The short answer to your question is that as true Christians, we should not vote in governmental elections. We must understand what Paul meant with his usage of the words, “God’s ministers,” and the entire passage in Romans 13:1-6, when applying the concept to the political powers to be.
We addressed a related issue in a previous Q&A, discussing Romans 13:3, where we said:
“Today, the world as a whole is cut off from God and is subject to the rule of Satan. God placed Lucifer on the throne of this earth, with responsibility for properly governing it, but he rebelled and became known as Satan. When Satan inspired Adam and Eve to turn against God – to sin by going against what God instructed them – God gave mankind 6,000 years to find out for themselves that they cannot live without God… And for that same 6,000-year duration, God has decreed that Satan would remain on his throne. That 6,000-year period will end at the return of Jesus Christ, Who will come to replace Satan – a failed ruler – and restore the government of God on this earth. In that sense, there is ‘no authority except from God’ (Romans 13:1), and all authority ‘has been given … from above’ (John 19:11). God has not yet replaced Satan and his demons, but they cannot do anything that God does not ALLOW them to do.
“It is with that background that we must understand Paul’s statement that human governmental authorities or rulers are ‘God’s minister[s]’ who do ‘not bear the sword in vain,’ and ‘avenger[s] to execute wrath on him who practices evil’ (Romans 13:4). This statement does not permit true Christians to be involved in this world’s system of capital punishment [either as executioners, or as judges or jurors, condemning a criminal to death] and working for the police force by carrying and using guns. Paul’s statement in Romans 13:3 explains the fact that God allows human governments to punish criminals in order to prevent anarchy (compare Numbers 35:30-33). But, while ancient Israel was directly ruled by God for a while, all human governments are today under the direct rule or control of the ‘god of this world,’ Satan the devil.
“True Christians are no longer part of this world. They have turned their back on Satan’s rule. They are ambassadors and citizens of a future kingdom – the Kingdom of God. Their citizenship is already preserved in heaven for them.”
This alone should explain to us that it is faulty human reasoning to conclude that true Christians—ambassadors of Christ and representatives of the heavenly government—should get involved in the political affairs of this world and vote in governmental elections. A thorough discussion can be found in a previous Q&A on voting. At the same time, we are told in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, which complements Romans 13:3-6, that we are to pray for governmental leaders. We discussed this Christian duty in a Q&A on the issue.
There, we explained the purpose for such prayers—and especially public prayers–which are decisively not to be given to express our favor or disfavor for a certain political candidate in political campaigns. Rather, we “are to pray always and without ceasing, including on behalf of our leaders and even our enemies, so that we may be allowed to lead peaceful lives. In this world of hatred, violence and war, such kinds of prayers are necessary and very pleasing to God.”
When Paul said that political governmental officials can be viewed as “God’s ministers,” he had in mind that true Christians are to be subject to duly constituted human authority. They are not to rebel against it, trying to overthrow it with violent means—even if such authority behaves blatantly ungodly. But Paul also believed, as he clearly taught in Scripture, that it is Satan who rules this present evil world, and that it is ultimately God who allows Satan to rule temporarily. Paul taught that God might even directly appoint certain people to certain offices—in furtherance of His plan. These officials might actually be totally unqualified—from a godly perspective—to rule righteously and fairly. But this is not the reason why they were placed in power. This alone shows that true Christians could not vote for them.
For instance, we read that God may appoint the “lowest [or basest, Authorized Version] of men” (Daniel 4:17). We read that He placed the stubborn Pharaoh of Egypt in power to magnify Himself in him (Exodus 9:16; Romans 9:17). He will “send” a future king of Assyria against modern Israel and Judah to punish them (Isaiah 10:5-7). In that sense, they were or will be “God’s ministers,” in that they have been used—or will be used—to carry out God’s plan and purpose. God even called violent King Nebuchadnezzar “My servant” (Jeremiah 27:6), and He referred to idolatrous King Cyrus as “My shepherd” and “His anointed” (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1), as they were fulfilling at the time God’s Will in certain areas. But to say that this proves that true Christians should vote or should have voted for any of these “candidates” is simply preposterous.
