” When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.”- Proverbs 29:2
“The Church must take right ground in regards to politics . . . God will bless or curse the nation according to the [political] course Christians take.” -Charles Finney
From the moment the first settlers came to America, and dedicated the land to “the glory of God, and the Propagation of the Christian Faith (1),” the Christian church has played a central role in shaping the governmental structure of our nation. In this election year, we felt it would be timely to look at what God’s Word says about civil government, and how Christians are to relate to secular authority. The Bible says more about this issue than you may realize.
Sadly, Christians who are involved in the political process are often derided as being some sort of fringe group, the “radical Christian right.” However, our critics often overlook the fact that Christians have been on the cutting edge of some of the greatest reforms in history, including the development of many hospitals, charities, and the founding of some of our greatest colleges and universities. From the abolition of slavery, to the civil rights reforms of the 1960s, Christians have been on the front lines of making the world a better place for all (2).
Much is said about the “separation of Church and State.” While an in depth discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this study (3), there are a number of Scriptural principles that should be examined. While it is true that the Bible teaches that spiritual government (Church) and political government (State) are two separate institutions, they are to function in ways that are complimentary to each other. For example: In ancient Israel, Moses was the political leader (Exodus 18:15-16), while his brother Aaron served in the Priesthood as the spiritual leader (Exodus 28-29) A similar relationship is seen between King Josiah and Hilkiah the Priest (2 Kings 22.) Another example would be Nehemiah the Governor (Nehemiah 7:1-7,) and Ezra the Scribe (Nehemiah 8:1-8.) Above all, the highest law is God’s Law, and He expects all human governments to be subject to it (Psalm 2:10-12; Isaiah 8:20.) (4)
Please understand, we are not “preaching politics.” Ultimately, genuine change comes through changed hearts, which only occurs as people respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, we do still live in a fallen, sinful world, and as we will see, God has ordained the system of civil government to protect the innocent, and to maintain proper order. The Christian life carries a prophetic voice that calls us to shine light into dark places. Jesus’ call for His people to be salt and light to a dying world covers every aspect of life (Matthew 5:13-14,) including how we vote and relate to our government. Christians are to be peaceful, law abiding citizens, (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-15.) We are to pray for and honor our government leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-3,) faithfully pay our taxes (Matthew 22:21,) and to work for the highest good of all people (Proverbs 3:27; Galatians 6:10.) This includes working to promote Godly principles in politics and government (Proverbs 29:2.)
The above-mentioned Scripture, Romans 13:1-7, is a key text in understanding what the Scriptures say about the relation of civil and spiritual authority. In this passage, we see that civil government is ordained by God to punish evil, and preserve the peace in a society. It even goes as far as to call government servants ministers of God! (Obviously, they don’t always live up to it, but that is God’s ideal nonetheless.) In light of this, the Bible calls us to obey all civil laws, unless these laws are in direct violation to the laws and commandments of God (see Acts 4:19.)
There are a number of people in the Bible that God specifically called to work for change in the political and governmental arena. This includes men and women such as Joseph (Genesis 41:39-41), Deborah (Judges 5:1-7), Gideon (Judges 6:11-14), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-19), David (1 Samuel 16:1-13), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:1-11), and Daniel (Daniel 1:4-6; 18-21)(5). In our day and age, there are a number of avenues through which we can work for change in civil authority. One important avenue we should avail ourselves of is Election Day; the God given privilege of voting is something we should never take for granted. Keep in mind that following Jesus transcends blind loyalty to political parties, and to a degree, there is room among Christians for some honest difference of opinion in regard to politics. Nevertheless, there are some Biblical principles that God requires us all to follow when it comes to the stands we take.
These Biblically mandated issues include:
Speaking out for innocent life (Proverbs 31:8.) This includes unborn children (Psalm 139:13-16; Isaiah 44:2, 24; 49:1-5; Jeremiah 1:5)
Confronting sin and moral decay (Proverbs 14:34; Isaiah 5:20; Jonah 1:2)
Defending the poor and oppressed (Psalm 10:2; Isaiah 10:1-2; Amos 2:6-7)
Working toward the peace and blessing of Israel (Genesis 12:3; 27:29; Psalm 122:6)
Secondly, contrary to popular belief, character DOES count when choosing our leaders. Exodus 18:21-22 gives us a good model to follow. These passages show us that civil leaders are to be “…able men who fear God…men of truth, hating covetousness (greed)”. If our country had always followed these common sense guidelines when casting our votes, we would be a much stronger nation today.
The Bible describes leadership as being a sacred trust, and placing a person in such a position is a very serious thing. For example, in 1 Timothy 5:22, Paul instructs the young Pastor Timothy to “Lay hands suddenly on no man (to ordain him into the ministry,) neither be partaker of other men’s sins” In other words, if we hastily put a person into leadership who is not worthy of it, we risk bearing the guilt of that person’s sin.
What does this have to do with voting? As we mentioned earlier, the Bible also describes government leaders as being ministers of God. In this case, we “ordain” our leaders by our votes, support, and influence. If we support politicians who support ungodly causes, or promote immoral behavior, God holds us responsible for that. To bid a person “Godspeed” in their sin is to become a partaker of that same sin (2 John 11.), a very sobering thought.
Finally, we can never fall into the trap of substituting political involvement for the Gospel. We must recognize that politics can never be an instrument of salvation. While we can and should work for positive change, this is, at best, a Band-Aid solution. At their root, a nation’s problems are always spiritual in nature. When it comes to eternal issues, simply “moralizing” our culture is not enough. Winning people to our political causes is not enough. People can embrace all of the “Christianized” cultural influences in the world, but without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, they are still be totally lost.
It has to start with each of us as individuals. God gives us the wonderful promise that “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. ” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
We can all start right where we are.
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.” (Psalms 33:12)
© 2002 JHB
1. Mayflower Compact, http://www.townhall.com/documents/mayflower.html
2. For more on this, see the book “What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?” by D. James Kennedy
3. For more info, see the article “The Separation of Church and State” by David Barton, located at http://www.wallbuilders.com/resources/search/detail.php?ResourceID=9 , as well as Barton’s book “The Myth of Separation”.
4. DeMar, Gary. “God and Government Volume 1: A Biblical and Historical Study.” American Vision Press, Atlanta, Georgia, 1982. p 147-159.
5. Grant, George. “The Changing of the Guard: The Vital Role Christians Must Play in America’s Unfolding Political and Cultural Drama.” Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1995. p 43-45.