What Does the Bible Say About Government?
- 2010/05/21 17:05:32
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Biblical Principles Concerning Christians and Politics
It's often suggested that one should refrain from discussing "politics" or "religion" in polite company, since each subject can be rather controversial. Well, put the two together and one has a real powder keg!
What does the Bible say about government? How should Christians interact with civil authorities? Should Christians get involved in politics and to what extent?
What is the Role of Government?
In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote that "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made...for kings and all who are in authority, [so] that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." (I Timothy 2:1-2, NKJV).
The premise of this exhortation is that government's role is to provide security and order, so that its people (including the various Christian congregations) can live their lives in peace and tranquility.
Paul developed government's role in more depth in his letter to the church at Rome, explaining that the presence of evil in the world necessitates civil institutions that can restrain it (Romans 13:4).
According to Paul, government is "ordained by God" (Romans 13:2) to promote justice, restrain evil, and protect the people under its care (Romans 13:3-4).
In order for government to accomplish its responsibilities, it "bears the sword" (Romans 13:4), levies taxes and tribute (Romans 13:6), and lays a just claim to its people's support (Romans 13:5,7).
What About Capital Punishment and War
Debates concerning capital punishment and war are common in Christian circles. Those denominations which lean toward or embrace pacifism (or variations of pacifism) claim that Jesus' admonitions to "resist not evil" and "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39, KJV) apply to nation-states as well as individuals.
If Jesus was telling nation-states not to resist evil, then he was contradicting the Old Testament record. For it was, according to the Old Testament, God who ordered the Israelites to wage war against several tribal nations, mainly in the land of Canaan. Later, after Israel had established itself within the "Promised Land," wars continued, from the period of the judges (Samson, Gideon, etc.) through the kings (Saul, David, Hezekiah, etc.).
Some Christians argue that this was the Old Testament reality, and that Jesus swept all that aside, when he ushered in peace and non-violence. The problem with this view is that evil was not wiped away by Jesus. Though Jesus atoned for humanity's sin on the cross (see John 3, Romans 10, Ephesians 2, etc.), evil persisted. And James wrote in his epistle that wars come from sin, particularly greed and lust (James 4:1).
The apostle Paul acknowledges this, when he tells the church in Rome that the civil authority "does not bear the sword in vain," but "is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil" (Romans 13:4, NKJV).
According to the Bible, civil government has the authority to "execute wrath" (which includes both war and capital punishment) against those who advance evil.
The Bible does not bless or endorse every action ever taken by a human government. Many governments have themselves engaged in evil and reprehensible behavior, but a just government is expected to utilize the "sword" to carry out its rightful duties and responsibilities.
Christians and Politics
The Bible commands God's people to interact with civil authorities in the following ways:
- Pray for the governing authorities (I Timothy 2:1-2)
- Conduct themselves as law-abiding, taxpaying citizens (Romans 13:1-7)
- Give to the government all that it's due (Matthew 22:21)
- Honor those in authority and the institutions of government (Romans 13:1-7, I Peter 2:17)
Even in the case of flawed, corrupt, and (in some cases) evil governments, Christians are expected to adhere to the above principles. However, they are not to take part in evil actions themselves and may, under certain circumstances, resort to civil disobedience (Acts 5:29). They are also encouraged to speak truth to power, as the prophet Nathan did to King David (II Samuel 12:7) and John the Baptist did with Herod Agrippa (Matthew 14:3-5).
How can Christians prevent governments from becoming evil? Jesus answers that question in his famous Sermon on the Mount, when he encourages his followers to be "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (Matthew 5:13-14).
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus uses a parable to urge his followers to "occupy" (Luke 19:13, KJV) until he returns.
Christians are not to be passive spectators in society's culture. While their primary task is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8), they are to engage the culture at all levels, advancing moral principles and seeking to restrain evil. Part of this responsibility includes being "salt" and "light" in the public square and the corridors of government.
The Bible teaches that God ordained government and that government has a specific and important set of God-given responsibilities. Christians believe they are to support the government's efforts to carry out those responsibilities, and use their influence (starting with prayer) to keep it on the right track.
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