By Alexander Venter — Vineyard pastor and author
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This year we celebrate 20 years of South Africa’s (SA) democracy. Remember the miracle of the 1994 elections? We go to the polls again on 7 May 2014. How should the church relate to the government – the ruling ANC party – at this time? How should we vote?
Historically there have been three general approaches to the Church/State relationship:
- Kingdom of God approach: Separation of Church and State; a critical partnership meaning constructive support on matters for the good of society and critical resistance on matters harmful to society (when Kingdom values and ethics are violated).
- Constantinian approach: Union of Church and State, called Christendom, from when Emporer Constantine (311AD) became a Christian. It’s an activist involvement either for the State (a State Church), or against the State (a Subversive Church). Traditional Churches still operate in this paradigm. The Anabaptists (in 1500s) were the first to break away from State-Church control, called Free Churches.
- Pietistic approach: Church withdrawal from the State – being a-political, meaning “don’t meddle with politics… it’s not the concern of the Church”. This “remain silent” approach is found in Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches (especially during the Apartheid years). In reality it means support for the status quo.
In the Vineyard, we reject the latter two and practice the Kingdom approach. God’s Kingdom interrupted this age in Jesus, redeeming and uniting people from all races and nations creating “one new humanity” (Eph 2:14-16), a trans-national people under God’s government. Jesus taught that God’s Kingdom brings a separation of State and Church: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (recognise the State’s realm of authority, e.g. pay taxes), but “give to God what is God’s” (recognise God’s – via the Church – authority of worship/allegiance to God, Matt 22:15-22). Because the Kingdom is ‘already’ and ‘not yet’, Christians are both citizens of the Kingdom (the already) and of their national governments (the not yet) at the same time. But the Kingdom is our primary commitment and identity. In matters of belief, morality and conscience “we must obey God rather than man” (Acts 4:19). Be wary of patriotism and nationalism; only God is to be worshipped, only He can give us ultimate identity. Therefore we are witnesses to God’s Kingdom while seeking to be good citizens of our nation.
Government has a God-given responsibility to uphold justice in society, especially for the poor (see Psalms 72 & 82). It can use “the sword” against evil when needed (Rom 13:1-7). The Church submits to the State for the common good, and must pray for them (we use other “weapons” to fight evil in society, 1Pet 2:13-17, 1Tim 2:1-8, 2Cor 10:3-6, Eph 6:12f). The creative tension and critical partnership between Church and State plays its way out in various ways in a normal democratic political context – as in SA. But if the State becomes draconian (as in Rev 13; as in Apartheid) the Church resists the evil State by non-violent intervention and martyrdom – for justice sake, for the oppressed. Let us pray this may never again happen in our nation. We call all our people to pray for and participate in the forthcoming elections.
Some key implications of the Kingdom approach for the forthcoming elections:
- The ‘Secular State’ is good for the Church: The State is a ‘this age’ phenomenon and is thus ‘secular’. We don’t believe in a ‘Christian Government’ in a ‘Christian Nation’ – only Jesus will do that when he comes to rule! Till then we are called to be the conscience of the State and society by living the Kingdom. So, an overt Christian political party is a Christendom relic – any failure by them reflects directly on the Church and Christianity as it was under Apartheid. Reverends or Bishops who become politicians should relinquish their titles and positions to not embarrass the Church.
- The Church should not be party-political: distinguishing between the government of the day and the political party that rules, is important in our dealings with the State. The Church – via its pastors and leaders – should not publicly identify with any one political party. As citizens they vote for a party according to their conscience, but as Church leaders they teach their people the criteria of evaluation, freeing them to vote according to their conscience. Only in a clear morally polarised and unjust context can the Church say who to vote for. In a ‘normal’ context we pray for, pastor and support individual Christians who are called to work in (party) politics as witnesses to the Kingdom.
- Evaluating political parties – who to vote for? Applying the criteria for evaluation in a normal political (morally mixed) context is not easy. Begin by informing yourself of each party’s leadership, policies and track-record – the three broad criteria of evaluation – and see the Biblical criteria (2Sam 23:3-4, Ps 72, 82, Rom 13):
1) God: Do they fear and respect God? It doesn’t mean they have to be Christians.
2) Character: The moral integrity and trustworthiness of their leaders, or lack thereof.
3) Competence: Their competence and discipline on the job, or lack thereof.
4) Policies: Their beliefs, policies and practices in terms of ethical values (e.g. care for the poor; upholding sanctity of life, rule of law, human rights; fighting corruption, etc).
5) Track-record: Their fruit – how have they conducted themselves? What have they produced in society? Smaller parties also impact society and produce fruit.
- Conviction vote or strategic vote? The above criteria will lead you to vote as per your convictions. But each political party is morally compromised. Often it’s a choice of the lesser of two or more evils, trading negatives in one party off against worse ones in others. Therefore, include other criteria in deciding: a ‘strategic vote’. E.g. we know the ANC will be returned to power, so which party will make the most effective opposition to keep it accountable? I.e. vote for a strong opposition to hold the government accountable.
My own view and appeal: I speak for myself, not for my Church (Following Jesus) or denomination (Vineyard). The level of arrogance and moral/financial corruption in the government (Jacob Zuma, his cabinet ministers & civil servants) has reached such alarming proportions that our nation is approaching the tipping point of going the way of Zimbabwe and other African nations. The Nkandlha Gate, Gupta Gate, and R31 billion unaccounted for in government spending by the Auditor General, is the tip of the iceburg. I believe corruption is so endemic in the ANC and SA in general, I am conscience-bound to make a prophetic stand to break the above “rules” and call on all South Africans NOT TO VOTE FOR Jacob Zuma and the ANC, but for a strong opposition to hold them accountable. The last time I did this – to meddle in ‘party politics’ – was under Apartheid in 1983: I preached on the evils of Apartheid and not to vote for the National Party. Needless to say, a number of people left our church immediately. Our corrupt government is THAT BAD in my view that we must do the same again: resist the evil gaining control of our politics and nation through the ANC! Do NOT vote ANC! Do not withhold your vote in protest! Rather vote for a strong opposition! Let us pray earnstly for the elections that will take place on 7 May. God have mercy on SA!