What should we expect from politics?

Does it have to be all or nothing?

Tuesday 19 May 2015 by Ad Taylor-Weekes

Book Review Article

On our journey through the book of 1 Peter in our morning meetings we came, a few weeks ago, to 1 Peter 2:13-17.

> Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to the governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover\-up fro evil; live as God's slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

(NIV 2011)

It was prior to the general election and so I took a few minutes, at the end of the Bible talk that week, to summarise what I felt was a helpful and biblical approach to our engagement with politics. The backdrop to my thinking was a load of quite unhelpful, and unbiblical, teaching on why we should get involved and a generally very helpful book I had been reading, "Living in God's Two Kingdoms" by David Van Drunen.

In case you're thinking of going looking for that talk you'll be disappointed, I'm afraid, as it wasn't recorded. However I thought it would be worth including a summary in a blog post. So here it is. I can't claim originality for much of it - I'm gladly relying pretty heavily on Van Drunen which I'd recommend reading. You can buy it in Kindle format here. If you want to borrow my copy that's fine but it's doing the rounds in church at the moment so add your name to the list!

Let me give you a summary of Van Drunen's points first and then, in a follow up post, I'll offer some reflections of my own addressing how this should affect our engagement with the state and politics.

Van Drunen offers a biblical approach to our engagement in culture, in general terms, with three words: joyful, detached and modest. Joyful because cultural activities, as God-ordained activities, can be pursued to his glory with joy. Detached because although cultural engagement can be good and enjoyable it's nothing compared to the joy of being an heir of eternal life. And modest because we are not going to bring in the new creation by our cultural pursuits. Nor should we try.

With that general approach he summarises a Biblical perspective on politics with 5 points:

  • 1) Civil magistrates have been established by God (Romans 13:1-2)
  • 2) They are primarily responsible for keeping order and enforcing justice in the affairs of this world (Romans 13:3-4 and 1 Peter 2:14)
  • - They are to give approval to what is good
  • - They are to carry out God's vengeance on the wrong-doer in a strict and proportionate manner
  • - They are to provide for our welfare and the opportunity to lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim 2:2)
  • 3) Christians have obligations towards these magistrates who govern by God's appointment
  • - submission,
  • - honour,
  • - pay taxes,
  • - pray for them
  • (Jer 29:7; Matt 22:15-21; Rom13:1-2, 5-7; 1 Tim 2:1-2; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17)
  • 4) Christians may serve in political offices or other government posts as a legitimate and God-pleasing vocation
  • 5) The State's authority is limited
  • - it has no right to operate contrary to God's moral law
  • - God has appointed other common kingdom institutions in addition to the state (e.g. the family), and this puts serious constraints on civil magistrates.

In my next post I'll follow up with some practical implications for us, if we accept this approach.

Until then...

Ad Taylor-Weekes

Ad works most-time for Emmanuel Bath as the Pastor. The rest of the time he is a music leader and a guitar teacher both privately and in a school in Wiltshire. He's husband to Jane and father to four lively children. He grew up in Bath and studied at the Cornhill Training Course from 2003-2005.
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