Topic Article #14: Christian Civic Duties
by Dr. Eugene Clingman, Executive Administrator
Copyright 2006, International Church Council Project
(This article may be freely distributed so long as it is not altered
and the above information remains intact.)
“In a democracy, you get the leaders you deserve.”
Joseph de Masstre
It was my first or second year of Bible college. I was standing outside the Chapel among a circle of upper-classmen and teachers when the discussion turned to a certain Christian leader who had written a book in which he taught that God expects Christians to be change agents in every area of culture, including government. I don’t remember the words exchanged that morning, but I do remember that the man being discussed was considered by my seniors a liberal because he taught that politics and government should not be left to unbelievers. This was but one experience that came from my evangelical culture that clouded my perception and cultivated in me the misconception that it is somewhat less than Christian to be involved in politics or government.
The problem is not that politics is worldly and therefore Christians should not be involved – Christians colonized our land, and men with a Christian worldview gave us a government that has been the envy of the world. Yet one hundred, seventy years or so ago many Christians began to acquiesce before the wicked (Prov. 25:26), leaving politics to unbelievers. Christians became preoccupied with the coming of Jesus and personal holiness, and left off God’s dominion mandate to Christianize the culture (disciple the nations, carrying God’s holiness into every realm of every nation, including our own). Politics soon became dominated by worldly men not because it is an unholy realm, but because Christians who should be the head became the tail, and all Americans suffer, as vileness rather than righteousness is now exalted in our land (Psalm 12:8; Prov. 14:34). We Christians have abdicated our responsibility.
Is Politics Christian?
In numerous places the Bible refers to the orphan and widow saying we should not oppress them. Yet the Bible goes much farther. It also teaches that we should, “…seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:17; 1:23). The question to ask is this – How can we fulfill these things without being involved in the places of power and influence? How can we deliver the widow whose property is taxed so that she eventually loses her home, or the orphan whose father not only divorces his mother, but also abandons his family financially – how can we “defend the orphan and plead for the widow” without being involved in politics?
Jesus taught us to daily pray, “Father…Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth…” The Bible nowhere teaches us to pray only. We are also to fight (strive, labor) for justice and for the delivery of the oppressed, be they oppressed by an individual, a group, or a government that overreaches its God-given authority.
Here is a one question worldview test. The question is multiple-choice and goes like this: When there is an effort or proposition to increase property taxes (an affliction that weighs heavily on widows and single mothers, many of whom have children orphaned by covenant breaking fathers), what should Christians do? Choose your answer: 1) Sit by as misguided or wicked politicians set heavier and heavier burdens on the people; after all, there is not much we can do about it anyway! 2) Seek (by prayer and political effort) to elect godly people to places of decision and influence in order to promote the justice and mercy of God’s law. 3) Diligently vote using righteous judgment to promote biblical principles in our society. 4) God is not concerned with politics of this world, therefore don’t be bothered; let the wicked run government; don’t even bother voting; Jesus will save us out of this mess soon! – If you answered 1, you are in the majority of evangelical Christians; though they would not answer verbally this way, their actions speak louder than words. If you answered 4, you are in agreement with Jehovah’s Witnesses! If you answered 2 and also 3, I believe you gave a biblical answer.
The ICCP topic, “Concerning Christians’ Civic Duties,” sets forth the biblical perspective that Christians everywhere should promote biblical justice within their society, by faithfully voting, by either running for public office or by encouraging those who do run, by being godly change agents as much as possible within their political structure; the opportunity will vary – in a dictator run country there is much less opportunity than in a free country such as the United States.
Following is the preamble to the International Church Council Project document “Concerning Christians’ Civic Duties” followed by four of its eighteen affirmation and denial statements. We are happy to send you the full document in the mail, or you may read it or print it from this website under the menu item ‘Documents’..
From the beginning of time, people have gathered together in groups, starting with two in the Garden, developing into larger family groups, and finally into nations. With marvelous forethought, God has provided standards for this kind of interpersonal conduct, both for families and for venues we might label as civic arenas. These standards are found most concisely in the Decalogue given to Moses, but they are also interspersed throughout all of the Bible. The Bible therefore is our textbook for civic action. It contains principles that are valid and workable for all people, all cultures, and all time. It must be society’s starting point today.
Heroes of the Church in past centuries have recognized there are different jurisdictions within society, each being directly accountable to God, and each of which has certain boundaries and its own governmental structure. Those jurisdictions are: Self Government, Family Government, Ecclesiastical Government, and Civil (state) Government. Tyranny arises whenever any one of these jurisdictions steps beyond its own God-given boundaries and interferes unbiblically with the legitimate action of any of the other jurisdictions.
Civic actions are relevant to all members of the group, because no one in society can function long without affecting others. Choices have consequences, not only for one’s self, but for others also. In society we live with and in dependence on others. In order to function in this relationship, we need mutually acceptable rules to ensure that our actions are relatively predictable and fair. (I Cor 12:12-31; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
We affirm that the principle of civil government is a divinely established sphere, and that all citizens, especially Christians, have a stewardship role in civil government.1
We deny that civil government is, in itself, evil, or that Christians should avoid involvement in it.
1. Mat. 22:17-21; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17; Rev 1:5
We affirm that citizens under any government are accountable to God and their fellow citizens for the preservation and increase of justice, righteousness, mercy, and national stability.1
We deny that in a republic it is morally acceptable for the citizenry to leave government in the hands of the elite or in the hands of politicians.
1. Exo. 22:21-22; Isa. 1:16-17, 23; 29:13-21; 59:1-19; Jer. 5:28-29; 7:5-7; 22:1-3; 32:17-19; Zeph. 3:1-8; Zech. 7:9-10; Mal. 3:5; Mat. 12:18 with 28:20; 23:23; 1 Tim. 1:8-11
We affirm that in a society based upon representative government (such as the United States) citizens share responsibility for the actions of their leaders.
We deny that in a society based upon representative government the citizenry is held blameless for the actions of those whom they elect.
1. Josh. 7:24-25; Dan. 9:5-6, 8; Zeph. 3:1-8; Rom. 5:12-19
We affirm that God holds all persons, especially Christians, responsible to establish and maintain righteous civil government.1
We deny that Christians may avoid involvement in civil government and remain blameless.
1. Exo. 22:21-22; Isa. 1:16-17, 23; Jer. 5:28-29; 7:5-7; 22:1-3; Zeph. 3:1-8; Zech. 7:9-10; Mal. 3:5; Mat. 12:18 with 28:20; 23:23; Rom. 12:18, 21