Chap 6 PARTICIPATION OF BELIEVERS
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) said something like this: "Politics is like the weather everybody talks about it but no one does anything about it." Christians are especially reluctant to do much more than vote.
Christians love to talk about how degenerate society is becoming. They point to immorality in the schools, corruption in the courthouse, crime in the streets. Yet, when an opportunity arises to do something about it, Christians are strangely absent .... Until recently at least, evangelical Christians all too often tended to shy away from political participation. Some of this may have been due to apathy, but often there has been a negative undercurrent of thought that Christians shouldn't be involved in anything like politics .... There is no biblical support for this idea. Some of the greatest believers in the Bible were kings and judges of Israel. Can you imagine David saying, "No thanks, Samuel, I don't think a believer should be involved in politics"?
God and Caesar, Christian Faith & Political Action,
by John Eidsmoe, pub. Crossway, p. 10
The following is a partial list of "believers" who were in one way or another involved in civil government:
There are surely some names from both the Old Testament and the New not included here. And there must have been literally thousands of other believers, not named in the Bible, who were specifically involved in civil government in those ages. Jesus made much use of the titles and offices of civil service (king, general, nobleman, judge, ruler) in his parables. The list above should be sufficient to indicate that believers from all levels of spiritual growth were involved in many different areas of civil service.
Jeremiah, speaking for God, told the Jews who had been taken into exile by the Babylonians:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon; Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jer. 29:4-7).
Jeremiah uses the Hebrew word shalom when he commands the Jews to "seek the welfare of their captors. Shalom is more than a mere grudging resignation to one's predicament. It requires an attitude that expresses itself in assisting one to find well-being, wholeness and tranquility. In other words, Jehovah commanded the Jews, prisoners of war to the Babylonians, displaced persons, not only to refrain from resisting captivity and displacement, but to actively seek the well-being (to assist in building up) of the foreign communities to which they were exiled. In order to do this Jews would have to participate in as much of the civic affairs of those communities in which they lived as they were permitted. Would God want the Christian today, who might find himself exiled from his homeland among foreigners, to do the same? We think so. It is highly significant that the Lord never commanded the Jews to protest, go "underground," escape, or start a revolution against their captors. Of course, for the most part and with but a few exceptions, the Jews were not imprisoned, tortured, or massacred. When that kind of danger arose, the Lord often (but not always) delivered by his providence. But the important point to remember from this text is that God commanded civic participation.
Biblical commandment for participation in civil government is to be found as well in the New Testament:
Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:5-7).
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way (I Tim. 2:1).
While the Biblical commandments do not specify that believers are to seek public office, they certainly demand participation by each individual in respect to promoting justice, paying taxes, and thanksgivings to Almighty God for civil servants. And since participation is required to such extent as the foregoing, the believer could safely assume that participation by entering civil service would not only be acceptable, but desirable as a "ministry" to the Lord.
There is an old saying: "all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." This is precisely where we find ourselves today in the matter of Christian ethics and political morality. For too many political generations too many good men have done nothing.
Men changed by a confrontation with Christ must build a changed world. Christians must become involved in the processes of transformation in our world, as God leads them. One of the major processes for orderly change is politics the art and science of government.
For the Christian to reason that God does not want him in politics because there are too many evil men in government is as insensitive as for a Christian doctor to turn his back on an epidemic because there are too many germs.
Facing Your Nation, ed. by William J. Krutza
and Philip P. Di Cicco, pub. Baker, pp. 107,108
It may be that many people do not participate in civil service because as believers they think they must be "separate" (sanctified) from the world. To them, politics, or a job serving one's government, is "worldly." Some have been made to feel repulsed by politics and government because most of the "news" they hear, see, and read focuses on the corruption and wicked behavior of politicians and civil servants; they do not want to "be corrupted." It is true, Christians are not to think of this world as all the world there is. Christians must "set their minds on things above." But that does not mean we are to have our minds so obsessed with heaven that we forget about this world completely. As a matter of fact, no Christian can truly serve God without serving men:
If any one says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also (I John 4:20,21).
