Christians and Politics: How Far?

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Recently I’ve been asked why so many evangelicals are so supportive of a Mormon candidate for president. Theology Professor Wayne Grudem has written about this very subject in his book, “Politics According To The Bible.” I won’t replicate what Grudem says in this article. However, it did get me thinking about Christians and politics and asking the question, “How far in the political arena should a Christian be involved?” I’d like to answer that question with a look at a guiding principle of scripture that helps Christians understand their role as part of an earthly society while at the same time being a part of a heavenly society.

Most Christians have heard of what is commonly known as the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus told his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”

We hear sermons about the Great Commission all the time. This is important, and especially important to me, specifically, as I’m employed as a missionary trying to help fulfill the Great Commission.

However, there is another kind of Great Commission mentioned much earlier in the scripture that is remarkably similar to Matthew 28, but we rarely hear or read about it. It is called the Cultural Mandate. It comes from the book of Genesis in 1:28 when God tells Adam, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Immediately upon creating man, God gives him instruction about how he is to live in the world that God has created. This instruction is not only for Christians, but for all of man as Adam represents all of man as the first man. Notice what God says to Adam. Let’s break it down. He must:

Be fruitful
Multiply
Fill the Earth
Subdue, and
Rule

I’ve written previously on Preach It, Teach It that these five commands are essentially what it means for man to be created in the image of God. God says to man, “Do what I do.” During the six days of creation God did all of these things. (See my article, Man and Angels: Are Both Created in God’s Image?)

These first commands to Adam (and to all of us) are what is known in theology as the Cultural Mandate. That is, we are to exercise these five things in our lives in order to exercise and become God’s image on earth. This does not mean that only Christians must rule when it comes to politics or other important positions of power. It simply means that we are to exercise these things in whatever our situation of life may be. It is not a justification to “take over” the world as some might have you think. But we must be honest and say that these commands include politics just as any other area of life. This is signified by the commands to “subdue” and “rule.”

Ironically, these first commands from God to man are repeated many times throughout the scripture all the way down the Great Commission itself. In fact, the commands of the Great Commission are really nothing more than a re-wording or re-application of the Cultural Mandate applied to taking the gospel to the rest of the world. Allow me to show you why this is.

The principles of the Cultural Mandate are repeated in the Great Commission. The Great Commission, is in fact, built directly upon the principles of the Cultural Mandate. In Matthew 28 when Jesus commands us to “make disciples” he is essentially applying the principles of “be fruitful and multiply.” When Jesus commands us to take the gospel to “all nations,” he is essentially telling us to “fill the earth.” Baptism is a form of “subduing,” in that it is one of the first acts of obedience we make when we come to Christ. And when he commands us to “teach them to observe,” he is essentially applying the principle of “rule” in that we are to conform our lives to his commands. The Great Commission is therefore nothing more than the Cultural Mandate applied to the spread of the gospel and the saving of many lives. Why is this important?

The Cultural Mandate is still in force today. It applies to humanity in general. There is nothing in the scripture that instructs us to abandon the principles of the Cultural Mandate. It is in force today along with the Great Commission. As Christians we should look at the Cultural Mandate and see how it is being applied in our lives? Are you a parent? Take a look at your family. Can you see how these five principles are applied to you as a parent and as one exercising parental authority?

Do you run a company or lead a ministry? Can you see the five principles at work in your calling? Do you want your organization to grow (fruitful and multiply)? Do you have rules and principles that apply in the work place (subdue and rule)?

If, as Christians, we pull back from involvement in bettering society or government then we are essentially refusing to obey God’s first commands. We leave behind the Cultural Mandate. There is no instruction in scripture that these principles are to apply to other areas of our lives but not apply to politics. In fact, these five principles are present in God’s covenant with Israel in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. They are also present when God makes a covenant with David regarding the advance of his kingdom and the coming Messiah. These are all clearly political applications of the principles in the Cultural Mandate. They are strewn throughout the Old Testament until we come to the lips of Jesus in Matthew 28.

Now, what in the world does this have to do with so many Christians supporting a Mormon for president? I’m not telling you how to vote or announcing an endorsement. That’s not my roll. My role is to help remind us of the principles of scripture and their application in the world today. Part of that application is the appropriating of the Cultural Mandate. The Cultural Mandate still applies today, and it applies to all people—not just Christians. Therefore, when faced with choice to make in whom to choose for political office—any office, high or low—we should look to the first principles of the Cultural Mandate. Does our chosen candidate represent our values and how will his or her policies affect the Great Commission? Will the advance of the gospel maintain or increase under his or her political leadership, or will it suffer—regardless of whether that candidate is a Mormon, or Christian, or Atheist, or Buddhist, or Muslim, or of any other persuasion? Remember the story of King Cyrus of Persia in Ezra 1:1-5. Cyrus was not a Jew or a believer as we might understand the concept today. Yet under his orders the temple in Jerusalem was to be rebuilt. He wasn’t a Jew or a worshipper of the one true God. Cyrus was a pagan. Yet, under his leadership Jewish life began another rise that would eventually lead to the coming of the Messiah.

The Great Commission is the ultimate fulfillment of the Cultural Mandate. It is where all of history is going in terms of God’s plan for humanity. Our Christianity is squarely rooted in the Great Commission and that commission is the culmination of the Cultural Mandate. So whether you are involved in the daily grind of life trying to make ends meet or you are considering the leadership of a nation, everything for the Christian must ultimately come down to these two things. When we live our lives according to these principles then we can be assured we are fulfilling that which God has called us to do—whether in our earthly society or our heavenly society.

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