The word “politics” is used in a couple of different ways. For the most part, references to politics tend to have rather negative connotations. For instance, one of the meanings has to do with the activities of people within an organizational setting which are aimed at gaining power. Thus, you have situations where people are maneuvering and jockeying for position in order to help them accumulate power and influence within an organizational setting.
But that is not the meaning we are dealing with here. What we are concerned with at this point is a bit less personal and more philosophical. This does not mean that it is dry and academic. Rather, we want to deal with issues which lay out the purpose and parameters of politics itself. Our meaning here relates to the activities associated with governing a country or other political entity. It has to do primarily with the administration of a governmental system.
As with all of the other areas that affect the life of humanity on earth, the approach one takes to understanding and dealing with politics is directly affected by the worldview foundation of those who are engaged in the political process. Each worldview has a particular mindset which affects the way governing is approached. We will begin with an overview of the various worldview possibilities, then look more specifically at how a Christian worldview perspective will affect our understanding of politics.
How Do the Four Worldviews Approach Politics?
Every worldview has its own way of understanding and dealing with every part of life – this includes, of course, politics. In order to understand all of the possibilities and to be intentional about how we interact in the political arena, it is important to understand the different perspectives.
Naturalism begins with the basic assumption that there is no such thing as a supernatural reality. All that exists is the natural universe. Since that is the case, there is no God or other transcendent being who is capable of giving or imposing any kind of knowledge or moral structure regarding how things “ought” to be. Thus, a Naturalistic approach to politics necessarily depends on human beings to come up with their own way of dealing with this topic.
Since humanity and the natural order of the universe, in Naturalism, are the default foundation for considering political philosophy, politics must necessarily focus on temporal outcomes which promote the ultimate goals of the natural order – the survival of the species. Thus, we are looking at a purely secular means of understanding politics. This secular government approach expresses itself in ways which promote a rough and tumble, take no prisoners approach to doing politics. Even in the most benign of situations, this results in an outlook where the personal agendas of the politicians take precedence over the good of the individual. As such, political systems influenced by Naturalism tend naturally toward patterns based on the principles underlying socialism, communism, and repressive dictatorships.
Groups which base their political approach on Animism tend toward some form of tribalism. The connections between a people group and their gods are understood to operate through nature and the natural order. As such, Animistic politics is generally the governance of a small tribal or family group. In these cases, the leader tends to be one of the elders of the group who understands the interactions within the natural order and governs based on what he perceives as best for the group within that order.
Far Eastern Thought
Far Eastern Thought governance has its foundation on the belief that ultimate reality is expressed as an impersonal life force. It is understood that this life force cannot be accessed physically and that human beings must become aware of it based on tapping into personal inner experience. It is believed that individuals are able to discern the right way to live life based on this kind of human experience.
The belief is that karma has brought society to where it currently exists and that this place is, by default, right. It is believed that those who have progressed to the ruling classes of society through their cosmic evolutionary development (have been incarnated in their current lives in the position of the ruling class) should be in control of material society (and thus over the political system) because that is where karma has placed them. As such, those who currently exist in the ruling class are there because they are supposed to be based on karmic evolution. Those in the lower societal classes are supposed to accept the governance of the rulers because they are in the place of subservience that they are supposed to be. This concept of karmic control is the ruling belief which influences how society ought to be governed.
Theism believes that God has created the world, including the social order, to operate in a particular way. The proper type of political system has been revealed by God and it is up to the individuals in society to discern and follow it. Each Theistic system has its own principles and ways that governing is conceived of, but they all believe that God has given it, whatever it is.
Christianity and Politics
Politics is one of those areas which tends to be so controversial that many people don’t even want to talk about it – thus the old admonition that we should never talk about religion or politics. I have even had incidents when Christian people chastised me for mentioning something about a political issue in the church.
But as much as we might wish to avoid the controversy that is part and parcel of political discussions, we, as Christians, cannot avoid dealing with it if we want our faith to be relevant to the society we live in. This is a particularly important topic for Christians because government happens to be one of the institutions specifically established by God in order to facilitate the accomplishment of his purposes in the world (the other primary institutions being family and church). As such, there truly is a Christian way to look at politics, and Christians need to be engaged in a way that facilitates the work of God in the world through the political process.
Limitations on Government
Since the work of government is ordained by God, we need to recognize that he instituted it for a specific purpose and ought to know what that purpose is. As with other institutions, government ought to be developed in such a way as to accomplish God’s purpose, but not extend beyond that point. For instance, another institution that God established is the family. The government’s role is not to do the work given to the family and should, thus, be limited in how it operates in relationship to families. Another example relates to the church. This is another institution that God created and the government should be limited in how it operates in relationship to the church. Each God ordained institution has its role to play and should be limited to fulfilling its role. This doesn’t mean that they don’t interact and influence one another. They certainly do and this is as it ought to be. But when it comes to carrying out responsibilities, each should be limited to its proper role.
As it relates to politics, the Bible gives us two primary roles that a government is supposed to play. First, it is given the task of protecting the innocent. Secondly it exists to punish the guilty. Looking at these roles, we see that government’s primary function is to keep society orderly by promoting justice. If there is unrest and disorder, the other institutions which God is trying to use to accomplish his purposes cannot easily fulfill their roles in society. Orderliness is required in society if it is to function in ways which allow for the accomplishment of God’s purposes.
