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Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Mobile, Alabama

Here in the United States our news is dominated by the Presidential election cycle and as a result, we are inundated with up to the minute analysis of debates, rallies, interviews, editorials, and tweets. Many have observed that this is a particularly important election. I happen to agree with them while also noting that the same thing is said every four years. It is always important.

Without minimizing the importance of the election or impugning anyone who is a political junkie, I want to offer a gentile reminder for Christians who might be getting a little too wrapped up in the election. Call it a gentle calibration.

Who to Pray for

The first place we as Christians should turn is prayer when we consider the functioning of our government and its relationship to the church. This is modeled by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy. Giving instruction to Timothy he says that we as believers must pray for all people, "for kings and all who are in high positions..." (1 Tim. 2.2).

This seems pretty straightforward and simple until we consider the context. John Stott observes,

"when Paul told Timothy to pray for kings, the reigning emperor was Nero, whose vanity, cruelty and hostility to the Christian faith were widely known. The persecution of the church, spasmodic at first, was soon to become systematic, and Christians were understandably apprehensive. Yet they had recourse to prayer. Indeed, prayer for pagan countries and their leaders already had a precedent in the Old Testament. For Jeremiah told the exiles to pray for Babylon's peace and prosperity, and the edict of Cyrus, which ordered the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, included a request to the Jews to 'pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.'"

The government was far from sympathetic to Christianity, yet Paul (like Peter 1 Pet. 2.17) urges submission and honor to and prayer for the government.

I understand that the skid marks from the moral revolution are fresh. That car is racing ahead with little regard for Christ and his church. America and the rest of the world are changing very quickly. However, let's not think for a second that Paul is living in the midst of nice little Bible belt in the Roman Empire. It was progressive, pagan, and decidedly anti-Christian. The decades that follows Paul's writing to Timothy are dark. In other words, if the priority was prayer then it most certainly is today.

What to Pray for

But notice what to pray for. Paul goes on:

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." (1 Timothy 2:1-2,)

Pray for the leaders. Pray for the good ones and the bad. Pray for the Republicans, the Democrats, and the Independents.

Why Paul? So that we (Christians) may lead a peaceful, quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

We as Christians desire to live peaceable and quiet lives. This just means that we pray for our government to prevent and deter war and fighting between citizens. Luther said,

"In time of war there is no peace. One cannot go in or out. Not a hair of one's head is safe. In this case no one considers that these outstanding benefits are preserved by a good civil authority which ought to be keeping watch so that peace might endure. It is a great gift to live in peace and quiet."

I wonder if we have forgotten this. It has become a custom of our day to take to social media to vent our concerns and attack politicians. How much quieter would Facebook and Twitter be if Christians were truly praying for and personally pursuing peaceable and quiet lives?

Furthermore there is a desire for a godly and dignified life. This is what we want after all. "The ultimate object of our prayers for national leaders, then, is that in the context of the peace they preserve, religion and morality can flourish, and evangelism go forward without interruption." (Stott)

I don't doubt that this election is important. Relatively speaking they all are important. However, I'm suggesting that we align our expectations with how the Bible teaches us to pray. We have been greatly blessed in the United States for many, many years. Evangelicals have enjoyed tremendous influence in society. Now, however, things appear to be changing. Is this a cause for concern? Sure. But is it a cause for panic? No. In fact, we find ourselves providentially backing into the parking stall of 1 Timothy 2. We have our our prayers and our pursuits recalibrated by the Scriptures. Even if our guy doesn’t get elected (or even if we don’t have “a guy”) we can still pray and rejoice in God’s kindness to us.

You might think my expectations are too low. Perhaps they are. But perhaps your expectations are too high and your foundation a bit more American than biblical. It is easy to get stirred up from the news stations but it is hard to pray and be content in God. Faithfully pray for your leaders, pursue peace, advance the gospel, and rejoice in God's kindness to you--even through unbelieving men and women.

