Pastor’s Column

Friday, May 13, 2016

What do Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., and untold Chinese church leaders have in common? Each of them had to wrestle through the ways that their faith intersected with politics.

Throughout history, Christians have had to wrestle with this intersection between faith and politics. Truth be told, this is one of the most important areas of application for faith, but it is also one of the most volatile. Our nation has shifted from merely disagreeing with people of a different political persuasion to demonizing them.

In such a delicate atmosphere, and during such an important time in our nation’s history, how should Christians respond? The Apostle Peter provides us with guidance in 1 Peter 2. For Christians, our allegiance to God makes us respectful citizens. This calling is true when “our guy” is in office. And it is especially true when he is not. Peter describes this calling in three ways.

First, Peter tells us our political calling: to submit to all authority. We live in an anti-authoritarian society that doesn’t like being told what to do. The only government we want to follow is the one we make up. But Christians are called to something different. Christians are called to submit to all authority that God has placed us under.

Second, Peter tells us why: we submit to those in authority for Jesus’ sake. Peter is telling us an essential principle about the Christian’s involvement in politics: A Christian’s political involvement is first and foremost about her and God. God is pleased when she submits to authority. It’s the way that he has structured things in this world. He has given us these sources of authority for our good.

Finally, Peter looks at what this should look like each day. In 1 Peter 2:17, he writes: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (ESV).

This verse contains four simple commands that govern the way the Christian looks at politics.

First, honor everyone. As a citizen of God’s kingdom, I honor everyone. Peter starts off by saying how the Christian should interact with all people: he must show them honor. Peter is reminding Christians that just because they are citizens of God’s kingdom doesn’t mean they can neglect the here and now.

Second, love every Christian. Christians should honor everyone — Jews, Muslims, atheists and more — but they must love Christians. No matter how much a Christian may disagree with the politics of other Christians, they are deserving of intentional, sacrificial love.

Third, recognize God as the true king. The Bible never tells us to fear other people, only to fear God. God is the one who reigns and is in charge, no matter who is elected to public office. Which brings us to Peter’s final command.

Finally, respect elected officials. In Peter’s train of thought, he says that the Christian is to show the same honor to the Roman Emperor as every other person with whom Christians interact. This would have been massively subversive in Peter’s day, to say that both Caesar and a slave deserve the same honor from us. But this isn’t lowering the bar for how we treat Caesar; it is raising the bar for how we treat everyone else.

Today in the United States, our elected officials deserve our respect, not because of any inherent sense of worth in their positions, but because of their inherent sense of worth as humans.

How should the Christian look at politics?

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