Church and Politics

The National Elections are fast approaching and 29 May 2024 will be a significant day for South African citizens and all who call South Africa home.

As a Pastor and a leader of a local church, I often find myself in the difficult position of being expected to align myself with people’s political views. In recent times, this has escalated with the strong positions people have taken with regards to the conflict in Russia & Ukraine; Israel & Hamas; and other political conflicts and agendas around the world.

It has been challenging to keep politics out of the pulpit.

With the political season upon us in South Africa and as citizens come together to have their say about who will govern us, battle lines have been drawn between the ANC, the DA, the IFP, Action SA, the EFF, MK, Rise Mzansi and the multiple smaller parties vying for attention.

Over the past few weeks I have been deeply concerned about the way that the Devil is working to use these political conflicts to divide people. I have seen Christians who are normally very gentle and self controlled getting themselves highly worked up and responding aggressively to others.

As a pastor, I have been cautious in my response to all of this. If I say nothing, some will say I have failed to offer pastoral leadership, if I speak out, whatever I say, I know I will face harsh criticism.

Tim Keller once said; “The longer it takes people to figure out where we as Pastors stand on politics, in all likelihood the more faithfully we are preaching Jesus.”

Along these lines, my position has always been to rather be silent where scripture is not clear, but to speak up on the issues that it does clearly address. So I want to address some things that I believe are critically important for Christians at this time.

Get to grips with what the bible says about politics.

I have often heard people say things like ‘Faith and politics don’t mix,’ but the truth is that our call to follow Christ is all encompassing. We do not live our lives in a bubble. We are called to give attention to all areas of life, our finances, our relationships, our sexuality, our care for the earth, and yes, even politics. Our faith should apply to every part of our lives.

This does not mean that we will always agree with others or that we will have the same opinion on all matters, but we do need to know how to engage with those in authority and with each other in a way that glorifies the Lord. We need to remain humble by practising the way of Jesus Christ through grace, love and forgiveness.

Obviously the bible does not legislate any particular political system, it does however give us principles on the basics; God’s standard for leaders (Kings and Elders) and the attitude that believers should have toward them.

The history books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles all record the ways of faithless rulers. The gospels do the same with Herod and Pilate – all contrasting drastically to the positive example of King Jesus.

Deuteronomy 17 teaches us that Kings should be appointed carefully and be the person that God chooses; “Be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses” (vs 15). He should act like a brother to their people; “(He) should not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left.” (vs 20) Kings should not consider themselves above the law, and corruption and greed are ever-present temptations for those in authority. “He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and God (or his heart will be led astray) (vs 17).

Proverbs 31:4 reminds us that Kings, like Elders, are held to a higher standard; “It is not for kings, Lemuel—it is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed.”

The Apostle Paul in Romans 13:1-7 also instructs us about the attitude we are to have toward those in authority in government;

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Of course, if those in authority in government command believers to violate God’s law, then “we must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29)

It is important that we carefully consider these scriptures and understand that there are real differences between the parties in South Africa, and we need to vote wisely.

Remember where your allegiance and hope lies.

Be careful that you do not put your hope and trust in political leaders. At a time when big promises are being made to secure votes, we need to be discerning and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Psalm 146; I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever.

As Christians, we are instructed to put ‘no confidence’ in “princes… in whom there is no salvation.” (vs 3) Rather, “Blessed are those.. whose hope is in the LORD.” (vs 5). If you are hoping in a political party to save you, you are on shaky ground.

God has placed believers in government. The Roman government, which was in authority during the time of Jesus, did not have a great track record in how they treated people, yet Jesus gave high praise to a Roman soldier for his exemplary faith (Mat 8:5-7).

When it comes to politics, the Bible gives us no reason to believe that Jesus would ever side completely with one political viewpoint over another. Rather, when it comes to kings and kingdoms, Jesus sides with himself.

The following encounter between Joshua, an Israelite military commander headed into battle, and the angel of the Lord, is instructive:

Joshua 5:13-14; Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

The question we should be asking ourselves then, is not whether Jesus is on our side, but whether we are on his. This is the appropriate question not only for politics and government, but also every other concern.

