Does the Bible forbid Christians from being involved in politics? It would be a hard case to prove since there are numerous books of the Bible that are filled with politics—from Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel to 1 and 2 Kings and the Old Testament Prophets.
King David is confronted by Nathan the Prophet (2 Sam. 12), Solomon is shown violating nearly every biblical admonition regarding kings that leads to his abandonment of the covenant (1 Kings 10-11), and kings are given direct instructions on what standard they should use in making decisions of a civil/political nature (Deut. 17), even to the point of not being mentally affected by wine or strong drink (Prov. 31:1-9). Early on, Moses is given instructions on the implementation of a decentralized civil system (Ex. 18).
In the New Testament, Israel was controlled by the Romans. Only Roman citizens had political standing (Acts 22:25-29; 25:9-12). Jesus had a political trial because the Jews did not have the authority to put Him to death (John 18:30-31).1 His accusers brought false civil charges against Jesus (Luke 23:1-2) to force Pilate’s (John 19:12).
This is all to say that the conditions in Israel during the Roman occupation of Israel did not lend itself for non-Romans to influence the government. Over the centuries, however, Christianity impacted the civil sphere whereby the citizenry had a voice in civil government. We see this from the time of Magna Carta (1215).
Historian David Carpenter has written, the Great Charter “asserted a fundamental principle—the rule of law. The king was beneath the law, the law the Charter itself was making. He could no longer treat his subjects in an arbitrary fashion. … The Church in England was central to the development of legal and human rights centuries before the French Revolution . . . the first parties to the charter were the bishops—led by Stephen Langton of Canterbury, who was a major drafter and mediator between the king and the barons; and its first and last clauses state that ‘the Church in England shall be free.’”
The following are some reasons many Christians use to justify not getting involved culturally and politically:
- We should just preach the gospel: Paul told the Ephesian elders that he did not shrink from declaring to them the “whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). Being a new creature in Christ is the first step in a whole new life. Being born again does not stop at infancy. We are to grow up in the faith so every area of life is impacted by God’s Word (Heb. 5:11-14). This includes politics, economics, law, education, journalism, ethics, economics, etc. The Bible has a great deal to say about all of these topics and much more.
- Politics is dirty: What isn’t dirty? Our job is to clean up the things that are dirty. Diapers are dirty, and we change them. If a politician is dirty, then change him or her. If a policy is unscriptural or unconstitutional, oppose it and work for change. There’s nothing in the Bible that says you can involve yourself in the day-to-day decisions of life. If the government is instituting policies that hurt people, then we have a duty to oppose them.
- Jesus didn’t get mixed up in politics, so why should we?:There are many things Jesus didn’t do. He didn’t get married, have children, own a home (John 9:58), or have a means of transportation (Matt. 21:1-7). Should we follow His example in these areas? If you say that we shouldn’t do what Jesus didn’t do, then it’s time you sold your home and car, stay single, and have no children.
- Our citizenship is in heaven: We have multiple citizenships (commonwealths), with our heavenly citizenship being a priority (Phil. 3:20; see Acts 5:29). Paul had multiple citizenships. He was a citizen of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:4; Rom. 11:1). The fact that Paul was a Hebrew citizen and a citizen of heaven did not stop him from claiming his Roman citizenship (Acts 22:25-29) and appealing to Caesar (25:9-12) when he was under Rome’s jurisdiction.
- There’s a separation between church and state:The Bible teaches that there is a jurisdictional separation between church and state, but there is no separation between God and governments (self-, family, church, and civil). The civil magistrate is said to be a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:1-4). It’s the same Greek word (διάκονός) used to describe a deacon in an ecclesiastical/church setting (1 Tim. 3:8-13). In neither of these government offices are these ministers to “lord it over those allotted to [their] charge” (1 Peter. 5:3). The First Amendment to the Constitution does not use the phrase “separation of church and state.” The prohibition is directed at the National Government not to establish a national religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof.” The Amendment goes on to maintain that we are free to speak about religion, write about religion, congregate about religion and “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” This means that we have the liberty to change the government, something that was not possible during the time of Jesus.
- Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world: God’s kingdom does not derive its power and authority from this world, but His kingdom is in and over this world whether people acknowledge it or not. We are to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 7:10). Doing God’s will is the manifestation of kingdom living.
- Politics is not spiritual: If the civil government has been ordained by God, then it is spiritual as is every area of life when governed by the Word of God. Being spiritual means being guided by the Holy Spirit; it does not mean floating in some upper story ethereal realm. “Stop treating a masochistic desire for you and your children to be persecuted by the state as a mark of spirituality. Stop sleeping a Gethsemane sleep and passing it off as a Jesus-in-the-boat sleep. We know you have the ‘innocent as doves’ shtick down; now work on the ‘wise as serpents’ part.”
