A Sermon before Our 2004 National Elections
1 Timothy 2:1-4 and selected passages
Since the founding of our nation, ministers have always instructed their congregations, not in who to vote for, but what the Bible says about the issues that may be at the forefront and what the Bible says about government itself. They used to be called Election Day Sermons. Today it seems some No Trespassing signs have been erected. We do not want to speak about political affairs and entangle ourselves in such matters. But where God has spoken, we not only have the freedom to go, but the obligation to do so. So in this Election Day Sermon, if you will, I want to begin by reading from
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
A little boy wanted $100.00 very badly. He prayed for two weeks but nothing happened. Then he decided to write a letter to God requesting $100.00. When the postal authorities received the letter to GOD, U.S.A., they decided to send it to the President. The President was so impressed, touched, and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the boy $50.00. The President thought this would appear to be a lot of money to the little boy. The little boy was delighted with the $50.00 and immediately wrote a thank you note to God that read,
Dear God, Thank you very much for sending me the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington, D.C., and, as usual, those devil’s took half of it.
That is a cute story about how politics and religion didn’t mix very well for that boy. There are other stories that are not as cute. For instance, in Arkansas a court case is pending regarding a pastor who took it upon himself to flash up the faces of candidates on an overheard screen and point out the ones who were right and the ones who were wrong. That, in my opinion, is not my job as a minister, but yours as a voter. It also alienates people from church rather than teaching them what God’s Word says and then encouraging them to apply the principles of God’s Word to their lives.
There are other stories that are not so cute – for example, the Mainstream Coalition in Overland Park, Kansas. This group gave me fits in 1993 when I preached a message from Ezekiel concerning being a watchman on the wall. We were planting a church there, and I was actually preaching to about thirty-eight people in my living room. My message, which sought to bring the Bible to bear on issues we were (and still are) dealing with, came to the attention of the Mainstream Coalition. From there, the text of my sermon, along with my photograph, was printed on the front page of the paper. I did not have the money to pay for that kind of publicity, and our church actually grew greatly as a result of it. That was not the intention of the Mainstream Coalition. They are now sending monitors to conservative churches in that vast suburban community of Kansas City to make sure there is no hate language in the churches. To them, hate language is calling what they consider to be alternative lifestyles, sin. That is not so cute.
The Canadian House of Commons, after voting down a measure that would reaffirm marriage as “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others,” voted for a measure adding sexual orientation to the country’s hate propaganda law.
Christianity Today noted, “While Christians of course oppose the promotion of hatred against anyone, including homosexuals, and abhor any calls for violence against gays, many Canadian Christians are worried that yesterday’s bill, C-250, limits their freedom to oppose homosexual behavior.”
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada said, “Bill C-250 has the potential to silence reasonable debate on issues like marriage and school curricula and restrict the legitimate expression of moral and religious views on sexual practices.”
May we never find ourselves in that position, but I would not be surprised if we did. And this leads me in this message to say, Politics and religion may not mix, but biblical faith and human government must! If we are silent where God has spoken and lose that right, we will regret the day we did not speak.
Let’s look across the sacred texts and identity four biblical ideas that define the relationship between the believer and human government.
The first word that defines the relationship between biblical faith and human government is dominion.
By dominion, I mean that which we find in
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (
This dominion is to be exercised over creatures. Man is preeminent in the created order, and he is to exercise authority and governance and dominion over the earth.
However, we find that dominion is not just over creatures; for instance, look at
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (
We exercise dominion in our thought life as well. Also look at
On this Reformation Day, when Protestant churches around the world remember that German professor-preacher who nailed his protests on the church door, October 31, 1517, we confess one of the hallmarks of Martin Luther and the Reformation: namely, that the people of God are called upon by the Lord to live out their faith in every area of life. This was an amazing feature of the Reformation which led to the common man finding dignity in his work as a laborer and seeing that in the eyes of God, his life and work had no less meaning before God than that of a king. It also meant that liberty and freedom began a march. What started as a revival, ended up as a reformation of politics. Why? Because when Christians are salt and light in their world, they make a difference.
What does it mean when the Bible teaches that we take dominion in all of life? Dominion means that the people of God are called upon by God to live out their faith in every area of life.
It does not mean that Christians force all others to believe as we do. That didn’t work in the Inquisition, it didn’t work in the Crusades, and it will not work now. Believing in Jesus Christ is, first and foremost, a response of the will. The will of man becomes affected by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel of God’s love and grace. Man is transformed on the inside, and then it works its way out. However, it is to be noted that where Christianity has gone, all religions have flourished.
It does not mean that we are to apply Old Testament theocratic laws that were fulfilled when the theocracy of Israel ceased to be. A theocracy is the direct rule of God. God ruled directly until the reign of the kings, and then he ruled through kings. The civil laws, the ceremonial laws were all fulfilled through either the cessation of the theocracy or through our Lord Jesus Himself becoming the High Priest we need. So to take dominion in our society is not to return to Old Covenant laws.
