LEGISLATING RIGHTEOUSNESS? REALLY? IT WORKS?

Sometimes it seems that the main criteria by which Christians judge politicians is their stance on abortion and same-sex marriage. As if these were the major sins that bring down a nation. However if we look at the main reasons listed in Isaiah for the judgement of Sodom these sins get no mention. Instead “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.Ezekiel 16:49. Sins, I might suggest, that are often more associated with the right wing of politics than the left (indeed the reaction by the Right to Obamacare might well be an example).

Perhaps it is these more acceptable sins of a nation which assault heaven more and by the time the sins of abortion and same-sex marriage raise their ugly heads it’s a bit late. The horse has bolted long ago. And the task of turning it around is too great for even the most Spirit-led politician. Which raises real questions for me about the relevance of Christian engagement in politics.

I should say to start with that I don’t have a problem with Christians running for a political office as a way of serving the community. What concerns me is the idea that we can somehow bring about a more tolerant, caring and God-honouring society through legislation. I would have thought that the history of Israel under the Law is proof enough that righteousness cannot be legislated. Israel had the perfect law but the inherent self-centredness of their heart meant that they either flouted those good laws or turned their observance of them into a cause for self-righteousness. And Paul, in the New Testament, makes it clear that, no matter how good the law, that will be the result. Which is surely why the only reason that Paul gives for praying for government is that we will have a peaceful environment for the proclamation of the GOSPEL.

Because even the ‘law of Christ’ – love God and love others – can only be acceptably lived out of a changed heart. Without that change of heart we simply get religious observance and humanistic welfare (epitomised by the ‘right’ and the ‘left’?). So, while I’m sure that there is a place for us to raise our voices against some of the more glaring sins of our society, our major calling has to be pointing people to Jesus. We need to come to grips with the reality that for some time now we have lived in a post-Christian society. And without a major heaven-sent revival no amount of political intervention is going to change that.

I would suggest that our calling is NOT so much to pray Christian politicians into our political systems but to pray the prayer of Jesus which was that HIS Kingdom would come. Mitt Romney and Tony Abbott may want to restore ‘traditional’ values to our countries but the best of American or Australian values fall way way short of the values of the Kingdom. So if we choose those channels as the way to bring in righteousness I suggest that we will be very disappointed.

But not to worry. All is not lost for we have a glorious and powerful Gospel, as did the early church. With it – and without any involvement in the far worse political system of their day –  they turned the hearts of men towards each other, broke down ancient barriers and turned the heathen world of their time up-side-down. And surely we are destined to see the same – if we stick to the main agenda, refuse the path of politics and look only to Jesus.

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8 thoughts on “LEGISLATING RIGHTEOUSNESS? REALLY? IT WORKS?

  1. Soooo legislation to make murder and rape illegal hasn’t stopped murder or rape so that proves your point… The logical conclusion is that we should remove all such pesky legislation.

    1. I take your point Jonathan. It’s the reason God has put secular government in place. To control sinful nature until the better Government arrives. And the way they do it is by enacting legislation – the way Israel was controlled under the Old Covenant. It doesn’t work – rape and murder persist – but it’s the best that human government has. If we won’t share our resources a law comes in to distribute our wealth, if we won’t treat women with respect a law will demand that we do, if the boats won’t stop a law will fix that. And every political party’s platform is based on the enactment of laws that will give us a sharing, tolerant, progressive society. Christian politicians are engaged in the same activity. And that is not wrong or futile. As Philippe (above) has said, we should be engaged in politics as light and salt, effecting legislation for good where we can.

      My concern is when Christians align themselves so closely with a political party that they see nothing good in the actions or policies of the opposing party and often adopt the same name-calling and negativity which their party has adopted. When we do so we throw I Corinthians 13 out the window and cease to be salt and light. In our current situation, for instance, there is a lot that the Rudd and Gillard governments have got right. And not every Labor politicians voted for gay marriage (though quite a few Libs would have, given the freedom). Therefore to adopt The Libs policy of damning everything that Labor says and does is just the adoption of a political agenda and mindset and has little to do with the Gospel.

