"Bare knuckle brawl… knock-out punch… a torrent of attacks…" Are these descriptions of a heavyweight boxing match? No, they are just media descriptions of one of the political debates for the 2016 U.S. presidential primaries! And the actual election campaigns proved to be even rougher. Election Day in the United States is the climax of a long and hard-fought political campaign. The 2016 campaign was bitterly fought, with candidates hurling insults and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on smear campaigns alone—and the havoc has not diminished since the election.
Two centuries ago, the Prussian general, Carl von Clausewitz, wrote that "war is politics by other means." But considering the carnage of the U.S. presidential campaigns, it might be more accurate to say that "politics is war by other means." The U.S. presidential elections determine the man or woman whom many will consider the most powerful person in the world for a term of four years. Many have lusted their whole lives for such a position, and great wars have been fought for less gain.
But on November 8, 2016, the members of the Living Church of God did not go to the polling places and did not vote. Why was that? Do we not have a civic duty to participate in such an important public event that affects our lives and the lives of millions of other citizens? Prior to elections, people are often told that if they do not vote, they will be shirking an important duty as a citizen and are ungrateful for the privilege for which many have died in the nation's wars. In the Middle East and all over the world, people who were once under tyrannies are finally getting the chance to vote and are gratefully doing so—some for the first time. News photos show people proudly presenting the purple ink on their fingers that proves that they voted. A great deal has been said about the importance of voting.
If democracy is so important to our national welfare, why NOT let our voices be heard—as a civic duty? The Living Church of God has good reasons for not voting in elections, and this is a good time to think about those reasons.
An Ancient Choice of Government
Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." The date of that statement was November 11, 1947, and he had led his country to victory in World War II, but lost reelection. Mankind still struggles to find a form of government that solves all of society's problems, and political factions constantly contend with each other for the privilege of failing at that task over and over.
In Genesis 3, the Bible describes a contest of another sort. Adam and Eve were being tempted by an Adversary, who told them that if they took the knowledge of good and evil to themselves—that is, if they rejected God's government and decided what is right and wrong on their own—then their eyes would be opened, and they would be just like God (Genesis 3:4–5). They rebelled against God's divine government—His divine law. That ancient error is still standard operating procedure for human cultures everywhere, and God is allowing it to continue for now. The results are manifest throughout human history. Over the last nearly 6,000 years, mankind has formed many kinds of governments: tribalism, feudalism, monarchy, oligarchy, communism, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, autocracy, democracy, and others. Mankind continues to look to its own ideas and righteousness, always rejecting God's way of life and His government. Human suffering has been the inevitable result.
All of God's people around the world LOVE and RESPECT their countries, even though the human governments that rule them may have many problems.
But we look towards a new country, as Abraham did. The book of Hebrews describes how many of the characters in the Bible understood that Christ will come to establish His Kingdom on earth.
For he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.… These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:10, 13–16).
There is a good reason for this—we have a spiritual citizenship registered in heaven that the world does not have: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from whichwe also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20). Our citizenship will see its fullest expression with the return of Jesus Christ to this earth as King of kings.
The Apostle Paul explained to the Church in Corinth—and to us—one way that Christians can be in the world but not of it, when he wrote, "Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). Ambassadors are not active in the governments of the countries in which they live as guests. For instance, if you were the British ambassador to France, you would live in Paris, but you could not run for the French parliament or support an individual candidate for office in that country. Ambassadors represent their government to another government, but they are not active in the host government's national politics. Similarly, we do not take part in political activity attempting to effect changes in this society's governments. We do not run for political office or campaign for particular candidates. Our avoidance of these things is a demonstration of our spiritual citizenship.
But while ambassadors are not active in the politics of the nations to which they travel, they still must obey the laws of those nations and respect duly constituted authority. It is similar for God's Church. God is not raising rebellious children. Satan was the original rebel, and God wants us to stay as far away as possible from Satan's rebellious attitude. God detests rebellion, and we should also. "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (1 Samuel 15:23). Satan broadcasts feelings of rebellion, anger and resentment. It is his constant state of mind. God wants us to learn to work under authority, so we can learn to exercise it rightly ourselves in His Kingdom, in an attitude of love and service. How can we do this if we are disrespectful of any authority? We cannot have an attitude of rebellion in one place and not in another, because the capacity for rebellion becomes a feature of our character. What you do changes you!
The Apostle Paul gave instruction to the Church concerning our relationship with governmental authorities. "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men" (Titus 3:1–2). This even applies to financial matters. Christ Himself said, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). Therefore, we obey the laws of the land, including the payment of taxes.
