Questioning the underlying reasons

Believers throw up their hands (sometimes physically) and say it’s their duty.

Ministers, preachers, pastors, and priests encourage it.

I deny that it is incumbent on any Christian believer.

Some time ago, a blog acquaintance posted this in her series of post-it-note-type expressions to and from God:

 

sticky-note-to-god-christian-poetry-by-deborah-ann-09-14-16

I always take this particular writer’s expressions as genuine and heartfelt.  I take pretty much every other believer’s similar expressions about elections and politics the same way.  For various reasons and with varying degrees of fear—and these do vary!—many of us are watchful and concerned.  However, I am compelled to wonder aloud. . . .

Do we think God is scrutinizing our “prayer lists” (as though a prayer list were a biblical notion in the first place) to see whether we are praying for the U.S. election?  Does God think more of us if we pray for election results (and less of us if we don’t)?

Most (vocal) Christian leaders seem to think that being involved in elections and praying for them is a requirement for all right-thinking believers.  Why are assumptions such as these so common?  (I intended that to be a targeted, conscientious question.)

Two weeks from this very night, my nation will be well into the process of reporting election poll results.  And many will be worrying, no matter which way the results are heading.  Frankly, I’ll be thinking about it all, too, but I’ve been more worried about Christians than about donkeys and elephants during the last year (and it’s the same in every election cycle).

This election seems to have generated more vitriol than most.  Sincere people pray for one result, and other sincere people (serious believer or not), for another.  And I ask . . .

What is the reason that underlies the praying?

One recent Sunday morning, I heard a spoken prayer—one of probably 18,468 prayers that very day—that God would “raise up godly leaders.”  I don’t question the good heart of the person praying, but I do question the underlying assumption—namely, that God “needs” “godly leaders” (however those things are conceived of) in public office in order to work out His purposes.

What is the reason for the seemingly intense, recurring desire for God to raise up someone who shares someone’s particular slant on Christian-ish beliefs?

I suspect that one prevalent reason to pray for the ascent of “godly leaders,” or for an election’s outcome, is that folks are too locked into this world.  (I do not advocate an unhealthy distance from this world, but I think most of us would be well reminded to think more like a pilgrim traveling peacefully through a foreign land.)  Too, some seem to feel that the U.S. was, or is supposed to be, “Christian.”  That, simply put, has never been and will never be the case.

I call myself—and you—not to a set of denominational doctrines but to a growing consciousness that the Lord’s kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, Jesus said near the end of His physical life, then His servants would be fighting the impending arrest and crucifixion.  He did not want them to struggle against that.

God’s reign (Kingdom) is quite distinct from any nation’s politics, and that has been the case since the end of theocratic Israel nearly two millennia ago.  This realization can be freeing—and compelling.

Subjects of the Kingdom: Christians, Conscience, Government, and the Reign of the King

[Discount available—see the bottom of this page.]

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One thought on “Questioning the underlying reasons

  1. The following is a dialogue that appears in the Comments section on my other blog, where I cross-posted the above essay. My own responses are slightly edited for clarity. I present this here as exactly the kind of dialogue for which I continue to hope on this blog. It is challenging; it is respectful; it is substantive.
    ================================================

    In reply to Brian Casey.
    I always am a bit amused when I read comments like “God doesn’t need us to ….” I suppose there is some truth to that–as God does as He pleases. But then again, it appears that God has chosen some human mechanisms to accomplish His purposes. He made women to have babies so that marriages can become families. Since God created life ex nihilo, He “doesn’t need women to have babies…” but that is the framework and mechanism in which He apparently has chosen to work.

    Does God need believers to accomplish His purpose in the world? Does He need godly leadership and influence in powerful positions of society to accomplish His mission? On the one hand, obviously not (see Acts 5:34-39; Revelation). However, on the other hand, that appears to be a common mechanism through which He has chosen to work–i.e., Joseph, Nehemiah, Daniel, Erastus (Rom 16:23), etc. And since we are to pray for kings and all those who are in authority (1 Tim 2:1f) in direct correlation to believers accomplishing kingdom purposes in their communities, and since “righteousness exalts a nation…” (Prov 14:34)–a blessing that historical record confirms via Israel’s history (good kings vs the bad kings…), then I would tend to be inclined toward trying to place believers in those impactful roles so that their availability to God has influence over a nation.

