It’s election season in Australia! The din of politics grows loud enough even to wake those of us who have spent the last three years snoozing in our ‘apolitical’ burrows. The media licks its lips at the mud-slinging and bloodletting of the campaigns. Well-meaning Christians of all stripes make strong (or, at least, loud) cases about which party Christians must or mustn’t vote for. How do we make sense of all this? How can God’s children please our heavenly Father in the complicated mess of politics?
Here is my attempt at taking a bit of a step back and looking to God’s word for some theological principles to guide us when engaging with our wider society’s efforts to organize itself.
The Lord reigns and Jesus sits at his right hand. Every other power is relative to the supreme authority the Father has invested in the Son, and every other power will finally come under the Son’s judgement.
The finished work of Christ has effected the redemption of humanity: “By your blood you ransomed people for God” (Rev 5:9-10). Every other attempt at redemption—moral, social, religious, political—is, in fact, another slavery, and stands condemned and crucified.
Jesus’ kingdom is not to be identified with this or that human ethnic/religious/ideological/social/political group. When such a group takes it into its head that its own success and the advancement of the kingdom of God are the same thing, nastiness is usually not far away.
However, there is one human group that may be identified with the kingdom of God: the church of Christ. Whatever citizenship a Christian holds by birth, she is born again as a citizen of this heavenly kingdom. As God’s people gather in God’s presence to live out their joyful obedience to him in “the present age” (Titus 2:12), they offer the watching world an anticipatory glimpse of the kingdom of God and an invitation to enter it. But there is more to Christ’s church and God’s kingdom than can be seen in “the present age”, so, together, God’s people wait and call on “Our Father in heaven” to bring his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9-10).
God has established secular authorities for the provision of justice. If the Christian forgets that they are God-given, he resists what God has instituted. If the state forgets that it is God-given and therefore under his supreme authority, that means…
Secular states have a tendency to claim supreme authority and the power to save, and then to demand absolute loyalty. Insofar that this happens, the state has become an evil parody of the one true Lord and Saviour—a false surrogate ‘Christ’.
“Fear God. Honour the emperor” (1 Pet 2:17). The order matters. A Christian will submit to the laws and justice of the state. But God’s people will not fall down and worship golden images (Dan 3:17-18). God’s people will not cease to announce that “there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7).
A Christian will exercise the rights of her secular citizenship in accordance with the responsibilities of her heavenly citizenship. Where a Christian has power to influence the state’s provision of justice, she uses this power sacrificially to benefit others—especially the weak—and not herself. She prays that those given authority by God will play the role that he has assigned to them (see point 5) and will not get ideas above their station (see point 6). But in large part, what a Christian seeks from the state is not positive action, but negative space—“a peaceful and quiet life” with space to announce that “God our Saviour… desires all people to be saved” (1 Tim 2:2-4). But ultimately…
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). By God’s Spirit, a Christian is always freed to announce Christ’s lordship in his words and actions. The state may specify consequences for the exercise of a Christian’s freedom for Christ and even “kill the body” (Luke 12:4), but it cannot curtail her freedom. She remains perfectly free to announce Christ’s lordship, whether by open proclamation or patient suffering of injustice.
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). Insofar as a Christian heeds her master’s word, she cannot be on the wrong side of history, because Jesus is the Lord and the goal of history. When Jesus comes, bringing the end, he will call every power before his throne for judgement. ‘Babylon’—sinful humanity gathered in defiance of God—will fall. In its place will be a new “holy city” (Rev 21:2)—redeemed humanity gathered in joyful submission to God—descending from heaven to earth.
As we go to the polls on Saturday, we will engage in a participatory democracy inconceivable to the biblical writers. Much wisdom is needed to navigate the shoals of parties and preferences, voting and advocating. But at every point, God’s word must light our way: “Jesus Christ is Lord”.