The past few years have been interesting, at least in the US. Out of two primary parties, one party has become blatantly anti-Christian, and the other party has become an amalgamation of conservative evangelicals, conservatives with a dubious or outright laughable profession of Christianity, and conservatives who have no use for Christianity whatsoever, but don’t bother attacking it as long as it leaves them alone. Christians and churches have responded by 1. withdrawing from politics altogether, 2. holding their nose as they grudgingly support one party or another because of a few redeeming qualities, or 3. by joining the fray with teeth bared in support of their favorite political causes and players. What does the Bible have to say about this state of affairs? Are there passages that influence how we should be involved in politics, and how we should react when our choice wins or loses?
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17
Matthew alone contains approximately 46 references to the “kingdom of heaven” or the “kingdom of God”. So, what is the “Kingdom of God”? Christ tells Pilate that his kingdom is “not of this world (John 18:36), but both He and John the Baptist preach that the kingdom of God is “at hand”. Commentators vary on the exact form of the kingdom, largely based on their application of prophecy, but there are several things that we can know about the kingdom of God:
- The kingdom of God is present, in the sense that Christ does actually reign over everything
- The kingdom of God is future, in the sense that Christ will reign physically at some time in the future
- The kingdom of God is spiritual, in the sense that only those who repent and are saved are welcome in it
- The kingdom of God is super-national, in the sense that the kingdom of God demands allegiance above and before any national allegiance, and it transcends any national boundaries.
How does being a subject of the kingdom of Heaven impact American Christians?
First, it means that no matter how good or bad the president is, he is not the one we place our hope in. We hope in Jesus’ return and current sovereign rule. As such, a bad president is not cause to despair, because he is not our supreme sovereign even if he is our temporal one. On the other hand, we must remember that a good president is only a man, and does not deserve the allegiance that we give God. To meddle (and maybe offend) a little bit, it is not uncommon to see conservative Christians post things on social media that portray our current president in an almost messianic light. This is, at the very least wrong, and possibly idolatrous, as well as foolish.
Second, the kingdom of God demands much more than any political party, and Christians should act accordingly. An example of this is in relation to the poor. One political party makes a great deal of noise about how other people have too much money and it needs to be taken from them and given away to those less fortunate. The other party seems to care very little for the poor at all. Both of these contain error, for to desire to possess or take what someone else has is covetousness (Exodus 20:17), and to mock the poor is to show contempt for God (Proverbs 17:5). A Christian must realize that the Kingdom of heaven demands that they be generous to the poor with their own money, out of their own paycheck, and that both stinginess and a desire to spend someone else’s money are sin.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Romans 13:1
The bible has a lot to say about government and leaders. Below are some examples:
- God institutes governmental authorities (Romans 13:1),
- To resist the ruler of your nation is to resist what God has appointed (Romans 13:2)
- Christians are to give honor, respect, and taxes as required by their rulers (Romans 13:6-7)
- Christians are to pray for their rulers (1 Timothy 2:2)
- It is unwise to mock a ruler even in thought or in private (Ecclesiastes 10:20)
- The heart of the king is directed as God wills (Proverbs 21:1)
- It is right to speak the truth about what a ruler is doing (Matthew 14:1-12)
- Christians may serve in godless governments, but cannot compromise in doing so (Daniel chapters 1-6, 1 Kings 18:3-18)
What impact do these verses have for Christians?
First, no Christian should be engaged in mocking or slandering the president or any other governmental official. This includes Donald Trump as much as it did Barack Obama, and Nancy Pelosi as much as Mitch McConnell.
Second, Christians should be in submission to the government, except where the government commands something contrary to what Christians are commanded to do in the scriptures. This includes paying taxes and obeying the speed limit. It also includes more contentious things. It is this writer’s opinion that the biblical command to submit to the ruler of the nation includes submitting even to things like gun control. Simply put, if God has ordained these structures and rulers, and their commands do not seek to force you to do something that God’s word commands you not to do, then you must obey and trust God with the consequences, even if such obedience is difficult to bear.
Third, Christians must disobey the government when the government demands that they disobey God (Acts 5:29). This looks different depending on where and when you live. In some countries this sort of righteous disobedience looks like keeping a bible or attending an underground church. In the west, this may look like a church refusing to perform or host a homosexual wedding, or parents refusing to allow or support their child’s desire for a sex change. It should be noted that these actions will likely bring some form of retribution, which may range from the destruction of one’s finances and reputation, to torture, rape, or execution. The example of the new testament church shows us that it is permissible to flee such acts, but it is not permissible to take arms against them when such actions come from the government.
Fourth, it is consistent with the ministry of prophets like John the Baptist and Elijah the Tishbite to condemn the wicked actions of a ruler. This is not to mock a ruler, but to speak the truth about what a ruler is doing, such as when John preached against Herod having a sexual relationship with his brother’s wife.
Fifth, Christians are commanded to pray for their rulers. This command is given without respect to who their rulers are. Lest any try to make an exception regarding their particular ruler, the Christian must remember that the rulers under which the early church lived included emperors who thought that the proper treatment of a Christian included things like crucifixion, being burned alive, or being fed to wild animals as a form of entertainment. If this command applied during the rule of Nero (54 – 68 AD), it applies to Donald Trump, Jared Polis, and your local county commissioner, regardless of what you think of each of them.
Sixth, Christians may serve with distinction even in utterly godless governments. Two great examples of this are Daniel in the Babylonian court, and Obadiah in the court of King Ahab of Israel. Both of these men served in governments that oppressed God’s people and engaged in all manner of evil practices. Both were also led by their devotion to God to do things that could’ve easily ended in a messy and gruesome death. Christians should support godly men who desire to serve in government, but no one who desires such a position, or who finds themselves in one, should presume that it will be easy or free of risk.
Where does all of this leave American Christians? It means that every Christian bears primary allegiance to God and his causes, that they each must trust his providence in regard to governments and leaders, that they are required by the tenets of their faith to be the best citizen or subject that they can, and that they should support and work for the just and righteous rule of law as much as they are able. It also means that a Christian cannot place their national allegiance above or on a level with their allegiance to the kingdom of God, cannot mock or deride their government or leaders, and cannot disobey the word of God even if the government demands it.