Christians in the Public Square
The world is in flux, and Christians cannot seem to decide how they should be involved. Where exactly is a Christian’s place in the public square? Should we be involved in politics, or should we only find ourselves advocating principles, rather than politicians and platforms? Today, we seek to investigate the Christian’s role in government.
While there is no long passage of Scripture that directly deals with the concept of the Christian involvement in government, indeed, the Bible often speaks about the concept of government and Christian involvement.
What is Government?
From a biblical perspective, what we see in the Old Testament (OT) is a theocracy. A theocracy of the Greek theokrátia means “God rules” or perhaps more fluently, “the rule of God.” This theocracy refers to the laws and principles that govern a nation and find their origin in the truth of God’s word. A theocracy is the standard form of the rule used in Israel. We recall the book of Exodus (19) wherein God gave commandment to Moses, and the people delineating the laws expected to be followed as the people came to form their nation for the first time.
The New Testament (NT) shows a slightly different approach to government. Namely, that government is an executive arm of God in the world, not necessarily to run an explicit theocracy, but rather to carry out justice, mercy, and goodness (Rom 13:1-4) over the world in a diverse set of people. This work is said to be the very purpose of their existence—θεοῦ γὰρ διάκονός ἐστιν, ἔκδικος εἰς ὀργὴν τῷ τὸ κακὸν πράσσοντι: God’s servant; an avenger to wrath; against practitioners of evil. Now, that is a rough translation, but it serves to illustrate an essential component of this concept. That concept is that while New Testament life may not look like an ethnically divided nation of people called into covenant with God, the principles of Old Testament theocracy carry over to New Testament living.
Romans 2:14-16 displays, what this author believes, is evidence that the law given to Israel equally applies to all in the world. The law is instinctively followed even by Gentile and evidence that which is written on their hearts by God. With no man able to excuse his sin before the face of God, all the world is left in ruin by sin. That fallenness identified alongside the equal liability all men carry for the failure of obedience to that law gives us clearance evidence both of why the OT carried a theocratic government, and why God extends the necessity of a government into New Testament life. Men are sinners and need oversight. The best method for this, God presumed, was by a counsel of overseers, guided by the Scriptures, to enact justice and judgment.
The Christian Call in the Square
With all this considered, many Christians today believe that involvement in politics is wrong. It is just as well that we keep ourselves from it, as this world is not our home, neither is Christ’s kingdom an earthly one. Understandable, to a point. However, if God, in His infinite wisdom, saw fit to place men in charge of both an OT theocracy, and NT oversight for righteousness, who better to fill the role than believers?
Christian’s absence from the public square has led to a hostile take over of the academy and the arts by secularists. Christian’s absence from the public square has allowed abortion “rights” to grow and grow over time. Christian’s absence from the public square has led to a redefinition of marriage and gender by the world. Christian’s absence from the public square has led to a steadfast conviction that it is OK to be absent from the public square.
Sometimes it is true that our choices in politics are not ideal. As believers, Christians often want to pick the perfect choice. However, that is not always a realistic possibility. Moreover, to be clear, who among us is perfect? What we are seeking is someone who will fall in line with what God says is right and moral and what is immoral and then carry out the action that is illustrative of that understanding. The Christian, because his beliefs are derived from the principles of the Book (presumably principles built from OT theocratic laws, and NT theological pedagogy), is in a unique place to both speak into the public square and be active in it. The Church’s Pastors and Teachers should speak directly into the affairs of the world around them, and the people of the Church should stand beside them as they do, affirming the truth of God’s word, and the direction their nation should take.
1 Peter 2:13-17
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,
14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
According to the passage, the Christian’s position is submission, regarding authority, whether to king or governor. However, keep in mind the parameter of the authority working in his official capacity is that they punish evil and praise right. We can only know the difference between evil and right through God’s word. Thus we need the Christian Pastors, Teachers, and laypeople (those who know God’s word best) to be engaged in the public square, to uphold the accuracy of God’s word, and not allow for novel definitions to creep into the conversation.
1 Timothy 2:1-2
1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,
2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
Here is another passage in which the Church is called to offer support to the governing authority. Prayer and petitions should be made on behalf of all men, especially leaders. The purpose is so that we (Christians) may live quiet lives in godliness and dignity.
Does this passage make it seem the Christian should not be involved in the public square, but only give prayers and stay quiet? Consider that it is likely that Nero was Emperor at the time of this writing, and this was the time of Pax Romana (the peace of Rome). Christians were openly persecuted under Nero, and the Christians of this time did not enjoy nearly the freedoms that Westerners enjoy today. It is possible that Paul was encouraging the people to pray for the peace and well-being of its leaders because he knew a time would come where peace would not be possible. Be cautious about making Christian silence an axiomatic statement, when there is a wealth of teaching where Christians are called to speak for righteousness.
With all this said, America allows all people, Christians included, to be involved in the process of decision making. If the world, at its core, has God as its sovereign, and you believe God establishes rulers to maintain righteousness that can only be defined by God’s word, then you have a moral obligation to involve yourself in the political process, by speaking, voting, and fighting the spiritual fight before us.
Study the word, research the politics, and apply truth to the world. Christianity MUST reappear in the public square if righteousness is to be upheld.