The New Scofield Reference Bible states regarding Romans 13:1-4: “…the apostle points out that orderly government is part of God’s provision, even in a wicked world. No ruler exercises control except as God permits… Under normal circumstances the Christian is to be obedient to the law of the land. This does not mean that he is to obey regulations that are immoral or anti-Christian. In such cases it is his duty to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29; cp. Dan. 3:16-18; 6:10 ff…).”
Since a true Christian must disobey laws that are immoral or anti-Christian, how can he then support and vote for a political candidate who promotes and enacts such laws? The answer is, he cannot. He cannot vote for a lesser evil, but he must “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
The Life Application Bible sets forth the different ways in which “Christians” have tried to interpret the statements in Romans 13:1-4. Today, many, including some members of the Sabbath-keeping Church of God organizations, have been using similar arguments to justify voting in governmental elections.
The above-mentioned commentary writes:
“We should never allow government to force us to disobey God. Jesus and his apostles never disobeyed the government for personal reasons; when they disobeyed, it was in order to follow their higher loyalty to God. Their disobedience was not cheap; they were threatened, beaten, thrown into jail, tortured, and executed for their convictions. Like them, if we are compelled to disobey, we must be ready to accept the consequences.”
We are to submit to human laws and governments. When we must disobey for conscience sake and are being convicted for it, we are to submit to the penalty and must not resort to the use of guns and weapons, attempting to violently fight the officials which are being sent to us to carry out the sentence.
The commentary continues:
“Christians understand Romans 13 in different ways. All Christians agree that we are to live at peace with the state as long as the state allows us to live by our religious convictions…
“Some Christians believe that the state is so corrupt that Christians should have as little to do with it as possible. Although they should be good citizens as long as they can do so without compromising their beliefs, they should not work for the government, vote in elections, or serve in the military.”
We would, overall, agree with this view point, at least as it concerns voting in governmental elections or serving in the military in a combatant capacity, or working for the government in respect to certain tasks. This is not to say that a Christian could not work for the government by fulfilling non-violent tasks which would not compromise his beliefs.
The commentary goes on to state:
“Others believe that God has given the state authority in certain areas and the church authority in others. Christians can be loyal to both and can work for either. They should not, however, confuse the two. In this view, church and state are concerned with two different spheres—the spiritual and the physical—and they complement each other but do not work together.”
Again, these statements contain elements of truth, but Christians should not confuse God’s authority and man’s authority. They must not be working for the state in capacities which would violate the letter or the spirit of God’s laws.
However, many nominal and even some true Christians misinterpret Paul’s statement in Romans 13 in the way as the above-mentioned commentary describes below in regard to the third category:
“Still others believe that Christians have a responsibility to make the state better. They can do this politically, by electing Christian or high-principled leaders. They can also do this morally, by serving as an influence for good in society. In this view, church and state ideally work together for the good of all.”
Of course, it is true that as true Christians, we are to be good examples for others to show them how one can represent God and His Way of Life. But this does not mean that we should try to make this a better world or that we should attempt to better the state—it is Satan’s world which we cannot improve—or that we should vote for “high-principled leaders.” Christ’s true disciples are to come out of this world and be separate, and not to touch what is unclean (2 Corinthians 6:17; compare Revelation 18:4; John 15:19; 17:16; 18:36). Also, Paul is asking in 2 Corinthians 6:14: “For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?” To think naively that we can change this evil world through the election of professing Christian political candidates misunderstands the purpose of our Christian calling, and reflects a misunderstanding of life’s realities. After all, evil company in the political field corrupts even the most “high-principled” candidates (compare 1 Corinthians 15:33).
The commentary concludes with this accurate assessment:
“None of these views advocate rebelling against or refusing to obey the government’s laws or regulations unless those laws clearly require you to violate the moral standards revealed by God. Wherever we find ourselves, we must be responsible citizens, as well as responsible Christians.”
Romans 13:1-6 does not teach that Christians can or should get involved in political campaigns or that they should vote in governmental elections. Paul is teaching the exact opposite, and so is the entire Bible. In the next Q&A, this issue will be further discussed, as well as the question as to when “human authority” is established in God’s eyes, and what the practical consequences may be for our Christian living.
(To Be Continued)
Lead Writer: Norbert Link