A Biblical Perspective on Politics

Introduction

Christian involvement in politics  is a controversial area and is often avoided because we do not wish to be seen taking sides for one party or another or because we say that "politics is dirty and is not for Christians". The following is a summary of what I see Scripture saying about politics plus some observations from my own involvement in political life in Australia.

Jesus The Politician ?

Jesus is the ultimate example of a servant leader who sacrifices Himself for His people and becomes the King of Kings ruling over the nations of the world.

Jesus got involved with the real world: He stepped out of the safety and glory of heaven to become involved with and to die for an imperfect and sinful world. He came to an oppressed, politically corrupt nation on the edges of the Roman Empire dominated by the world power of the day and "bent" local politicians.  He did not enter a perfect society or just stay where it was clean and tidy and nice and comfortable and where He was honoured. He went where it was sinful and where He would be criticized and crucified because that was His calling and mission .. 

Jesus was subject to temptation but He did not sin: Although He was "tempted in every way as we are" (Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 4:15) He did not sin.  Part of this temptation  was political temptation - for instance being offered "all the kingdoms of this world and their glory" if He would bow down to Satan . (Matthew 4:8,9) and again when people came by force to make Him King. (John 6:15). Thus it is not a sin to be subject to political temptation -as long as you do not bow down to Satan or to the pressure of mob rule.

Jesus commented vigorously on cultural issues: While Jesus did not run for public office He did take a prophetic stance  against the social issues of the day to the point where He was regarded as a major threat to be done away with. He did not just "stick to religion and values" but talked about fair wages, unjust trade, oppression of widows and  the economic injustices and corruption of his day even overturning the tables of the moneylenders.(Matthew 12:40 etc)

Jesus did have a "political agenda" but not one that this world understood:  When Pilate asked if Jesus was a King it ended up with him scratching his head and saying "what is Truth?".(John 18:36-39) The rulers of this world completely misread Jesus. (1 Corinthians 2:8) . The political agenda of Jesus is a very interesting topic that would take far too long to discuss here. His proclamation "repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand" would have been interpreted by many people as "cleanse yourself for a holy war  which will restore the Kingship to Israel." - as that was the current Messianic interpretation. The last question the disciples asked was "when will the Kingdom be restored to Israel" just before He ascended into Heaven. Only after Pentecost  did the spiritual nature of the Kingdom become completely obvious.

Jesus will eventually govern the whole world: Jesus saw Himself as a King whose Kingdom was not of this world (John18:36,37). Revelation gives Him the title "ruler of the kings of the earth" (Revelation 1:5) . His Kingdom would eventually crush all the kingdoms that are of this world (Daniel 2:44, Revelation 2:26,27) which are passing away. ( 1 Corinthians 2:6-8, 7:31, 1 John 2:17). His Kingdom however will last forever. (Daniel 2:44). We will be co-rulers with Him in this Kingdom (Revelation 2:26,27,  Romans 8;17) and will have "cities" to govern. (Luke 19:17-19). So ultimately some faithful Christians will be mayors and politicians in the Kingdom of God! Well the point is that its not wrong to rule. David ruled well as did Hezekiah and Josiah and of course Daniel and Joseph. Government is Ok for some now and eventually will be part of our ultimate destiny in Christ. The precise nature of our governing is however not revealed.

Is God Politica l?

God is not corrupt or unrighteous but He does govern and He does carry out political activities for instance He makes laws and covenants, has an immense administration of angels, has heavenly courts and books and dispenses justice. He is impartial and exalts some and demotes others. God also acts to ensure that He stays in power and that the kingdom of darkness will be defeated. He governs in wise and subtle ways as Psalm 18 indicates. Psalms 18:25-30 NKJV)  With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; {26} With the pure You will show Yourself pure; And with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd. {27} For You will save the humble people, But will bring down haughty looks. {28} For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness. {29} For by You I can run against a troop, By my God I can leap over a wall. {30} As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. Thus the skills of discerning people and situations and responding to them with justice and good government, is one of God's main activities and a very fit activity for human beings. Another way of looking at this is that God's will is to be done on earth - as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10) For this to happen his standards must be enacted in laws and encoded deeply into the cultures of the earth. This means involvement by Christians in law, politics and culture. In fact John Calvin, the reformer saw government as the highest calling of the Christian. Politics can even affect evangelism. Generally countries that are "closed' with governments hostile to the gospel see few people saved while countries open to the gospel see many people saved. Thus the eternal destiny of nations to a large degree depends on their governments ( 1 Timothy 2:1-4) so Christians should pray for their governments and even, where wise, participate in them.

