I struggle to reconcile 6 and 7 and would welcome any help with that.
It’s easy to find examples of OT prophets confronting the Jewish and even foreign governments for their wickedness. For example,
(Isa 10:1-3 ESV) Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, 2 to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! 3 What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth?
A “decree” is a law. Isaiah is confronting the king and the tribal elders — those who enact wicked laws.
Now, of course, Israel was a theocracy ruled by God himself, and so very unlike any nation-state around today. But sometimes the prophets also spoke against the wickedness of surrounding nations.
Jonah comes to mind immediately, as he preached (unwillingly) to the Assyrians in Nineveh, urging them to repent from their violence (Jon 3:8) — and the Assyrians were notoriously violent in their treatment of the nations they conquered.
I’d like to suggest that the distinction between 6 and 7 is love. For example, it’s easy to see the value in the church prophetically urging the government to repeal laws that are unjust to the poor, the fatherless, the widow, or the sojourner. These are classes of people the Torah and the prophets single out for God’s special protection and concern.
For example, about 12 years ago, the Alabama churches banned together to defeat lottery legislation, on the theory that the lottery would transfer wealth from the poorest citizens of the state to some of the wealthiest. This is a much more powerful argument than “gambling is a sin.” I mean, most people don’t care to be told whether they may gamble. It’s their own money. But when the studies show that the lottery is just a clever way to take money from the poorest citizens to fund programs to benefit the wealthy, well, that’s another conversation altogether.
But often our lobbying in the name of Christ is for our self-interest. We want the porn shops closed more to preserve our neighborhoods and property values than any genuine concern for the people being exploited. We want Sunday liquor sales banned so our Sunday dinners at the Red Lobster feel more Christian, with no beer or wine drinkers around. Who wants to feel like they’re eating in a bar while they discuss this morning’s sermon?
On the other hand, sometimes our lobbying truly is out of love. For example, gambling is never condemned in scripture. Opposing gambling because “it’s a sin” doesn’t persuade and doesn’t cause people to feel loved. Nor is it generally campaigned against out of love. It’s normally about preserving a lifestyle. But opposing gambling because it’s been shown to deepen the poverty of our poorest citizens is quite another thing.
Just so, when we seek legislation to ban gay sex, unbelievers really don’t care that the Bible says gay sex is sinful. After all, these people are unbelievers. The argument falls on blind eyes and deaf ears. It’s true that the Bible condemns gay sex, but that’s a very unpersuasive argument for those who’ve rejected the Bible.
So we’d rather argue in terms of social policy and the impact on society, or some such thing, and that’s not an easy argument to make. (And we’ll get there under a different question.) That is, sometimes the considerations that make something sinful only apply to believers. For example, only believers are under obligation to give to the church or to attend the assembly. And therefore, we can’t ask the government to be involved in such things.
And sometimes the impact of God’s command really are for the best of society and based on a love that’s wiser than man can understand. But unbelievers will never, ever believe that, and so, in such a case, they’ll not feel loved when the church lobbies for a law that is based on a wisdom beyond their comprehension. In fact, they’ll feel oppressed.
And the church will have violated this important teaching —
(2Co 12:9-10 ESV) 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
If we can’t pass legislation through persuasion, then we’re tempted to pass it through power — by supporting more politicians, by giving more money, by getting the Christian vote out — so that we defeat sin through our own power. And the ends don’t justify the means. (Another cliche, I know, but a good one.) Somehow we have to learn that we do the Christian cause great harm when we use raw political power to impose our will on people who disagree — even when we happen to be right.
The scriptures counsel that this is a very dangerous path.
(Jdg 7:2 ESV) The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.'”
(Deu 8:17 ESV) 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’
When was the last time you heard one of these passages mentioned in a political rally?
So it’s possible to lobby for the same thing for both good and bad reasons. We can lobby against gambling because we want to preserve a lifestyle and culture free of lotto tickets and casinos. When we do this, we are being selfish. It’s perfectly acceptable behavior for voters in a democracy. Just don’t bring Jesus into the conversation. Jesus does not oppose gambling just because it’s gambling.
On the other hand, if you’re convinced, as am I, that a lottery will rob from the poor to give to the rich, the question becomes profoundly Christian. The OT prophets would join us in our denunciation of such things.
On the other-other hand, this means that gambling that doesn’t take advantage of the poor does not present the same moral concern as gambling that does.
You may still oppose gambling for any number of legitimate public policy concerns. But in the absence of a clear scriptural condemnation — and gambling is as old as humanity — we can’t just declare it a sin and expect our legislators to toe the line.
And this raise the temptation to push for legislation for selfish or non-scriptural, good policy reasons and to tell the world that the Bible supports us. I mean, who but God knows our real motivation, so why not play the Bible card at every opportunity? Why not wrap ourselves in the cross just as some politicians wrap themselves in the flag?
So, unfortunately, my brief analysis leaves us sorting through some very difficult issues. Is this really what the Bible says or just the way I like things? Is this God’s good policy or good governmental policy? Am I pushing Jesus or Victorianism or American middle class values? They are not the same.
Why am I really doing this? Am I using the church to pursue my own ends or is God using me to pursue his own ends? (You’d think it’d be easy to tell, but in my own experience, it’s not. It’s not always true, but often when it’s God’s idea, we’re reluctant to take up the cause.)
Finally, even if I’m pushing for good, scriptural things, are they also good public policy? Is this this sort of thing that the government can do better than the Holy Spirit? And I don’t mean to be facetious (much). The Spirit is great at changing hearts; not so good at locking up murderers.
Bottom line: the rules for what is good government are not clear — even to the experts. God wants us to have good government, and Christians should be wise enough to know how to vote and lobby to pursue good governmental policies. I think a democracy is blessed to have Christians at the voting booth.
But the danger of a democracy is that Christians sometimes are given enough power to impose their values on an unbelieving world. And we have not yet proven ourselves wise enough to exercise that power as God would have us do.
For those with a serious interest in these questions, I highly recommend To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. It’s one of the most important books of this generation.