Approaching 18? Then you’ll soon be a fully-fledged member of society! It’s time to find out how far, as a Christian, you should get involved in that society. The question we are going to tackle here is: ‘Should we get involved in politics?’
There are two extreme views. One: try to create a theocracy (a society ruled by God). Two: withdraw like hermits into a sort of Christian ghetto. Obviously, there are lots of options in between, but in this first YS we’ll just look at the first of the two extremes.
With a theocracy, a country is governed by the laws of some religion. Examples include the Catholic Holy Roman Empire in Medieval Europe and Islamic Iran today. In the West, theocracies get a bad press because most modern theocracies are associated with fundamentalist Islamic regimes.
In understanding theocracies, however, a good starting place is the Israel of Old Testament times. God basically said to the Israelites, ‘If you follow my law things will go well for you; if you don’t, you’ll suffer the consequences’.
This wasn’t blackmail, just a fact of life. Of course, thanks to man’s sinful nature the Israelites failed time and again. Eventually, most of them were driven from their land never to return, and their theocracy collapsed.
Nevertheless, if Israel was a theocracy ruled by God’s law, isn’t this the kind of thing Christians should try to establish today?
Some people certainly think we should. In the USA a promotional leaflet for a local Republican party dominated by the Christian Coalition (www.cc.org) called for the death penalty for abortion, adultery and homosexuality.
The dangerous mistake behind this kind of thinking is the assumption that Christianity is just about morality — living good lives, going to church and keeping God’s law. Anyone who doesn’t conform will be punished to teach them a lesson.
But the idea that we have to do good deeds to get on the right side of God is man-made religion, not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christianity is all about the fact that we cannot meet God’s standards and that we need the forgiveness, salvation and reformation that comes through Jesus.
What would Jesus say to those who advocate bringing in the death penalty for a whole range of sins? Just what he said to the Pharisees who brought a woman caught in adultery: ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’. The law said they should stone her to death. None of them did, of course.
Not an earthly kingdom
Jesus freed the woman from the penalty demanded by the law. Does that mean that sin doesn’t matter? Not at all! In fact, sin mattered so much to Jesus that he gave his life to save us from it.
His message to the woman (and to us) was, ‘Go now and leave your life of sin’. God will punish unrepentant sinners, but ‘now is the time of God’s favour’ when he gives us opportunity to repent and believe in Christ for salvation.
The point is that Jesus did come to introduce a kingdom, but not an earthly one. He said, ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news’. The good news is that if we receive the salvation that he offers we become members of his heavenly kingdom.
This is the kingdom mentioned in Daniel 2, where it is pictured as a great rock that removes and replaces all the earthly powers in this world and brings history (as we know it) to an end.
Not needed now
So, God doesn’t need us to establish theocracies on earth before he brings this world — with all its sin, suffering and death — to a close. What we have to do is let others know how they can enter the spiritual kingdom of God.
Christianity doesn’t need theocracy. The church of Christ has often grown fastest under repressive regimes — for example, the early church under the Roman Empire and the church in China under Communism.
Real Christianity isn’t a cultural thing which people go along with because everyone else does — like Islam or the materialism in our society. It’s about an individual responding to God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ — and being added to the community of believers who will inherit the kingdom of God.
The idea of having a society where morality is promoted sounds good. But like Israel of old, theocracies always fail because of human sinfulness. Indeed, they often turn out to be repressive regimes that persecute real Christians — from the Spanish Inquisition in the Middle Ages to some Islamic states today where the law demands the death of anyone who turns away from Islam.