Should religion and politics ever overlap?

By John Ruiz-Bueno

This is a question that gets asked frequently, especially shortly before or after an election. Most people really want to know: "Wouldn't the world be better off if man's laws and God's laws were identical?" The answer isn't as simple as you'd think.

The concept of religion controlling the government is called a "theocracy." That's too big of a concept to address in full here, but there are certain things worth keeping in mind when you're thinking about the viability of converting your government to a theocracy. As always, those things should be grounded in Scripture.

First, Jesus avoided politics and never once tried to change the political structure of the area in which he ministered. There were people called "zealots" who thought the Messiah would do just that: uproot the government to make Israel great again. One of the apostles is even identified as a zealot. These people would have given their lives to take Jesus to the top in an all-out war to bring God back to the government. Jesus ignored them. During Jesus' temptation in Matthew 4, Satan specifically offered Jesus the ability to control the government according to God's ways, and Jesus declined.

Second, in Romans 12 Paul says that we should submit to our governing authorities because they have been placed in their position of authority by God. If God has put authorities in place to fulfill his purposes, we should respect them and not try to tear them down or change them. That does not mean we should choose not to vote or fail to take part in a national election system. Instead, it means that we fulfill our obligation to our country consistent with what our conscience in the Spirit dictates, trusting God for whatever happens after that. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus, not to make laws more favorable to Christian practices. Coincidentally, if we focused on making disciples within our nation and were successful, there would be more people to vote godly men/women into office and more godly men/women to run for office. As is virtually always the case, the mission to make disciples is the answer to all of the world's problems; yet the church often forgets it or confuses "make disciples" with "get someone to say 'the prayer'" or "get people to go to church."

Third, we see the example of the apostles. We never see them trying to (a) change the laws; (b) argue whether or not they're fair; or (c) avoid the consequences of the law. Instead, they submitted to the law. This is consistent with Paul's preaching in Romans 12, but proven in Acts 16 when Paul has a chance to escape prison, but chooses to remain a captive. Paul's decision is proved right in Philippians 1 when he says that it is for the sake of the Gospel that he was imprisoned because he has been able to share the Gospel with numerous important people in Caesar's household.

Fourth, if a Christian is sued or imprisoned for following God's Word, we should not only submit to the penalty, but the Bible says we should also rejoice in the fact that we are able to share in Christ's sufferings by being persecuted on his behalf. Matthew 5 references this persecution as something we are blessed for experiencing. James 1 says that we should consider it pure joy when we are able to face those trials. Romans 5 explains how suffering will lead to a hope that does not disappoint us. In all circumstances, our goal should not be to overthrow our government in order to ease our suffering. Our job is to trust what God does with our government and who he puts in charge, respecting them and submitting to their authority, while following God all the same. This is true even if we get sued, are imprisoned, or are even flogged and beaten for living out our faith.

Fifth, the Bible is clear that the law does not justify us. There are several passages that say that if someone is not in Christ, they can't possibly do anything good (Isaiah 64:6; Hebrews 11:6; Romans 14:23). Literally everything they do is sin, even when they try to help an old lady cross the street, carrying her groceries for her. Without faith, it's still sin. So, what's the point in making the rest of the world follow God's law if it's not going to reduce their sin? They're still rejecting God's law. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul asks rhetorically, "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?" If the church attempted to force non-believers to live by God's laws, there would be constant political unrest. For that matter, in 1 Samuel 8, even God's own people couldn't handle God as their leader and they demanded a secular government system just like all the other nations. How much less would this work if Christians tried to force non-Christians into following God under a political banner?

Finally, we know that in end times a great many bad things will happen, including throughout international politics. These things can't happen if we have a perfect, wonderful government in place all the time that's always godly and never does anything wrong. So, if God places people in charge who are setting the stage for the fulfillment of prophecy, who are we to fight against it? Why would we want to make God seem wrong by preventing prophecy from happening?

To be clear, "submit to your governing authorities" doesn't mean to obey everything they tell you to do. Paul wrote that verse during the reign of Nero, who was brutally murdering and torturing Christians. He wasn't compelling all Christians to turn themselves in to be slaughtered. Paul himself avoided being caught by the law repeatedly and continued to spread the Gospel despite the officials trying to stop him. But when he was caught, he submitted to the consequences of following God that the government would place on him. This is what it means to submit to our governing authorities.

In short, I believe that Christians should vote consistently with their beliefs and try everything they can do within their voting power, including running as a candidate, to ensure that the country's laws are consistent with God's laws (although not necessarily Old Testament law, which was never addressed to the Gentiles — but that's another topic for another day). However, I also believe that we should humbly accept the system as it stands and not criticize our leaders in a manner that disturbs the peace or in a way that Jesus would not have done; and that we should, instead, humbly accept the leadership God has given us.

Image Credit: Albert; "Revolution!"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Current-Issues  | God-Father  | Political-Issues

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Published 3-20-17