The subject of the Christian’s relationship to the government is certainly a very controversial one, with opinions ranging from total participation (even mandatory) to living without any consideration of the civil authorities at all. Certainly both of these are extreme positions and there are numerous ideas in between them.
The Origin of Civil Government
The Bible first mentions temporal civil governments appearing after the fall. Prior to that time God’s perfect system was that Man would come to Him for guidance and the result would have surely been paradise. After the fall, man’s number increased and with the “lifting of the veil of innocence” lawlessness increased as well. Cain’s children walked in the ways of their father to murder and steal and rape and, “evil filled the earth.” Obviously God did not approve of this chaotic situation for it grieved Him in His heart and caused Him to destroy all but eight souls upon the earth. After the flood, the descendants of Noah grew in number and among them was a man named Nimrod, who the Bible would tell was the first man to claim rule over others, not in his direct family. In Genesis 10:8-9 the Bible says, “Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.” The original language says a “hunter, or and enslaver of men.” This seems to be the first arrangement of temporal civil government in sacred record. The government apparently grew to encompass the whole of the human population (?) and we are led to the scene at the tower of Babel. God’s reaction would insinuate that while He did not necessarily disapprove of “civil government” as it were He did not sanction a world wide government. Throughout the Old testament God nowhere claims to have created, or instituted civil government, in the way that He did marriage, or the church, but He does seem to see the good that it accomplishes in preventing a recurrence of the Antediluvian anarchy.
The Ruler of Civil Governments
As mankind advances we do not see for many, many years any particular government that was any more close to God than another (except perhaps Salem of which very little is said). When God instituted the Civil Government of Israel, a government like none other, for in it’s earliest stages it was without a human ruler but solely ruled by God, God made a statement recognizing that this was a peculiar relationship. “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine.” (Exodus 19:5) God himself wrote the laws of Israel (Moral, Ceremonial (Religious) and Civil) so that as long as they followed that Law they could not do what was displeasing in His sight. This direct involvement in the affairs of Israel is what sanctified them from the other nations of the World. In harmonizing God’s statement that “all the earth is mine” and the Devil’s statement to Jesus that, “Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” (Luke 4:5-8) The answer is simple, God can claim what Satan can never claim and that is omnipotent control over all the universe. The fact the “all the earth” belongs to Him doesn’t mean that He approves of, or personally dictates every thing that happens in the earth. There is no reason to doubt the truth of Satan’s statement, if he was lying, surely Jesus would have known and thus it would have been no temptation to him.
God’s Relationship to Temporal Civil Governments
Over the years, God’s relationship to the civil governments of the world seems to have been great, but not in a direct sense. The only nation that God was regularly, directly involved with was the nation of Israel, however he was clearly involved with others providentially, at least from time to time. It is clear that in times past He “used” heathen nations to teach other nations, including sometimes, unruly Israel, a lesson. Many times God would send a nation to punish Israel and then, in return allow them to be destroyed as a punishment for the brutal and immoral methods they employed in their carnal wars with Israel! (Nahum 3:1) What is seen by this is that though God tolerated and even occasionally used other civil governments of the world in the OT, He did not fail to hold them accountable for their sins. When the Church was established God did not allow the provision of any earthly king (Hosea 13:11) and carnal armies (Isaiah 2:2-4;9:6;11:6-9;60:18, Hosea 2:18, Zech. 9:10). This was undoubtedly fulfilled in the church (2 Corinthians 10:4 and Ephesians 6:12). Today God has recognized the precarious place of His children in the evil world. How can a group of peaceful, “harmless as doves,” (Matt. 10:16) golden rule following, lover’s of enemies (Matt. 5:43-48; 1 Cor. 13) not be wiped off the face of the earth when Satan’s legions are not bound by any such constraints of kindness? The answer is: the temporal civil governments of the world! God still uses them! He no longer uses them to punish his children, but rather to protect them! Protect them by doing what Christians could never do! (Romans 12:17-21; 13:8-10; 13:1-7) The fact that God uses them is what makes them his “minister.” In the same way that God called Nebuchadnezzar His servant and then punished him, God will not over look the sins of the kingdoms of men and will punish them when the day of judgment comes. In times past when the government turned completely against the infant Church of Christ, God destroyed the government and preserved the Church.
Some have suggested that God handpicks every civil leader that holds office. There are a few problems with this theory. 1) In some governments, that would call on him to take control of the free will of men and force them against their will to “vote” for “His candidate.” 2) We have already established that it is the devil who is in control of the Civil government in the most intimate way, God is in charge of them only in as much as he is King of the Universe and every thing in it. 3) The fact that God did things in the past, doesn’t necessarily mean that He does them today. The fact that God’s people in the OT were a physical nation mandated that He take a more direct involvement.
The Christian’s Relationship to the Civil Governments
We are much more able to approach this subject after understanding the relationship of God to the government, after all we are his children. God recognizes the value of civil government, so should we, in fact we should be the best of citizens where ever we live, (Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13) God sustains the civil government, so should we, in fact we are commanded to pay our taxes, (Rom. 13:6-7). God desires that the civil government treat His children fairly, so should we in fact, we are commanded to pray to that end! God uses the civil government, and we are permitted to use the services of the civil government, just as Paul did when he hired a battalion of Roman soldiers to guard him, but notice that he did not fight himself. The constant and consistent description of the Christian’s relationship to the Civil government, is us and them, them and us, never do the twain meet in any doctrinal teaching of either Christ or the Apostles. The Christian has no biblical instruction on how to run a government if he tried, he is only told how to pay, pray and obey. In matters where a Christian would be called by the government to disobey the word of God, he is told to obey God rather than man, (Matt. 22:21;Acts 5:29) there are no exceptions to this rule!
To Vote or Not to Vote?
This is undoubtedly a question of great and pressing importance in this year’s election particularly. Many preachers and church leaders are resorting to bizarre methods to attempt to turn the tide of the election in this nation away from the Democratic candidate Barak Obama. In recent months, I have read numerous articles and e-mails, tediously documenting Obama’s highly un-orthodox views of Christianity, his Muslim roots, and even some claims that he might be the Antichrist of the Revelation! That is not what this article is about. This article is simply asking the general question, “Does the Bible permit Christians to vote in the election of civil leaders?” Notice that I leave this question un-specific to any given nation. This is because I am convinced, from the above study, that God’s relationship is the same with EVERY nation! Many, many things that would not be tolerated of Christians in other lands are justified by and for Christians in America because of our supposed “Christian Foundations.” In coming weeks I will be addressing that particular subject in an online audio sermon. But now it is sufficient to say that I do not believe that God’s relationship with America is any different than His relationship with any other nation, and thus the question of voting will be kept general and un-specified.
There are a number of reason why I believe that a Christian has no business voting in the election of civil leaders:
1. The teaching of the Bible places a gulf of separation between church and state, and since a Christian must carry his values wherever he goes and in what ever he does, it would not be conducive for him to take such involvement in the affairs of the civil government.
2. The Governments of this world are, in a most intimate sense, under the dominion of Satan, and this should be a great deterrent to Christians getting involved with the government more than the Bible requires or allows. The electoral process of worldly kingdoms should be handled by worldly men. “Let the dead bury the dead.” (Matthew 8:22)
3. We are said to be pilgrims and sojourners in this land (that is, the earth) and thus we must behave as pilgrims, “not at home, just passing through.” (1 Peter 2:11) If you were visiting another country around their election time it would not befall you to take any part in that process. Your responsibility would always simply be to obey the laws (which may include paying taxes) and offer the necessary respect to those civil leaders.
I believe these are sufficient reasons for us to spend our days, including November 4th, extolling the virtues of Jesus Christ and His Cause rather than trying to lift up some ne’er-do-well politician, and to trust in God through it all. I have never been convinced that God “hand-picks” every civil leader, especially in this age, but I am convinced that who ever is on the throne, whatever their attitude toward us as Christians, our attitude and relationship toward them is the same. I pray that this will aid you in your study of God’s word. CED