Participation in Politics by Christians – Problems examined in the light of biblical teachings
Recently the Management Council of the Fellowship passed the following resolution:
- In order that the Fellowship may not be implicated in the political activities, if any, undertaken by any of its’ members, it is resolved that any member who becomes a member of a political party or intends to stand for any parliamentary election should relinquish, or be asked to relinquish if he fails to do so, all the positions held by him in the Fellowship (e.g. the position of an elder, deacon, committee /subcommittee, Sunday School teacher, etc) [Oct/Nov 88]
The purpose of the resolution is to preclude the church from being involved in politics. Basing on biblical teachings, this church believes that there is no necessity fir a church to be involve in politics; in fact, it should not get involved in politics. From a pragmatic point of view, participation in politics by Christians, and in particular holders of various positions in the church, will bring hosts of problems to the church. This is now explained briefly below with reference to biblical teachings.
The Current Trend
Western countries in the 18th and 19th centuries saw substantial progress in education, advancement of natural sciences, discoveries of technologies and the success of industrial revolutions. Prompted by these achievements, man envisaged the forthcoming realization of their ideal society – the Utopia. Many people believed that it was possible to establish a `kingdom of heaven on earth’ by their own efforts. Hence, towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, a number of liberal theologians proposed the theory of `man-made kingdom of heaven’. To them the duty of Christians (the church) was to establish an ideal society for man in this world. However, such ideals was shattered with the outbreak of World War I.
After the war, nations throughout the world concentrated their efforts on rebuilding the social order that had been destroyed by the war, with the emphasis on the importance of mutual trust and the establishment of a peaceful world. In the meantime, liberal theologians promoted the theory of `social gospel’, advocating that the duty and mission of the church were to participate in the establishment of a society in which man might live in peace and harmony, with mutual trust and love.
The aspiration of establishing a `kingdom of heaven on earth’ was more severely shattered by World War II. After the war, a number colonial countries in the Third World managed to secure independence; but many others which could not rid themselves of the control of external powers still lived under oppression. Many of them therefore resorted to revolutions. In order to express their sympathy for these so-called `oppressed’ people, many liberal theologians and radical Catholic missionaries took the view that the church should champion their cause for political struggles. Hence, they proposed the `Liberation Theology’ advocating not only social concern but also participation in politics by the church. This has directly or indirectly influenced the churches in the free world, which in turn take the view that the church should actively participate in the establishment of the society, and encourage Christians to take part in politics so that they may secure the right to speak and decide on political issues.
The above trend has more or less affected the thoughts and views of the Christians at large in Singapore. Thus in recent years we find an increasing number of Christians participating in politics. Such development is primarily influenced by the liberal theology which emphases the secularization of the church.
Arguments in favour of Christian participating in Politics
1. Moses led the people of Israel in confrontation with Pharaoh and eventually led them out of Egypt, the land of bondage, thereby freeing them from the hands of the tyrant – isn’t this a very clear example of racial revolution? Moses freed the people of Israel from the tyranny of Pharaoh – isn’t this a political activity?
It should be noted that Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt for the purpose of inheriting the land that God had promised. He had no intention to reform Pharaoh’s politics or overthrow his government. There was no ambition at all on the part of Moses and the people of Israel to seize powers in Egypt. His sole intention was to lead the people of Israel to inherit the promised land granted them by God.
At the age of forty, Moses tried to exercise certain powers to lead the people of Israel against Pharaoh. But God did not use him, nor helped him succeed in his attempt. On the contrary, he had to flee to the wilderness of Midian for refuge for forty years. It is even clearer from this incident that God did not want Moses to `deliver’ the people of Israel by means of `politics’ or `powers’. (see Ex. 2:11-22)
During his confrontation with Pharaoh, Moses never referred to the political issues of Egypt, not even oppression suffered by the people of Israel. His only request was that Pharaoh should allow his people to leave Egypt so that they could worship their God (Ex. 3:18; 5:1). All the reasons he gave to Pharaoh were of a religious (spiritual) nature, not political.
