Let’s deal with the question “should Christians vote or be involved in politics?” Questions like these evoke very strong opinions from people as some people feel Christian involvement constitutes spiritual harlotry, while others see it as their moral duty to be “salt and light”.
One of the reasons why these questions inspire so many different answers is because the Bible doesn’t give direct answers to these questions. Therefore, answering these questions requires us to reason our answers from Biblical wisdom. For this reason I am approaching my answer to these questions as a matter of conscience. My goal is to have the Bible inform our conscience without imposing our conclusions on others.
Worldly Entanglement VS Holy Leaven
First I’m going to lay out two arguments and then cross examine both positions. Once I’m finished I will provide my personal conclusions and invite your insights and opinions in the comments below for anyone who is interested in my opinion.
Arguing against Christian political involvement is the view that Christians become entangled in the world when they enter the political sphere and inevitably begin to justify things that go against their values for the sake of political gain. Our values are so important to us that we will inevitably use our moral and spiritual reasoning to select the candidates that we support, which will lead us to either “justify” or “turn a blind eye” to their shortcomings in order to achieve our political goals. Based on this line of reasoning, the observation is made that it is very difficult to “keep ourselves unstained from this world” when we are partnering with the world. Accordingly, this view sees the Kingdom of God as fundamentally separate from this world.
One of the strongest arguments against worldly entanglements comes from the apostle Peter’s sojourners admonition:
1st Peter 2:11-17 (CSB) – 11 Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits. 13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
The apostle Peter characterizes Christians as sojourners (i.e. “exiles” and “foreigners”) in this world because we are citizens of the heavenly Kingdom and not citizens of this world. Based on this line of reasoning, how can “exiles” behave like “citizens” and take active roles in the politics of this world? Instead, their obligation is to pursue peace with the peoples among whom they reside, submitting to their rules as best they can so that there will be no cause for accusation against God because of them, and keeping themselves pure in God’s sight.
Central to this argument is the case that Christians are not called to change this world through political mechanisms, but are to win the world through spiritual means. Our warfare is against Satan and the forces of darkness (2 Pe 2:4), who is the ruler of this world (Jn 14:30 See also Isa 14:12-15; Eze 28:12-19). Satan is the one who persecutes the Church (Rev. 12:13), and he can only be disarmed by Christ (Col 2:15; Rev 12:7-9). And as Christians it is the gospel – not civil legislation – that has the power of the Kingdom (Rom. 1:16; See also 2 Co 4:4; Mt 13:19, 38-39; 1 Th 2:2,18).
Arguing in favor of Christian political involvement is the argument that Christians are the “salt and light” of the world. We cannot simply lay down when facing the onslaught of evil in this world. Christians must “overcome evil with good” because history has taught us that “evil triumphs when good people do nothing.” Based on this line of reasoning, Christians are morally obligated to use their voice to take up the cause of the oppressed, relieve human suffering, and form a more “just” and “equitable” society for everyone. As children of the light, Christians are best suited to advance the cause of righteousness and establish just societies. Therefore, when Christians withdraw from the world, they take their testimony of all that is “good” and “true” from the world and abandon the souls of the lost to the oppressive power of evil.
One of the strongest arguments against “withdrawing from the world” comes from Jeremiah’s instructions to the exiles:
Jeremiah 29:4-7 (CSB) – 4 This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. 7 Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.”
When God deported Israel into Babylonian captivity for their sins, he essentially told them to “assimilate” into Babylonian society and seek not only their own prosperity, but also the well-being and prosperity of Babylon itself. Seeing how the apostle Peter characterizes Christians in this world as “exiles”, these instructions are taken as informing the manner in which we should “live as exiles” in this world. Christians should settle down, multiply, and pursue the well-being of the world around us. Accordingly, this line of reasoning recalls how the prophet Daniel rose to high rank in Babylonian court and Nehemiah served in a high position in Persia. Therefore, like Daniel and Nehemiah, Christians are not meant to withdraw from the complexities of this world, but to seek in all things to be faithful witnesses of Christ wherever their journey in this world takes them.
God set his people free from their political captivity so that they could become his people (Ex 19:4; Hos 13:4) and worship him (Lev 25:55; Isa 43:21). Their civil freedoms were given to them so that they could live holy lives (Lev 11:45; Dt 28:9-10), which is why Christians are told to pray extensively for political rulers so that we might have civil peace (1 Tim 2:1-2). Therefore, true freedom is a blessing from God and dependent upon faithfulness to the Lord (Dt 28:25,47-48). As society becomes immoral, sin brings society into bondage (Jdg 2:14; 3:7-8,12; 4:1-2; 6:1; Ps 137:1-4).
Adding to this argument is Jesus’ parable about “leaven”:
Matthew 13:33 (CSB) – 33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and mixed into fifty pounds of flour until all of it was leavened.”
According to this view, Jesus says the Kingdom of God must be thoroughly mixed throughout the entire world. Christians are meant to enter every sphere of life to take the testimony of our good news in Christ to all people. As we mix into the various spheres of life, we enter “economic”, “social”, and “political” realms to bring God’s Kingdom to every “tongue, tribe, and nation.”
