One of the great things about Australia is our DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT. Democracy is decision-making where everyone has a voice, or a vote. Its citizens CHOOSE the leaders they want to represent them. It’s different to other forms of government, where decision-making is restricted to one person, like a king or dictator, or to a small group of people.
We often don’t appreciate how GOOD our political system is. Much of the rest of the world wants to live in a Western democracy, like Australia. Or they want their country to change to be a Western democracy.
- Firstly, democracy brings POLITICAL STABILITY. Which we often take for granted. Just look at what’s happening in Hong Kong at the moment. In Australia we can peacefully protest about proposed government legislation. Voters can speak to their elected representatives, and can disagree with one another. Decisions can be made that we oppose. But there are no riots, or brutal armed retaliation.
Elections take place, and opposing supporters chat to one another outside polling stations as they hand out how-to-vote cards.
Government changes. One Prime Minister steps down, clears out his office, shakes hands with his opponent, and the next Prime Minister takes over. Government continues to operate.
John says it’s not like that in Ecuador. After an election, when the ruling party changes, everyone in government departments loses their jobs. And the country grinds to a halt for weeks.
And Ecuador is a PEACEFUL country. Imagine what happens after elections in countries where there’s CONFLICT!
- Secondly, we love our system because democracy brings FREEDOM. People are free to say what they like, believe what they like, and live where they like within limits. They can make a living in, just about, any legal way they like. We have a voice. Even the least wealthy or powerful.
And we love the way almost ANYONE can rise up to lead the country. You don’t need to be borne to it. Or have the fortune needed to bribe you way to power. If you’ve got the ABILITY, there’s a pathway for you to lead your country. That sort of freedom resonates with our sense of a fair go for everyone. And our passion for cheering for the underdog.
- What we value about democracy comes from Biblical teaching
But how does Christianity fit with democracy? It’s an interesting time to be a Christian in Australia. Because the last few years have seen moves from some parts of society to remove every trace of Christianity from public life. Scripture out of schools, prayer out of the opening of parliament. Churches out of public school halls. Removal of freedoms of religion and religious speech. The thinking is that anyone of religious faith needs to keep their opinions private.
And yet, the fact remains that there are many people of faith in public life. Perhaps they’re even over-represented in politics, compared with the general population. They obviously think that it’s part of their response to God to work for the good of society in public life.
And it’s not a recent thing either. The two great modern democracies, Britain and America, developed quite differently. But BOTH were strongly influenced, in different ways, by Christians, and Christian principles. Democratic values come from Biblical teaching.
First, Christianity says that this life isn’t all there is. We are eternal. And that means our behaviour matters. Justice MATTERS. Those who worked for democracy were motivated by a sense of JUSTICE, founded on the character of God.
Each of us will have to give an account for the choices we make. We’ll be judged by God. On the day he judged EVERYONE according to how they live.
Tyrants can impose their laws and do as they like, but ultimately they’ll be answerable to a HIGHER AUTHORITY. And the BEST leaders are those who recognise that. Democracy is a tool to maintain accountability and justice.
The SECOND thing Christianity teaches is connected to the idea of judgment. We’re ALL THOROUGHLY SINFUL. And that means no person, or group of people, can be trusted with power.
Democracy protects us from wicked leaders. It constrains and moderates sinful people by putting checks and balances in place.
CS Lewis wrote
I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason… they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government.
The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . . . I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation. . . .
The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”
(Democracy is built on the notion that humanity is sinful, and leaders need checks and balances.)
The THIRD thing Christianity teaches is that, even though we’re all thoroughly sinful, God made EVERY PERSON IN HIS OWN IMAGE. That means everyone has value and dignity and basic rights. Everyone is worth protecting and listening to.
That truth motivated those, in many countries, who campaigned for the right to vote. It doesn’t matter how wealthy or important or privileged you are. Or what you’re sex or ethnicity. Everyone’s voice, and vote, is valuable.
Jesus taught and lived out that commitment to the inherent value of every person. In Luke 4, he went to the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, v16. And he was given the scroll of Isaiah to read from. And the passage he chose was from Ch 61.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
There’s a SPIRITUAL sense to those words. (Jesus was delivering SPIRITUAL prisoners, and healing SPIRITUAL blindness.) But he was also CHANGING SOCIETY. Relieving physical and emotional suffering. Healing blindness. Releasing the demon-oppressed. Declaring good news, and then bringing that to pass. And doing it for those who needed it most. Because everyone, ESPECIALLY the lowest in society matter.
And Christians, down through the ages, have imitated Jesus’ example. Democracy, at its core, is about giving a voice to EVERYONE, because EVERYONE MATTERS.
That’s my FIRST point. What we value about democracy comes from Biblical teaching. (justice, sin, and the value of everyone).
- Democracy is a good system within which the Christian can be a good citizen
The SECOND point I want to make is that democracy is a good system within which the Christian can be a good citizen.
I’m not saying that democracy is the most Christian political system around. But within a healthy democracy, Christians are free to make moral choices, and to influence society for the good.