The Basics

(1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV)  I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- {2} for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. {3} This is good, and pleases God our Savior, {4} who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

(Micah 6:6-8 NIV)  With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? {7} Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? {8} He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

The basic involvement of every Christian is to pray for good government and to act justly, humbly and mercifully in their life, business dealings and politics. This is not negotiable.

Further Involvement

If you are interested in a deeper involvement in politics  than just praying for your government the how should you personally be involved? And to what depth? And in what manner? These are complex questions and to greatly simplify matters I will say that it depends on two factors:

A)    Your calling, gifting, ministry, abilities and passions - the good works God has assigned for you to do. (Ephesians 2:10). 

B)     The nature of the government and how open it is to involvement. Some governments have one response from God (e.g. judgement) while others get another (support or blessing). We need to discern how God is responding to that administration.

Your Calling

Each of us is called to a life of good w orks - in fact we are designed for them! (Ephesians 2:10 NKJV)  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

·        Has God called you to be a prophet and to speak out about social conditions like Amos?

·        Has God called you to be an administrator like Joseph or Daniel? (Daniel 1 and 2)

·        Has God called you to be a "king" - like David  ?

·        Has He called you to be a priest to the powerful - giving guidance and ministering grace like Abiathar did for David? ( 1 Samuel 23:9)

·        Has God called you to be a "witness before Caesar" like Paul?

Each of us has different personalities and gifts and belong to different "worlds". Some of you may be naturally "prophetic" while others are much more comfortable ministering grace. Each has its place.

Nature of The Governm ent

We find in Scripture a wide range of responses to different kinds of government. God says different things to different kinds of administration and calls His Church to react in a wide variety of ways to the prevailing political climate.:

·        Is the government generally seeking righteousness like that of Solomon so you can BLESS it like God did? (1 Kings 3:5-15)

·        Has it committed a wrong act so that it needs to be REBUKED like Nathan did to David? (2 Samuel 12:1-14)

·        Is it idolatrous and wicked like that of Ahab and Jezebel so you can OVERTHROW it like Elisha did? (2 Kings 9:1-37)

·        Is it stubborn and cruel so that you must LIBERATE people from it like Moses did? (Exodus chapters 1-15)

·        Is it a "good pagan" government like that of Nebuchadnezzar so that like Daniel you  PARTICIPATE in the government and DEMONSTRATE the power of God to the ruler so he is converted (Daniel 4)?

·        Is it an efficient but unrighteous pagan government like Rome - with good law and order but hostile to God so you RESPECT the government but SEPARATE yourself from its wicked ways? (Romans 13:1-8)

·        If a government is corrupt we must never ally ourselves with it but  rather EXPOSE it.. (Psalms 94:20, Ephesians 5:11)

·        Is it crafty and dangerous like the government of Herod so that you SAY NOTHING AT ALL and keep your distance like Jesus did? (Luke 23:8-9)

To sum up this section: There is no "one right way" to respond to all types of government. We have to discern the nature of the government and then react appropriately.  The way to do this is to find a parallel situation in Scripture and how God spoke to it.

Issue By Issue VS Party Politics

There are two main approaches to politics by Christians in open democratic countries:

 The first is the "prophetic" stance  where the Christian stands outside of political life and independent of party politics and comments on an issue by issue basis say tackling abortion or economic injustices. The focus is on what God says to that nation and its government about one particular issue. The advantage is that it is "clean" and rarely corrupt, that it is focussed, and that many Christians will line up behind and issue that will not line up behind a political party. The disadvantage is that it is easily dismissed by those in power - except perhaps during a very close election or in a marginal seat.

