By Mel Futrell
In the years 1866-1867, David Lipscomb (1831-1917) printed in his paper, the Gospel Advocate, his views on civil government and the Christian’s relation to it. This material would later be published in book form and have a tremendous influence on the thinking and views of Christians for generations to come. In the Preface of that volume Lipscomb made this insightful statement that is worth our reflecting on now a hundred and fifty years later:
“Man’s duty is to learn the will of God, and trustingly do that will, leaving results and events with God. It became a fixed principle with him, that in religion man must in faith do what God has ordained he should do, what he has declared would be well-pleasing to him; and then leave all in the hands of him who overrules the universe.
While I failed to see then as I now see, that religion embraced every duty and every relation of man and moulds every thought, purpose and action of his being, the feeling would creep into my mind that even in political affairs man should do only what God commanded him.”
David Lipscomb’s short volume (158 pages), was published just following a time of war. When Americans had been “engaged in a great civil war” as Lincoln called it in his Gettysburg Address. And where the war and the effects of that war were without doubt impacting the lives of people in general and God’s people in particular. Among many other things, the Lord’s people of Lipscomb’s day had been greatly divided over participation in the war itself. So brother Lipscomb sought in his writing to determine what man’s relation was to human government and therefore what his duties to this institution were.
For those who have not and perhaps never will read the book, it should be noted that brother Lipscomb’s views on Christians and politics would be viewed by most today as somewhat extreme. By extreme, I mean brother Lipscomb advocated a strict pacifism and practically no involvement by the Christian in matters of human politics and government – even voting. This would not be my thinking on the matter and even in his day it was not the thinking of many, if not most, of his brethren. Though let me quickly add that there is more to the book than just these issues and Lipscomb does make many valid points in the small volume with which I wholly agree.
Today my impression is that most New Testament Christians are politically concerned, as they may choose to be. But the larger and more important question is, “Do you agree that God’s word should govern every action and affair we undertake — even be it political?” In other words, are brethren allowing their vote to be influenced by the word of God or by what is politically advantageous and popular? Why should “politics” be exempt from the Biblical and absolute truth that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), but everything else not? Surely faithful Christians can answer this correctly!
Now certainly in this age of ours where moral/social issues increasingly pervade the scope of elections even in the eyes of some liberal minded journalists, citizens, and politicians; we as Christians would do well to give great significance to the moral practice and positions of a candidate before casting our vote. Civic mindedness, honesty, and truthfulness demand no less.
I’m not naïve! And I don’t entertain any illusion that every Christian is politically concerned, concerned to the same degree, or even concerned enough to vote. Numbers of Christians choose not to vote. But when we do vote morality ought to matter. Admittedly, there are those who are more interested in political matters more than others. This may be a feature of the nature of human nature. And there are also those who are always more eager to discuss politics more than they are Bible. That, of course, is unfortunate, but we must still and always love the brotherhood (1 Peter 2:17).
I do not believe that the church is as divided today over whether or not to vote, participate in government, go to war, etc., as the brethren of David Lipscomb’s day. Yet we still get bogged down in numerous purely political issues on occasion and allow them to distract us from what should be much more pressing concern (Matthew 6:33). I do wholeheartedly agree with brother Lipscomb that religion, Christianity should mold every thought, purpose, and action of our being (2 Corinthians 10:5). But shouldn’t part of that molding process cover even the “political affairs” of life?