It does mean that whatever we do, we must do in the name of Jesus Christ. This means that if God has gifted us as artists, we must create in the name of Jesus and for His glory. Mel Gibson, a devout Roman Catholic, may be an interesting figure to appeal to on Reformation Sunday, but his convictions about telling the story of Christ’s passion in his movie is an example of this. If you are a businessman, you should bring glory to God in your business. I think of Mr. Truett Cathy and the wonderful testimony he has brought to Chik-Fil-A. If I may say so, I think of our own people and how you bring faith to bear in your vocation. All of this leads me to say that as citizens and as statesmen, we need to bring our faith to bear in this world. We are ordered by our Lord and Savior to let our light shine. We do that in our vocations, we do that in our families, and we do that in our relationship with the authorities of this world, like human government.
One man who demonstrated and taught this in a great way was the Dutch pastor Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920). Kuyper was a theologian, scholar, journalist, educator, and from 1901 to 1905, prime minister of the Netherlands. He taught that the Bible forges a distinctive worldview where Christ is Lord of all. His most famous saying summed up his understanding of the Lordship of Christ: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
This is a mandate we all have. Is that characteristic of your life today, or is there an area of your life that you have compartmentalized away from God? Jesus Christ wants to be God in every area of your life – your family, your vocation, every area.
The second word that defines the relationship between biblical faith and human government is submission.
Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him (
In Mark, the religious leaders wanted to trip up Jesus in this area. But Jesus said to render unto Caesar what is his and to God the things that are His. As the Son of God, Jesus was obedient. He only did what the Father wanted Him to do. Jesus was obedient to His parents and grew in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and with men. Jesus was submissive even to human governments.
Paul was teaching the same thing in
Human government is an institution of God.
“Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (
Even though the Roman Empire was an oppressive agent, Paul sought to work within the system to get the gospel out.
The Word of God clearly teaches that God has established human authorities and that, as believers, we are to submit to those authorities. The family is our first governor, and we are to obey our parents. The church is an authority that requires obedience to the gospel. And according to Paul, human government is an authority. Nowhere in the Bible do we get the idea of anarchy. To be a Christian is to be aslave to Christ, a slave to others for the sake of Christ.
Is there ever a time when it is not right to obey human government? Yes. When human government orders believers to do what is contrary to God, we must obey God. This is what happened to the early church. Look in
The question of Christian civil disobedience is not a new question. It came to the Christians in Rome. When told to curse Christ and worship Caesar, Christians said no. Recently I personally interviewed a Roman Catholic priest in Tirana, Albania, whom the Communists had ordered to curse Christ. I saw the marks on his back from the daily whippings he received for five years because he disobeyed the government to obey Christ. If Christian parents are ordered by the government NOT to pray with their children, what must those Christians do? Francis Schaeffer, one of the greatest pastor-theologians of last century, preaching from the pulpit of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in 1982, said this: “When the government negates the law of God, it abrogates its authority. God has given certain offices to restrain chaos in this fallen world, but it does not mean that these offices are autonomous, and when a government commands that which is contrary to the Law of God, it abrogates its authority.”1
May that never happen in our nation. But one way we can prevent it from happening is by voting and encouraging political involvement that promotes biblical values in human government. That is, in fact, the greatest way to honor government – being involved in it.
The third word that defines the relationship between biblical faith and human government is prayer.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (
This is a critical passage. In
It may surprise you that government is part of the way the gospel goes forth in our lives. However, it shouldn’t because, once more, human government is a divinely ordained authority. Here we see that we pray for human government so that we can live out the gospel. You may be saying, But Christianity has survived under duress. Christianity can go forth under Communism, Totalitarianism, and even under hostile Atheism. But I want to ask you a question: Would you rather raise your children and teach them the Bible here at First Presbyterian Church and in your home and in this community? Or with the shades drawn, fearful that someone will see you?
Beloved, our nation and our leaders need prayer. James Merritt, a Southern Baptist pastor from Atlanta, recently asked his congregation to consider what it would be like to president:
“You are Commander in Chief of the greatest military force in the world. You preside over the world’s strongest economic entity whose budget exceeds $1.5 trillion. You are the head of a government that spends $3.25 million every minute, $195 million every hour, $4.6 billion every day non-stop. You are the leader of the entire free world. You are on the front page of every major newspaper practically every day. Your every sentence can be publicized and will be analyzed for years to come. You are one of only forty-two people in history to be the President of the United States.
