Apolitical Faith? Objections to Christian Political Engagement, Part 1

Meet the apolitical right

“I’m apolitical,” a pastor friend told me not long ago. His tone and body language communicated disdain for the whole business of candidates, legislation and public policy. The response I did not verbalize was, “Great. Another one.”

This apolitical attitude seems to be on the rise among theologically serious (especially gospel-serious) evangelicals and fundamentalists. An underlying conviction seems to be that the Bible and Christian living have nothing at all to do with any political agenda. Ministry and true discipleship are only hindered by attention to political matters. To the most passionate apoliticals, the correct course is not a matter of balance (moderation in political engagement) or discipline (proper limits on the kind of political engagement). It’s a matter of purity: faith and ministry should not mix themselves in any way with the poison of politics.1

In practice, this means churches should avoid taking positions on matters perceived to be “political issues,” and pastors and teachers should refrain from teaching and preaching on political topics. Above all, believers should not express their political views in any way that might alienate someone with whom they hope to have a gospel witness. Having a mild interest in politics and casting a vote on election day is okay, but going beyond that is heading down the wrong road.

A variety of factors motivate the apoliticals I’ve interacted with. Some simply have temperaments that are deeply averse to the conflict and strife of politics. Others have absorbed some of the thinking of the evangelical left (such as the “Red Letter Christian” fondness for pitting the supposed teaching of Jesus against the rest of Scripture rather than interpreting Jesus in light of the rest of Scripture).2 In almost every case, constituents of the apolitical right see the Moral Majority efforts of the 1980s as a travesty and decry anything today that seems similar.

Whatever the primary motivation, apoliticals offer specific objections to all but the most mild and private forms of political engagement.

1. Changes in public policy don’t save souls.

This objection has the advantage of being absolutely true. Electing a wise leader rather than a foolish one, or adopting a helpful policy rather than a damaging one, brings no one to faith in the gospel. Since the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), only the proclamation of that message has a direct impact on the greatest need of all societies everywhere.

The objection sometimes takes the form of an old and often repeated disjunction: “We should be trying to win the lost, not trying to elect politicians and pass laws!” This way of thinking seems to arise from the best of motives. But this objection fails to account for several realities and falls short of justifying total disengagement from politics.

First, the either-or is a false one. If we have time to read books and also reach the lost, work careers and also to reach the lost, even watch sports on TV or play golf yet also reach the lost, surely we can be politically informed, think through the issues, and maybe put a sign in the yard or take a little time to show up at an event or two once in a while—yet still reach the lost. There is nothing about being politically engaged that prevents us from also spreading the gospel.

Second, many activities we value do not save souls. Whether it’s manufacturing a better window, developing a safer medical procedure or designing a better database, we see value in what helps people and earns an honest living. But none of these things declare the saving message of the gospel to the ears of sinners.

Acts of charity are no different. A sinner without Christ is just as Christless after we feed him, clothe him, bind up his wounds or free him from slavery. Yet Jesus gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry, caused the disabled to walk and speak and hear. Jesus did not have to use these particular signs to authenticate His prophetic office. He could have called fire down from heaven on the Pharisees, turned the Sea of Galilee to blood or caused the sun to stand still for several hours. Instead, He chose signs that helped people. Apparently—other things being equal—it’s okay to do things that just make life better for people.3

And wise policy does make life better for people—usually in large numbers and often for long periods of time. Appointing rulers who are just blesses all under their rule.

Like a roaring lion and a charging bear Is a wicked ruler over poor people. (NKJV, Prov. 28:15)

When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan. (Prov. 29:2)

2. Capitalism and other political philosophies have nothing to do with Christianity or the Bible.

What motivates individuals when they make economic decisions? What motivates people when they act collectively as a society? How should individuals and societies relate to possessions? Where does the true value of goods and services lie? Where do crime and poverty come from? What is the purpose of civil government? Are newer ideas about these matters necessarily better than older ideas? Will human beings ever establish the ideal society? What would such a society be like?

Answers to these questions have an inherently religious character. They draw on beliefs about ultimate questions: Who are we? How did we get here? Why do we exist? The Bible speaks clearly to these ultimate questions but also has much to say about the nature of value, property, crime and poverty; human motivations; what government is supposed to do; and the limits to what human beings can achieve.

So the Bible speaks to many of the concerns that are the focus of political philosophies. Whether we like it or not, points of theology and points of political philosophy are intertwined.

The question is not whether capitalism has anything to do with Christian faith, but rather, what political and economic philosophies best align with what Scripture reveals in these areas? Properly understood—and compared with real world alternative philosophies4—free-market conservatism emerges as a view of human nature, society, labor and property that agrees with the teaching of the Bible5 (problems of greed, materialism, dishonesty, etc. are problems of the human condition that permeate all economic systems).

But this objection has an even simpler answer. Is there any area of ethics that should have no importance in the eyes of Christians? Why should we exclude social ethics from our attention and teaching?

3. If Christians believe in the separation of church and state, they ought to keep away from politics.

Several Christian traditions have long upheld various forms of separation between church and state. Baptists uphold the principle as one of their distinctives. But what sort of “separation” do we have in mind?

I’ve argued that there can be no ideological separation between religion and political philosophy. Since all politicians make policy decisions based on their belief systems (however random those systems may be), their beliefs about the ultimate questions inevitably shape their views and actions. Trying to separate religion and politics is like trying to separate math and chemistry—both unwise and impossible.

But institutional power is something else. For many reasons, the decision-making power of churches or denominations and the decision making power of governmental institutions ought to avoid meddling with each other as much as possible. Drawing the lines so that we maintain a good separation is complicated business, but the ideal of separate spheres of power is a wise one.

However, proper separation of church and state does not require that churches and Christian leaders refrain from pointing out how biblical principles apply to matters thought to be “political,” nor does it prohibit believers from being involved in the process of selecting leaders and shaping public policy.

4. There are so many wrong-headed and badly behaved “Christian” conservatives.

It’s true that many political conservatives who claim to be Christian (or just engage in a lot of God-talk) are not good examples of what a Christian should be. Many have not thought through how to relate their faith to their governing roles. Some seem to have a knack for evoking the Bible at all the wrong times.

But it’s important not to overlook the difference between a bad idea and poor implementation of a good one. The solution to policy makers handling their faith badly (or Christians handling their policy making badly) is to get it right, not to toss out the whole idea.

And let’s remember that bad Christian examples are not unique to the right. John Edwards claimed to be a Christian;6 so does Jesse Jackson. Undoubtedly, plenty of flawed human beings can be found among the leaders of the “Christian left.”7

Some conclusions

Several objections remain—some of them quite weighty. Doesn’t capitalism encourage materialism, greed, bigger and bigger corporations and abuse of God-given resources? Doesn’t pursuing morality through public policy just make us look hateful and self-righteous as Christians and harm our gospel witness? Isn’t the church in great danger of being seduced into activities that distract from its primary mission? These and other concerns are the focus of the next article.

(A related article here at SI: Right is Right)

Notes

1 Here, a boundary of the group gets fuzzy. Some who claim to be apolitical are willing to make political statements—even from the pulpit—if the statements are critical of ideas associated with the religious right or conservatism.

3 An irony here is that some of the most vocal of the apolitical right are quick to promote acts of charity as “incarnational ministry.” Somehow, feeding a hungry sinner is incarnational but helping pass a law that enables a thousand hungry sinners to get jobs is not.

4 Jay W. Richards is brilliant on this point in Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperCollins, 2009, pp. 9-32).

5 Adam Smith, widely viewed as the father of capitalism, was a deist and strongly influenced by Stoic philosophers. However, he believed strongly in God’s moral ordering of the world and in God’s providential ordering of society in such a way that self-interest frequently leads to the benefit of others (and ultimately all) in free markets. He refers to this often in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (e.g., III.I.106).

6 “John Edwards: ‘My Faith Came Roaring Back.’” http://www.beliefnet.com/News/Politics/2007/03/John-Edwards-My-Faith-Came-Roaring-Back.aspx#extndVer (accessed 10/12/2010).

