Theology of Christianity & Politics

Here at Living Theologically, I’m excited to offer the invitation for readers to submit questions they’d like to see addressed on the blog. If there’s a question about life, theology, or ministry that you’d like to submit, please do so HERE. Here is today’s question:

With the election approaching can Christians vote for Hillary?

So… obviously that’s a loaded question. And sorry, but I’m not going to give a yes/no answer. Instead, I want to back up and rephrase the question: How Should Christians think about politics and government? When we have a solid theology of politics, we can better discern how we should vote in elections.

Polling StationTwo Kingdom/Cities Theology
When Rome began to crumble, the political and military fallout was blamed on Christians, who caused the Roman Empire to forsake their gods who had protected them for so long. In response to these accusations, Saint Augustine wrote The City of God between 413-426 A.D. In it, he presents the most influential theology of politics in Church History. Since Augustine, there have been multiple views and expansions on the City of God and City of Man, but they all find their roots in Augustine’s teaching. The cities are marked by the faithful and the faithless. Those who love themselves above God live in the City of Man, while those who love God dwell in the City of God. While the Christian is called to live in the City of God, this does not mean abandoning those who live in the City of Man (they need the love of God and the love of the Christian). Instead, it is a reminder that the Christian’s hope is not in political engagement or worldly peace, but through participation in the City of God, whose king is faithful and true.

During the Reformation, Martin Luther modified this as the Kingdom of the Church and the Kingdom of the State. The Kingdom of the State was given responsibility by God to govern the public and civil affairs of humanity, while the Kingdom of the Church was ordained to care for the soul and spiritual life. The two Kingdoms serve the culture simultaneously and in cooperation, but without direct oversight of the other. Instead, the State serves to promote justice while the Church proclaims the gospel. Obviously, this is an extreme simplification, but it gives a snapshot of what Luther taught about the relationship of Church and State. To read more on Luther’s Two Kingdom theology, you can find some good articles here.

The City of Man is not the City of God. And the City of God is not the City of Man. The Church is not the State. The State is not the Church. The “Separation of Church and State” did not begin with the First Amendment of the American Constitution.

The Christian’s commitment is first and foremost to Christ and the Church, not to the State. It is out of faithfulness to Christ that the Christian’s love for the world should flow, in order to demonstrate the love of God to a world in need. The Church is to proclaim the gospel, make disciples, and ensure the State is pursuing both justice and mercy for the oppressed. When justice and mercy is lacking, the Church is to take on the role of prophet, calling for a more godly and just society while entrusting the State to do their work.

What is the Responsibility of the Government? 
The prophet Micah was given a message of judgment against Israel for their injustices. God cares about politics so much that many of the judgments against Israel were because of bad politics. Micah 6:8 is one of the more popular verses in the Old Testament, and for good reason! It summarizes what godliness in public life ought to look like.

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God? (NIV84)

Justice. What a concept! And it means more than you think it does. Tim Keller wrote an article for Relevant Magazine entitled “What Is Biblical Justice?” and unpacks the Hebrew word (mishpat) for justice this way,

“mishpat means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means giving people their rights. Deuteronomy 18 directs that the priests of the tabernacle should be supported by a certain percentage of the people’s income. This support is described as “the priests’ mishpat,” which means their due or their right. Mishpat, then, is giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.”

Tim Keller, What is Biblical Justice?

This is what the State should do. Promote justice. Unfortunately, that’s not so common today. I suspect many of us hear “Justice” and think “punishment.” The law must be upheld and promoted, and lawbreakers should receive an appropriate punishment. Justice must be seen as both a positive (what it’s promoting) and negative (what it’s correcting). Political and civil leaders are accountable to God for promoting true justice: the treatment that we all are due because we were created in the Image of God.

If you need further convincing that God takes political justice seriously then read the book of Amos or Micah in the Bible. In these books (and in others throughout Scripture, mostly in the Prophetic books) injustice is a clear and undeniable sign that Israel had forsaken the Lord. Where the prophets railed against Israel’s faithlessness to the Lord, their injustice towards the poor and their callousness to the oppressed was Exibit A.

What to Value in a Politician
Again, I have no interest in either endorsing or critiquing Hillary Clinton. Instead, here are a few questions to help us all consider what type of politicians we should endorse?

  1. Am I confident this man/woman will promote justice? Will lawbreakers receive a just punishment that will fit their crime? Will the oppressed be defended? With the needy be given opportunity for a new start? Will the economy benefit the rich while opposing those who are already struggling for daily bread?
  2. The Kingdom of the State ought to be built on both truth and love. Accordingly, does this man/woman demonstrate a value for truth and love? Is there a tendency to love truth, while minimizing love? Or is there a tendency to embrace love while denying the truth?
  3. Is this man/woman a person of character, who will do justice and love mercy while walking humbly with God? Politicians are leaders of the State, not pastors in the Church; but character matters. We must not hold our political leaders as saints, but men and women whose lives are not marked by integrity will not promote justice.
  4. What are the priorities of this aspiring political leader? Do those priorities reflect the heart of God, or the heart of man? Is he/she building the City of Man or the City of God?

Finally, take these questions seriously and avoid the temptation to automatically grant “your candidate” a free-pass on where they fall short. Be just towards all candidates. Then choose who will lead us towards a society that is faithful to the call of God in Micah 6:8. (What to do when you aren’t able to vote for any candidate is another issue for someone else to address!) 

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