Series: Civil Magistrate

Description: Civil Magistrate Discussions on how modern-day politics relate to timeless scripture.

Church and State

Henry Van Til shared a great insight when he said that culture was religion externalized. Likewise, politics is shaped by the same belief system that shapes culture and therefore, politics is also religion externalized. Political ideals, agendas and policies flow out of peoples' religious convictions concerning, for example, the existence or non-existence of the God of Scripture, as well as about the origin of mankind and the world.

The question is never whether religion should or shouldn't be allowed to influence politics, but rather it is always, whose religion and whose morality is going to shape our politics and thus our nation? Policies and laws are going to be made and it is impossible to make these from a position of religious neutrality-no one is ever religiously neutral. (see the articles, "By Every Word" and "The Myth of Neutrality").

Whether someone believes in Jesus Christ or not, their views about right and wrong, justice and injustice are held to with religious devotion. Everyone starts their thinking with a faith commitment to an ultimate authority, which is either the mind of man or the mind of God. No matter which ultimate authority people use and no matter how contradictory their respective positions are, they still claim that their policies and laws are humane, moral and just. So, how can we know what is truly good and right in the political realm?

In order to answer this question, we have to first dismantle an artificial barrier that the modern church has erected between Christianity and the political realm and in doing so, the answer to our question will become obvious.

The 'barrier' is the belief that Christians have no responsibility to shine the light of God's truth into the political realm. However, is this belief derived from Scripture, or is it merely an unexamined assumption? (see the article "Romans 13 and Civil Authority"). Surely, we ought to search Scripture to see if believers are called upon to either engage or ignore the political realm?

If God completely owns everything, which He repeatedly says He does, then surely this impacts how everything ought to function, namely, in accordance with His will and design.

The Psalmist tells us that the earth is the Lords and everything in it (Psalm 24:1). Moses repeatedly told Pharoah that what was happening with respect to the plagues, proved that all the earth belonged to God (Ex.19:5; see too Ex.9:29; Deut.10:14; Job 41:11; Ps.50:12; 1 Cor.10:26,28). Moreover, everything that exists has been made by and for Christ and this doesn't only refer to physical things, but also to invisible things, including thrones and dominions (Colossians 1:16).

Paul told us that all authority structures were ordained by God for His own purposes (Romans 13:1), namely, to serve Him, which includes the way He expects to be honored in the civil realm.

The Psalmist unashamedly said that the Messiah reigns over the kings of the earth: "Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, And rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him" (Psalm 2:10-12).

Why would Proverbs say that it is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness (Proverbs 16:12), if kings were not expected to rule according to God's revealed truth? Only God can define both righteousness and wickedness.

Jesus said that all authority had been given to Him "in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18)-surely this includes the authority delegated to the civil government. And the book of Revelation tells us that Christ is present, not only as head of the church, but also as "the ruler over the kings of the earth" (Revelation 1:5).

Kings are told to fear God and observe all the Words of His law (Deuteronomy 17:18,19). Daniel the prophet, in confessing his nation's sin, said, "Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of Israel" (Daniel 9:6, see too Ezra 9:7; Nehemiah 9:34). In Daniel we are also told that "God rules in the kingdom of men" (Daniel 5:21). His rule is not only in heaven above, but also on the earth below (Joshua 2:11, see too Deuteronomy 4:39).

John the Baptist was arrested and then lost his head because he rebuked the immoral "private" life of a political leader (Matt.14:4,5). Jesus called this same political leader a "fox" (Luke 13:32), drawing attention to his ungodly rulership. Elijah was hounded by king Ahab because he pointed out the king's wickedness and rebellion against God (1 Kings 17:1; 18:18). The prophets were hated, persecuted and killed for exposing the very real day to day wickedness around them, both in the nation and in the lives of their rulers.

Christ is the universal ruler over the whole earth. His authority and Righteous Law have never been restricted to only one nation, for one time-all people and nations have always been and always will be answerable to His Holy Standard.

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their sin against God (Genesis 13:13; 2 Peter 2:6-8). The Lord sent the prophet Jonah to a non-Israelite city, Nineveh, because of their wickedness (Jonah 1:2). The prophet Amos proclaimed the coming judgement, not only upon the Jews, but also upon Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab. Non-Israelite nations were judged along with Israel for their transgressions against the LORD. The prophet Isaiah announced God's condemnation against the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4), and spoke of God's judgement upon Egypt for idolatry and the ungodly rule of its leaders (19:1ff). Assyria also came under the spotlight of God's reproof (30:31).

God is the same: "I am the Lord, I change not" (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). In the light of God's intimate concern with the affairs of nations, it is easy to understand Proverbs 14:34, which says, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people". The implications of this verse cannot be confined to a narrow realm of our existence and excluded from the cultural and political realms-everything is to glorify the Lord.

God's creatures, in the whole of life, are exhorted to live by every Word that comes from His mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). Paul said we are to cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). It is a pagan idea and not a Christian one, that forces a separation between the physical and spiritual aspects of our existence, yet many Christians have embraced this dualism. The silence and indifference that most of the Churches in our country display toward the political realm, is a form of "christianity" unsupported by the testimony of Scripture.

Anything that prevents or restricts God's Church from fully proclaiming His whole truth in every area of life, is antichrist and must be cast aside.

Once we dismantle the false barrier between Christianity and the political realm, it becomes obvious that God's standard ought to reign in this realm, just as in every other realm-it is only in God's light that we see light (Ps.36:9). Psalm 2:10-12 now makes perfect sense-kiss the Son you kings and judges of the earth.

Jesus said that believers are the salt of the world (preserve the world by shining the light of God's truth into all areas of life), but He also said that if believers lost this preserving ability (i.e., didn't shine the light everywhere), then the world would not be preserved, but trodden under the feet of men (oppressed)-Matthew 5:13-14.

Our nation's political systems are in desperate need of salt and light. It is because the Church has, for the most part, withdrawn the light of Christian morality from the political realm that immorality has become so deeply entrenched there.