The Christian and Politics


Hope in God, Not the Ballot Box

Introduction

Recall 2 Chronicles 6+7.  During a brilliant twenty year period at the zenith of Israel’s monarchical history, King Solomon succeeded in erecting a spectacular temple dedicated to the worship of the Living God of Israel as well as building a beautiful royal palace. For the building of the temple alone, the King conscripted 150,000 workers along with 3600 supervisors!. Little wonder the chronicler concludes that upon completing the temple and palace Solomon “...had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do...” (II Chron 7:11).

Yet, at the dedication of the temple Solomon offered a prayer that is most remarkable in light of this intoxicating success. It is found in II Chronicles 6. After extolling the incomparable character of the covenant God, Solomon, with clear foresight into the future of the nation, begged for God’s mercy when the people would be defeated by surrounding enemies or experience calamities such as famine in consequence of national sin and widespread wickedness. In Solomon’s mind, national disgrace was just around the corner. The only question was whether or not God would forgive and grant His blessing in spite of national wrongdoing. (see 6:36 + 42).

God graciously responded to Solomon’s prayer. His answer was “Yes”. But, in answering the King’s petition He laid down clear stipulations to the granting of His blessing. It was an “if you do, then I will proposition!”. The familiar and famous words of God Himself are recorded in NAU  2 Chronicles 7:13 "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, 14 and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

So, God required four things from this nation of His when it tottered on the brink of self-destruction because of consuming wickedness. His people must 1) repudiate their prideful self-reliance 2) pray, 3) make pleasing God the first priority of life and, 4) cease their evil conduct.

It must be acknowledged also that the Lord could have placed numerous other requirements upon the people as conditions to His blessing. Indeed, He might have required that the really committed among them march around the city marketplace carrying placards decrying certain heinous practices or laws of the government. Perhaps people would be required to band together to form a large influence bloc for the purpose of putting select people into the strategic positions. Maybe everyone would have to attend a rally for righteousness in Jerusalem. Or join a national political party platformed on the restoration of righteousness. Or put to death the most blatant violators of God’s law. Of course, He didn’t stipulate such a things. Nor would we have expected Him to!

I believe God’s appearance to Solomon is instructive for any people who desire His blessing. It is true that we must exercise great caution in using this passage when making appeals to our current national circumstances.  There is far too much exegetically unsound application of this passage. The United States is certainly not a people of God, a Christian nation, or the modem counterpart to Biblical Israel. None-the-less the broad principle of adhering to God’s conditions as a prerequisite for the reception of His blessing is valid for any nation at any time.

All of this makes the current scene among evangelicals in our country quite perplexing. Evangelicals are admonished to vote, to give money (sometimes even their tithe) to Christian political action groups, to write letters to editors, legislators, and other public servants, to seek seats in local, state, or national government or actively support other Christians who do, to lobby congress for passage of selected pieces of legislation,  to boycott anti-family commercial enterprises, to protest abortion and gay marriage sometimes illegally or violently, to refuse to pay taxes, to vocationally infiltrate the media and legal professions, to hoard guns and ammunition, to deluge congress with phone calls, to subscribe to certain publications, to support certain candidates, to register with a certain political party, and et cetera – all designed to rescue America.

Political activism is seen by many as the great solution to our nation’s ills generally and specifically to the wholesale discrimination against Christians rampant in so many quarters, especially in the public sector. For some, the litmus test for a person’s spiritual fervor is whether he is politically active. Other loud voices piously proclaim, sometimes with red faces, that unless Christians wake up and get involved Christianity will become a relic of history as the country “goes to hell in a hand basket”. The nation faces ruination if one candidate or the other is elected. And, Christians will have no one to blame but themselves.

Therein lies the problem. Involvement by believers in the body politic is good, indeed desirable. The history of our country attests to this tenet. The problem therefore is not political activism per se, rather it is the overestimation of its value in reversing our country’s demise. This overestimation misunderstands the methods Christians are to employ in fulfilling the Biblical mandate to change culture.

I understand that what I have said thus far and what I am about to say is easily misunderstood. I also know that, almost certainly, someone will take offense at what I say. I do not intend to offend; I do want you to think Biblically.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I acquainted you with my personal journey.  I grew up a very political home in Iowa. My father was a member of the legislature. He ran for Lieutenant Governor. He held various statewide positions. I was accustomed to seeing persons like the Governor in my home. In fact, I have a personal congratulatory letter from the Governor upon my graduation from seminary. As a pastor in Iowa, I enjoyed being actively involved at the precinct level. In Indiana, I minimally assisted in one successful US Senate campaign; I was heavily involved in two unsuccessful Congressional campaigns. I invited candidates and activists to speak at the church.  I distributed voter guides. I was black listed by the Carmel mayor for confronting sin. In the 80s I embraced the Moral Majority. I distributed literature, knocked on doors, and made phone calls. I have contributed money. I have served as a poll clerk on Election Day. I even tried to make other pastors feel guilty for not getting involved as I thought they should. If you promise not to tell, I even harbored a secret thought that maybe I should run for a certain public office. At any rate, you get the picture.

However, at some point I began to wonder if my viewpoint would really stand the test of genuine Biblical exegesis.  Could it be that I was promoting my opinions as requirements of Scripture? Some years ago I encountered Michael Cromartie’s essay from the book No God, But God. I acknowledge a great debt to him for stirring my thinking regarding this critical matter.

So, in an attempt to make sense of this somewhat disjointed and often emotionally charged issue I would like to offer four observations designed to bring us back to a more biblical approach to the subject of the Christian and politics in our culture..

Observation #1 - Christian citizens ought to be involved in the political process. Several thoughts…

  • American history demonstrates that religion and politics have always been intertwined. (Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and many founding fathers) Of course today, the acceptability of Christians in politics often depends on the Christian’s politics! 
  • It is unbiblical to speak of believers having a public life separate from a religious life. Life in the neighborhood, school, workplace, legislature, home, and church must be consistent. We don’t have a dual compartmentalized life. 
  • The admonition of I Timothy 2:1-2 to pray for those in authority is at least a hint of the Lord’s interest in the body politic. 
  • Involvement in the political arena may mean building coalitions with those with whom we disagree theologically.. Furthermore
  • Being a Christian does not guarantee wisdom in public policy. 
  • Pagans can forge policy for the benefit of the public. Certainly, the civil religion of the 1950s was not genuine Christianity any more than the liberal religion of today. However, there was prayer in our schools; life was valued; and homosexuality was officially labeled “perversion”. But as has been said, I realize, that we elect a president to run the country not to be the head theologian.
  • Romans 13 makes it clear that pagan governments are institutions of common grace with benefits to all, not just believers. Ungodly governments do have a claim on our lives as Jesus taught in Matthew 22:21 – “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” . Therefore, we may have to compromise and accept less than perfect governance, laws, and policies.  
  • Observation #2 - Each Christian is free to choose the extent of his political involvement without charge of error by other Christians.

  • Today there exists in many Christian circles almost a Christian “political correctness” regarding political viewpoints and involvement. In it’s extreme form, some question the spirituality or Christian commitment of peers and leaders who don’t agree with them. 
  • To my knowledge, Scriptures do not give specific directions other than praying for and submitting to those in authority (I Timothy 2, Romans 13). 
  • However, I would argue that a case can be made by implication of various Scriptures for other citizenship functions (voting, taxes, being informed, being salt). It would seem to me; the minimum implication of these passages is that those of us who live in a representative democracy ought to vote. 
  • Whatever, our Christian unity is based on common faith, not a common political party or viewpoint. God has not registered with a political party any where in the world. Surely, we can learn to disagree agreeably over matters of public policy. 
  • Observation #3 - Subtlety, perhaps unintentionally, public policy and law is sometimes elevated to the same level or above the gospel.

