Continuing our discussion from yesterday…
Again, this is a theme with too many verses to count, but probably a great summary verse would be Proverbs 3:34: “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.” Not only does the Bible give us direction about where to focus our advocacy, it also directs how to do it: with humility. As long as we pursue political gain by mocking, through arrogant insults, through derision, we are not walking in the way of Christ, who humbled himself to the point of death (Phil 2:8).
Much attention is given to the negativity and derisive nature of political campaigns. However, this is merely a reflection of the citizens that they are appealing to, and how they act and what they are drawn to. Unfortunately, those who identify themselves as Christians do not seem to be above the fray. Many church-goers are just as quick to mock and deride politicians and candidates, and lower themselves into the mire of political bickering.
Let me take this opportunity to try apply this principle myself. I certainly don’t suggest that these posts are an error-free exposition of the Bible. This is just my attempt at faithfully applying scriptures, and assuredly I’m probably wrong on many levels. Its my intention to be respectful towards all our leaders and candidates, and I offer my apologies to any I have disrespected. I merely hope that I can provide a small piece of perspective that can contribute to a respectful dialogue on important issues.
Holiness, the concept of a way of living, set apart by its distinct approach from the world, is another major Biblical theme. However, we must recognize that this concept isn’t just an arbitrary idea God decided to implement, but is designed to glorify God by demonstrating the wisdom of God, as a set apart people live out his principles (Eph 3:10). God is glorified when people, voluntarily choose to follow his ways, and experience the harmony and goodness that results.
However, I believe many of us apply this concept to politics in a backwards fashion. Attempting to coerce or have government endorsement to push people towards the behavior of holiness undermines the central purpose of this Biblical concept since it blurs the distinction of the set apart people. Only when people freely choose to walk in God’s holiness, is the distinct contrast of holy living truly made visible.
Another key theme of the Bible is the centrality of Christ. The old testament looks forward to and foreshadows his coming reign, and the new testament delivers and applies his teaching. Specifically the old testament focuses its narrative on a chosen nation, Israel, to be the reflection and conduit of his God’s grace that would demonstrate His glory and invite the nations to enjoy it. Part of this narrative was the Davidic line of kings. The OT is laden with prophecies that point this story forward. God clearly intended his people, Israel, to be expanded to all who follow him, and include all ethnicities. And even more prophecies point to the line of kings to culminate with the Messiah. Jesus ultimately fulfilled this, becoming the true and final king of Israel. Today, Israel is those that would submit to his authority.
There are some key implications to Christ’s sole, authoritative, and eternal kingship over the kingdom that had grown out of the seeds of Israel. First, we must understand that the theocracy of the old testament- the rules, regulations, commandments, ordinances, and even principles- are backed by the authority of God’s kingdom alone (and contextualized to a certain people). To hand the enforcement of these rules over to an earthly kingdom simply because “the Bible says so” is to misunderstand the line of authority, and risks the subversive act of give authority that is rightly God’s to an earthly kingdom that has not inherited such a constitution. It contradicts Biblical teaching on the line of authority to assert that biblical commandments must be enforced by an earthly government. No national law is good or bad because it matches or doesn’t match or reiterate a commandment in the Bible.
Not only did Christ inherit and define his kingdom as distinct from earthly kingdoms, he sought to govern in a way that is dramatically different than the standard governmental approach. Normal governments must ultimately rely on some type of threat of harm to deter it’s citizens from ignoring laws in order to protect each other. Governments act in power-over role to provide its services of protecting it’s citizens. Jesus on the other hand demonstrated a rule characterized by submissive servanthood. He taught and demonstrated service to those that were following him and acted in humility, ultimately allowing himself to be crucified. This is a kingdom intentionally built on principles of leadership dramatically different than the world’s. Engaging this in public policy is naturally tricky without falling into the politics and practices of coercion.
These principles provide some constraints of both the extent to which we influence government and the role of government itself. However, the Bible doesn’t condemn government.
Role of Government
The Bible says very little about explicitly what governments should do. To be certain, governments are not an end themselves, in the Bible. They are simply a tool, and their purpose is defined by our greater vision that God has given us. However, Romans 13 does provide some small insights into the role God has ordained appropriate for governments, as it is the most direct teaching in the new testament on the role of the government. This passage doesn’t say a lot about the exactly what the government is supposed to do, but it does indicate that we are to submit to governments as legitimate, ruling authorities. As a legitimate authority, there are two activities ordained: punishing crime, and gathering taxes (and thus implicitly distributing them appropriately).
What Romans 13 doesn’t say about the government is also important. It doesn’t indicate that it must enforce every moral standard of the Bible, it doesn’t suggest building large militaries, and it doesn’t even suggest protecting religious freedom. That doesn’t mean the government can’t or shouldn’t pursue these things, but the ordained activities should certainly advise what we hope to accomplish and focus on through the government.
Like other things in our life that the Bible doesn’t give us definite directions for, a proper view of the government is to view it as an instrument or tool. Like a screwdriver that can be used to construct a dwelling or stab someone, the screwdriver itself isn’t good or bad, it is the result of how it is used that is good or bad. We must not force the Bible to say more than what it really says about the government, the government’s role must be treated pragmatically. A law isn’t good because it matches an Biblical command (again using this is a basis subverts Christ’s authority), it is good if produces a beneficial outcome for society based on God’s vision, His mission. This might sound like minor semantics, but there’s a major difference in the real world of public policy. With God’s mission being central, we must consider the potential outcome or fruit of different possible policies and priorities. Many political endeavors have seemed very moral, but have little to no chance of actually bearing any real fruit.
Loving People Over Ideology
The central theme of Jesus’s ethic was loving God and your neighbor. This care for others trumps everything else, including political parties and affiliations. In the Kingdom of God, people are more important than ideologies. This is was vividly demonstrated when Jesus challenged the Pharisees about their understanding of the Sabbath on multiple occasions. Quite simply, the pharisees had come to understand that observing the Sabbath was an ideology of God that they must not deviate from. Jesus shattered this notion, asking them “is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm”? The Sabbath existed for the purpose of benefiting people, not as an end in itself. What Christ demonstrated here was again that ideologies are only tools, and we must be ultimately concerned with whether a policy will benefit the welfare of others, rather than whether it matches the ideology of our culture.
We must also remember that we are people of with limited time and money. There are only so many battles that we can effectively fight. If we really care about achieving meaningful goals, it requires that we prioritize. When politics is not serving such purposes, it quickly devolves into ideological battles that accomplish nothing. Consequently I would suggest that even more important than being “right” on every issue, is prioritization, understanding where we can really make a difference. If you care more about winning arguments than prioritizing it isn’t important. But if you care about really benefiting people, we need to know on what issues we can make a difference and focus on them.
In the next post, I will try to look at what how we might prioritize our advocacy and involvement when we are driven by God’s vision.