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« The Stealing of Jesus | Main | An Apology for the Apostolic Pentecostal Movement »

How Deeply Should Apostolics Get Involved in Politics?

no-politics.gifThe phone call was somewhat surprising, but congenial enough. We exchanged greetings, caught up on the news of relatives and friends we had in common, and talked about the weather. Then, he asked me to consider supporting a particular candidate whose primary was coming up soon in my state. The gist of the conversation from that point is irrelevant, but the call itself prompted me to think about politics and the Apostolic believer. Some of us, like the gentleman on the phone, jumped in with both feet long ago. Most of us are casual observers, content to talk about politics based on what we read in the newspapers and the internet, but nothing much beyond that. Our Apostolic tradition, however, leans away from direct involvement in politics. Those founders and leaders who have led the church in past decades turned a deaf ear to contemporary news and they anathematized participation in politics, except to cast a vote at the ballot box.

Every presidential election cycle captures the attention of the nation in a political tsunami, churning with issues that touch at least one nerve of every person or group in the country. Obviously, many of these issues impinge upon the values of Bible-believing Christians, like same-sex marriage, partial birth abortion, fetal stem research and other similar topics. Other issues in the areas of free speech, freedom of religion and taxation as it involves religious institutions land squarely in the province of believers as well. Actually, nearly every issue that makes up the national dialogue has tentacles that burrow into church affairs at some level. Given this context, do Apostolic people have warrant and cause to enter the political fray and fight for their values? If so, should their involvement be limited to participating in the conversation from the sidelines? Should they articulate their views on certain issues by speaking, writing or contributing to issue-oriented movements in order to raise consciousness about them? Or, should they actively become involved in campaigns and throw their support behind particular candidates? Are they right to even run for office?

Some Apostolic believers do participate in the politics of our day. From state representatives to judges, from partisan supporters to political action committee members, you will find a number of believers who feel it is their duty to get involved. Yet, I’ve never heard any specific encouragement coming from us, at least institutionally, to become political. We are much more likely to urge our constituents to stay out of politics. Politics is a corrupt, dirty business, according to the long-standing template, and if we lay down with the dogs, we’ll get up with the fleas. We have been told to pray, fast and focus our energy on building up the kingdom of God.

This sentiment is not without biblical basis. The statement of Jesus, “My kingdom is not of this world” has become the first resort for those who disdain political involvement. Jesus had no inclination to influence the politics of Rome or even of the Jews in the province of Judea. He encouraged more of a passive acceptance of the system, and submission to however the authorities treated their subjects. The most memorable incident of protest involved the moneychangers in the temple at Jerusalem. “And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.” Mark 11:15-17. This protest should not be characterized as political, but an indignant reaction to the sacrilegious activities in the temple. The moneychangers’ traffic was sanctioned by the Jewish authorities, very possibly because they kicked back a portion of their profits to the priests. But when Jesus came before the magistrates, he either answered respectfully or he refused to open his mouth.

Paul takes a similar posture. He deals extensively with the Christian’s attitude toward the government in the book of Romans. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Romans 13:1-7. (New International Version. 1996, c1984 Grand Rapids: Zondervan.) To Timothy, the Apostle writes, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.” 1 Timothy 2:1-3. Paul seemed to be oblivious to the entire realm of governmental power, except when he thought it advantageous, as a Roman citizen, to appeal his indictments to Caesar.

Without exegeting this entire passage, we may summarize the views of both Jesus and Paul as accommodating the powers that be. They did not use their influence to incite riots, make political speeches, challenge the proper administration of authority, start insurrections or become involved in social causes. They focused their energy on spiritual causes and advocated prayer, fasting, study of scripture, proclaiming the Gospel and spreading the Word of God to the farthest points possible. It is clear that they believed the most powerful force they could wield was prayer and the establishment of churches around the known world. James wrote, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:16b.

The question arises, however, whether or not the differing forms of government that contrast the ancient world with the status quo make a subsequent difference in the participation of the citizenry. In Bible times, no one had a chance to become a Caesar unless he was born into a certain family. The political process did not extend out to the grassroots level. Westerners are accustomed to the American form of democracy as the way to do political business, which, although it is modeled after the city-states of ancient Greece, still remains an anomaly in the historical setting. Today, anyone who has the giftedness and gumption to work at it can literally go from being a nobody to occupy the highest office in the land. Many of our presidents started out as peasants, some raised in impoverished circumstances by families that had no name recognition at all. Many political movements have been initiated by unknowns who pounded the pavement, gave speeches, wrote articles and garnered support for their causes with increasing fervor until the fires blazed across the nation. One must wonder whether the Apostle Paul or the other leaders of the primitive church would have taken a different tack had the same political channels been accessible to them as they are to us.

The value of this question is to help us examine the propriety of political involvement. Are there some considerations that transcend the circumstances of history? Are there aspects of politics that have less to do with the obvious opportunities available than with the nature of the beast itself? Can we become so focused on persuading people to join a particular cause or promoting a certain issue that we diminish our higher calling of spiritual involvement? Can we intermingle with the practitioners of politics without soiling ourselves? Can we become so enamored with political processes that we fall in love with them rather than maintain our love for God and the church? These arguments certainly have been made over and over, and they do have a definite legitimacy to them.

The flip side of the argument, however, is equally compelling. Can we ignore the opportunities to make a difference in our world through the political opportunities that lie within our grasp? Are we remiss in failing to take advantage of these powers that accrue to every citizen of a democratic government, and thus permit injustices and inequities to exist around us? Is it right for us to see others avail themselves of these opportunities for selfish or purely carnal causes while we disdain such activities for ourselves in the name of separation or holiness? If we can hold our spirits and attitudes in check, can we use the mechanisms of the political process to do much good for many people? Moreover, can we advance the cause of Christ and the church by influencing our world through political measures? It is naïve to believe that politics has no bearing on the church. One only need consider zoning laws, tax laws, freedom of speech and religion, religious schools and the paramount moral issues of the day like same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia to underscore the fact that the law of the land affects the church. If that is true, then who makes the laws which govern the citizenry? The citizens do, of course. If we can create law, or at least influence law, is it not our right and privilege to do so? Indeed, will God hold us responsible for deferring to others that power that we could take for ourselves?

In the end, I think the best way to view our involvement in politics is similar to the way the Bible instructs us to handle money. For all the invectives found against money in the scriptures, the fact is that we must still have it and use it. We may call it a necessary evil, filthy lucre, mammon, and the root of all evil (a misnomer), but we still accede to its necessity. We have to be careful how we make it, how we use it and how we feel about it, but we cannot deny its proper place in human affairs. So it must be with politics. We can never sell ourselves out to it totally, because it can consume us with a vengeance. If money is power, then politics is power to a much greater degree. And, if power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, we cannot afford to think of it as our power to use as we desire. Even as money must be considered as a God-given blessing, any political power which falls into our hands must also be seen as a God-given blessing. If God will hold us accountable for how we handle our money, then he will also hold us accountable for how we use our political power. If we use it to stroke our egos, pad our personal wealth, increase our power or exert control over our personal enemies, then we are mishandling the gifts of God. If we allow it to corrupt our thinking, gain fame or fortune, advance our personal agenda, then we are abusing the power. On the other hand, if we hold ourselves in check and use political power to advance righteous causes, then we may indeed be doing a service for the King.

No powers that be exist outside the permissive will of God. The greatest power the church will ever exert is the power to pray and the power to use faith in God to bring about change. Our ultimate answer for problems and challenges on earth must never lie in the political or financial realm. God is the answer. Even in a democracy in which we can affect many changes to improve the human condition, the church must not permit any other power than God to occupy the throne of our individual lives or the corporate body of the church. The scriptures are clear: it is God who sets up kings and takes them down. It is God who allows empires to be established and who dismantles them. We may control the politics of a nation, but God controls the nations. He will always deserve and demand our greatest allegiance.

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Reader Comments (1)

I wish I read this about 100 times before I ever decided to do any type of work in politics, not that I would not have involved myself. But my operation would have started out much differant rather than change course mid stream.

December 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMark G Pogue

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