There are at least two main reasons why followers of the Judeo-Christian tradition should and must be involved in politics, reasons derived directly from the Scriptures themselves.
Here’s the first:
All political power has been delegated by God. As the great apostle says in Romans 13:1, speaking of civil authority, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
This explains the fascination that Americans have with politics: politics, even if people are only dimly aware of the fact, is all about who among us will have in their hands the very authority and power of God himself to direct the affairs of our common public life.
God rarely acts directly in human affairs. (That’s why we call them “miracles.”) Rather than working apart from us, it is his customary practice to work through us, through men and women to whom he delegates his authority, whether in the home, in the church or in society.
He is always looking for willing servants who have a humble recognition that their authority is not their own but has been delegated to them by God, and who have a humble awareness that they are accountable to him for their use of it.
It is unconscionable for Christians to absent themselves from the public arena on the grounds that “Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics,” when the Bible they profess to believe tells them that political power comes exclusively from the very God they worship.
I’ve had people tell me that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics because it’s so “messy” or “dirty.” Well, I tell them, I was a pastor for 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything as messy at the statehouse as I have seen in the church. So if messiness is a reason to avoid participation and contact, we all ought to stop going to church immediately if not sooner.
And it’s utterly illogical to abandon the supervision of our public life to those who have no respect for the God who grants them their authority.
D. James Kennedy was often told by fellow believers that Christians should just stay out of politics altogether. In response, he’d point out the irrationality of that idea. How can a Christian in good conscience, he would say, think it’s a good idea to deliberately abandon the governing of our society entirely to atheists and secularists?
Jesus taught his followers, as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount, that we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” Salt was used, in the absence of refrigeration, to arrest the spread of decay. Light, of course, was and is used to dispel darkness.
His point quite simply is that he intends his followers to penetrate all of life so that by our presence the spread of moral corruption can be arrested and darkness and ignorance about important matters can be replaced with illumination and truth.
And anywhere Christians refuse to engage, and so remove both salt and light, we ought to expect nothing but decay and darkness. When Jesus said we were the salt of the earth and the light of the world, he meant that we are his Plan A and there is no Plan B.
Further, if Christians think followers of Christ should just stay out of politics, then they have forfeited the right to complain about cultural decline and have forfeited the right to use instances of moral decay as illustrations in their sermons.
Many Christians seem particularly fond of complaining about how bad things have gotten, and yet immediately turn their firepower on any Christian who agrees with them but actually tries to do something about it.
Since lawmakers hold in their hands the very power of God, Christians in truth have much more reason to be concerned about political matters than our secularist friends.
In fact, as famous Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper said, we not only have reason to become involved in the political process, we have a moral duty:
“When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith.”
May his tribe increase.
There is a second reason why Christian involvement in politics is essential: civil authorities, we are told in Scripture itself, are “ministers of God.” Their role, therefore, is every bit as sacred as the role your pastor occupies in the life of your church.
And just as every congregation must choose carefully those “ministers of God” who exercise God-given spiritual authority in church life, so every Christian citizen must choose carefully the “ministers of God” who exercise God-given civil authority in public life.
In Romans 13:4, the great apostle twice refers to civil authority as a “servant of God,” and in Romans 13:6, he says that holders of political office are “ministers of God.” (ESV)
The word translated “servant” in v. 4 is the Greek work diakonos, from which we get the word “deacon.” The lexicon defines diakonos as “servant” or “minister,” both terms with clearly sacred significance.
Of a holder of civic authority, Paul says “he is God’s servant” in the first half of the verse, and then “he is the servant of God” in the second half. Hard to get much more straightforward than that.
The term diakonos is used interchangeably in the New Testament to refer to those who have positions in the church and those who have positions in government since both are discharging divine duties.
The word translated “ministers” in Romans 13:6 is the Greek word leitourgos, from which we get the word “liturgy.” It’s almost as if Paul went out of his way to choose a term with sacred overtones.
In fact, the premiere New Testament lexicon, Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich, says that the term “always (is used) with religious connotations.” Just two chapters later (Rom. 15:16), for example, Paul uses the term to describe himself in his role as an apostle.
“Authorities,” Paul says in Romans 13, “are ministers of God.” It would be impossible to get more direct and unambiguous than that.
This is true of politicians, you will note, whether they recognize it or not. An utterly pagan official is just as much a “minister of God” as a devout follower of Christ.
So the question is not whether a public official is a servant of God, for he clearly is whether he knows it or not. The only question is whether his decision-making will be guided by the transcendent truths of the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” or not.
If the Scripture tells us that politicians are just as much “ministers of God” as our own pastors are, then it follows that we should care as much about those who hold civic authority as we do about those who hold spiritual authority.
In point of fact, both are exercising sacred authority given to them by God. Christians should be just as concerned with the one as with the other.
If a member of a church doesn’t care about the choice of a minister of God for his flock, he is hardly in a position to complain about what he gets. Likewise, if we as Christians don’t care about the choice of ministers of God for our society, we are hardly in a position to complain about buffoons and corrupt politicos in public office.
We have the historically rare opportunity and responsibility in America to choose our own “ministers of God” in the public arena, and it’s inexcusable for Christians not to recognize the awesome privilege we’ve been given and go to work to exercise that responsibility wisely.
John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court said, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
In his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said something that dramatically illustrates the importance of elevating men to public office who have an allegiance to the law of God.
Said Dr. King, “I would agree with St. Augustine that an ‘unjust law is no law at all.’ Now what is the difference between the two? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”
So our first order of business is to identify candidates who will be guided by the moral law of God in forming public policy, whose worldviews align with the value system found in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and help them become our “ministers of God,” secular priests exercising sacred authority in the public square.