Summary: When it comes to the believer's involvement in politics, this principle should guide us: God calls us to submit to all human authority because of Christ, because of our critics, and because we are free in Him!
Deborah Horn, of McLeansboro, Illinois, was brushing her 9-year-old daughter’s hair on a Sunday morning when she began to pepper her mother with a lot of questions. Mom was doing her best to answer them until her daughter looked up and asked, “Are we Christians or Republicans?” (Deborah Horn, McLeansboro, IL. "Heart to Heart," Today's Christian Woman)
What? Are the two mutually exclusive? We could ask the same question about other political parties – Are we Christians or Democrats; or Are we Christians or Libertarians – as if politics and the Christian faith are completely incompatible with each other.
That used to be the attitude of a lot of Bible believing Christians. The common understanding among us conservative, evangelical Christians in the 50’s was that we should never mix politics and faith. So we stayed out of politics and watched as the 60’s came along and the foundations of our society were ripped apart with the sexual revolution, riots in the streets, and students protesting the Vietnam War being shot at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.
After that, some of us evangelicals began to look to politics as a way to save our society. We seriously believed that if we elected the “right people” and passed the “right laws,” then we could save our country from moral and spiritual ruin. So we elected Jimmy Carter in 1976, the first openly evangelical president, followed by Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, all who claimed to be born-again, evangelical Christians.
But what did it get us? I think most sincere believers today would tell us that our society is sliding into moral ruin faster now than it ever has. Politics hasn’t saved us, so we’re retreating again from the political process.
During the last presidential election, in 2008, a study by the Pew Forum indicated that many conservatives had changed their position on churches speaking out on political issues. During the previous presidential election, in 2004, just 37 percent of conservatives felt the church should stay out of politics. In 2008, the last presidential election year, 51 percent shared this view. This virtually matched the views of moderates and liberals (52 percent).
The study also found that a growing number of people were uncomfortable with a candidate speaking personally about religion. In 2004, 40 percent of all respondents said they were uncomfortable with a candidate expressing his or her religious convictions. In 2008, the same study found that 46 percent were uncomfortable. (More Americans Question Religion's Role in Politics, www.pewforum.org, 9-3-08; www.PreachingToday.com)
That raises a question that believers have been debating for centuries from the 1st Century believers under Nero to the Reformers in the 16th Century who established state churches to the preachers in the 18th Century who laid a moral foundation for the American Revolution to sincere believers in the 21st Century today. And that question is this: As believers in Christ, what should be our involvement in politics? What should we do, as followers of Christ, when it comes to trying to create a better society overall? What should we do as citizens of heaven when it comes to our relationship with human governments here on earth?
Well, I’m sure I don’t have the definitive answer this morning. But the Bible does give us some principles to think about as we consider our own involvement with government and the political process. So if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to 1 Peter 2, 1 Peter 2, where Peter writes to a group of Christians suffering under government persecution in the 1st Century and tells them how they should relate to such a government.
1 Peter 2:13-14 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. (NIV)
Now, that’s surprising! Peter doesn’t tell them to RESIST a government that’s persecuting them; he tells them to SUBMIT to such a government. In fact, Peter tells them and us to…
SUBMIT TO ALL HUMAN AUTHORITY.
To obey every government official from top to bottom, from the supreme human authority to the officers he sends out to administer justice. Now, that term, “submit,” is primarily a military term, which literally means “to rank under” or “to put yourself under the authority” of a superior officer. And that’s the way we’re to relate to all our governing officials – like they’re our superior officer.
That doesn’t mean we have to like them or even agree with them, but like an enlisted man in the military, we respect the position or the office. We respect it enough to obey every order that doesn’t go against God’s law itself (Acts 4:19).