The Christian and Politics
It’s not easy to be a citizen in two worlds.
On the one hand, we belong to the kingdom of heaven with all of the rights and privileges enjoyed by God’s sons and daughters. On the other hand, we are to be salt and light in this world. How much time should we give to each kingdom? Or, better, can we serve the kingdom of God even when actively involved in the kingdom of man?
We face a year in which politics will dominate the news. Many will line up behind one party or another, based on self interest or the perceived general welfare of the country. We will be given the opportunity to support candidates financially, to attend meetings and to vote. Some among us might run for office.
What does the Bible have to say about this?
When Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” He was establishing a principle never uttered before. He taught that we owe loyalty to two spheres. Obviously our loyalty to God is a higher loyalty, but we dare not shirk our responsibility to Caesar.
Here are some principles that should help us as we think about the tension between the two kingdoms:
First, we must keep in mind that no one party is entirely good or entirely bad. The fact is that we live in a fallen world, and thus will always be led by sinners at all levels of government. I am concerned when people say, “Well, I won’t vote because I can’t support either person.” Of course you should vote, even if your choices are limited!
Second, we have to be clear about what government can and cannot do. Of course we should work toward good government, good laws and good judges. But we cannot be naive in thinking that government can rescue us from the abyss of moral and spiritual failure. When will we learn that the best news this nation needs will not come from Washington, but from the lips and lives of followers of Jesus Christ?
Third, God might be calling each of us to be involved at a different level. Some might run for office; others might help a party financially, or help get out the vote. I can’t tell you how much time and energy you should give to politics, for God leads us differently. Each of us has to ask: Lord, what will You have me do?
Fourth, as ministers of the Gospel we dare not endorse any political candidate. We must stay above the battle, preaching the Gospel to both parties, for God will not ask whether we were Republicans or Democrats, but rather what we did with His Son, Jesus. On the personal level, we can have our convictions and involvements, but not as official representatives of the Gospel.
Later in this issue, I’ll present some more specific answers to questions I’m often asked about Christians and politics. I hope you will find them helpful.
How Should Christians View Politics?
Pastor Lutzer is often asked for his views on the relationship between our faith and our politics. We’ve gathered some of his answers here as a resource for you.
Q: Some people say that politics is dirty, and so, no Christian should run for office…
A: I disagree. Of course the name of the political game is compromise, but it is not wrong to compromise on matters such as budgets, appointments and programs. In politics, you have to be satisfied with half a loaf; which might be better than just crumbs. However, a Christian politician should not compromise those timeless moral principles taught in the Bible.
Q: To what extent should a single issue, such as abortion, affect our vote?
A: That is a big one. Whatever a candidate says about other matters, what he or she believes about the killing of unborn infants has to be high on our list of priorities. That, and the acceptance of homosexuality, are the two greatest moral questions that will come up in a political race. Christians can’t be neutral on these matters.
Q: Do you think it’s possible for Christians to put too much emphasis on politics?
A: Yes. I think the fate of America rests more with the people of God than with who gets voted into office. Government can’t take the place of the church.
Q: Do you think it’s possible to put too little emphasis on politics?
A: Yes. There are those who say that we should just live the Christian life, pray, preach the Gospel, and not become involved in politics. But the fact is that we live in this world and should take an active interest in its welfare, which is what God asked His people Israel to do when they lived in Babylon. For us, that at least means voting and taking others with us to the polling booth.
Q: During Bible times people could not be involved in the political power bases, say, in
Rome. What does the New Testament teach about the Christian and politics?
A: Paul says we have three responsibilities, all of which we should carry out today. First, we are to pray. Second, we are to pay taxes. And third, yes, we are to obey the government—in so far as it does not infringe on our commitment to God.
I’ve talked to legislators who told me the pressure they are under to compromise some of their fundamental convictions. No wonder we ought to be praying for them and for our country!
Q: A last question: What do you see on the horizon, politically speaking?
A: Well, of course I’m not a prophet, so don’t quote me on this a year from now! Though as of now the war in Iraq is a success, I believe President Bush may be vulnerable if the electorate perceives it as not going the way it was supposed to. History has shown that in a matter of weeks public opinion can swing one way or the other.
That said, we don’t know what God has in mind; for it is He who raises up leaders and brings them down. I’m struck by the fact that we have had some radical shifts in philosophy and leadership in the last few decades and somehow America is still here… we don’t have the freedoms we once had and each day we are losing the culture war, but we are still here preaching the Gospel.
The bottom line: whoever gets elected as President is important, but it is possible for the Kingdom of God to become strong even as the kingdom of man declines. God’s program for His people is not tied to the next election; Christianity has survived in countries where there was no freedom of religion. We are to be faithful no matter who is elected.
These messages, based on the book of Romans, show that in the gift of salvation we see God at His best; the cross is God’s farthest outreach to us. Here we see the full range of His attributes, all converging together in an ambitious rescue plan for us as sinners. The overriding message of the series is that when we understand the Gospel properly, we see why we need it every single day—not just on the day of our salvation. We must depend on Christ to represent us to the Father daily, hourly. There is hope for great sinners and instruction for struggling saints.