The simple answer may sound like Bill Clinton sophistry, “It depends what politics is.” But the fact is many people have different ideas as to what politics are. For purposes of this article, I will define that word in the English and in the Greek.
“Politics” – 1(a): the art or science and government (b): the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy (c): the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government. 2: political actions, practices, or policies
[Merriam-Webster 11th ed. Collegiate Dictionary]
Secularly, the purpose of politics is always focused on controversial issues and is considered an unsettled matter – a discipline that changes to meet the needs of the people.
“Probably, all agree that academic political science can help citizens enrich their lives by giving them some training and insight into how to analyze public issues for themselves.”
[Encyclopedia American, 1984 ed. Bk. 22, pg. 350]
Religiously, many Old Testament Jews embedded themselves in the life of the communities, while continuing their Mosaic traditions at The Temple in Jerusalem and within their synagogues. This was foretold by prophetic scripture in Is.19:19 – at least a partial fulfillment that there will be a monument altar setup in the midst of Egypt. This occurred when mercenary Hebrew soldiers who fought for King Ashurbanipal of Assyria marched into Egypt in 663 BC. Memoires of Ashurbanipal, impart the soldier’s bravery and dedication to Yehovah.
“These men enjoyed most of the freedoms of civilian life. They married, raised families, and entered into local politics and business. In time, some of them became prominent businessmen, involved in the Ivory trade that gave Elephantine its name…By this time there was even a magnificent [Jewish] temple in the island city. The temple had been built sometime around 600 [BC] at great expense.”
[The Jewish Colony at Elephantine, pg .504, The Bible Almanac – Packer/Tenney/White]
The word “politics” came from the Greek noun, ‘politika’ and ‘politikos,’ and is interpreted as;
I.of, for, or relating to citizens, Plat., etc.
2.befitting a citizen, like a citizen, civic, civil, Lat. civilis, Thuc.; πολιτικωτέρα ἐγένετο ἡ ὀλιγαρχία more constitutional, Arist.:— adv., πολιτικῶς like a citizen, in a constitutional manner, Lat. civiliter, Dem.
4.living in a community, Arist.
II.of or befitting a statesman, statesmanlike, Xen., Plat.
III.belonging to the state or its administration, political, Lat. publicus, Thuc.: —ἡ πολιτική (sub. τέχνη), the art of government, ἡ π. ἐπιστήμη or ἡ π. alone, the science of politics, Plat.: —τὰ πολιτικά, state-affairs, public matters, government, Thuc., etc.
2.civil, municipal, opp. to natural or general, Dem.
[Liddell and Scott. An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1889. The Annenberg CPB/Project provided support for entering this text.]
This particular word is not in the new testament, but its related words are: ‘politarches’ [ruler]; ‘politeia’ [citizenship / freedom]; ‘polites’ [citizen]; and the social discourse words, ‘politeuma’ [citizenship / conversation] and ‘politeuo’ [citizen / conversation / live]. It suggests a dialog or public debate – an exchange of ideas between communal members.
Saint Paul in Ac.22:28, argued his prestige as a natural born citizen of Rome using the Greek word ‘politeuo’ and ‘politeia,’ to signify that he lived as a citizen of Rome, by his conversation – that is his manners, expressions and customs. Those customs of Rome that did not interfere or breach his Jewish religious customs. Paul would be found articulating to others and thereby living his citizen belief.
Jesus uses the term ‘polites’ in Lk.19:14 as a simile concerning a fellow citizen who would become king. It was a metaphor for Messiah.
Although Paul states that our ‘politeuma’- our citizenship or conversation – is in heaven, he was expressing that as we live as good citizens here, our hope is like that of Abraham, looking for a city whose builder and maker is God.
The point is, we are citizens of a nation, but are looking forward to something better, to be part of. However, like Paul, we have the right to claim our temporal heritage, and our political-social decent and duty.
Many well-meaning Christians will say that they are not political, or do not involve themselves in politics, but they lie to themselves. The most political people on the face of the earth are moralists, pastors and missionaries, because they beg governments for favors, so that they can do their work. They beg for funds – for security help – for licensing – for food stocks and medical aid, as is being done in Liberia for the Ebola crisis. Now ask yourself, is the Ebola crisis a hot political topic. Yet, the people in the middle of this epidemic are Christian aid and medical workers, as well as moralists.
Subjects have few rights, and slaves have none, but a citizen has many. Christians ask for favors from the government on the basis of a right. All Christians ask God for favors based upon the unmerited favor Christ Jesus gave us.
If anyone is telling you that Christians should not be involved in politics at all, it is a lie from the Pit of Hell. How else can a Christian be salt in his society unless he participates in the procedures and stratagems of the civil populous?
[The English Statesman and philosopher, Edmund Burke [1729-1797] is keen against my view, for he has written, “Politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement. No sound ought to be heard in the Church, but the healing voice of Christian charity.” But Burke was sold out to Natural Law and was never lauded for Christian charity or piety – just the bellows of the English caste system. His idea of Church was a place that one loses his impetus and mind – for the solitude of peace. Had he discovered Christianity in its fulness, he would have read the sacred text, rather than the “Leviathan” of Hobbes.]
