Politics 1 – What is Government?

We can barely have missed the fact that this Thursday the country goes to the polls. We have an opportunity to freely participate in the democratic process. There are three quick things that we ought not to ignore.

This is not a privilege afforded to some of our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

This is something for which men and women have given their lives, most notably in the second World War when totalitarian Germany threatened our liberal democracy.

This is something we ought to do as a disciple of Jesus Christ. After all Paul said that whatever we do we’re to do it to the glory of God. So we need to think about how we can bring glory to God in the way that we vote.

We’re going to think about three issues in the next three posts

  1. What is Government?
  2. Why should we vote?
  3. What are the issues?

I am not going to tell you who to vote for. I’m not allowed to since to do so. CCB is a registered charity and cannot endorse any political party or candidate. Obviously I have my own political opinions. But they are those; opinions. I cannot find any teaching in the Bible to say which party we ought to support. And so I’m not prepared to bind anyone’s conscience on the matter. Bible believing Christians will debate the issues and disagree on the outcome of their prayerful biblical reflection.

At CCB we have political activists for both a Labour Candidate and a Conservative Candidate. Fortunately they’re not in the same constituency, so they’re fighting on different turf. And anyway their unity in Christ is far more significant than their disagreement about how to bring about a better society.

On the issue of divine guidance for voting, the assistant minister sent me Ecclesiastes 10:2 which says, ‘The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left’. It’s not about the political spectrum. But even if it was, it would be of very little practical use in the constituency in which I live because the seat will be contested between Labour and the Lib Dems. The Conservatives are also-rans!

In this first post I want us to think about the Governments?

Most of us will have grown up with a variety of British Governments. They’ve been part of the landscape. And so we’ve probably taken them for granted. We may never have stopped to ask

  • What is Government?
  • What are they supposed to be doing?
  • How are they supposed to be doing it?
  • What sort of Government should we be praying for and working towards?

If we’re going to vote intelligently, as Christians, then we ought to have formulated some biblical answers to those questions. And so my intention in this section is to consider the three principle things the Bible says about Governments.

1. Governments are established by God

God has supreme authority over all that he has created. He is, if you like, the Prime Minister. But though He has supreme authority, he’s not the only authority. He has delegated authority to lesser powers and agencies like the family and government.

As the story of the Bible unfolds there’s a developing shape to civil authority. As Israel grew from a nuclear family in Eden, to an extended family outside the Garden, to clan of families with the Patriarchs, to tribes in the time of Joseph and to a nation under Moses, God introduced new institutions. He gave them powers to govern and take responsibility for the social life of his people.

Government is the name that we give to the instrument of rule in a state, where teh state is the complex network of clans of families. Governments are the civil authorities over this society of families. It’s the uber authority over the mega family.

As far as I can tell, there’s no one form of authority or Government that the Bible recommends; indeed God uses a number. The idea of one man one vote is not required by scripture. The scriptural requirement is not that government be democratic but that Government be just, in accordance with God’s standards. Of course for much of the Old Testament Israel is a theocracy and God employs the method of dynastic monarchy to govern the nation of Israel. This is why in Christianity there’s been a strong belief in the divine right of kings. In the New Testament the people of God are no longer a theocracy. They’re an international people who inhabit many different nations. The situation in the later New Testament is perhaps more akin to ours. It is worth remembering that Paul is describing here a non-Christian authority hostile to the church, the Roman Empire. Look at these words from Romans 13

1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

God created the institution of Government. In the Garden of Eden Adam was the first ever Prime Minister who was given authority to rule over and subdue the creation. But he was not autonomous.  No one has rightful authority over anyone else unless it has been given to him by God. Adam had authority delegated to him.

All civil authority has been established by God; both good Governments and bad. God is not responsible for how they perform their function. But he is responsible for placing them in authority over us.

This means that as we elect a Government we are fulfilling God’s will. Whoever wins on May 6th is just whom God intended to rule over us. And so we need to respect whatever God institutes and ordains. And he requires us to submit to that authority. It ought to be the case that Christians are known for being law abiding and supportive of Governments.

Does this mean that we offer absolute obedience?

Certainly not. The bible records occasions when biblical characters disobeyed the civil authority. And the Bible commends them for doing so. For example, consider these three

  1. In Exodus the Hebrew midwives refused to obey Pharaoh’s edict that all Israelite boys should be aborted (Exodus 1:22)
  2. In Daniel the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar commanded Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to worship the golden statue. They refused (Daniel 3:18)
  3. In Acts Peter and Paul were commanded by the civil authorities to stop preaching that Jesus is the Christ and that forgiveness of sins is available in him. They refused (Acts 5:29)

And so it that ethically, civil disobedience is permitted in two situations. We may and indeed we must disobey the civil authorities in two situations

  1. If a Government commands us to do something that God forbids.
  1. If a Government forbids us from doing something that God commands.

But the general Christian approach, the default position if you like, is one of bending over backwards in order to be submissive. We’re going to get God’s Government on Friday even if it’s not a Christian one. And we owe it our willing submission.

2. Governments are instruments of God

The role of Government is to protect the innocent and to punish the guilty. Consider these words from 1 Peter 2

13Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

A similar idea is present in Romans 13

3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.

Governments are God’s instrument for ruling his creation. Paul describes them as God’s servants. He uses worship language from the Old Testament and applies it to state officials. And so Sadiq Khan, the current MP for Tooting may have no idea that he works for God and that he is supposed to rule in Gods way, but he does and he must.

MPs are God’s Ministers that exist to promote justice. They do that by punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent. God has given them the sword, the instrument of capital punishment. And so if we’re well behaved citizens we have nothing to fear from them. But if we’re not then we ought to be very afraid!

The purpose of Government therefore is to promote the order and well being of the society over which it rules. And so it’s worth looking at the manifesto promises and looking at the vision of society that they’re working towards. And asking whether and how each party will protect us as Christian citizens. We may be disappointed.

But given that Governments have this awesome responsibility, we should therefore pray for them and the way in which they rule. Paul commands this in 1 Timothy 2.

1I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

3. Governments are accountable to God

Our secular society and therefore our Government that embodies the ideology of secular humanism, has sidelined the church and pushed it to the margins of public debate. Therefore Christians and Christian opinion are increasingly marginalised, mocked and maligned.

The state may think that it is no longer answerable to the church. That may well be true. But that doesn’t mean that it’s no longer answerable to God.

Psalm 2.7-12 says,

I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

God monitors Governments. He not only raises up those that rule well, he brings down those that rule badly. He is not detached and disinterested in what his appointed authorities are doing. One day all Governments will have to answer to the risen Lord Jesus for how well they’ve done that.

Conclusion

The electorate will cast its’ vote on Thursday. But God is the one who ultimately determines who sits in authority over us. When God allows evil governments to persist, sometimes believers suffer greatly. But in such situations they also glorify God through their courage and faithfulness.

Government is a good gift of God for which we ought to be grateful.

We should seek a good government that recognises its role under God to promote good order in a society.

Christians especially should be known as those that are good citizens and supportive of Government.

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