Politics According to the Bible (2): Significant Christian Influence

[This is the second in a series of posts on Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture].

In his second chapter, Wayne Grudem advocates “A Better Solution,” what he calls “Significant Christian Influence on Government.”  In his proposal, he surveys the Bible to enumerate a host of biblical examples who were used by God to influence their respective political leaders.  He also points out passages of Scripture that give Christians instruction on how to interact with government and governors, before raising a number of debated questions, not the least of which include, “Is America a Christian Nation?”

After addressing the preliminary matter of how to rightly interpret the Bible in a way that denies liberal distortions, Grudem enlists biblical support for his position.  Moving from the Old Testament to the New, he lists numerous saints who have been used by God to impact government.  Some of these include Daniel, Joseph, Moses, Nehemiah, Esther, and Mordecai.  While each of these saints trusted in God to accomplish his work in the world, they were also steadfast to plead with their respective “government officials.”  Moreover, the prophets in the Old Testament regularly addressed the kings of Israel (e.g. Isaiah and Jeremiah) and the rulers and conduct of foreign nations (e.g. Isa 13-23; Jer 46-51; Ezek 25-32; Amos 1-2; Hab 2; Zeph 2; and Obadiah addressed Edom, while Jonah and Nahum addressed Nineveh).

In the New Testament, John the Baptist (Matt 14:3-4; Luke 3:18-20) and the apostle Paul (Acts 24:24-25) both addressed the conduct of their government officials.  More precisely though, in the New Testament, Paul devotes the first 7 verses in Romans 13 to the God-ordained place of government.  It is helpful to remember the context of this letter was to a people who were oppressed by their government leaders.  Nevertheless, Paul affirms the goodness of government as an institution and calls Christian to submit themselves to these “ministers of God” (Rom 13:6).  Likewise, Peter in his first epistle instructs Christians to submit themselves to the governing authorities (2:13-14).  In these inspired letters, God has given Christians guidelines for interacting and influencing government.

Grudem then applies these teachings to the democratic process in America.  While waiting to develop his thoughts further until chapter 3 and following, he does mention the fact that Christians in America share in the governance of the nation through the system of representation.  He writes,

To be able to vote is to have a share in the ruling power.  Therefore all citizens who are old enough to vote have a responsibility before God to know what God expects of civil government and what kind of moral and legal standards he wants government to follow.  But how can citizens learn what kind of government God is seeking? They can learn this only if churches teach about government and politics from the Bible (62).

Grudem also raises the issue of whether or not America is a “Christian Nation.”  He does well to define precisely what that means, and gives a balanced answer of yes and no.  His overall conclusion is the question is not all that helpful, because it “leads to arguments, misunderstanding, and confusion” (65).  His point is well taken, and he helpfully shows that America has always been a nation “significantly influence by Christianity” and still should be as the biblical data teaches.

He tackles a number of other questions that concern the way the church and its members should exercise their citizenship to influence the government.  He makes the point that different persons will have different roles and involvement in government, just like different Christians have different gifts and roles in the church.  Nevertheless, he urges that all Christians play a role in influencing government for justice and good.

One final note, he raises the issue of whether or not Christians should vote for non-Christians.  His discussion is helpful and perhaps challenging to many believers who always vote Christian.  He includes an article that he wrote in the fall of 2007, in preparation for the 2008 presidential election.  His letter can be found on http://www.townhall.com and he argued for why Christians should vote for Mitt Romney, a mormon.  His argument is sound and it shows the difference between the biblical qualifications for elected office and the biblical qualifications for pastors–they are not the same.

Going back to the Bible again, Grudem expounds,

[H]ave we come to the point where evangelicals will only vote for people they consider Christians? I hope not, for nothing in the Bible says that people have to be born again Christians before they can be governmental authorities who are used greatly by God to advance his purposes. God used Pharaoh, King of Egypt to raise Joseph to a position of authority over the whole country, so he could save his people from famine (Genesis 41:37-57). God used Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, to protect and raise up Daniel and his Jewish friends to positions of high authority over Babylon (Daniel 2:46-49). God used Cyrus, King of Persia, to restore the Jewish exiles to their homeland (Isaiah 45:16; Ezra 1:1-4), and used Darius, King of Persia, to protect the Jewish people as they rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 6:1-12). God used Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to raise up Esther as Queen and to give Mordecai high authority and honor in his kingdom (Esther 6:10-11; 8:1-2, 7-15). In the New Testament age, God used the peace enforced by the secular Roman Empire, the Pax Romana, to enable the early Christians to travel freely and spread the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world.

Here in the United States, God used not only Founding Fathers who were strong Christians, but also Deists such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to build the foundation of our nation. Jefferson even became our third President in 1801, a demonstration of the wisdom of Article 6 of the Constitution, which says, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (page 68)

Grudem’s point challenges the way many Christian’s think about politics and voting.  The point worth noting is that it requires more than simply answering the question, “Are they Christian or not?” to make an informed decision around election time.  It takes time to consider the issues biblically and to be well-informed with the candidates who are running to know whether or not they are qualified for the office of elected official.  It may mean that a conservative but unbelieving candidate with a proven track record of defending life and upholding justice is more qualified than an inexperienced evangelical.  That is to say, there seems to be a biblical distinction between who we have leading our country and who we have joining our church.  The two are not always synonymous, and this view is surely one that raises questions.  So, let the discussions begin.

Overall, Grudem’s chapter is a helpful in two ways.  (1) It shows us from the Bible the way God’s people have always sought to influence governmental officials for the good; and (2) it challenges Christians to think more precisely on the matters faith and politics.  Furthermore, it challenges uninvolved Christians (and pastors) to be more involved in influencing the government for good–something that is greatly needed in our day.

May God continue to help us think biblically about politics, government, and the world in which we live.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss