Over the last several months, I’ve received many questions from believers about how they ought to relate to government and through these interactions, I’ve realized:
1. Churches and Christian leaders have not put a great emphasis on discipling people in this area of their lives. There are few classes, sermons, or small groups focused on relating to government from a biblical perspective.
2. A person’s view of theology influences their view of politics and government. Here are two examples.
A. A person’s view of the end times (eschatology). Some people believe the world is getting worse and will end up overcome with evil until the antichrist arrives (who pretends to be the saviour), then God will intervene. Others believe that God is recreating the earth through our efforts and us as people.
B. A person’s view of themselves & God (Calvinist, Arminianism). Some people believe that people don’t have free choice, and all that God has planned will ultimately take place no matter what we do. Others believe that God gives us the option to make our world what it is, and we fight evil with his help.
Imagine the combination of the two. If a person believes the world is getting worse and worse and humans ultimately have no power to make changes, they will not get involved in politics. They might feel that it is in God’s plan for evil to have more control so He can intervene and do not want to mess with providence. The sentiment might be, “let’s wait for it to end and God to rescue us out of this mess. Let’s not be worried about the earth. Let’s focus on heaven.”
3. Culture plays an integral part in shaping our view. If you believe that one should avoid conflict, you might think it’s wrong to oppose the government. If you grew up in a family where the truth mattered more than feelings, you might be inclined to be confrontational.
I would like to share with you where I am when it comes to getting involved in government. I would like to share with you my conviction as I best understand scripture.
1. Should Christians get involved in shaping government?
Yes. We do what we can. We let God intervene if he chooses.
Just as we are to be active in prayer, work, and every area of our life, we are to be engaged in shaping government. I do not believe fatalism is compatible with biblical teaching. I think that we get what we deserve because we are involved or not involved. I do not believe we should accept what other people choose for us. I think Christians should work to influence the government in all ways available.
2. Should Christians advocate for laws and values that reflect Christian priorities?
Yes. I believe that Christians should advocate for the passing of laws that reflect a biblical centred ethic. I think that we should advocate for laws that reflect the heaven that we believe we are headed. If the goodness of heaven is a destination we are advocating for, we ought to want people to experience a measure of it now to desire its fullness later. How can one speak about heaven but are unwilling to suggest policies on earth to reflect that reality? How can we speak of a sinless eternity but accept or advocate for a sin-filled society?
3. Should Christians challenge government officials?
Yes. The Old Testament has examples of prophets such as Moses, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah and others who confronted political leadership. The New Testament also contains numerous instances of authorities being confronted. John the Baptist confronted Herod. Paul confronted the unjust use of violence of local leaders in Macedonia and later used his rights as a citizen of Rome to appeal to Caesar. Jesus even publicly confronted Pilot’s belief about his power and authority.
Christians have a history of making society better by confronting unjust government policy. The eradication of child labour, the abolition of slavery, the focus on education, healthcare, social services, and racial equality are largely due to the work of followers of Jesus.
When should a Christian confront the government in a democracy? The example from history is whenever one believes that a policy or activity contravenes deeply held biblical priority such as righteousness, justice, liberty, and life. Sometimes, followers of Jesus disagree on these priorities. Wisdom would say one ought to pick and choose our battles. There is always a cost to confrontation.
4. How should Christians challenge government officials?
There are a variety of methods that government power was challenged in scripture. Here are some of them.
- An in-person confrontation. Most examples that we have in scripture are prophets confronting kings in person. Meetings, calls, letters, and protests would be part of this.
- Civil disobedience. Some examples of this are the Jewish midwives in Egypt, the Exodus, Rahab, Daniel, and Esther. Christians are encouraged to obey the government in Romans 13:1-7. We also have the encouragement to obey God first in Acts 5:29. While believers are encouraged to obey government, they also have the scriptural example of people of faith to challenge and resist government.
5. Does the Bible prioritize one form of government over another?
In the Old Testament, God set up Israel’s nation in a theocracy by giving them a constitution (called the law) and various roles (priests, prophets, judges) who exercised certain functions. The nation asked for an authoritarian system of government (1 Samuel 8). We see in history that to be the most common form of government. While historians teach us that forms of democracy existed in ancient India and the Greco-Roman empire, it had developed in various shapes and cultures around the globe. Some societies transitioned from authoritarian systems to constitutional systems, emphasizing individualism balanced out by representative democracy. Other societies transitioned to other forms of authoritarianism branded socialism or communism.
Every system has its positives and negatives. There is no perfect system because people are imperfect. Proverbs 29:2 tells us, “When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan.” History has shown that some authoritarian societies flourish under outstanding leadership. My personal view is that until Jesus returns in person and establishes his authoritarian rule of peace and righteousness, democracy may provide a better opportunity to reset a government if a terrible leader is elected to power.
I do believe that followers of Jesus can thrive in any government system. Whether in a republic centred on a constitution and elected leadership, a socialistic/communist system with an elite group making decisions for the entire nation, an authoritarian system where even fewer decide, or in a combination of any of the above.
It might not always be easy, but it is possible. In a fascist, socialist, communist, or authoritarian system, freedoms may be limited, Christianity outlawed, and believers persecuted. But history has shown the church able to thrive in such a hostile environment.
6. Are there other ways to change society?
Christianity, at its core, can change entire societies as the church stays focused on making disciples who follow in the way of Jesus. As people follow Jesus, they embrace new values, moral standards, and behaviours that make for better citizens who contribute to society’s wellbeing. As followers of Jesus increase in any society, the predominance of those values influences society’s norms. In history, authoritarian societies have been transformed by gospel believing leaders. In a democracy, believers have been able to exercise influence by running as representatives, voting, petitions, protesting, sponsoring legislation, writing policy, and government work.
How can society be changed?
- Top: Politics / Government – leaders influencing policies
- Mid: Social Norms – leaders influencing practices in cultural institutions: education, media, business, financial, etc.
- Low: Evangelism – people being changed from the inside out at the grassroots level.