Cross Examination: Worldly Entanglements
One of the points that should be immediately noted is that Peter’s instructions to “abstain” are about “sinful desires that wage war against the soul”. Applying Peter’s words directly to questions about “voting” or “civil involvement” misses the point. Peter’s concern is about our spiritual condition (1 Pt 1:16-19; 2:5, 11). We are not called to separation from the world at the physical or relational level, otherwise we would have to “come out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:10), but at the spiritual level (1 Pt. 4:4). We cannot take comments that pertain to living moral and spiritually just lives and rightly use them to prohibit civil involvement or voting. Instead, such instructions dictate how we engage the political world.
When considering the difficult that Christians have in maintaining their spiritual holiness when engaging the political realm, the same consideration must be applied to how we engage the economic and social spheres of life as well. Observing how difficult the battle is does not lead to the conclusion that we should not take up the fight, instead, it demands greater determination and resolve. If the observation that Christians struggle to remain holy in the political realm leads us to abandon the political realm, then the same must be true of economic and social spheres as well. Unfortunately, those groups that have taken this approach quickly learn that sin is baked into the flesh and rears its ugly head no matter how far you run from the heat of the battle. The cross is the only Biblical solution to problem of sin in questions of Christian living.
Where this argument truly shines is in its concern for Christian holiness and recognition of our heavenly citizenship. Christians who engage in the political realm face very real and serious threats of becoming spiritually entangled in worldliness. Not only do they face the threat of moral compromise, but also spiritual compromise. One can make a very strong case that Revelation’s “Babylon” represents the world’s political powers. Christians must diligently guard against the temptation to blend their faith with the State into some harlotrous form of patriotic Christianity. We must not canonize the United States Constitution. We must not have political Messiahs. These are some of the very real dangers that Christians face when entering the political realm.
Cross Examination: Holy Leaven
Both arguments appear to share the same fundamental weakness: Jesus’ calling for us to be “salt and light” is inherently spiritual in nature. Arguments from our “moral obligations” to be involved in the political sphere do not acknowledge that being the “savor of Christ” in this world refers to the manner of love by which we live holy lives in this world, and our “light” refers to our true and sincere testimony of Christ to this world. I am no more obligated to be the “savor and testimony of Christ” in the political realm than I am to be so in any particular “economic” or “social” realm. To argue from “moral obligations” to Christian involvement in political realms would equally obligate me to involvement in the entertainment industry, big tech, and the sciences. Afterall, who could argue that Hollywood doesn’t need Christ? Or that “Science” is doing just fine without its Creator? In other words, while the Church is called to leaven the whole world, where each Christian is called is determined by the will of their Lord, not the virtue signaling of passionate moral orators.
Unfortunately we sometimes mistake our liberty to do something as our calling to do so. Christians must carefully consider Paul’s wisdom (1 Co. 6:12; 10:23). Observing that Christians may participate in the political world does not excuse Christians from diligently dealing with the concerns expressed about worldly entanglements. In fact, acknowledging our broad liberty to be involved in political matters doesn’t mean that it is spiritually beneficial for me to be involved in political matters.
Where this argument shines is in its zeal to fully engage the world for the sake of Christ. Whereas many Christians have withdrawn behind walls like an army retreating into its citadel, this view charges forward to meet the challenges presented by this world with the power of the gospel and the hope of Christ’s return. Christians do not have permission from Christ to retreat and bury their heads in the sand. In fact, Jesus gives us the parable of the talents and illustrates what happens to the servant who buries his one talent in the ground to warn Christians about what will happen to those who hide the light of their testimony from the world (Mt. 25:24-30). Although one Christian may put their efforts into being “salt and light” in the business world, and another in the political world, it is unmistakable that all Christians must look for ways to be “salt and light in the world.”
This question has weighed heavily on my mind in recent years because of the challenges Christians face on all sides. When it comes to our society, America is increasingly embracing an ideology of oppression and authoritarian tyranny. Having spent almost a decade abroad preaching the gospel under an increasingly hostile communist regime, I am keenly aware of how destructive the very ideologies we’re seeing come to America are wherever they take root. Unfortunately I cannot even begin to describe the many ways in which people will suffer if we allow this kind of political ideology to take power in America because most Americans have no reference point to understand this kind of reality. So when I see American Christians retreating into their shells and abandoning the political world to corrupt politicians, I am truly heartbroken because history unequivocally warns us what the end will be when a nation hands power over to evil rulers.
On the other hand, my heart has been crushed as I witnessed the Church expose her nakedness during the last political season and politically prostitute herself for all to see. I saw my unbelieving friends scoff with disgust at the sheer hypocrisy and disgrace of the Church using corrupt political alliances to gain political power. In their eyes we are just another political party. And I would prefer the persecution that will surely come from handing the keys of power over to wicked man to the desecration of Christ’s holy testimony that has taken place in America.
My view is that Christians should look for ways to enter, engage, and influence the political realm without being entangled in worldliness. We must learn how to better express our political views so that we don’t confuse our support of one candidate’s particular policies with our justifying their overall character or worldview. In an increasingly post-Christian society, we must be willing to lose political power to preserve our testimony and personal holiness.
One of the reasons that I am developing this series is because I believe Christians will increasingly find it necessary to understand the proper role of government so that we can support those candidates who we believe will help build and maintain a peaceful and just society. Common Western misunderstandings on passages like Romans 13 are going to have serious ramifications for the Christian Church as America continues its path into secularization and authoritarianism.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! Do you think Christians should be “holy leaven” or “avoid worldly entanglements”? Are you screaming “both!” right now? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you found these Biblical reasons helpful in answering your questions, make sure you follow me on Facebook to get notified of my latest content and share this page with your friends to spread the word!