Even so, the Old Testament has shared with us Citizen Lot; a sitting judge [Gen.19:1] within Sodom. He exercised his moral belief by warning the salacious crowd, and so he was salt in the midst of debauchery. His restrain was rebuffed and they tried to bully his submission by calling him an alien – who would play judge [Gen.19:1-9]. However, Gen.18:20 and 2Pe.2:7 instructs us that Lot was not only a righteous man, but the very man who called out to God day after day, in the main gate of the city, because of the wickedness of his neighbors. Judges were always to be found at the main gate of city-states – there to render verdicts – in disputes.
WAS JESUS POLITICAL?
My answer; very much so – and so was John the Baptist. Both demanded a moral change from the political leaders and they both appealed to the people, as their requests were very public. However, their impetus was grounded in God’s revealed moral law – not in ethics.
John railed publically at Herod Antipas for his adultery [Lk.3:18-19].
Jesus complained many times about the hard-heartedness of the Pharisees, and his Matthew 23 encounter was completed within the very halls of religious government – in the publically accessible Colonnades of Solomon and the court of Gentiles – on the Temple grounds.
Jesus Christ, and John the Baptist, were doing exactly what Merriam-Webster had defined – concerning politics 1(b): “the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy.” This falls within the Greek word for politics and its variants.
It was the policy of Herod’s government to live a public life style that included adultery, wild parties, and lecherous behavior. It was John’s official act as a prophet and teacher to point out that Herod’s behavior was unacceptable to God.
It was the policy of the religious government of the Sanhedrin to make money from the people’s worship, and to behave as if they were better than the citizens of Israel, but it was the job of Jesus to call the government leaders to proper morality and repentance.
Morality involves a multitude of common areas of life: banking, leadership, justice, and charity. I may have many conservative Christians with me at this point, but I need to ask a question of depth and introspection. Are we, as citizen Christians, responsible for the care of aliens – legal or illegal? Factually, the morality of God states we are responsible [Gen.19:1-2; Lev.19:9-10; Lk.10:33-37]. Whether a traveling Arab or Babylonian of the O.T, a Samaritan or Phoenician in the NT, Christians today are obligated to respond with compassion to the South American, the European, or the Middle Eastern alien, with the same charity.
HOWEVER, along with that charity we are to expect compliance with the laws of the land, concerning that same alien. Just because they are poor does not mean we “cut them a break,” and allow the universal laws of the land to be abridge for them. If there are mitigating circumstances, the judge is well within his authority to lesson a sentence, or set aside a verdict.
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly” [Lev.19:15].
Because the Government has the sword of God [Rm.13:1-5], from which to meet out justice, it is incumbent upon the citizen Christian to encourage, coax, and demand proper justice and conformity to the law of the land – in an equitable manner.
DID THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS ENGAGE IN POLITICS?
Every major and minor prophet of the Bible had message of change for the kings and religious leaders. That fact is many prophets were also sent by God to the rulers and kings of pagan countries with the same messages of repentance and change. Most notably was the prophet Jonah who laid down Yehovah’s demand to the city of Nineveh. Others are: Daniel to the Babylonian kings and Chaldean wise-men; Obadiah to the Edomites; and Nahum to the leaders of Nineveh.
What most Christians do not understand is that Israel, under Moses, was a Theocratic Republic. God ruled ultimately, however, his human representative [Moses, Joshua] was to seek the council and administrative partnership of the tribal elders of each tribe [Ex.18:14-23; Num.11:14-17]. The tribal Elders each received their leadership role from the clan elders who received advice from their chief men and family leaders within the clan. It was a representative government to be sure.
Can anyone claim this arrangement as not political?
American Congregations run the general affair of their churches via elected councils with either a Republic structure [Amish], a democratic-republic structure [Roman Catholic], or a mainly democratic structure [Congregational Churches, Quakers, and Mennonite].
WHAT PARTS OF POLITICS ARE PROHIBITIVE?
We can say with certainty, based upon the moral code of the Ten Commandments, the Levitical Laws, and the complaints of the prophets: bribery, demagoguery, patronage, exaggerations, lying, nepotism, and simony, are NOT the attributes of politic that we are to follow. Beside these mentioned, there are other negative attributes we are to shun in politics.
- Jn.7:1-5: Following the crowd to avoid being negatively stigmatized, is not acceptable in Christian politics. This command can be found in the Bible in allegorical format – by example and allegory, in the life of Jesus.
- Mt.5:14-16: Hiding from the crowd to avoid being negatively stigmatized.
- Mt.16:13-16: Fear of exposing ones opinion. The inquiry of Jesus as to whom do men say he was, followed by whom do you say I am, is a demand for a free-will expression devoid of fear and prejudices.
