I originally rewrote this document because I have decided to release it to my Pastor friends, rather than keeping it as a personal reflection.
Selecting a civil leader is a very important task. It is important because the political leader is entrusted with authority over the state, which is the structure or organ of society, established by God, given to protect freedom and restrain evil.
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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 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. 4 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. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. NKJV
Governmental Authority is From God
This first verse clearly says that we are all, both believers and others, to be subject to the governing authorities, that governmental authority derives from God as the creator of the institution and that those authorities that do exist are appointed by God. The word translated “appointed” means to “arrange in an orderly manner” (NT 5021). In other words the rise and fall of administrations are orchestrated ultimately by God.
Daniel 2:20 Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: 21 And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: KJV
In the bible, God has repeatedly demonstrated his prerogative to determine the occupants of the seats of governmental power. In the book of Daniel; he removed Nebuchadnezzar from his throne until he was willing to acknowledge this very truth (Dan 4). Finally, he removed the dynasty of Nebuchadnezzar altogether and gave the kingdom to the Medes and the Persians (Dan 5). God is responsible for the configuration of the governments of men. He even superintends the rise of the less than desirable to power.
Daniel 4:17 This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men. KJV
John 19:10 Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? 11 Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: KJV
Thus, there is really no such thing as some political movement overturning the will of God in this matter of governing authority. Although God holds each believer responsible for his own decision making process and ultimate choice in voting, as always, the decisions of men work together to accomplish God’s purposes.
Proverbs 19:21 There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand. KJV
Government is a Civil and not a Spiritual Institution
All, persons, regardless of religious affiliation or spiritual status, are expected to submit to government (“Let every soul be subject”). This is because government, although established by God, is not a spiritual institution, but a civil one. Although God established the institution of government, it is a civil and secular institution; it is not joined to the church and it does not share the mission of the church.
The Jews of Jesus’ time attempted to confuse the issue of church and state by proposing a conundrum to Jesus:
Luke 20:21 They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. 22 “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 23 But He detected their trickery and said to them, 24 “Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” NASU
Jesus demonstrated that he perceived the true intent of their question: should the Jews serve the state or God? Jesus clarified that the two are not mutually exclusive, that there was a legitimate duty due to the secular government from the people of God and that they (Israel) should render it. Jesus then distinguished duty to the state from their duty to God-He did not commingle the two. Caesar was not a believer; on the contrary, he claimed to be God. Nonetheless, Jesus said that there was an obligation due to him as the representative of the state. Later, when the Roman state would demand the worship of believers, Christians were correct to resist, because the issue now was not taxes (or voting, I might add), but taking from God what belonged rightly to Him, namely worship. Even in this, the early believers demonstrated a singular unwillingness to commingle the obligations to the state with those to God.
Despite the abuses of the Roman government and many others before and since, the purpose of government is not to establish religion or to pursue spiritual outcomes. Nor is it the responsibility of Christians to attempt to make the government into an organ of the church. It is not the calling of the government to eliminate sin or to bring in the kingdom of God. Nor is it the responsibility of the government to win the lost, make disciples or to advance Christianity. It is the job of government to preserve the inalienable right of freedom by opposing those forces of evil both within and outside of the state which conspire to eliminate the freedom of its citizens.
Romans 13.3 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. 4 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.
The properly functioning government establishes equal justice for all and executes punishment upon the enemies of freedom and justice, without respect of persons. Therefore the government cannot practice evil in the form of injustice, oppression or crime in the performance of its duties without ceasing to perform its function and ultimately bringing upon itself the wrath of God.
Daniel 5:18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:
19 And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.
20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: KJV
The scripture above followed the famous handwriting on the palace wall in the time of Belshazzar, the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. It was spoken by Daniel to that king to give testimony to the fact that although Belshazzar knew the testimony of his powerful ancestor, he did not heed it. As a consequence, that now famous handwriting proclaimed that Belshazzar’s kingdom had been weighed in the balance and found wanting and therefore was scheduled that very night to be delivered to the Medes and the Persians. Hence, not only is God the arbiter of who will rise to power, but it is also true that an administration has not and will not continue a single day beyond the duration which the patience of God allows.
It also follows that if it is not the job of the government to pursue spiritual ends, then the scope of government is confined to the constraint of those evils defined as crimes and not the elimination or restraint of sin. Crime is the province of the government; sin is the province of the church. The answer to the problem of sin is not government, but Christ, who provided through his sacrifice upon the cross a complete solution to the sin problem.
2 Corinthians 5:21 21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. KJV
Acts 16:30–31 30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. KJV
Christians cause problems when we assign the problems of government to the church for solutions and we assign the problems of the church to the government and political leaders for resolution. It is not the job of the church to control politics nor is it the job of government to stamp out sin.
The mission of government and the church do complement one another: when the government properly protects the freedom of all citizens then the church is free to do its work without harassment. Likewise, when the church is producing spiritual light and life, then government has a source of responsible citizens for service as well as a law abiding community that respects the God given institution of government. But the government that would become the instrument of God inevitably draws the nation into systems of tyranny and the church that seeks to manipulate government, regardless of the justification, leads ironically to the very same tyranny.
