I have been asked to speak to you this afternoon on the subject, “Our Attitude Toward Politics.” Allow me to say that I found this a rather difficult subject due mainly to two things. In the first place it is a subject about which I have concerned myself but very little. Hence, I am not acquainted with the subject either in theory or in practice. I am a minister and not a politician. In the second place, this is a subject that is rather far removed from the sphere of our interest, generally speaking, both as individual Christians and as Protestant Reformed Churches. I do not mean to justify this attitude, but I state it simply as a fact. We have been concerned with other things and have taken our citizenship, with its various implications, as a matter of fact. This is not the case in the Netherlands. There the Christian is vitally interested in the things that concern politics. There a Christian party exists which propagates its own Calvinistic principles and produces candidates for the various offices. Hence, one can very easily understand that the question of the Christian’s attitude toward politics is a vital one in the Netherlands. Perhaps we should have said that these things were the case instead of are the case, because we do not know how things have been altered since the Netherlands has lost her independence.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the difficulties, you have asked me to speak on this subject and I have consented to do so. I shall now endeavor to comply.
In discussing the subject, I shall call your attention to three things:
- What we must understand by politics.
- How politics affects its.
- Our attitude in respect to it.
1. What we must understand by politics.
The word “Politics” has in our day acquired a very unfavorable sense which it does not have of itself. Today the word is used to denote scheming and trickery on the part of a ruling body or a member of such a body. One who is engaged in politics, who is called a politician, is regarded as a most untrustworthy individual. None of us, I am sure, would feel ourselves complimented if we were called a politician. We would be inclined to interpret such a remark as a reflection upon our honesty and sincerity.
The fact is that the word politics has such an unsavory connotation that one, upon hearing the word, involuntarily associates with it the adjective “rotten”. The two seem to fit together. “Rotten politics” is a very common expression. However, we should understand that that is not the fault of politics itself but of those who are engaged in the field of politics. The blame for the universally unfavorable conception of politics lies at the door of the crooked individual who uses his position and influence in the sphere of politics, to promote his own selfish interests at the cost of the welfare and honor of others. It would not therefore be fair to judge politics in the light of the crooked politician, no more than it would be fair to judge the church in the light of her worst member.
Politics in itself is not evil. It is not necessarily “rotten” and underhanded. For the purpose which we have in mind at this time, we want it to be clear that we do not speak of politics in an unfavorable sense. We ask you therefore to disregard as much as possible the unfavorable aspects of politics and think of it in its more favorable sense.
What is politics? The word politics comes from a Greek word, the root meaning of which is “city.” Hence the word politics means literally, that which pertains to the city, particularly with a view to the government of the city. Politics may therefore be defined as the science of government. As the science of government it includes within its scope:
- Principles of government, with a view to the internal affairs of the city, state or nation and also all things that pertain to international affairs, i.e. the relation of one nation with another.
- Methods of government, e.g. specific policy of managing public affairs.
- The propagation of principles, i.e.. putting principles into effect through the application of its methods in actual operation, appointment of officers, etc.
In this light one can readily understand that politics is hard to conceive of apart from parties. In fact, politics without a party is impossible. The party is the natural result of politics. The party in politics is composed of like-minded individuals who band together formulate principles, propose methods, produce candidates for office, advocate their specific principles, methods and candidates and work for the execution of their principles and methods through the election of their candidates.
It is in this party form that we come into contact with politics in our own country. This form is very outstanding in our land because of our democratic form of government and because there are principally two parties that vie for power. But that is no less true in other countries, even in such nations as Russia and Germany. The difference is that there one party is in power and holds sway to the exclusion of all other parties. There no one dares to oppose the party in power; to do such is to place one’s self in danger of life imprisonment or death.
We stand ‘before the question: how did politics originate? To answer this question we must go back to the very beginning when God created man. When God made man, He did not create him as an individualist, as a creature who could live entirely alone apart from others, but as a social being. God created him so that he stood in relation with others. Therefore when the Lord had made man, He said, “It is not good that man should live alone.” So the Lord created Eve to be a help-meet for him. Moreover God put in him the social urge, as is plain from the fact that what God did for Adam became the rule for all others. One shall leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife; and they two shall be one flesh. There God laid the foundation for the family, the social structure in the narrow sense, and for the community and nation as well, the social structure in its broader sense.
And God ordained government for the family both in its narrow and broad sense. In the family proper, the husband is the head of the house and the wife is called to be in subjection to her husband. In the community, state and nation, God has set places of authority. Hence Scripture teaches us that government is an institution of God and a servant of God as well.
In Israel, in its theocratic form, God did not merely ordain places of authority but also directly appointed men to fill those positions. Prophets, priests and kings were appointed by the Lord directly.
In our day the form of government is different from that of Israel. The difference consists in this that today men are appointed or chosen by the people to exercise the offices instituted by God. The office always remains, however the people elect and determine the individuals who are to fill them. (Of course, not apart from God’s providence. Nothing can be separated from God’s providence. In the providential sense, God puts individuals in office also today.)
There you have the beginning of politics. Politics begins there where the people, either in greater or lesser degree, have a voice in their government. I think we may safely say that it is the human element in government that produces what we call politics, in the practical sense of the word.
