I wrote something about Election 2016 last week, and then filed it away to collect digital dust. Passions run so high these days that one can hardly write anything without people reading the most partisan of ideas into the prose.
This week, I have a better idea. Here are three truths about Christians and politics that are true today and will still be true after next week’s election—truths you should remember no matter what you do in the voting booth.
1. The church is a political people who bear witness to the rule of King Jesus.
Too many people talk as if the church is apolitical when what they really mean to say is that the church is nonpartisan. There is no such thing as an apolitical church, because the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord.
The apostles (or emissaries) wrote the New Testament and proclaimed the gospel (the royal announcement) that the crucified Messiah of Israel has been exalted as King of the world. Christians are citizens of the Messiah’s kingdom, who gather together in local congregations (embassies or kingdom outposts) and live as ambassadors for the King. You can’t get more political than that.
I’ve heard some Christians claim that this election matters because America is the last great hope for Christianity. That’s silly. Surely it’s the other way around. It’s Christianity that is the last great hope for America. Christians believe that Jesus is King—His court is higher than any Supreme Court, and he will hold the world to account.
We are most certainly political. But we cannot put party over principle or partisanship over the proclamation of the gospel. Christians believe God is sovereign over all human powers and authorities. We ultimately answer to him, not the party bosses, not the “establishment,” not the political pundits, not the populace, and certainly not the president.
That’s why, at our best, Christians ought to be those who can easily cross political dividing lines. For 2,000 years, church leaders have gained a reputation for being the champions of the poor, for lifting up the marginalized, and for speaking on behalf of those with no voice. This year alone, we’ve seen evangelical Christians on the front lines in settling refugees, ministering to immigrants, and protesting the ongoing violence of abortion.
Right, left, middle, wherever—political parties always tend to turn away from people who are “inconvenient,” to ask “Who is my neighbor?” as a way of shirking our duty to others. Christians, however, are called to see the image of God in every human being, and to call all people everywhere to bow the knee to our King.
2. The church strengthens what is good, challenges what is lacking, and denounces what is bad in our political parties.
The church doesn’t see government as a necessary evil but as a beneficial good. God always ordained that there should be structures of human authority. God wants our community life to be ordered wisely, under the leadership of virtuous people.
Christians are not anarchists. We believe in order and government. We believe that Caesar’s power is given by God, but that as a gift, his power is not ultimate.
So what should our involvement in politics be? Affirm what can be affirmed, challenge what is lacking, and denounce what is evil.
A Christian who only denounces the evil of the opposing party fails to be salt and light. If you agree with everything in your party’s platform, you should examine whether you are formed more by the political environment than by the reign of King Jesus. The sword of his love cuts across all artificial lines.
3. The church speaks truth to power because we believe the final reckoning has begun in King Jesus and will be completed when he returns.
Christians believe that Jesus is on his throne and that he will return to judge the living and the dead. If we represent King Jesus, the One who will call all earthly authorities to account, then we ought to remind authorities of their limited role and make sure they accomplish what they are there for.
We speak truth to power because we know the truth about power. Jesus himself has shown us how the version of power in his kingdom is radically different than what you find in the world.
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. (Mark 10:42-44, CSB)
In the embassies of King Jesus, the greatest is the One who serves. The message of the cross turns the power of this world upside down and shows us a new way to live.
In the political realm, we are called always to witness, not always to win. Faithful witness means we speak truth to power even when it is inconvenient. Sometimes, we will sound like John the Baptist crying in the wilderness. Other times, we will sound like the apostle Paul, putting forward a winsome case for why Christianity is good for the world.
Regardless of our posture and tone, we will be speaking truth to power, standing before kings and presidents and rulers and Supreme Court justices, knowing that the One who turns the heart of the king is the One who turned our hearts toward him in repentance and faith. And he’s not up for re-election.