The Limits of Politics and the Kingdom of God



image A comment I read related to Eric’s post on what evangelicals can learn from Tuesday’s Iowa Republican Primary (actually these lessons can be applied anywhere) saddened me.  The person, an evangelical, wrote:

Evangelicals must remember our calling to further God’s kingdom before our own. That looks different to each of us as God places different opportunities to "minister to the widow and the poor" before us.

It’s sad that in the primary too many self-proclaimed evangelicals saw Brandstad (sic) as their Ceasar (sic), instead of VanderPlaats (sic) as a godly leader who … would promote the right values from the top down. I wish to lovingly ask – which "side" was looking at earthly goals before heavenly ones?

In the Old Testament – every time there was a revival – it was when there was a godly leader in charge. This time around it wasn’t God’s Will for us to elect have (sic – word missing) a strong godly leader. I don’t question Branstad’s personal faith, he simply has made it clear that it isn’t in the forefront of his pubic world-view, and won’t be emphasized in his governing.

I have seen this type of sentiment before, and I believe the comment above illustrates a disregard for the limits of politics as it relates to the Kingdom of God.

Can we “further the kingdom of God.”?  We should seek the Kingdom, (Matthew 6:33) and we can look for it, (Mark 15:43).  The Kingdom can come upon us (Matthew 12:28).  It can be taken away from us, (Matthew 21:31).  It’s presence should cause us to repent and believe in the Gospel, (Mark 1:15).  We can enter the Kingdom of God, (Mark 9:47) and receive it, (Mark 10:23).  We should preach the good news of the Kingdom, (Luke 4:43) and proclaim it, (Luke 9:60)   We can not, however, further it – it is something that comes upon us, (Luke 11:20).

But it isn’t through the work that we do, it is through the work of God in our midst.  Government can provide moral restraint (after all that is lawmaking is, legislating morality – the question is, whose morality?), I think we are all supportive of law making murder illegal for instance or robbery or child trafficking.

Government also should provide for justice and order.  There are good governments and bad governments, but let’s keep one thing clear about government.  While it is instituted by God, (Romans 13:1), it is a “kingdom of man.”  Now we can supplant one “kingdom of man” for a better “kingdom of man,” but let’s never think that we can usher in or further the kingdom of God through government or politics.

Followers of Christ are also to be salt and light, (Matthew 5:13-16), and being salt implies acting as a preservative (the primary use of salt in Jesus’ day).  That does mean as we do our civic duty we vote our conscience, we write legislators or do grassroots lobbying regarding our positions on issues that our faith informs.  Some may volunteer for a campaign and some may even run for office.  Being the “light of the world” means we should be different, we should be visible, we should radiate the Son who is the Light of the World.  It should be attractive.

This means we should be winsome and it is imperative that when we speak truth it is done in love, (Ephesians 4:15).  By and large, what I’ve seen in this primary has not met up to this standard.

I also want to want to point out the person commented that, “That looks different to each of us as God places different opportunities to ‘minister to the widow and the poor’ before us.”  That is true we all have opportunities to do this differently, but saying this in the context of politics?

Political involvement isn’t equivalent to “ministering to the widow and the poor.”  Yet often we substitute political action for the hard nitty gritty work of serving the least, the last and the lost.  Our primary task as the Body of Christ is to make disciples through the proclamation of the Gospel.  We are also to love and serve those around us.

But it is easier to rally against gay marriage or call it “sodomy marriage” (how does that work for lesbians by the way?) than it is to befriend a homosexual or serve in an AIDS clinic.  It is easier to lobby against abortion law and protest than it is to adopt or take in an unwed mother who needs support.

For those to the left of me, it’s easier to push for health care reform than it is raise funds to help offset costs for or open clinics for those who are involuntarily uninsured.  It’s easier to want government to provide more money public schools than it is to go volunteer time to help provide activities that are being cut or to help take care of building needs.

You get my drift.  That isn’t to say we shouldn’t be involved in politics, but our first priority should be what Jesus’ priority was for us.  We can see that in the Great Commandment, (Matthew 22:38-39) and the Great Commission, (Matthew 28:19-20).  You see God’s calling to those who are hungry, sick and imprisoned, (Matthew 25).  You also see our calling to orphans and widows, (James 1:27).  You don’t see politics being lifted above those things.  So politics can never be allowed to be a substitute for any of this.

Look at the life of Christ as Scripture tells us  he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant… he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” (Philippians 2:7-8, ESV).  He was the Son of God but He came to serve, to love, to heal, to preach, and to die to atone for the sins of a depraved humanity.

He could have challenged the Romans, he didn’t.  He challenged the religious establishment, but said very little to the Romans.  He wasn’t a political messiah, he was the suffering servant, “the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world,” (John 1:29)!

So let’s keep our priorities straight.  Jesus didn’t come to “lord over” (even though He is Lord), he came to serve.  Often times, even our approach to politics and the rhetoric that we use (and I’m guilty of this as well) takes the tone of “lording over” – seeking to use power rather than exercising humility and seeking to serve.

Ok, that was my first point – politics and government will not further the Kingdom of God.

Next point demonizing brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with your choice in candidate, has got to stop.  The commenter wrote as a reminder…

It’s sad that in the primary too many self-proclaimed evangelicals saw Brandstad (sic) as their Ceasar (sic), instead of VanderPlaats (sic) as a godly leader who … would promote the right values from the top down. I wish to lovingly ask – which "side" was looking at earthly goals before heavenly ones?

That was loving?  She assigned motivation to those “self-proclaimed” (read not true) evangelicals who voted for Branstad.  Those people say him as Caesar and couldn’t see Vander Plaats as the godly leader, the one who would issue the executive order against gay marriage and save the day!

Which “side” was looking at earthly goals before heavenly ones?  She asks.

Both.  Branstad may not have had the gay marriage issue on the forefront and didn’t advocate ways he could speak to the debate.  I criticized him on that.  Vander Plaats promoted an idea which many (both conservative and liberal) as unconstitutional.  Setting that aside since it’s a moot point now.  The approach was to exercise “power over” to address the issue.  Is that sometimes the most expedient way to get things done?  No doubt.  Is it appropriate at times?  Sure.

Is exercising power like this a heavenly goal?  I’ll let you answer that.

Also we need to recognize that people of principle and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ may go for different candidates and sometimes different parties.  No being a Republican or conservative is not a requirement for being a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  Having a relationship with Jesus is, and sometimes even when we agree on a principle we may disagree on the solution or tactics.

The last item I’d like to address is her example of Israel.  A couple of quick points.  America is not Israel (of the Old Testament).  We are not a theocracy.  We live in a pluralistic society.  Huge, huge difference.  While yes I’d like godly leadership to be in power there is no guarantee they will be effective or make better decisions.  Being a Christian doesn’t suddenly make one more qualified for public office either.  I agree with Martin Luther when he said, “I’d rather be governed by a wise Turk, than a foolish Christian.”

President Jimmy Carter was a great example of this.  Sunday school teacher, Baptist, born again – a disaster as a President.

Also boiling how revival would come to Israel and applying it to our situation today is erroneous.  Do you know how revival will come?  Through the Church, through the proclamation of the Gospel.  Through our repenting of our sin and turning to Christ.  Then God in His timing will do what He sees fit.  We can’t hasten the Kingdom by our own actions.

So while we can and should be politically aware and involved, let’s understand the limits of politics, and our responsibilities as Kingdom citizens inside politics and out.

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  • http://www.ericgoranson.com Eric Goranson

    Thank you, Shane, for piggy-backing on my post and articulately expounding on the subject better than I could have.

    I firmly believe it is our duty within our form of government to be involved in the process but I agree that our hope cannot be in State reformation. It should reside firmly in the will of God.

    I don’t disagree that much of the indignation evangelicals feel is “righteous,” but it may prevent us from seeing a bigger picture that allows for others to prayerfully vote their conscience and participate in the best way they know how without being denigrated by fellow believers.

    Thanks, again, Shane. Good post.

    • http://caffeinatedthoughts.com/?author=2 Shane Vander Hart

      Thanks for the feedback Eric!

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  • http://www.housechurchconnections.com Bill Bremer

    Shalom Shane,

    Excellent article. I like your take on the kingdom of God. We can’t further it. The Throne is established, “we come to God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16). Nor can we build it, advance it, plant it, enlarge it or join it with human government. We can proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and live as citizens of the kingdom that is and is to come. God calls us to be what He has made us, to be to His glory (Epesians 1). “In the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne” (Matthew 19:28) on the New Earth (1 Peter 3), every knee will bow. We hope for this kingdom to come.

    May I repost your article on my site?

    Bill

    • http://caffeinatedthoughts.com/?author=2 Shane Vander Hart

      Absolutely, just include a link to the original.

      • http://www.housechurchconnections.com Bill Bremer

        Thanks Shane – I’ll post it Saturday with link and trackback.

  • Cameron Hoyt

    This may be one of my favorite posts. You cover quite a bit in this, Shane.
    I love what you say here: “But it is easier to rally against gay marriage or call it “sodomy marriage” (how does that work for lesbians by the way?) than it is to befriend a homosexual or serve in an AIDS clinic. It is easier to lobby against abortion law and protest than it is to adopt or take in an unwed mother who needs support.” I can’t stand the attitude (even though I am also guilty of it) of letting others take care of it, instead of pulling up your bootstraps and actually working for the widow and the poor.
    Great post, Shane. Thanks.