How should a Christian view politics? While I don’t have the definitive answer to that question, here are a few basic principles that I hold to in light of Scripture and the Christian tradition that I embrace. Here are three basic principles that I believe can help us to interact with the political situation in a way that pleases God:
1. We should participate in the political process without hoping in it. Consider Matt. 5:13-14:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13-16)
These verses show us that God has put us in the world to have a beneficial effect on the world. We should do good and use any opportunity that we have (including politics) to work for righteousness and against sin. That said, we need to recognize that politics will never deal with mankind’s problem, which is the sinful human heart. We certainly can, by means of the political machinery, work to promote good and curb evil, but where man’s heart is sinful, he will always find either a way to get around the law, or conform outwardly resulting in a self-righteousness that is offensive to God.
We can, as Christians, do good by means of the political processes, but to the degree that politics promises us that it can fix our problems, it is lying to us and setting itself up as a God-substitute – an idol. On the other hand, the Scripture tells us that the world is the way it is because mankind has turned away from God. We are enslaved to sin and justly condemned by God, and what we need is forgiveness, reconciliation to God, and new life. God has offered us those things in Christ, through His death and resurrection, and we receive them freely by repentance and faith in Christ. Politics and human government have their uses, but also their limits. Our hope is in Christ for an ultimate solution to our problem, not politics.
2. No political party represents “God’s party.” Consider the following verses:
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (Jn. 18:33-37)
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. (Phil. 3:20-21)
These verses demonstrate that the kingdom of God is not an earthly kingdom, but consists of His rule over the hearts of men. One day that will become a reality for the whole creation, but until that day, we need to recognize that no political party represents God’s kingdom. This means two things:
1) We must be careful about “baptizing” some candidate as “the Christian choice” while overlooking the parts of their lives and politics that are antithetical to the Gospel and the Christian faith. Along these lines, we also have to realize that, while there may be some exceptions, the system we have is set up in such a way that motivates politicians to want our vote. That means they are going to try to get us to vote for them in order to further the party’s agenda. I, as a conservative Christian, am one constituency among many, and so I need to be realistic about the degree to which a political party really represents me.
2) We must be careful that any common cause we have with some person or party doesn’t influence our thinking and cause us to read unbiblical political views back into the Bible. If we are not careful, our “Jesus” can become more and more conformed to our image, instead of our conforming to His image. In other words, we have to be careful that when we listen to and interact with people with whom we agree on some issues, we don’t accept uncritically their whole political view on life, which is undoubtedly a mixture of good and bad.
3. We must respect authorities, even when they are not good people.
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Rom. 13:1-2)
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:1-5)
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right…. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Pet. 2:13-23)
These verses teach us that God has put authorities in their place, and we need to honor them. But should we honor wicked people? I think the best way to view this issue is to separate the person from their office. We should honor someone in a position authority because of their office, not because of their character. This means that we may discuss our views, we may (and often must) disagree with people in authority, but we must do it in a godly, respectful manner. Calling names or making angry, bitter comments is ungodly and does not represent our Lord who came into the world and showered us with His grace. We must remember that we are no different than them, except God had mercy on us and saved us.
This doesn’t mean that we approve of their wickedness. We must not share in their evil, but rather expose it (Eph. 5:11). Discussion, debate, and proclamation of God’s standards is an appropriate way to confront the evil of our society. If they command us to do something that disobeys God’s commands, we must say no, and “obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:19). But we do it as those whose eternal hope does not depend on politics, but on Christ, and so we are freed from self-righteousness and bitterness and anger and fear. A strange paradox is the fact that Christians should be the most respectful citizens of lawful authority, and the most resistant to the sin of our society.
Finally, we need to remember that we have been called to walk in the steps of Christ, who suffered for us and left us an example (1 Peter. 2:21). While this includes speaking to the world about sin and righteousness and the judgment to come, this also means that we should expect to suffer, and bear it with love for our enemies. Like Christ, we can trust in God who has loved us, will strengthen us and ultimately bring us into His presence. We can obey God and love people because no one can take Christ from us, or us from Him.