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skjnoble's picture

Can I make that a word? I'm glad that you wrote this article. I think it addresses several key areas that should be addressed and helps someone like me think through certain areas in my own life which I continually dismiss. I noticed this is Part 1, so maybe you'll address my concern in Parts 2, 3, etc.

An underlying conviction seems to be that the Bible and Christian living have nothing at all to do with any political agenda. Ministry and true discipleship are only hindered by attention to political matters. To the most passionate apoliticals, the correct course is not a matter of balance (moderation in political engagement) or discipline (proper limits on the kind of political engagement). It’s a matter of purity: faith and ministry should not mix themselves in any way with the poison of politics.

For me, I'm not sure if this applies, but more so this attitude:

I haven't been able to come up with a sufficient answer from Scripture that helps me (spiritually) healthily balance submission with political activity. Romans 13, I Tim. 2, Titus 3, I Peter 2, and then the verses in the OT which talks about Who sets up governing authorities, Who tears them down, Who judges in the end and I'm only left with submit, submit, submit. I use the "render Cesar" passage to vote, but even that's losing its lackluster, at times.

The only repeated arguments I hear about why Christians should be involved politically are from outside sources, such as: Wouldn't our country go to pots if we (who are superior-ly moral--said tongue-in-cheek (that could be an emoticon suggestion Lol didn't vote "right." I also think that a lot of it is built on the fact that many, well-meaning Christians believe that America is "God's country." I shutter.

So, while we've been truly blessed, I can't find much, if anything, in Scripture that calls me to get attend a local government meeting, use precious time handing out political flyers, or fly to D.C. to sit out on the nicely kept lawn. Smile

If anyone has ideas, from Scripture, on how this is done, I'm willing to hear them. Thanks! Kim Smile

skjnoble's picture

Yet Jesus gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry, caused the disabled to walk and speak and hear. Jesus did not have to use these particular signs to authenticate His prophetic office. He could have called fire down from heaven on the Pharisees, turned the Sea of Galilee to blood or caused the sun to stand still for several hours. Instead, He chose signs that helped people. Apparently—other things being equal—it’s okay to do things that just make life better for people.

I thought Jesus did this to correlate physical healing with spiritual healing, not so much as a charity. Am I reading too much into this?

Thanks!

Aaron Blumer's picture

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Quote:
I haven't been able to come up with a sufficient answer from Scripture that helps me (spiritually) healthily balance submission with political activity. Romans 13, I Tim. 2, Titus 3, I Peter 2, and then the verses in the OT which talks about Who sets up governing authorities, Who tears them down, Who judges in the end and I'm only left with submit, submit, submit. I use the "render Cesar" passage to vote, but even that's losing its lackluster, at times.

I'm not sure I'm entirely clear on the first part of the question, but sometimes the thinking is "God is control of who reigns, so what does that have to do with us?" The problem with that is that God uses secondary causes/means in the working of all things according to His will. (Even the Westminster Confession is very clear on this.) So it doesn't follow that if God is in control of who reigns, we do not choose who reigns. It's both His control and our actions/choices.

As for a rationale for involvement, I probably should have linked to this somewhere in the article:
http://sharperiron.org/2009/02/27/should-we-abandon-politics
One of the arguments there is that our present form of government is such that citizens are intentionally tasked with a role in governing. So we are are really all sort of part time "kings," to use a biblical term. "Authorities" would be a better fit. We are expected to take part in choosing who will rule and to influence the decisions he makes. So the question there isn't really "Should I participate?" but rather "As a citizen ruler, what will be the quality of my participation?"

About Jesus' miracles, it's true they had multiple purposes. The acts of healing fulfilled OT messianic prophecies. But why were these prophecies made? Because this was how Jesus was going to behave. So I do think at times (this is often not evident in the text) He is making a spiritual point, but overall it's about a) authenticating prophetic claims and b) demonstrating the healing character of the Messiah.
But why does the Messiah have a healing character? As far as we can tell, not everybody who is healed comes to faith afterwards (most seem to have come to faith before the healing). I think the point of the Messiah being a healer is rooted in the fact that it's just good to help people. He is the consummate Helper and surpasses all others in loving your neighbor as yourself.

I think that point is mostly not controversial. But those on the apolitical right and the evangelical left have both shown a tendency to apply the example of Jesus very selectively: individual acts of compassion, not large, legislative acts of compassion.. or in the case of the left, individual acts of compassion plus large legislative acts of compassion as understood by liberalism--that is, the example of Jesus is applied to what government does only when it is acting on liberal political philosophy. If it acts based on conservative political philosophy, it's assumed to be acting contrary to the interests and well being of citizens. And assumed is the right word. But the assumptions are incorrect.

skjnoble's picture

Hi Aaron,

To clear up confusion re: I'm not sure I'm entirely clear on the first part of the question, My question was more about this: So, while we've been truly blessed, I can't find much, if anything, in Scripture that calls me to get attend a local government meeting, use precious time handing out political flyers, or fly to D.C. to sit out on the nicely kept lawn.
If anyone has ideas, from Scripture, on how this is done, I'm willing to hear them.

Are there passages that directly calling me, as a disciple of Christ, into government participation beyond participating as someone who continually submits (re: previous passage references)?

Thanks! Smile

Steve Newman's picture

I've had a little more of a "front-row" seat this year, as someone I have known well for a number of years is running for office. While I have just recently moved away, I have been able to keep tabs on things fairly well.
I know some of their advisors, and know the candidate is a believer. This person has an uphill battle in spite of the current political climate because he is taking on a very entrenched (25+ years) incumbent in a traditionally "liberal" rural district. The candidate's boundless energy and enthusiasm and hard work have stood out. What has stood out to me is what they have felt as though they need to do to get elected. While getting endorsements from the pro-life and conservative Christian causes, as expected, the candidate has tried to aim their message at voters from both parties. There are things within this that have made me personally uncomfortable as a Christian.
So, in this case, the candidate dances in a Native American powwow (and there it's not just the dancing, but the knowing whom they dance for that's objectionable) or hosts multiple events that emphasize alcohol use and the candidate getting an endorsement from the Tavern League. How am I as a Christian supposed to feel about that?
Now I have moved out of the district so I don't have to make the choice to vote for them or not, but I was helping the campaign when I was there. There is a sense in which I feel that if that is what it takes to get elected, I can do without it. Still, the candidate is better than the alternative.

Charlie's picture

I'm inclined to believe that most evangelicals who are now consciously espousing an "apolitical" stance as a theologically based position are simply doing so after the fact to justify their already existing non-engagement. I don't think that any real apolitical theology exists, but the gospel-buzz movement has provided conservative evangelicals with foundation for such a stance.

On the other hand, many people have weighty non-theologial reasons for disengaging from politics. As Steve said, it's messy. Also, most people - pastors included - are not well-informed about the issues, and would require a serious change of lifestyle to become informed. This causes them to feel underqualified, as if casting a vote is the political equivalent of placing a bet on a roulette wheel. Disappointment and disillusionment with past candidates mutes the enthusiasm of many. Surely there are more reasons.

Pastors especially are in a difficult position. They aren't the aristocratic leaders they were in pre-Revolutionary War New England. There are specific limitations in what they can say if they want their churches to remain tax-exempt. There are real threats, such as polarizing a congregation or appearing to outsiders as a political club in Christian form (think D. James Kennedy). So, many pastors have private political opinions and vote accordingly, but choose to refrain from most political commentary in the pulpit.

I was intrigued by a comment Nancy Piercey made in her book Total Truth. She said that when American evangelicals have sought to influence the public realm, they have done so almost exclusively through politics. They have largely ignored creating culture - art, literature, community - in favor of political victory. This is a tragic failure for Christianity, because whereas politics is based on force and competition, culture is created through invitation and persuasion. Cultural mores shape people's minds and hearts deeper than legislative prohibitions. Tim Keller is one pastor who understands the value of creating culture in a given locality, and we would do well to imitate him in that regard.

In conclusion, I agree that Christians need not view political involvement and the gospel as conflicting interests. I deny that there is a viable apolitical theology; it didn't work for the Anabaptists and it won't work now.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

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skjnoble wrote:
Are there passages that directly calling me, as a disciple of Christ, into government participation beyond participating as someone who continually submits (re: previous passage references)?