2. In the OT period, many great spiritual men were politicians of their era; some of them even the rulers of Israel, such as Samuel and David. If these great men could participate in politics, why can’t we do the same?
One must realise that the nation of Israel in the OT era was different from the nations of the world today. The people of Israel were the children of God. Their political system was one of theocracy. Their laws were the laws of God written in the OT. They were to be God’s witnesses on earth.
Their political leaders were spiritual leaders appointed by God to implement His will. Moreover, the control and decision on all matters rested with God. None of the political systems or governments in the world today (including the nation of Israel of today) are the same as the nation of Israel in the Israel in the OT era. They are constituted on human rights and democratic systems. They do not represent God in this world. And their nationals are not children of God.
In the NT era the church has taken over the position of the people of Israel, not the authority of any country. Therefore, the counterparts of those great spiritual men in the OT era are those servants who serve the Lord in the `Kingdom of God’ today, not the political leaders of this world.
The spiritual leaders of the OT era are the examples and models of those serving the Lord in the church today; they should not be cited as examples and precedents for participation in politics.
3. The examples of Joseph and Daniel, who assumed high office in the dynasties of foreign sovereignties (e.g. Joseph was put in charge of the whole land of Egypt, and Daniel made ruler over the entire province of Babylon). O aren’t they excellent examples of Christians participating in politics?
If we study the Bible carefully, we realise that both Joseph and Daniel did not engage in politics, but only assumed high office in the dynasties of foreign rulers in the capacity of government officials, like the Government officials today. First, they did not engage in any political activities to seize powers from the rulers, but were only appointed by those rulers to govern their countries. Moreover, they themselves did not have any political ideals or ambitions. When the dynasty changed, they continued to serve the new dynasty so long as the new ruler continued to use them (e.g. Daniel). Obviously, they were merely Government officials, not politicians.
4. The Lord said that we should be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Isn’t this a call to participate in the affairs of the world in order to be `the salt of the earth’ and `the light of the world’?
It is clear from Matt. 5 that the Lord did not teach Christians (or the church) to exercise influence over the people of this world through political means, but to live among them with good conduct and behaviour, so that they might see their `good deeds’ and praise their Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16). The Lord’s teaching, therefore, refers to the life and testimony of Christians (either individually of the church as a whole) on earth and bears no reference whatsoever to politics.
It is not difficult to see from the above paragraphs that the so-called teachings and examples of `Christians participating in politics’ in the OT and NT are not the actual intention and meaning of the Bible, neither do they provide convincing grounds in support of Christians (the church) to participate in politics, and even disapprove them in doing so.
Arguments against Christians (the church) participating in Politics
1. The church is a spiritual and heavenly body, with Christians possessing heavenly citizenship (phil. 3:20) and living `as aliens and strangers in the world’ (1 Pet. 2: 2:11-15). As such, we are not supposed to compete with other people in the affairs of this world. Notwithstanding persecution by the authorities or rulers on earth, we should not rebel or resort to political means against tyranny. The church at the apostolic age made no appeal to politics of higher officials for deliverance when it was persecuted. Similarly there is no necessity for Christians (the church) to participate in politics in any circumstances today. Often the reason advanced by proponents in favour of Christians participating in politics is that they may speak out for Christians and fight for their rights. But the Lord has already said, `If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hates me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.’ (Jn 15:18-19). From this utterance of the Lord the role and status of the church on earth are obvious: the church does not `belong to this world’, and it acknowledges the treatment which it is to receive from the world – hatred. We do not expect anything from this world; to participate in politics is therefore something redundant.
2. `Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ (Matt. 22:15-22). The Pharisees and the Herodians (the religious and political leaders) got together to trap the Lord in His words by asking Him whether or not it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. The Lord would seem to uphold the secular authority as the supreme and highest authority if His answer is `yes’. If His answer was in the negative, He could be accused of treason. But the Lord’s answer was: `Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ The answer not only reflects the Lord’s fathomless wisdom but also provides us with an unchanging principle. Caesar represents the authority on earth. The Lord’s answer marks the distinction and separation of the church from politics. The church will not engage in politics; on the other hand, He hopes the authority on earth recognise the fact there is a need to `give to God what is God’s’.