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11 thoughts on “A Gentle Political Recalibration for Christians”

  1. Curt Day says:

    If seeking to lead a peaceful, quiet life involves being silently submissive to the government regardless of whether it practices justice and compassion, then that silent submission can sometimes lead to a problem: sometimes, as said in the title of a Martin Luther King Jr speech, silence is betrayal.

    Yes, both Paul and Peter urged us to pray for and submit to a government in a context where a tyrant was on the throne. But there have been changes made in the contexts in which one lives since then. Two of those changes are the fact that the Gospel has been preached throughout the world and that many people now live in democracies rather than in dictatorships.

    Why would these changes be significant to the issue here? Though there are a number of issues, the significant one I am thinking of is that the purpose of living peaceful and quiet lives according to Peter seemed to include protecting the honor of the Gospel. Remember that back then, the Gospel was new to the world. But it is no longer new. And that is an important fact because the Gospel has sometimes been associated with forms of government and even with specific government policies. And thus, the honor of the Gospel depends on the justice and compassion seen in those forms of government and in those government policies. Thus, we have to consider whether protesting certain policies and forms of government can sometimes bring honor to the Gospel and whether being silent can dishonor the Gospel.

    Second, many people now live in democracies which means that people have privileges, opportunities, and possibly even responsibilities to speak out against those governments and/or government policies that are unjust. And if we do not act as good stewards of those privileges, opportunities, and responsibilities, if they exist, then we are looking at where we have failed God first and our neighbor second.

    There are also two more points to consider here. The first point is that the relationship between God’s people and the government under which they live cannot be reduced to the Scriptures listed in the article above. When the Apostles were commanded not to preach in the name of Jesus, they replied saying that they must ‘obey God rather than men.’ In addition, the OT prophets often had to act as dissidents in their respective societies especially when Israel or other nations practiced injustice.

    The second point is whether, in a different time and living context, the only lessons we can learn from the Bible are from learning literal commands and imitating specific actions. If those are the only lessons to learn from the Scriptures regarding how we relate to the government, then we are simply applying the regulative principle to other areas of life than worship. Is that Biblical?

    Finally, I fully agree, though I don’t always practice it, with following the commands to pray for and submit to the government. I am simply saying that how we implement those commands can be very different from how those commands would be implemented when the Apostles wrote them. Here, I find Martin Luther King’s approach to balancing submission to the government and responding to unjust laws helpful. For he stated that those who righteously protest and disobey unjust laws show more respect for those in authority and the rule of law than those who enforce those same laws.

    1. roscuro says:

      I have often seen the ‘Consider the Cultural Context of Paul’s Writing’ to argue that women should be allowed to be pastors. Now I’m starting to see the ‘Cultural Context’ used to say we shouldn’t regard our political leaders as Paul told us to regard them. Either Paul’s Epistles are timeless in their application and use, or they are mere historical artifacts. One cannot pick and choose what one likes to hear. Praying for all who are in authority and honouring the king (as Peter commands in his first Epistle) are not exclusive with pointing out to a ruler when they are wrong. The early church defied the command of the Sanhedrin to stop preaching the gospel, but they still respected the authority of the Sanhedrin (see Paul’s apology for reviling the High Priest) and did not seek to change or overthrow it. They let God deal with the injustices of the Sanhedrin in His own time. As Justin Martyr said in his appeal to Antoninus Pius, emperor of Rome. in his appeal that Christians not be punished for simply being Christian:
      “To God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment. But if you pay no regard to our prayers and frank explanations, we shall suffer no loss, since we believe (or rather, indeed, are persuaded) that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merit of his deed, and will render account according to the power he has received from God, as Christ intimated when He said, “To whom God has given more, of him shall more be required.”

