MIGHT THERE BE DANGER OF MAKING POLITICS A RELIGION?
- When politics becomes a religion, then simple disagreements become apostasies, heresies. And you know what we do with heretics (Peggy Noonan)
- The temptation for Christians is not to divinize the state, but to politicize religion and look to the state to implement doctrine and other tenets of their faith as policy – or even go so far as to compel belief. But this is a departure from the original vision of Christianity and its intrinsically voluntary character (Michael Matheson Miller)
- We must cease striving and trust God to provide what He thinks is best and in whatever time He chooses to make it available. But this kind of trusting doesn't come naturally. It's a spiritual crisis of the will in which we must choose to exercise faith (Charles Swindoll)
- We must be global Christians with a global vision, because our God is a global God (John R. W. Stott)
TEXT: 1 Timothy 2:1-5 ‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.
What inspires and motivates people to bring significant social and economic change, is what is given time, mind, and energy. The increasing intertwinement of religion and politics is likely to result in people losing faith in God and embracing politics as the one meeting their needs. Once in the people’s minds there’s belief that politics is where their ultimate purpose and meaning of life is to be found, then there is need to pause, observe and listen carefully. It is easy to unconsciously slip into thinking mode that allows political thoughts to be the dominating thoughts. It is the thought in mind that creates one’s reality. The bible is clear that as a man thinks, so is he (Proverbs 23:7a). If politics is what brings the breath of life to people, determines the joy and sadness, fear, and all other emotions, then it rivals God. In the history of the Christian church, whenever there has been revival of the faith in Christ, believers have wrestled with determining exactly what roles the church and state should play in each other’s sphere. This is especially significant for a people whose system of governance and the Christian faith has similar foreign roots.
The Western church complaint of being deeply influenced by Hegelian philosophy among other influences has had a trickle-down effect among many people. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s (1770–1831) philosophy had at its core the belief that social and political thoughts are concepts of freedom, reason, self-consciousness, and recognition. An idea then is the concept of the concept. Hegel’s thinking turned people’s minds to seeking the state as the one having the answers to their health needs, justice, care of the weak and needy among others. Consequently, the church and the family look up to the state for direction and provisions. In a very subtle way, the exclusive love of God is shared with another (Exodus 20: 3-6). Today in China, I am told the current president has replaced religious symbols with his own image arguing that he is the one who meets the people’s needs and so deserves to be worshipped (https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/november/china-christians-jesus-communist-president-xi-jinping-yugan.html). It is therefore necessary to examine when politics may be becoming a religion.
THE DANGER OF MAKING POLITICS A RELIGION
A religion is a system of beliefs, values, and practices concerning what a person holds as sacred or spiritually significant that caters to the deep-seated human need for God. Though religious beliefs are highly personal, religion also socially binds members of a community together. Religion, in one form or another, has been found in all human societies since human societies first appeared. “Note the progression: first, politics is part of religion. Then, politics is the most important part of religion. Then, religion becomes part of politics. It’s genius.” (C. S. Lewis)
In religion, it is the people who seek God and seek to win acceptance by their actions and devotion. On the other hand, Christianity is based on acceptance of what God through Christ has done. ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is God who has reached out to people, and it is those who respond to His invitation that find salvation (John 3:16). Change of God’s formula for the salvation of human beings may mean change of eternal destiny.
Politics has to do with the set of activities associated with policy making, legislation of laws that govern the people, distribution of resources, beliefs and principles that enable people to live together as tribes, cities, or countries. From the very beginning, God expects his people to engage in what makes them ‘rule and subdue the earth’. ‘Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”(Genesis 1: 26). God’s interest in the governance of Israel is a clear indication of what He expects of His people. The danger is when politics is allowed to become religion and so becomes an idol that rivals God. God’s people are expected to engage with political issues.
THE INTERSECTION OF FAITH AND POLITICS
Need for power is common to both faith and politics. Power is about control, influence, domination, sovereignty, etc. The difference is in the reason for acquiring power and the source of power. Christians who are believers in the saving grace of the Lord depend on the power of the Holy Spirit. ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8a). The disciples receive power from God for the purpose of being His witnesses in the world. Politics devoid of God’s guidance use intrigue and diplomacy to win public opinion either democratically if the system allows it or usurp power using propaganda or an army. Some options that face Christians is ignoring the differences and picking bible verses that support their actions. Another option is to accept being subdued, play a subservient role while communicating mistrust. Another option is to have nothing to do with the politics and the governance of the country. ‘Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you’ (2 Corinthians 6:17). The church appears as a rival and competes for domination. How then can the church be the light and salt of the world that has either subdued it or is a rival?