      Truth is that the political system has been ordained by God as a short-term measure, to help maintain good order and relative peace until Jesus comes and brings in a Government that does not need a continual stream of gap-plugging legislation – because the perfect law will be written on everyone’s heart. Getting excited about anything less than that is not worth it.

  2. Love you blog Phil; I can hear a true prophetic voice in it. As a Christian, I cannot back a political leader/party/philosphy, as this would be making an idol of them (see Tim Keller’s excellent blog on this, which I posted on FB recently http://kellerquotes.com/the-signs-of-political-idolatry/).

    However, I will fight for or against legislation (or proposed changes to it) and generally a discourse that promotes/demotes godly values. I think that being salt and light means being a good citizen; and this, in turn, means standing for righteousness and against wickedness, be it injustice or immorality. I think we, as the church, need to do this and do it publicly, as a prophetic voice to the nation. We need to do it in humility, in a non-judgemental way, pointing to the cross as the ultimate answer, but we need to do it. We also need to back it up with actions that demonstrate our commitment to godly values and stop us being labelled hypocrites.

    One of the best examples of this was William Booth and the Salvation Army, but many are the saints that have spoken out and stood for righteousness, sometimes at their cost, and changed the course of their society and history. I don’t think this means “taking the path of politics” and there are dangers to this, but I believe that the opposite danger is that we retreat in our ivory towers and do not engage at “street level” with what is going on in our society. That’s why, for example, I have joined in the fight in the UK, with other many Christians, against a change in the law that wants to treat gay relationships as marriage.

    I think to engage, in the right way, with people on the issues of the day also gives us an opportunity to preach the gospel, because it is relevant to every single subject under the sun. The ministry of apologetics, sometimes marginalised in the church, is a crucial one if we are to be genuinely counter-cultural, and give confidence to the saints that the gospel can stand up to anything the world throws at it; not to mention shaping people’s thinking on key issues. I am constantly struck by how easily people are swayed by flimsy, pathetic arguments. Often I think it’s because they are presented with no alternative, so take the wonky thinking on board unquestioningly. We can do more here.

    I love the ministry of people like Tim Keller, Ravi Zacharias, Michael Ramsden and, of course, C S Lewis, for their clear exposition of the gospel and their willingness to engage the “spirit of the day” with trenchant, yet humble, biblical perpectives and truths. I think we need to let these evangelists and prophets equip us as a church to stand up and speak out for God in this world.

  3. A great read. My main concern with the current administration in Australia is it’s overregulation. It has brought in over 10,000 regulations, and repealed less than 100. Politicians creating legislation to ‘make a better society’ results in a reduction of philanthropy, and generous deeds for those of us in society who have to comply with the myriad of legislation.

    My hope is that governments will encourage individuals who are blessed more than others with wealth, health, and sound minds, to share their blessings. This will not occur when governments constantly move the goal posts, and taxing individuals with those changes by causing fear that if legislation is not followed that there will be consequences. To open hearts to the needy, there must be freedom to give abundantly.

    The desire for His kingdom to come, and His will to be done, comes from the hearts of His people.

    1. Thanks Paula. The problem with human government is it relies on the enactment of laws to get people to act rightly towards each other. Those laws regulate most of us but not all, and so there has to be further legislation to plug the loopholes. Alternatively the opposition removes the laws and trusts mankind’s ‘basic goodwill’. Which works if your heart’s been changed, as you said. I guess that’s why Christians tend toward the Right side of politics. Christians don’t need the legislation (or shouldn’t). But the high percentage of millionaires in Australia who’s tax returns showed no entry under ‘donations’ suggests that not everyone has a changed heart. So until Jesus comes I guess the poor at least will vote Labor.

      1. Reminds me of the quote: The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. To have a great and supportive welfare system, you need a healthy economy. Those of us poor people who are smart vote for a government that is a good economic manager and not one that is going to create massive debt so that billions and billions of dollars are being spent on interest. Eventually you hit a credit ceiling – then what? The best form of welfare is to get somebody a job.

      2. Sorry Jonathan. I really can’t get into debate on Australian politics. To me it’s a bit like the coke vs pepsi debate. The egocentricity of Question Time on both sides of the House is hard enough. It reminds of the need for a better Government – and I’m happy to talk about the Better Government.

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