We are getting near an election (but still waiting on Kevin to spill the beans as to when it actually will be), so once again I need to point out some basic truths concerning Christianity, politics, political parties and elections. Sadly there tends to be far too much fuzzy thinking here by many believers, so there is a regular need for an article like this.
Various myths and misconceptions abound, so we need to look at them carefully and critically. Let me list just a few of the more common ones:
Christians should not be involved in politics. Regrettably too many believers think that politics is a waste of time, and that we should not be interested in it. Where they got this idea is baffling, since it clearly is not biblical. God ordained the institution of the state, and by extension politics, and he expects believers to extend the Lordship of Christ into every part of His world.
Salt and light business extends to every sphere: the political, the social, the economic, the cultural, the legal, and so on. And just imagine if believers like Wilberforce or Martin Luther King Jr did stay out of the political process. We would all be worse off today.
But I have made this case often elsewhere, so let me direct you to a few articles for more detail on this:
We should seek to change hearts, not laws. This may sound nice and spiritual but it is really quite foolish. Of course Christianity is about changing hearts through the transforming power of the gospel. But it is also about having an impact on societies and cultures.
The Bible speaks a lot about godly governments, godly laws and godly rulers. These things should matter to us because they matter to God. A law will not save a person, but it will help to act in the restraint of evil. It is a good thing that we have enforceable laws against murder, theft and the like.
As but one example of this which I just read about today, in the US seventeen states have made it harder to get an abortion this year so far. That did not involve changing hearts – it involved changing legislation. But the fact that thousands of unborn babies might be saved as a result is something every single Christian should applaud and give thanks to God for.
Moreover, the flaw in the above reasoning is obvious: if laws do not matter at all, but only changed hearts, then if a town had only Christians it would throw out traffic lights, speed limits, and all other regulations. But even born-again believers are still fallen and still capable of doing evil. Laws are needed for all people – even God’s people. Simply look at God’s people in the Old Testament; they had plenty of laws.
So there is no conflict between having a heart devotion to God, and having external laws to help that internal relationship find concrete expression and parameters. Remember, “righteousness exalts a nation” (Proverbs 14:34), and that includes not just transformed lives but godly legislation. We need both.
Governments and politics are evil. This charge can come from various sorts of believers: those from the Anabaptist tradition who look down on politics and Christian involvement in the state; over-spiritualised believers who have no understanding of the need to be salt and light in this world; and libertarians.
The Anabaptists are a small minority in church history, and are welcome to their emphases, although I think they happen to be wrong on these matters. Those hyper-spiritual believers who pay no attention to things in this world are simply being irresponsible and unbiblical.
As to the radical libertarians on the right, they can often be indistinguishable from the radical anarchists on the left. Both despise government and statism. But they cannot be biblical Christians, since it is God who has willed the state, and established the institution of government to bring order and punish evil in a fallen world.
Sure, like other conservatives, I am certainly wary of big government and out of control statism, but I will not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. God has set up the state to administer justice and punish wrongdoers in this world, and we are to submit to the ruling powers.
Of course there may be times when the state orders a believer to do something he cannot in good conscience do, or forbids him from doing something he should do. In those cases there certainly is a biblical case for civil disobedience, as I discuss here: billmuehlenberg.com/2008/11/02/christians-and-civil-disobedience/
And it is possible that a case can be made for a just revolution, but that case will be spelled out in a future article.
We have no real choice in this election. Far too many Christians will simply throw their hands up in the air and make silly claims like, “All parties are just as bad”. Well, they all have weaknesses and none will bring in the Kingdom, but there are nonetheless many differences which need to be noted.
Indeed, while it is of course true that no political party is perfect, or ever can be, it is also true that some parties are closer to – or further from – biblical ideals than others. For example it is the official Labor Party and Greens’ policy to have abortion on demand, and homosexual marriage. Neither one of these is part of the official party platform of the Liberals and Nationals.
Those are not the only issues of importance of course, but they are vital nonetheless, so the differences here really do matter. To help believers think more carefully here, a number of us put together a Christian Values Checklist before each election. Stay tuned, as that will be forthcoming.
And of course we must not discount the role of the smaller parties, such as Family First, the Christian Democratic Party (Australian Christians), the Democratic Labor Party, and Rise Up Australia. We already had FF for example hold the balance of power in the Senate for some time. While the great majority of the candidates in these smaller parties will not get in, their presence is important, and how their preferences are allocated also will be crucial.
In sum, much more could be said about all this. But Christians have a biblical obligation to be involved in the social and political issues of the day, and have an urgent role to play in the electoral process. We dare not waste our opportunities here. For example, I had one believer recently tell me he will just vote informally.
I told him that was a clear abdication of his Christian responsibility. I too may not like all the choices available to us here. I too know the many weaknesses of the Liberals and Nationals. I too know that the Kingdom will not be ushered in at the next election.
But I know that we are all called to be salt and light, and I know that God will not hold us guiltless if we fail in our Christian responsibilities here. So vote carefully, vote wisely, vote biblically, and vote prayerfully. That is the very least any Christian can do.