The Christian and the world
The Scriptures show us that the world system and its principles are opposed to God (Jn 14.17; 15.18-19; 1 Jn 2.16). The Christian has been saved out of the world (Jn 17.6, 14, 16; Acts 15.14). The Cross separates us from the world (Gal 6.14). We are therefore called to be distinct from the world (2 Cor 6.17; Rom 12.2). The Christian is a citizen of heaven (Phil 3.20). Our interests should be in heavenly things for we have an elevated place (Eph 2.6) and a heavenly object (Col 3.2).
John 15.19 indicates that while we are not "of the world" we are "in the world" (see also Jn 15.15). We have responsibilities in the world and cannot ignore the political climate in which we live. Christians should be an influence for good in the world.
It is important, therefore, to have a clear understanding of our responsibilities to the "powers that be" (Rom 13.1) and the extent to which we should be involved in the political life of our country.
The case for involvement in political action
A number of arguments have been set forward which advocate the value of an active involvement in the political process. These include:
Historical precedent. Significant good has been achieved by great Christian men and women of the past who were able to improve society by advocating Christian principles.
Responsible citizenship. Christians have a duty to contribute to improving society through active involvement in the political process.
Resistance of evil. Christians have a moral obligation to oppose things which are anti-Christian and this at times necessitates political participation.
Good influence. Christians should be seen to be a positive influence for good in society and this is achieved by engagement in politics.
The desire to be involved in the political process may be based on good intentions, but the guide for the believer is not the persuasive and logical arguments of men but the Word of God. Gods Word sets out an entirely different perspective from the arguments cited above.
The Christians responsibilities to civic rule
Scripture shows us that the Christian has specific responsibilities to society and government. Three main responsibilities are set out.
Subjection. Romans 13.1 indicates that the Christian is to be "subject unto the higher powers" for "the powers that be are ordained of God". A similar sentiment is found in Titus 3.1 when Paul told Titus "to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work". The Christian duty to rulers and the state is clear - obedience is required. Unless subjection brings us into direct conflict with the Word of God we should obey local and national rulers even if we abhor their personal lifestyles or disagree with the laws they have passed. See also 1 Peter 2.13-17.
Prayer. 1 Timothy 2.1-2 makes it clear we are to pray for "all that are in authority". This is our primary duty to the powers that be. We are to pray that those in authority will act in a way that will enable us to live and serve God quietly and peaceably.
Taxes. Christians are required to pay their dues to the governing authorities (Rom 13.6-7). This principle was confirmed by the Lord Jesus Himself when He said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesars" (Mt 22.21).
The only limitation on the above occurs when we are commanded by men to do something contrary to the known will of God. Any conflict should always be settled by a resolve to do the will of God (see Acts 4.19, 5.29,32).
Reasons for abstention from the political process
In light of the above it is not open for a Christian to be a political dissenter, rebel or revolutionary (see Prov 24.21). In fact there are a number of reasons why not engaging with politics is the safest course for the believer.
1. The political world is openly antagonistic to Christian principles and is riddled with humanist thinking.
2. There are no Scriptures to indicate that the Christian should attempt to influence things for good through political processes and activities.
3. There is danger when Christians aspire to positions of power in the world because they expose themselves to the worlds corruption, its thinking, and its sin (see 2 Tim 2.4).
4. The New Testament does not advocate engagement in politics, social movements or schemes for reform, even though the conditions at the time were generally appalling. The early church concerned itself with the inward change which only the gospel could produce, and with regulating the lives of those who became Christians.
5. Slavery was a scourge in New Testament times but none of the believers were instructed to campaign against it or try to remove it. This does not of course mean that Christians should promote its continuation.
6. Certain Scriptures give us a powerful reason not to engage in politics. Philippians 3.20 states, "For our conversation (citizenship, politics, enfranchisement, voting rights) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ". This verse teaches that we have a heavenly citizenship. We are strangers in the world, left here to represent the One that the world crucified. Philippians 1.27 states, "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that...I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit". Our affairs are the affairs of the heavenly city. We are not to get entangled with "the affairs of this life".
7. Scripture tells us we are ambassadors in this world. A well-behaved ambassador does not interfere in the politics of the country in which he is only a temporary resident. As "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Cor 5.20; cp. Eph 6.20) it is not right for us to devote to earthly politics that time and effort which could be spent in the service of the Lord.
8. The main tenet of modern political systems is the democratic principle. The essence of democracy is rejection of any notion of absolute truth or higher authority and rejection of absolute moral values through acceptance of the rightness of whatever the majority think. This is anti-scriptural.
9. Paul claimed the legal protection of his Roman citizenship but never participated politically nor taught Christians to do so (Acts 22.25-29).
10. We do not know Gods purposes and timetable for the nation; therefore we could not know how to vote according to His purposes.
11. The Lords words in John 18.36 imply the need for a separation from political actions and processes. The Lord abstained from political activity. When He was here He was aware of societys injustices (Lk 13.1-3) and of the "undesirables" in authority (Mt 22.16-21). The Lords teaching does impact on social problems, like slavery, but that was not His primary message. The example which the Lord set His disciples was one of meekness, humility and obedience to the powers that be.
Christians are not directed to improve the world but to proclaim the gospel that condemns it and offers salvation from it. Financial contributions to political parties, participation in election campaigns, running for political office and voting are all activities which constitute an unequal yoke with unbelievers.
Non participation in the political process should be seen as a positive stance. To act differently from the world is a testimony against the world.
While an act may not be overtly sinful this does not mean it is endorsed by Scripture. Engagement in the political process in any form is contrary to the spirit of Scripture. It is inconsistent with the Christians position and spiritual priorities. Christians can make positive statements about their faith as much by what they abstain from and how they live. Abstention is a positive step, not an abdication of responsibility. The specific teaching that Christians should not voluntarily vote is based on sound Biblical principles. It is a statement that we are separate from a world system which is opposed to God. Our chief influence in the world is to be through prayer, not the ballot box.