I understand your question, now. No, there aren't any passages that speak directly to that any more than there are passages that speak directly to why someone should be a dentist rather than an architect. But also no less. My aim is mainly to show that a) we all have a responsibility to be at least "engaged" in what's going on and b) it is legitimate for some to be actively involved in the ways you've mentioned, and for some to hold office.
But I'm not suggesting that attending rallies is for everybody. I don't attend them myself. But I disagree with those who want to denigrate this kind of activity across the board.

Steve Newman wrote:
There are things within this that have made me personally uncomfortable as a Christian.
So, in this case, the candidate dances in a Native American powwow (and there it's not just the dancing, but the knowing whom they dance for that's objectionable) or hosts multiple events that emphasize alcohol use and the candidate getting an endorsement from the Tavern League. How am I as a Christian supposed to feel about that?
Yes, it is messy. It must also have been very messy for Daniel to be head over the Magi in Babylon. I think the case you've mentioned highlights why it's so important not to be binary in our thinking about political issues. There will never be a perfect candidate. And if there was one, well he'd be hated by many as well. I have alot of respect for those who--with the right motives--even make the attempt.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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Charlie wrote:
Pastors especially are in a difficult position. They aren't the aristocratic leaders they were in pre-Revolutionary War New England. There are specific limitations in what they can say if they want their churches to remain tax-exempt. There are real threats, such as polarizing a congregation or appearing to outsiders as a political club in Christian form (think D. James Kennedy). So, many pastors have private political opinions and vote accordingly, but choose to refrain from most political commentary in the pulpit.

I was intrigued by a comment Nancy Piercey made in her book Total Truth. She said that when American evangelicals have sought to influence the public realm, they have done so almost exclusively through politics. They have largely ignored creating culture - art, literature, community - in favor of political victory.


These are great observations (and I love the term "gospel buzz movement" as well), and they create an opportunity for me to make some distinctions I think are important.
When I talk about being "engaged," I mean to defend those who get overtly involved in the political process, but primarily I mean being engaged at the ideas level. I think many who hate the theologically messy messages that come out of Moral Majority (and now we've got Glen Beck), etc., are swinging to an extreme that includes thinking there is nothing at all to say about these topics in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church.
But this is far from true. I think the most important work is on the ideas level, not the campaigning and voting level, though the latter should not be rejected as trivial or evil.

So, as a twist on what Piercy says, there's much room for engaging with "politics" in the form of engaging with the key ideas of political philosophies. Even from a purely political-success point of view, this is the biggest problem out there. Many involved in the Tea Parties are angry and energized against certain things, but they don't seem to really understand why or agree on why. In the long haul, people have to understand.

Where this ties in with pastors is that they do not have to feel expert on which candidates are best or even which legislation is best. But they need to understand the principles that are pivotal in figuring out whom to vote for and what policies to back. Since these are principles about human nature, possessions, motivations, etc., they are well within the sphere of what pastors ought to informed about.
So it's not a matter of knowing candidates super well, but of knowing principles and--for the application side--the history of social and economic ideas.

Mike Durning's picture

I wish I had time to engage this discussion thoroughly, since I care passionately about it. Sadly, this is not the week, and next week doesn't look so good either. But, a few quick thoughts...

1). One matter the article does not address (though it's only a part 1, I know) is the issue of the hunger for power. I believe the entire evangelical/conservative alliance was about secular power. When the church seeks political power, it tends to neglect spiritual power (consult world history for evidence).
2). We Christians have been used by the power-hungry. Let's stop playing their game. They'll say anything for our votes. Only a few would fulfill their promise. Just how much progress have we made against abortion, for instance? Did Reagan (whom I still adore) ever sign a balanced budget? Sorry guys. There are limits to what they want to do for us, and limits to what they can do for us. There are no limits to what they'll say for our votes.
3). Some conservative values (which I share in the voting box) have little to do with Scripture. When one of the national coalitions sends "voter information sheets" to our church for distribution, they frequently include a listing of the candidates who espouse important Christian values. When they include "low taxes" as one of those values, I have to chuckle. I believe in low taxes too, but I'm pretty sure the Biblical case for them is rather sketchy. Solomon might smile.

I do not believe we have to be apolitical. I believe the amount of effort and anger in this direction has been disproportionate to the benefit. Sometimes, we have to swing the pendulum the other way for awhile and let things cool down. So as for me and my church, we're not showing up for the picketing. Or letting the candidates speak at our church.

BTW, skjnoble, I tend to think of Jesus and His healing miracles and helping of the poor in this way: Our savior had a mission, but His compassion made Him highly "distractable". It's not that He sacrificed or laid aside the mission, but He would always take extra time to help people. This in turn helped His ministry, in the end. As such, I think His compassion is a good model for us, as well as His keeping the mission and the compassion somewhat compartmentalized. Of course, I have no verse to prove any of that as our Savior's motivations. It just make sense to me.

Ed Vasicek's picture

I remember Francis Schaeffer saying that Christians needed to speak where the Scriptures speak clearly, and needed to be silent where the Scriptures are silent.

Perhaps some who describe themselves as "apolitical" are trying to follow that principle. Those who do not speak out against abortion or gay marriage are compromising their faith. Moral issues may have become political issues, but they are first and foremost moral issues.

Another factor to consider is this: What right do we have to impose Judeo-Christian values on lost people? My answer is that as Christians we can expect the governments of the world to embrace the Covenant of Noah which was made with all mankind and which is in force as long as rainbows appear.

A lot of these other issues do have Biblical connections, but not always direct ones. Sometimes we need to consider ourselves in two ways: (1) as followers of Jesus Christ (first) and (2) as people who understand consequences and out of love for our country and mankind want what we believe is in the best interest of others. It is, I believe, in this second realm that we address issues such as free market enterprise, low taxes, military security, etc. In the first category would be abortion and gay marriage. I do not think it wise to lump it all into one package, one bundle.

One comes more directly from Scripture, the other is our attempt to extrapolate Biblical principles and Biblical wisdom. One is moral, whether political or not, and must be addressed. The other affects morals, but really is in a somewhat more subjective realm.

If people become offended over category 1, we must accept the consequences. But I do not believe it wise to offend people over category 2 issues -- at least not in the context of Christian fellowship.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Mike Durning wrote:
2). We Christians have been used by the power-hungry. Let's stop playing their game.

This generalization is so broad (as is the one before it), that I'm not really sure what to do with it. I certainly believe that wherever power is available there is going to be a % that are interested in power itself rather than interested in it's ethical use to good and wise ends.
For a more thorough response to that, I'd point to my response to objection #4 in the article. People abuse every good thing God has given us. I think the abuse of it should make us more interested in seeing it used properly rather than less interested.

Mike D wrote:
When the church seeks political power, it tends to neglect spiritual power (consult world history for evidence).
I realize you're pressed for time but some specific cases from "world history" would be helpful here, not only to make the point to clarify what the point is.
I'm certainly not in favor of churches/denominations etc. pursuing "political power," (see response to objection #3 in the article) beyond the power that comes from shaping how people think. The real battle is at the ideas level and eventually what everyone believes comes out in candidates and legislation. In the short run, I'm all for minimizing damage or moving ahead through the surface stuff (particular laws, particular candidates) but in the long run, there's no substitute for influencing how people think.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate thoughtful testing of my metal and you guys are raising good issues.

Ed Vasicek wrote:
I remember Francis Schaeffer saying that Christians needed to speak where the Scriptures speak clearly, and needed to be silent where the Scriptures are silent.

Perhaps some who describe themselves as "apolitical" are trying to follow that principle. Those who do not speak out against abortion or gay marriage are compromising their faith. Moral issues may have become political issues, but they are first and foremost moral issues.


I agree that trying to be silent where Scripture is silent is often a major motivational factor. The aim is exactly right; it's just that the Bible has more to say about more issues than many seem to realize.