Christians who reject participation in civil government, or service in some way through the civic or political processes available to them, are shunning an opportunity to "love their brothers" that cannot be had through the church. And civil service is unequivocally called a "ministry to God" in the Bible. Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon wrote in his book, Conflict and Conscience:
Many people who profess to be strong Bible believers, who insist verbally that all of government is ungodly and that something must be done to "put God back in government," would never think of allowing their names to be put on a ballot to run for public office, or join a patriotic organization, or become a member of a club devoted to civic improvement. They are too busy with heavenly things. Non-involvement is their political posture. It is not enough however to criticize the current political scene, or to espouse lofty ideals about how government should be, if such attitudes do not impel you to "let your light so shine among men ..." and actively participate in civic affairs. Christians must "as they have opportunity, do good unto all men" (Gal. 6:10). That may very well mean becoming specifically involved running for political office or taking up the vocation of civil service in some other area.
In a pluralistic society like America, a politician or other civil servant deals constantly with the hard realities of a world that is mostly unbelieving and not committed to Biblical standards and principles. The best that can often be expected is civic conduct from a basis of "the law of God written on the conscience" (Natural Law). Politics is the art of the possible. Someone has said, "Politics is the art of compromise." But that does not have to mean compromise of the fundamental standards of right and wrong. It usually demands compromise only in the area of opinions or of means (methods). There have been many moral giants who have served in civil government. Biblical history and secular history are records of their service as it pleased God and produced his justice in the earth. We have already called many of the Biblical names to your attention. Daniel is perhaps the most exemplary. Here was a young man with strong faith in God, with clear commitment to practice his religion, who was willing to learn all the "letters and languages of the Chaldeans" (Dan. 1:4), serve as a high official in heathen governments, and be used of God to help preserve the people of God and probably convert at least one heathen emperor (Nebuchadnezzar, see Dan. 4:34-37). He did not compromise his faith or his morals, and served in a government much less God-oriented in its ideology and practice than ours. Daniel was able to "compromise" where possible and be rigid when necessary. It can be done!
In the history of the United States of America there have been many examples of the same kind of civic "ministry." William Bradford, John Witherspoon, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Roger Sherman, George Mason, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney these are all "founding fathers." All these were godly men whose faith in God and reverence for the Bible as the word of God is well documented in their own writings. A long list of succeeding U.S. presidents and other government officials could be given who were godly men. Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield (a minister of the Christian Church), Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, James Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and many others.
Some of our greatest military leaders were devout Christians. General Washington, General Francis Marion, General Robert E. Lee, General MacArthur. Twenty-five of our forty-one presidents have worn a United States military uniform. Thousands of other civil officers in America (national, state, local) who are believers have served unheralded, unknown, and often underpaid, to make this nation the best place on earth to be born and to live. Should anyone feel that civic service is not a ministry of God, let that person immigrate to any other nation on earth, take up residence and citizenship. He will soon be longing for the blessings of the United States of America where, for the most part, civil government is still considered a God-ordained stewardship.
It is not biblical and it is not reasonable that Christians should surrender the civil arena to unbelief where morality will inevitably be compromised. We have both biblical commandment and example that the political scene ought to be, and may be, served by believers whose service will not require a compromise of their faith. The weapons of the church in its spiritual warfare are not "carnal" it is true but we need to fight with our powerful spiritual weapons in the political arena in order to bring the thoughts of individual civil servants "to captivity unto obedience to Christ" (II Cor. 10:3-5). John the Baptist attempted to do so with Herod; Jesus tried with Pilate (and the Pharisees); Paul tried with Felix and Agrippa and many others. It need not be any different in this century.
Civil service, government service, is not only a necessary fact of this world, and so recognized by the Bible, it is also an honorable service and so honored by the Bible (see I Pet. 2:17; Rom. 13:7). Let no Bible believer contradict this for to do so is to "resist God" (Rom. 13:2). The office of civil authority does not, however, arbitrarily sanctify the individual who holds it. Each civil servant (from emperor to cup-bearer) is responsible to consecrate himself to righteousness as a "minister of God." If he does not, he brings disrepute upon the "ministry" of civil service and upon God who ordains it. The concept of civil service is unquestionably a part of God's "good" creation. It deserves "good" people to fulfill it. When these are united, mankind is blessed and the kingdom of God on earth is inevitably extended. May Daniel's, Esther's, Mordecai's, Ezra's and Nehemiahs tribe increase!
The English word "patriot" has its parallels in French patriote, Latin patriota, and in Greek patros. It means "one who loves his country and zealously supports its authority and interests." Some biblical examples of patriots are:
There are undoubtedly many more names from the Bible which might be cited as examples of patriotism. Patriotism would probably be better defined as civic responsibility, for patriotism should not be blindly emotional it should be rational and moral.