It is possible for the government to criminalize every sin listed in the scriptures; even so, the solution to sin has never been government, but salvation and discipleship. We will return to this subject later, but as the church does less and less to win the lost and make disciples, it appears more and more intent to use government as an adjunct organ of the Body of Christ, enforcing through civil laws what Christ abolished by his death on Calvary. It appears that the good news of the Gospel of Grace, whereby the sinner can now walk in the newness of life through the death and resurrection of Christ, is being replaced by the Law, a set of civil statutes which forbid sin but offer no solution to it.
Confusing Civil Leaders with Pastors and Vice Versa
The improper choice of a civil leader can obviously result in the loss of freedom and the increase of evil; but when the leader is selected on the basis of spiritual qualifications serious problems are inevitable. I do not select a heart surgeon, an airline pilot or a chef on the basis of their religious convictions, but upon the basis of their skill in performing their chosen profession. Christianity does not typically impart professional skill and Christians can be as incompetent professionally as anyone else.
Nor does the Christian public have any means of determining the actual spiritual status of any political candidate since they have little to no intimate exposure to the candidates under normal circumstances. Today however, we have nearly every major political candidate pressured into claiming to be a Christian (or admitting that he is not) and voters are voting on the basis of these claims. Although I want a civil leader to possess moral strength, I do not believe that he has to be a Christian to possess this quality. Although I believe that the God is the basis of all morality, one does not need to be born again in order to possess morality. We rely every day upon officers of the state: policemen and firemen, judges and civil servants to be honest and to uphold the law whether they are believers in Christ or not. In fact, the prevalence of genuine morality in unbelievers is directly related to the holiness of the church.
1 Peter 2:12–15
12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. NASU
The church is guilty of a similar error in selecting leaders for spiritual service. Calling a pastor has become a beauty contest where genuine spiritual gifts, genuine bible knowledge and genuine spiritual piety are rejected for a pretty face, political skills and pulpit showmanship. We now have actors and entertainers both in the chief positions of government and in the pulpits of America.
The question of primary importance in selecting a president is the ability to understand and follow the Constitution and to implement the laws of the land under equal justice. The civil leader must have the intelligence to understand what policies will strengthen America and protect it from its enemies from within and from without; and must have the moral courage to make the decisions consistent with this knowledge and follow through on these decisions.
Unfortunately, in order to get elected, honest people must become liars and obfuscators because Americans are interested in their own narrow interests rather than the interests of the nation. Many Americans are willing to disregard the Constitution, freedom and justice if they perceive that it serves their interests. Most believers seem to know little about our nations’ history or its current activities around the world. Therefore they are powerfully attracted to a political policy which requires no thought whatsoever: For example, where does the candidate stand on the issue of abortion? Abortion is an evil, and a great one, but it is by no means the only evil in which our nation is currently engaged. There are Christians who oppose abortion but fight to preserve white racial privilege. There are Christians who oppose abortion but look the other way as hundreds of thousands are slaughtered for the control of the natural resources beneath their soil. There are Christians who have no comment regarding the loss of our overall constitutional rights and the introduction of torture in America. The implication is that Jesus is only concerned about certain deaths and the suffering of certain people.
The Church is Guilty
Ironically, the reason that Americans are so selfish and shortsighted is primarily because of a church that is too busy trying to control the state to do its God given duty of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples. It is through the neglect of the Word of God by white pastors that the so many white people embrace racial inequality as an economic safety net for future generations. It is the neglect of the Word of God by black pastors that has resulted in the destruction of the black family and two generations of lost children.
The solution to these problems begins with the church reestablishing its commitment to the ministry of the whole counsel of the scriptures, and government getting to the business of freedom and justice for real and not just for rhetoric. Pastors must risk their jobs to tell the people the truth. Political leaders with true moral courage must risk their lives (and risk their lives they will) in order to combat the true sources of evil and to establish justice.
For the voters with some degree of integrity: you are not seeking a religious leader for the government, but you are to seek someone with sound moral values, high intelligence and great courage for government office. If these persons are not available in the current pool of candidates, then as citizens you are obligated to find them.
The Abortion Issue
Abortion is, in my understanding of the bible, a great sin. There are approximately 1.2 million abortions every year in America, regardless of whether the administration is Democratic or Republican, regardless of the composition of the Supreme Court. Conservatives have pushed every variety of conservative decision through the top court, even managed to have a very controversial election decided by the court in favor of the conservative candidate, but they have been allegedly impotent to impact the terrific evil of abortion.
The problem that I have with the view of so many Christians regarding this issue of abortion can be stated in this way:
1. For some reason, conservative Christians in America believe that abortion, as bad as it is, is the greatest sin that we are in the process of committing as a nation.
