What attitudes should Christians hold onto when the political world is falling apart?
Politics is not my favourite subject. Actually I typically avoid it like the plague, but today I will make an exception.
What’s going on? Is democracy in meltdown?
I think we’re all wondering what the future might hold. This last week it feels like the control rods are being removed from the nuclear reactor that is the British political system, and we’re heading for a meltdown! At times like these, it’s good to be reminded of the kind of attitudes we should have towards the political systems in which we live.
Paul warned Timothy that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ, will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). What should Christians expect from unbelievers in such a world? The answer comes in the next verse: “while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” (2 Timothy 3:13). Christians ought not be surprised when we watch our politicians behave in ways we can only categorise as evil. It’s bad in the world, but it’s going to get worse!
If you’re wondering just how bad it can get, the answer from the Bible is, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
In the face of political meltdown what should our attitudes be towards democracy and politics in general?
Here are two thoughts to prepare our minds for whatever lies ahead:
1. Democracy is Doomed!
Remember, it was Satan who offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship, claiming that the authority and glory had been delivered to him—and that he could give it to whomever he willed (Luke 4:5-6). It is also Satan who is called the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31). What’s more, if you’ve read the book of Revelation you’ll know we are anticipating a future in which the “dragon” gives his “power and his throne and great authority” to the “beast” (Revelation 13:2). Just in case you’d missed it, that means that the dragon had power, and a throne, and great authority to give! If you’re wondering just how bad it can get, the answer from the Bible is, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
Satan isn’t planning to play by the rules. If you’ve read Daniel and studied a little history, you’ll know that ultimately there’s coming a time when a ruler will arise who resembles the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes. It was Antiochus Epiphanes who initially fulfilled Daniel’s prophesy, and it’s worth noting that he gained power by deception and cunning, suddenly destroying many (Daniel 8:25). The implication is that—most likely—deception and cunning are the paths to power for the ultimate Antichrist, who is also described as “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Given that description, Christians will not be surprised if the Antichrist doesn’t play by the rules! Paul however, takes pains to warn his readers, that the spiritual power that will be behind the Antichrist—”the mystery of lawlessness”— is “already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Are you surprised when ungodly politicians don’t play by the rules?
Democracy is no real protection against demonic power!
John likewise warns us that many antichrists have already come, and that the spirit of antichrist is already in the world (1 John 2:18; 4:3). Do you really think that democracy as an institution is adequate protection against such demonic powers? We may have elected the people who represent us in parliament, but so long as they are still dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1) they are in fact “following the course of this world” and “following the prince of the power of the air,” who’s also described as “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” (Ephesians 1:2).
Why do Christians place so much faith in politicians? The best of them, if they are not born-again, are still sons of disobedience, and “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air.”
In theory, democracy would be great, if only we had godly leaders to choose from! The problem is, that any potential leader who takes a clear stance on moral issues seems to be ruled out of the running by a groundswell of public opinion that has chosen moral freedom over moral integrity. The sad truth, is that the moment a truly Christian candidate let his views be known, there would be such a frenzied reaction in the media that his hope of being elected would be somewhere between nought and zero. The reality is, that we exist in a democracy dominated by men and women who are “following the prince of the power of the air.” So if you don’t want to be constantly disappointed, get to grips with the reality that democracy is doomed!
So… Down with Democracy? No! Long live democracy!
2. Long live democracy!
We exist under the rule of law, and democracy is enshrined in the law. Romans 13:1 says “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” In our case the authorities that exist have even subjected themselves to the rule of law, which means that if our prime minister breaks the law he too can go to jail. For us as Christians it ought to be unthinkable to break the law, unless it was a straightforward issue in which the law required us to sin.
We are even commanded to pay taxes (Romans 13:6-7) to ungodly governments who will use them to carry out their ungodly policies. Christians have sometimes got themselves tangled-up with a line of reasoning that says, “I’m not paying taxes to support a government that is using my money to abort babies,” or some other grossly immoral activity. However, when Paul wrote to the Romans, Nero was the emperor, and the taxes went to the Roman authorities to be used in all sorts of immoral ways. Peter wrote in the same way, urging Christians to “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” (1 Peter 2:13) by which he meant every layer of human authority people have created, from the top right down to the bottom, including the tax man.
Don’t get caught up with any attempt to resist or rebel against proper legal process.
Christian, note this well: We may see problems with democracy, but we do not have the right to bypass the political process enshrined in law, no matter how noble our ambitions. Don’t get caught up with any attempt to resist or rebel against proper legal process, since that is our authority, “instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Paul’s immediate application from this thought, in Romans 13:2 ought to be fresh in our minds: “Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.” In verse 4 and 5 Paul explains that when people rebel against authority, and incur judgement, the person in authority using a sword to carry out the judgement, is “the servant of God, and avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer,” (Romans 13:4). “Therefore one must be in subjection,” says Paul, “not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.”
