Establishing the Boundaries of a Biblical Worldview

The Corruption of Modern Politics

There are people today who tell us that we should vote the lesser of two evils if that’s our only choice. But the lesser of two evils is no more than being willing to give up something as a “bribe” to get something else.  In politics the Christian politician votes against God’s law in one place to get some acceptance of God’s law in another place.  For the Christian voter, it usually means voting for a political candidate who, although he is not a Christian, appears to have a “better” approach to God’s Law (which he does not recognize) than his opponents.

Whichever way you look at it, the Law of God becomes a list of commodities to be traded rather than a standard to be maintained.

In 1979 I published my first article with the title, For Whom Do We Vote?  It was an attempt to address the issue of political voting from a  biblical perspective. In that article I connected Jethro’s advice to his son-in-law, Moses, recorded in Exodus 18, with St. Paul’s comments on leadership to his young friend Timothy in the New Testament.

Ex. 18:19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God,
20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do.
21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.

A small, but powerful, list of what identifies a suitable leader:

  • Must know the statutes and laws of God
  • Men who fear God
  • Trustworthy
  • Hate bribes
  • Hierarchical authority over tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands, effectively providing a system of appeals through the hierarchy.

It is necessary to go back some time in English history to find a reference to the ‘Hundreds’ court, but it is there, and its origin a rather obvious attempt to apply Exodus 18 in England.

When it comes to our own time, the influence of Neoplatonism in Christian thinking[1] has caused a two-kingdom view to develop. There is the church on the one hand, and the political realm on the other. The church is to obey God’s Law in Scripture, while the political realm only need follow “natural” law. However, you really do need Scripture to determine what “natural” law is and what the correct understanding of it should be.

But in an earlier article, Whatever Happened to the Ekkelsia?, I made the point that the origin of the word ekklesia, which is generally mistranslated church, we get the idea that the “ekklesia were the “called out ones.” This would be a group in a city or town who were “called out” to deal with issues of the township.

“In other words, the ekklesia was the governing body of the township. In antiquity, they met sometimes 30-40 times in a year, and usually discussed issues that involved a change to the law, appointments to official positions, contracts, peace, war, and finance. (You can read more on this in Colin Brown’s, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols.)

And so, when St. Paul, in his letter to Timothy outlines the qualifications of leadership in the ekklesia, it is not surprising that he merely elaborates on the qualities of the leaders as given in Exodus.

1 Tim 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,
5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

The role of the deacons, and the character traits of a godly deacon, were not much less than already outlined:

1 Tim 3:8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued,not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.
9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.
11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.
12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.

So Paul thus provides detail to the idea of “able men” found in the Exodus passage.

All this boils down to is that the elder at the city gate must meet the list of qualifications as outlined in Scripture.

Furthermore, however, the Bible is not “democratic” in its electoral system. Jethro did not advise Moses to have the people vote and elect judges in the land; it was up to Moses to appoint such men. Effectively, a presbyterian system of government.

The important note, however, is on the role of the appointed leaders. At no time is it suggested that the judges, elders or deacons are a legislative body. Their role was administrative only. In other words, they are to apply God’s law in the decisions and judgments they make. This is why Paul can refer to rulers as “ministers” or “deacons” of God (Rom. 13:1ff)

Everything in modern political theory goes against the biblical idea of the role of judges and elders. The modern politician in all forms – Christian or otherwise – accepts the notion that the “solutions” to the human condition are legislative programs that apply money and activity, and a particular philosophy of the use of the money and identification of the activities, to particular situations. Rev. Bret McAtee, in his election sermon of November 4, makes this point very ably when he says today politics has become our theology.[2] A hundred years ago, G.K. Chesterton recognized this problem, when he wrote that the Missionary “is the last representative left of the idea of changing a community from the inside; of changing it by changing the minds of its citizens.”[3] In other words, politics can somehow achieve what preaching of the Gospel that changes lives apparently cannot bring about. But ultimately this is a belief that politics rescues man and ameliorates the human condition, rather than God.

So confused are people today they often have trouble separating fact from fiction, truth from falsehoods. And so many well-meaning Christians encourage the idea that in an election the idea is to vote for the “lesser” of two evils. In the American election about to take place, this means voting for Mitt Romney rather than Barack Obama. But here’s the difficulty: the Bible does not give us a list of graded evils. Any disobedience to the law of God is classified as evil — wrongdoing.

When the Bible says, “thou shalt not steal,” it does not leave a doorway open that says you can vote for a thief just because his thieving is not as obnoxious or as demanding as some other thief. The Scriptures simply say stealing is wrong. Period.

Just as it also says “thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” The way to have other gods is to accept that someone other than the God of the Bible can lay down rules for living. And this brings us into conflict not just with individual political candidates, but the whole notion of the modern nation-state. The modern nation-state sees no limit to its authority or power. The only limit it knows is the pragmatic one — the ballot box, which in history is eventually abandoned for the legislative power of the gun. But the “secular” concept of modern democracy, grounded in the idea of the social contract, currently operates on the idea that Vox Populi, Vox Dei — the voice of the people is the voice of God.

