A Few Principles for Politics

In case you’ve somehow missed the bombardment of radio and TV ads, yard signs, and news reports, election time is not that far away. So it only makes sense to do a bit of thinking about politics through a biblical lens. And while such a task has been the subject of books, let alone blog posts, I’ll stick to offering a few general principles:

1. A Christian’s primary allegiance isn’t to a political party or even a country.

While followers of Christ are certainly to seek the betterment of their society/country (Jer. 29:4-7) and are to respect the authority of the state as derived from God himself (Rom. 13:1-7), it’s clear that their ultimate allegiance is to the creator of all there is, the one who the Bible does not shy away from calling “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15-16). This is why apostolic authority can, on the one hand, urge obedience and respect toward governing authorities (see again Rom. 13:1-7) while, on the other, confidently assert “we must obey God rather than men” when the two conflict (Acts 5:29). Also, as a result of being united in Christ, Christians have a greater fundamental connection with fellow believers than with those of the same political party or nationality.

2. Still, God cares about politics (and so should we).  

Paul, with appropriate grandness, tells the Colossian church that Christ is not only the creator of all things, he is also their point or purpose (1:15-17). Further, Paul says God is reconciling “all things” to himself through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (1:20). It’s fair to say, then, that Christ is intimately involved in and concerned with every aspect of the created world, including our political institutions and activity. In fact, one finds a large amount of Biblical teaching that is relevant, whether directly or indirectly, to the political enterprise. In addition to some of the passages already cited above, think for example of God’s numerous instructions to and evaluations of rulers in the Old Testament, the assertion that just rule depends on wisdom (Prov. 8:15-16), Jesus’ often quoted (and sometimes misunderstood) teaching about paying taxes to Caesar (Mat. 22:15-22), and his general admonition that Christians are to be salt and light in a world that retains a large share of decay and darkness (Mat. 5:13-16). 

3. Politics will never achieve a utopia.

The Bible is nothing if not realistic: human beings, whether Christians or not, remain tainted by sin (Rom. 3:23, James 3:2, 1 John 1:8). Likewise, the creation remains under a curse, awaiting redemption (Rom. 8:19-21). This should blunt triumphalistic notions that any human agency can propel our society onward and upward until we know nothing of war, poverty, disease, corruption, cruelty, disasters, and any number of other problems. Not surprisingly, both history and the Bible agree on this point. Only Christ’s return to consummate his kingdom, renewing both his people and his creation will result in a world where we are finally free from sin and its many pervasive effects (see, Rom. 8:19-25, 1 Cor. 15, Rev. 21-22). 

4. And yet politics can bear good fruit. 

While Christians often struggle with a triumphalistic approach to politics, they can also easily become cynical and pessimistic. But biblical realism exists in tandem with genuine hope. God gives all men and women gifts, talents, insight, etc., through what theologians often call his “common grace” (for an extended discussion of this point, click here), enabling them to contribute to society’s well being in various ways, not the least of which is through politics. And while we’ve already seen that the kingdom of God is not yet fully here, we need to remember that it has begun, continues to grow, and is permeating the world in various ways (see, e.g., Mat. 13:31-33). It’s no great leap to suggest that God’s redemptive activity will often contribute to greater human flourishing through wide variety of channels. This includes families and the church certainly, but also any number of vocations and activities, with politics again among them. 

Next week, I’ll attempt to lay out a few more principles consistent with a biblical understanding of politics. 

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