Nineteenth-century theologian John Holt Rice (1777-1831), who opposed slavery, described it as “the greatest political evil which has ever entered the United States,” and called for the “repatriation of slaves to Africa,” wrote the following about what the church’s response should be to slavery:
The reason why I am so strenuously opposed to any movement by the church, or the ministers of religion on this subject, is simply this. I am convinced that anything we can do will injure religion, and retard the march of public feeling in relation to slavery. … Slaves by law are held as property. If the church or the minister of religion touches the subject, it is touching what are called the rights of property. The jealousy among our countrymen on this subject is such, that we cannot move a step in this way, without wakening up the strongest opposition, and producing the most violent excitement. The whole mass of the community will be set in motion, and the great body of the church will be carried along.
Under this conviction, I wish the ministers of religion to be convinced that there is nothing in the New Testament which obliges them to take hold of this subject directly. In fact, I believe that it never has fared well with either church or state,
when the church meddled with temporal affairs. And I should – knowing how unmanageable religious feeling is when not kept under the immediate influence of divine truth – be exceedingly afraid to see it brought to bear directly on the subject of slavery. Where the movement might end, I could not pretend to conjecture.2
We don’t have to conjecture. Rice’s views, followed by many Christian leaders at the time and today, led to a bloody civil war where an estimated 620,000 men lost their lives, increased the power of the national government, and led to legal oppression of freed slaves.
- Satan is the god of this world: Satan is no more a god than a person’s stomach is a god (Phil. 3:19). Paul is describing what some people choose to be their god, a limited creature who has been defeated. The Greek word for “world” (kosmos) is not used; it’s aionand refers to the time (lit., “age”) when Jewish believers in Jesus were having to counter criticism from their fellow Jews over who Jesus was (1 John 2:18-19, 22; 2 John 7). Paul writes that these people were blinded (2 Cor. 3-4). Jesus said, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31; also, John 14:30; 16:11; 1 John 4:4; 5:19). Paul told the Christians in Rome, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Rom 16:20). “Soon” for them.
- We’re not supposed to judge: We are admonished by Jesus to be consistent in judgment (Matt. 7:1-2) and to “judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). How can a Christian speak with a non-Christian about repentance if we aren’t to judge? If there is nothing to judge, there is no sin and need for the gospel.
- We must render to Caesar what’s Caesar’s:We don’t live under Caesar. We live under a Constitution, and we can remove and replace people in office and “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The people in Jesus’ day could not. We do not have to settle for the political status quo. In addition, Caesar (every civil government) must render to God what belongs to God. And what belongs to God? Everything!
- Christians should remain neutral:Neutrality is impossible. Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Matt. 12:30). Those who refused to help the Samaritan were not being neutral (Luke 10:25-37). Those who cried out, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15), were not being neutral. Pilate was not being neutral when he “washed his hands” (Matt. 27:24).
- We can’t impose our morality on other people:All law is the imposition of someone’s view of morality. The question is, What areas of life are the civil magistrate given the authority to legislate? I can guarantee you that non-Christians have no problem imposing their morality on Christians.
- It’s never right to resist authority: The Hebrew midwives were commanded by “the king of Egypt” to put to death all the male children being born to the Hebrew women (Ex. 1:15‑16). The Hebrew midwives disobeyed the edict of the king: “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (1:17). The midwives had to make a choice. Did God’s law overrule the command of a king, even “the king of Egypt”? God shows His approval of their actions: “So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. And it came about because the midwives feared God, that He established households for them” (1:20‑21). Rahab’s misdirection to the Jericho authorities is another Old Testament example Rahab is praised by two New Testament writers for her actions: “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace” (Heb. 11:31). Rahab is listed with Abraham as one whose faith was reflected in her works: “And in the same way [as Abraham] was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (James 2:25). By sending the spies out by another way, she subverted the king’s desire to capture the spies. In the New Testament, “Peter and John answered and said to [the authorities], ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:19-20). Also, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
- We’re living in the last days and Jesus is coming soon to rapture His church so why polish brass on a sinking ship?:How many times have we heard this claim? We were told in 1970 with the publication of Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earththat the rapture would take place within 40 years of Israel becoming a nation again (1948). Chuck Smith and others made the same claim: 1948 + 40 = 1988. Even today Christians are pushing the canard that the “rapture” is near, that the antichrist is on the brink of revealing himself, and there is no reason to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. Those in the world are wiser. Shipbuilding did not stop with the sinking of an unsinkable ship. Sometimes “the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). I discuss the topic of the last days in many books:
- Last Days Madness
- Is Jesus Coming Soon?
- Wars and Rumors of Wars
- Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction
- The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance
- Prophecy Wars
- 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered
- Identifying the Real Last Days Scoffers
There’s so much more that could be said on the above topics. In fact, I have expanded each point above into its own full chapter. See my book Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: How Misreading the Bible Neutralizes Christians and Empowers Liberals, Secularists, and Atheists.
- “The Jews had lost this power since the time that Archelaus was deposed, and Judæa became a Roman province (AD 6 or 7). The Talmud speaks of the loss of this power forty years or more before the destruction of Jerusalem.” This didn’t stop the Jews to inflict punishment without a trial (Acts 7:54-60; 14:19; 16:22; 2 Cor. 11:24-25. [↩]
- William Maxwell, A Memoir of the Rev. John Holt Rice, D.D. (Philadelphia: J. Whetham, 1835), 307. [↩]