- Jn.7:20-24: Making quick judgments. Jesus orders his listeners not to make quick judgments that express gossip, but to utilize their minds rationally. We are not to judge by appearances but by logic, rationale and known facts.
- Lk.22:23-26: Airs of Superiority, Pontificating, and Tyrannizing. Jesus said;
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them [the people] and those that exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead the greatest among you should be like the youngest and the one who rules like the one who serves” [Lk.22:23-26].
Paul gave us a little more understanding about Christian politics, by way of a command that is to be personally understood and developed by prayer and conscience. The church office you hold may require one to desist from certain public activities. It can be reasoned through prayer, and one’s calling as an officer of the church.
“No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victors crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hard working farmer should be the first to receive a share of his crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this” [2Tim.2:4-6].
A brief reading of this text may lead the enquirer to the supposition that Paul was warning Christians to stay away from “civilian affairs” – loosely interpreted as the gratuitous doings of worldly life. This would include politics. To some extent it does mean this, but the warning is for Church leaders, not laymen. Yet everyone must engage in buying and working, and saving – including Church leaders.
The NIV translation of “civilian affairs” is translated as, “the affairs of this life” in the KJV. The Greek word responsible for translation is, ‘pragmatia,’ from whence we get the modern – ‘pragmatic.’ ‘Pargmatia’ literally means, occupation or business adventures.
I do not have space in this article for a full exegesis, but suffice to say, Paul was encouraging Timothy not go back to making a secular living. He was not to “involve” [NIV] or “entagle” [KJV] himself in the other common pursuits. The Greek word for “involve” or “entangle” is, ‘emplexo’ and literally means, to weave in or into. In other words, do take on a common job for needed daily supplies that would split one’s affections and resolve.
The fact that Paul explained his incarceration and that everyone fled him – except a few, he is instructing Timothy that these very things may happen to Timothy, as well. However, Timothy is not to give up or give in, but instead to stir up his pastoral gifts of evangelism and teaching, and rely on God to care for him. This is why the quote is prefaced by; “…endure hardship” – v. 2:3.
Coincidently, Paul in his other epistles, encouraged the church members to work for their living, and we know that Paul worked at tent making and other leather goods manufacture – on the side – as a way of earning his keep. But Paul was targeting the common members about secular enterprise – not the leaders. A leader may make some living on the side as long as he doesn’t look to that as his stay on this earth. The idea is this: the Gospel can bring you trouble, trouble may cause you to keep your mouth shut, a shut mouth wants only to survive, survival means a cash living, which may force you to abandon your calling as a Church leader.
How may this be associated with politics? A Church leader may have a natural inclination toward public service. Promoting the Gospel may make one engage the world of politicians for personal favors, and by doing so, dilute the cause of Christ. The Church leader feeds at the trough of secularism, which can be quite substantial in bribes, kick-backs, opportunistic financial inducements and status positions. A perfect example of this is the “Rainbow Coalition” in Washington DC.
On the other hand, the preaching of Christ may cause so much trouble for the public service oriented Church leader that he stops preaching, and enters public service as a secular clerk, or a health worker etc. He has his living, but is stuck in a nameless position and has refused the calling of Christ.
In the end, Paul does NOT say that a Church leader should never take a part time job, or engage the political spectrum concerning right judgment or moral activity. What he is saying is that when a leader engages the world at large, there are temptations that can draw a servant of the Lord away from his responsibility in Christ.
Note: I know a man who has taken on the responsibility of informing citizens of the corrupt nature of the modern age. He does this by calling attention to the lies, obfuscations and misleading statements of corporations, governments, and financial institutions. He then expresses what God desires. This very man has been subtly told that he is being watched and, he has been carefully bribed by a secret society to get him onto their way of life. He has declined them and continues his work in Christ. Apparently, he is more effective than he had realized he would be. These things do happen today.
The lesson to remember; concerning politics and a nation’s judgment by God – they are born out in 2Chron 7;
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land” [2Chron.7:13-14].
The activity of a nation’s wickedness is directly proportional to the lack of righteousness of the people of God. The nation as a whole may be wicked, but it is the people of God that must repent first, before a change may occur in the political and social spectrum of a nation. To do nothing political, concerning one’s national sins, is tantamount to sharing in the sin of the non-believers, and is considered an act of hate against one’s neighbor [Lev.19:17].
Scripture encourages every Christian to engage the world in whatever endeavor it may be involved in. In places like Columbia, missionaries talk to political military guerrillas – in Los Angeles, local pastors and concerned Christians take the Word of God to the prostitutes – Campus Crusade follows the energetic and wanton college students onto campus – and others speak with members of Congress or persuade politicians at state conventions, or at the capitals.
Christians have a mandate to convict of sin, righteousness and the judgment to come. We are called to be the “salt of the earth.” Additionally, the most effective way to persuade our fellow citizens, is to live our principles in the open, and take them to task when they stray from the commands of God’s moral impetus. We are allowed to enter the political arena in debate and in voting. We must not fail at this.