November is still months away, but the 2012 campaign season is going full-throttle and won’t let up until we finally decide who will be President for the next four years.
Like probably most of you, I follow politics and my interest grows when a major election approaches. I’ve been giving some thought to how Christians should think about politics. I offer here five principles that I believe should govern a Christian’s approach to politics. They are neither novel nor radical, but I do think they’re helpful and timely reminders. Like anything else, politics can easily become an idol. And my hope is that these thoughts will help Christians to honor God in their political thinking and involvement.
First, though, I’d like to put my cards on the table (when someone writes about politics or theology, I appreciate knowing where they stand). I am conservative, a registered Republican, and on the right on just about everything.
(For the more theologically inclined, I am neither an ardent two-kingdom proponent nor a theonomist. I don’t think the Bible is as silent on political matters as I sometimes hear the former claiming, nor do I think the broad application of Old Testament civil law to nations today is correct, as I sometimes hear the latter claiming. I’m not sure what that makes me – maybe confused. To be honest, I’m still working through some of these theological matters.)
That said, here are five principles to govern how Christians should think about politics:
1. Remember that Christ is Lord.
This is most important by far. There is but one King and Ruler over all peoples, and over all Creation – the Lord Jesus Christ. He reigns with absolute sovereignty, and is the One before whom “nations are like a drop from a bucket” (Isaiah 40:15).
No matter how much the current state of affairs distresses you, and no matter how dismal the future may look, and no matter who comes to power, never forget that Jesus Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). He reigns now and forevermore.
Don’t misunderstand – I’m not saying you should be complacent or fatalistic. But, if being a Christian means anything at all, it means believing that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that he will accomplish his saving purpose for his people. It means you have hope, no matter how hopeless things look in this life.
Let the unbeliever make a god out of government and human strength. Let the unbeliever put his hope in politics. Christian, your God is Christ. And no matter what, even if a second Nero should arise and occupy the White House, Jesus reigns on his throne as the everlasting King.
2. Keep your perspective when thinking about politics.
The media, and those pursuing a political agenda, have a way of distorting the significance of the present all out of proportion. Every day’s political news is a five-alarm fire. The fate of civilization hangs on each election. There has never been a more important Supreme Court appointment (until the next one). And so on.
But if we become obsessed with the present (and by its very nature of trafficking in news, the media encourages this), we lose sight of the eternal. Pursuing holiness, loving your family, serving your church, growing in God’s Word, prayer – these are all activities that will bear fruit in this life and for eternity. But we neglect them when we allow the tyranny of the “here and now” to rule our hearts and minds.
3. Be humble about your political opinions.
On some political issues, Christians should have deep convictions formed by the plain teaching of God’s Word – for example, abortion and gay marriage.
But many political questions are not so clear-cut, and demand some expertise to understand and discuss intelligently. How much do you know about trade deficits, or energy policy, or foreign affairs? Of all people, a Christian should acknowledge the limits of his understanding on some matters, and be willing to hear the informed voices of others.
4. Keep in mind your calling.
Not every believer is called to be active in politics. Of course, every Christian should vote – it’s irresponsible not to. But most likely, where God wants you to spend your energy and time is closer to home: your spouse, your children, your church.
Here is some advice I gave recently to someone who is deeply concerned about politics: for every book you read on politics, read one on theology, or being a father and husband, or some other aspect of the Christian life. The Bible says very little about our political involvement, other than we are to be “subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). But it says a ton about how we are to live in our families and our churches. Most believers aren’t called to be political movers and shakers. Which is fine, because we as God’s people will have a far profounder influence on society simply as we are faithful to God in our individual callings, than we will by organized political action.
5. Remember that law cannot transform society – only the gospel can.
Politics is all about power, and much of that power is in the making and enforcing of laws. As Christians, we want good leaders who will put into place good laws. But good laws can only take us so far.
Try this mental exercise. Envision a nation whose every law was given by God himself. And not only that, but the ruler of this nation belonged to a royal dynasty whom God had chosen and installed. Would that not be a paradise on earth?
Actually, that nation existed. It was called Israel. And it was a disaster – the people were so crooked and idolatrous God cast them out of the promised land. Because of their sin (which we share), God’s law wasn’t enough to to ensure a righteous, peaceful, and prosperous society.
Even if every elected official in the U.S. was committed to putting into place righteous policies and laws, it would not establish God’s Kingdom on earth. Only preaching Christ can do that. And that is the calling of the Church, not the government.