Politics According to the Bible, part 4

After a Sunday night off this past Labor Day weekend, our discipleship class met to start to dig deeper into what the Bible says about government and politics.  Toward the second half of our class, we began to dive into specific issues that we face as a nation and as a society.

Our class began, though, with a brief study of what the Bible teaches about government.  In this limited space, it’s impossible to go into detail, so let me present the highlights.  For more detail, go to our class source, Politics According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem.

Government exists to punish evil and encourage good.  

In Genesis 9:5-6, we see the post-flood mandate that God will require a “reckoning” for the crime of murder.  Grudem states that,

once this principle is established, then the imposition of lesser penalties for lesser crimes is also validated, since if a government has the right to carry out the most severe kind of punishment, then it certainly has the right to carry out lesser punishments for lesser crimes as well.

In Romans 13: 1-7, the same principle is affirmed.  And, Grudem goes on to say that authorities are appointed by God to give approval to those who do good, and they are a “terror to bad conduct.”  See also 1 Peter 2:13-14.

Would there be governments in a sinless world?

Grudem says absolutely.  And, I agree.  The dual purpose of government is to deter evil and encourage good.  Since, in a sinless world, there would be no need to deter, or punish, evil, the government would then focus its time and energy on providing for “the common welfare of the people.”  There would still be the need for the management of infrastructure and general services that are provided as a service to the people.

Government should safeguard human liberty.

When God created the world, he gave humanity the freedom to choose.  Also known as liberty, this differentiates us from the rest of God’s creation.  Thus, the Bible place high value on individual freedom.  Grudem lays the foundation for this through examples in Scripture:  the nation of Israel in slavery in Egypt, the Messianic prophecies of a Deliverer, and the Jubilee year, a 50 year period when slaves were set free.

Government should safeguard human freedoms.  Freedoms of religion, speech, the press, and so on are guaranteed to the citizens of this nation and must be protected by our government.  This, in its core, reinforces that those made “in the image of God” are “created equal” and deserve those freedoms.

Ultimately, though, governments cannot save people.  The hearts of people cannot be transformed by a moral government – that is the work of the Gospel, and the Church must proclaim the saving grace which transforms the hearts  of people.  It is the calling of those whose hearts have been transformed to create “significant Christian influence” in our government and the creation and interpretation of its laws.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how that impacts the issues of life, marriage, and the family.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Politics According to the Bible, part 4

  1. Good synopsis. Wish I could attend the class with you.
    I am really struggling with Romans 13. I just can’t accept that the Third Reich was an instrument of God. I know this is me trying to apply my own limited reasoning powers to a God whose ways are far beyond me–but for now I am just stuck on this one. The more I try to work through it, the more complex things seem to get. Maybe that is what God wants for me now, but if you have good simple answer, let me know.

  2. J.

    In the Bible, God ordains 3 institutions (in this order): family, government, and the Church.

    Government, in and of itself, is a good thing. The Romans 13 passage outlines the purposes of government as ordained by God.

    Government in the hands of tyrannical, egotistical sinner is not ordained by God. Hitler abused the institution, using government as a means to accomplish what he saw in his mind was the justified end. Grudem quotes Greg Forster regarding a “tyrannical government” saying, it is “not really a government at all but a criminal gang masquerading as a government…” Some may argue whether Hitler’s government was a tyranny…Dietrich Bonhoeffer would probably say yes.

    You can apply this principle to the Church. It is, indeed, an institution ordained by God, yet it has, at times throughout history, been misused to accomplish an end that is contrary to God’s purposes. The Crusades, though a initially noble intention, were later misused by the Church.

    So, too, with the institution of family. That’s why Christians defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The institution of marriage is being abused by some (homosexuals) who desire to achieve an end result.

    The common thread through all of this is the immorality of man, which you and I know as sin. Disobedience of God purposes and sovereign will results in the misuse of institutions that he ordained for good.

    Bottom line – government in Germany was a good thing; Hitler’s use of it to perpetuate evil was a bad thing.

    Remember, too, that God uses bad things to accomplish his will. In your mind (and mine), we may struggle to reconcile that. There are some things we don’t understand, and won’t until that Day. But, biblical example proves that bad governments were used to accomplish God’s will, i.e. Pharoah and the nation of Israel and the Babylonian exile of the Jews are two that are obvious.

    Yet, the ultimate example is the Roman occupation and rule over Israel in New Testament times. That entire tenor of political policy in that time resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus. God used that government, some of whose actions could be labeled as heinous as Hitler’s, to bring about the events that would result in Christ’s death on the cross.

    We all are sinners and disobey God. And, from the very beginning of time, because of our own selfish desires and disobedience of God, we have taken what was intended for good and basically screwed it up.

    That’s why, every day, I’m thankful for the grace of God, because it’s through that grace I’m forgiven.

  3. Thanks, Mark. Great historical and Biblical context for me to chew on.

    On another note, since you mention Christians’ defense of marriage, I might as well throw my two cents in.

    Marriage has become far more than a religious institution in America. There are a host of financial and personal benefits to marriage that have nothing to do with religion at all. Therefore, I think the need to defend marriage by Christians is absurd. No one is substantively taking anything away from the Christian version of marriage (most would agree that divorce among Christians has done this on its own). If a Christian church does not want to marry two men or two women in their church, no one is forcing it to. If a Christian church does not want to recognize a homosexual marriage as a covenant between two people and god, again, no one is forcing that church to do so. Basically, to non-Christians, marriage is a legal contract. It shouldn’t be up to Christians to determine (i.e. judge) which sinners get to enter into legal contractual agreements and which ones don’t. If there were ever another religious majority in this country, I certainly wouldn’t want to have to follow its definition of marriage.

    • Jason:

      Good to hear from you. I’m always interested in what you have to say and value your input.

      I will say that I agree with you…sort of!

      Without trying to be absurd, the Bible has defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman. For those who don’t accept the Bible’s authority in this matter, I would offer the history of every society in this world that has established marriage as the covenant between one man and one woman. That is the plain, simple and historical definition of marriage. That’s where I disagree with you.

      Where I do agree with you is that a covenant between two individuals can be established for financial and personal benefits. Call it a civil union, a legal partnership, or a benefits covenant – but, don’t call it marriage.

      The implication here is the shared benefits of same-sex partners. The sharing of health benefits, property rights, and financial obligations can be accomplished by establishing a process whereby a partner can receive benefits. But, why stop at same-sex partners. Let’s include also an ailing parent who is cared for by an adult child – a civil union would allow for the sharing of health benefits, etc established by that civil union. The same goes for others in relationships who could benefit from shared health insurance, tax status, etc.

      The issue, Jason, is that, as believers who hold to the authority of the Bible in their lives, we cannot forfeit the definition of what has been established as an institution by a God whom we follow. He defined marriage. It’s not ours to redefine. My concern, too, is that we are on a slippery slope here: if there is an acknowledgement and a “stamp of approval” placed on this, then where are we headed? Polygamy? Incest? Pedophilia? Where do the “rights” stop?

      As a Christian, I cannot, and will not, acknowledge that the covenant between same-sex partners is on equal footing with the partnership that I have with my wife. It’s not the same. And, even more, as a Christian, I cannot knowingly and willingly disobey what God has established.

      And, remember…I’m not judging, I’m disagreeing. And, because I disagree, it does not mean I’m being intolerant.

      Let’s keep the dialogue going.

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