Secondly there is the "princely" stance  of actually running and participating in party politics. The Christian must chose a party where his or her Christian beliefs are at least allowed some room for expression and which is large enough and influential enough to have some impact on government. It is my experience that small idealistic Christian political parties  are unsuccessful in significantly influencing policy. When a significant number of Christians form a bible study groups within a major political party and work together then this method can have a lot of impact on public policy. However its weakness is that it is hard to be fully prophetic and outspoken on issues when a member of a party. A certain amount of compromise is needed.

My personal method combines both. Basically my personality is outspoken and uncompromising thus I am much more happy being a "prophet" on the outside and leading marches and rallies however I have belonged to and run as a candidate for political parties. The result is that now I am a "prophet" (as in Christian social critic) who understands the world of politicians and can relate to them and thus influence them better that I could before.

 

Freedom Of Conscience

If you choose to go with involvement in party politics you should respect the freedom of conscience  of other believers. For instance a pastor who is passionately involved in the Labor Party should not imply that all Christians in his church should vote Labor. In the USA there is, to my mind, an over-identification of conservative Christianity with the Republican Party and of social activism with the Democratic Party. Personally I am a generally right wing politician who has strong convictions about justice and social action as well as being anti-abortion and anti-pornography. I pinch the best from both sides of politics. Thus you do not have to fit into a particular “slot”. It is unthinking to say “I am a conservative Baptist therefore I will totally support the Republican agenda.” That is not intelligent spiritual reflection or a seeking of whatever truth there may be in both sides of politics. You should believe in and support whatever is true, worthy and in line with a fair judgment of the facts. Therefore Christians should allow each other to work out what is true, worthy and in line with a fair judgment of all the relevant facts. We ourselves should not blindly fit into a set of opinions or a political philosophy and neither should we use our power to imply that others should unthinkingly line up with us.

 

Responding Appropriately In Politics

Proper Christian politics involves calm, levelheaded responses  based on a deep internal passion. When Christians engage in responses that are hasty, inaccurate. ill-informed, ill-timed or overly emotional they lose credibility and detract from the impact f the gospel. It takes some time to know your limits and scope of action in the political arena. Here are some of the lessons I have learned.

1.       The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:20) Involvement in politics should be wise, intelligent and from deep conviction not from anger or hostility. Inappropriate “flash-pan” political responses from Christians are a poor witness.

2.       Flee from flattery and lies. They will quickly distort your thinking. (Psalm 12:2-4, Proverbs 26;28)

3.       Build alliances slowly, carefully and with discretion. A corrupt “friend” can end your political career. (Proverbs 12:26, 18:24, 22:24)

4.       Avoid hot-headed revolutionaries and those who are hasty to bring about change.

(Proverbs 24:21-22 NKJV)  My son, fear the LORD and the king; Do not associate with those given to change; {22} For their calamity will rise suddenly, And who knows the ruin those two (God and the King) can bring?

This is calling for wisdom in being an agent of change. It is saying do not react against the government simply because it is the government.

5.       Where possible find the appropriate person and procedure for the matter.  (Ecclesiastes 8:5,6)

6.       Be discreet in all you say, even in private -especially regarding powerful people. (Eccl 10:20, many verses in Proverbs).

7.       Expect opposition but let God deal with it. See how David responds to opposition in the Psalms - not by taking personal revenge but by taking his case to God for action. Never take revenge (Romans 12;19).

8.       Build unity through demonstrating love for your enemies. Make them friends. This was David's tactic - see 1 & 2 Samuel. Peacemakers will be called “sons of God” (Matthew 5:9)

9.       God has made you to be a person with a mission not an actor with a role. Base your political approach on who you are as a person not on a particular model or theory. You need an approach that is so much “part of you” that it will survive when tested by conflict and pressure. If it is just a “role” you are playing then it will crumble. There is a strong temptation to become an actor in the name of success, but that is flimsy success indeed. You may be better off being a back-room analyst than an upfront media star if that is more ‘you”.