  • Personal salvation does not come by legislative decree. 
  • Societal reformation does not happen in any State House or Congress or the White House or the Supreme Court. Such thinking betrays a misunderstanding of the biblical view of men’s condition – they are spiritually dead and bent on evil. Therefore, though pagans are capable of benevolent governance as I suggested previously, we cannot expect pagans to use a secular government to lead us to spiritual restoration. The ballot box is not our hope! We error if we pin our hopes for renewal on any one man, or party, or legislative body, or judicial court. Only the gospel can penetrate man’s heart. Only the sovereign God can bring genuine revival. 
  • Further, the gospel can stand on its own. It is powerful! We must turn it loose in our culture! Any watering down or adding to the gospel is heresy. NAU  Galatians 1:9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! 
  • Recall the pointed words of CS Lewis, “My dear Wormwood; The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian.. .What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call Christianly and.” ...Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing. The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart” ---C.S. Lewis,  Screwtape Letters, 1941 
  • It should not surprise us that the gospel is more important than politics! We must never loose sight of the “same old thing.” 
  • The pulpits in our land must resound with biblical exposition rather than second rate stump speeches or feel good entertainment. 
  • Personal workers must distribute copies of John’s gospel rather than hawk Christian magazines or alert sheets. 
  • I fear that many Christian have a small view of God. Do they really believe he is in charge? They may have a myopic view of history as well. Who of my generation can forget the outcry that went up in 1960 among evangelicals at the thought of electing JFK, a Catholic? I well remember brainlessly repeating the mantra that if LBJ is elected in 1964 our nation is cooked. Even though I wasn’t old enough to vote (21), I stumped for Barry Goldwater. What about those who embraced Jimmy Carter in 1976 simply because he was a professing believer? The doomsayer declared we would never survive the elections of 1992 and 1996 if a moral philander like Bill Clinton was elected. Some have opined that Barak Obama has so damaged America that we will never recover. I won’t join or decry the soothsayers - I simply don’t possess such knowledge. I do know that such thinking borders on downsizing God and super-sizing the President, whomever he/she may be and whatever course is being pursued whether left or right . 
  • Observation #4 - A Christians’ conduct is far more important than his politics when it comes to remedying our country’s ills.

  • This does not discount the fact that the Christian’s citizenship responsibilities are part of his conduct.  But I refer primarily to his life as a Christian; his spiritual life if you will. 
  • Historically, revivals were never the result of the ballot box, new laws, or public reforms. Often however, changes in public practice were products of revival. Nearly every part of public life, from taverns to city hall, is changed in the aftermath of genuine revival ( for example, the morality in New England in 1740s during the Great Awakening). 
  • Sweeping changes in society cannot be manipulated anymore than revival can. It is a product of divine activity. God uses believers as change agents in culture. Sometimes he even uses pagans. Witness Nebuchadnezzar! 
  • Could it be that we should concentrate on changing ourselves rather than reforming society or changing laws? 
  • Could it be that we should decry the spiritual plight of our congregations rather than the debauchery in our communities? 
  • Could it be that we should make knowing God our passion rather than understanding the political system and schmoozing with key power brokers? 
  • Could it be that we have less zeal for the gospel than we do for fixing our government?
  • Could it be that invest more energy in countering the homosexual avalanche in our country that we do in tangible service in a local church.

  • Conclusion

    Let us return again to II Chronicles 7:14, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Reflecting on this passage again, we would not be out of line to ask ourselves several questions.

    First might be, “Where is the prayer”? I don’t refer necessarily to prayer for the nation, just prayer period. Let us be honest. It is easier to stand on a corner with a placard for two hours or attend a fund raising banquet for an evening than it is to pray privately for fifteen minutes. Prayer is hard. Prayer is not glitzy. Does our lack of praying have anything to do with the value we attach to it?

    Second, someone will surely ask, “Where is the worship?” Undoubtedly, God, the same God who lays these stipulations for blessing upon His people, must be repulsed at their often-cavalier offers of worship. Worship without cost, worship without content, and worship of convenience is no more than an emasculated substitute for true worship. Those of God’s people who are genuinely concerned about our country will give themselves wholeheartedly to regular worship in spirit and truth with brothers and sisters in Christ.

    A third person is bound to query, “where is the personal godliness?’ Indeed, if as Jesus instructs, we are to “... let our light shine before men...” (Matthew 5: 16), then what do we make of the well known statistic that “born again” persons don’t morally live much differently than the average pagan! This is where the rubber meets the road, dear friend. Have you really forsaken your wicked ways? If the Lord were to decide whether to bless America based on your life, would America slide into oblivion or bask in God’s mercy?

    Prayer: O Father, forgive us for undervaluing your means of blessing. Deliver us form depending on the arm of the flesh in this spiritual battle. Create in us a clean heart and a hunger for righteousness. We beg this of you in the precious name of Christ, Amen.

    © Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2014. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.