In John 18:36-37 Jesus said the following to Pilate; “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Do not confuse your temporary allegiances with the kingdoms of this world with the coming eternal Kingdom of Jesus. They are not the same thing. Hold your temporary earthly allegiances lightly, but hold the eternal truths of the new Kingdom tightly.

Understand that our battle is not against flesh and blood.

It is my role as a pastor to teach people how to live strong in the Lord, and how to practically relate to one another in a Godly way. The Devil is a master at devising schemes to divide believers and to split churches. He will use whatever means he can. Politics is one of his favourite ways.

Ephesians 6:10-12; Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Let me make this clear. You will bump into believers who have different views on politics, and you will bump into demonic spirits that will try to use this to bring division and destruction.

How will you respond? Will you turn brothers and sisters into enemies? Have you let the enemy distract you?

I found this quote by Scott Sauls a challenging consideration;

It may surprise you to know that there was strong political diversity among Jesus’ disciples. Included in the twelve are Simon, a Zealot, and Matthew, a tax collector. This is significant because Zealots worked against the government, while tax collectors worked for the government.

As far as we can tell, Simon remained a Zealot, and Matthew remained a tax collector, even after they started following Jesus. Despite their opposing political viewpoints, Matthew and Simon were friends, and Matthew wanted us to know this.

Matthew’s emphasis on a tax collector and a Zealot living in community together suggests a hierarchy of loyalties, especially for Christians. Our loyalty to Jesus and his Kingdom must always exceed our loyalty to an earthly agenda, whether political or otherwise.

We should feel “at home” with people who share our faith but not our politics even more than we do with people who share our politics but not our faith. If this is not our experience, then we very well may be rendering to Caesar what belongs to God.

People from varying political persuasions can (and should) experience unity under a single, first allegiance to Jesus the King, who on the cross removed and even “killed” the dividing wall of hostility between people…

Perhaps a modern day example will help bring this closer to home. Could it be that a believer in our church with a strong love for Israel can enjoy a meal in the home of a believer in our church with a strong support for the people of Palestine? Can families like this fellowship together as people who love Jesus and value their first allegiance to Him?

As believers, God calls us to grow and mature together as his disciples in the context of community. Dr Joseph Hellerman put it this way;

“Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community.

Persons who remain contented with their brothers and sisters in the local church almost invariably grow in self-understanding. And they mature in their ability to relate in healthy ways to God and to their fellow human beings.”

“This is especially the case for those courageous Christians who stick it out through the often messy process of interpersonal discord and conflict resolution. Long-term interpersonal relationships are the crucible of genuine progress in the Christian life. People who stay grow. People who leave do not grow.”

As God’s people, we are called to be peacemakers. Matthew 5:9 says; “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Being a peacemaker is not a passive involvement in society, but it requires that we make a difference in a way that brings God’s peace and Kingdom to our communities. Sadly, we have many more noisemakers than peacemakers!

Finally, I want to encourage you…

Make sure you go and place your vote!

Every few years we have an election which affects our country’s future. It affects the lives of millions of people who call this nation home.

As a church we will not pick a side. God is not a ANC member, or a DA member, or a EFF member, and no political leader is the 13th Apostle! Every person is fallen, and every party is flawed. Jesus is the only one who will never disappoint us. All parties need the gospel’s correction, even the ACDP! Every leader, every person needs to humble themselves, repent, and believe in the gospel.

I know many of you are passionate about what you believe in and want to be a positive influence. How can we do this wisely and in the Spirit of Christ?

In Daniel 6:1-3 we read a interesting passage about King Darius and Daniel. “It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.”

I challenge you to be excellent for God in your God given field and gifting and God will increase your responsibility in earthly matters. God wants to use you to make a difference.

Some people have come to question whether their vote will even make a difference, so they don’t even bother. I do not think this is the attitude Christ would want us to have. Take your responsibility as a citizen seriously. Pray, make a informed decision, and go and vote according to your conscience before God.