      1. Curt Day says:

        There is a difference between the argument against women being ministiers and how we submit to authority. The former consists of fewer, if not a single, issue while the latter is more complex. The complexity of the latter is found in issues of God’s ordaining of leaders to New and Old Testament examples of resistance to authority to the honor of the Gospel. And one question becomes if the Church is silently complicity in the face of gross sin committed by the state, does it honor the Gospel. We seem to have no problems in answering that quesiton regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage, but we have all of the problems in the world answering that question when it comes to how to respond to unjust laws that are oppressive.

        IN addition, the only changes I am suggesting are not in principle, they are in implementation of the general principles Paul taught. I said nothing about dishonoring of the government and if you read king on this subject, you would realize that.

    2. Doug says:

      In reference to your comment,

      Yes, both Paul and Peter urged us to pray for and submit to a government in a context where a tyrant was on the throne. But there have been changes made in the contexts in which one lives since then. Two of those changes are the fact that the Gospel has been preached throughout the world and that many people now live in democracies rather than in dictatorships.

      In reference to the trend toward democracies which you mentioned, I would contend that this social trend has been destructive in that it has confused and blurred the radical “God ordained” distinctions between government and the individual. Imagine democracy continuing its trend into the family. What would happen to the role of parents, a role which is distinct from that of the children? As Christians, we have an obligation to uphold “God ordained” distinctions in the midst of society’s rejection. This may require repudiation of radical democracy.

      1. Curt Day says:

        All democracy has done is to introduce the notion of citizen participation, or increased stewardship, in the government. And perhaps, because of all of the other relationships we have which are hierarchical and based on authority relationships, democracies challenge us to be able to turn off that authority switch.

        In addition, if we don’t speak profphetically to the state, we have failed in our obligations to call the state to repentance. The OT prophets provide examples on how to call the state to repentance.

        1. Doug says:

          I fully agree the Church—especially church leaders—should speak prophetically to government. Failure to do so is why national evils of the past prevailed. But radical democracy has placed the common man in the dangerous position of having to think like a president at presidential election time. This is foreign to the common man who lacks the mindset of a statesman. As for the Christian man, there is an even greater tendency to danger, and that is to impose on government what he understands to be expected of him as a Christ-follower. Yet we must remember that God has established government preeminently as a ministry of wrath to punish evildoers. To apply the traits of a Christ-follower to government is to effectly bring government down. Radical democracy in America is currently in this process.

          1. Curt Day says:

            All radical democracy does is to call for greater citizen participation into gov’t and thus more people must be consulted for the gov’t to make a decision. This is not what is occurring in America today. Rather, what we are seeing is America becoming an oligarchy and thus it is losing its democracy

  2. Doug says:

    Future view affects how we pray for our leaders. Paul told his Roman brethren, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Romans‬ ‭16:20‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Much has been done to fabricate an expectation of national demise among American Christians. We must recover prayer for national and political hope in Christ. We must likewise recover a vision of what government according to Christ’s Word should look like, so that we might intelligently pray. There is must confusion in the Church today over what is the specific role of government and what is the role of individuals.

  3. Joey E says:

    I always think it’s funny that when one’s favorite candidate loses, Christians say, “Well, my hope is in the Lord, not in politicians.” I rarely have heard Christians say that same thing when their favorite wins.

  4. Inge Sorensen says:

    @Joel: That’s a good one. These are difficult days even for our christian leaders. This is why I appreciate this article. Most of evangelical wing of the church has somewhat boxed itself by trumpeting without question Republican positions as opposed to biblical positions. My dad, a christian, is 88yrs old, and he beat the pavement with the moral majority. Two years ago, he announced that he was going “independent’ politically. And his reasons? He thought the Republican party had captured the mind of s large section of engelicals, and especiallyy the leaders.

  5. Rachel says:

    All I can tell you is that Christians the world over are praying – beseeching – God to deliver us all from Donald Trump. And from American Christians and Church Leaders who not only tolerate him but actually vote for him – and encourage others to do so. The GOP Primary looks a million times worse to Christians living outside the USA who see someone who puts the whole world in peril.

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Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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