Should We Get Involved Politically?
Should we get involved politically? The short answer to that question is yes, we should get involved politically. But first, what is political involvement? Let's understand it as any activity whereby we seek to influence the current political scene and the direction of our city, province, or country.
Also on issues like this, the Bible gives direction. The first passage we can consider is taken from the book of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah was a prophet who ministered to God's people before and during the first part of the Babylonian exile. Those exiled for their sins did receive the promise that they or their descendants would eventually return to the Promised Land (Jeremiah 32). But in the meantime, what were they to do in a strange country with a culture foreign to them? They were in a land whose armies had destroyed their country and would destroy their holy city of Jerusalem. In short, these exiles must have felt out of place as they settled in Babylon.
Now what was their attitude to their new surroundings to be like? Jeremiah sent them a letter with very specific instructions. We read in that letter, as recorded in Jeremiah 29:5-7,
Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
In other words, they were told to participate in the culture and business of their new dwelling place. That included seeking the peace and prosperity of the city in which they lived. The term used for peace is shalom, a very comprehensive term, covering all of life. It can also be translated by "welfare" – "seek the welfare of the city" (NASB). This advice to exiles is without parallel in the Old Testament and in the literature of antiquity. They were to seek the welfare of their captors and pray for them. They were to work for the good of the country and society of those who would one day destroy Jerusalem. To seek their welfare would have meant getting involved, culturally and also politically. They were to give their best efforts for that. And they had something to give. The heritage of godly wisdom in the Scriptures they had received was something to be shared. Indeed, had God not said to Abraham already that his descendants were to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:2-3)? Was Israel not to be a light to all peoples on earth? (cf. e.g., Isaiah 42:6; Deuteronomy 4:6; Psalm 67).
At the same time, they had to realize that they would eventually return. For Jeremiah also said: "This is what the Lord says: 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place'" i.e. Jerusalem (Jeremiah 29:10). In other words, their staying in Babylon was ultimately to be temporary. They had to keep that in mind.
Now we need to step back and consider the principles involved in this part of Scripture. There are a couple of points relevant for our situation today. As believers we are in some ways like the Judean exiles living in Babylon. We are also not of this world, though living in it. We too know that ultimately our sojourn here is temporary and we too look forward to the promised land of the new world that is coming. And so on one level, this world is a hostile place for us, a temporary place, and some would say, let's avoid it and be separate! Let's concentrate on our own community and take care of our own needs. They are plentiful enough. Forget about the godless society around us. That is a response that could have been expected from the Babylonian exiles. However, God said otherwise. His children have an obligation towards the society in which they live, even if that society is hostile to their faith and values. That obligation toward society also involves the political sphere. After all, like the Judean exiles, we too have explicit instructions to pray for those in authority over us. As we read in 1 Timothy 2:1-2,
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
How can we pray for those in authority over us if we do not do what we can to witness to God's norms for our society and nation? Those in authority over us are not our adversaries but those to whom we owe respect and obedience. They have been placed there by God himself (Romans 13:1-5). We should therefore help them in every possible way and get involved in the political process. If we as Christians and as Reformed confessors do not help our representatives on whatever level to see a Christian perspective on the issues of the day, who will? We owe it to them.
At the same time, we need to be realistic. We are after all strangers here and our sojourn is limited. We cannot expect to see immediate results and indeed we may not even see any results at all. For real positive change to occur on a political level, the culture and mind-set of a nation needs to undergo that change.
And yet, you never know how the Lord can use us. Would Daniel have ever thought, while growing up in Jerusalem, that he would one day have influence in Babylon!? Let's just pause for a moment and consider how Daniel exercised his political calling as a believer.
Think for a moment of how Daniel stood up and said this to the mightiest ruler of the world at that time. "Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue" (Daniel 4:27). Daniel is polite. "Be pleased to accept my advice." He is, after, all speaking to Nebuchadnezzar in whose hand is the life of every one of his subjects. But he is also firm and gives direction. "Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed." Indeed, God has just revealed to Nebuchadnezzar via a dream that the king would be driven away from his palace to live with the wild animals until he acknowledges that God is king! Daniel is to the point in charging the king to repent and do right.
Now in our current multi-cultural and politically correct context, this is not exactly what you would expect. Then Daniel would have been apologetic about his personal faith and basically told the monarch to do whatever his pagan advisors would tell him to do. After all, he, Daniel, should not impose his morals on others! But no, Daniel spoke the truth, politely but to the point. We need to do the same wherever God has placed us and whenever he gives us the opportunity. And we have many opportunities in a democracy. As Christians, we represent God's interests and so our leaders can expect input from us!
New Testament Teaching
Let's move on to the New Testament. Two examples come to mind. John the Baptist had confronted Herod, the tetrarch, about the sin of his marriage to the wife of his brother Phillip (Matthew 14:3-4). But he had also said more. We read in Luke 3:19 that he had also admonished him about "all the other evil things he had done." He addressed the government policies of Herod and pointed out the evil he was doing. It cost John the Baptist his freedom and then his life, but he knew his responsibilities before Herod, also his political responsibilities.