For the correct understanding of our subject, it is necessary that we make a few distinctions. We must distinguish between politics and government. They are not identical; the one serves the other, politics serves the government. Government is an institution. Politics is the practical science that concerns itself with institution. The question is therefore not, “What is our attitude toward our government?” That question is rather simple to answer; briefly we might say, “Our attitude must be one of obedience in the love of God.” But the question is, “What is our attitude toward Politics?” that is, toward that science that deals with the operation and administration of government. And shall we come to any definite conclusion, it will be necessary to ask:
2. How does politics affect us?
There are some who deny the necessity of being affected by politics in any way. They are the Anabaptists. These people withdraw themselves from everything that is of the world and refuse to be affected by anything in it. They believe in a local separation; they want to live alone. Actually such a thing is impossible. To realize such a local separation, “we must needs go out of this world” and that is impossible. Hence, one may maintain that he will not be affected by politics or anything else in the world, the fact is that he cannot help himself in that matter. As long as he is in the world, he is affected by it, also politically.
Politics affects us in the first place as citizens. Politics is vitally connected with government, so much so that the principles and methods of government are controlled by politics. And the government has authority over us as citizens of the nation. Its laws concern all its citizens, the Christian citizen as well as the ungodly. Also we Christians must meet its demands and abide by its regulations. Now, the nature and character of these laws, restrictions, regulations and demands depends largely on politics, is influenced by politics. A practical example of that one may find in the many changes that take place in the forms of government when the administration goes from the one party to the other in our own land. Hence, in as far as the government is controlled by, or influenced by politics, we are affected by politics as citizens or inhabitants of the country under whose government we have placed ourselves.
However, politics affects us to an even greater extent as Christians. That is due to the fact that there is often conflict between the principles of the Christian and the world. Politics is of the world, in the spiritual sense of the word. Its principles, purpose and methods are worldly, earthly, sinful, wicked. The principle of the world, and therefore also of politics in that world, is the enmity against God and the exaltation of man. In the last analysis the world always says there is no God and its religion, so-called, is at best nothing but humanism,
Its purpose is plainly stated in that oft-repeated phrase, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”; a heaven on earth, but a heaven without God, a full, rich life on this earth apart from God, that is what the world wants, seeks and strives for in all its spheres, politics not excluded. And that is what politics always promises. So it is today in our own land. Wilkie promises the people that should he be elected, he will give them exactly that which they desire, life, liberty and happiness. And strange though it may seem the world is always foolish enough to believe that it can be done. Foolish, because in the past there have always been those who have promised these things and have failed. Yet today people desire a change in administration because they think that another party, another president will be able to give them what they long to have.
Its method is always that of cunning deception, force and domination. It deceives by means of lies, it promises much with no intention of fulfilling the promise. It threatens and harasses; it persecutes.
And as Christians we may not and cannot agree with such principles, purposes and methods. Our principle is expressed in the admonition of the Lord, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God. . . .” Our principle is the love of God. Our purpose is the glory of God and we declare that all that misses that purpose is sin. Our method is that of love, love of God and love of the neighbor.
In this light it is not difficult to understand the conflict which arises between the Christian and the world and it is easy to see that the politics of the world oftentimes affects us adversely. And that conflict shall continue to exist as long as this world exists and the Christian is called to live in it. The world does not want the Christian way. And we may not follow the world’s way but must testify that it is evil. Hence, the conflict is inevitable, a conflict which usually ends in the persecution of the people of God.
If, then, these things are true, and we believe they are, the question very naturally arises:
3. What must our attitude be?
In the first place, negatively, it should not be one of false optimism as we find in the world. The world always expects something better, even in the face of disaster. The world is always willing to try something new, new methods and different systems in its expectation of better things. The world expects to succeed, expects politics to succeed. We, on the other hand, should not foster such expectations. God’s Word teaches us that He makes foolish the wisdom of the wise arid that He will, bring it to naught. What expectation therefore can we have of the world or its politics?
Neither should our attitude be such that we would attempt to improve the situation. We cannot change the politics in this nation. That is not pessimism but simply fact. The Christian has no voice in the world. Should he attempt to alter the politics of the world, he would doubtless soon be branded a traitor to the nation and the cause of the people. That would be especially true of us as Protestant Reformed people. We would stand entirely alone. Even those who call themselves Christians would refuse to give us their support. This cannot be otherwise because we must always reject their imaginary basis of compromise with the world, the theory of common grace, expressed in the well-known Three Points. The fact is simply this, that we have no voice in the world and even though we should try, we would find it impossible to change the politics of the world.
In the second place, positively, our attitude should be that of faithfulness. Faithfulness to God in all our life’s spheres, to let our light shine and testify to the world that its politics is evil and that it cannot succeed.
Moreover our attitude must be such that we seek the kingdom of heaven. Practically, with a view to politics, that would mean that we should support that party, system and candidate, whose policy is conducive for Christian liberty. Not for the sake of the principles of that party but for the sake of the kingdom of heaven as we are called to seek it and its well-being in the midst of the world.
Finally, it should be our aim to organize and establish a politics of our own. We should have our own party, Christian party with Christian principles, Christian methods and Christian candidates. Then, although even that would not give us a voice in the politics of the world it would insure for us the freedom of conscience which we desire.
I thank you,
Rev. H. De Wolf