Whenever tragedy strikes, accusations, interpretations and reflections immediately begin.  The recent mass murder in Norway has brought to the forefront yet again a dialogue that occurs fairly regularly.  It is a conversation about the role of religious beliefs in politics and government.  The early labeling of the mass murderer as a “Christian Fundamentalist”, which later turned out to be inaccurate, brought this debate to the forefront even more quickly.  (For a better explanation as to why the term “Christian Fundamentalist” was misused and the rationale behind that, please see Ed Stetzer’s excellent posts on July 23rd and July 29th .  Combine this tragedy with the heated rhetoric of recent political debates that has religious overtones (Vice President Biden’s pathetic labeling of Tea Party members as terrorists and Texas Governor Perry’s asinine call for violence against Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on grounds of treason), and it is very disturbing to see how intertwined our political and our theological beliefs have become, especially in terms of submitting to authority.

We normally see these types of debates around presidential election time as churches debate whether to endorse a candidate, talk about a hot-button issue or just stay silent.   Many people I respect feel very adamant that we need to talk MORE from the pulpit regarding certain issues and candidates, not less.  Let me make this point abundantly clear – we should always preach and teach the entire counsel of God from the pulpit regardless of how it might apply to a thorny political issue because that is Truth.  Truth shall always be proclaimed.  However, we have failed as a church over the last 20 years to prevent our politics from overtaking our calling and our purpose.  Maybe it’s more than just a coincidence that at the same time we were witnessing the rise of the “Moral Majority” or the “Christian Right”, we were losing our children from the church in droves, with many churches becoming pure extensions of a political party on one end of the spectrum or purely irrelevant on the other.  The church should never be an extension of a political party.  And it is certainly never called to irrelevant.  It should ALWAYS be the bride of Christ.  The Word of God is explicitly clear regarding my responsibilities and attitudes toward the government and its authorities:

  • Submit to my governing authority (Romans 13:1; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13).

I am to obey whenever possible and disobey only if absolutely necessary in order to not violate God’s Word.  And if I do disobey, I should expect and accept punishment from the civil authority.  Daniel is an excellent example to study regarding how to do civil disobedience as a last resort.  However, look at Titus 3:1-2 again.  Not only am I to submit, but I am also to be obedient, ready to do what is good, slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward everyone.  Wow.  Think if anyone were to ever run a political campaign based on those set of guidelines.  Or even ONE of those guidelines.

  • Recognize that all governing authorities are ordained by God (Romans 13:1).

Not just a certain political party or a certain person with a specific set of beliefs.  All governing authorities – every ruler, prime minister, president, king, dictator, governor, mayor, council member, senator, and representative is appointed by God and given authority from God.  This covers socialism, capitalism, democracies, monarchies, Roman Emperors and everything in between – the form or system of government does not matter.

  • Humbly realize that God uses the government for His good (Romans 13:4).

The government is often God’s instrument for carrying out His purpose. We are to subject ourselves to that government out of obedience and deference to God.  We may not see what “His good” is – that is the beauty of the sovereignty of God.  Our lack of understanding regarding what “good” may come out of a situation does not override our responsibility.

  • Pay my taxes (Romans 13:6-7; Mark 12:17)
  • Pray for the governing authorities and live peaceably (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Here’s the problem – when we start placing patriotism and national pride above our on-going Christian calling, we will see more and more people sinfully exhibiting thoughts and behavior similar to the Norway murderer.  How the debt ceiling or my tax rate or immigration or gay marriage or abortion is voted on and legislated does NOT change my ultimate purpose here.  Now don’t get me wrong!  Have an opinion, take a stand, support a cause, closely examine all the issues because the Word of God has very clear teachings on many of those subjects.  BUT…..those political debates and battles should never be my overarching, #1 priority as a Christian.  I am called to make disciples of Christ, not disciples of America.  I am called to make disciples of Christ, not disciples of Republican orthodoxy.  I am called to make disciples of Christ, not disciples of Baptist traditions.  I am called to make disciples of Christ from all nations! (Matthew 28:19)  If I allow anything else to trump that calling, including politics and elections, then I am just allowing yet another form of sophisticated 21st century idolatry?

We should never let our views, opinions, and feelings as a citizen overtake our responsibilities as a Christian.  President Barak Obama is the President of the United States.  God has ordained for President Obama to hold that position of authority at this time and he is accountable to God for his decisions and stewardship of that position just like every President before him.  As a citizen of the United States, I am to submit to the governing authority, including to President Obama.  I can vehemently disagree with his rhetoric, policies and worldview.  I can actively campaign, within the legal confines of the law, to elect new leaders.  There is a defined process for that – there will be winners and losers via elections.  But at no time does my submission to authority change.  I am to do all these things peaceably, without slander, being ready to do good and showing true humility.  Nothing dismisses or replaces my responsibilities to submit.  I cherish my freedom and the freedoms we have in this country.  Democracy is the best of all possible flawed options.  But I MUST follow Christ’s call for my life infinitely more, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Given this constant struggle between our politics are our Christian calling, some further questions arise that I do not have immediate answers for:

  • Does the lack of submission to our government give any insights as to why there is a lack of submission in the church to its human leaders and ultimately to its heavenly leader, Jesus Christ?
  • We claim to hate all the current day politics…but seem to debate little else within the confines of the church walls.  Why is that?