10.    Think about where you can make the most strategic contribution and where your unique gifts can best be deployed. Look around for an area where no-one lese much is doing anything and where you have the ability to help. There are thousands of Christians tackling abortion and pornography, but there are few Christians tackling currency trading. Be a person who stands in the gap for God and works righteousness. (Ezekiel 22:30)

11.    Do not give into fear and especially to conspiracy theories . The Lord alone shall be your fear and your dread. (Isaiah 8:11-13)

12.    "Kings" are supposed to be wise and to seek counsel. Have many advisors and take their advice. (Proverbs 15:22)

13.    Pick your battles with wisdom, not by emotion. (Luke 14:31)

14.    Don’t fight battles that are over. Sometimes the church loses on an issue and sadly, we just have to walk away. The fight is over, recognize defeat, move on, try again. For instance Sunday trading is a lost cause in many countries. Putting effort into a cause that truly is lost is not good strategy.

15.    Pick issues where you can offer a constructive solution in non-religious terms.

16.    Neither be surprised and upset at corruption so that you are agitated and dismayed (Eccl 5:8,9) or so comfortable with it that you take bribes. (Ex 23:8).

17.    Never personally handle money if you are running for office and have a campaign manager who you can trust and put in place proper externally audited financial procedures. Financial allegations about campaign contributions going astray or into politicians pockets can ruin you. Similarly never be alone with any woman other than your wife. These measures may seem extreme but remember your opponents will try to trap you in these areas.

18.    Settle your priorities before you go into the battle. Know what you truly stand for. "Set your face like flint.." Ezekiel 3:9

19.    Keep theological differences out of the public eye and build coalitions across a wide spectrum of standard denominations while maintaining integrity. (I do not suggest coalitions with cults.) Keep your theological debates in house and in private. Display public unity on the issue at hand. You can all say “The following 20 churches think X is wrong.” Agreeing with another denomination about a specific social issue is fine and does not include the implication that you totally agree with them theologically.

20.    Pursue peace with all people but always remember that holiness is the top priority. (Hebrews 12:14)

The 7-Step Method of Gaining Influence

If we study the lives of successful politicians in Scripture (Joseph, Daniel, David, Nehemiah, Esther, Mordecai, etc. ) we find a clear seven step method for gaining and keeping power that was developed by the Israelites in Babylon and has served the Jewish people very well since.  In brief outline it is as follows:

  1. Access – get access to those in power, get close to “the King”, the source of power - even as a cupbearer, harp player, exiled youth or prisoner.
  2. Solidarity – form a group or join a group of people you are “one spirit” with- even a small group such as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
  3. Distinctiveness – of purpose, philosophy and personal standards, do not lose Christian values. Moses, Daniel and friends, Joseph etc. Mordecai was distinctive and this initially made enemies but eventually turned out for good.
  4. Contribute Vertically - Do good for others especially the King, make a contribution, solve difficult problems, build credibility, demonstrate excellent wisdom. Daniel and Joseph read the King’s dreams, Mordecai stopped an assassination, David calmed Saul’s moods with his lyre…
  5. Mutual Promotion – bring your group with you as you are promoted – Daniel and his friends, Joseph and his brothers, David and his mighty men etc.
  6. Strategy - Aim for key positions and control points even if they do not have much prestige at the time. Joseph and food distribution, Mordecai was a door-keeper, Nehemiah a cup-bearer of the King.
  7. Unity – resist attacks and threats as a united group. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Esther & Mordecai etc.

