The proper attitude toward politics has always been a concern for God’s people in the midst of the world, but more so as we see the day approaching. The “day,” of course, refers to the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. We must not overlook the fact that connected with that day is politics.
The Word of God always pictures a conflict between the kings of the earth and the Lord and His Christ. The kings of the earth set themselves against God and rage. They take counsel together saying, “Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us.” (Ps. 2:3) The fury of the earth’s kings is not satiated; and finally they rage out their own destruction when they compass the camp of the saints, and the fire of God comes down from heaven and devours them. They believe that finally they stand before victory when actually the Lord has them in derision.
The Scripture shows us that government and politics are not in and of themselves evil and corrupt, but they become so when wicked and rebellious men pervert them from their proper purpose. The proper purpose of government and politics is, of course, the glory of God. God created man in such a way that he could rule over the creation so as to direct all things to the glory of the Creator. Man was created a king. Not a king supreme but a king servant. That is the original principle of government and politics. Man, however, by the instigation of the devil rebelled against his position as king servant and sought to be king supreme. Ever since the fall, natural man used his ruling office and ability to establish his own kingdom and achieve his own glory. This does not mean now that all government and politics are so hopelessly corrupt and perverted that the child of God must reject them as inherently anti-God and anti-Christ. But this does mean that the child of God must carefully analyze the principles, purposes, and the methods of the existing government and politics to determine what his attitude will be toward them and how he will glorify God in the political aspect of his life.
To glorify God is the calling of the pilgrim saint. He must do that in all his life, also with respect to government and politics. The pilgrim has a political calling. We must make no mistake about that. We can not hide behind the supposition that we are politically neutral. There is no such thing as neutrality. Christ teaches that whoever is not for Him is against Him.
This makes the matter of government and politics important for the pilgrim. Often we find the pilgrim simply ignoring the whole matter, rather than trying to pick out of the whole maze a God-honoring course.
To help us find the pilgrim way in politics, let us consider the relation between government and politics. We must distinguish between them. They are not identical. The one serves the other. Government is an institution ordained by God for the fulfillment of His purpose and the glory of His name.
What is politics? The word politics comes from the 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 is the practical science that concerns itself with the institution of government. As the science of government it includes within its scope: 1. 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. 2. Methods of government, e.g. specific policy of managing public affairs. 3. The propagation of principles, i.e., putting principles into effect through the application of its methods in actual operation, appointment of officers, etc.
Although government and politics are not identical, they are however practically inseparable. Especially is that true in a system of rule such as we have in the U.S. Politics determine the course of the government, and not vice versa as it ought to be. Not only is the fundamental order of things turned around, but politics, for the most part, is dominated by the ungodly principles and methods of the world and worldly men. The pilgrim cannot simply embrace the politics of the world, but rather finds himself diametrically opposed to it.
The principle of the pilgrim’s life is that all things be done in obedience to the Word of God with the purpose that God be glorified. His methods will always be in harmony with the Bible as the only standard for his life.
The principle of the politics of the world involves an attempt to throw off the yoke of God’s righteous requirements and follows as its sole purpose the ease, welfare, and glory of man. Its methods will be whatever accomplishes that end: lies, deceit, stealing, and even murder.
Recognizing this to be true, what must the pilgrim do? Must he simply flee the whole business of politics as being hopelessly corrupt and forget about it? Will he leave the making of laws, laws which become binding upon him and affect the course of his whole life, to the ungodly politician with never so much as a word? To do so would be foolish and irresponsible! The pilgrim ought to use every good means at his disposal to influence legislation to the end that God-honoring laws prevail and that the Word of God have free course.
To be able to have a voice in political affairs and legislation is a privilege afforded to citizens of this land, and that privilege ought to be used to the glory of God. The apostle Paul did not hesitate to appeal to privileges that were his as a citizen of Rome so that he be not hindered in the work of the gospel (Acts 16 & Acts 22).
What can the pilgrim do? He can vote in the election of officials and on other matters referred to the electorate for approval or disapproval. He can write to his legislators at the various levels of government. In writing to his legislators he must not simply add his opinion to the thousands of others, but he must give reasons out of the Word of God for his conviction. Then the Word of God’s righteousness is made known and His name is glorified.
It is not always so easy for the pilgrim to see his proper function, especially in the area where worldly politics and God-ordained government practically merge. The Word of God, in Romans 13, calls us to be subject unto the higher powers. No distinction is made, in this passage, between good and gentle rulers and wicked, forward tyrants who rule as dictators. The only conclusion that we can come to is that we must obey both righteous rulers and wicked ones. We obey not for the sake of the man, whether he be evil or good, but principally because God binds that duty upon our conscience.
The pilgrim sees clearly the calling of the Word to submit to the higher powers. The problem comes in when he sees the higher powers following principles and practices diametrically opposed to the Word of God. The pilgrim must understand that submission does not imply approval. It is possible and necessary often times to submit disapprovingly. Disapproval of the principles, purposes, and methods of government and politics does not necessarily constitute rebellion. How can the pilgrim let his light shine to the glory of God except he speaks a word of righteousness over against the wicked practices of ungodly rulers. The statement of God’s righteous requirements does not constitute rebellion. Such a testimony may not be favorably received by ungodly rulers. In fact, such a testimony may bring persecution, suffering, or even death, but we ought not think that some strange thing has happened to us, for all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
We have an example in the Bible of such a testimony. According to Matthew 14 Herod had taken his brother Philip’s wife as his own, and John the Baptist said unto him, “It is not lawful for thee to have her.” (vs. 4) For this reason Herod laid hold on John and bound him, and put him in prison. And there John lost his head for the sake of God’s righteousness and truth. John was not rebellious. He was submissive even unto death.
There is a right and wrong way to disapprove the wicked actions and demands of ungodly rulers. One can begin a full scale public protest and raise discord and mutiny in the state, rebelliously seeking to throw off the yoke of such rulers. We have no calling to disapprove in that way. John the Baptist did not shout in the market place concerning Herod’s sinful marriage but said it unto him. There are proper channels and ways to make our righteous disapproval known, if conscience requires.
We must not be cowed by public opinion or by the wrath of rulers in standing for the truth of God. Sometimes I fear we are afraid of being called unpatriotic or disloyal if we righteously disapprove of government and politics. There certainly is a matter of loyalty and patriotism involved. The question is, “Ought we render loyalty and patriotism first of all to God or man?” Our calling is not blindly to obey the higher powers but to obey them in all things lawful. But if they require of us things contrary to the Scripture then we ought to obey God rather than man. But understand that even this does not give us license to rebel. To disobey and still submit is to stand for God’s sake and truth, and to be prepared to bear the consequence of such a course even if it requires death as in John’s case.
I do not believe that it is necessary for us to speak specific disapproval of every unrighteousness we behold in government and politics. I fear we would have time for little else and would even be remiss in fulfilling our principal calling. But know that such a course is open when circumstances and/or conscience demand.
What will the pilgrim hope to accomplish in his political activities? Will he expect to transform the whole system of worldly politics? That would be a vain dream. On the other hand the pilgrim may not assume a defeatist attitude. He must confidently stand in the service of the cause of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He must be sure that the cause of Christ has the victory over the kings of the earth with their corrupt politics. Even though now the cause of the pilgrim may be condemned by many judges and magistrates as heretical and impious, as the Belgic Confession article 37 points out, yet when Christ comes as the Judge from heaven he shall be completely vindicated. His cause will then be known to be the cause of the Son of God, whose glory he sought in all his life.