That’s the reason Paul teaches we’re to PRAY for those in authority. 1 Timothy 2.
2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- 2 for kings and all those in authority, THAT WE MAY LIVE PEACEFUL AND QUIET LIVES IN ALL GODLINESS AND HOLINESS. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Government that’s working well means Christians can live peaceful, quiet, godly lives. Which is God’s desire for EVERYONE.
Democracy’s not the only system that can PROVIDE that. But it seems to have been THE MOST EFFECTIVE in the last couple of hundred years. Christians have the freedom to be able to live and speak authentically as followers of Jesus. But what should that LOOK LIKE, PRACTICALLY?
In Luke 3:7-14 John the Baptist is preaching in the desert. And he says that people should produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And then he warns them that time is short,
9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
The crowd ask, What should we do then? And here’s his answer.
11 “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely-be content with your pay.”
In other words, there are practical consequences if you have Christian faith. Repentance will LOOK LIKE something. Christian faith will make a difference in how you work. And how you spend money. And how you treat people. You’ll be generous. And fair. And compassionate. And content. Christians who obey John’s teaching here make good citizens. They contribute and make a difference to the people around them. And our democracy is a good system that gives us FREEDOM to do these things. Taxes end up helping those who need it, rather than just making those who rule richer.
Both Paul and Peter teach, in their letters, that a Christian is to be a good citizen. In Romans 13:1, Paul writes,
13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
We obey earthly rulers because God’s set them in place. Down in v4 he says
4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
God USES earthly authorities, even non-Christian authorities, to achieve his purposes – bringing justice and protecting the innocent.
Paul goes on to give some practical commands on what it LOOKS LIKE to obey earthly authorities. V6
6 This is also WHY YOU PAY TAXES, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
Fulfil your responsibilities as a member of society. But do even more. Go above and beyond the law of the land. LOVE our fellowman. And you can NEVER completely keep THAT command.
Peter teaches something similar in 1 Peter 2. V13.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
WHATEVER the authority, offer them your submission. From pool lifeguards, to parking officers, to soccer referees, to traffic controllers. All the way up to police officers, judges and prime ministers. Be humble, and peaceable and gentle.
And do it FOR THE LORD’S SAKE. In other words, because you’re being loyal to a HIGHER AUTHORITY. When you serve earthly authorities, you’re pleasing your HEAVENLY authority.
And have a look at v15. God’s purpose for your obedient submission.
15 For it is God’s will that by doing good YOU SHOULD SILENCE THE IGNORANT TALK OF FOOLISH MEN.
Christians have always had critics who’ve misunderstood them. Whether it was Jews and Romans in Peter’s time. Or politically-correct secular humanists today, intolerantly pushing tolerance.
But the way to cut the ground out from under your opponents is TO LOVE THEM. To be GENTLE in the face of their aggression. To be humble in the face of their pride. To be patient in the face of their ridicule. To listen, and question, and turn the other cheek.
The paragraph before explains it in more detail. 1 Peter 2 v11.
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Yes, we’re to be the best citizens we can be. But at the same time, it’s a type of guerrilla warfare. Undercover resistance. You LOOK LIKE everyone else, but your first allegiance is with a DIFFERENT Master. And you’re working for a different purpose. God’s plan is that YOUR BEHAVIOUR is the ordinary means God uses to lead people to recognise and glorify God.
Your identity is NOT, primarily, AUSTRALIAN. Or Sydney-sider. Christians have DUAL PASSPORTS. We’re citizens of two kingdoms. One earthly, and one HEAVENLY. And where we CAN, we’re to be LOYAL TO BOTH.
But your fundamental identity is that you’re an alien in this world. A tourist. Your TRUE home is HEAVEN. God is your Father. It’s THAT NATURE you’re to reflect. Your FIRST loyalty is to that citizenship.
It’s that DUAL IDENTITY and DUAL LOYALTY Jesus describes in Luke 20. His critics were trying to trick him. V22. “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?”
If he answered YES, he’d disappoint the people, who wanted freedom from the Roman oppressors. If he said NO, they’d have him arrested for treason.
V24, Jesus answers.
24 “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” 25 “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Caesar has HIS image stamped on coins. So give him the coins that represent his authority. But our higher loyalty belongs to GOD. Why? Because we have HIS IMAGE stamped on us. We’re made in God’s image. We’re to give him OURSELVES. Our obedience and loyalty.
We’re to live out our God-given authority as image-bearers. To obediently, under God, rule and subdue the earth. Cultivating and creating. Protecting and nurturing it.
And our democracy, at least at the moment, gives us the freedom and the opportunities and the tools, to DO that.
We need more Christians in public life. In local and state and federal politics. On School P&F associations. And Chambers of Commerce. And boards of not-for-profits.
We need more Christians who write letters to the editor, and blogs, and contact their local members.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus described his followers as salt and light (Matthew 5:13). That’s what he wants his church to be in Australia in 2019.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.