The Church and Politics (Part 3): Earthly Citizenship

Last week we delved into an analysis of our heavenly citizenship. To read up on that please go to

Today we want to look at the issue of earthly citizenship – what it entails, what is involved.

For a religion that supposedly precludes its adherents from participating in politics, the Bible is strangely full of political stuff. It’s actually a political history textbook. Most of the stories in the Bible are wound around political totems. The introduction to the story of John the Baptist begins with “During the rule of Herod, king of Judea…” (Luke 1:5) Introduction to the story of Jesus begins with “About that time, Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria…” (Luke 2:1-2 MSG) The story of Moses is against a backdrop of political oppression of the Jews. (Exodus 2) The foreground of the story of Samson is the political oppression of Israel by the Philistines. (Judges 13:1) The highpoint of the narrative of the life and times of Prophet Elijah was the confrontation of the prophet with state-sponsored paganism. (1 Kings 18) The story of Abraham is incomplete without mention of his political alliances… His allies were Aner, Eshcol, Mamre. (Genesis 14) The story of Daniel is that of an excellent, ethical, intelligent and able administrator who somehow survived the mines and pitfalls of state house. (Daniel 6) The thread of Paul’s life is woven into the historic fabric of key political figures… Festus, King Agrippa, Caesar. (Acts 25, 26) It was state sponsored terrorism and political persecution that spread the gospel into non Jewish territories. (Acts 11:19-21) The core disciples were nationalistic. Paul was the internationalist.

The history of Christianity is the dynamic of intersection of state power, the human condition and human conviction. Nothing in the Bible happened outside political context.

The Bible recognises that the Christian has dual citizenship – a heavenly citizenship and an earthly citizenship. It prescribes the rights, duties and obligations for both. Paul for example, penned instructions concerning our earthly citizenship: “Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. In so far as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order, live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear. Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, with the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out! The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly — not just to avoid punishment, but also because it’s the right way to live. That’s also why you pay taxes — so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfil your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.” (Romans 13:1-7 MSG)

But it’s not just a demand side equation. Government owes you obligations too. The first duty of government is maintenance of law and order. It’s what Paul was referencing when he wrote, “In so far there’s peace and order, it’s God’s order.” (Romans 13:1) The first prerequisite of a stable and prosperous society is peace. Peace is germane to Christianity. But attaining the peace conducive to the Christian faith is not just a matter of government policy, Paul says. There’s a need for prayers. And so he urges us to pray for those in government: “First of all then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be offered… for kings and all who are in positions of high authority so that we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This kind of praying is good and acceptable and pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour…” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 AMP)

There are a few civic lessons from 1 Timothy 2:1-2. First, the passage implies there must be dividends of governance to the populace. A country with wonderful economic indices but with neither succour nor benefit to the citizenry is epitomic of poor governance. If the GDP is rising but the people are poor, that is NOT good governance. That’s what the Bible is saying in 1 Timothy 2:1-2. It has to be about the people. God cares about people. He died for them. The state cannot be a soul-less economic apparatus churning out economic indices. It has to be about the people. The people must experience peace and they must have dignity – there must be a sense of worth, honour and respect. (1 Timothy 2:1-2) This must be a strategic objective of state policy. At international borders, their nationality must not be contemptuous. Nationality is sacred. Poor governance produces poor image and derisive esteem for the citizenry.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 also implies that the faith of the people must not come under threat. There must be freedom to serve God. And there must be freedom of conscience. This is what Paul was writing about. It does make sense therefore to vote competent people into power in a democracy. The competent must govern or the Christian suffers the more. It is in the very interest of every Christian to make sure the competent ascend the dais of authority, not the incompetent: “Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well…” (1 Timothy 2:2 MSG)

Here’s what Christians who refuse to participate in the political process don’t realise: most of the prayer points of the average Christian stem from policy failures. And we see the validation of that statement especially in developing economies. We pray for means to buy power generating sets because the energy policy failed. There’s no electricity. We pray for means to send our children to good schools because the educational system collapsed, producing ill-educated graduates. We all pray for cars or other means of conveyance because the public transport system is sclerotic. We pray for healing and go to crusades because our healthcare infrastructure collapsed. Miracles are supposed to take care of hopeless and extreme situations. We pray for means to dig boreholes because there’s poor potable water supply. We pray fervently for protection and security because there’s systemic failure in the management of law and order. Bottom line: political context determines prayer points.

It does make sense to help fashion and determine the political context we live in so we can concentrate on praying for more important stuff! A lot of the prayer points of Christians in developing economies are on existential issues – survival. Prosperity is poorly defined. Definition of prosperity in under-developed economies is often based on acquisition of private means to buy a standard of living commonly available and taken for granted in developed economies.

A Christian who won’t participate in politics has consigned himself to existential prayers. But how is a Christian who spent all his life praying for electricity, roads, healthcare, school fees going to stand side by side the saints of old on judgement day? The saints of old gave their all, accomplished great things for God, evangelised new territories, brought God’s will to bear on earth, overthrew powers with prayers… Many saints paid gruesome prices for the faith we now enjoy. Without them there would be no us. Without us there will be no what? That is a question we ought to think about.

We will continue the series next week. To read The Church and Politics Part 1: The Political Nature of the Church and Part 2: Heavenly Citizenship go to

If you’ll like to receive Jesus into your life please pray this prayer:  “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”

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