3. `My kingdom is not of this world.’ (Jn 18:36). When the Lord stood trial before Pilate, he made it clear that although He came into this world to be king, His kingdom was not `on, or of, this world’, Otherwise , His servants would have fought for His authority on earth and protected Him from being arrested by the Jews.
From the dialogue between the Lord and Pilate we understand the reason for the Lord’s `non-resistance’ to the arrest; for there was no need for Him to resist. The dialogue also enlightens us on the fact that the `church’ (the kingdom of God) does not belong to this world. We should follow the Lord’s example in not competing for the powers and authority of this world. If our kingdom is of this world, then of course there is a need to compete.
4. The Lord refused to be king (Jn. 6:15). When the Lord was on earth, many people attempted to support Him as their king (political leader), so that He might lead them against the Roman authority and deliver them from the Roman’s grip to gain independence. But the Lord was never taken by their support, and in fact firmly rejected it. He would rather die for the sake of the salvation of man (in a way He was a victim under a corrupted authority) than live for the purpose of overthrowing that authority. This should serve as clear indication to us, as the disciples and followers of our Lord, of the purpose of our strives and the meaning of our lives on earth.
5. The teachings and attitude of Paul. Paul was ill-treated on numerous occasions by the Roman authority: flogged, imprisoned, thrown into the den to wrestle with the beasts, and finally executed by the Roman government. He had indeed suffered all sorts of afflictions. Nonetheless, he had never rebelled against the authority, nor had he ever encouraged Christians to fight for justice for the church or remove the tyrants of the Roman empire by political means. On the contrary, he advised Christians to submit themselves to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-5). Such submission is not due to apprehension of the authorities but due to the fear of God; for they are to be regarded as God’s servants. He also urged Timothy to intercede `for kings and all those in authority’. so that Christians may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. Christians under any governing authority can only have these two attitudes: `submission’ and `prayer’.
6. The teachings of Peter in I and II Peter are also obvious. In the view of Peter, Christians’ status in the world is one of `aliens’ and `strangers’. We have therefore no reason, or need, to be involved in the politics (i.e. participating in political activities) of the world. On the other hand, Peter urged Christians to submit themselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men (whether to the king or to governors) and to follow in the Lord’s steps: when they hurled insults at Him, he did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made mo threats; instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly (I Pet. 2:23)
Here we are taught not only to submit to the authority on earth, but also the reason why we should not compete for political benefits or gains. We believe and trust in `him who judges justly’, and leave our fate in His hand, for He has said, `It is mine to avenge; I will repay.’ (Rom. 12:19).
7. In Revelation, the apostle John mentioned on a number of occasions how the anti-God authority on earth will rise against God and persecute those belonging to Him; but he has never mentioned how the people of God will oppose such authority by political means. On the contrary, we are told that secular powers and authority will continue to be in the hands of men until the Lord comes again to establish His own kingdom by His own might. The church and the people of God depend on spiritual power (the power of God), not the power of man, to withstand and overcome persecution.
8. From the very beginning the church of the apostolic age suffered intense persecution but never succumbed to it. Neither did the church resort to political means to solve its problems; instead, all the difficulties and persecutions were overcome with steadfastness in prayer and trust in God (Acts 4:23-31; 5:19, 41-42; 12:5; Phil. 1:19, 2 Tim. 4:16-17).
From the various points mentioned above, it is obvious that the Lord definitely does not want us to resort to political powers(man) to secure advantages and benefits for His church; neither does He want us (the church) to get involved in the power struggles of the secular authorities. Instead, he wants us to completely obey and trust Him, and to strive wholeheartedly for the spiritual kingdom.