    Is that God’s only way to accomplish kingdom purposes? Hardly. Is it one way? Certainly. If it is available, why not utilize it–without selling out our hope that this is the only, or even primary, answer to all the ills of a nation? We hope in God, but we use whatever mechanisms God has used in the past to forward His agenda in our present.

    In reply to Steve
    Steve, you’ve presented some thoughtful material here, as always. It is pretty easy for me to read, in part because of how you’ve closed it — with acknowledgment of God’s capability and our (better) hope.

    Your nuancing of the notion of what God “needs” is well taken. He certainly seems to have chosen various mechanisms, as you say. Where I come down on the over-arching matter is that the world’s government matters constitute a sphere not intended for Christians to operate in. For me, the question of involvement stands quite separate from the question of whether, and how/what/who God chooses to do.

    I would quibble with your reference to 1Tim 2: I see no “direct correlation to … accomplishing kingdom purposes.” And this is not beside the point at all, because that single instruction from Paul to Timothy (and, by extension, the church/es with which he was working) has led so many, without basis, to pray for their favorite candidates to win and for military victory. No. (Not that that’s what you think.) The correlation is to living in quietness and dignity and peace and things like that.

    I appreciate the priorities that you’ve expressed here, and I thank you for probing and commenting with as much grace as you show toward me. We can have different levels of concern and interest in the U.S. — and perhaps somewhat different beliefs about God’s level of concern for same — as long as we both continued to believe His reign supersedes all that.
    ==========

    In reply to Brian Casey.

    Brian–indulge me please:

    1–“The world’s government matters constitute a sphere not intended for Christians to operate in.” (a) Are you differentiating between the old covenant days and new covenant days–saying that has a bearing on when a believer can be involved in government affairs? (b) If yes–based on what? (c) If not, then were Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah, etc. sinning in their public service roles? (d) What is your understanding of ‘involvement’ and what do you base this on?

    2–1 Tim 2:1f…”I see no direct correlation…” Why is living in quietness and dignity and peace important? Does not Paul answer that question in vv3f–because in Paul’s mind, in that type of integrity of life and environment of community/nation, God’s (to borrow a phrase) ‘over-arching matter’ of interest is that all men are to be saved… and it appears there is indeed a direct correlation–both thematically and contextually, to the prayers on behalf of government officials–some of which very well may and should be believers, to enable that type of public environment which (according to Paul) provides enhanced opportunity for sharing the Gospel. Ask Paul which he would prefer for his ministry: Lystra (Acts 14) or Corinth (Acts 18:10-11)?

    My quibble (again, borrowing a term) is with the absoluteness of your position. Is government our panacea for all the world’s ills? No. Is it a legitimate role in which one can serve God (often in ways unavailable for the private citizen uninvolved in the public sector) with far reaching impact for God’s purposes? See Joseph’s story…

    In reply to Steve

    Steve, I appreciate the challenge. I may write more, but for now, fairly quickly, on point 1:

    Yes, I am definitively differentiating between old- and new-covenant times. I have written extensively about this, and you have seen some of it, but there is more detail in my book Subjects of the Kingdom, for which I will offer you a better discount than most! Essentially, my view is based on (a) the nature of two kingdoms, and (b) on the specific introduction of “kingdom” by Jesus, as evidenced, for example, in GMatthew. For the sake of any other readers of this comment (I believe you yourself know this already): an “absolute” position such as mine is not all that common but is also nonetheless well supported historically and biblically by solid thinkers and practitioners.
    I’ll have to mull over what you’re saying about 1Tim 2. You’re the first person I’ve seen have a serious, apparently text-based objection!

