As midterm elections approach this November, we will occasionally take a break from our series in order to address issues of public life that are of concern to the Christian. This month we will begin by outlining the biblical principles for civics. The post below was written originally in 2008 and later run in the Christian magazine Reflections.
It is safe to say that no two subjects cause greater consternation among humans than religion and politics. Instead of seeking to understand the reasons for this, though, many have gone to the opposite extreme in their call for a “separation of church and state.” Others have committed just as serious a fallacy by justifying their modern political aspirations by a misguided and inaccurate appeal to history. For the Christian, however, civics is and should always be an essentially spiritual activity rooted in the words given by the Spirit of God Himself (2Co 2:12-13).
Though the word “justice” is often misunderstood in our society, biblical civics remains committed to the maintenance of justice. Biblical justice is both positive and negative in its response to human behavior. It is defined by implication as “the punishment of evildoers” and “the praise of those who do right” (1Pe 2:13-14, NASB). Justice therefore stands against perjury (cf. Exo 23:1,7), popular pressure (v. 2), bribery (v. 8), and prejudice toward the rich (v. 3), the poor (v. 6) and immigrants (v. 9) and stands on the side of truth, the rule of law and equality before the law (cf. Deu 16:19-20). Because of this fidelity to law, Christians are “to be in subjection to the governing authorities” (Rom 13:1; cf. 1Pe 2:13) rather than acting in whatever manner they believe to be in their best interests.
Law, however, is no guarantee that humans will treat each other with the respect they deserve as fellow image-bearers. Biblical civics is therefore conducted in a spirit of honor. While this certainly applies directly to our payment of customs and other taxes (Mat 22:15-22; Mar 12:13-17; Luk 20:19-26; Rom 13:6-7) it is equally important concerning the tone with which we approach our civic discussions. The Christian should therefore give “honor to whom honor” is due (Rom 13:6) regardless of whether or not that person is our enemy, our brother or our “king” himself (1Pe 2:17)! Civics is simply not biblical if it is itself without civility.
At its heart, though, biblical civics is always exemplified in a life of righteousness. The Christian cannot forget that ultimately his citizenship is in heaven (Php 3:20). This “dual citizenship” has both its rights and its responsibilities. We honor our civic leaders and our God by approaching Him in prayer on their behalf (1Ti 2:1-2; Pro 11:11); by leading a tranquil, quiet, reverent and dignified life (1Ti 2:2; Pro 14:34); and by setting our priorities based on the purpose God Himself has in mind (1Ti 2:3-7). This same emphasis on right conduct is true for our leaders as well, especially when we have the opportunity to select them. For, “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan” (Pro 29:2).
Civil authority is not rooted in the divine right of kings or in modern concepts of popular sovereignty but in the authority of God Himself (Rom 13:1-2; 1Pe 2:13). Though other views have been set forth concerning political thought and practice, such views are unable to explain the natural order of creation and the character of the God on whom it is based. For, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You” (Psa 89:14). And for the Christian, this is the ultimate political reality.