Some Christians are confused about patriotism. Some think Christians have no biblical sanction for loving any country in this world because they are only "citizens of heaven" and pilgrims here. It is true, Christians are citizens of heaven, but they are also citizens of particular nations and cultures while they are in the flesh.
Why does God want us to be patriotic? I believe God has placed patriotism in men's hearts because God knows a nation cannot survive without it. Patriotism is the bond that unites a nation into one people and holds them together. Patriotism is the spark that makes people willing to place their country above themselves, to sacrifice for their country, even if that sacrifice means their lives. Patriotism is the spirit that gives a special flavor to a nation and which enhances our appreciation for that which is our own. The spirit of patriotism has enabled Americans to unite and struggle through every crisis in our nation's history until the opinion-makers taught the post-World War II generation that patriotism is neither necessary nor chic.
God & Caesar, by John Eidsmore, pp. 40,41 op. cit.
Americans love not only their country (its geographical and topographical features) but its form of government, its liberties, its people and its history. If they did not, they would have no motive for sacrificially defending it against foes whose purposes are to conquer it, change its form of government, take away its liberties, kill many of its people, and plunder its great resources. The true patriot will also actively oppose, through peaceful and biblically-sanctioned means, all immoral and ideological influences practiced and preached by fellow countrymen which would bring about decadence and disorder to one's native land. Thus the prophets of old, the Lord Jesus, and his apostles were true patriots. But misguided patriotism often produces acute moral blindness. An over-reaching patriotism that vows, "My country, right or wrong ..." leads to an irrational and dangerous mentality which usually results in disorderly and destructive actions. Roger Thomas, who was then campus minister with Christian Campus House at the University of Missouri in Rolla, gave six fundamental principles which should guide the Christian believer:
The first truth that must control the Christian view of God and country is the unshakable conviction that Jehovah God is the absolute sovereign of the universe .... Jehovah is not a local deity whose sole interest is the preservation of one political system ....
The second truth is that a Christian's attitude toward his country must be governed by an understanding of the Lordship of Jesus Christ .... There comes a point when the authority of Caesar must be held in subjection to the claims of the Lord of Glory. When that point is reached, a disciple must choose between obeying God or his country (cf. Acts 4:19). There will be times when it is a Christian's obligation to choose Jesus rather than Caesar .... The believer is never free to give unlimited loyalty to his government even in the name of patriotism ....
Third, Christian patriotism must always be tempered by the knowledge that the fellowship of the Spirit is not limited by national boundaries. Paul's statement in Galatians 3:27,28 makes this unmistakably clear ....
The New Testament presents a fourth truth that closely parallels this last one namely, the heavenly citizenship of the saints. "Our commonwealth is in heaven," reads Philippians 3:20. ... A Christian lives in both time and eternity and must share other men's concern over the problems of this world, but he must never allow these tensions to overshadow his faith and allegiance to Christ. A Christian should exercise responsibility as a citizen and should show appreciation for the tradition and heritage of his culture; but that appreciation must never be so strong that he forgets how to distinguish his Christian faith from his country's culture ....
The fifth truth, one that helps explain God's purpose for governments, is the one most often forgotten the sinfulness of men. Paul declares in Romans 3:23, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." . . . Sin is not limited to certain tribes, races, or cultures. All have sinned! .... Governments exist because God knows that sinful men must have controls or society will degenerate into total chaos .... The refusal to acknowledge the sinfulness of men is at the heart of many contemporary political problems. The "liberal" politician whose views are governed by his humanist leaning is convinced that man is inherently good. And so, when much of the money and the well-intended programs end up lining the pockets of those who need it least, everyone asks, "Why?" Jeremiah knew: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt" (Jer. 17:9) .... Interestingly enough, the refusal to acknowledge the sinfulness of men is also basic to much "conservative" political theory .... Both the liberal who thinks that sinful bureaucrats can solve all the world's problems and the conservative who thinks that individual sinners unrestrained or uninhibited by governmental control will prevent the problems are wrong! Because men are sinful God ordained governments to maintain order and justice. The question may not be how much government is good but how good is government.