“Sounds great doesn’t it? But also imagine that you preside over a country where: There are one million teenage pregnancies annually. Sixty-eight percent of black children and twenty-two percent of white children are born out of wedlock. Half of all high school seniors report they have used illicit drugs. A nation where a murder takes place every twenty-three minutes, a rape every six minutes, a robbery every fifty-eight seconds, a burglary every eight seconds. One hundred thousand of America’s children are in prison, four out of ten live in broken homes, seven to fourteen million of these children will become alcoholics, eighty-five out of every one thousand have received or will receive psychiatric help. The leading cause of death of young people is now suicide. Juvenile delinquency is increasing seven times faster than the population. Pornography is now a $6 billion business. Herpes and AIDS have now infected 20.5 million people.”
There is one thing I know: I would have to have prayer. We need to pray for the president and other elected leaders of our nation. We are commanded to do so; and whoever wins these elections, they will be prayed for from this pulpit. One reason for doing so is to honor the office that God has given. Another reason is found in
The fourth word that defines the relationship between biblical faith and human government is preaching.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (
From this passage, we understand that we are to be salt and light in the world. Christ is calling His people – you and me – to share His truth with others. We are told to go and teach whatsoever He has commanded.
But are we to do that with rulers in the political world?
A few years ago at a General Assembly of our church, there was a motion to warn the political leaders of our nation about the sanctity of life and the need to do away with abortion. Someone rose to speak and said, “We are to preach the gospel and not to have anything to do with politics.” To which James Kennedy rose and quoted this passage:
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course (
Not only did our Lord call Herod a fox and declare that His kingdom had come into the world,2 John the Baptist was beheaded because he preached against Herod’s immorality. Moreover, Paul preached to a Roman politician in
After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you” (
In 1933, the church in Germany was faced with an increasingly hostile state that was turning rhetoric against Jews, in particular, into government policies. What happened?
Martin Niemöller, a navy officer turned pastor, spent the rest of his life talking about what happened. And his words must never be forgotten: “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did little. Then when they came for me, there was no one left to stand up for me.”3
Niemöller ended up in the concentration camp at Dachau because no one was left to stand up for him.
We must stand for Christ in our generation and preach Christ to our government. This pulpit is not Republican, Democrat, or otherwise. But as the church, we are called by God to speak to the authority of the government and to our people to oppose the immorality and immoral policies which defy the law of God.
In Pastor Neimoller’s day, it was the loss of human freedom through the persecution of human beings in his nation. In our day, we must stand for truth in an age of relativism. The church must preach that there is truth and Jesus is truth and to follow Him will lead to freedom for all. Marriage is sacred to a man and a woman. That is not just Christian; that is what it means to be human according to God. It is His institution, not ours. Abortion is wrong because God says so; therefore, it’s wrong in public policy. If truth is truth, it cannot be compartmentalized. When there is a loss of life and the family gives consent, organ donation and tissue donation for stem cell research does not violate biblical ethics and is a noble act; but killing unborn children and then harvesting stem cells would be an inhumane practice that must be opposed by all Bible-believing people. If that sounds political, so be it. I don’t respect No Trespassing signs where God has spoken. We must preach the truth. We must defend the lives of the most vulnerable in our society, and that includes the unborn, the aged, the handicapped, and the poor. Anything that devalues any one life threatens all human life.
More than anything, the church should remain free from politics so that we can say these things. The kingdom of God has come into this world through Jesus Christ; and we have come – like John the Baptist, like Paul, and like our Lord – announcing to the public and to the government leaders of our nation that we must repent of our sins, repent of a man-centered way of thinking, and turn to the God we know is there and who has now spoken through His Son Jesus Christ, who has come that we might have life and have it more abundantly.
Politics and religion may not mix, but biblical faith and government must because God says it must. We have seen from God’s Word that it is summed up in four words:
Dominion – Bring the gospel to bear in every area of life, including government.
Submission – Honor God by honoring His ordained authorities, which includes government.
Prayer – Orderly government provides a platform for the great commission.
Preaching – We must preach Christ and His gospel to government leaders and call them to accountability.
When Governor Reagan was running for office, he came to Chattanooga. One of our elders rode with then Governor Reagan from the airport to where he was to speak. During that time, my friend asked Governor Reagan about the Lord Jesus. His aides didn’t like it – the world never likes it that we bring up Jesus – but Reagan answered. He said that he not only believed in Jesus Christ, but he had no idea how anyone could live without Him. On another occasion, in the White House, our elder again asked President Reagan the same question and got the same answer. Now, you can disagree with that president’s policies or philosophy of governing, but we who know the Lord, loved his answer. That president’s administration, his government, is ended. His life is over. Human government – and all human authorities – will one day end, but there is a government that will never end. It is the government called the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (
Your greatest decision will not be made this Tuesday. It may be today. The greatest vote you will ever cast will not be for a president, but for the Savior of your soul. Have you cast your vote for Him by repenting and receiving Him personally as Lord and Savior? Early voting begins…right now.
Michael Milton is Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, TN.
1. See http://www.peopleforlife.org/francis.html.
2. So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison (Luke 3:18-20).