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Christians and the political order

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In recent months, several letter-writers have criticized the Herald for carrying articles addressing political topics (Dec. 2, Feb. 2). They have raised two basic questions:

1. Should the Herald ever address political matters’?

2. Should the Herald ever deal with partisan politics?

The second question can, I think, be answered rather simply. In general, no congregation, denomination or official denominational communication should champion or bless one party. Church members should be given the courtesy, especially in a free society, of coming to differing conclusions without appearing to be morally in error. Exceptions would occur when, as in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia for example, one party stands for blatant oppression, cruel racism, persecution or fundamental denial of freedom. Where it is possible to do so, such totalitarian regimes ought to be exposed and resisted.

As I see it, the Bible provides some answers to the first question. In the first place, Christians ought to understand how the political realm relates to God’s rule and sovereignty. Colossians 1:16reminds us that Christ created “all things … whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities.” Romans 13:4 tells us that a ruler is “God’s servant”, and Romans 13:1 asserts that “There is no authority except that which God has established.” Similar references abound. A denominational periodical is an excellent forum for teaching in this matter.

Second, contemporary Christians need to be reminded that the Bible records a long tradition of godly people taking a prophetic stance in responding to political authorities. In Daniel 5:23–27, Daniel challenged King Belshazzar – a nonbeliever – “You have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven…. You did not honor the God who holds in His hand your life….you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” In Luke 3:12–13, John the Baptist urged tax collectors not to succumb to corruption, not to “collect any more than you are required to.” In his response to soldiers, he said, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely-be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14). Clearly these and many other prophets did not hesitate to speak words of godly morality to members of the political order. Should that not be a model for us?

Third, in all societies, believers need to be instructed in how to live as God-fearing citizens. Romans 13:5 tells us that “it is necessary to submit to the authorities. 1 Peter 2:13–17 makes the same point and then adds that teaching submission is teaching God’s will. Paul instructs Titus to “remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient” (Titus 3:1). Since the early Christian leaders pleased God when they taught about these matters, should we not conclude that the Herald and other Christian periodicals also please God when they follow their example? Should Christian periodicals not explain what such submission entails, and what limits should be placed on such submission? In addition, many of us need guidance concerning Paul’s exhortation “that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1–2). How should one pray for authorities against whom one is campaigning? How can one give thanks for brutal dictators? Christian periodicals can give much-needed guidance in this area.

Fourth, there is a biblical mandate for people of God to take political issues seriously. Psalm 122:6 tells us to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” – and, by extension, other population centres. Jesus certainly was not reluctant to challenge the City Council of Jerusalem. He also challenged Herod and called him a “fox” (Luke 13:32). Perhaps our editors and columnists should call some political leaders foxes.

Fifth, in biblical times, as now, specific evils needed to be challenged. Matthew 14:4 describes how John the Baptist challenged the evil ways of Herod the tetrarch. In 1 Timothy 1:10 we read that slave-trading, a practice under the state’s regulatory control, is contrary to the will of God. Almost two centuries ago, Christians such as William Wilberforce and numerous Christian writers laboured to bring this terrible evil to an end in Great Britain. Maybe God is using other writers and editors to address blatant political evil in our day.

Sixth, the Bible exhorts Christians to pursue certain goals which intersect with the agendas of political authorities. Through the prophet Isaiah, God asserted that He loves justice (61:8) and that His “arm will bring justice to the nations” (51:5). Jeremiah reminds us that the Lord delights in “kindness, justice and righteousness on earth” (9:24). Should Christian leaders not mirror such concerns? Should God’s people, including those in God’s media, not echo the biblical assertion that Zion’s King “will proclaim peace to the nations” (Zechariah 9:10), especially given that Jesus’ followers are urged to “make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Romans 14:19)?

Seventh, Christian citizens, including the 20% who work for governments or government agencies, often need help from the church. For example, keeping in mind the apostles’ experiences (Acts 4:18–20; 5:27–29), when should Christians carry out civil disobedience? To what extent, especially in a democracy, are Christian citizens responsible for the 42% of their income which goes to governments at all levels? Is this a situation in which opportunity plus ability creates accountability?

Finally, have Christians anything to say about the vast common agendas in education, immigration, foreign aid, justice, assistance for the destitute, protection of the rights of the poor, care for the sick and the aged, etc. which they share with governments? Did Jesus not condemn the Pharisees for ignoring something similar when He said, “You neglect justice” (Luke 11:42)?

In a democracy such as Canada, partisan politics should generally be avoided in the denominational media. I believe, however, that Jesus would not endorse a call to avoid all political issues. Given that He was crucified in part because He challenged political authorities and certain political agendas, He would, I believe, agree with the view that godly concerns and political questions intersect at many points. Godly leaders often have insights and answers which will help fellow believers, benefit society and provide guidance for those in authority. Is that not how people of “salt and light” should impact their society?

John H. Redekop is on the faculty of Trinity Western University and is a member of Bakerview MB Church, Abbotsford, B.C.

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