As followers of Christ, we must openly support those political candidates whose values and policies reflect our own. However, history shows that when the Church forges cozy ties and alliances with civil authorities or a political party, she loses her purity and the ability to be a bold, prophetic witness to the nation and those in power.
When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, he expressed confidence that the Church would not oppose him because pastors of the State Church received their salaries and other benefits from the state. Except for a few brave voices like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Albert Niemoller, Hitler was right. The silence of a politicized German Church allowed him to carry out his evil schemes (Hyatt, To Comply or Not Comply, 32-36).
Jesus Showed Us the Way
There were many political and religious parties in first century Israel, but Jesus forged no ties with any of them. How could he? His heavenly mission was not of this world. The kingdom He preached transcended all their petty and partisan politics.
When arrested and interrogated by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, Jesus made it clear that he had no interest in Caesar’s crown or Herod’s throne. Those kingdoms were of a lower, inferior realm. His kingdom transcended them all. When Pilate asked him about being called “the king of the Jews,” Jesus replied,
My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here (John 18:36).
We too must guard against becoming identified with a political party and its machinery. We must always be free to speak truth to those in positions of political power. We must also remember that Jesus did not entrust us with a political plan or strategy for overthrowing Caesar or winning the next election. His kingdom begins in the heart and works its way outward from there.
He, therefore, entrusted us with a Message that has the inherent power to change hearts and thereby change families, communities, and nations. I am not ashamed of the gospel, Paul said, for it is the power of God unto salvation . . . (Romans 1:16).
We must, therefore, be faithful to the Message the Lord has entrusted to us. We must guard against modifying the Message to accommodate cultural and faddish trends, for a compromised message becomes a message without power. Paul warned of this in I Corinthians 1:17 where he said,
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (NIV).
The Distraction of Worldly Power
The vision of political and worldly power for the Church is a distraction, not a calling. The Church has experienced political power in history, and it was a disaster. With the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 312 and the merger of the Church with the Empire, the Church enjoyed imperial wealth and power.
Constantine took money from the Roman treasury and built magnificent cathedrals for the Christians. He also began paying the salaries of the bishops and pastors and putting the power of the state at their disposal to enforce doctrines and practices. However, many of her bishops proved to be as cruel and oppressive as any Muslim ayatollah or pagan emperor. We are still experiencing the negative ramifications of that period of worldly power in the Church (Hyatt, To Comply or Not Comply, 55).
In such an arrangement the Church becomes beholden to the political authority and her prophetic voice is muffled or completely silenced. Dependent on the state for her existence, the Church becomes feckless and spiritually dead. A. J. Gordon, Baptist pastor and founder of Gordon College in Boston, wrote,
It is not altogether strange that when the Church forgot her citizenship in heaven and began to establish herself in luxury and splendor on earth, she should cease to exhibit the supernatural gifts of heaven (Hyatt, 2000 Yearsof Charismatic Christianity, 53).
America’s Founders Wanted a Free Church With No Political Ties
This is why the Puritans in early America would not allow ministers of the Gospel to hold political office. It was not to keep their influence out of politics; it was to keep the ministry pure and the ministers free to speak prophetically to the civil authorities.
This is the reason that America’s founders, whose thinking was influenced by Puritan thought, instituted the First Amendment that reads, “Congress shall make no law concerning the establishment of religion or hindering the free exercise thereof.” This was not to keep the Church out of politics, but to keep politics out of the Church.
They wanted a Church in America with a clear prophetic voice that would speak truth to power. This was made clear by James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution, who wrote,
We are teaching the world a great truth, that governments do better without kings and nobles than with them. The merit is doubled by the other lesson: that Religion flourishes in greater purity without, than with the aid of government (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 148).
Indeed, if we are to be a prophetic voice to the nation, we cannot forge cozy ties and make ourselves beholden to any political party. Like the Old Testament prophets, and Jesus Himself, we must be free to speak the mind and heart of God to all those in positions of influence and power.
Whose Side Are We On?
Jesus did not align with any political or religious party because He had not come to take sides, but to take over. It, therefore, has never been a question of whose side He is on, but a question of who is on His side? That is why the basic confession of early Christianity was not “Jesus is Savior” or “Jesus is Healer,” but “Jesus is Lord!”
President Abraham Lincoln understood this. During the Civil War, when a northern minister expressed his hope that, “the Lord is on our side,” Lincoln replied,
I am not at all concerned about that . . . but it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side (Hyatt, The Great Prayer Awakening of 1857-58, 39).
It is the same today. Our commission is not to assure any politician or political party that God is on their side, but to be a prophetic voice, declaring the Lordship of Jesus, and continually challenging those of every political persuasion with the question, “Are you on the Lord’s side?”
Dr. Eddie Hyatt is a Bible teacher, revivalist, and church historian. This article was derived from his latest book, To Comply or Not Comply, available from Amazon and his website at www.eddiehyatt.com.