For the last two years, more travesties of eisegesis and doctrinal cowardice have been on display than I have ever seen in my life. It reminds me of the Robin Hood movie, Prince of Thieves, where the wealthy Church bishop kowtows before the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. That Bishop cared more about his position than what was right, and what was true and just. This has been true of the Church too often in history, especially when it has had access to large amounts of temporal wealth.
Such is the natural cycle of civilisations, and organisations, times of ease make people soft, and then when hard times come, we must relearn the skills that previous generations used to build the structures which helped our society flourish. This is a cycle that it appears humanity is not able to escape. In times like this, people often reduce what they are willing to speak out for because speaking out costs so much.
One of the most ignorant things people say today is that the Church should not be political, it should just preach the Gospel. This statement shows a complete ignorance of some of the many political applications and implications of the Gospel. So, what I want to do in this piece is highlight just some of those implications. But first, we need to define the Gospel, the message of salvation.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
Paul breaks down the Gospel for us into its most basic tenets in this passage:
- Christ died, to take the punishment for our sins that we deserved;
- Just as the Bible prophesied that he would [ for e.g. Isaiah 52-53, Psalm 22, etc.);
- That he was dead three days, showing he truly was dead;
- He rose from the grave, proving he was God, defeating death and achieving the eternal salvation of all who trust in him;
- This Gospel is powerful, changing people through the grace of God, which is not without effect.
The Gospel at its core is the message of salvation that Jesus achieved for all those who would believe in him. We could expand greatly on these Gospel foundations, as Paul does in Romans 1-8, but for now, we have scripturally defined the core message of the Gospel: forgiveness for sins for those who trust in the Lord who died for their sins.
The implications for personal salvation are immediately obvious. You must place your trust in Jesus. He is the only one who has defeated sin. But this message also has far-reaching implications for every aspect of our lives, including politics, and we shall examine them now.
Christ is Lord
The Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Lord of lords. He is the King of kings. This means that no other man, or woman, no other human ruler is the true Lord. Whether Emperors, or Caesars, or Kings, Presidents, or Prime Ministers, all human leaders must recognize that they will have to give an account to the King of kings,
“Of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:7)
“Now, therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:10-12)
God has instituted human rulers and they have the authority to rule and make decrees in this life. But their decrees must be consistent with the will of the King of kings. “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression…” (Isaiah 10:1). The West is a rule of law civilisation, that is the concept that there is a higher law that all human laws should submit to and be consistent with, and all rulers should be judged by. The source of our highest law is the King of kings, and this concept has embedded itself in our rule of law society.
He is the Creator
God has authority over all, and rules over all because he is the creator of all things. Nothing exists except by his will. All things that were made, were made by the Father, through the Son. This is why God has the power and authority to defeat death and the devil, because he is the author of life. Jesus was able to rise from the dead because he is the Lord of lords and the source of all that exists, death cannot keep him down. His humanity is real and genuine, but it is united with the divine in the mystery of Jesus’ incarnation as the God-man. The eternal nature of the Son concealed in the flesh of a human being.
Because God is the source of all life, this means he knows what is best for all of life, and this includes how we should structure and maintain our societies. When Jesus preached a powerful message that drove away many of his followers he turned to the twelve disciples and asked them this:
“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)
The fact that Jesus is the only one who has the accurate “words of eternal life” means that we need to ensure that we listen to him in all that he said, and that includes what he said about human dominion of this earth. Jesus does not give a comprehensive guidebook on how to structure a government, unless, of course, you want to follow the Old Testament model. However, he does teach us that leaders should be servants, not overlords, which is why we call our politicians ‘ministers’, he does teach us that he will punish those who hurt children, and he informs us that Caesar has a right to taxes, but not the things of God. He also tells us many more practical things about how our societies should be structured by believers.
It would be foolish to ignore the advice of our creator, because he is the only one who knows humanity correctly, and he is the only one who is completely for our good. Politics should not ignore the advice of the one who created the politicians and everyone else. “The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the Maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2).
He is Just
With the cross, God did not say our sins are ok, just don’t worry about it. He punished the sins of mankind in his Son because they were deadly serious and grievous. Jesus took on this role willingly, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18). God was not just passing over sins and just forgetting them. He passed over our sins because a just and righteous punishment was meted out, and for those who believe in him for salvation he moves them as far from his memory as the east is from the west. He chooses not to remember them anymore, because they have been dealt with.
This is key for understanding our God because the King of kings is a God of justice. This means he expects all of His creation to execute justice. Not social justice, not demographic justice, not gender justice, not environmental justice, to qualify a term is to redefine it. Justice is determined in the Scriptures by what God says is right. Therefore, a society that is filled with Gospel people, will be a society that is concerned with enacting justice in line with God’s actions and teachings. Murders, adulterers, liars and thieves should all be punished because God determines such sins are to be punished by just rulers (Romans 13:8-10).
