I am not a political pastor. I do not spend much time reading about what is going on with our nation’s government, and I don’t preach on it except to use the occasional illustration. My belief as a Baptist leads me to make a clear distinction between the role of the government and the role of the Church. Both of them are institutions of God and both are needed in a society, but sometimes they come into conflict. I am a firm believer in the “separation of Church and State,” that the state should not dictate what the Church can do (as in England since the 16th century), and the Church should not advance its own policies forcefully through the State (as the Holy Roman Empire did).
However, I do believe that both institutions ought to have influence over the other. It is right for the State to make sure a church abides by just laws, concerning taxation and building codes. It is also right for the Church to implore the State to hold up what is right, as Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:2 “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and sincerity.” It is this influence that Paul exerted in the passage in Acts 24. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem in Acts 21 and taken to the Roman governor Felix in Acts 23. There he defends himself in the first round of hearings, and while he is waiting for his next, Felix and his wife Drusilla call Paul to speak before them. Verses 24-25 say that they “heard him concerning the faith in Christ.” It then goes on to say that Paul spoke to them of “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.” These, I believe, are right things that Christians ought to be calling those elected or appointed governmental officials to.
We ought to call our politicians to righteousness. During the last election I heard this phrase: “We’re not electing a Sunday School teacher.” The implication is that while we would certainly expect a teacher of Scripture to uphold Biblical values and practices, those expectations can be relaxed for those serving in government. Certainly this is true to some extent. If we will teach the Bible we ought to live it. On the other hand, not every politician needs to have a Bible degree. However, that does not mean that there are no reasons to expect morality from officials. I would point out that while some Christians are happy to excuse a politician’s immoral behavior, his constituents and fellow politicians uphold moral standards. In 2011, Rep. Anthony Weiner was pressured to resign by the Democrats for lewd text and pictures. In 2014 when Rep. Vance McAllister was caught on video kissing a married woman who was not his wife, there were calls from the Republicans for his resignation as well. Can a Congressman still vote on important issues while failing morally? Yes, he can. But we expect our officials to have integrity in every area of life. If a politician cannot keep his marriage vows, can we expect him to keep his oath of office? Paul preached to Felix about righteousness because he had seduced her from her husband when she was fourteen. Certainly a man who rules must be a moral person, and we ought to call our rulers to righteousness.
We ought to call our politicians to temperance. The word “temperance” literally means “in strength.” It is the idea of being the master instead of being mastered. Often, we would use the word “self-controlled” or “balanced.” It is not too much to expect those governing over us to use restraint in exercising their duty. The government can only exist because the people allow themselves to be ruled. We allow local government to hire a police force, and tell them they can use deadly force. We allow federal and state government to hire and train an army, and we want them using whatever means necessary to keep order. When we feel the police or FBI exceed the limits of their force, in Ferguson, MO or Waco, TX, there is an outcry. But when politicians exceed their limits, Christians often say nothing. So spending increases, unjust laws are written, and freedoms are taken away. In Paul’s day, Felix was one of the most intemperate men in first century Israel’s history. He was a freed slave who used his power to inflict instead of heal. Tacitus said of him, “Practicing every kind of cruelty and lust, he wielded royal power with the instincts of a slave.” He was eventually relieved of his duty because of his quashing a Jewish rebellion in blood. The Caesar who relieved him? Nero. If ungodly Nero expected temperance, how much more should Christians?
We ought to call our politicians to regard the judgment to come. We expect that those whom we make rulers will be fair and just. We want them to consider both sides and do the right thing, even if it means that they would not benefit personally. Many third-world countries struggle to grow economically because their leaders are greedy and either hoard resources and aid, or take bribes. America has laws against both of these practices, and yet some politicians still find it difficult maintain right judgment. For instance, lobbyists spent $3.5 billion in 2010 to influence politicians, sometimes to do something opposite of the promises on which they were elected. The parties themselves can influence a politician to vote, not towards his conscience or constituents, but to what would favor the party. But the Bible states that those in government should be just, and that we should call them to it. In the Old Testament, the prophets continuously called rulers to be fair to the poor and to not take bribes. We know that Felix was prone to bribes, because verse 26 says that he hoped that Paul would give him money so that he would let him go. We should unite in calling our rulers to justice in upholding just laws.
However, notice that what Paul preached was “judgment to come.” Often politicians and rulers get away with being unjust here on Earth, but there is a God in heaven to who hates injustice, and will judge those who try to use God-given power to promote and feed themselves. Deuteronomy 27:19 says: “Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow.” Someday our rulers will stand before God and will give account for the great responsibility they had in ruling over men. Do we want men who fear God and what He thinks of their rulership? Or do we want in leadership positions men and women who fear losing the next election? For the man who feels that he can manipulate the people he rules over or represents, there is nothing that can convince him to act in a righteous way. However, the man who fears God will not move from doing the right thing.
After Paul called out Felix, the Bible says that he “trembled.” He had some recognition that what he was doing did not line up with what God expected from him. Yet he did not repent. He instead said to Paul, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” He put Paul off, deferring a decision to heed until his heart had been sufficiently hardened in unrighteousness. He sought a bribe of Paul, hoping in his intemperance and lust for money to receive something. He then left Paul in prison, uncondemned, because of his fear of the Jews’ displeasure, which was a show of his unjust heart.
Paul had no recourse. He had no say in who his leaders are. I am not a political pastor, but I believe we ought to call out our representatives to do what is right in their making and executing of laws. It is the only way to procure God’s blessing on America, and the only way to ensure the liberties we enjoy, that were given to us by God.