Take taxes for example, which I meant to say something about in my response to Mike but forgot. Of course there is no passage that says "low taxes are good." So applying Scripture to the question is admittedly somewhat complex. But not really all that complex. What we do have in Scripture is clear teaching that the relationship between labor and benefit is supposed to be strong. This idea is behind much of what's in Proverbs (e.g., Prov 14:23, 6:6-7, 8-9, 10-11. I'm breaking it up so it all shows in the popups) on the topic as well as 2 Thess.3:10,11 & 12.
So it goes sort of like this...

  1. The Bible calls us to wisdom
  2. The Bible indicates that it's wise to seek a strong relationship between labor and reward/benefit
  3. Excessive taxation leads to an increasingly weak labor-benefit relationship.(This is especially the case when the taxation is expressly motivated by a belief in redistribution of wealth. Wealth redistribution is a direct assault on the labor-reward principle because it says to those who work less "You will gain more from other's work" and to those who work more "You will lose more to those who work less.")
  4. Therefore, the Bible does not favor excessive taxation.

    So there really are biblical principles very much involved in the question. Of course some of the premises here depend on extra-biblical data about the effects of high taxation. But it really doesn't take a genius to figure it out.

    Ed wrote:

    Another factor to consider is this: What right do we have to impose Judeo-Christian values on lost people? My answer is that as Christians we can expect the governments of the world to embrace the Covenant of Noah which was made with all mankind and which is in force as long as rainbows appear.

    My answer would be that in a constitutional democracy, you ultimately cannot impose anything that strong majorities disagree with (unless your judiciary or executive branches abuse their power... and even then there is likely to be a strong backlash eventually). So "imposing" anything is really not on the table. Those who believe in these principles must persuade sufficient majorities to give their ideas a try.

    Ed wrote:

    A lot of these other issues do have Biblical connections, but not always direct ones. Sometimes we need to consider ourselves in two ways: (1) as followers of Jesus Christ (first) and (2) as people who understand consequences and out of love for our country and mankind want what we believe is in the best interest of others. It is, I believe, in this second realm that we address issues such as free market enterprise, low taxes, military security, etc. In the first category would be abortion and gay marriage. I do not think it wise to lump it all into one package, one bundle.

    I agree, sort of. Ultimately both of these categories derive from Scripture: Love God with all your heart... love your neighbor. So they are ultimately one bundle, and doing what helps people rather than hurting them in the public policy arena is just as "moral" as abortion or any other issue: just less obvious since Scripture does not speak to it as directly. (And not all moral issues are equally important either, I don't mean to imply that.)

    ed wrote:

    If people become offended over category 1, we must accept the consequences. But I do not believe it wise to offend people over category 2 issues -- at least not in the context of Christian fellowship.

    For me, it's not so simple. If I have an opportunity to bless a million people but what I'm going to do will not be understood or appreciated by any of them, should I not do it because they'll be offended? At what point do we start being unkind to people because they will see our unkindness as kindness? It's not a theoretical question because we're already there. Today, if you stand up and say that kids should not be exposed to "gay culture," blogs and pundits all over the world call you a bigot and a hater. But it is nonetheless, not in any child's best interests to be exposed to that sort of morally corrupting influence.
    So it is now a daily reality that what helps people is offensive to them.

    Of course, there are still lots of things that help people that are not offensive to them. But if we say "let's stick to those," how far do we take that? It seems to me to be a shrinking category and, in any case, far too limiting.

DavidO's picture

Quote:
And wise policy does make life better for people—usually in large numbers and often for long periods of time. Appointing rulers who are just blesses all under their rule.

No one, conservative or liberal*, disagrees with this. The issue is influencing hearts to comprehend a true basis of justice. That's what can't be accomplished by political means.

Beyond that, Christian after Christian I've talked to seems to view the presidency/congress being held by a certain party or being able to maintain a certain standard of living a sign of God's blessing on us for being righteous. Or worse, the reason we ought to try and be righteous.

Sometimes I wonder if the church in America might actually benefit from a descent into Socialism or religious intolerance.

*This word order was determined by alphabeticity and not the preferred philosophy of the poster. Wink

JoeEarle's picture

Good article Aaron. These are important things for all Christian leaders to think through.

Joe Earle

Bob Hayton's picture

I agree with Mike Durning's perspective above. I don't have much time to interact here either. But let me recommend a good book related to this topic that I reviewed recently.

Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative by Carl Trueman (put out by P&R Publishing)

The book is a short read (110 pages), but it packs a punch. He explains why he is unsettled about the current marriage between conservative politics en toto and American Christianity. I tend to agree with most of his points. In any case its worth evaluating and thinking through why someone would object to this.

You can http://www.fundamentallyreformed.com/2010/10/11/republocrat-confessions-... read my review if your interested. You can visit the http://prpbooks.com/inventory.html?target=indiv_title&id=2065 ]book's page at P&R's website for a the book trailer and other video interviews about it. http://www.wtsbooks.com/product-exec/product_id/7067?utm_source=bhayton&... ]Westminster Bookstore has the book for 5.99 right now , too.

I'll be looking for part 2 of this series with interest.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

JobK's picture

The primary problem is the fact that there is not a shred of evidence that Jesus Christ or His apostles involved themselves in public policy debates or political activism in any way, shape or form. Quite the contrary, their silence and inaction on those issues is striking, deafening. Further, attempts to involve them in those issues were specifically rebuffed. Jesus Christ and His apostles were offered chance after chance to involve themselves in the issues of the day both in the Jewish context and in the larger context of the Roman Empire, and they refused, whether they were brought before the Sandedrin, the high priest, Herod, Pilate, Festus, centurions, philosophers or Caesar himself. Jesus Christ tiptoed around the various Jewish political factions and ideologies, which reminds me of when He (in His preincarnate form) was asked by Joshua "are you for us or for our enemies" and replied "Neither, but I have now come." Jesus Christ refused to endorse the political agendas of any of the major or minor Jewish factions, and Paul and the other apostles refused to do the same regarding the Greeks.

Now, the issue is not merely what can be drawn by the rejection of any appearance of political or ideological involvement by Jesus Christ, the apostles or the early church (which by the way appears to have withheld itself from getting involved in the affairs of state for its initial few centuries of existence). Instead, a major problem is that the lack of material on politics in the New Testament means that there is no authoritative or reliable guide. Consider these questions:

1. What issues should a Christian political agenda concern itself with?

2. How should Christians go about getting this agenda enacted?

3. What system of governance is best suited to enacting a Christian political agenda? (Democracy? Constitutional republic? Monarchy? Theocracy? Totalitarian regime?) And if that system of governance is not present, should replacing it with one closer to the Biblical ideal be a priority for Christians? Or should Christians try to enact this agenda regardless of the form of government i.e. rather than working to replace a monarchy with a democracy, should Christians attempt to become a monarch's adviser like Mordecai, Joseph or Daniel? (Note: Paul did not aspire to become Caesar's adviser, but Eusebius was content to play that role for Constantine apparently.)

4. How should Christians evaluate their political activity? What constitutes success and what constitutes failure?

That's just some. There are many others. So, regarding those who: "In almost every case, constituents of the apolitical right see the Moral Majority efforts of the 1980s as a travesty and decry anything today that seems similar", there is nothing that we can use to say that the Moral Majority was right and its critics are wrong, or vice versa. Because of the lack of scriptural evidence, there is no way to definitely, with truth and authority to confidently assert that the Moral Authority had the right agenda, the right method, or even one or the other. So, having no blueprint or plan to guide us or way for gauging success or failure, how can you blame people for being hesitant?

"Acts of charity are no different." Yes they are. The Bible commands us to perform acts of charity, and not only that, but the Bible tells us WHY we must perform such charity, and the penalty that those who are disobedient in this area will receive. "Building a database?" I am sorry, but that is earning a living, and the Bible says that the man that does not work should not eat. (Should you use that verse to decide that social welfare is wrong? Or should you use the Biblical commands for charity to support social welfare? You can't take the common conservative position that the Bible speaks of private charity and not government programs, because liberals can respond that only Christians should be governed by "the man that does not work should not eat", so if an atheist or wiccan or haredi Jew wants to live his life on the government dole, Christians should not impose their religion on him or the state.)

