A Christian’s Civic Duty

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers,
intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
(1 Timothy 2:1–2 (ESV)

My grandmother always told me it wasn’t polite to talk about religion or politics.  Thinking back, I find it curious that she would say this, since she was one of the fiercest Democrats I have ever met, and a dyed in the wool Methodist.  Maybe she was warning me that I shouldn’t discuss either topic with her, since she knew that I was both a Republican and a Presbyterian.

Ignoring my dear grandmother’s warnings, however, over the next few weeks leading up to the Presidential Election I’m going to write about how our faith (or religion) and our politics come together.  We’ll start today, speaking in rather basic terms, and go a little deeper each week leading up to Election Day.

It is a Christian’s responsibility to vote

This is one of those lessons that must be inferred from scripture because you will not find it written explicitly.  There is no 11th Commandment saying, “Thou Shall Vote.”  When the scriptures were written, there was no such thing as a democratically elected government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ (though one could rightfully argue that the foundation of our representative government has its foundation in the elder-centered government of the early church).  There are occasions where lots were cast to choose a representative, or a consensus was reached after prayer and deliberation, but no general vote as we know it today.

But while you will not find hear St. Paul exhort you to “Get out the Vote,” we are told to be good citizens.  St. Augustine said those who are citizens of God’s kingdom are best equipped to be citizens of the kingdom of man.  In Romans 13, Paul teaches us that we are to be subject to the authorities in the land, “for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  As Americans we are blessed to be governed by consent; those in authority have been elected by the people.  Participation in the process of election, then, is essential to effective governance, a vital part of our citizenship, and a key component in our duty of submission to those in authority.

So make sure to vote this year.  Absentee ballots are being mailed now, and there is assistance available for those who cannot make it to the polls.  If you would like an absentee ballot, or are not registered to vote (or can’t remember if you are), visit the website of the Secretary of State for more information (click here for the Iowa Secretary of State).

It is a Christian’s responsibility to vote responsibly

While it is the Christian’s responsibility to vote, it must also be said that the Christian must vote responsibly.  I must confess, there have been times when I have gone to the booth and did not recognize the names of the people on the ballot.  Usually these were uncontested races for local or county positions – and I probably just filled in the circle because, the vote really didn’t matter.

Usually, however, the vote does matter, and you have to stay informed to know why and how each candidate is different.  Living in Iowa, you don’t have to wait very long to see or hear a commercial for one of the national or state candidates, but you cannot trust the ads.  Put two political ads back to back and you will hear them say two conflicting things.  To get to the truth, you have to do the research on your own.  Read a paper, watch the debates, talk to your friends… Find out as much as you can about the candidates so that you can make an informed decision.

It is a Christian’s responsibility to pray for elected leaders, regardless of whether you voted for them.

Most importantly, it is the Christian’s responsibility to pray for their elected officials.  Paul urges our “prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  Often, we need to remember this especially when our candidate did not win.

We must pray for those in authority over us; praying with the hope and conviction that God’s hand will guide and guard his people, realizing that no power that we face here can undermine the sovereign will of God.  We must pray graciously for those in authority, knowing that God works in, and often, in spite of, our elected officials.  And while it may be hard to pray for someone you completely disagree with, the very act of faithful and humble prayer will change your heart – you cannot continue to pray for someone without coming to love that person.

Writing in the Passive Voice

“For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”
(Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

 My spell-check hates me.

It isn’t my spelling, nor is it my typing.  While I am by no means a professional typist, I have become quite proficient on the computer keyboard; about 70 words per minute (Mrs. Maish from Augusta High would be so proud).

No, the spell-check has issues with the way I write.  It’s not that my grammar is poor; the biggest complaint from my spell-check is my use of the passive voice.  I can understand the dilemma.  Usually one should not write in the passive voice, but should rather state in a clear and concise manner who is acting and what is being done.  As one grammar site reminds us, “at the heart of every good sentence is a strong, precise verb; the converse is true as well — at the core of most confusing, awkward, or wordy sentences lies a weak verb. Try to use the active voice whenever possible.”

That’s all well and good, except when the passive voice most clearly communicates the action, and more importantly, the actor.

When communicated the gospel, the passive voice best demonstrates what Christ has done.  Let me send my “grammar-checker” into a fury just to demonstrate:

Though lost in sin, we have been set free by the cross of Christ.
Though stained by sin, we have been washed by the blood of Christ.
Though we are rebels at war with God, we have been forgiven by the Prince of Peace.

I choose the passive voice because it takes the action away from me, and places it precisely where it belongs, in the hands of my Savior.  Salvation is the act of God on behalf of those unable to act for themselves.  We need salvation, and there is nothing we can do to bring it about.  We can’t even bring ourselves to admit we are in need of help unless the Helper first comes to us.  We are that dead in our sins.  The activity in our salvation always, always, belongs to God – and our salvation is His gift of grace that we receive through faith.

One of the best ways we could demonstrate this is in the way we celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in our congregation.  We must remember that God prepares the Table.  Yes, the Elders set the table and provide the bread and wine – but God is the One who has set the Table before us as a means of grace.  God gave the altar as a table for the sacrifice of atonement in the Old Covenant.  Jesus established the Table as the memorial of His life broken for ours, and preview of the heavenly wedding feast that awaits us.  The Table nourishes us in faith when we receive the gift of the table in faith.  The very presence of Christ comes to us in His Word, to give life and strength and faith to a broken and feeble people.

In our church this is beautifully demonstrated in the fact that we do not come forward to receive the bread and the cup, but rather it is carried to each member and they are served in the pews.  What this action says is this, “We don’t even have the strength to come to God on our own.  His preemptive grace comes to us, brings us to live, feeds us and strengthens us, so that we may walk with Him.”  Even when we receive this gift, we are celebrating the strength of God that is made perfect in our weakness.

So I will revel in the passive voice when I describe how I have been Christ, the one who is active and mighty in power.