Some Adverse Effects of Participation in Politics by Christians
1. Participating in politics (political activities) by Christians (the church) will involve the church in worldly strives, such as racial, military, class distinction struggles, and so on. The church will become increasingly secularised and will divert a lot of its valuable resources (energy, time manpower, etc.) to matters that have no concern with the church. Consequently the more important, spiritual work of the church in saving lost
souls is either neglected or even set aside,. This is the plight of many churches of the school of liberal theology today. eventually, the church becomes a secular body (or even a political body), deviating from the original spiritual direction which if should have followed.
2. Participating in politics (political activities) often entails the use of artifices, contrivances and struggles which are directly opposed to the principles of conduct and behaviour of a Christian. If a Christian gets involved in a political strife, he will have no choice but to pursue the same course; this will no doubt contravene the principles of the Bible and will be detrimental to his spiritual life. If a church gets involved in politics, its spiritual life will likewise suffer.
3. The politics which a Christian participates is dictated by the political party. Every party has its own constitution, regulations and codes of conduct which every member must abide. Many of these are contradictory to the faith of a Christian and the teachings of the Bible. Under such circumstances, he has no choice but to compromise or even act against his conscience, thus disobeying and offending God. This must be avoided at all costs.
4. The extent of support or opposition to the views of various political parties must necessarily differ among the Christians. If apart from our Lord there is yet another object of loyalty, and apart from the Bible there is yet another code of conduct and behaviour, disunity among the Christians is inevitable.
5. Even if all the members of a church support one and the same political party, there will still be adverse effects on ministry of the church. Many people will not come to the church to listen to the gospel because they do not agree with the political views or preference of the church. Others may even exploit or infiltrate the church, using it as a vehicle to achieve their political ends.
6. When a change of political powers or a political upheaval occurs, many Christians will find themselves implicated, or suffer, because of their past involvements in politics. This is certainly not worth the cause! Many innocent people have fallen prey of such changes. Past historical events provide ample evidence of such incidents. It is certainly a very unworthy sacrifice!
7. In the political arena, it is not uncommon to find Christians attacking and destroying one another so long as the means to achieve the ends. This happens because they belong to different political parties or hold different political views, and have completely forgotten about their spiritual relationship in the Lord. What a disgrace to the Lord!
The various situations mentioned above are bound to happen sooner or later. Just consider what devastations will be brought to the church if Christians (the church) were to participate in politics.
If entering politics means civil life and obligations, then there is no alternative for Christians but to be involved in it; for instance, election, paying taxes. These are their obligations as citizens. The teachings in Roman 13 are very clear; we must fulfill our obligations as citizens in accordance with the laws of the nation.
What we have been discussing here is about Christians participating in the politics of a political party. First of all, this is not a duty and obligation which every citizen is obliged to carry out. Secondly, to a very large extent the politics of a political party is not suitable for a Christian to participate, let alone the church as a whole.
Finally, some people claim that the purpose of our participation in politics is to exert our influence on politics. If elected and in power, there will be opportunity for us to apply political avenues the faith of the Christians and the teachings of the Bible. Isn’t that excellent
There are two aspects to be considered here. First, the teachings of the Bible as a whole are meant to be carried out by he people of God, not by non-Christians. To require a person who is not born of the Spirit to live in accordance with the teachings of the Bible is not only impractical but also impossible.
Secondly, the politics of a political party is part of a democratic system. It is primarily concerned with democracy, the need for the minority to obey the majority, and the right to govern with 51% majority votes. To be able to be in power, the support of the majority has to be secured. To gain the support of the majority, the policies to be promoted must be acceptable and palatable to the majority of the public. Christians are the minority among the minorities. The teachings and requirements of the Bible are quite different from the views and thoughts of the non-Christians. Therefore to really promote and implement the teachings of the Bible in a society will be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Judging from the current attitude of the general public, to implement the teachings of the Bible through political avenues have failed, but even policies contravening biblical teachings cannot be curbed (e.g. abortion, gambling, etc). In conclusion, to implement the teachings of the Bible through political means is not only impossible, but also not the will of God.
Huang Ee Yuen