THE TELL-TALE SIGNS THAT INDICATE THAT ENGAGEMENT IN POLITICS IS BECOMING A RELIGION
1. Emotional attachment – God has given us the ability to have feelings regarding what we like or do not like. Our minds are like a garden that grows the seeds planted in it. If the most preoccupying thoughts are in the mind at any time of day and night, it means there is room for the word of God. It may be possible that your engagement in helping or setting policies is what gives you validation, a sense of being relevant and worthy. The belief that your sense of worth would be affected if your preferred choice is not in control may make one fearful, insecure, and isolated; it may mean God is no longer who you say He is. Jesus Christ said that people speak what is abundant in their hearts (Luke 6:45). ‘If you find yourself in conversations with friends and neighbours and you are most passionate about repeating what you heard on the news or read online, then politics is becoming your religion. If you are more eager to speak about politics than Jesus, politics is your religion’ (Eric Geiger)
2. At home in the company of mockers, scoffers, liars, and haters of those who do not support their viewpoint – Finding pleasure in what pulls down others, open lies, misrepresentation, and misinformation of others make you be described like chaff that winds blow away (Psalm 1:4). Absalom, realizing that his father King David did not have long to live, carried himself in ways that easily impressed the people (2 Samuel 15). While he gave his elderly, sickly father a very rough time, deposing him from the throne, he was not God’s choice and died in shame. To be on the same side with an enemy of Christians whose mission is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), is a dangerous choice. Eric Geiger argues that ‘If we frame other believers in Christ who view things differently than we do, the flesh and blood of our own spiritual family, as our enemy then we have made politics are religion’. Anything that would make another human being, created in God’s image and likeness, be dehumanized is certainly wrong. Remember, ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).
3. Assumption that the political alignment can meet people’s needs – While God gave the commandments as a basic frame of the code of conduct, it is important to note: ‘For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come’ (Hebrews 13:14). However good our living arrangements are, great supply of services, justice observed, and all comfort provided, it is only for a season. Billy Graham in his 1998 TED talk, explained how improved technology and other mind blowing innovations do not address the problem of sin, evil and death. There is that God designed space that only a relationship with him can fill. While politics is an attractive pull, Christians should settle as ambassadors who represent the kingdom of God wherever they are.
DANGERS OF THE CHURCH GETTING CAUGHT IN THE WAVES OF POLITICAL ENTHUSIASM
Idol worship – If anything other than what the scripture teaches is used as the framework for the faith, idol worship will arise. In a highly politicized season, it is easy for Christians to be caught up in waves of political enthusiasm and social activism. Once winning elections is taken as the goal, every effort is put to achieve that goal and that may include separating biblical truth from daily life which is a way of rejecting the biblical call to holistic faith (Romans 12:1–2) and reduces God to a hobby. Turning politics to a place to discover ultimate purpose and communion, it becomes something to be feared and revered. To allow the political cause to be the unifying factor of believers, it may subconsciously mean that what Christians are doing for others is becoming more important in relation to what Christ has done for us. Anything that displaces the Cross of Christ, whether a political cause or social work, or community service, becomes an idol that should be rejected.
Mistaking ‘neighbour’ for the enemy – God’s messengers, who have the mandate to go to the world and make disciples of all nations, can get caught and trapped in activities that generate hatred, divisions, and enmities among the people. Instead of being disciples who communicate peace, love, and truth Jesus Christ, they propagate that which is repulsive to others who are seeking for the light.
Held captive by the belief that transformation is possible through politics – While it is a fact that the political arena has a great impact in providing leadership in diverse sectors that affect people, it is still limited and short-term. Jesus Christ called a man who had so organized his resources a fool. When the man thought he could settle or retire and allow his resources to work for him, ‘But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you’ (Luke 1:20). Though important, man-made laws should never replace the promise of God. That is why loss of a political goal should not reduce one’s commitment to love people, forgive those who may not have acted in ways that show love and care for others. Remember you are a witness of Jesus Christ in season and out of season. ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near’ (Philippians 4:5).
A Christian seeking or supporting a political position must bear in mind that most political positions are not matters of biblical command but of practical wisdom. As one seeks to be used by the Lord to not just feed the hungry and visit those in sickness and in prison, to examine the root causes of the needs, the love of God must remain the main motivation. It is not just enough to conceive an idea of serving in political capacity, but to remain rooted in the True vine. The posture of a Christian is to seek the welfare of the city in which we are, our country, our world because in its welfare is our welfare (Jeremiah 29:6-7). We are exiles in this world, and we cannot ignore the activities in it. However, we must never forget that our citizenship is elsewhere, where Jesus Christ is. As Christ’s witnesses we need to apply the fundamentals of our faith to the full range of issues the gospel speaks to, including politics. Kings, and all those who make decisions, for the common good of all the people, need prayers. In addition, Christians should not leave the work of the church to politicians. Greed, corruption, selfishness, sexual immorality, envy, jealous attitudes, and witchcraft are works of the flesh that cannot be dealt with through laws and punishment. The reason the Christian is the light of the world is that the power of the Living God is working within, bringing repentance, and confessing sins one to another. That is what makes the Christian in politics God’s prophet who allows the mind that was in Christ be in them. The hope Christians have comes from their identity in Christ, not from politics. Every Christian is a missionary wherever he/she is situated. Christians in the political arena are missionaries in a very dark place and must go in the power of the Holy Spirit. How are you helping the Christians maintain a Godly posture as they play an active role in the politics of your country?
‘Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo’ (Tim Keller)