In a similar way, the Apostle Paul confronted the Roman governor Felix while he was a prisoner in Caesarea. Acts 24:25 tells us that he talked to Felix about "righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come." One can be sure that also dealt with the moral standards of the day and thus government policy.
Well, one could say: I'm not John the Baptist, or Paul, the Apostle! I'm just a simple believer. However, the examples just given show that the gospel is relevant for government officials. We therefore need to reflect on what our Saviour said in the Sermon on the Mount. It is also relevant for political involvement. In his Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus said:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:13-16
The Lord Jesus used two images. The first is salt. Salt prevents or slows down decay. Christians by living out their faith combat the moral and spiritual decay of the society in which they live. The imagery is grand. "Salt of the earth!" Not salt of our home or church, but of the earth! In other words, nothing is to be left outside the influence of Christians! Also society, culture, and politics need to feel the effect of the Christian testimony. Wherever this testimony is experienced, there is resistance against the moral decay of this age and it can ultimately have political consequences. If Christians don't live out their faith in the fullness of life, our words will mean little and our testimony will be compromised.
The other image Christ used is light. Light is used in Scripture for many positive things such as righteousness and truth which Christians are to embody (Ephesians 5:8-9). Again the image is grand and comprehensive. "You are the light of the world!" Everything needs to be illumined by the gospel and Christian principles, including the often sordid world of politics. It is unthinkable to let the light be hidden under a bushel. Light is meant to shine! The positive impact must be such that "men may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
Tied to this is a further consideration. The Bible is relevant for today. It shows the way for all of life. Christians who get involved in the political process in a responsible way can shed the light of the gospel on the issues of the day and that's good for the nation. After all, biblical principles and solutions work! God's Word is a lamp to our feet and a light on our path (Psalm 119:105). But that truth is also relevant for the nation. The more we as a nation are in tune with God's wishes, the more blessed we are as a people. "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people" (Proverbs 14:34).
There are obvious ethical areas where our voice is needed in the political discourse. I think of the evil of abortion, the redefinition of marriage, the breakup of the family unit, the idolization of human rights. A strong Christian voice continues to be necessary to remind the nation of the blessings of protecting the unborn, upholding the creation ordinance of marriage, promoting the family unit, and balancing rights with responsibilities. But there are many other areas as well that need our attention.
More than ever before we are faced with challenges that demand a biblical response for true solutions. This calls for our involvement.
The Challenge and the Comfort
But, one may say, it looks hopeless! And with the psalmist one can say: "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3). The implication is: nothing! If a building is on shaky ground, as our society seems to be at the moment, what can be done about it? Nothing, many say. However, David in this particular psalm refuses to flee from the problem and avoid the hard reality. In a simple child-like faith he goes on to remind us that "the LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them" (Psalm 11:4). God's throne may be highly exalted, but he knows what's going on in this world. He sees what people are doing!
Now David is realistic, as we also have to be. He knows that you can't always change a bad situation. But he comforts himself with the thought that God is in control and that there is a day of judgment coming. He says "on the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face" (Psalm 11:6-7). Meanwhile, he will do what he can and not flee from the problems of the moment.
We are further along in God's plan for this world than David was. We may know the confession that "Jesus is Lord" (1 Corinthians 12:3). Well, if he is Lord of heaven and earth, and he is, and if all power and authority has been given to him, and it has (Matthew 28:18), then such a confession like "Jesus is Lord" is a political statement! As a Christian, such a confession has enormous political consequences. In the days of the apostles, the Christian church was nothing in the eyes of the mighty Roman Empire. But the empire feared the Christian confession of "Jesus is Lord" for they rightly saw that it opposed their confession that Caesar is Lord and ruler of the world! And therefore Christians were persecuted for their faith. But they carried on with their confession and simply lived out their lives in a Christian way with all the consequences. And in the end they conquered the world! The Christian faith is relevant for politics.
We today may also have that same rich confession that "Jesus is Lord" but it is a confession which we cannot and must not keep to ourselves. After all, government is a servant of God and ultimately all governments will have to answer to the King of kings and Lord of lords what they have done with the authority God has given to them. We as children of God owe it to those in authority to share with them what we know with respect to God's demands for our society today. As one of our forebearers, Abraham Kuyper, taught us: "There is not a square inch of territory in the whole universe over which Christ does not say 'this is mine.'" And therefore everything we do has to be done to the glory of God. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
And as we seek to do our political responsibilities to God's glory we have a wonderful opportunity to show the way in which a country will ultimately be blessed. For applying biblical principles to the problems of today is good for society! It is not our political task to try to make Canada Christian. But it is our task to show those in authority what the Lord Jesus, to whom God the Father has given all authority and power, expects from them.
So we may work and labour in faith and therefore in the joyful realization of the triumphant Christ, our Messiah. But we do so soberly, realizing that we may not always achieve what we would like and realizing that ultimately we are indeed strangers on this world and we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth.