Doing What We Do Know
“Every four years, Americans reveal that they are looking for a savior king.” – Robert Rothwell
I recently received an e-mail from a believer asking for insight about how to think about the presidential election. I’ve received permission from the person who contacted me to share their question.
Here was the essence of their question: I know our hope is not in this world but since our system gives us opportunity to vote and there are going to be Supreme Court Justice seats come up I thought it wise to pay attention and to vote with knowledge and wisdom. But (in considering the present candidates, what they are saying, and their confusing alliances) I’m not sure what to think any more about the duty to vote. What say you?
I answered this person but after I replied it occurred to me this subject may be on others’ minds. Here are some questions that came to mind: Should believers vote? Is it okay if we don’t vote? Is it okay if we do? How do we decide who to vote for? Should we vote ‘party line’ or ’break up the party?’ What should be our expectations of those in governing positions? Should we only vote for people who call themselves Christians?
I may end up simply muddying the waters; in that case write in Johnny Norris as your candidate for president and we’ll call it a day! Seriously, in this newsletter and several more, I’ll try to give us what I believe are some biblical parameters for thinking about elections and our participation in them. So this month let me make the following observation.
What We Do Know
We need to acknowledge that our form of government and our option to vote isn’t specifically addressed in the Bible. Further, what believers are given in this New Covenant era, in relationship to governing authorities, is far more a ‘one-size-fits-all.’ By that I mean, what’s written for New Testament believers is sufficient for them to live godly lives in Christ Jesus living under any kind of government system.
Why did I italicize ‘under?’ Because we’ll see in a moment, that’s what’s expected and assumed of believers. It is not assumed Christ-ones will be in authority; it is assumed we will be under governing authority.
Before I show you that reality, consider the following. When Paul wrote to the church in Rome and addressed their relationship with governing authorities, Nero was on throne. You can do the research but suffice it to say Nero was a blatantly sinful man and the Roman Senate was no cadre of godly men seeking to bring in the day of righteousness. Nero did gross and highly abominable deeds as emperor; the Senate was a den of rattlesnakes. And according to church tradition it would be Nero who eventually ordered Paul’s death. That’s one example of the kind of authority under which Christians may find themselves.
Consider also the relationship Jesus modeled with those in governing authority. We might be quite familiar with Jesus’ last few hours before the Jewish authorities and Pilate, the local Roman prefect. Peter tells us that Christ’s humble submission to them to the point of death is our example (I Peter 2:21-25). Our Lord voluntarily placed Himself under the authority of godless men to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8; John 10:18).
To get a sense of how macabre Prefect Pilate’s governing was, examine Luke 13:1 — Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. It was to this man Jesus personally submitted himself.
Historian Josephus relates that under Pilate’s command, at one Passover 3,000 Jews were butchered and the temple courts filled with dead corpses; at another Jewish feast 2,000 perished in like manner (see ‘ Ant.,’ 17:9. 3; 20:5.3; and ‘ Bell. Jud.,’ 2:5; 5:1). It was under that kind of authority, Jesus not only willingly submitted, he also told his followers to pay their taxes to that same government – render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.
Here’s what we DO know.
- Believers are to be in subjection to the governing authorities – Romans 13:1; Titus 3:1
- Believers are to recognize earthly authorities are ‘established by God’ – Rom. 13:1
- Believers are not to resist authority – Rom 13:2
- Believers are to pay their taxes– Rom 13:6
- Believers are to speak and act respectfully toward those in governing authority – Rom 13:6
- Believers are expected to pray for and petition God on behalf of those in positions of earthly authority – I Tim. 2:1
- They are to pray this way for the purpose they (the believers) might lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity – I Tim. 2:2; Titus 3:1,2, 8
- Our tranquil and quiet environment (as opposed to tumultuous and unpredictable) and the godly and dignified life we live (as opposed to ungodly and dishonorable) in that environment is that we might participate in the propagation of the Gospel – I Tim 2:3-6
So as we ponder our relationship with our country’s government and whether or not we should vote, and for whom we should vote, let’s remind ourselves of what we DO know. And may each of us examine ourselves accordingly. Are you submitting to governing authority (which would include paying your taxes)? Are you respectful of those in authority in your comments about them? Are you praying for those in authority? Are you praying for the peace of our country that you might be active in getting the Gospel out?
Next, we’ll consider our passports – where our citizenship is, and how that relates to our voting.