As the country reacts to the events in Charlottesville and we struggle with the realization that our country is more divided than ever, it is becoming clear that the government is not the answer to our problems. As a Christian I have personally gone through various stages in my attitude towards government. When I was in high school and throughout the first few years of college, I felt called towards government. I had a strong belief that public policy was a realm where a massive change for good could be made, and I had a singular focus on it. While it is true that policy affects a large amount of lives, I have come to see that it is not the greatest good and is limited in what it can address.
Throughout this election cycle and the Trump presidency I have noticed something in the church and in many believers that I believe needs to be addressed. Please do not take my words as insult, I myself have noticed these things in myself, so I ask that you read and listen. What I would like to address is the idea that Scripture can be used as an authority on how our country should legislate and how it is often viewed as the authority on the “correct” political structure. I believe this is particularly salient to America given the history of Christianity here.
The Bible = The Constitution?
While the evidence for God’s hand in the establishment of America is strong, I do not believe this justifies viewing Scripture as the hammer that forged the Constitution. In order to demonstrate this, let us take two opposing economic and government structures and see how Scripture relates to them: Capitalism/Democracy and Communism.
First up on the side of capitalism is Galatians 6:3-5: “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.” At first glance, it is clear that this verse advocates for a government and economic structure that is merit based. Each citizen must bear their own load and not expect handouts from the government, right? Indeed, Paul goes on to state that “for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” More evidence can be found in the many proverbs that condemn laziness “Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer” (19:15). Should our society not be based around such truth? Before we answer it is important to examine Scripture through the lens of an opposing view.
Advocates of communism have no shortage of support in Scripture. Perhaps the most popular is found in Acts 2:44-45: “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” Clearly this Scripture supports the selling of possessions and redistribution of wealth. Jesus himself appears to support the idea that possessions ought to be forfeit in the Gospels: “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:33). Or more famously “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt 6:24). Should Christians not scorn wealth and share with their neighbors? What better way to do so than set up an authoritative mechanism to distribute wealth?
As it is now you may be confused. Does Scripture contradict itself? How can it support both Capitalism and Communism? I assert that this is the wrong question to ask. Let us reexamine these verses in context. Starting with Galatians 6:3-5, when Paul stated that each must bear his own load, he is addressing the necessity of using caution when correcting another believer who has gone astray so that you don’t get tempted yourself. He is not talking about the economy. In verse 2 he actually states “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” In fact, the Greek for “burdens” in verse 2 and “load” in verse 5 are different words. “Burdens” refers to a heavy boulder, something that is difficult to carry without help. “Load” refers to something like a backpack that is manageable and not meant for others. Thus we see that Paul’s statement has nothing to do with government when it is in context. Instead, it is about helping people without trying to control their lives. Helping them bear the heaviest burdens of loss and lust but letting them carry the personal burdens of seeking God in daily life and taking responsibility for their actions.
Now let us shift to the verses that seem to support the idea of redistributing wealth. It is important to point out that the verses in Acts refer to the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the early church. Nowhere does it state that the believers reformed the society of Rome and advocated for a socialist structure. The focus is on spreading the gospel. In verse 47 it states “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The focus is on men being saved and not the change wrought in the Roman political system. The same idea applies to the statements of Jesus. In Luke, the focus is not on earthly political structures but the idea that we should be concerned with heavenly treasure instead of worldly possessions. Sell your possessions and give to charity so you can “Make yourselves money belts which do not wear out” Says Jesus, not ‘Make a political system which redistributes your money’. The same applies to the passage in Matthew. After stating that no man can serve two masters, Jesus goes on to say “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life… Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt 6:25). Using verses like these to justify a communist or socialist political system misses the point. Jesus’s focus was not on this life and the structures of that govern it but on the next.
A Political Savior?
The idea that the focus of Scripture is on the spiritual and not the physical leads me to my final point. When Jesus came to earth he was not concerned with politics in the slightest. The Pharisees were expecting a political savior to overthrow Rome and restore Jerusalem to the days of the Old Testament. Instead, when Jesus was asked how he felt about taxes and the oppression of the Roman government on the Jewish population, He simply stated: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Jesus was interested in adding sincere followers to heaven, not setting up a political heaven on earth. It is also worth observing that after the crucifixion the believers did not take the gospel to the Roman government. As Acts records, they took it to the people, spreading the message of eternal salvation to all who believe.
While it is true that Christianity is a major part of America’s history, and it very well may feel like the culture is slipping further from Scripture, it is important to point out that true followers of Christ have always been in the minority (Matt 7:14). It is also impossible to ignore the atrocities that were permitted in this ‘Christian’ nation for nearly a century. Yes, ‘Christians’ allowed and even supported slavery, using passages from the Bible out of their historical context for justification. In fact, if one examines the history of Christianity it actually thrives in persecution. Experts estimate that the total number of Christians in China has exceeded those in the US, in spite of extreme efforts by Mao Zedong during the cultural revolution to eliminate it. The early church itself was heavily persecuted by Roman authorities, and it did much more than survive.
While government is certainly important, and citizenship is encouraged by Scripture, there is nothing in the Bible that states America is the chosen nation of God. By all means, pray for revival in this country, that more people can experience God’s grace and forgiveness, but understand that change according to Scripture starts with people and not legislation. Not the president, not the white house, not the senate. It starts with you and me being humble and using what resources we have to show sacrificial love to those around us. Loving with actions instead of Facebook posts about laws and policies (James 1:19). Do you want to make a difference? Then volunteer for a non-profit, give blood. Do you want to support life and oppose abortion? Adopt a child.
I am speaking as much to myself as I am to you. Jesus never said that following him would be as easy as casting a vote or holding up a sign. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). The first step to doing so is accepting the fact that the world is really quite dark, and that people who shine light are few even in America. Be humble. Love God with your mind as well as your heart and strength (Mark 12:30), and understand that the salvation Jesus offers is not political.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have Eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).