Access - Legitimate power is always a gift from a superior. Therefore one must be in contact with such a superior and in a favorable relationship with him or her. Power is rarely handed to someone unknown to those in authority. The superior authority generally must feel safe, and recognize the person as a being of genuine worth and not simply another “want-to-be”.  Simply out you need to put yourself amongst the powerful – even in a very humble role as an office worker, intern or aide-de-camp. It can help to join a political party and to turn up when others don’t, and to contribute positively and diligently over time until the break comes.

Solidarity – Politics is all about loyalty to a group. It involves networks, coalitions, interest groups and political parties. A one-man political party is doomed to failure. Join a group or form a group. You probably need three groups (or more). The first group is your core group that you pray with, are one-mind with and which “fires you up” and shares your passions, a band of brothers. The second group is your “interest group”, a small section within the larger political party that you have common interest with e.g. those with environmental concerns. The third group is the political party as a whole – Bangon Pilipinas, Republicans, Liberals, Christian Democrats etc. There is no perfect political party and you will find yourself in tension with any that you join, but is generally better to join that not to join. You are free to disagree if the group goes against the will of God – though this may be difficult. 

Distinctiveness – You must be salt and light and leaven. This means being different. You are not there for yourself – to just blend in and be promoted, you are there for Christ to transform the political realm for God. All politically effective Bible characters were distinct from the surrounding culture – Joseph, Daniel, Moses, Mordecai, Esther, Nehemiah, and of course Jesus. If you are faithful to God, He will be faithful to you. The distinctiveness of these heroes of faith sometimes involved conflict – but God delivered them and their courage was noted and they were promoted. Moral distinctiveness helps you stand out from the crowd and be noticed by “the King”.

Contribute Vertically – Be useful to the King. Go the extra mile, solve problems, interpret dreams, show discernment, have an “excellent spirit”, be someone who makes the boss look good, work out what the King wants most and ensure he gets it – and that you get the credit. Mordecai stopped an assassination attempt, Joseph and Daniel interpreted dreams, David helped assuage Saul’s moods and fought Goliath. Always work to build your credibility, so contribute humbly and not in a way that looks like you are overly ambitious.

Mutual Promotion – Bring members of your core group and interest group with you when you are promoted. Joseph promoted his family, Daniel promoted his three friends, David his mighty men, etc. This surrounds you with people who care for you and who are loyal to you and is the best form of political protection.

Strategy – Target the key political positions, not just the most honored political positions. Some high status political positions carry very little real power and influence. Gain the positions that control ideas, legislation and money or which are key “control points” such as a licensing or censorship board. Work out where you can have the most genuine influence for the gospel. Joseph took over food distribution and used this to control the country and purchase the land for Pharaoh.

Unity – Resist attacks as a united group. Politics has its rough spots and if they are survived as a united core group then the bonds grow even closer. On the other hand disloyalty during a time of crisis creates much bitterness. Like the Three Musketeers – it should be all for one, and one for all. Unity also builds spiritual strength and power and makes all things possible (Genesis 11:4) - Daniel and his friends, Mordecai and the Jews in Babylon, Jesus and the disciples.

The 7-step method for gaining influence is found all throughout the Bible and in most successful groups today. Yet it is not “magic”, it is just a simple, commonsense political technique. It can be used for good as well as for evil, for Christ or for the Devil. You will still need to pray, fast , study the Scriptures and obey the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Conclusion Combating the injustices of globalization and advocating for the poor and for fair trade will mean Christian political involvement of one sort or the other. Not every Christian will take the same approach or be called to the same political stance or even the same political conclusions. Some will write letters to politicians, while others might teach business ethics at Harvard, others will chain themselves to a tree in prophetic protest while yet others may sit on the board of a multi-national and try to “be a Daniel”.  Others will march around the city in spiritual warfare and intercession for the sins of the city while yet others may run for mayor. However all are called to seek justice and mercy and truth, all are called to be wise, and discreet and professional in their approach so no disgrace is brought to God’s name. All are called to carry a cross and to suffer shame and persecution for the cause of Christ and of His rule in the world. All are called to holiness and purity of life and not to engage in dishonesty or in overly pragmatic practices even for a noble cause.