The 2016 presidential election is less than six months away and, as with previous election cycles, curiosity abounds concerning the question of what role Christians will play in determining who will occupy the White House for the next four years.
Now, having read that opening statement, please note what I did not say.
I did not say that the question Christians are facing is for which candidate we should vote. I did not say that because that is not the question.
The reason it is not the question is because to engage in a discourse about which presidential candidate Christians should support, is to be guilty of putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
Such “political bandwagoning” – a term I use to describe the habit many Christians have of latching themselves onto a particular candidate based primarily on the attractiveness of the message being proffered, rather than allowing themselves to be guided by the counsel provided in the word of God – is to a large extent why America today finds itself experiencing the effects of such a rapid cultural and, yes, spiritual demise.
The truth is there are any number of fundamental predecessor questions and considerations that Christians should, or better yet, must, undertake prior to entertaining any notion about what presidential candidate is most deserving of their support.
A Pre-Decision Decision
Since the earliest days of the New Testament church, the term Christian has been used to describe not only those who profess by mere verbal ascent to believe in Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9) but who, on the basis of an objective assessment of their lifestyle (Ephesians 2:10), were deemed to be committed followers (ἀκολουθέω) of Christ.
In fact, the early church viewed a person’s lifestyle as being so inexorably connected to his or her identification with Christ that:
“If a slave wished to become a Christian, his or her master would be consulted. Once the background checks were passed, the candidate’s job performance was assessed. A number of professions were considered incompatible with Christianity. These included anything to do with prostitution, anything to do with magic or divination, and anything to do with the theater or with games (because of the association with pagan religions). Military commanders and magistrates were not eligible to join, because their jobs involved ordering executions, something to which the Christians were opposed. A soldier could join provided he vowed never to execute anyone, even if ordered, and painters and sculptors could join, provided they vowed never to make an idol.” – Jonathan Hill, Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity, p. 46, Becoming a Christian
To make merely an oral declaration to be a Christian has never sufficed in and of itself as definitive proof to validate such a claim.
It is the evidentiary Christian life – a life that is distinctly observable to others – that distinguishes the professing believer (one who merely claims to be a follower of Jesus) from the confessing believer (one whose lifestyle demonstrably mirrors that of Jesus Christ).
“The growth of ignorance in the Church is the logical and inevitable result of the false notion that Christianity is a life and not also a doctrine; if Christianity is not a doctrine then of course teaching is not necessary to Christianity. But whatever be the causes for the growth of ignorance in the Church, the evil must be remedied. It must be remedied primarily by the renewal of Christian education in the family, but also by the use of whatever other educational agencies the Church can find. Christian education is the chief business of the hour for every Christian person. Christianity cannot subsist unless men know what Christianity is; and the fair and logical thing is to learn what Christianity is, not from its opponents, but from those who themselves are Christians.” – J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, p. 149
Understanding the distinction between what is a professing Christian and what is a confessing Christian is absolutely crucial, particularly as it relates to developing a biblical theology of politics.
Before Christians can endeavor to undertake the question of which presidential candidate we should support, we must first and foremost deal with the matter of what kind of Christian we aspire to be (James 1:22-25).
Until that question is answered definitively and truthfully, everything else is secondary.
A Dangerous Disconnect
When it comes to voting, and elections in general for that matter, Christians who do vote (because there are many do not) are no different than anyone else.
They tend to view being engaged in the electoral process strictly in the sense that such involvement is merely their civic duty; a right they are obliged to exercise as an uninspired and rote expression of appreciation for a perceived benevolence imparted to them by an increasingly secular and ungodly State (Deuteronomy 16:18-20).
Rarely, if ever, it seems, do followers of Christ view their participation in the electoral process as an obligation owed to a sovereign God to whom they will one day give an account for how they exercise that right (if in fact they do so at all).
Such a myopic and worldly mindset is puzzling, particularly given the fact that the very concept of government, in all its various and sundry forms, originated with God (Romans 13:1).
“Politics are a part of religion in such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to the country as a part of their duty to God … Christians seem to act as if they thought God did not see what they do in politics. But I tell you, He does see it, and He will bless or curse this nation, according to the course they [Christians] take.” – Charles G. Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1868), Lecture XV, pp. 281-282
Notwithstanding the ongoing debate over the (un)constitutionality of “separation of church and state” as a binding legal precept, many Christians have likewise chosen to separate, partition, and otherwise disconnect their biblical worldview (to whatever degree it exists) from their political ideology, when the exact opposite should be the case (Romans 12:2).
The enduring consequence of such willful political dissonance is that collectively, as a nation, we will continue to pay an exorbitantly high price, particularly spiritually. The devastating, and disheartening, effects are already quite evident.
I need not delineate them.
Just look around you.
The Heart of the Matter
When you take the time to peel back all the layers, what you will find is that what lies at the heart of all political systems, regardless of ideological persuasion, is an innate desire on our part to experience the purity and perfection that existed prior to the fall of Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-8).
Notwithstanding one’s individual stance on issues such as immigration reform, taxes, abortion, or school choice, at a fundamental level what we all want is a government that provides us the same sense of personal satisfaction and security we get whenever we buy a new car, a new a pair of shoes, or a new smartphone.
That is really what we want.
For it is in those momentary situations that we feel all is right with the world.
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis
Of course, we dare not admit that our personal political dispositions are framed in such vainglorious terms as the aforementioned, but it is true nonetheless.
Something within us longs to know what this imperfect and unjust world of ours would be like, if only the effects brought upon it by the failure of our first parents could somehow be reversed (Romans 8:22-23). This longing runs so deep that we convince ourselves every few years that there exist men and women who inherently possess the requisite attributes and abilities to bring such a just and righteous world to fruition.
There’s a word for that kind of world, you know?
It’s called heaven.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I hear a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and he will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death, there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4 (NASB)
Please understand that none of what I have said is to suggest that Christians should not be actively involved in the political process.
Quite the contrary.
In fact, I would even argue that a primary reason why America is in the spiritual abyss it is in today, is the propensity of many Christians to compartmentalize their stated beliefs – especially with regard to politics – as if the Word of God is somehow not to be appropriated to certain areas of our earthly existence.
Needless to say, nothing could be further from the truth.
For the Christian – the confessing Christian, that is – there is no aspect of life to which the authority of God’s Word does not apply. You can search the Scriptures until you’re blue in the face, but you will find no:
- fine print
- exception clauses
As Christians, that we are to be “in the world but not of it” (John 17:15-16) does not mean – and never has meant – that we should not be involved the political machinations of the world.
It is nonsensical, on the one hand, to think that Christ would pray to His heavenly Father that His elect would not be taken out of the world and yet, on the other hand, think that by doing so Christ intended for His people to not be actively engaged with a world in which He prayed for us to remain.
Nevertheless, as we participate in the electoral process we must remind ourselves that when we cast our vote we are not electing a savior.
Because saviors aren’t elected.
That job is already taken.
“We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” – 1 John 4:14 (NASB)
Soli Deo Gloria!