“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
James Madison (1751 - 1836), The Federalist Papers, 1788
1 Peter 2:13-14 (NKJV) 13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.
Several years ago while I was still part of the secular work force I often found myself expecting others to respond in an approved manner. This worked well when the expectations were objective and performance related. Problems would arise when ever I put subjective expectation on people's responses concerning their likes and dislikes. Otherwise when they liked what I like it was good; when they didn't it was not so good for them. But to my chagrin I quickly realized my boss also had expectations. I remember one incident where I picked up my boss at the airport. The traffic was horrific and when the guy in front didn't lunge forward when the light turned green I blasted him with the horn. My boss turned to me and said, "I expected you to drive with more patience." Puzzled I ask him why. He said he had noticed the Christian "fish" on the back of the car and therefore he expected me to drive with a Christian attitude.
The obvious lesson was loud and clear, if you are going to tell the world you are a Christian then you had better present yourself like one. But there was another lesson to be learned. Our expectations of others are set by our rules and standards and when people don't perform to our standards we become disappointed. God is no exception, it seems as though man’s ambition is to disappoint Him. God sets rules and standards for believers to live by; but often when applying them to ourselves the standard becomes murky, dark, and gray. The bottom line is we go through life putting misplaced expectations on people which cannot possibly be fulfilled by man in his fallen nature.
Neville Chamberlain, prime minister of the United Kingdom, signed the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler in 1938. During his first public address upon returning to Great Britain he said, “I have returned from Germany with peace in our time.” He had returned to Britain with the expectation that Hitler would keep his word by not invading Poland. Chamberlain had the same problem that man has had since mankind first established government; he failed to realize that governments are made up of people, and people are fallible and cannot be trusted to be faithful to their promises.
Our government is administered by fallible people whom we have entrusted to serve for the greater good of the American citizen. But history should have taught us a valuable lesson, even when Godly men are at the helm of government mistakes are made, sometimes unintentionally but often with the intent to serve the man and not the country.
Disappointment of Expectations
After this year’s presidential election many Christians are in shell shock wondering what happened. We see the once "Godly nation" turning its back on founding values. We don't understand what happened to the culture where morality was once a virtue. Many are asking how could the majority of people in this country vote against the sanctity of life, vote for sexual immorality, vote against family, and vote for mind altering drug abuse. Many are pondering the question, where did we go wrong; or is it a country heading in the wrong direction?
These are tough questions and the answers don't come easy. Some blame it on the choice of candidates. The pundits will tell you we needed someone more conservative. Others will tell we needed a nominee who was more central and willing to reach out to liberal left. Then there are subjective qualities of the candidates; older verses younger; black verses white; rich verses poor; charismatic verses stuffed shirt; I think you get the idea the list could go on forever. Just what are the qualities needed by a candidate that will ensure that he will meet the public expectations?
There is an old saying, "expectation is a road paved with disappointments." Too many have come to believe government has all the answers. Our country was founded on the principle where government would be limited and a citizenry who would not expect much from it other than protection from foreign enemies. Our own American civil war was not fought, as some assume, over slavery; the overriding issue was states rights and limited government. Unfortunately candidates and government have proven not to be the answer.
The Answer in History
Today our country is a mixed culture and we see all aspects of society demanding much from government; and Christians are no exception. We now have a large segment of our society with an entitlement mentality demanding more and more "freebees" from Washington. The Christian community is demanding a moral agenda, i.e. demanding a government to put us on the tract of embracing Godly values. But should government be doing any of this? Should Christians be expecting government to restore virtue and Godly values?
If we look at history we find since the being God warned His people if they sought a king other than Him their problems would multiply. God told Samuel to give the people the king they wanted; but first warn them they will not like to be ruled by any king other than God. Historically in Jesus time government ruled God's people with an iron first. It would not be until 335 AD before government would not be in the business of persecuting God's people.
Even though the church was established as the official religion of state the problems were not over for God's people. Until the reformation came 1200 years later the church participated in politics. Even when the church was naming kings the plight of the individual believer was one of maltreatment with little or no relief from bad government.
The Character of the Early Church
So, what is the point? Jesus, the apostles and the early Christians anticipated nothing good from government nor did they seek anything from government. But today we have expectations of government which far exceeds theirs. The early church made no effort to change government and demand the society to turn from its evil ways. The thrust for the early church was the sharing of the gospel and not changing the culture. A cultural change would have been considered a secondary benefit coming from the change of hearts.
What was important to the early church was the courage of conviction for the individual believer. They were not out to change the world; their goal was to change themselves, to live out a life manifesting what they professed to believe. continues on page 4 Today most Christians see courage as getting in the face of a non-believer and hitting him over the head with a hard back bible. To the early believers courage was the willingness to change their own hearts.
Early believers sought to make their life so appealing because of the peace and joy they experienced through a personal relationship with Christ. They knew if they lived a Godly life people would seek them out wanting to know what made them different.
Should believers stay out of politics? Absolute not! We should be involved in politics but not because we are Christians, but because we are citizens of this country wanting a government which is just and protects righteousness. Our government was founded on the principle of freedom "of" religion, not freedom "from" religion. This is all we should expect; a government which will protect our right to worship and share our faith.
So, when the pundits tell you the "Moral Majority" is out of sync with the culture they are right. We are out of sync and we should stay that way. But we should demand as citizens a government honoring certain values not because they are exclusively Christian values; but because they are values a culture must have if it is to exist as a vibrant society where basic human rights are protected.
Holding to the Courage of Your Convictions
How do we do this? We do as God commanded the Israelites in the book of Exodus 6; you keep His commands forever in front of you and you teach them to your children. Then you hold yourself and other believers to a profession of faith. Lastly, you share the good news on a one on one basis with your friends and neighbors. Our goal should be to change the hearts and minds of people so they too will be good citizens seeking a government of justice protecting righteousness. As Peter said, good government is granted by God to punish evil and to recognize good. He said nothing about government doing the good work of a believer to share God’s word. As Christians we must retain a worldview expecting the worse from man and government; but always working to help mankind achieve his best.
Next Steps: When you are in fellowship with other believers do you hear talk of how government is letting down the Christian community? Should this be so? Take the bold step of engaging fellow believes in the Godly role of government making sure they understand virtue cannot be mandated by law; it is only found in the heart of the individual. Good Christians make good citizen; how will you convince your friends to be both?