October 7, 2008

Thoughts on the Election, Part 3

We’ve been thinking, for a couple of weeks, about the question: ‘What are some biblical principles that Christians should take to the ballot box on November 4 (or any other election)?’ And so far, largely from Jeremiah 29.7, we have given three answers:

1. Be sure to vote
2. Be sure to pray
3. Think issues

Now today, let’s step outside of Jeremiah 29 and narrow our focus even a little further with a fourth idea. How should Christians think about and use the privilege of the vote?

4. Inform yourself as to the Bible’s understanding of government. Our vote is a reflection of our desires and expectations of our government. And as Christians, if we are going to express our desires and expectations, they had better line up with God’s, right? So does the Bible have anything to say about God’s desires for and expectations of secular government?

We need to look, specifically, at the New Testament. Since the Old Testament presents, basically, the form of government known as theocracy (i.e. a religious state ruled directly by spiritual principles) … statements about government there are really more applicable to the church than they are to the modern secular government. The United States, unlike the church, is not a theocracy. But the New Testament was written in a context where governments were very similar to ours – in that they were largely secular, though with varying levels of influence from a handful of religions. So the New Testament is where we need to look for the most direct statements about how God might think about modern government.

And what does the New Testament say? Well it presents three strands of thinking regarding the government.

A. Christians should pray for their government (1 Tim 2)
B. Christians should submit to their government (Rom 13, 1 Pet 2)
C. Governments should enforce ethical norms (Rom 13, 1 Pet 2)

It is on point ‘C’ that we need to focus. When we read the words of Paul in Romans 13, and of Peter in 1 Peter 2 … both men make it clear that God expects the government to uphold and enforce a standard of ethical norms … to uphold the most basic human rights, and to punish those who violate those rights. I find this significant … especially since this is really the fundamental standard that God imposes on government as an institution – uphold basic human rights. Since this is the only expectation mentioned, I take it to be of prime importance. It’s the fundamental thing.

That is not to say that we are not thankful when the government builds roads, or creates jobs, or gets gas prices under control. But these are not the primary role of government, according to the New Testament. The primary role is “the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2.14). So it seems to me that what a candidate thinks on various human rights and ethical issues is a great deal more important than his view on the economy, or on offshore oil drilling. And we need to take that realization with us to the voting booth.

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