At the very best, politics should be viewed in terms of being a hobby, akin to being a sports fan. (And yes, I could propose a case where sports and theology intersect, and I could also point to the many athletic metaphors in the Bible i.e. "running the race" to support it.) The case that God favors my Auburn Tigers over the Alabama Crimson Tide is not one that I choose to make, and the people who reject football altogether because of the violent nature of the sport, and how football is now being used to market alcohol, gambling and sexuality ... well I have nothing to say to those folks other than those are excellent points that I cannot dismiss out of hand.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Thanks Aaron,
Our church is located 10 minutes from the State Capital in Albany, NY. For most of the past 17 years, I have been pretty active politically. Here are my reasons:

1. Evangelism - the State legislators need to hear the gospel. They need to be saved.
2. Defense of the faith - the faith is under attack in our State and in many others. Theological teachings like the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage are errors that need to be addressed.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Alot to respond to here. I'll try to be succinct.

JobK wrote:
The primary problem is the fact that there is not a shred of evidence that Jesus Christ or His apostles involved themselves in public policy debates or political activism in any way, shape or form. Quite the contrary, their silence and inaction on those issues is striking, deafening.

Actually, it isn't all that significant. There are many things Jesus never did that most of us are supposed to do (like work a regular job, marry and raise a family to name a couple off hand). But much of responsibility depends on opportunity. Rome was not the sort of place where citizens were given part of the responsibility of governing and encouraged to participate.
But much of what I'm talking about here is not that kind of engagement anyway. It's the ideological kind. And Jesus and the apostles did uphold (if not teach directly) principles taught elsewhere in Scripture that speak to issues that are at the core of political philosophies.

JobK wrote:
Instead, a major problem is that the lack of material on politics in the New Testament means that there is no authoritative or reliable guide. Consider these questions:

1. What issues should a Christian political agenda concern itself with?

2. How should Christians go about getting this agenda enacted?

3. What system of governance is best suited to enacting a Christian political agenda? (Democracy? Constitutional republic? Monarchy? Theocracy? Totalitarian regime?) And if that system of governance is not present, should replacing it with one closer to the Biblical ideal be a priority for Christians? Or should Christians try to enact this agenda regardless of the form of government i.e. rather than working to replace a monarchy with a democracy, should Christians attempt to become a monarch's adviser like Mordecai, Joseph or Daniel? (Note: Paul did not aspire to become Caesar's adviser, but Eusebius was content to play that role for Constantine apparently.)

4. How should Christians evaluate their political activity? What constitutes success and what constitutes failure?


These are all good questions that require thoughtful answers. Scripture (bold NT and OT) has much to offer to help us answer these questions. The lack of direct revelation on these topics is no different from the lack of direct revelation on many other topics we still consider important and necessary to apply Scripture to.
Some examples:

  • What careers should Christians have and what careers may they not have?
  • How are they to evaluate conduct in the workplace, business ethics etc.? (For example, how does a Christian defense attorney reconcile his Christian convictions with the act of defending a guilty man? How does a cash register operator handle a customer who wants to buy a harmful substance or some other unethical product? The list is endless.)
  • What is the ideal form of education for a Christian? How should education be evaluated?
  • What topics should a Christian writer write about? What's the ideal form of writing? Poetry? Journalism? Popular level nonfiction? Novels?

My point is that the fact that questions are complex and difficult to answer does not mean we should view the whole sphere they are concerned with as somehow outside the scope of Christian thought.

JobK wrote:
...there is nothing that we can use to say that the Moral Majority was right and its critics are wrong, or vice versa. Because of the lack of scriptural evidence, there is no way to definitely, with truth and authority to confidently assert that the Moral Authority had the right agenda, the right method, or even one or the other.

You're kind of lumping some things together there. I'm not interested in defending the Moral Majority. I think many have overreacted to its problems or wrongly identified them. I do believe that those who led it did not have the right approach to the relationship between Christian faith and the political arena. Detailing that would take another essay or two, but to nutshell: I believe in using arguments that best fit the audience. So in the public square, it's seldom sensible to say "We should vote for this because the Bible says..." Much less to have big rallies with Mormons and invoke God together. When we are talking to the public, we need to leverage what we have in common with them. So things we know to be true because of revelation, we can argue along lines of natural law or expedience or the vaguely (but still very significantly) Christian tradition behind our founding documents.

JobK wrote:
"Acts of charity are no different." Yes they are. The Bible commands us to perform acts of charity, and not only that, but the Bible tells us WHY we must perform such charity, and the penalty that those who are disobedient in this area will receive. "Building a database?" I am sorry, but that is earning a living, and the Bible says that the man that does not work should not eat. (Should you use that verse to decide that social welfare is wrong? Or should you use the Biblical commands for charity to support social welfare?...

My point was that acts of charity do not save any more than making an honest living saves or passing a good law saves. These are all on the same plane as far as the gospel is concerned.
But the difference along other axes is not as great as you suggest here either. When we do our work, we do so in the context of love of God and love of neighbor. So, though we are compensated, we also hope our work is helpful to people. Though this means it is less sacrificial than what we usually call charity, it is not necessarily less beneficial to people. There are lots of things people get compensated for that actually help others more than other things people don't get compensated for.

For example, the ER doctor who is well paid helps people more than the part time volunteer librarian (no offense to part time volunteer librarians... I appreciate what you do!)

Many "welfare" programs do more harm than good despite the good intentions of those who engage in them.

Furthermore, there is no biblical evidence that government agencies ought to engage in charity. This is always a call directed to people rather than institutions.

JobK wrote:
At the very best, politics should be viewed in terms of being a hobby, akin to being a sports fan.

In the article, I've laid down some reasons why it's more than that. I'd be quite interested in hearing how those arguments are faulty (because I want to make them stronger. Wink )
For example, political philosophies are about what makes people tick, how they should handle property, what societies are all about, what labor is worth, what governments ought to do. The Bible says much on all these points.
And public policy directly impacts our ability to engage in charity, not to mention its impact on the sort of world our kids and theirs live in. These are not trivial matters like football.

Rob Fall's picture

the responsibilities and privileges of Roman citizens and citizens of modern democracies are different. In particular, power in the US comes from the bottom up not from the top down.
There are many time when I wish I could vote for the Democratic party's nominee (e.g. I would vote for a Truman). However, with its alignment with enemies of the Gospel, that has become impossible.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

skjnoble's picture

No, there aren't any passages that speak directly to that any more than there are passages that speak directly to why someone should be a dentist rather than an architect.

If we're talking about occupation, then that's a different story, IMO. But I thought we were talking about involvement or engagement on some level. That's what I'm talking about. I agree, biblically, we are not to disengage from politics. I believe the Bible is very clear--we are to be actively involved--in the role of submission. Which is why I asked if you knew of any other passages that would say otherwise. From what I can tell -- there are 4 NT passages (post #2) that directly tell us what to do. We are to actively, joyfully participate in submission. These are direct commands in Scripture.

My understanding from historical context, particularly in the Romans passage, when Paul is telling them to submit and do not resist, (I see a double command there) Christians were in pretty dire circumstances, unlike today and in thin-skinned America where any little thing causes a kerfuffle(?).

Within those 4 measly passages I see a lot of active involvement from the Christian (I'm sure there a ton more that I'm missing.) Joyfully submit, do not resist the authorities, financially honor them, do not speak ill of them (maybe in a different passage), pray for them (I Tim. 2), and honor them in general.

But also no less.

Which was why I asked that question. There are quite a few passages that call for our active involvement through joyful submission, but I don't see a lot of passages (but my bible knowledge is little compared to most on this forum) that show otherwise--the "no less" part of your statement. If, in Scripture, we see a lot of commands in Scripture, but none (or few), as in other Scripture verses, then I see only one course of action. I can be narrow-minded that way. Smile

I do see in Prov. 29 where it gives a commentary on unrighteous rule, but I don't see a prescriptive for how to get out from underneath that wicked authority without circumventing the submission commands in the NT.

I do lack imagination, though. Smile

I'm not sure I'm entirely clear on the first part of the question, but sometimes the thinking is "God is control of who reigns, so what does that have to do with us?" The problem with that is that God uses secondary causes/means in the working of all things according to His will. (Even the Westminster Confession is very clear on this.) So it doesn't follow that if God is in control of who reigns, we do not choose who reigns. It's both His control and our actions/choices.

