by Rev. Michael Flinn (Pukekohe)
As man's technological achievement continues to make the processing of large quantities of data quicker and more efficient by the year, western governments are correspondingly yielding more and more to the increased pressure of the pollsters. The key to a leader's political success is no longer what he stands for or what he believes in but whether he has a winsome television personality and whether he can "make it in the polls". Various political parties formulate policy not according to their perceptions of right and wrong but according to the effect those policies will have on the voting public. Governments in power during an election year will typically leave all unpopular legislation on the table until after the election when a spate of harsh measures are then introduced. Meanwhile, the pre-election promises are conveniently forgotten. The voter, it is reasoned, is fickle, and people have such short memories. After another three years, the public will have readjusted to the changes and be ready for the dangling of another proverbial carrot.
Small wonder that people are not particularly excited about politics these days. It's a dirty word. Politics and hypocrisy are almost synonyms. Although the novelty of MMP may stimulate a larger turnout than usual, many, out of apathy and discouragement, may not vote at all this coming election.
Yet the Bible makes clear that civil government is not only a necessary institution but also a highly important and honourable one. With the advent of the fall of man into sin, disputes between individuals and corporate bodies, criminal activities, injustice - are all features of the world in which we live. We may wish the situation were otherwise but we are all forced to live with the reality of evil very much present in the world.
There is no person who understands this better than God who had
informed our first parents in advance concerning the evil that
would result if they disobeyed His righteous and holy commands.
Accordingly, God has established an institution in society with
the responsibility to maintain peace, to reward the good and to
punish the evil. The apostle Paul, in Romans 13:1-4, teaches that
there is no governing authority except from God, and those which
exist are established by God. It follows that we must be in subjection
to the government for:
it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what
is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing;
for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon
the one who practises evil (vs.4).
Governing Authorities are to serve God
The word that Paul uses for "minister" is the word diakonos which is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as "deacon". We should not infer from this that those involved in politics have some special role to play in the Church but rather that they are servants of God. The word "deacon" means "minister" or "servant". The fact that Paul could predicate this statement of the autocratic Roman emperor and his representatives while writing to Christians in Rome itself makes his point even more startling. Whether governing authorities choose to acknowledge it or not, they are to serve God in their capacity as civil leaders and to maintain and uphold His righteous laws within society, protecting its righteous citizens and punishing those who do evil. In so doing they reflect the kingship of Christ in the world even as the Church reflects his priestly and prophetic work. Civil authorities therefore carry an awesome responsibility, in terms of which they will be judged by the One who ordained their purpose and conferred upon them their authority in the first place.
Consequently, far from eliciting our disinterest or disdain, the office of the civil magistrate commands our respect, our obedience, and our prayers (1Pet.2:13-17; 1Tim.2:1-2).
What are the qualifications for service in such a capacity? The
Bible has something to say about this too. After the children
of Israel came out of Egypt, Moses soon found that he did not
have sufficient hours in the day to deal with all the disputes
and problems that arose among the people. But wise old Jethro,
Moses' father-in-law, gave the man of God some advice:
Now listen to me: I shall give you counsel, and God be with
you. You be the people's representative before God, and you bring
the disputes to God, then teach them the way in which they are
to walk, and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select
out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those
who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them,
as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens (Ex.18:19-21).
Notice the specific qualifications for leadership which are offered by Jethro. Rulers of the people must be men who fear not the people themselves but God. Since their position and their purpose has been established by the Lord, they must not operate with the principle that vox populi vox dei ( the voice of the people is the voice of God) and accordingly base their decisions solely upon what will appeal to the majority of voters. They must rather be men who have more respect for God and his commands than they do for various pressure and interest groups within society. The form of government envisaged here, although representative of the people themselves, is no democratic tyranny in which the state of the nation is determined by the will of 51% of the populace as if the majority were always right. We know from experience that the majority is sometimes most definitely wrong. That's why horrendous crimes like abortion are still tolerated in our society.
Furthermore, the men who govern must be men of truth and integrity. One ought to be able to trust one's political leaders. And they must hate all forms of corruption and dishonest gain, for it is well known that those who exercise authority over others are subject to far greater temptations in this area. Moreover, they must have a proven ability to lead and exercise authority. They must have succeeded well in other such capacities in their lives.
Should we as Christians exercise a vote in the forthcoming election? My response is an emphatic Yes. But it must be an intelligent, informed vote. Christians who vote blindly deserve the poor leadership that they get. Do not merely vote "for the party" or even for a preferred leader. Now is the time to find out what the candidates in our electorate stand for, whether or not they measure up to God's qualifications for leadership in this capacity, and to vote accordingly. Find out whether they have any respect for God and His commandments or whether they are avowed atheists or agnostics. Ask the question: What do you personally think about this or that issue? Major on issues that pertain to justice, crime, and moral issues in general - not just those that focus on our economic well-being. Look for openness, honesty, and integrity. Avoid voting for candidates who simply mouth the party platitudes and/or promise a wonderful future for New Zealand and a personal handout for you if they and their party get elected. And throughout, weigh up the responses against the touchstone of the infallible Word of God. Let's remember that election year is the one year in which the politicians fear the voter and let's make our vote count.
Honour will not be restored to politics until our nation grasps
once again the significance of civil government and until it elects
representatives of moral and spiritual character who are determined
to fear not the people but God in their office. May the Lord give
us such leaders in the years ahead.
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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / firstname.lastname@example.org / revised August 96 / Copyright 1996