Wednesday, January 3, 2018

In the World, Not of the World: An Early Christian Perspective on Political Action

Should we engage in political action?
I mentioned in my previous post that political action had failed to produce what Christians have hoped it would. I advocated for an abstention from involvement in the system (the world), as it demands compromise on some level. Lets explore this topic a bit more and perhaps gain more clarity from both Scripture and the early church. By way of doing so I offer the following arguments:

1. The political systems of the world are openly hostile to Christian principles and increasingly aggressive in using the force of law to demand Christians violate both conscience and Scripture. This is true despite (or perhaps due in part to) the involvement of Christians in the political process. Why? Quite simply, Christianity is fast becoming a marginalized religion due to the very political forces Christians on all sides of the political spectrum keep in power. We are not offered solid candidates who stand absolutely firm on Scriptural standards, but professional politicians and/or businessmen who have earned a living manipulating the masses and compromising to get what they want.

2. There is no Scriptural evidence that Christians, as part of the Great Commission, are commanded or expected to influence culture or government through political processes and activities. In fact, we find exactly the opposite. For example, the early Christians uniformly rejected the "wearing of the purple" (holding political offices), and participation in the military; both expected of Christians in the current culture. Tertullian writes, "Do we believe it is lawful for a human oath to be added on top of one that is divine? Is it lawful for a man to come under promise to another master after Christ?" Here Tertullian clearly states that Christians must not take oaths to governments and militaries, as they place us in a position of service to something and someone other than Christ. He then goes on to write, "So we have no inducement to take part in your public meetings. Nor is there anything more entirely foreign to us than affairs of the state."

Origen writes, "Celsus (a pagan) also urges us to "take office in the government of the country if that is necessary for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion." However, we recognize in each state the existence of another national organization (the church) that was founded by the Word of God. And we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over churches...It is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices. Rather, it is so they may reserve themselves for a more divine and necessary service in the church of God- for the salvation of men."

The early Christian position on political action was clearly non-participation. They did not work for any worldly governmental system, or seek the implementation of any political agenda.

"When you hear that we look for a kingdom, you imagine...that we are speaking of a human kingdom."- Justin Martyr

"The Christ of God shows His superiority to all rulers by entering into their various provinces and summoning men out of them to be subject to Himself."                                                                                                                  - Origen

"Such a person (a Christian) cannot be induced to combine the service of any other with the service of God- nor to serve two masters."- Origen

(For more quotes see The Early Church on Government.)

3. There are unique dangers involved in positions of power in the world because they always demand compromise and, thus, bring corruption and sin. The reason is, as Scripture tells us, the world's systems are antithetical to God's Word and His kingdom. (John 14:17; 15:18-19; 1 John 2:16)

4. The New Testament does not advocate political action, social justice or governmental reform, even though the governments of that time were horribly violent and corrupt. The early church concerned itself with developing strong disciples, and with living the realities of the future kingdom of God in their lives here and now, not in pursuing meaningless political action destined for corruption.

5. Sacred Scripture give us substantive reasons not to engage in worldly politics. For example, Philippians 3:20 states, "For our conversation (citizenship, politics, enfranchisement, voting rights) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ". 

6. The main tenet of Western political systems is the democratic principle, which is not biblical. The very core of democracy and libertarian political philosophy is a rejection of any notion of absolute truth or objective morality, favoring the general consensus of the governed. This is NOT a biblical viewpoint.

Our only biblical responsibilities to the governments of the world are:
  • Subjection- (Romans 13:1) We are to obey the authorities to the extent that such authorities do not present a very clear conflict with the Word of God.
  • Prayer- (1 Timothy 2:1-2) We are to pray for those in power, that they would be reached with the gospel and allow us to live our lives peacefully.
  • Taxes- (Romans 13:6-7; Matthew 22:21) We are to pay our taxes, not overthrow governments based on taxation without representation, or any other reason.
Again, I realize for many Christians these truths are a hard thing to digest, but if we are to truly see the church purged of the negative influences of the world, we must be willing to change bad patterns that have developed over centuries and embrace the simplicity and purity of the faith once delivered.

I encourage my readers to take advantage of the following two resources to understand this topic better. The first is a lecture by David Bercot.

The second is a very deeply and thoroughly biblical examination of the subject by Dr. Michael E. Lewis. His book, Church and State, is (in my opinion) the must have book on this very difficult topic. You can purchase it by following the store links at this website: Church and State, by Michael E. Lewis

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