our community, state, and federal government? Wouldn’t that be like giving our adversaries permission to do whatever they wish when it comes to government on every level?
If you have children in the local public school, don’t you have an interest in what the school is teaching? Wouldn’t you get involved with the teachers or school board if you didn’t like the curriculum being used for your children? Or if you wanted to home school and you lived in an area that was unfriendly toward it, wouldn’t you take that up with your lawmakers? If there were known illicit activities in the vicinity of your neighborhood, wouldn’t you do what you could to legally bring an end to it?
Any number of scenarios can be imagined that would cause us to try to change or improve our schools and communities. We would be irresponsible parents and citizens if we didn’t try to do what’s best for our neighborhoods and communities. After all, we’re supposed to be good neighbors. Is that only on a local scale? What about nationally? Doesn’t the same principle apply on a state and national level?
And wouldn’t we want to have good judges appointed in local, state, and federal courts? It’s our elected officials who appoint judges for the most part, although some are elected. Either way, we can make a difference in the judiciary by who we vote for.
Years ago I remember Ronald Dart saying that if every Christian in every county in every state voted for pro-life candidates, the decision in Roe vs. Wade may never have happened. Had that been the case, at this writing 55,000,000 abortions would not have taken place since 1973! And 55,000,000 more people would have had their opportunity to contribute to society.
That being said, one has to wonder: how much culpability do Christians have when we examine how every aspect of our culture has deteriorated so rapidly since the 1960s? Was the silent majority silent for too long? Did we think we were powerless to change society, or did we think the breakdown of society was God’s will? Did we think prophecy was written in stone and we shouldn’t try to thwart God’s plan to wreak judgment on our country?
Shouldn’t Christians be standing in the gap? Or does God want us to remain silent in the war against good and evil? “Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?” (Psalms 94:16).
It’s easy to reason that there just isn’t anybody worth voting for and, in reality, that may be the case. But often there’s a clear cut difference of who would be better in an elected office. Find out where they stand on issues of morality and careless spending, for example. Do they stand for things you believe in? Better yet, do they stand more in line with God’s way of life than their opponent? Do a little homework and vote for the best possible candidate.
Christians who are aware of the dangerous times in which we live know the importance of self-examination. It’s horrifying to consider that we Christians may actually bear some responsibility for what’s happening in this country by virtue of not getting involved! We seriously need to consider whether we’ve done what God expects of us when it comes to our civic responsibilities and duty to our fellow citizens. May God help us to see what we can do to be a brighter, more helpful, and influential light to society.