Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Most High Ruleth in the Kingdoms of Men

In the days of King Hezekiah, Judah was invaded by Sennacherib, king of Assyria. Sennacherib blasphemed the Lord to the people of Jerusalem through his servants, saying that the God of Israel could not save them any more than the gods of the other nations conquered by Assyria. However, Hezekiah bolstered the people with these words: "Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah." (2 Chronicles 32:7-8.) Consequently, the Lord promised that Sennacherib would not shoot a single arrow against Jerusalem. The angel of the Lord destroyed the host of Assyria, and later the king was killed by his own sons in the house of his god.

This is a marvelous example of God's deliverance to those who trust in the everlasting arms instead of the arm of flesh. I also believe it is a challenge to us as Christians. We can be tempted to trust the arm of flesh many ways in our daily lives. Regarding this, an area that has caused me to ponder is Christian involvement in politics. Does it glorify God for Christians to be politically active? It is my goal to answer this question in the light of God's word.

I believe consideration of this issue should begin with a foundational point of Christ's teachings: the two kingdom idea. The Gospels are full of the words of Jesus regarding the opposing natures of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. Christians have been delivered from the world to the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13), so you cannot be in both kingdoms. The methods by which members of each kingdom operate are diametrically opposed. Under Pilate's questioning, "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence." (John 18:36.) I am unaware of any scriptural examples of Christ or one of his followers attempting to influence the course of the Roman government, much less taking part in it. Jesus eschewed all earthly power, whether offered by Satan (Luke 4:5-7) or the people around him. After feeding the five thousand, the crowd wanted to seize Jesus and make him a king, but Jesus fled from them (John 6:15).

We should not lose track of the concept of God's total sovereignty. All men have free will, but God has made it clear in His word that the course of the nations of the world are ultimately under His authority. One of the clearest examples of this principle is located in the fourth chapter of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a vision in a dream warning him of his future chastisement for pride. The king's understanding was taken from him for his boast that he had personally built the kingdom of Babylon. Considering verse 17 reveals God's purpose: "This matter is by decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men." This verse is rich with meaning regarding the relation of the Christian to politics. I have lost track of how many times I have heard the plea that Christians should vote individuals with godlier principles into office. Assuming you could find a politician who fits this description, you still would not know if this person is God's choice. He may have a reason for bringing a wicked man to power. Consider the pharaoh who contended with Moses. The Lord revealed that He specifically raised up the pharaoh in order to demonstrate His power (Exodus 9:16). As a final point in consideration of God's sovereignty, think about Christ's response to Pilate's interrogation in John 19:11: "Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin."

However, you may ask, "Why couldn't it be God's will to bring a Christian to political office for His glory?" After all, Paul said in Romans 13 that the higher powers are ordained of God, even calling them God's ministers. An important question to answer. The words translated as "minister(s)" in this passage have the basic meaning of "servant." Now, let's turn to the book of Jeremiah briefly to observe someone else the Almighty calls His servant. "Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar, my servant, and will bring them against this land..." (Jeremiah 25:9.) The political authorities are "God's ministers" insomuch as they are executing the function God delegated for earthly government--whether they realize it or not.

I contend that a Christian could not hold political office without violating Biblical principles. Jesus has commanded His disciples not to take the sword (e.g., Matthew 26:52), but the government cannot keep order in society without using the sword. The political process involves fighting with your opponents to force your party's agenda. Whether in elections or while in office, politicians typically strive to make their rivals look bad while boosting their own images. How different from how Christians should behave! "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves." (Philippians 2:3.)

Perhaps you will say, "I could not be a politician myself, but there is nothing wrong with voting for them." When you cast a vote for a political candidate, you are endorsing his behavior and all of his political views. The teachings of Christ call for His disciples to be non-resistant (see Matthew 5:38-48). However, we cannot seriously say we are non-resistant while voting for the commander-in-chief of the army, which is one of the president's duties. Christians have been denied conscientious objector status in the past for this reason. Neither major party in the United States has a platform consistent with the words of Christ. Democrats are more likely to help the poor, but they support the murder of unborn babies. Republicans oppose abortion but support wars that bring untold death and destruction to other countries. A Christian who casts his lot with either side is making a compromise with ungodliness.

Here is the bottom line: if Christians try to reform society by political activism, they are trusting in the arm of flesh. Christ told us to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), so we need to keep our priorities straight. If we are not careful, we can end up like Pharisees. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, clease first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also." (Mattew 23:25-26.) Does it make sense make sense to say we do not believe in having rigid church rules because it is legalistic, but then we campaign and vote for a law that imposes Christian morality on the masses? No law ever changed a person's heart, but the power of the Gospel can transform a sinner from the inside out. If Christians agitate for laws against abortion or homosexual marriage (to name a few hot examples), all we are trying to do is wash the outside of the cup. "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.) Followers of Christ wage war against the god of this world with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. We do not use the earthly sword of coercion, nor do we convince the state to use it on our behalf. As Jesus prayed to the Father, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." (John 17:17.)

If you still need convincing that Christians and politics should not mix, just look at election campaigns. I have already mentioned how rivals will smear each other's reputation. Also, so much time and money is wasted. God knows how many millions of dollars are frittered away in an attempt to get as many votes as possible. With the resources and time Christians spend on these campaigns, how many unreached peoples could be evangelized or poor people fed? The whole election process is a distraction from the work of God. When I was personally grappling with the issue of whether Christians shold be involved in politics, I moved to another county and had to fill out a new voter registration form. One of the requirements on that form was a loyalty oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States. On one hand, there was an option to "affirm" instead of "swear" for those who have a conscience against swearing oaths (see Matthew 5:33-37). On the other hand, I could not even affirm this statement. If the Constitution and laws of the United States at any point violate the Scriptures, I cannot obey them. "Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29.) The Bible instructs us to pray for our rulers (1 Timothy 2:2), not to get caught up in the ungodly frenzy of choosing them.

It is true that government officials may be elected or laws be enacted that interfere with the free exercise of the Christian faith. In that case, take heed of Paul's advice to his son in the faith: "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." (2 Timothy 2:3-4.) And do not forget this either: "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12.) The world, and possibly other Christians, will try valiantly to convince you that it is every citizen's duty to participate in the political process. However, "the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." (1 Corinthians 3:19.) Thus, let us as followers of Christ remain steadfast in the simplicity of the Gospel and advance only His kingdom until He comes!

No comments:

Post a Comment