Last week I read an article entitled, The Race for the Least Bad Presidential Candidate. It was an article from Forbes Magazine, dated May of this year. The article was written by a man named Geoff Colvin. I don’t know if Colvin is a follower of Jesus but he seems to capture the overwhelming Christian-sentiment towards this year’s presidential election, more specifically, it’s candidates. If you’re like many Christians I’ve talked to over the past year or so, choosing who to vote for this November is an option similar to choosing which finger to smash with a hammer. In fact, from a purely biblical worldview, the past few election cycles have yielded less than idyllic candidates. And, over the past couple of decades this has left many conservative Evangelicals – who consider it their civic responsibility to vote – feeling rudderless. But, what is viewed by some Christians as precursors to the apocalypse, is viewed by others as an exciting opportunity for reform.
Over my years in ministry I’ve heard Christians suggest that devotion to Christ and political involvement, specifically voting, are one and the same. I’ve also heard many of those same people say that if first-century Believers were afforded the rights of a free democracy, like modern American Believers, they would have most certainly exercised those rights. The problem is with those claims is that they are based on extra-biblical presumptions. There is nothing explicit, or even implicit, in the New Testament that instructs Believers to be involved in politics. In fact, throughout the Gospel accounts, we see Jesus go out of his way to rebuff any insinuation that he was a political figure with a political mission. He even avoided certain titles, with deep-seated political connotation, such as Messiah and Son of God. Which makes sense considering he spent 80% of his ministry around the area of Capernaum, teaching a militant, politically-charged Jewish audience. So, when referencing himself to that audience, Jesus would often use the apolitical title Son of Man (cf. Matthew and Mark) rather than a title that would ignite false ideas about who he was and what he was here to do.
As it relates to Paul, he instructs the church to submit to ruling governments (cf. Romans 13:2, Titus 3:1), but submission and involvement are different behaviors. In fact, in 1 Timothy 2:2 Paul tells Timothy to lead his church in praying for their kings and rulers so that they, may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. The words peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified are not expressions, I would say, describe the political climate in America today. However, I think the apolitical tenor of the New Testament is most clearly observed in a passage such as Ephesians 6.
The letter to the church of Ephesus was written by Paul from Rome around 61 AD. He’d written a letter to the church of Rome from Corinth three years earlier – at the end of his third mission trip – and was planning to travel to Rome, immediately following his visit to Jerusalem. However, as seen in Acts chapters 21 – 27, those plans were stymied after Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and imprisoned for three years in a Judean jail. But, three years later, he would finally enter the imperial city of Rome, albeit, much later then he’d originally planned and as a political prisoner. Acts 28:30 – 31 records this event and says, [Paul] lived [in Rome] two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. It was during his two-year period in Rome when Paul authored what we refer to as the Prison Epistles. Those letters include his appeal to the slave-owner, Philemon, as well as his letters to the churches of Philippi, Colossae, and Ephesus – which, for our purposes, includes the following exhortation in Ephesians 6:5–8, Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
Following the death of Claudius in 54 AD, Jews and Christians alike would have migrated, in droves, back to the city of Rome from places as far east as the Orient. Scholars believe that, when Ephesians was written, there could have been more than a million people living in the city of Rome. It’s also a widely held belief that one-out-of-three, or roughly 300,000, of those people would have been some sort of slave. Which means, Paul could have written the words in Ephesians 6:5-8 while watching slaves walk past his window in chains. Or, maybe he wrote it after visiting with Onesimus, a slave and Christian brother, who had fled from his owner, Philemon, to Rome for sanctuary. Or, perhaps he wrote it after visiting with some of the slaves who might have been members of the church in Rome. Which begs the obvious question: how could Paul write an exhortation, like the one in Ephesians 6, while witnessing, firsthand, the injustice of slavery? Why didn’t this well-known and well-respected Apostle spark a political-movement in the most powerful and influential city of that millennia? Why would he not use his influence with the Church in Rome to take some type of political-stand against a clear and present social-injustice? There’s nothing in the Bible suggesting Paul was ignorant of or, worse yet, ambivalent towards the issue of slavery. In fact, we have every reason to believe he was deeply concerned over the issue of Slavery; his letter to Philemon serves as testament to this. But, in Ephesians 6:5 he tells slaves to obey their masters as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God. And, although some view this as of statement of apathy, this was not a statement motivated by apathy – it was a statement motivated by the power of the Gospel. Paul’s most important mission was the Gospel message lived-out through the followers of Jesus. It’s safe to assume Paul had the means and whereabouts to spark a political revolution in the heart of Rome but chose, rather, to promote a spiritual revolution in the heart of the Believer.
Lives are changed when the Gospel is lived-out through the followers of Jesus. Throughout history, entire nations and cultures have been healed when the church lives-out her mission; when Christ-followers focus on being better Christ-followers, instead of better political-activists. I don’t believe it’s at all wrong or sinful for Christians to vote or support political candidates and causes, but I do believe it is an inferior use of our time, energy and resources. If God uses the local church to change culture once again, I do not believe it will be through our votes. If God sparks revival in this nation, I do not believe it will be because of political involvement; it will be the result of his Gospel, lived-out by the church. Believers, spanning time and cultures, have made nations better by being better Believers, not better activists. If you decide to vote this November that is your prerogative, but please understand this American culture needs something more desperately than your vote… this American culture needs your Gospel.