Finally, one last biblical principle must control the Christian response to the God-and-country dilemma the preeminence of love. The key to Romans 13 is verses 7 and 8, "Pay all of them their dues, taxes to who taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
Facing Your Nation, edited by William J. Krutza
and Philip P. Di Cicco, pub. Baker, pp. 78-93
Patriotism is anti-biblical when it places country or culture or race above God or his Word (the Bible). Patriotism is out of control when it will not submit to the revealed guidelines of the Bible and the "natural revelation" of God written upon the hearts and consciences of people (see Rom. 2). One has only to read the Old Testament prophets to gather examples of patriotism gone berserk. A classic example may be found in Jeremiah 26:1-24: Jeremiah is ordered by the Lord to declare the defeat and captivity of his beloved nation, Judah, but the "hotheads" refuse to hear the word of the Lord and declare Jeremiah to be a traitor who ought to be killed. Finally, when Jerusalem was being besieged and burned, a group of "patriots" who refused to accept the word of God from Jeremiah, kidnapped him and took him as a hostage to Egypt, rather than obey God's order to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar (see Jer. 42-43). Jeremiah had warned them long before, "Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord' " (Jer. 7:4). Clinging to one's culture or nation, or its shrines and institutions when they are clearly disobeying God's revealed word is unacceptable for the believer.
There are many examples of great believers in the Bible who loved their country and their countrymen but whose supreme love for God and his Word compelled them to choose against the wrong in their country in order to be right with God. Moses often had to choose against the majority of the Hebrew people to keep God's commandments; Joshua chose against his countrymen and "served God" (Josh. 24:14,15); Samuel and David had to choose against an ungodly king (Saul), which appeared to some as "unpatriotic"; of course practically all the prophets, from Elijah to Malachi, were accused of being unpatriotic and traitorous (see Isa. 30:1-18; Ezek. 2:1-3:15; 13:1-23; Amos 7:10:17; Micah 3:5). Daniel, a man with two patriotic loyalties (Hebrew and Babylonian), chose to obey God's word against all other loyalties (Dan. 1,5,6). Jesus loved Jerusalem and her people, but he loved God first (Matt. 23:37-39; Luke 29:41-44). Paul was "zealous for the traditions of his fathers" (Gal. 1:14; Phil. 3:4-11) and for his countrymen (Rom. 9:1ff) but he would not let that come above obedience to God's revealed word. Peter and John were loyal, patriotic Hebrews, but they chose to go against their nation's leaders when they were commanded by them to disobey God (Acts 4,5). The Christian must be constantly alert to evaluate the political actions of his country and its leaders, nationally and internationally, in the light of clear biblical teachings and principles. National or cultural patriotism exercised outside the control of God and the Bible inevitably becomes political tyranny. One has only to study the history of the Israelites in the Bible or the great heathen empires in secular history to confirm this.
Clearly, however, Bible believers are not to let patriotism-gone-wrong deter them from active and constant participation in civil government. When the Lord said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's," he said just as much about our duty to our country as about our duty to God. Believers often overlook the importance of political involvement because of the imperative emphasis on their heavenly "citizenship" (see Phil. 3:17; Heb. 11:13-16; 13:14). It is of great significance, however, that the same apostle who wrote the above three statements also constantly affirmed his earthly citizenship all through the book of Acts. He was also the one who told the Roman centurion, "I am from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city." He was the one who insisted on his rights as a Roman citizen when he was shamefully treated; he was the one who appealed to Caesar for a fair trial when justice seemed to bog down around Jerusalem. The Bible makes it clear, that while the believer's citizenship is ultimately and eternally in heaven, he is also a citizen of the governments of earth with both their privileges and their responsibilities.
When the Babylonian emperor drove the Israelites into Mesopotamian captivity, they did not forget their homeland. By the waters of Babylon they sat down and wept when they remembered Zion on the willows there they hung their lyres, and sang patriotically, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!" (Psa. 137).
As Christians we ought to long for the eternal Jerusalem, just as the Israelites longed for the old Jerusalem where their citizenship really was. But shortly after they were taken into captivity, Jeremiah bluntly told them:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce . . . seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord for its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jer. 29:5-7).
Most of the Israelites followed the Lord's instructions through Jeremiah. Daniel became a prime minister; Nehemiah became the Persian king's confidant and advisor; Esther became a queen; Mordecai became a high government official. And because these, as well as many others, sought the welfare of Babylon (and later, Persia, Greece, and Rome), the Israelites themselves found their own welfare. Furthermore, a remnant was preserved and reconstituted back in their beloved homeland, from which came the Messiah and Savior of all the world.
In spite of the dangers and complexities of political involvement, the Christian today must realize that "rendering unto Caesar" means more than paying taxes and obeying the laws; it means participating responsibly and knowledgeably in the processes of civil government in every biblically-sanctioned way possible.
Copyright © 1990, Paul T. Butler