The Pastor, the church and politics – Ntata

The general mission of any christian church is spiritual in nature. It centers upon the proclamation of the gospel, which is clearly an element in making disciples. It involves observing certain ordinances and teaching believers. It also includes proclamation of all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27), including the exposure of those works that God considers sinful. Thus, in general, the christian church is not called to a political mission. It is called to a moral mission. Sometimes unsaved people prefer wickedness to morality. Sometimes they write laws to protect their immoral conduct.

Sometimes politicians are willing to curry favor by passing immoral laws. Under such circumstances, the church’s ministry of moral reproof will certainly run afoul of powerful political enemies. When that happens, the church must not be intimidated into abandoning its proclamation of God’s displeasure with the works of darkness.

Churches and pastors must continue to treat the ministry of exposure and reproof as part of their mission. Preaching morality is not preaching politics, even when morality is being undermined within the political sphere. The church as a church may and should rebuke governors and oppose laws that are at odds with true Biblical morality.

 Z. Allan Ntata,  Barrister.
Z. Allan Ntata, Barrister.

Christian Political Responsibility

The prophet Daniel provides an example of a man of God who served within the government of unbelieving Gentile kings. Many lessons can be drawn from the nature of his service, but one in particular stands out—God judges kings, even unbelieving kings of pagan nations. When Nebuchadnezzar became proud and tried to claim credit for his own accomplishments, God broke his pride by reducing him to insanity (Dan. 4). When Belshazzar in his arrogance defiled the vessels from the temple, God immediately pronounced and executed judgment (Dan. 5). God holds kings accountable for their actions whether they are believers or not.

The obligations of Christian citizens will vary depending upon the nature of the societies within which they find themselves. Believers living under repressive and authoritarian governments may have little opportunity to influence the political process. Modern democracies, however, are constructed around the notions of limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, and the popular election of officials. Modern governments are bound by constitutions and are ultimately answerable to their citizens.

This complex of political arrangements means that average citizens exert a direct and substantial influence over national policy. In these nations, votes matter because ordinary citizens, working together, have the power to reshape the entire national direction. Such citizens are not merely the ruled, but also the ultimate rulers.

If God held kings accountable in Biblical times, then He certainly must hold presidents, prime ministers, parliaments, congresses, and courts accountable today. More than that, he must hold individual citizens responsible to execute their political responsibilities rightly, for in the long run, officials can govern only as the people allow. Even the unsaved are accountable, but Christians, who ought to understand God’s design for nations, have a special responsibility. Even if they are a minority, they must use their influence within the public square to move their government as far as possible toward just policies—and that means policies that are just as God understands justice.

How should Christians pastors and their flock influence their government? The first and most obvious way is through the proclamation of the gospel. The gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). The gospel transforms those who receive it, altering their identity and progressively remaking them in the image of Christ (2 Cor. 5:16–21; Col. 3:8–17). This transformation affects not only the inner life of believers, but also their social relationships (Col. 3:18–25). When the gospel begins to transform enough people within a single society, the society itself will necessarily be altered. A pastor does not need to become a politician and become a president in order to influence his society. Such an act is abandonement of his devine calling and a betrayal of his own sense of understanding of the ways of our Lord.

Preaching the gospel is the single most important way in which Pastors can influence the civil order, but it is not the only way. An important part of the Christian mission involves exposing and even reproving the works of darkness (Eph. 5:3–17). This ministry is not merely the business of the church, but also of individual Christians. Whether through word or deed, Christians have a responsibility to remind the unsaved world that certain ways of living are futile and destructive. One does not need to become a politician and take up the presidential mantle to accomplish this mission.

Some ministry of exposure and reproof must precede effective efforts at legislation. In Modern societies, laws ultimately depend for their enforcement upon the consensus of the governed. A law that is held up to contempt will eventually be overturned, and those who try to maintain or enforce it will be viewed as oppressors. If they intend to influence society, individual Christians must capture hearts and imaginations as well as legislatures and courts. Moral reality has been worked into the very nature of the created order. Certain patterns of conduct will inevitably produce disastrous consequences for the society that tolerates or encourages them. As citizens, Pastors and Christian individuals have a duty to point out these consequences and the behaviors that lead to them, showing people the connections and persuading them of the necessity of civil order in these areas.

Modern democracies have chosen a form of order in which government is genuinely “of the people.” Consequently, to some extent, every citizen is a ruler. Those who rule cannot escape their duty by simply choosing not to pay attention to their obligations. In other words, in those nations that are governed by participation of the populace, Christians have a duty to use their voice and influence. Because they bear some responsibility for public affairs, they have a duty to seek public justice.

What should Pastors and Christians do? Not exchange their bibles for the Constitution, and the pulpit for the political podium. The Pastor should not forsake his sunday congregation for the political rally. In stead, the truly responsible pastor should refuse to support any unjust policy, even (and perhaps especially) when the policy seems financially advantageous.

Second, they should consistently exercise their vote—which is not necessarily the same as voting. If no suitable candidate is available, Christians may sometimes choose not to vote, but refusing to vote should be a choice and not mere negligence. Third, many should become involved in the political process by attending their local precinct caucuses. Fourth, some might join the campaign staff of a particularly desirable candidate. Choosing to run for public office sould be the last resort for any Pastor who takes his calling seriously, and such a pastor must recognise and accept that in so doing he is acknowledging that he has failed to truly influence society using a spiritual approach, and is now hoping that he can succeed with a secular approach where he has failed with an approach for which he was trained and divinely chosen.

This is the basis upon which questions are raised about whether pastors should become active in politics. Such questions may lead to different answers depending on the circumstances. On the one hand, pastors are also citizens and bear the responsibilities of citizens. Although they are not Scripturally forbidden from voting, campaigning, or even holding office, a couple of warnings should be issued about pastors and politics.

The first and most obvious is that pastors bear a greater responsibility than temporal government. They lead the church of God. This leadership places the care of souls upon their shoulders. They must not allow temporal concerns to blur their focus or diminish their effectiveness as shepherds of God’s flock.

Second, when pastors speak to political questions, they must do so as citizens and not as pastors. They must recognise that they are giving up the spiritual realm for a secular one, and not carry questions of mere politics into their pulpits or ministries. Nor may they attempt to leverage their pastoral prestige into political influence. The fact that a man is a pastor gives him no right whatever to be heard on merely political issues.

If pastors try to convert their pastoral authority into political prestige, they may gain a brief increase in civic influence, but they will also dilute the authority of their office, for a pastor as a pastor possesses only the authority to explain and apply the Word of God. The moment he begins to exploit his pastoral influence for the purpose of political persuasion, he demeans the Scriptures and damages the true authority of his office.

Of course, pastors have a perfect right and even a duty to address moral questions, even when those questions also happen to be political. Moral instruction is certainly under a pastor’s purview, and it is a necessity if the members of his flock are to understand their civic responsibilities. However, the presidency is not the most conducive or even effective office for the Preacher to fulfil his calling. The moral preparation of God’s people, done from the pulpit where he has divine authority, may be a pastor’s single greatest contribution to their civil effectiveness.

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