He is Merciful
Not only is God just because he punishes sins – note all sins will be punished either on the cross or on judgement day, it is for every person to determine where they want their sins accounted – he is also merciful because he forgives sins. Offering us an alternative to taking the punishment we deserve and placing that punishment on the second member of the Godhead, is an act of eternal mercy, beyond anything that we deserve or should be even allowed to have. But such is the mercy of our heavenly father in making a way for us to receive mercy. But he also expects this of those he has forgiven.
“And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devises evil against another in your heart.'” (Zechariah 7:8-10)
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12-15)
The Gospel is at its heart a message of mercy, good news for the poor in spirit. We need to know that there is a merciful God, who will in his mercy seek to overlook the sins of the forgiven. This does not mean that people are not punished for grievous acts, God disciplines those he loves, and so should magistrates punish heinous crimes and crimes where people harm or wrong their neighbours, but this should be extended from a place of mercy. Sometimes mercy includes the death penalty though, the State does not carry the sword for no reason. But a society influenced by the Gospel should emphasize things like paying debts but also forgiving debts as equal and necessary pillars for true justice and equity in society.
The Gospel calls those who believe in it to be people of justice and mercy and to carry these twin pillars of love carefully and righteously. This has incredible implications for how a nation should be structured, and it is because of our legacy of Gospel influence that the West is so much superior in many ways to other cultures. Well, at least it was once.
Jesus is the Only Perfect One
There is no one else like him. No one else is like the Lord in perfection and wisdom. No one else has a perfect record, perfect knowledge, knowing the hearts of man in their entirety, no one else knows perfect justice, perfect peace, perfect love. No one else is like the Lord in his perfection. Because of this, we need to recognize that all of us, every human being, is fallen in ways that the Lord is not, and therefore we need to have humility and make an honest account of our abilities and inabilities.
Because only the Lord of lords is perfect this means every human authority should be viewed with the respect it is due, and no more. Human leaders make mistakes, get things wrong, lie, and therefore people should recognize that their word needs to be weighed carefully and judged according to what is good, righteous and true. The Gospel says no one is perfect, and therefore in a Gospel-influenced society there is a need for regular revision and review of leadership decisions and policies. Only Jesus never gets anything wrong, the rest of us are only fallen human beings.
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.’” (Matthew 23:1-7)
Human leaders, and just people in general, a given to hypocrisy, overzealousness, and many other frailties. They tend to place burdens on peoples back that can crush them. A Gospel worldview tells us that we should expect this, and have processes in place to account for it, mitigate it and correct it.
The Gospel Changes People
Lastly, through the grace God gives us, and the message of the cross which is the power of salvation to all who believe, people are changed. People make up families, families make up societies, societies make up nations. The necessary flow-on effect of the Gospel spreading through a society is that it will be transformed. Not just by osmosis, that is not just because the Gospel is being preached. But because it is being believed and then applied to various aspects of our society.
For example, the Gospel teaches that the bodies of those who believe, were bought for a price, the blood of Jesus, therefore they are the temple of God and God owns those bodies. This means that no leader, no matter how high, has authority over the body. Just this teaching undermined branding other human beings in ancient Rome, and then eventually undermined the institution of slavery itself. This is only one example. Many more implications of the way the Gospel changes society have been given above, and many more could be given.
Paul tells us himself the effect of the Gospel on a nation: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…” (Romans 1:1-6).
Paul tells us that the Gospel he was given authority to preach and teach will “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.” Paul had big ambitions for the Gospel, he wanted to see the nations changed, and many among those nations brought into line with the obedience to Jesus’ teachings. This has enormous implications for the nations. This had an enormous effect on Rome, and then Europe, and then across the world. Where the Gospel becomes entrenched in a nation it changes people, who then change that nation. Telling changed people they should not try to change things in a nation, is to limit what effects the Gospel can and should have on a society.
More could be said about this, in fact, more has been said by various teachers in Christian history and contemporary teachers today. I do not think that every Christian needs to be a political activist at all, indeed most don’t. But those who do engage in seeking to apply the teachings of the Gospel to change society are not ignoring the Gospel, they are applying its many ancillary teachings for the good of their fellow man. Indeed, those who tell other Christians they should not be concerned with the political implications of the Gospel are denigrating the great legacy of societal change that the Gospel has achieved in the West. A generation that refuses to apply the political implications of the Gospel to their society will be a generation that quickly watches their nation return to its pagan roots. It’s not a coincidence that we are seeing this happen in our day, because many people have forgotten just how the Gospel affected change in the West.
We live in the legacy of many others who applied the political implications of the Gospel to their society. Don’t scorn that. Live up their legacy. Praise God that our Lord, the King of kings, is restoring his creation under his rule. Praise God that we are on the Kings winning team. Let’s live like it.