When Realms Overlap
Electing Leaders from a Biblical Perspective
If you are anything at all like me – and you had better pray you are not – you feel a bit like – No matter who I pull the lever for this fall, it’s not all positive.
Given the unusual and highly charged nature of the upcoming Presidential election, I have been asked if I might explore what the Bible might have to say about how Christians are to participate in the process.
To do any justice to such a topic, the first thing we need to do is ask how – if at all – human government fits at all into God’s dealings with humanity and nations.
We can state easily, given any number of passages that God does indeed institute human authority structures – one of which is government in society. This is chiefly because God Himself is a God of order, and even within the triune Godhead itself, there is order among the equal persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
On the human side the story begins back in Genesis.
The very first arrangement we have is:
- Individual responsibility to obey God. So Adam is given both positive and negative responsibilities in the Garden, answerable to God. Eat of the trees, but not a certain tree. Subdue the earth.
- The home. Reinforced in the 5th Commandment – Children, obey your parents.
- In instituting a government for Israel – Deut. 17, which we will come back to.
- Responsibility to foreign governments – Which is clearly demonstrated in the accounts in the book of Daniel.
- Then we have those under Roman rule in Romans 13 – which extends to Christians and all human governments.
So we read: Romans 13:1–7 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 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.
- Lastly, there is even a legitimate ecclesiastical government.
1 Thessalonians 5:12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,
1 Corinthians 16:15–16 Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.
Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Now there is something we need to consider very carefully before we move on.
Given the statements God makes to Israel 1 Sam. 8:7 we learn: God’s PREFERRED means of governance over men is that each live in personal responsibility before Him.
1 Samuel 8:4–22 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” 10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” 19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”
It is when that willingness for each individual to be responsible before God fails, that God raises up more human government.
So when human government grows large and oppressive, the corrective is not to be found as much in a change of how human government works, but rather, a return to individual responsibility before God.
This is true both in the Church and in Society.
So we note Proverbs 28:2a “When a land transgresses, it has many rulers,”
Bloated government is a sure sign the populace has decided to walk in predominately sinful ways – people not taking personal responsibility to love one another as themselves. Thus everything must be more and more regulated – because people cannot be trusted to act with either common sense or common decency.
Part of God’s argument with Israel, AFTER they have come into the Promised Land is that they have not followed through in setting up a sound government and lawlessness was rampant: Judges 17:6 “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
When they finally DO ask for a King, God makes it clear that even this would not be necessary IF, they would individually walk with God in fidelity.
Since God provides for leadership, He also directs our participation in selecting good leadership.
We see it played out in the early Church as well as the OT:
Example 1: Acts 7 – Those who would handle the distribution of Church resources to the widows.
Example 2: Elders. Titus 1:5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—
Acts 14:21–23 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
“The simple verb χειροτονέω, to appoint, occurs Acts 14:23; 2 Cor. 8:19; and originally means to stretch out the hand for the purpose of giving a vote. Hence to elect by show of hands, and generally to appoint…In later ecclesiastical usage it signified ordain, as bishops or deacons.”
That brings us back to how God makes similar provisions for Civil government as well: Deuteronomy 17:14–20
14 “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. 18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.”
Now America is NOT Israel. We are not a theocracy under the leadership of God’s representatives like the Prophets and Priests to keep the Kings in check.
Nevertheless, there are some clearly identifiable principles laid out for Israel to use in choosing their Kings. Principles as God’s people we do well to consider and adopt.
These principles spell out 2 things:
- The responsibility for those who CAN participate in the process – TO participate in the process. This is one way God has allowed us for instance to have a voice, even in the secular society of the United States.
- Those we choose, are to be chosen on the basis of certain criteria.
14-17 / Israel’s kings must be:
- One of the masses. Not an outsider. A connection with the plight and issues of the culture first hand, and sympathetic to its values. Not elites.
- Not given to war. Horses were acquired in order to fight. Israel’s Kings were not to try and exceed the earthly boundaries God had given. Imperialism and quickness to war are negatives. This does not decry a strong defense, but it DOES call for a very judicious use of force – especially when the nation’s security is not directly challenged.
And this is NOT to be done with the World’s methods in catering to its tastes and customs.
- The acquisition of many wives was a symbol to the nations of status and power and of political alliances.
God’s person is not to be as concerned with international status, as with doing what is best for the flourishing of those people he or she governs.