The First Commandment is quite clear. To hold someone or something else to be our lawmaker is to effectively establish another god in our midst. This, we are forbidden to do. And the problem today is not so much the candidates who run for office, but the system itself. For the system says whoever gets elected has the power to legislate (make law) without any reference to God’s law. In fact, to acknowledge God’s law in its legislative program is a violation of the “secular” concept of politics that governs our thinking today. No religion at all may be “established” in the governments of the nations — except the religion of secular humanism. Yet contemporary politics is truly religion applied to economics.

When we come to vote in the modern democracy such as USA or Australia, it really is not a choice between two competing political philosophies. Because of the “faith” many have in politics, they see the election of the “right” person — or the lesser of two evil persons — as a step, however insignificant, towards the “solution” to the what is perceived as evil in the human condition. Thus, the tendency is to look for political solutions to moral issues, rather than theological and philosophical solutions.

Wherever people live today, they are confronted with the nation-state, which not only implies but demands that the political order is seen as God — the ultimate law-making authority. When political candidates contest elections, they do so because they have convinced themselves that if *they* are elected, things will be better. In other words, they have accepted that there can be political solutions to theological/moral issues. And this is what drives the political agenda: political solutions to the human conditions that people think need “fixing.”

The social contract theory behind modern democracy incorrectly lays moral authority in the “voice of the people” rather than the Word of God. Thus to vote for any candidate today who does not hold unequivocally to “no other gods,” and who has not figured out “thou shalt not steal”, becomes part of the problem, not part of the solution. To vote for the “lesser” of two evils is merely to vote for the speed at which the government misapplies its authority, but in both cases it is evil.

Implied in the concept of the lesser of two evils[4] is the idea that the Word of God is a commodity to be traded. This for that. This is what every politician must contend with when he enters the public arena. And Christians elected to public office do not escape this. Somewhere, they will trade “this” for “that” under the notion that the process itself is the lesser of two evils, and at least puts something on the board. They’ll trade one part of God’s law for another part on the express notion that what they get exceeds the “moral value” of that which they give away. Whichever way you look at it, the Law of God becomes a list of commodities to be traded rather than a standard to be maintained. And the Christian politician accepts he or she has the ability to determine what should be given away and what should be kept.

Behind this notion, however, is the mistaken belief that man’s ethical consciousness is capable of determining that which is lesser and that which is greater. Unfortunately, this is the very issue that the Messiah confronted the Pharisees over. They tithed mint, dill and cumin, but neglected the weightier matters of the law. By their traditional applications of the Torah, they effectively denied Torah under the assumption that they could have Torah at this point so long as Torah was denied at some other point. And this is modern politics writ large on the landscape of egalitarian democracy. I explore this issue in more detail in the article, Donkey Exegesis: What You Can Learn From the Messiah’s Confrontation with the Pharisees.

If a person is willing to give up some aspect of God’s law in order to receive acceptance of another part of it, he has demoted himself from the list of qualified leaders.  He has, in effect, taken a “bribe,” an “I’ll give you this on the condition you give me that.”  That is what bribery is, giving up something in exchange for something else.  We tend to think of bribery in purely monetary terms, and this thinking is not far wrong.  The politician who gives up one principle of God’s law in order to get another does it for a reason: To keep himself in a job.  To convince himself he should keep collecting his politician’s paycheck because his “trading” with aspects of God’s law is what all “good” Christian politicians do.  That’s why he does it too.  That’s why you should vote for him and pay his salary, because he’s a pragmatist who knows how to get things done.

Yet it is precisely this kind of trading of God’s law in the political arena that has gotten us in the mess we are in.  Once you start trading, you don’t know where to stop.  And so, inexorably in the governments of the so-called Christian West, God’s law has been traded for socialist economic policies, the establishment of public schools with atheism and evolution as the only foundation to knowledge, taxation that goes well beyond the boundaries that Magna Carta[5] attempted to establish, and a view that human life at any age is at the disposal of the legislators.

In western culture, under the influence of God’s Law, bribery is correctly identified with corruption.  As the Scripture declares

And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right” (Ex. 23:8).

There is no excuse, therefore, for those who offer themselves for leadership.  They are to “hate a bribe” (Ex. 18:21), not spend time negotiating one.  To be corrupt is to remove yourself from the qualifications of a biblical leader.  To vote for anyone who does not meet the standard is itself an act in defiance of God’s standards.  It means, ultimately to link ourselves with sin and participate, whoever much we might protest, in the sin of the legislators who give up God’s law in the name of expediency, pragmatism, or the lesser of two evils.

An absolute God makes absolute law. Thus the idea of the lesser of two evils is to question the nature of God. If God is not absolute, and his law is not absolute, then we have a non-absolute God, a non-absolute law, and a list of rules that can be traded for political expediency.

A vote for evil under any circumstances — especially under the guise that there is some obligation to choose the lesser of two evils — remains a vote against God.

Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. See R.J. Rushdoony, The Flight From Humanity (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, [1973] 2008.) Read it for free here.↵back
  2. Follow this link. Start at the 50-minute mark.↵back
  3. See my article Chesterton on The Last Chance↵back
  4. Or “the lesser of two weevils” as Russel Crowe played it humorously in the movie, Master and Commander.↵back
  5. Follow this link to read How Magna Carta Was Used to Destroy Property Rights↵back
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