As we examine the Bible, we can see that it does not advocate any particular form of government as the “right one.” In fact, as we look at the forms of government which existed in different eras during Bible times, we see various types. And during all of these time periods we can see the hand of God at work.
Still, there were those times when government worked against the purposes of God and other times when it facilitated the work of God. While no particular governing style is revealed in Scripture as “right,” we do find certain principles which point us in a particular direction. By looking at the principles, it leads us not so much to a particular form of government (though some forms more easily accommodate the principles than others) but to ways of operating within the governmental structures. For instance, one thing we see is that when power is concentrated in the hands of only a few people, corruption inevitably follows. This leads us to look for a governmental style where power is dispersed. So democratic and republican forms of government with widespread participation by its citizens seems to work more easily with this principle than, say, a dictatorship. Making a distinction between the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government also promotes this principle.
Generally speaking, it is important to impose limitations on government which keep it from overstepping the responsibilities given to it by God to promote order and justice in society. When government is limited in this way, it is more fully capable of promoting the purpose of God.
The Situation in the Natural Order
One thing that is helpful to understand relates to why government is necessary in human society to begin with. This all relates to the reason why disorder and injustice exist in the world. The primary reason human government is necessary is due to sin. Because of the results of the Fall by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, human beings have a natural inclination to do evil.
When this tendency is extended to a societal level, we end up with a situation where some institution is needed to keep order and promote justice to keep anarchy from emerging. There needs to be an institution which is able to set up rules (laws) and a government capable of enforcing them. So, in effect, government has the role of protecting society from the effects of the sinful nature of humanity.
But there is another side to this, as well. The citizens of a society also need to be protected from the sinful inclinations of those who hold power as governing authorities. Those who hold governing authority are also naturally inclined to sin, and that sin can easily lead them to be oppressive to those they are governing. Thus, it is essential that the laws within society govern not only the people in general, but also those who do the governing.
Government and Human Rights
The Christian worldview asserts that of everything which exists in God’s created order, human beings rate the highest value. The very purpose of the created order revolves around the existence of humanity – persons created in the image of God. God confirmed the high value he places on mankind by taking the form of a human being (Jesus Christ) and coming to earth to die so that we might live. As such, God has endowed humanity with certain basic human rights that are associated with the value he has placed on mankind.
Thus, the idea of human rights becomes a primary matter that must be dealt with when considering the topic of government. It is the government which is the institution specifically ordained by God to maintain order and promote justice. Based on a Biblical approach, government must limit itself in ways which make God’s priorities primary.
In doing this the emphasis is on guaranteeing the priority of human beings over the “needs” of a governmental system. In many political systems, human beings are not held in such high esteem and are thus treated badly in order that those in power can have their personal desires met or that a “system” can be maintained. But in God’s economy, human rights are based on the very character of God, not on human desires or political philosophy. Human beings are considered to be of highest value and treatment by the government should always be based on the value that God sees in man. No government will ever be able to treat humanity this way which is not based on a Biblical perspective.
The Source of Sovereignty
Unfortunately, most people do not understand their proper place in God’s economy as it relates to the government, and those in power frequently overstep their God-ordained role. When they do this, they take upon themselves the sovereign power that belongs only to God. When that happens, people get abused and justice suffers.
This overturning of God’s sovereignty leads to forms of government which operate by worldview values which are far from God’s intention. This is what happened to create all of the communist governments which have been responsible for killing millions of people in the name of utopianism. This is what happened in Nazi Germany and resulted in the slaughter of classes of people who were not deemed “worthy.” This is what has happened in many different dictatorships where the personal desires and preferences of the ruler became the basis for governance.
It is only when God’s sovereignty is recognized and his purposes followed that government can possibly accomplish what it is designed to do. As citizens, God has obliged mankind to respect, obey and participate in government. On the other side, he has given government the duty of promoting true justice and order so that God’s work can be done in society.
Obedience to Government
In spite of the fact that God has ordained government as an essential institution to carry out his will in the world, we must also recognize that our respect for it is not unlimited. Government was ordained by God to carry out a specific role, and when it moves outside of that role it is very permissible for Christians to dissent.
This dissent, though, cannot be based on whim or personal preference. It is only when the state operates in ways which conflict with the commands of God that Christians should consider this course. When the state advocates things which oppose God’s purposes, Christians are not duty bound to follow. In fact, the Bible specifically points out that our loyalty to God always supercedes our loyalty to human government. If it comes to a choice of obeying God or government, we are always to choose God, even if this means adverse consequences for us.
Government is ordained by God to maintain order and administer justice within society. Because God has ordained it, Christians are obligated to submit to the authority of government. That being said, government is also obligated to serve the purpose of God. To the degree that government is faithful in its task and does not thwart the purposes of God, Christians should serve as good citizens and good models of citizenship.
In fact, Christians ought to be actively involved in the operation of government as a means of exercising our Christian stewardship. In a democratic or republican form of government, this kind of involvement is not only possible, but encouraged. Christians should stay informed, vote, voice their opinions, and some ought to even get into positions of political power. As God is working through government to accomplish his purposes, Christians can be his instruments by being engaged in ways which promote the kind of government which serves his purposes.
© 2010 Freddy Davis