Christian Politics – Introduction
When it comes to the idea of Christian politics, the Christian worldview sees government as an institution established by God (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13) for the primary purpose of promoting justice for its citizens—protecting the innocent from the aggressor and the lawless. Without security, every other function of government (protecting life, liberty, property, reputation, etc.) is meaningless.
As Christians we recognize government as a sacred institution whose rulers are ministers of God for good (Romans 13). God ordained the state to practice godly justice and commands us to obey its rules and laws. Peter instructs us to “submit . . . for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men, whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13–14). As long as government is serving the purpose for which God created it, we must show our allegiance to God by submitting to human government.
Christian Politics – Limited Government
The extent of Christian politics is simply the following: We expect the state to accomplish limited, God-ordained tasks. Its two principle roles are to protect the innocent and punish the guilty (Romans 13:3–4). Government should adhere to the principle “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40; Exodus 18:19f) because order reflects God’s character.
We know that power tends to corrupt, so a government that disperses power is better than one that gathers power into the hands of a few. As Christians, we should welcome opportunities to participate in government with the goal of influencing the state to conform to God’s will for it as a social institution (Proverbs 11:11). The Christian worldview does not single out any one form of government as acceptable, although a constitutional form is more likely to conform to biblical principles and respond to its citizens than are less democratic forms.
One significant aspect of the United States’ government that conforms to biblical ideals is the division of power into three branches—executive, legislative, and judicial—along with its system of checks and balances. The three-branch model was patterned after Isaiah 33:22: “For the Lord is our judge [judicial], the Lord is our lawgiver [legislative], the Lord is our king [executive].”
Christian Politics – Creation and Original Sin
Perhaps the Christian concept our founding fathers best understood was the Christian understanding that although we are created in God’s image, we nevertheless have a fallen, sinful nature. Because they understood these opposing aspects of our nature, the founding fathers tailored a government suited to our rightful place in God’s creative order.
Human government is necessary because of sin. Our evil inclinations toward sin must be kept in check by laws and a government capable of enforcing such laws. Thus, government protects us from our own sinful nature. But our founding fathers also grappled with the problem of protecting ordinary citizens from the sinful inclinations of those in authority. The result of their efforts is our system of checks and balances among the branches of government. Each branch wields unique powers that prevent the focus of governmental power and authority from falling into the hands of a select few. By broadly distributing power and responsibility, the American system of government minimizes the possibility of an abuse of power because of our fallen nature. James Madison says, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”1
Christian Politics – The Source of Human Rights
Christian politics within a Christian worldview understands God as the source and guarantee of our basic human rights. Because we believe we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), we know that we are valuable. (This becomes doubly clear when we remember that Christ took upon Himself human flesh and died for humanity.) God grants all individuals the same rights based on an absolute moral standard. The Declaration of Independence proclaims, “All men are created equal... [and] endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Two assumptions are inherent in this declaration: 1) we were created by a supernatural Being; and 2) this Being provides the foundation for all human rights.
The knowledge that human rights are based on an unchanging, eternal Source is crucial in our understanding of politics. If our rights were not tied inextricably to God’s character, then they would be arbitrarily assigned according to the whims of each passing generation or political party—rights are “unalienable” only because they are based on God’s unchanging character. Therefore, human rights do not originate with human government, but with God Himself, who ordains governments to secure these rights.
Our founding fathers understood this clearly. John Adams, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1813, says, “The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved Independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite... And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United... Now I will avow, that I then believe, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God.”2
John Winthrop says that the best friend of liberty is one who is “most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down on profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy of God, I scruple not to call him an enemy of his country.”3
Noah Webster wrote “The moral principles and precepts found in the scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. These principles and precepts have truth, immutable truth, for their foundation.”4
Alexis de Tocqueville says, “There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation on the earth.”5
George Washington, in his inaugural address as first president of the United States, referred to “the propitious smiles of Heaven” that fall only on that nation that does not “disregard the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”6
Christian Politics – Conclusion
According to biblical Christian politics, God ordains governments to administer His justice. When government rules within the boundaries of its role in God’s order, we submit to the state’s authority willingly because we understand that God has placed it in authority over us. However, when the state abuses its authority or claims to be sovereign, we must acknowledge God’s transcendent law rather than that of the state. Our loyalty to God may call us to political involvement in an effort to create good and just government. The involvement of righteous people can significantly influence government for the better.
Our ongoing struggle to create and maintain just government may or may not be effective. We must, however, remain obedient to God in all circumstances. Colson says, “Christians are to do their duty as best they can. But even when they feel that they are making no difference, that they are failing to bring Christian values to the public arena, success is not the criteria. Faithfulness is.”7