Election Year Angst
|It seems that every time an election year is upon us, many conservative evangelical Christians (and other political conservatives as well) begin their alarmist hyper-ventilating about how important this election is. Sometimes we even hear shrill assertions such as “This is the most important election in the history of our country!!!” For example, many politically-conservative Christians seem to think that the sky will fall if President Obama gets re-elected for a second term, leading to panicked pronouncements of doom and gloom if we don’t “get out the vote.” (Of course, their counterparts on the religious and secular left can sound just as panicked and alarmist at the prospect of Mr. Obama getting voted out of office and Governor Romney getting voted in.) Now, let the reader understand: I would not want to discount the importance of Christians being involved and active in the political realm or in the political process. At the very least, Scripture commands believers to be good citizens, praying for their civil leaders and obediently paying their taxes (see, for example, Matt. 22:15-22; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-4; and 1 Pet. 2:13-17). I would also like to suggest that Christians of voting age would do well to vote their Christian conscience (though I would not want to go so far as some might by asserting that Christians who choose not to vote are actually sinning; after all, I am not convinced that the Scriptures or scriptural principles require Christians to vote, and where the Scriptures are silent we have no right to bind the Christian conscience). And I would certainly encourage Christians who feel convicted to be more activist in their citizenship (for example, by calling, writing or meeting with their representatives to voice their concerns about societal issues; being actively involved in a political party or volunteering to work for an election campaign, etc.) to follow their conscience as it is informed by Holy Scripture, good reason and sound political principles. However, I believe the election year angst that seems to be so common among evangelicals (and many others as well) is due to ascribing far more significance to civil government than God’s Word does. I would assert that it is a fundamentally statist mindset which leads to such election year angst.
The Scriptures indicate that the three basic institutions of society are the family, the church and the state/civil government. Of those three institutions the civil government is the least important. The family and the church are much more foundational (and hence much more important in the long run) than the state. The civil government was ordained by God in this fallen, sin-cursed world for the purpose of restraining externally evil (i.e., criminal) behavior, thereby promoting external/civil righteousness. (Civil government was ordained after man’s fall into sin; whereas the family and, in a certain sense, the church, both pre-dated mankind’s fall.) The state’s role is one of ethical restraint and social preservation, not one of social or moral transformation (contrary to all forms of dreamy utopianism – both liberal and conservative – and of socially micro-managing totalitarianism). The civil government’s role is merely to maintain external peace and decency and good order in society (see Romans 13 and First Peter 2:13-17). Granted, that is a pretty important and significant function, but not nearly as important as that of the family and of the church. Think about it: Families beget, raise and nurture children, either for good or for ill. Therefore they have a profound role to play in shaping the character and the future of their children, and thus of generations yet to come; whereas governments and nations come and go, rise and fall. And while the state and the family play significant roles with respect to life in this present age and in temporal, earthly things, ultimately the church has a far more important role to play in the life of mankind, for the church deals with things of ultimate and lasting significance — the things of eternity!
Sure, politics has its place. Political trends and realities have important temporal signfiicance. But they are not of ultimate significance. The things of eternity are — the very things that the church of Jesus Christ is concerned with and which her Savior has called her to proclaim. Imagine if Christians in our country were as deeply concerned with nurturing healthy, Christ-centered marriages and raising up their covenant children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, as they were with happenings in the political realm. Imagine if believers in our nation were as deeply concerned with such things as the church’s faithfulness to the gospel, sound doctrine, confessional fidelity, reverent, God-honoring worship, proper biblical church order, catechesis, discipleship, and the reformation of the church, as they are with who is going to be our next President. I would remind believers who would be deeply anxious if (on the one hand) Mr. Obama got elected to another term in office, or anxious if (on the other hand) Mr. Romney got elected to office, that God is still sovereign and Jesus is still Lord no matter who happens to be occupying the oval office! Christ will still build His elect church no matter what political circumstances His people in this nation may have to live under. I point this out, not to give us an excuse to be lazy in our responsibilities as citizens or unconcerned about happenings in the political realm, but rather as the spiritual reality which ought to liberate us from the stress of election year angst.
Yes, let us be good and conscientious citizens. But at the same time let us keep our primary focus on those things that matter most, those realities which God has called His church to proclaim — the things of eternity! In the midst of election year angst, let us keep an eternal perspective. This election season let us strive to keep the gospel of Jesus Christ front and center, and let us avoid politicizing (and thus secularizing) our faith.