What Christians need to know about government and elections — Tendai Chitsike

As we decide who to vote for, we are inevitably voting for what is most important to us.

This priority could be is a less corrupt government, “solving” inequality or the provision of basic services. It could also be our fears based on our apartheid past, a fear of the future to “‘stop them” from gaining a majority, or the messianic hope that our preferred party will “save” the nation.

But what is most important to us as believers in Christ? Michael Goheen, professor of theology says the following: “Social engagement is not first of all to change society — that may happen but it is not the goal. Rather, it is to witness to the Lordship of Christ over all areas of public life and to love our neighbour as we struggle against dehumanizing idolatry. In other words, the Lordship of Christ is of paramount importance in all things, including how we vote and think about politics.”

Many Christians will then turn around and say: what about the separation of church and state? Look at the Inquisition and the Crusades. We surely don’t want that again. Doesn’t power corrupt? Shouldn’t we be putting our energy solely into preaching the Gospel?

These are great questions for which the Bible and secondly history have given us truth and experience. Portions of Romans 13:1-6 say the following:1…The authorities that exist have been established by God. 4 For he (the civil government official) 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. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.

Important principles
From here and elsewhere we can derive a number of important principles: Civil government, like the family and the Church, is instituted by God, not man or the devil. It exists for the benefit of all, protecting those who do good and punishing those who do evil. Civil government, therefore, has no mandate to convert people to a Christian or other faith. Civil government leaders are God’s servants, doing a noble, godly work, that is independent of the mandate of the Church but no less God-ordained.

Commenting on this Scripture, author, reformer and political appointee Charles W Colson, wrote the following: “Christians elected to public office…hold the power of the sword…which God has placed with government to preserve order and maintain justice. Now they act not for themselves for all whom they serve…If Christians today understood this distinction between the role of the private Christian citizen and the Christian in government, they might sound less like medieval crusaders. If secularists understood correctly the nature of Christian public duty they would not fear, but welcome responsible Christian political involvement.”

This should clear up the following misconceptions: That Christians are necessarily going to abuse their position for the benefit of the Church; and that politics is an inherently “ungodly” and “unchristian” area of life for Christians.

While Christians (like any other people) have abused the political office, many have not, and have done quite the opposite. The fact that the office has been abused does not mean Christians should no longer engage in it. No one says that because Christians have abused marriage and family, that they should no longer participate in this, so why do we say that with politics?! Three times in this Scripture, civil government officials are described as “God’s servants” serving Him “full-time”!

Christian convictions
History shows that it was because of — not in spite of — his new-found Christian convictions that William Wilberforce (and many others) tirelessly campaigned to end slavery, which he did for the benefit of all, using the tool of the State.

In our current context, by far the most integrous and trustworthy branch of government is the judiciary, of which the Chief Justice, is a committed and outspoken Christian.

History also records that Christians from the early Church to the present have campaigned to or through the state, resulting in the new laws that have come to protect/abolish kidnapped brides, child labour, gladiatorial combat, death games, infanticide, child marriage, temple prostitution, child sexual abuse, child prostitution, wives as property, widow burning and promoting religious and political freedom and the equality of all mankind.

In addition, it is largely because Christians became involved in politics, that we currently enjoy a constitutional democracy. Consider the concept of the rule of law, which seeks to hold even the holders of the highest public offices accountable to an unchanging standard. Where did this idea come from? Karl Marx? Lenin?

No, it largely came from a Scottish Presbyterian minister by the name of Samuel Rutherford. In his book Lex Rex he argued for the concept that the king should be under the law just like everybody else. His ideas were rooted in scriptures such as Deuterenomy 17:18-20 which bound the king to live by an unchanging standard from God’s Law, wherein he must…follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left.

These ideas led to our modern constitutional democracies and had a strong influence on the formation of government in the United States. In addition, the doctrine of separation of church and state was enacted here not to prevent Christians from holding office, but to prevent anyone using the state to impose religion on their citizens.

To put it differently, separation of church and state was never intended to mean separation of God from state! It was developed by Christians, for the purpose of ensuring freedom of religion, not to prevent Christians from holding office.

Christian apologist Frank Turek provides us with a contemporary example to motivate for the role of Christians in politics: “When I have just a minute to communicate the importance of Christians being involved in politics, I call up this satellite picture of the Korean peninsula on my iPhone. Here we see a homogenous population of mostly Koreans separated by a well-fortified border. South Korea is full of light, productivity, and the Gospel. They are a free country and one of the most Christianised countries in the world. North Korea is a concentration camp. They have no freedom, very little food, and almost no Christianity. I then ask: “What is the primary reason for the stark difference between these two countries?” The answer is politics. The South politically allows freedom, while the North does not.”

Lastly, the idea that we must have men and women of integrity in public office, but they shouldn’t be Christians, does not appear to make much sense at all.

Getting practical
How do these high-sounding ideas relate to our voting options on the ground? It is safe to say that the leading party has had a consistent record of corruption and mismanagement, so much so that the current president apologised for their mistakes in his final election speech.

In their very short history, the EFF have been heavily implicated in corruption, have attacked journalists and parliamentary officials and trashed businesses they do not like.

The DA have had a better-audited record of provincial and local governance. Nevertheless, they have made no attempt to overturn State-driven abortion, or to limit the state’s aggressive encroachment in the area of state regulation of religion, home education and discipline to name a few. These are not merely Christian “pet issues”. They will either lead to human flourishing or increasing state domination, which eventually will suffocate not only religious life but every conceivable area as well.

Notably, the few elected officials of the ACDP have consistently stood alone to uphold these values since coming into office in 1994, not only for the benefit of Christians but for all citizens.

As we ponder what is of ultimate and even eternal significance, I am reminded of the words of C S Lewis, who wrote: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

As we vote, may we do so thoughtfully, biblically and with an attitude of respect to those who vote differently to us. As the Church, may we continue to do all we can to see this nation come to faith and discipleship in Christ.

God bless you and God Bless South Africa.


  1. A most balanced, well constructed article. Great thoughts and insights on the long held controversy around separation of state and church. Some of these untested traditions of abstinence and absco dment of Christians from the political arena have been costly, senseless and have diminished healthy understanding of the God who rules over all and about the kingdoms of the earth coming under the kingdom of our God and King! Prescient for our times Tendai!

  2. Wow. Beautiful and very well constructed article indeed.

  3. Thank you. That was so helpful.

  4. Thank you for your encouraging comments!

  5. Thank you. A vrey well balanced, imformative and useful Christian guideline before or after the elections.