With a topic like this I understand that I am wading into deep and troubled waters! But if you will bear with me while I explain. After the last national election (2004) I spent a great deal of time going over what had happened during that election cycle. One thing that was obvious again was the role religion played in the campaigns. It’s the same this year as the two sides hurl insults at each other, often times with religion either as the weapon or the target. But the concern that I have about this is one that goes back more than a few elections ago. It is clear that Christians are having an enormous impact on national elections, both parties are falling all over themselves trying to cater to the so called “Christian right”. But something very precious seems to have been lost. That is the core subject of the next few posts here. I am reprinting here the full transcription of my sermon entitled “Politics” (with minor edits). It reads like a sermon that was preached, so bear with it. I am going to post it in 5 parts so here is the first one…feel free to comment!
Grace and peace to all,
If you are a Christian today the question that I want to propose to you today first of all is: What is your relationship to the world around you? If we are Christians, what should our relationship be to the world around us? I address this question like this because this morning you are either a Christian, that means that you have been born again by the Spirit of God, you have received from the Lord Jesus Christ, forgiveness for your sins, and Jesus now dwells in your heart by faith, OR – if you are not a Christian this morning, you are about to become one whether you know it or not – hopefully by the end of this service! So the bottom line is you are here, so I believe the Lord has something for you to hear this morning.
We would all probably agree that our essential responsibility – not only as a Christian – but for anybody is to be a good person. I had this conversation with a Mormon client of mine yesterday and to her dismay I told her that the Bible says there is no such thing as a “good person.” Christ alone was good, but the Bible says that our righteousness is as filthy rags before God’s holiness and perfection. (Isaiah 64:6) Well, she didn’t like the sound of that – Most people on planet earth, and I use a rather broad generalization, are trying to be good people in their own way, through their own viewpoints or their own religion. They are all trying to be a good people as they define “good” and we are all doing that with varying degrees of success. But anyone can look around the world and see many things to be upset with. There’s lots of things that are going wrong in the world, so that we look around and think “Now there’s somebody that’s not being good”, or “here’s a situation that is not good” – there’s problems and what are we supposed to do about that? And when we look at the problems around us we are met with an overwhelming sense of helplessness about not really being able to do anything about those problems, or at least very little.
Stop and consider for just one minute the fact of homeless people. There lots of people that don’t have adequate food or shelter for the day, these are overwhelming things when we think about them. We may think “well – what can I do about this stuff?” And we try to do our best. But here is the “rub” of this question; anybody of any other religion or political persuasion is trying to do the same that we’re trying to do, trying to be good. Now we have a slightly different viewpoint on what that means, but essentially everybody is trying to do that. There are very few people out there intentionally trying to be bad, although there are those. This means that the orthodox Muslims are just as concerned as the avowed atheist, who is not unlike the pygmy in Africa who has never heard the gospel, and just wants to live in peace and be left alone. We each have a world view, and a basis for believing that there are things that need changing, and then we have a methodology for bringing about that change. Hopefully this makes sense to you. This brings us to our topic for the day which is “Politics.” I prayed long and hard about this message – I want you to know that, and like I said; “Stick with me.”
We are coming out of an election cycle (National election 2004) that seemed to be as contentious, if not more contentious than the average election cycle, and I’ve lived long enough to see a few election cycles and everyone of them is contentious! I think there are a lot of people that are gloating over the candidates victory, and their may be just as many people that are depressed over that same candidates victory.
Is it possible, or is it even desirable to try somehow to reconcile the two worlds of faith and politics? Is that not a “hot topic” in the days we live in? Can the two worlds of faith and politics co-exist or should there be a massive wall of separation between politics and faith? Let me give you a quote: “Churchmen dabbling in politics should take note that their only task is to prepare for the world hereafter.” You may agree or disagree with a statement like that, but I set you up with that because it is a quote from Joseph Gobles, the Nazi propaganda minister.
As with all other things let’s look to God’s Word and see the context He puts these things in. I have five points for you this morning and the first of them is this:
1) The Purpose of Government. Turn in your Bibles to Romans 13:1-7; “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
Let’s understand here that Paul was writing this during the reign of one of Rome’s most notorious and brutal emperors – Caesar Nero. He outlines here the fundamental purpose of Government as defined by God: First of all that authority is established by God and as such we, as Christians, should be subject to those authorities. God is the One Who created the idea of human government. In Genesis chapter 1 verse 28; “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Man was first of all intended and created to rule over God’s creation. So God created the idea of authority and of rulership.
Authority Was To Be One of Force. Verse 4 in Romans 13 says “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” This is the enforcement of order and/or morality, since really every law that’s enacted is a “forced morality”, or at least it’s the enforcement of morality as government has defined it. This is the maintaining of order as opposed to chaos and that is still preferable in most parts of the world today. That means that laws that are established have to be enforced and those breaking the established laws should be afraid. Because if they are caught in the breaking of one of those laws, then the full force of those laws and the power of the government will come down upon them. Now, understandably these days, even that itself has been compromised, because if you can afford a good attorney you can get out of just about anything, including murder.
Government needs funding to supply the enforcement of these laws and to maintaining some semblance of order within society. That’s why taxes are levied. Jesus is the one that said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars and unto God the things that are Gods.” (Matt.22:21) That’s why we pay taxes. Taxes cover an awful lot of stuff – if you’ve ever been to a place where they don’t pay taxes nothing gets covered! There are no streets, services or other comforts to take advantage of. When you travel in third world countries, one thing you find out is that the United States of America is a welfare country. You can get anything here and you can get most of it for free. Now that obviously is a broad generalization, but hopefully you can get my drift. Now this is certainly not designed to be an exhaustive treatment about government or what government is, or what government should be or should not be, but I wanted to give you those things as a working definition of the fact that God is the One that establishes authority, though we cannot hold God responsible for what men and women do with that authority. Understand that. God establishes authority, but He can not be held responsible for what men and women do or have done – with that authority. In 1st Samuel chapter 8, verse 7 – the people of Israel rejected God as their King and they wanted a human King, and they got exactly what they wanted and they paid a dear price for it. The United States of America and the world in general, rejected God as it’s Sovereign a long, long time ago, and the world has been paying a price for that ever since and will continue to pay that price, particularly here in the United States of America, I believe.
Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, called for a “National Fast Day,” citing the fact that we have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven, but we have forgotten God. Abraham Lincoln confessed that fact, as President, that we have forgotten God, and that was in 1863. I don’t think we have done that good of a job remembering that to this day.
So governments are a way of life, we can’t live without them, even so called “uncivilized people groups” have a form of government as opposed to total chaos. This brings us to our first point of conflict; Acts chapter 4, picking it up in verse 13; Peter and John has been arrested and brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin and being tried for preaching the gospel; ” Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.”
Our first point of conflict is when the established authorities sought to actively prevent the Apostles from preaching and the Apostles politely refused. So then a Christian comes into conflict with the State, when the State commands them NOT to do something that God has commanded us TO do OR to do something God has commanded us NOT to do. How do we define then, what we are to do or what we are not to do? How do we define where we should obey the government or where we should politely refuse or disobey the government, how do we establish what we should resist and what to respect?