This is where I get tripped up. I some of the God's vessels/instruments/agents usage, I think. I just don't know how to get from A=submission to beyond B=anything other than voting under governing authorities.

BTW, skjnoble, I tend to think of Jesus and His healing miracles and helping of the poor in this way: Our savior had a mission, but His compassion made Him highly "distractable". It's not that He sacrificed or laid aside the mission, but He would always take extra time to help people. This in turn helped His ministry, in the end. As such, I think His compassion is a good model for us, as well as His keeping the mission and the compassion somewhat compartmentalized. Of course, I have no verse to prove any of that as our Savior's motivations. It just make sense to me.

I agree, Mike, when it comes to moral or compassion, fruit of the Spirit, Samaritan type stuff. I'm just not sure I am convinced this helps Aaron's cause, politically. I'm not saying you're saying that, I'm just tying it back into the political, engagement scene.

Aaron, I wish I were a volunteer librarian so I could be properly kerfuffled! Smile

PS__I know I haven't been here long, but please feel free to call me (female) Kim. Thanks!

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Our submission is based on the structure of gov't. IOW, if our gov't, a representative Republic, designates the role of the citizens as an essential part of the process, then why wouldn't a Christian be involved to some degree? And why would voting be OK, but other forms of involvement not be OK?

Sometimes a lack of information is indicative of something, and sometimes it isn't. In the case of politics, the fact that Jesus and the apostles didn't get involved in gov't functions doesn't say anything IMO except that the opportunity was not there for them to do so. That is why some Biblical principles are so broad- they can be applied in a wide variety of situations, assuming that we are going to exercise spiritual discernment so as not to abuse our liberty.

Jesus and the apostles also had a very specific purpose, and we need to be careful not to use their example for everything without some discernment, because sometimes what they did and didn't do doesn't apply to us spiritually or practically.

Another thought that comes to mind when discussing submission to gov't- 'joyful submission' only goes so far. The apostles regularly broke human law because they were obeying a Higher law- what they did do joyfully was submit to the consequences as defined by their gov'ts.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

skjnoble wrote:
No, there aren't any passages that speak directly to that any more than there are passages that speak directly to why someone should be a dentist rather than an architect.

If we're talking about occupation, then that's a different story, IMO. But I thought we were talking about involvement or engagement on some level.


Yes, I'm talking about engagement. What I didn't do in the article (but considered doing) was devote a paragraph or two to what I mean by that. Will have to catch up in part 2.
In brief: engagement can take several forms. On the ideas level, I believe that all Christians have a responsibility to thoughtfully bring all the biblical principles to bear on the issues. This is a matter of what they do privately in thinking about where they live. Also on the ideas level, pastors and teachers must not neglect what Scripture has to say about issues just because they are regarded as "political." Thirdly, on the ideas level, there are various ways of spreading the truth in the culture through conversation, the arts, writing, etc.
Then you have various "process" ways of being engaged, which are--at the minimal end--voting and at the maximum end, running for office. And there's alot of stuff in between like participating in campaigning, donating, signs in the yard, rallies, all that sort of stuff.

Not all of these levels of engagement are for everybody. Personally, about all I do is read, think, preach, teach, write and once in a while put a sign in the yard.

But my reference to vocation was as an illustration of what we do with important areas of life about which Scripture does not say very much directly. They may still be important and still require thoughtful application, but Scripture's quietness or even silence about them does not prohibit them or make them unimportant.

skjnoble wrote:
My understanding from historical context, particularly in the Romans passage, when Paul is telling them to submit and do not resist, (I see a double command there)... I see a lot of active involvement from the Christian (I'm sure there a ton more that I'm missing.) Joyfully submit, do not resist the authorities, financially honor them, do not speak ill of them (maybe in a different passage), pray for them (I Tim. 2), and honor them in general.
... but I don't see a lot of passages (but my bible knowledge is little compared to most on this forum) that show otherwise--the "no less" part of your statement.

Maybe it helps to point out that the the command to submit is not in any way violated by participation. Voting is not submitting. But it is not unsubmissive either. In a society ordered as ours is, law is king, and the people are worked into the process of making law. So a whole lot of behaviors that may seem unsubmissive are intentionally protected parts of the public debate process. The "public" is a huge policy debate forum.

skjnoble wrote:
I do see in Prov. 29 where it gives a commentary on unrighteous rule, but I don't see a prescriptive for how to get out from underneath that wicked authority without circumventing the submission commands in the NT.

A proverb has a point and part of the point of these particular ones is to tell citizens what is desirable in leaders. In the context, this would inform how they pray but also--to a very limited degree what they do when a coup is in progress! We recently studied the life of David in detail in Sunday School. There were several periods where--depending on where you lived (and your tribal affiliation)--it was not entirely clear who ought to be regarded as king.
So even in nearly absolute monarchies, citizens have some influence once in a while as to who their leaders are.

But the monarchies of Israel were not all that absolute. Read the histories carefully and evidence of dependence on powerful tribal leaders is quite evident in places. And during David's reign there was no small amount of "strategery" involving efforts to have, or appear to have, the priesthood on your side.

Even monarchies have their politics.

skjnoble wrote:

It's both His control and our actions/choices.

This is where I get tripped up. I some of the God's vessels/instruments/agents usage, I think. I just don't know how to get from A=submission to beyond B=anything other than voting under governing authorities.


Well, as I've already mentioned, voting itself is "beyond" submission. The law doesn't say we are obligated to vote. But our heritage does teach that we have responsibilities. The founding documents do not put this duty in legislative form, but they do present it as a duty.

So maybe it's not "beyond" submission. The better way to look at it is that the commands in Scripture that describe our relationship to the governing authorities should not be taken as exhaustive. They must be obeyed but they do not claim to be listing everything that is legitimate for citizens to do.

Kim wrote:
PS__I know I haven't been here long, but please feel free to call me (female) Kim. Thanks!

I think I knew that somewhere in a foggy place in the back of my brain but I'm kind of lazy about clicking user links and reading profiles! :tired:

skjnoble's picture

I'm starting with this:

Kim wrote:

PS__I know I haven't been here long, but please feel free to call me (female) Kim. Thanks!

I think I knew that somewhere in a foggy place in the back of my brain but I'm kind of lazy about clicking user links and reading profiles!

That's okay. I really wasn't addressing my P.S. to just you. Others did/do it as well.

@ Susan:

Our submission is based on the structure of gov't. IOW, if our gov't, a representative Republic, designates the role of the citizens as an essential part of the process, then why wouldn't a Christian be involved to some degree? And why would voting be OK, but other forms of involvement not be OK?

I wish I could agree with this. Personally, this is where I get tripped up. I believe practice and attitude of submission comes from what Scripture says. Even if the government allows me certain forms of expression or processes, my biblical moral code won't allow me the same leash.

But Susan, I'm not saying I have it all figured out either. Just submit--go vote on Tuesday, wash my hands of the rest. I'm trying to figure my personal thoughts and attitudes, based on what Scripture says, I am allowed as a law-abiding citizen called to share the gospel and be a good, little civilian. But I think you ask a great question that I'm asking myself. So far, I just haven't been smart (or self-controlled) enough to follow the type of submission that Scripture commands (and unless I'm really missing something--there's definitely something more implied in those verses than just a good rule follower--starting with praying for these guys) and stepping forward to question legislation, authority, local government, etc.

Sometimes a lack of information is indicative of something, and sometimes it isn't. In the case of politics, the fact that Jesus and the apostles didn't get involved in gov't functions doesn't say anything IMO except that the opportunity was not there for them to do so.

This is different from what I understand. I thought this was one of the major reasons that the top Jewish guys were so kerfuffled(?). Because they wanted out of Roman rule and Jesus and His disciples willfully did not engage in politics, though there were several ploys to try and get Him/them on board.

Jesus and the apostles also had a very specific purpose, and we need to be careful not to use their example for everything without some discernment, because sometimes what they did and didn't do doesn't apply to us spiritually or practically.

