The Apostle Peter wrote, “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to…keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable…Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:11-15).
Some take Peter’s words as an admonition against Christians who engage the political sphere. They argue that Christians are to accept the rule of government, submit themselves to the rule of government, and keep their religious opinions out of government and politics.
Indeed Peter calls for submission, acknowledging God’s sovereign reign extends to government. But Peter does not instruct the Christ follower, who sojourns in the kingdoms of this world until the consummation of the Eternal Kingdom, to remain unengaged in political affairs. He does, however, command us to conduct ourselves honorably so that we might bring glory, not to ourselves or our government, but to our God.
As for engaging the political sphere, in Old Testament times, among many other examples, Moses confronted Pharaoh, Samuel confronted David, and Jothan confronted the leaders of Shechem. In the New Testament, men like John the Baptist teach us to declare godly principles with boldness. John called out Herod for, among other things, his disregard of God’s standard for marriage. According to Mark 6, “John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (v 18).
These men of God did not hesitate to enter the political arena to confront sin, cry out for justice and righteousness, and to call kings, citizens and nations to repentance and faith. More often than not, their presence was unwanted, their declarations ignored, and their courage came at great personal cost. Yet, they refused to remain silent, maintaining with Peter, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
The pious phrase, “Just preach the gospel and stay out of politics,” sounds appealing but such an approach ignores the gospel’s power and reach. The gospel extends far beyond the church sanctuary or the private witnessing encounter. The gospel extends to the living room, bedroom, classroom, voting booth, capital building, courthouse and the White House.
God’s righteous standards and the good news that, because of Christ crucified, grace abounds for those who fall short of God’s standards, will only be known in our world when we have the courage to declare these sacred truths with the courage of the saints and martyrs who have gone before us.