The Bible is pretty clear when it uses words like ‘gospel’, ‘lord’, ‘savior’ and ‘king’, words that were in there day, loaded with political meaning, that the Christ and the kingdom that He was ushering in would not just serve as a better version of previous kingdoms with improved ideologies; rather, it would provide a complete alternative that ran counter to all other kingdoms. Unlike the kingdoms of the world, His kingdom would not be concerned with material wealth or drunk with power, nor would it be associated with war, lying, greed or oppression.
Although we are told to live peaceably, pray for and obey our world’s leaders as far as possible, Scripture often portrays the worlds systems in a negative light, Paul said that our struggle is not against people but against rulers, the authorities, the dark powers in this world as well as spiritual entities opposed to the will of God (Ephesians 6:12). John said that the whole world lies under the control of Satan (1 John 5:19). Peter and the author of Hebrews speak of us as citizens of a heavenly kingdom who are ‘foreigners’ and ‘exiles’ among the nations (Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 1:17, 2:11).
In the end Jesus was killed for treason (John 19:12), a charge laid against Paul as well (Act 17:5-8) and that was kind of the pattern that was set until the time of Constantine when the Roman Empire invited the church into its bed initiating a shift where the church stopped carrying its cross and exchanged it for a sword. To quote from Tobie’s blog over at Natural Church:
Secular governance is a type of temporal governance allowed and sanctioned by God for the sake of the nations during this dispensation while the spiritual aspect of God’s Kingdom is being established in the hearts of regenerate people. When you mix the two you give the church a type of power that it was never supposed to have, and you give the state a sense of spirituality that it was never supposed to have.
To put it another way, you cannot marry light and darkness, you cannot serve two masters. The church in Constantine’s time made the mistake and succumbed to the temptation that Jesus had declined in the wilderness. When the church assumes leadership of a kingdom recognizable by lines that have been drawn in the sand, it has forgotten its mission of establishing a kingdom that is neither here nor there (Luke 17:21) but everywhere and in everyone who is under the lordship of Christ regardless of their color, culture or location. Moreover, the kingdom of God cannot be established through the use of power, it cannot be voted in democratically and it cannot maintain peace and order through rules and regulations. This is the internal struggle that I mentioned going through personally at the start of this post, it is the undesirable obligation to vote for the least ungodly candidate or party in order to minimize damage and hope that some good may come of their unlikely victory.
Now I am well aware that there are many parties selling themselves as Christian parties and I mean no disrespect to them nor am I questioning their intentions or motives. But I seriously wonder what a ‘Christian Party’ would look like should one ever come into power. Will it look like Catholicism burning its enemies at the stake or will it look like the early Protestants executing those that they deemed to be heretics, both acting under the authority of the state? Maybe, and it is a very big maybe, they will pay more attention to the teachings of Jesus and resist the appeal to exercise authority and control over others (Matthew 20:25), perhaps they would dismantle the country’s military and start practically loving those who call themselves their enemies (Matthew 5:44), perhaps they would start sending food and water into countries who they have bad relations with (Romans 12:20). Maybe one of the major policy shifts they would make would be to close all prisons in the country and institute something more in line with the restorative justice seen under the Mosaic Law where offenders had to make right with those whom they had stolen from (see Exodus 21:28-36 for example)? Maybe they would make it illegal for banks to borrow money to a citizen and charge interest on it (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)?
Someone once wisely noted that if you mix church and politics who just end up with politics. Yet the Bible seems to make a case for the existence of governments, serving a function as God’s tool to protect people, punish evil doers, maintain order, collect taxes and more (Romans 13). Yet the church should have eyes with a bigger calling in view, we should be acting as ambassadors for a different kingdom and telling people of a better way of doing things, we should be communicating a better way of living, we should be telling them of a king that they can put their full trust in. This does not mean that the church need be silent to the corruption, violence and social injustices of governments. We are blessed to have had men like Martin Luther King who stood up against racial injustice, men like William Wilberforce who played such a crucial role in bringing slavery to an end in England and, more closer to home, Desmond Tutu speaking of forgiveness and unity at a time when South Africa was transitioning out of the apartheid era and everyone was fearing the worst. Let them inspire us to continue speaking out against wars, against abortion and against those who are destroying the planet and irresponsibly using up its resources. But let us use the tools given to us by Christ and throw down those methods employed by the world.
I will be heading out next week to cast my vote, but I will be voting with my head rather than my Bible. Because in government I expect a party to rule well in how they utilize the money they collect. I’m hoping that someone will come in who provides more jobs and can improve the economy. I am hoping that crime levels will decline and that corruption will finally be dealt with. I am hoping that Eskom can find a way to keep our lights on 24 hours a day without resorting to ridiculous price hikes for consumers. But I am not expecting the government to share my Christian convictions or carry them out on our behalf. How can they? They are responsible for building a nation unlike the global one that we are called to advance. I cannot end off any better than in the eloquent words of Stanley Hauerwas:
“The church does not exist to provide an ethos for any other form of social organization, but stands as a political alternative to every nation, witnessing to the kind of social life possible for those that have been formed by the story of Christ.”