2. For a related reason, they choose not to examine or evaluate their political leaders on these “other” issues, such a unjustified and unilateral wars that kill hundreds of thousands including hundreds of thousands of civilians; maintaining scores of non-white nations in perpetual pre-historic conditions for the purpose of our economic and strategic benefit; the periodic assassination of foreign leaders; the support of known dictators (such as Saddam Hussein for many years), the rigging of elections, torture, circumventing or nullifying the constitution, ignoring genuine genocide in the world and supporting eugenics, to name just a few.
3. Lastly, and this is the most disturbing, for some reason, these Christians who consider abortion the single most important issue in selecting a president, apparently also believe that Jesus is oblivious to the deaths, oppression and suffering of people all over the world and is focused only on the single atrocity of abortion. Therefore, they falsely believe the candidate who opposes this single significant sin is always God’s man.
Psalms 103:6 The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. KJV
Isaiah 10:1 Woe to those who enact evil statutes And to those who constantly record unjust decisions, 2 So as to deprive the needy of justice And rob the poor of My people of their rights, So that widows may be their spoil And that they may plunder the orphans. 3 Now what will you do in the day of punishment, And in the devastation which will come from afar? NASU
Both the Republicans and the Democrats violate and disregard large portions of the bible on a consistent basis. This is not a good thing, but there is a reason for it. It is because government is a civil institution and is generally run by unbelievers who are serving a much larger group of non-born again citizens. We live in a secular society and we always have. Even in the days of our colonial forbears who are alleged to have been our spiritual superiors, they fit church in between forcing slaves to work without wages and creating an entire nation of biracial African-American offspring (without the benefit of marriage, I might add).
Christians as Politically Responsible Citizens
The answer is not to throw up our hands and withdraw from the political process altogether. Jesus and the early church did not attempt to make the government do through law what they were proclaiming that the gospel could do through grace. The early church was effective in making disciples, and those disciples became the salt and light that transformed culture. In the Old Testament, during the Babylonian Captivity, Daniel and his three friends were actually government employees, but their objective was not to turn the government of Babylon into a quasi religious organ of Israel. They were faithful to God in their behavior and the King [Nebuchadnezzar] was converted.
When we vote for governmental executives we must realize up front that we will not agree with some of their political views, but we are selecting the best available candidate for the position based upon their ability to do what government is supposed to do, and not based upon what the church is supposed to do. Even Christian candidates, when elected, are not authorized to make government into a branch of the church. In other words, you do not have to be a Christian to be an American.
In the way we believers apply our Christianity to politics, we have astigmatism. We cannot see the rampant and horrible impact we often force upon others through our president, if that president merely says that he oppose abortion. Not that he acts decisively to eliminate abortion, but to merely say that he is against it. We do not require that he ever deliver on his promises regarding abortion, and we do not hold him accountable for his performance in other important areas of political leadership.
This aspect of our faith is not biblical Christianity; this is a religious doctrine that has been contrived to enable our current political system . Just as the slaves were taught a version of Christian doctrine that would not interfere with slavery (which doctrine is still around), we today have somehow absorbed a doctrine which enables an American Empire at the expense of the well being of others all over the world with our tacit consent. [Snap Quiz: which US war in the last 100 years has the conservative evangelical church not supported?]
What Are We to Do?
1. We are to study our government and its actions in order to be properly informed. There is no excuse in this age of computer technology and free libraries not to have an understanding of important issues regarding our government’s activities. This is an individual responsibility and not the responsibility of the church.
2. We are to examine the candidates and issues that we are to vote upon. We need to leave off with the lazy, single issue evaluation that dominates Christian decision making today.
3. We are to recognize that more often than not we are choosing between either unbelievers or between nominal Christians. We are not choosing a Pastor or a Sunday school teacher, but a person who is going to administer government, a secular institution which must govern unbelievers and believers alike.
4. We should realize that when single issues become more important than the character and qualifications of the candidate, the unqualified and those lacking character will ride into power by the manipulation of these very issues, creating even greater evil in so doing.
5. We should also realize that a person does not have to be a believer to have moral character and courage. Millions of unbelievers have died upon our battlefields for principles of patriotism, freedom and honor. Millions more unbelievers have ministered to the sick, protected the weak and defended the Constitution. It is a religious delusion to believe that only Christians are fit to lead, or that every Christian is more fit to lead in government than unbelievers with morality and integrity.
6. We must realize that the solution to the sin problem is in the church, through its dual witness of its lips and its life and that though the government can and should regulate certain behaviors in order to protect all our citizens, we cannot jeopardize the healthy function of government in order to force a Christian agenda upon the nation. We cannot thrust the undeserving into office in order to advance Christian platforms when the solution to the very issues we want addressed is in our own hands and not those of the politicians. By doing this we actually damage the government, rendering it unable to perform the limited functions that it is actually authorized by God to perform.
7. We need to remember that God is the one who ultimately appoints the governing authorities and it is He who determines the extent of their reach and the duration of their influence (Rom 13.1). Although God will judge us all on the quality of our political decision making, His political will has prevailed and will prevail.