The New Testament says nothing directly about political activity for the disciple, but much about divine service. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is uncompromising; the Lord Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
There is a great work to be done by all who would follow in the footsteps of those eleven early disciples who heard the Lord announce this great new service under His own supreme authority. The work of making disciples, baptizing them and teaching the Lord’s will for them is very demanding in terms of time and effort. In studying the New Testament, especially the epistles, we find a great deal about discipleship, and in particular how the believer should serve God in the context of the churches of God in the Fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:2,9).
Alongside this it is also taught that in the normal course of events the adult disciple should take regular employment, so that he may not be a burden to others but be able to support any family or dependents he may have and contribute towards the expenses of the churches of God and any poor in them, not forgetting to do good to all men (Galatians 6:10). In so doing he will maintain a good testimony to those around him (Acts 18:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-12). It is clear that the kind of employment envisaged here is in order that we may “eat bread”, that is, gain a livelihood. It goes hand in hand with spiritual pursuits, is subsidiary to them and has no political objective.
In the New Testament, the Christian believer is regarded as a pilgrim passing through this world. Abraham was perhaps the greatest exponent of the pilgrim life, living in tents and looking for the eternal city (Hebrews 11:8-10). In contrast, his nephew Lot longed after material ease and an earthly city. He got what he wanted, became involved in politics and found to his disappointment that he could not influence for good his wicked neighbours (2 Peter 2:6-8). Eventually, he lost all his possessions and became a cave-dweller. But Abraham decided to avoid worldly involvement. He turned to God in times of difficulty, and through his supplications, Lot’s life was preserved when the Cities of the Plain were destroyed by divine judgment (see Genesis chapters 13, 14, 18, 19); truly a clear lesson for today!
Paul tells us to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2). He directs our minds heavenward because Christ is there and our citizenship is there (Philippians 3:20). “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). The word “city” (Greek: polis) is an interesting one and its meaning may be of some help in our present study. In the New Testament, it denotes a walled town with its own local government structure. From polis is derived a group of English words, including police, metropolis, politics. The derivation of the word politics is not difficult to trace. Leading men of a city would meet from time to time to make suitable arrangements for the conduct of the affairs of the city. They engaged in politics. The wider meaning understood today would naturally follow. In Philippians 3:20 the related word “citizenship” (Greek: politeuma) is used with reference to the life of the city dweller. Paul is here speaking of the heavenly destiny and heavenward attitude of mind of the true believer and exposing the error of those who are preoccupied with material things. In Paul’s own words, “their god is their stomach” (NIV); he calls them enemies of the cross of Christ.
The Lesson of History
A fashionable political philosophy maintains that, if the environment is improved, people will be happy and less disposed to crime. This theory ignores the plain facts of the present as well as of the past. In western lands, greater affluence has been accompanied by increased crime. Violence of all kinds is the despair of every order enforcing authority, and moral problems have never been so widespread as they are today. Every possible variety of political programme has been tried, but all have failed miserably. Sin always intervenes to spoil the most hopeful of schemes. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast: man never is, but always to be, blessed” wrote the eighteenth-century poet Pope, with remarkable insight.
Politicians often labour heroically and thanklessly in pursuit of peace and prosperity. Credit is due to them for their dedication, but failure is in the long run inevitable. The difficulties are too great for human solutions, for man’s root problem is the condition of his heart, which is fouled with sin. There is no possibility of bringing peace and contentment to our society until greed and covetousness have been eliminated. These wrongs are innate in man and before wider problems can be approached with any possibility of success there must be the individual cleansing of human hearts. Only the personal experience of the new birth can accomplish this (John 3:1-16). That is why Christ went to Calvary, and that is why the gospel is preached. The Son of God did not stoop to manhood and die on the cross as the Sin-bearer for a mere political objective. It was to deal once for all with the all-important, all-embracing problem of sin. And so we return to the point we began with: the Great Commission. The only way to bring lasting good to our fellow men is through the gospel. It is no mere palliative; it goes right to the root of the problem.
The Argument from Prophecy
Even the casual reader of the book of Revelation cannot but be impressed by the dramatic course of events depicted in its prophecies. Much of the imagery may be difficult to understand, but clearly running through the later chapters of the book can be seen the parallel themes of man’s mounting opposition to God and the increasing severity of divine judgments on man. Furthermore, in the book of Daniel, there are prophetic passages which depict successive world empires dominating men throughout the ages and attempting to challenge divine authority (Daniel 11:36) until the Son of Man is given the dominion and establishes His everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:13,14). World empires are similarly portrayed in Revelation as culminating in an organization, sometimes referred to by present-day writers as the ten-kingdom confederacy, led by a king with Satanic power who will oppose God (Revelation 17:8-18).
This man will hold sway for a time over the whole world, but he and his centre of administration, Babylon (Revelation 18), will be quickly engulfed in a conflagration of divine judgment. Scripture so depicts the great political and religious systems of earth becoming crystallized into one anti-God movement with its centre in rebuilt Babylon. When this world empire reaches the zenith of its power it will be suddenly crushed, completely wiped out, and replaced by a righteous kingdom, enduring for ever, with the Lord Jesus Christ as its King.
Can the Christian support, or vote into power, governments which, according to Scripture, must be at least precursors of the doomed Satanic confederation referred to in the previous paragraph?
Involvement of the believer in politics is thought by some to be justified by such scriptures as, “let us do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10). But the verse is to be read in the context of service in churches of God. The conditions which govern the exhortation are plainly stated. Firstly, “as we have opportunity”, that is, not as a top priority and not on an organized basis. Secondly, “especially toward them that are of the household of the faith”, surely not a mandate to engage in secular political activity! Examples showing the personal nature of the good works envisaged in this scripture are to be found in the word of God. The work of Dorcas (Acts 9:36-43) is eminently worthy of imitation. There is a place for good works in the life of every disciple. Giving a helping hand to those he comes in contact with as occasion presents itself has been found to be a successful method of establishing mutual confidence and rendering an approach to spiritual things possible. In this way, the main objective of bringing the gospel to acquaintances can be pursued.
The New Testament sets out clearly what the relationship of the Christian to political systems ought to be. He must be “in subjection to the governing authorities” for they “are instituted by God”. Pay to all what is owed to them,” writes Paul, “taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom.13:1-7). Finally, we have the high privilege of praying for “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim.2:1-7). Thus we have access to the court of heaven, where ultimate power over earthly kingdoms resides. God in His sovereignty is bringing to fruition His eternal purposes. In this perspective, the greatest of men are of small power, but the believer in prayer has power with God. Our attendance at the prayer meeting will have a greater influence for good in world affairs than attendance at the polling booth.