    In reply to Steve.
    Steve, a few more thoughts occur now. First: I take “Joseph’s story” (and Esther’s, and Saul’s, and Elijah’s, and …) as inherently, qualitatively different from any story of a post-Jesus believer interacting with government. The primary difference for me is the difference in type of government/people group: ancient Israel’s “theocracy” is by its very nature different from any government today. I suppose Joseph is pre-theocracy, so someone could easily argue that point, but the crux of the matter, I think, is the spiritual nature of the reign of God that has always been, in a sense, but which took a decidedly, explicitly non-physical turn when John and Jesus and came preaching it.
    In addition, various texts (including OT ones about the first Kings) speak volumes to my ears, not only about the issues inherent in government involvement for believers, but perhaps more directly, they speak of radically different call of Jesus to the Kingdom … to the particular introduction of the reign of God in the 1st century.

    I don’t expect that I will have convinced you, and that’s OK. I do always know that you are wanting God’s purposes to be worked.

    As for 1Timothy 2, I’m thinking now that the extent to which we see the ramifications differently is directly tied to the preconceptions each of us brings. I read only a hazy connection — formed by v. 3, “This is good any acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” — between the instruction to pray for leaders on the one hand and God’s desire for the salvation of all on the other. Put another way, I see no particular reason to think that the specified reason to pray for leaders (2:2) has anything directly to do with God’s desire for salvation of all, although one could suppose that if believers are living in godliness and tranquility, then they might naturally be more enabled to make disciples

    ==========

    In reply to Brian Casey

    Brian–as it appears we have the opportunity to agreeably disagree , I will close out my comments as follows:
    Joseph, Nehemiah, Daniel–although Jews, they were not serving in a theocratic governmental setting in their governmental roles. My question was–were they sinning?

    You say that there is an inherent difference between OT and NT “kingdom”–and I would agree that there are differences. But does that move to an internal kingdom (Lk 17:20-21) negate the outworking of the faith of people of the kingdom, i.e., the church–in government roles? Did Erastus have to quit his job to continue his faith partnership with Paul? Did Cornelius have to repent after his conversion, quit his government job, to continue in God’s kingdom? A couple of commentaries suggest that Zenas the Lawyer — although a possible title associated with the Jewish law, could very well have been a description of a civil law officer for a city. If so, would he have to change jobs? My issue is that although there is a difference in the dynamic and structure of the two kingdoms, a civil government is not inherently evil. Where do you get this from–Goodpasture or the text?

    As far as 1 Tim 2 goes, well…I can only say that either Paul just decides to put two dis-similar, unrelated topics together for no apparent reason in that paragraph (vv1-7), or perhaps there is a very direct correlation between praying for government officials and the spread of the gospel. I’ll let you and your exegetical conscience address that.

    This kind of reflection could morph into even a more interesting–if not speculative–discussion if we were to think about the ‘government’ of the heavenlies: Principalities, powers, rulers, authorities in the spiritual realms–of both the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys.’ Since we are a part of the Lord’s kingdom, are we a part of that ‘government?’

    Thanks for stimulating my noodle…always good to exchange points of view with a studied brother.
    ==================

    In reply to Steve.

    Steve, thanks once again for the dialogue. To respond: no, I would not say that Joseph, Nehemiah, and Daniel were “sinning.” A black-and-white behavioral designation is not so much the point for me (with them in OC times, or with Erastus or with the believer who sits across from me in a study group in the present NC times) as the call to think about, and operate as part of, God’s reign/Kingdom. It is one of my emphases that the more we do so in this age, the better off we will be.

    Recently I have gained from glances into the time of the Judges and Kings, and I am instructed by the progression of those things and others.

    These days, I don’t think a believer “sins” simply by virtue of voting. If by Goodpasture you mean the whole Nashville Bible School tradition, then I would say that I was ushered into some of my thinking by some of those guys, but that at this point it has very little if anything to do with them. I do think the particular types of power and operation in political office (in our system and others like it, at least) is very likely to lead one to compromise and sin, but today’s state senator and county council officers are a far cry from Daniel.

    Your last paragraph makes a discussion sound fun, but it seems to go more to my inclinations than yours. As for 1Tim, well, yeah! Paul does quite a bit of that — stringing topics together. He was certainly all about the spread of the gospel, and it seems as easy for Paul to tie virtually anything to “living for evangelistic purpose” (within a verse or two) as it is for a composer to use a “do” or a “sol” in a tonal piece of music.

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