“Politics is a Dirty Business…”

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“…and good Christians don’t get involved in it.” This was the attitude of the church I grew up in, and although it was not often openly discussed, it was understood by all. There was no doubt that we were superior to and above all that messy “politics stuff.”

This attitude has been prevalent in the evangelical church since the early 20th century. It had its genesis after the twin ideas of Darwinism and Marxism were birthed in Europe in the mid 19th century. Until that time, non-Christians had been forced to use Deism’s idea of an absentee God, who created us and then left us to live completely on our own, as their only rationale for the undeniable reality of the creation. Darwin’s evolutionary theory now gave them a brand new way to eliminate God completely, including His law, with a new Marxist explanation for how we can live our lives completely without God. When evolution arrived on the scene it was adopted eagerly.

So, Christians were faced with the new intellectual challenge of combating these twin ideas that challenged the reality of God and His law. They saw the difficulties ahead in doing that and retreated from this cultural battle in the public square in the early 1900s, rather than attack the intellectual challenge ahead of them. The public ridicule of the Christian position, that was presented in the Scopes trial in 1925, was the final push out the culture door for the church, even though the Christians were victorious at the trial.

 But wait just a little minute! Doesn’t the fact that Jesus is, right now, ruling over the earth from God’s right hand through the church, preclude such a retreat by that church? That would be desertion from the daily war we are waging to finalize Satan’s defeat at the cross (Ephesians 1:18-23; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14, 15; Psalm 110:1, 2), our “mopping up” of his straggling guerrilla forces who refuse to surrender. 

The church not only retreated from the world but from this vision of victory as well. It adopted a theology that taught Jesus’ imminent return to rescue us from the culture battle and to give us an out for our complete lack of involvement. “Why shine brass on a sinking ship?”, preached one of this theology’s proponents.

However, if Jesus is ruling right now, as the above referenced verses very clearly say He is, must not “rule” involve civil government (politics) in some way, since it is one of the three institutions God has ordained to extend that rule over the earth? The church often will discuss the family and the church and the importance of each. It follows logically that the church’s task of equipping us includes teaching us that the rule of Jesus extends into politics as well, because, of course, it does.

Just what does that mean? What does the Bible teach about the role of the government’s rule in our lives? What are the biblical parameters of that rule?

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 

“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:1-4). 

A companion passage reiterates this clear framework for the role of the government: “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13, 14).

Biblically, we can see that the role of government under God’s law is twofold only: 1.) the punishment of law-breakers (“evildoers”), and 2.) the protection (“praise”) of law-keepers. Those who are chosen for the office are called “ministers of God” and are said to be sent directly by God to represent Him as He administers His justice according to His law, through them! 

That justice that the civil government administers has to do with “what is beneath you”—externals only. It has nothing to do with “what is above you,” internal matters of the heart. Those have to do with one’s relationship with God. Civil government deals with external “crimes,” what you do, not internal “sins,” what you say, think and feel. 

For example, there is no such thing as a “hate crime.” Hate is a sin, but not a crime! God Himself is at work on that sin. It is none of the government’s business to determine attitudes or virtues, such as “how to be kind.” You can see that there is a very important distinction between sin and crime, as they are defined in the Bible, which must be our standard of truth in this whole area of civil government. 

The civil government also has nothing to do with other functions we have always associated with government. Biblically, it has nothing to do with the economy, medicine, education, charity, roads, mail, the arts, communication, etc. The police, the armed forces, fire departments, and other organizations that protect the public remain in the civil sphere, as they all have a legitimate, biblical place among the government’s responsibilities.

The ones who do not, such as those mentioned in the previous paragraph, are all in the private sector, flowing from man’s freedom to meet needs and solve problems under the law of God, as he wishes. We have left this biblical pattern increasingly over the years, and, as we have trusted less and less in the Triune God to be our God, we have substituted a burgeoning civil government to take His place. Next week I want to “get back to the basics” to see how this can be remedied.

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  1. Jerry Buccola says:

    Robert, another splendid post. I REALLY like your first two paragraphs, providing the historical context. Thes paragraphs enlighten your position in the rest of the post. And it is helpful to have you make the distinction between sin and crime! Thank you!

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