We also use the term, however, in a broader sense. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of politics is “the total complex of relations between people living in society.” That is, if you have more than two people in some kind of societal arrangement, then you have politics. It has to do with levels of authority, decision making, having respect for each other and for property, due process for grievances and issues of justice, economics, and many other issues of human relationships.
So, does the Bible talk about politics? Is the Bible political?
The Bible is thoroughly political. If we use the second definition of the word, the Bible is thoroughly political because much of it deals with the “total complex of relations between people.” Much of the Law, prophetic outrage, Proverbs, the Sermon on the Mount, and a lot of Paul’s admonition to churches had to do with the level of politics as real life human relationships.
The Bible is also thoroughly political in the sense of the first definition. If politics is about “the art and science of government,” the Bible has much to say about leadership wisdom and integrity, about the responsibilities of leaders, about issues of poverty, justice, war and peace, and relationships with foreign governments. Jesus spoke about paying taxes. He spoke to Roman soldiers about not abusing their power. Both Paul and Peter spoke about submission to authorities and how to live under oppressive situations. Yes, the Bible is thoroughly political.
The Bible does not endorse a political ideology. The Bible may address politics, but it does not put forth nor endorse a political ideology. We need to be careful to read back into the Bible our contemporary political and economic ideologies. Well intentioned believers throughout history and around the world have attempted to Biblically justify capitalism, socialism, democracy, and monarchy. The problem is that each one of those ideologies does have some Biblical justification! It all depends on which passages we pull from and how we apply them and to which context we apply them. It is not my purpose here, nor do I have the space, to give examples of how each has some Biblical justification. What we can identify are the “political” issues and then ask how can these be addressed Biblically in our context. For example, the Bible is clear about taking care of widows and orphans. It is clear that the poor should not be taken advantage of. It is clear that criminals should be brought to justice. The challenge for us is to work out the implications and applications of those issues in contemporary society whatever the dominant and prevailing ideology happens to be.
The Bible judges all politics and political ideologies. Consequently, all political and economic ideologies are to be evaluated and judged by Scripture. Certainly, there are ideologies that are closer to the Bible than others (think Hitler’s National Socialism and Stalin’s Communism as some obvious examples), but all are fallen and imperfect. This also means we need to be very careful to hijack the gospel and manipulate Jesus to fit our politics. We love to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” The problem is, we might be surprised more often than not!
The church’s hope is not in a political ideology. Taken a step further, not only does the Bible judge all politics and political ideologies, our hope does not rest in politics or a political ideology. Whether or not we live in a free country or are persecuted, or whether we dominate the culture or are marginalized, our hope is not in legislation, more Christian elected officials, boycotts, or political action. All these may are important, needed, and rights we should exercise, but we cannot legislate more followers of Jesus. We cannot outlaw anyone into belief. At best, we can restrain evil for a time and insist that justice be done for all according to the laws of the land. But, the hope of the church, and the hope of America, lies in the gospel of Jesus Christ and his politics.
Have a political ideology, but hold to it tentatively. Therefore, have a well thought out political ideology and hold it with conviction . . . with tentative conviction. I am not pleading for being wishy-washy. I am pleading for political and ideological conviction that is open to growth, maturity, and constant Biblical evaluation and judgment. Ultimately, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. It is then that the Kingdom’s perfect politics will be in place.
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