I'm sort of being dense here. I'm not sure if you're addressing something that I said, or following a different train of thought. I think, from my previous posts, this is what I was saying, specifically in terms of Jesus's healing/charitable ministry. If I'm not mistaken, Aaron is using it as a way to explain why Christians should get involved in politics, or at least a more general purpose, and I'm saying, I'm not so sure (not ready to outright deny it) because I believe Jesus's public healing ministry was to authenticate Himself/apostles and parallel physical healing with spiritual--first and foremost (not necessarily only.) It's why, I believe, we can't (I don't think, anyway) apply it to our present-day circumstances--either personally or socially.

Another thought that comes to mind when discussing submission to gov't- 'joyful submission' only goes so far. The apostles regularly broke human law because they were obeying a Higher law- what they did do joyfully was submit to the consequences as defined by their gov'ts.

Regularly broke human law? Hmmm, it would pretty hard for Paul and Peter to write with a clear conscience, to submit to governing authorities all the while regularly breaking the law. I thought that they (including Jesus) submitted quite well to governing authorities (ie. the whole rendering caesar bit) and broke some religious laws of that day--which is why all the kerfuffle. Then the religious leaders tricked the government, through lies and riots, into getting involved.

@Aaron:

Further down in your posts, you start to explain more about your thoughts on "engaging" and that did help clarify, for me, your position and purpose for your article. I'm grateful for that.

but Scripture's quietness or even silence about them does not prohibit them or make them unimportant.

I think my long and drawn out point was this, Scripture has much, IMO, to say on this topic. It calls us to submit--actively, joyfully, submit. And then I listed some other things it calls us to actively do. I'm not talking about passivity either. I'm talking about actively, in your families, communities, churches, etc., to willfully and joyfully submit.

Unless I'm missing something, you and I would disagree here. You seem to think that Scripture is quiet/silent about this topic just like the Scripture is silent about becoming a dentist or architect, but I'm saying, no. Short of trumpets and flag waving, Scripture is resoundingly, crystal clear. There are 4 major passages (plus others) that God is telling us to do.

Maybe it helps to point out that the the command to submit is not in any way violated by participation. Voting is not submitting. But it is not unsubmissive either.

I agree in regards to my voting example. I'll come back to that in a sec. But what about sit-ins, or letters written, or other forms of expression that are perfectly permissible, but start going down that slippery slope of unsubmssiveness. Should all things that are legally lawful to express my contrary beliefs to the legislature in question be allowed because they are lawfully "king?" Would all of those fall under the realm of biblical submission even though my attitude is far from submitting, but because it's legal? Just check the local news shows on picketing and I would have to differ. Which brings me back to voting. It's been the only form of legal "expression" that I can joyfully express my opposing views--well, that and paying taxes, but my husband takes care of that. Smile

But our heritage does teach that we have responsibilities. The founding documents do not put this duty in legislative form, but they do present it as a duty.

So maybe it's not "beyond" submission. The better way to look at it is that the commands in Scripture that describe our relationship to the governing authorities should not be taken as exhaustive. They must be obeyed but they do not claim to be listing everything that is legitimate for citizens to do.

Our heritage? If you're talking about American--well, I have a whole worthless public school education that says--you're right! But, of course, I'm relearning much of my heritage to realize what I thought was "God's country" is really only God's leniency/permission in disobedient individuals.

"Should not be taken as exhaustive. They must be obeyed but they do not claim to be listing everything that is legitimate for citizens to do." That's where I am still tripped.

Conclusion--not solid, but still fluid: I believe there are civil duties (ie. voting, yard signage, etc.) but not a lot of wiggle room beyond that. But I believe it's personal--between you and God.

It should not be handled in a corporate church gathering or from the pulpit. If I'm engaging in fellowship at my house for non-church things and the subject of politics comes up, I love to chat views, but whether it's private, personal or corporate, I think we should tread lightly when it comes to anything beyond a completely submissive attitude, whether it's permissible by the king or not.

PS__Don't get me started on how many evangelizing resources are pulled because of the political scene. Smile

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Only have a second. Maybe something more thorough later.
On submission. Maybe it helps to ask a question: "Submit to what?" To submit there has to be something to submit to, so what would that be? Especially by Roman times, it meant laws.
So we are submitting when we obey the law... and we are not submitting when we disobey it.

So campaigning, lobbying for legislation, even protesting are all lawful and, as I mentioned before, our founding documents (tons of extra-legal papers and books by folks in the 18th century colonies and early states) are quite clear that the nation is designed to depend on a good bit of dissent.

So yes, Scripture defines what submission is, but what it means is yielding and you have to have something to yield to: law.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

As citizens, we are part of the legislative process. IOW, we aren't just to obey legislation- our gov't calls on us to help craft it. We aren't disobeying authority by writing to our representatives (which begs the question-if they don't know what you think, how can they 'represent' you?) what direction we believe is best for our community, state, and country. It is not unsubmissive any more than if your husband asked your opinion would you be a rebellious wife by offering your views and preferences to him and he made decisions that seriously considered your input.

Of course, he can't be voted out of office, and his term lasts for more than 4 years. http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys.php ][img ]http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys/smiley-laughing002.gif[/img ]

Anyway, here's a good example of what I'm talking about- I got an E-lert from HSLDA today:

Quote:
House Bill 371 is a 565-page bill that would restructure Ohio's
current abuse and neglect code and increase state intervention in the
parent-child relationship in Ohio. The bill contains language that
would essentially "ban" corporal discipline in Ohio and create seven
new and vague categories under which social workers could justify
taking any action they deem appropriate during social services
investigations. We are grateful to each one of you who made the effort
to contact lawmakers and ask them to oppose this bill. During this
election season we encourage you to make contact with your
representatives and candidates to tell them to oppose this
legislation.

This bill is not a law. So IMO it is not 'unsubmissive' to write to my representatives and tell them that as a citizen I do not wish this wording to pass as is. If it became a law- now THAT'S another story entirely.

As to disobeying gov't- there are enough instances in Scripture where folks disobeyed a gov't mandate that violated Scripture- from Moses' parents to Daniel, to Peter and John and Paul- that we have an understanding that if human law (religious or gov't) violates Biblical mandates, we are to "obey God rather than men". (Acts 5:29) That is why missionaries feel that they are excused to continue to minister and smuggle Scripture into countries where Christianity is 'outlawed'.

Jack Hampton's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Isn't the church in great danger of being seduced into activities that distract from its primary mission? These and other concerns are the focus of the next article.

I am not taking sides on this issue but instead I would like to hear different opinions on the effectiveness of the Anti-Abortion movement of earlier times when there were many Christians participating in that movement.

Was the effort effective?

On a whole did the movement result in positive or negative feelings from the general public?

Would the Lord Jesus join with the Pharisees in participating in such a movement as did the Protestants with the Roman Catholics?

I have no ax to grind but I am curious about the opinion of other Christians on this subject.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Jack Hampton wrote:

I am not taking sides on this issue but instead I would like to hear different opinions on the effectiveness of the Anti-Abortion movement of earlier times when there were many Christians participating in that movement.

Was the effort effective?

On a whole did the movement result in positive or negative feelings from the general public?


Let's suppose the answer is that the abortion battles have been utterly ineffective and have just made a great many people tune us out.
The next question would be, do we do these things because we believe they will be effective and produce positive feelings?

It's an important question on many levels. As a premillennialist, I believe that we're ultimately going to lose. There can be many victories along the way even possibly long periods of real progress, but in the end it isn't about whether we succeed or not. It's about doing the responsible thing.

Quote:
Would the Lord Jesus join with the Pharisees in participating in such a movement as did the Protestants with the Roman Catholics?

It's very hard to imagine what Jesus would do with any other mission than the one He had. But of course, His actions would be consistent with Scripture. So we're really asking "Is it biblical to participate with Roman Catholics, etc.?"

But I'm not sure what "participating" means in this sense. Whenever I support a leader or a policy, am I "participating" with everyone else who also supports that leader or policy? For example, if I'm a legislator and I vote for a law I think is morally right and an atheist also supports the law because he thinks it's morally right (which means something like "expedient" in their framework), have I participated with the atheists?
I don't mean to sound combative here. Just exploring the assumptions that seem reflected in the questions.

