There is a great deal of controversy regarding what Christian pastors should and should not say about government. The conflation of the institution of government with the means by which governmental power is achieved, maintained and executed [or politics] has had the effect of eliminating many of the most conscientious pastors from teaching their congregations the proper way to interact with either. This lack of teaching means that there is no witness of proper citizenship by the church towards the unbelieving community as we would expect in the case of the other institutions such as marriage and family. Consequently, the field is dominated by the doctrinally unorthodox and by outright false teachers. These are the individuals who are filling the instructional vacuum and educating the church in the absence of legitimate pastors.
Romans 13:3–6 (KJV 1900): For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing
Government is the mechanism established initially by God for the orderly function of humanity by the control of evil: the protection of citizens through laws and by means of military action against external enemies.
Politics is often made synonymous with government. God has established government but he has not ordained any particular system of politics by which governmental power is achieved, maintained or executed.
Government and Biblical History
God has ordained government [Rom 13.1-4] but has not specified the form of government by which mankind is ruled. In the Bible, common people did not get to choose their leaders: Pharaoh was not popularly elected, nor was Moses, Nebuchadnezzar or Nero. Despite this, believers were expected to be models of good citizenship under the form of government relevant to their times and geography. Believers were not authorized to compromise righteousness or justice in order to comply with government or to promote a particular leader. This principle was demonstrated by Daniel and his friends who would not compromise with evil in order to comply with the commands of government. Even as government officials themselves, they refused to cooperate with evil and were examples both to Israel and the Gentiles as to how a citizen should behave towards government. Daniel condemned Belshazzar; Moses condemned Pharaoh; the prophets judged both good and evil kings in Israel [ex. Jehoshaphat and Ahab].
Believers were not free to abstain from teaching the relation between themselves and government and what is proper and improper government function. Romans 13 itself describes what constitutes good government and by implication, good leadership in government. Paul identifies government with good and not evil. Paul identifies government as originating with God and therefore designed to advance a divine agenda by which human freedom is preserved in the world. The entire Old Testament criticizes the use of government to exploit the weak and to legitimize oppression.1 Pastors are not given the choice of avoiding teaching the church about government and the believers responsibility towards it.
But What About Politics
Like other institutions devised by God (marriage, family), government must operate in a world comprised predominately of unbelievers and administered by the devil (2 Cor 4.4; 1 Jn 5.19). As with marriage and family, Satan works to undermine government and wicked men and women are usually in the position of authority. It is futile to attempt to separate the mechanisms by which governmental power is achieved, maintained and implemented from the structural elements and abstract function of government, it is an artificial distinction in the context of biblical instruction. Christian pastors cannot evade teaching Christians about current events and their response to these events by claiming that “politics are evil.” Politics and government have always been evil: from Babel, to Saul to Caesar to the American Presidents. There is no biblical precedent that justifies staying out of the issue.
2 Samuel 23:2–3 (KJV 1900): The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, And his word was in my tongue. 3 The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, Ruling in the fear of God.
Psalm 94:20–21 (KJV 1900): Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, Which frameth mischief by a law? 21 They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, And condemn the innocent blood.
The Christians’ Function as a Good Citizen
Unlike the biblical eras, believers today often find themselves under governments where citizens participate in the selection of leaders. The process of convincing citizens to vote for a particular candidate introduces many opportunities for wickedness. To gain the votes of Christian congregations, politicians resort to the same methods that work with unbelievers: the appeal to their fears and prejudices. Pastors support these tactics by inflaming those same sinful attitudes, or by ignoring the issues altogether. By categorizing political issues as outside of the gospel or irrelevant to the gospel, the people are left subject to unscrupulous politicians and false teachers.
Pastors may consider themselves free to ignore politics but their congregations are not free to do so. Government is essential to life. We would not tell our congregations that they did not have to work because God will provide. We would not tell them not to go to the doctor for the same reason. However, some pastors are comfortable to leave the issue of who will control the economy, healthcare, police, army and navy to God when he has given us that stewardship by providentially placing us in nations with participatory government.
Christians have a responsibility to be a witness in every area of life. We cannot remove ourselves from the political world because there is wickedness there any more than we exempt ourselves from any other area of witness.
The Pastors Responsibility
- Define the biblical origin, function and limits of government
- Identify the biblical attributes of effective political leadership
- Elucidate the many biblical examples of the believers’ interaction with government
- Clarify the biblical relationship between the church and the state
- Identify clear attempts by politicians to specifically manipulate Christians by false issues and by the improper use of genuine issues
- Teach the mechanics of historical impact by the Church: how the spiritual maturity and effective spiritual function of the believer have a direct impact upon the well being of the nation
- Reinforce the importance of not conceding government or politics to the devil, but to redeem the time for the days are evil.
Pastors and teachers have the privilege of equipping men, women and the next generation to have incredible impact upon the nation by the application of their spiritual wisdom and righteousness upon the institution of government and the practice of politics. Some of your congregation may be led to seek political office and be used of God to have great effect to the benefit of the nation. How will this happen unless you teach them?
Since Eden, the spiritual warfare has been waged on earth as well as in the heavens. On the earth, God has established government for the orderly function of mankind within nations. The believers’ witness in the political realm is as necessary as his witness within any other divine institution. Lucifer once administered governmental authority in heaven (Eze 28.11 sq.). He does so today upon the earth (Jn 12.31). One day, the Antichrist will emerge as a governmental power (Rev 13.1-8) seeking to formally establish Satan as god of this world. Politics is one field of battle in the multifaceted spiritual conflict and believers, especially Pastors, receive no exemption from it.