For a number of years, I’ve urged pastors and churches to stay out of politics. While writing for a mega-blog, I tried twice to write posts about this subject. The editors were so concerned about staying away from politics that they wouldn’t print my posts about staying out of politics! (A bit extreme, I thought.)
But in recent years – the last two, particularly – political issues have been a source of much strife in our evangelical, Bible-believing churches. I’ve been called upon to help congregations in which the pastor and church members have been severely divided on the issue.
So in three posts I’m going to be offering some propositions that I’m hoping can help bring churches and pastors to a reasonable, Biblical consensus. My hope is that church leadership teams will study these together, agree and disagree with the details, and come up with their own resolutions that will help bring unity to their congregations.
(1) Humility is still in order.
I’m reminded of the incident in which a political opponent of Winston Churchill was being praised lavishly. The final item of adulation was this individual’s great humility. Churchill responded that, “Yes, he’s humble, but Mr. So and So has so many reasons to be humble.”
So do the rest of us, especially on this subject of Christian social ethics (which is, theologically, what we’re actually talking about). Here are four good reasons for humility regarding this subject:
- The Bible is limited in what it says about government. It says some important things, but it’s not a book about politics and government. (If you say that it is, I’m already concerned about you.)
- The political realities of the people of God in both testaments are so different from our own. The Old Testament features a unique people of God, ruled by a theocracy, or, some would say – for much of the Old Testament timeline – a theocratic monarchy, which featured kings who were anointed by and watched carefully by prophets, all of which were servants of God. The New Testament revolves around a people of God, the Church or the Body of Christ, which is a tiny, persecuted, despised, group of people, thriving and growing within the huge, heartless, pagan, Roman Empire. There is simply no vision in the New Testament of the Church conquering the Empire, until the return of our conquering King of Kings.
- The church has struggled for 2,000 years to get this right. We have tried to create – by force – a world-wide, nation-dominating, Kingdom of God-initiating, wealth-hoarding super-government. We have tried to implement alternative, establishment-opposing, political fiefdoms like the Anabaptist, Kingdom of Munster. We have tried to stay gloriously aloof from politics and we have tried to re-create a Christian America by backing Christian parties and Christian candidates. In short, we’ve been all over the map on this subject.
- As individuals, many of us have been embarrassingly inconsistent as well. Maybe I should speak only for myself. In fifty years as a disciple, I’ve been left wing and right wing, safely aloof and dangerously involved, an activist and pacifist. Like I said: embarrassing. (2)
(2) Consistent Bible interpretation, painstaking exegesis and careful exposition will still keep us out of a lot of trouble.
I think this pretty much speaks for itself. If we interpret the Bible according to the guidelines found within the Bible itself, as well as the timeless, common-sense hermeneutical (Bible interpretation) principles which are widely taught and readily available, we won’t go far afield into political extremes. If our preaching consists of careful Bible teaching, founded upon the digging out (exegesis) of Biblical truth – as opposed to our own ideas which we’ve dragged into the text (eisegesis) – we won’t be coming up with Christian kingdoms, modern day chosen nations, Christian revolutions or Christian political parties.
One more proposition will give us plenty to think about until next week:
(3) The Bible is clear on the basic purposes for human government.
- Most of us see the beginnings of human government in these words of God to Noah following the flood: “And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” Genesis 9:5b-6
- Throughout the Old Testament, God’s overriding concern for government can be summed up with the word Government is intended to ensure justice for all, by fending off foreign enemies, punishing evildoers and protecting the weak and innocent.
- The New Testament carries over the same theme, in spite of the radical change of context (from a theocracy to an ungodly world power): “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:3-4
Caveat: This is not to say that human government cannot be used for other good purposes. I think we have some freedom in this area. Witness the stunning lack of condemnation of the almost totalitarian government created by the godly young Jewish leader Joseph, in Egypt, as found in Genesis 41 and 47.
Next week: More propositions concerning the Church and politics.