(NOTE: This is an expanded version of an article that appeared in the November 2012 Bethel Church newsletter.)
This is a big month in politics. We all know that. People have had anxiety, anger, and agendas for months now. In fact, there may be some who quit reading this as soon as they saw me use the word “politics”. On the other hand, there may be others whose interested is finally piqued by that word. Yes, I am going to say something about politics. No, it may not be what you expected (or wanted).
I’m not going to endorse a particular candidate or party. I’m not going opine on the virtues or vices of particular platforms. Instead, I want to briefly direct you to what Scripture and our Reformed confessional heritage has to say about these things.
First, we must remember that God is not absent in the political arena. Daniel, given a vision by God, reminded the king of Babylon that the Lord “removes kings and sets up kings” (Dan 2:21). Paul, writing to the Church living in the capital of the greatest empire on earth, reminded them that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1).
In other words, God places whom he will in positions of authority. We may not always understand why or what his purposes are in doing so, but that’s another matter.
Second, while it is the duty of all to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom 13:1), the highest duty and chief allegiance of believers must be to the Lord. Peter expressed this following his arrest for preaching the Gospel (Acts 5:29). The authority of the civic government does not supplant or override the authority of Jesus Christ, who rules over his Church through his ongoing ministry of Word and Spirit.
This is not to advocate civil disobedience per se, but to remember who sits on what throne. The Head of the Church is her living and reigning Lord and that will not change through any vote or spiritual coup.
The wisdom of our Reformed tradition speaks to these matters in various places. The Scots Confession says, “We confess and acknowledge that empires, kingdoms, dominions, and cities are appointed and ordained by God” (Article 24). God’s sovereignty is not confined to the boundaries of the believing community.
These existence of these mediating authorities is, in fact, an act of mercy and provision. “We believe that our gracious God, because of the depravity of mankind, hath appointed kings, princes, and magistrates, willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies; to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained, and all things carried on among them with good order and decency” (Belgic Confession, article 36).
Much has been made this election season about various candidates’ faith (or, perhaps, lack thereof). Listen to these words of wisdom: “It is the duty of the people to pray for magistrates (1 Tim 2:1-2), to honor their persons, to pay them tribute and other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrate’s just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to him” (Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 23:4). These are wise and relevant words.
Finally, it comes down to having the right perspective. Whether you think that “your side” won or lost in this election, remember that all the kings and kingdoms of this earth are temporary and limited in their power when compared to “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim 1:17). It is God who rules and reigns above the chaos of this age, and God who provides a sure and certain protection through the tumult.
To say that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20) is not to advocate disinterest in, or disobedience to, our earthly citizenship, wherever that may be. Rather, it is to remind us that no matter how good or bad we think things are now, this is not our ultimate place of residency. We are ambassadors of the King whose governance is just, whose wisdom is perfect, and whose protection is eternal.
Psalm 46 was Martin Luther’s favorite psalm, and the inspiration for his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. Go and read the whole thing, but listen again to part of it now:
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. ..Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress…He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
After I write this (but perhaps before you read it), we will have a mass of newly elected and re-elected officials. But we will have the same God who sits enthroned as King and Judge. We will have the same Savior who rescues and protects the lost. If you’re celebrating, celebrate that. If you’re anxious, take comfort in that. “Win” or “lose”, don’t forget that.