Although we know all human governments are flawed, God's word tells us to respect them. Paul instructed the Church in Rome, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.… For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor" (Romans 13:1, 6–7). God's people are loyal citizens of their countries, love their countries deeply, and obey the laws. The exception is when men are in conflict with God's word. "But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men'" (Acts 5:29). It is very clear in God's word that we are to be subject to the civil authorities of our respective countries.
Being subject to authorities includes being respectful of them as well. We may encounter people expressing strong opinions about particular political leaders, sometimes including contemptuous, disrespectful comments. It should not be so with God's people! "Then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord" (2 Peter 2:9–11).
Is respect for duly constituted authority part of "the treasure of your heart," or is contempt and disrespect barely concealed within? "For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:44–45). Even if we do not have a good opinion of a particular authority, we should avoid speaking evil of dignitaries, and our moderation and respect will have a positive effect on others as well as on ourselves.
The prophet Daniel recorded a vision that pictured the return of Jesus Christ at the end of this age and the establishment of His government on this earth. In that vision, Christ returns and miraculously destroys the existing worldly system that rejects God's government:
You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image's head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth (Daniel 2:31–35).
The mountain that grows to "fill the whole earth" is the "holy mountain of God"—His government on earth. God said through the prophet, Isaiah, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). This is not only a reference to Christ's headquarters in Jerusalem, but to a government that grows to "fill the whole earth."
But for now, the earth is full of hurt, misery and destruction and has been for thousands of years. It is not Christ's holy mountain that fills the earth now, but a mountain of a very different sort. The laws and practices of the world's governments are rooted in human ideas of right and wrong. When Satan tempted Adam and Eve with the promise that they could "be like God, knowing good and evil," a profane system began, as mankind created its own political approaches, education systems, and other human institutions that exist apart from God's rule. But for now, Satan is the ruler of this world—to the extent that God allows—and the world is filled with the devil's profane approaches to governance. If you are involved in the politics of this world, you are seeking to take part in the wrong mountain!
God's children are a holy people and set apart in this age. The word "saints" means the "holy ones"—those called out to be sanctified and set apart. "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (1 Peter 2:9–10).
Anyone who reads a newspaper knows that we are not living in a world that is governed by God. We live in an evil age (Galatians 1:4), and while it continues, we can be grateful to all those who sacrificed to resist tyranny—or to improve the lives of others. And members of God's Church strive to do good in this age as they can, because that is a reflection of God's character. But the main public role of God's Church is to point the world to the root of its evils—a root which is of a spiritual nature—and to preach the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. This world's problems are primarily spiritual in nature, as evidenced by this world's politics, and those problems require a spiritual solution! We cannot reform the world in this age through worldly means, and we do not try. We wait for the King of kings, who is far greater than we are and has had a plan "from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).
Jesus Christ said that another being currently rules this world but will not rule it forever. "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out" (John 12:31). Christ is not coming to reform Satan's mountain; He is coming to replace it. Now, that is change you can believe in!
God's set-apart people are in this world, but not of it.
What Can We Do for Today's World?
At times, we can become disappointed in our leaders or governments, but remember that the Bible says that things will get a lot worse in this world before they get better. We are supposed to care about what happens in our societies and respect our leaders, and Scripture directs how we are to express our concern for our governmental leaders. How can we change our governments, and what are we to do? Paul gave instructions in his letter to Timothy and the churches he pastored. "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (1 Timothy 2:1–2). Instead of opposing our leaders politically, we are to pray for them.
We should always pray that God will continue to move our legislatures, courts and governments to grant His people the religious freedom in our respective societies to keep holy His weekly Sabbath and His annual Holy Days and to assemble on those days without persecution. We need to earnestly ask God to grant us the freedom of speech to preach His true Gospel of the Kingdom to the world—and to provide the resources to do so. God's word indicates that these things will not be guaranteed forever. God warned through the prophet, Amos, "'Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord God, 'That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it'" (Amos 8:11–12). God's Church has been given a Work to do in these days, but Jesus Himself said that "the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4). The Tomorrow's World telecast and some of our Internet posts are already being censored in some countries.
Again, the world's problems are primarily spiritual in nature, requiring a spiritual solution, and we preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world. We also preach individual repentance, as well as national repentance to the House of Israel and the world. We are commanded to do good where we can, because God is good, and we are to become like Him. But we are not here to reform the governments of this world or participate in its politics.
When Christ's Ambassadors Do "Vote"
Christ said that He will return to set up His perfect government on earth, and we await that miraculous event. We cannot cause it to come by our own efforts, and we do not know the exact time. But if "voting" is simply a matter of making a choice or expressing our personal preference, then in an important sense, we do "vote" every day—every time we pray. Like Abraham, we wait "for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10). Our civic duty as ambassadors for Christ is to pray always, "Thy Kingdom come"!