In any case, I'm not for political efforts that involve believers giving Christian recognition to nonbelievers, apostates and the like. As a statesman, it is possible to work together with anybody who agrees with you an anything they agree with you on. But if we are going to be being vocally religious about our rationale for policy matters, we have to have some boundaries thought through in advance--because otherwise we end up at rallies where Mormons declare that this is the day America turns back to God.

I could not personally stomach that scenario. (It's great that Mormons believe in God and clean living and I don't doubt them on those points. It's just that I can't be a part of something that communicates that we're on the same page religiously. It's much better to say, "Hey, we both believe in God and clean living and that plays a major role in our thinking--we have that much in common--but let's not pretend this is a revival meeting and we're one big happy religious family!)

skjnoble's picture

@Aaron:

So yes, Scripture defines what submission is, but what it means is yielding and you have to have something to yield to: law.

Yes, this is exactly the point where I get tripped as referenced in earlier posts. But since, as you said it, Scripture defines what submission is, we know that we can 'obey' the (letter of the) law, but not really. The Pharisees may have cornered the market on this one.

So here's where I'm having a challenge reconciling my point of godly submission (as the Bible calls) and civilian submission (as the law of the land calls). How do I (joyfully) submit to rules and regulations already established if I don't agree with them? The way I see it, too many times, Christians (as some examples earlier on) tend to lean the other way, you know, the ones the news media loves to get their hands on. Their zeal to 'follow the law of the land' lands them on the other side of the heart attitude all Christians are required to follow regardless if it is lawful for them to appeal, after appeal, after appeal.

Example: MA just passed some sort of law (I honestly don't know the exact law) that limits drivers to cellphone use when speaking on speaker phone or in-ear monitor. (Really bad interpretation of the law, but it's what I had time for.)

Based on the 'uproar' by professing Christians, the consensus among many was, "Well, the government shouldn't be regulating that--I should be the one to regulate that." "That's a stupid law, I'm not following that one." and on. These are professing believers posting these types of things on that famous social utility.

It's a nit-picky law, but it's what I've got. I believe that's the attitude of many Christians. Government's getting too big, so I'm going to self-regulate myself and decide which ones I'll follow and which ones I won't. Never mind that it's an actual, written down in black and white law which should be followed. So most of us could agree that the next Christian MA person who talks on their cellphone while driving is not following the law.

But what about the person who grumbles and complains whenever they turn their speakerphone on--then complains to their wife or their children--or further on in the social diagram? What about the person who bad mouths the politician(s) who passed the law?

Is that submission? Me thinks not.

I don't have stats or research, but I don't think I'm stretching things too far to say many professing believers do not submit to the passages found in the Bible on governmental authority even though they may be following the black and white lettered rules. Some (not many or all) may even try to figure out ways (through the legal system) to circumvent following that law--is that following the (biblical) law? Our country's legal system is built on loopholes. I'm good friends with a corporate lawyer who can attest to it.

Aaron, would you say as long as we're following the rules and regulations within those loopholes, we are biblically submitting? Would the person found guilty--as long as the appeal process is allowable--be submitting to the law?

Now take a more passionate, federal law like increased taxes, the death sentence, or prayer in school, etc. (I purposely leave out abortion for a second.) It would be hard to convince me that some of the professing believers who go to sit-ins, rally local like-minded-ers, and even attend local zoning town hall meetings are dispassionate about whatever they're rallying about. So how do they joyfully submit all the while sharing their complaints with the government? And when they're done and they go home, and the cause they were for was voted down, do they biblically submit (not just letter of the law) to that law?

I just am not smart enough to reconcile those two into one neat balance sheet that has me following Scripture in the way God calls me to and following the law of the land to actively seek reform/dissension (I believe, Aaron, was the term you used.)

Aaron, I believe that the correct question to ask is not "what" are we submitting to, but how are we even defining submission?

For Christians, I believe, as Susan said, there's a higher law we must follow--so the letter of the law cannot be our first starting point.

By your non-verbal response to your pastor friend, it seems that you'd disagree and say it was the other way around. Yes? You would take the law of the land/king and figure out how to submit within what is allowed.

I'm saying how can I biblically submit with the rules already established. I think our forefathers would disagree with this, too.

@ Susan

You're right, Susan. I miscommunicated my original point. I was only referencing established rules/regulations. Pending bills/laws, I believe are, as you said, different. But within that, I haven't been able to figure out how to support (without passion) a piece of legislature that is against an already established rule without some sort of "I need to win this" attitude, no matter what the final verdict is. And as I have more opportunity to appeal said final verdict, I have more energy, time, resources spent. I'm just not wise enough to pull back and again--submit... where's that dividing line? I dare say it's different for each person (some are more mature, less mature) but it's still a hard thing for me to reconcile, admittedly.

As to disobeying gov't- there are enough instances in Scripture where folks disobeyed a gov't mandate that violated Scripture- from Moses' parents to Daniel, to Peter and John and Paul- that we have an understanding that if human law (religious or gov't) violates Biblical mandates, we are to "obey God rather than men". (Acts 5:29) That is why missionaries feel that they are excused to continue to minister and smuggle Scripture into countries where Christianity is 'outlawed'.

I guess I was trying to figure out America's rules and allowances. I agree that in most instances when (I still say there are very few instances--Daniel completely submitted until he was asked to disobey God) godly people did not submit to government rule, they obeyed God instead of man. But, IMO, the "big government" which many Americans complain about, still allows us privileges to homeschool (Germany gov't recently cracked down on a missionary and said they couldn't), we don't have to smuggle bibles, etc. The "big government" that some are bummed about is still fairly lenient compared to ancient Rome or even many modern-day countries.

Now, as to abortion, it's really, at present, the only thing that gets my blood boiling. But I don't see a good follow-through route beyond voting, writing letters (which I haven't done) or a lawn sign here or there (which I haven't done either). The "beyond" leads me to abandoning my family, church and ordinary life. But, as I said before, I do lack imagination. Smile

Kim Smile

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Kim,
I believe it's possible to share or promote one's insight and opinions without being rebellious, but as you said, this may be easy for some and not for others. I don't think there is anything particularly wrong with being 'passionate' about one's convictions, but I do think we need to have wisdom about which hills we intend to die on, what our attitude is, and how we conduct ourselves.

IOW, getting our knickers in a bunch about cell phone and seat belt laws seems petty, even if those laws could be interpreted as being inconsistent with the Constitution- which is supposed to be the highest law of our land. But there is also that fear of the 'slippery slope'- if gov't is allowed to continue to invade the private lives of citizens, how long before seriously constricting legislation plunks itself down on our living room couch to tell us what we can and cannot do in our own homes? That is where most of the Christians I know are in their mindset of opposing the growth of gov't.

It is a fine line- that of making our wishes known in an appropriate manner, as part of our citizen gov't. Our gov't is unique in that its authority flows from the bottom up, and not always from the top down. That's where the disconnect comes in when we try to apply Rom. 13 etc to a representative gov't. IMO.

For me, the bottom line is attitude. If I can respectfully present my views, then I can engage in the process in good conscience before God. If I have a bad attitude, then I need to keep my mouth shut until I get my head screwed on straight.

What I don't do is go to battle over whether or not I can wash the car during a drought, or start a fire in the outdoor fireplace during a dry spell, or drive faster than 25mph if that's the posted speed limit. What I would (and do) go to the mat about, for instance, is legislation that directly affects my ability to raise my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I think God expects us to use wisdom and maturity when it comes to involvement of any kind in the political/legislative process. Christians who come across as whiny and bratty don't do anything for the cause of freedom or the name of Christ. Those who educate themselves and have well founded and formed arguments are a credit to Christianity, IMO, because they show that God doesn't expect us to check our brains or spine at the door.

I will say that I think it best that men spearhead the involvement of their family in the political process. A wife should be in the supportive role, partnering with her husband and doing what he sees fit for her to do. She shouldn't be writing letters or watching Fox News if there are piles of laundry lying around and the kids are hanging from the ceiling fan, KWIM?

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