Christians and Civil Government

Christians and Civil Government

For years, I have been keenly interested in the relationship between Christians and the civil government. I am clearly not alone in that. Any ordinary election season intensifies that existing concern. And regardless of your political leanings, I think we can agree that, between the last Presidential election and this midterm election, we are not in an ordinary season.

Many Christians feel that they face a dilemma: we must vote for one major party or the other, and both options are currently seen as undesirable for various reasons. Some argue that we must choose the lesser of two evils. Others note the larger implications of the policies of a particular candidate, even if we find them personally unpalatable: Supreme Court seats are at stake, the trajectory of the entire nation is in the balance, and we have an obligation to shape it in a way that is pleasing to God.

I intend to explore our thinking on this issue in a series of articles in the coming weeks. I will not attempt to persuade you to support any political party, Republican, Democrat, or otherwise. What I propose is a more foundational examination of our relationship to civil government itself – indeed, our relationship to the world. I have preached on this topic many times over the years, though you haven’t heard it in Liberty as yet. But this offers an opportunity to go into the topic in ways that we cannot in a sermon.

You will probably not agree with everything I have to say. Make that almost definitely disagree, actually. That’s ok. We can still be friends. All I ask is that you try to open your mind and give me a fair hearing and to think about this, hard.  I don’t pretend to present anything unique or original on this topic (and that’s a good thing – I don’t want to be novel). But it is a minority view in our contemporary context, to say the least. And I am convinced that the church needs to hear it, desperately: the gospel itself is at stake.

For most of us, our actions rest on the assumption that we have an obligation to go out and reshape the world according to Christian norms. As Americans, the political process is just one more tool in the toolbox to do that. But is that really the case? Is it our mission to “fix” the world? Is the political process a viable option to fulfill our mission? These are the questions we should consider; before we can answer how we ought to vote, we must get this right.  And I fear much has been taken for granted rather than critically considered on this subject.

As with anything else, I want to go to Scripture to establish what we ought to do. You see, this is not a new issue – it is an ancient one. If space were not limited in this format, it would be profitable to do a deep exegesis of a number of passages: Romans 13, 1 Peter 2:11-17, Mark 12:17 and its parallels all come to mind. We will certainly allude to those passages along the way.

Instead, I want to explore some fundamental principles that are in the background of those passages, principles that run throughout all Scripture: the sovereignty of God; the Lordship of Christ; and the church as a peculiar people. These principles indicate that Christians are to be shaped by an ethic of radical submission, centered in and modeled upon Christ, which serves as an authentic witness to the world of what it means to truly be the people of God. Then we will get down to practical, modern applications from our study.

If that sounds like a lot to cover, it is. I wish we had more space and more time. We may have to skim over some things instead of looking at them in detail along the way. But I want us to dig as deeply as we can into this topic here together and hopefully learn something, whether or not we end up seeing eye to eye. So put on your thinking cap: the plan is for an article every week between now and Election Day.


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