By Gary DeMar
There are a number of political philosophies from a Christian perspective floating around that need some attention. The Apostle Paul saw no inconsistency in taking advantage of his Roman citizenship (Acts 16:37–39; 22:22–29) while maintaining that he was also a citizen of heaven (Phil. 3:20). Paul did not deny his Roman citizenship and claim heavenly citizenship when he was taken to be “examined by scourging” (22:24). “And when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?’” (22:25). Why didn’t Paul just “take it,” content in the fact that he was a citizen of heaven? Instead, he used the privileges of Roman citizenship to his advantage. While some had purchased their citizenship with large sums of money, Paul “was actually born a citizen” (22:28).
Nowhere do we find Paul repudiating the privileges that came with being a Roman citizen. We should keep in mind that the Caesars considered themselves to be gods. To be actively involved in the realm of politics does not mean that politics has to be free of all pagan thought. Paul proclaimed an unadulterated message to these pagan rulers hoping to persuade them of their religious folly. After hearing Paul’s defense of the gospel, King Agrippa replied to him, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (26:28).1
On numerous occasions the apostle used all of the privileges of Roman citizenship to his advantage by appealing, not to heaven before the Romans (certainly Paul did appeal to heaven, since he tells us to “pray without ceasing” [1 Thess. 5:17]) but to “Caesar,” the seat of Roman civil authority (Acts 25:11). Of course, he was using Caesar as a way to advance the gospel to bring others into heavenly citizenship.
Some go even further in their evaluation of political power by claiming that power is evil in and of itself, especially when it is institutionalized in the realm of politics. The claim is made that Christians cannot get involved in politics because the very nature of government is Satanic. Supposedly, Jesus made this very clear in John 19:11 when He stated that Pilate’s power was given to him “from above,” that is from rebellious angels. Jacques Ellul in The Subversion of Christianity wants to maintain that “‘from above’ does not denote either God or the emperor but the exousia of political power, which is a rebel exousia, an angel in revolt against God.”2 Is this possible? Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born “from above” (John 3:3). The same Greek word is used in both places. Paul tells us that the authorities “which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1). The institution of civil government is God-ordained. This does not mean that those in power acknowledge God’s sovereignty over them (cf. Dan. 4). Neither does it mean that Christians should not get involved in the political process. Not to be involved in some capacity is to deny God as the One who establishes the powers that be.
Christians would agree that the abuse of power is evil, as is the abuse of wealth, sex, and freedom. But is power evil in and of itself? While it’s true that God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong; it is equally true that God has invested authority and power in governmental institutions like family, church, and civil government.
It’s the love of money that’s the root of all kinds of evil, not money itself. Wealth or money is God’s good gift to man. God created the land of Havilah with gold, and Scripture tells us that “the gold of that land is good” (Gen. 2:12). But money, like power, can be corrupted. Men in positions of authority often abuse power. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, is a perfect example of the legitimacy and the abuse of power. God judged the king for his claim of absolute and autonomous sovereignty and power.
The king reflected and said, “Is this not Babylon the great which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven saying, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field.” (Dan. 4:30–32a).
In time, however, God restored the king’s sovereignty, and “surpassing greatness was added” to him (v. 37). How could God restore the king if these powers are evil? Daniel was made a ruler in Babylon, and it was his wise counsel that saved the life of his fellow countrymen and may have led to the conversion of Nebucahdnezzar.
1 Some translations make Agrippa’s response a question: “In a short time will you persuade me to become a Christian.”
2 Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, The Subversion of Power (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 115.
Gary DeMar is the President of American Vision.