How we look TO the rest of the world is irrelevant, what we DO in it, is paramount.
Seeking the welfare of the populace as whole and not other interests.
Not aimed at legacy considerations.
Not given to seeking status or making ill-advised alliances.
We are not to seek the world’s symbols of status and power.
Of course, marital fidelity is included here.
One not governed by sexual urges and able to remain faithful to commitments.
- Not given to increasing personal wealth. The goal is to serve, not to get.
- Ideally, a man intimately acquainted with God’s Word. At the very least, subject to a moral code outside of themselves.
Judges 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Neither the people NOR their leadership are to do only what is right in their own eyes.
Given the above, it is hard to imagine either of the 2 presumptive candidates we have before us presently, as fitting very well. I neither can, nor will decide that for you.
But we do need to ask: Can a vote for someone other than the 2 presumptive candidates be legitimate, or, as is often argued, will voting for a 3rd party simply take votes away from one of the two, guaranteeing the win of the other?
And this is where we hit head on, overlap between the Spiritual and the Natural spheres – and what direction is given to us.
If participation had no spiritual dimension to it, just voting for the lesser of 2 evils, or who appears to be the most practical candidate might take the day.
But because we are responsible before God, we must vote for those who come closest to the Biblical mandates for good governance, whether they are electable or not – and trust God in it.
In other words, we must act by faith, and not merely by fear or pragmatics.
If the whole world votes against our picks, we will at last have voted as God would have us, and in faith, relying on His sovereign hand in it.
The story isn’t over with this election, or the next or the one after that or all the ones after that until Christ returns.
I need to be able to stand before God and say – I cast my vote for those closest to your criteria, even when the whole world said I looked like a fool.
It is to adopt the motto of Athanasius when he stood for orthodox doctrine almost alone against the Emperor & many high and powerful churchmen in the 3rd century – “Athanasius Contra Mundum”
For a Christian – Choosing leadership – voting, is not a secular activity carried out in a secular context, it is a SPIRITUAL activity carried out in a secular context.
So our responsibility is:
- To participate.
- To research enough to know who comes closest to the Biblical criteria.
- To stand on that – Vote in faith – irrespective of whether or not it seems like our voice will be heard by the masses. For it will be heard by God.
Whether or not it seems to impact our immediate situation – we are called to do what is most honoring to God, ABOVE what common wisdom may indicate.
Let me give you just one last thing to think about before offering a summary.
Voting for a 3rd party, may well be a longer term strategy for breaking down the mere 2 party system, and moving beyond it. Not this election cycle, nor the next, maybe not for any number of election cycles, but eventually if enough people finally refuse to have just the 2 dominant parties foist their picks on them. Think of the number of times Wilberforce kept pushing legislation to outlaw slavery in Great Britain. It was decades of bucking the establishment that finally won the day. And if we are always voting only in terms of the what seems to be the present issues and outcomes, we will never change the larger picture for the better. We’ll just put band-aides on the cancers and hope for the best.
So, am I telling you WHO to vote for?
I am telling you WHAT the Word of God says to vote for.
Vote for the one you believe best exemplifies the qualities God’s Word lays out, to continue in that course unflinchingly irrespective of the culture – and trust Him to sort it all out.
It may seem impractical or counter-intuitive.
It may seem as though it has no immediate impact.
It may be out of step.
But if it is in obedience to God, it WILL have its ramifications.
When we stand before the throne of God, the question will not be, did our candidate win? The question will be, did we discharge our obedience to God, irrespective of any pressure to do otherwise?
You beloved, will each have to take up your responsibility in examining the candidates – and out of that field, voting for the one you believe best fulfills God’s stated key qualities.
I do not pretend to know who that will be in your mind.
But I do ask you to do your homework, and to prayerfully consider it all before His throne – and not be governed by fear, perceived opportunity, pragmatism or hope. Hope in Him.
Not your candidate.
Do what is right before His eyes, rather than what seems expedient in the World – and trust Him.
Part of the incredible heritage that Christ has won for us, translating us into His Kingdom out of the kingdom of darkness, is freedom to participate in this world system, but to do so free from the fear, anxiety, the deep angst and fretfulness that binds so many.
For even if our voices are barely heard in the marketplace, or the voting booth, they are heard in the prayer closet. And by the One who rules the nations – and Who gave His Son that we might have eternal life.
 Vincent, Marvin Richardson. 1887. Word studies in the New Testament. . Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.