A Free Church In A Free State
Should Christians be involved in politics? Should Christians seek or hold official government positions since we are “not of this world?” Some believe that Christians have an obligation to “serve” in the government, while others believe Christians should have nothing to do with state politics. I do not believe that either of these views are correct. I believe a Christian can serve in a government capacity, but I certainly do not see it as an obligation. My main concern when pondering this topic is the motivation for a Christian’s involvement in government. What is his purpose? The Bible tells us to “seek first the Kingdom of God” and to keep ourselves from becoming entangled in the affairs of this life. Does this rule out Christians seeking to have an impact on the governing policies of their respective nation or state? I do not think so, but again, it all has to do with which kingdom they are focused on. Can the governing policies of a nation help or hinder the furtherance of the gospel? My initial reaction is “yes, of course.” I must pause when saying this, for the simple reason that great things have happened through the witness of Christians in places where state actors have sought to curtail or even stamp out Christian practices, so it is obvious that Christianity does not need government approval to accomplish its purposes. There is something to be said for the impact that Christianity has on others when they see people preaching and following Christ when it is dangerous for them to do so. My point is I believe Christianity has, can, and will be impactful regardless of the actions of government officials. I am of course not referring to the mere nominal element of Christianity, but genuine Christianity. With that said, I believe that a nation’s government can make things easier or harder on Christians, by making way for or hindering the preaching of the gospel, therefore a Christian can help to promote laws that can protect Christians from earthly persecution while maintaining a Kingdom of God focus. How can this best be accomplished?
There are two pathways for this endeavor, with one being the implementation of Christian practices as the law of the land, and the other being the support of legislation that gives liberty to all people to believe and do as they please without government intrusion. Which pathway should Christians favor? It goes without saying that liberty for all does not imply that people can steal, kill, and abuse with impunity. Safeguards that protect people from violence should be present in any community, though not necessarily enforced by bureaucrats. But some people believe we should make the doctrines and practices of Christianity the law of the land, and as soon as we do, the better things will be for the nation. Is this true? Certainly, having a society based on Christian values seems like a good thing, but my answer to this question is “no” for at least a couple of reasons. First, forced Christianity is not Christianity at all, and our commission is not to merely push for a more moral and prosperous society, for this world and its kingdoms are going to pass away. We are commissioned to call people to forsake this world and to “seek first the kingdom of God” by following Christ. Second, since we are talking about the political systemization of a body of beliefs, whose “Christianity” should become the law of the land? There are many denominations and unaffiliated Christian churches across the country, and they differ significantly in their doctrines, practices, and political views. Would we want a Catholic nation? A Baptist nation? A Methodist nation? A Presbyterian nation? A nation of so-called Christianity that believes in the enforcement of the Mosaic Law? No, thank you. I prefer to live in obedience to God according to my own understanding of scripture rather than having someone enforce certain beliefs and behaviors onto me and my family. I affirm biblical morality, but the idea of living in a theonomy is a bit disturbing.
Theonomists claim that the civil law of a nation should follow the example of Israel’s civil and judicial laws under the Mosaic covenant. Some Christians may look at this and think: “Why not?” I and others look at this and see the danger of the church-state relationship and how it jeopardizes the freedom to oppose an official religious policy enforced by the government. Though God’s morals remain the same, his theocratic purposes through Israel are no longer in effect. The civil laws that God enforced in Israel were meant to protect the special relationship between himself and Israel, as well as his purposes through them as a nation, and we have no indication from the scriptures that other nations should incorporate the Mosaic Law into their legislation. There are some professing Christians who think that a nation should enforce the death penalty for sins such as homosexuality, blasphemy, and adultery, but I am of the opinion that this is merely a self-righteous perception of justice. Throughout the scriptures we see even God himself calling on people to repent of these kinds of sins without the death penalty being enforced. In Israel, King David committed adultery, yet he repented, and God forgave him of his sin (though he could not erase the consequences) without putting him to death. When the religious hypocrites dragged the woman caught in the act of adultery to the Lord Jesus in an attempt to place him at odds either with the directives of the Mosaic Law or the civil magistrates of Rome, the Lord put his finger on their hypocrisy, and they dropped the matter and left the scene. The Lord had a conversation with the woman and asked her: “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” She said: “No man, Lord.” The Lord Jesus then said: “Neither do I condemn thee; now go and sin no more (italics are mine).” We see that God’s morals are ever the same, for he did not say it was ok for her to continue in adultery, but the idea that civil retribution for sin is God’s purpose for the nations of the world is refuted in this example.
It is good when a government enables the churches to proclaim the gospel, but it is not good when a government uses religion to control the minds and behaviors of people. People may claim that the U.S., for example, is ruled by law, not men, but the fact of the matter is this: men are the ones making the laws and choosing how to enforce them. At the end of the day, government policies are the ideas of men and what they think are the best ways of accomplishing their own ideas of what society should be. History has shown us how a strong connection between church and state is not a good thing. John Calvin, for instance, used his political position to murder his theological opponents. Is that the type of government we want to live under? If disagreeing with Calvinism carried the penalty of death, I would have been executed a long time ago.
People claim they want to see moral and religious uniformity, but pursuing this ideal is much more dangerous to individual Christians themselves than the political model of religious liberty, because the largest and most powerful religious group will set the standards for everyone else, and I am not in favor of that in any kind of way. In the history of the church, rather than having one group dictate to everyone else what it means to follow Christ, conflicts, disagreements, and freedom of thought and expression have allowed Christians to clarify and expound on important matters over the centuries. This allows Christians to work through theological inconsistencies and to better understand God’s Word, rather than getting stuck in a static and ecclesiastical imposed belief system. In relating this to the government and politics, rather than being told what we must do and what we cannot do (excluding the initiation of violence toward a person or his property), men should be given the liberty to choose their own actions and beliefs, and if we think our ideas are more accurate, we can use moral persuasion to try to convince our neighbor.
Christians should not look to government compulsion as the answer for the moral ills of society. It is the sacrificial love of the Lord’s churches that will win people’s hearts and change people’s lives, not the coercive power of the state. The governments of the world are awaiting destruction, because even if they adopt and legislate certain moral codes, this does not mean they are operating in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Psalm 2). God’s morals transcend the penal codes of national Israel, thus we do not need the penalties of the Mosaic Law as we seek to win souls. God’s moral government over the world does not need the civil laws of ancient Israel to be enforced by earthly kingdoms. Listening to some people speak, one would think the mission of Christ is to use people to turn the current earthly kingdoms into utopias of wealth and prosperity, and to force Christianity upon others while killing anyone that sins, rather than seeking to save people from a world that is perishing. The power of the gospel is what the nations need, not religious legislation.
So can a Christian serve in the government of an earthly Kingdom? I would say yes, as long as his purpose for doing so is exerting his influence for the purpose of a free church in a free state, and he is seeking justice (I understand the directive to pursue biblical justice to be more about seeking restoration instead of strict retribution), loving mercy, and walking humbly with God instead of attempting to enforce the Mosaic Law or any other specific body of beliefs on others.
None of this is to say that the pursuit of political freedom should be the focal point of Christians. Christ has called us to be Kingdom of God centered, regardless of the political environment we find ourselves in. Many "Christians" throughout history have violated the principles of the Kingdom of God while pursuing favorable political goals. Have you?