Government, Elections, and Christians—Oh my!

Judging by the rhetoric, each party thinks the future of the U.S. rests in its hands. Each side will try all within its power to guide the election results so that “my guy will win.” The campaign ads heighten the sense that “this is the time!” Perhaps many people can’t wait until Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 ends, regardless of the outcome.

Having been an observer of elections since 1960 (we didn’t have TV in 1956), this dialog seems to reflect every election year. So, does it matter? You would think that the U.S. controls the world. But does it?

Those may be the wrong questions to ask. Better is: Who is really the one behind the elections and the government itself? Let’s look at two Biblical texts to see behind the scenes.

Romans 13:1-7 (HCSB) Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.

1 Peter 2:13-17 (GW) Place yourselves under the authority of human governments to please the Lord. Obey the emperor. He holds the highest position of authority. Also obey governors. They are people the emperor has sent to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing what is right. Live as free people, but don’t hide behind your freedom when you do evil. Instead, use your freedom to serve God. Honor everyone. Love your brothers and sisters in the faith. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

“There is no authority except from God and those that exist are instituted by God.” Rather a strong statement! But a critical one. Some would use this section to claim that God then is behind the evil of governments, i.e. Hitler, Stalin, Idi Ammin, etc. But this text does not support such a conclusion. Rather, the governments and individuals who rule have a responsibility before God, whether they even acknowledge God or not. They ultimately answer to God. So, in the case of each of the abov ementioned evil leaders, they faced their judgment at death. God does not approve of what they did nor how they did it. In effect, they “resisted the authority” of God Himself.

Two Kingdoms

Lutherans see the tension of Christian doctrine and life in this present world. In this specific instance, we speak about two kingdoms: Kingdom of the Left (government) and Kingdom of the Right (Church). God is over both, but each of these spheres are distinct.

Kingdom of the Left is based on the laws of the land and operates on the basis of power (“the sword”).

Kingdom of the Right is based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it operates on the basis for forgiveness of sins through Word and Sacrament.

As Christians we live in both the Kingdom of the Left and the Kingdom of the Right. But we live in each recognizing the basis and the tools for ruling within each. Thus, we do not impose “Christian laws” on the Kingdom of the Left. But we support moral laws that reflect God’s desire for life in this world. Likewise, if a law or ruler in the Kingdom of the Left tries to interfere with the Gospel, then we follow the example of the early Christians:

Acts 4:19-20 (HCSB) But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Sometimes we hear statements that “If you are a Christian, how can you vote for xxx?” This is a case of the Kingdom of the Right trying to impose something on the Kingdom of the Left. That thinking actually comes out of the Calvinist side of the Reformation, and even the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages (in which the pope claimed to be head of both governments and Church). But such is not the pattern of the New Testament, nor us as Christians who confess the Christian faith as Lutherans.

Paul exhorted Christians to pray for the rulers, and specifically the Roman Emperor who would have both of them killed.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 (GW)  First of all, I encourage you to make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and prayers of thanks for all people, for rulers, and for everyone who has authority over us. Pray for these people so that we can have a quiet and peaceful life always lived in a godly and reverent way.

So as Christians, regardless of who “wins” the election, we are to pray for the leaders. And do we? Or do we celebrate or commiserate because “my guy” “my party” “my platform did or did not win the day?

In a way this becomes freeing for us as Christians. We don’t vote on the basis of one issue only, nor is our future as the Church changed because of who rules in the Kingdom of the Left. I have pointed out for the past 30 years, that ultimately it doesn’t matter to the Kingdom of the Right who is the ruler in the Kingdom of the Left. It may affected how we live in the Kingdom of the Left, however. Martin Luther once quipped: “I would rather live under a competent Turk than under an incompetent Christian.”

And now note the two following verse from 1 Timothy:

1 Timothy 2:3-4 (GW) This is good and pleases God our Savior. He wants all people to be saved and to learn the truth.

Our prayer for a quiet and peaceful life in the Kingdom of the Left is so that the Kingdom of the Right may continue—God saving people through the Gospel being spoken, read, taught.

In the United States we live in a unique environment—we can vote for leaders and for laws! That is a rarity in history. Most peoples throughout the ages have never had any voice in government. Thus voting is a privilege, and for Christians, a responsibility as citizens in the Kingdom of the Left.

Bottom Line

So the exhortation is:

1) vote if you have the privilege,

2) pray for the leaders whehter or not you have the privilege.

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About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
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7 Responses to Government, Elections, and Christians—Oh my!

  1. Only thing I would add, is be careful not to compromise your faith in your voting.

    That line about the turk from Luther is being bandied about in some places as indicating being a turk is ok – and a valid route to heaven – because they are moral, good folk.

    • exegete77 says:

      Good points, Dustin. Thanks. Luther’s quote is obviously Kingdom of the Left stuff, whereas they are trying to make it Kingdom of the Right.

  2. Been trying to look at this this way and doing well I think thanks to hearing this in a previous discussion (thank you), so it is in God’s hands (now, is it over yet?) : )

  3. John Malchow says:

    God elects all governments. In Americas case, he uses the collective will of a theoretical majority. Thinking on Luther’s “Bondage Of The Will”, exercise of free will always has consequences, either negative or positive to whatever is the goal or desired out come of that exercise. (so much for free will!) Will Rodgers once made the statement, “People usually get the government they deserve”. We see proof of this in both the old Testament and in modern life. When people support a secular government (government of the left, representing the collective will) that violates the dictates of the government of the right, there are consequences, normally some form of punishment. In the Old testament God sent disobedient Israel’s enemies to punish the collective. We read of the Babylonian captivity as punishment but, there are other punishments just as bad, like being forced into a life that causes people to cry, “God why have you forsaken us?” Thankfully, God loves us and, in the end, all will turn out for the best.

  4. John Malchow says:

    To my previous post I add: the words “God why have you forsaken me” is an example of the results of human rationalization. From Christ hanging on the cross in his “human ” persona to humans in dire need of understanding, these words reflect a failure to understand God cannot forsake us because that would go against His loving nature and he cannot do what is against His nature. Therefore, the reality is, we choose to forsake God and suffer the results of exercising “free” will. Again, individually, collectively and historically God demands reparations. On this discussion on voting remember what Luther seemed to say in His Heidelberg Disputation, the bridge between the left and the right is the Cross (Crux sola est nostra theologia).
    Justifiedandsinner stated above we need be careful not to compromise faith when voting. On this day before elections pray for America, pray that we all remember what God desires, no, demands for us, There is no box to check that says “NONE OF THE ABOVE” and there in is the rub for followers of Christ.

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