Perhaps you’ve noticed that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for pastors and churches to simply “stay out of politics.” As our nation strays farther and farther from a Judeo-Christian world view, an increasing number of Biblical-moral-ethical issues have become societal and even political issues.
Our church members are grappling with these developments all week long, and bringing them with them into our worship spaces on Sunday. They become dangerous “elephants in the room” if we try to ignore them.
In this series of posts I’m offering some propositions that can help bring churches to a reasonable, Biblical consensus. My hope is that church leadership teams will study these together and come up with their own resolutions that will help bring unity to their congregations. Here’s what we explored in part one (Churches And Politics: Rethinking The Issue).
(1) Humility is still in order. I shared four reasons why: (1) The Bible is limited in what it says about government, (2) The political realities of the people of God in both testaments are so different from our own, (3) The Church has struggled with consistency on this subject for 2,000 years, and (4) As individuals, many of us have been inconsistent as well, careening from isolationism to activism and back again.
(2) Consistent Bible interpretation, painstaking exegesis and careful exposition will still keep us out of a lot of trouble. If we stick to expounding clear Biblical teachings and principles we won’t go far afield.
(3) The Bible is clear on the basic purposes for human government. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s overriding concern for government can be summed up with the word justice. Government is intended to ensure justice for all, by fending off foreign enemies, punishing evildoers and protecting the weak and innocent.
Again, check out last week’s Churches And Politics: Rethinking The Issue for the details.
(4) Some forms of human government are more consistent with Biblical theology than others.
As I shared last week, since Scripture is as limited as it is in what it says about government, some variations in what government does and does not do are reasonable. The Bible doesn’t say that it’s wrong to have government handle compassionate care for the poor or the aged. The Book of Genesis is uncomfortably silent regarding the establishment of an almost totalitarian government by the saintly Joseph (son of Isaac) in Egypt (Genesis 41-47).
In spite of these caveats, I think we can affirm the following with some confidence:
- The Biblical teaching regarding the sinfulness of the human heart favors limited human government. Human beings are simply too perverse to be granted unlimited authority. Witness Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
I’m no expert on the American Founding Fathers, but I believe I’m correct in observing that while they recognized the need for human government, they were profoundly suspicious of its tendency toward corrupting those in power. While the founders were not the evangelical Christians that some of us wish they were, they were determined to keep government strictly limited in scope, because of human corruption.
A great Biblical illustration of this concern would be the Apostle Paul’s prayer request in I Timothy 2:1-8. A paraphrase of this fascinating passage might sound like: “Pray for our rulers, that they will leave us alone, so that we can live godly lives and freely proclaim the gospel to all.” Paul’s greatest concern for government was that it would protect, what we call, religious freedom, because people are lost and condemned without the Gospel.
- That same reality of human corruption also favors republican (small “r”), as opposed to democratic (small “d”) forms of government. Most Americans don’t know that our federal government was set up to be a republic, not a democracy. A republic is a rule of law, and most of the founders would have agreed that legitimate individual laws have their source in a Lawgiver. These laws must be applied equally and justly to all to prevent human corruption from destroying human government.
Democracy, on the other hand, is rule by the people, the demos, and has been justly called “organized mob rule.” In a democracy, laws change drastically over time. Legislators work full time, improving – and sometimes destroying – the laws of the land. Individual liberties are not necessarily protected: whatever 51% of the demos wants, 100% of the demos gets. With today’s information technology, this is more relevant than ever, for those who can control the demos can control the nation.
(5) Some norms for government are strong and clear in Scripture. These are easily gleaned by way of a simple reading of the Bible in its entirety, paying special heed to the Old Testament prophets. Government is to be, as stated above, just, as well as compassionate, stable and trustworthy. Those who serve in government should be men and women of character, committed to justice and worthy of respect.
There is nothing in Scripture that argues that compassion demands socialism (government becoming paternal, controlling both the means and fruits of production) or that justice demands egalitarianism(forcibly leveling the citizenry to a universal standard of living).
Next week: More propositions to help bring your congregation to consensus.