Democracy is broken… but it’s the best we’ve got… there’s no way out of a corrupt world with corrupt politicians pursuing policies influenced by corrupt ideology
So even if Democracy has major problems, we don’t have the right to bypass democratic process. In case you hadn’t got what I was saying above, I do believe democracy is broken. Politics is broken. Even the legal system is broken, because we are fallen. We don’t get anywhere chasing Utopia, which is often what people advocating rebellion have in mind. In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s no way out of a corrupt world with corrupt politicians pursuing policies influenced by corrupt ideology.
Democracy may have major problems, but so long as there’s the rule of law, it’s also about the best political system invented by men to restrain the evil of ambitious men. As Winston Churchill famously noted:
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…
Barak Obama, citing Winston Churchill’s comments above, said democracy “is better than the alternatives, because it allows us to peacefully work through our differences.” For once, I agree with Barak Obama. I agree that democracy is better than the alternatives because it allows politicians to peacefully work through their differences. They fight each-other tooth and nail, but it’s a political fight. The battle to beat your opponents at the ballot box is better than a battle to put your opponents in a box. Political war is preferable to the other kind of war!
Maybe you look at the way our own democracy is going, and wonder—like me—if the days when people peacefully work through their differences are coming to an end! Think of the many young men who would die if the power struggles that take place were not restrained by democracy and the rule of law, and you’ll have many reasons to be thankful for democracy!
So don’t give up on it! Actually, as Christians we don’t even have the right to give up on democracy. It’s the law. It is therefore part of our governing authority—the rule of law—and we are commanded by God to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1).
We ought even to do what we can to participate in democracy. God told the people of Israel through Jeremiah to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf,” encouraging them by adding, “for in its welfare you will find your welfare,” (Jeremiah 29:7). I think that implies we ought to play our part as citizens, voting and participating as we are able in the political process to seek the best for our city/country. I’m personally so thankful for democracy—compared to the alternatives. For those of us not actively involved in politics, the best thing we can do as Christians, beyond prayer—I believe—is to use our vote strategically to secure the lesser of two evils when that is the choice before us.
A side-note on the lesser of two evils argument:
Yes, I know many Christians refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils, and instead insist on voting in line with their conscience. They too are faithfully playing their part as citizens, even if I think they are mistaken in the choice of the most effective use of their vote. I believe, democracy is a gift of God in terms of common-grace, invented by men—as so many good legal structures in history—as mechanism for restraining the evil of our rulers. With that as its purpose, I’d argue that voting in an idealistic way when there is little or no chance of that vote being effective, makes the “conscience” vote something of an idealistic protest/wish for a better world.
Voting for the lesser of two evils can feel wrong in the same way that paying our taxes to people who use it to fund abortion or an immoral war feels wrong. It’s the sense that we are somehow lending our support to something that is evil—and we are obviously right to feel badly about what they do!
If democracy had been the political system in the days of the Judges, would you have voted for Samson, or Barak, or Jephthah? Godless days produce ungodly leaders who do what is right in their own eyes, but as Keith Essex has said, “If I’d had a vote, I would have voted for Samson over the alternatives.” The reality is that God chose his Judges to deliver his people and bring about his purposes in the midst of a terrible mess. In those terrible times, you could say that Samson was the best that God had available. And other than Christ, God has always used flawed leaders.
No matter what you decide about voting for the lesser of two evils, don’t join in any effort to overthrow democracy! No Christian should join in a rebellion against lawfully established authority, even when they are doing things we deeply disagree with.
My son, fear the LORD and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise,Proverbs 24:21
It’s no excuse to say that those in authority over us are evil. Godly Haman reported on the plot to overthrow the evil king Ahasuerus. Godly Daniel faithfully served one ungodly king after another, and godly Christians didn’t plot to overthrow the Roman empire, but practiced godly submission. Authority has always been understood by God’s people to be at God’s disposal, and never something to be usurped. Laws, therefore, that govern us in a democracy, must never be circumvented in the name of Christ.
But all it takes for evil to prosper, is for good men to do nothing!
The most powerful objection to this attitude of submission and humble, prayerful engagement in seeking the welfare of the society in which we live, is the concern that all it takes for evil to prosper, is for good people to keep silent. Hopefully you’ve gathered from what I’ve said above, that I’m not advocating silence. We are to be submissive, but active citizens, and above all intercessors! Paul urged Timothy to ensure that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way,” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Prayer is not inactivity, and intercession is not silence. To pray is to recognise that God is above the highest authority, and holds the power in his hands to remove them or redirect them wherever he wants (Proverbs 21:1).
Well there are two attitudes towards politics that Christians ought to be holding onto, when the political world we live in moves towards meltdown. The first, is to remember the reality that democracy is doomed, and not to put too much store in it. Certainly we mustn’t be surprised or get panicked if politicians tear the house down! That’s about what we’d expect. The second point however, is to remember that we must pray! Pray, pray, and pray for those in authority over us! Participate as we’re able in the political process, and don’t get caught up in any effort to overthrow or circumvent democracy! Christians—of all people—are duty bound to be exemplary citizens, seeking the welfare of our city!
Next time: Democracy dethroned? A look at the day that’s coming when democracy will be replaced at the coming of the one who’s called the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Click on the image or link below to watch a video of the sermon “The Death of Democracy?” preached at GraceLife London on Sunday 8th September 2019.