Politics and Worship

What comes to your mind when you think of politics?

Take a minute to think about it. 

Now, what comes to your mind when you think about worship?

My guess is that you just had two very different pictures come to mind. Now, consider how Psalm 2 folds these two together:
At the beginning of the psalm the kings and rulers of the earth are depicted as conspiring together to throw off the rule of Yahweh and His Messiah (Ps 2:1-3), and the psalm concludes with a warning to these kings and rulers: 
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; 
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
(Ps 2:10-12)

Two questions to ask: 

  1. Why is God addressing “kings” and “rulers” here? The psalm opens by first addressing the “nations” and “peoples,” (2:1). Why not continue to just use those terms?

    I think those terms are brought in specifically to focus on what a nation or people do politically. Kings, rulers, prime ministers, presidents—whatever the title and position —Psalm 2 wants us to think about the political dimension of a group of people. Which leads to a second question:
  2. In what ways does God hold nations and peoples, those outside of His special covenant community (Israel/the Church), accountable? Are the kings of Babylon, Philistia, and Assyria, or the presidents of America, Mexico, and India, accountable to God for what they do?

    That question has a thousand tendrils of other questions attached to it. I bring it up not to dive deeply into it, but only to show that it cracks open a window into a much more expansive view of both worship and politics. It would appear that God expects the kings and rulers of the earth to submit to the Messiah and serve Yahweh with fear and joy. And these are not the people of Israel—but the nations. While there is a distinction between how God rules over His covenant people and the outside nations, the sweep of the Bible makes it clear that God holds the nations at large accountable for what they do. Here, in Psalm 2, the psalmist explicitly calls for the kings of the earth to “kiss the Son” (an act of worship), lest they perish.

Now, bring the answer to both of those questions together and we discover that God allows for no morally or religiously neutral zone when it comes to politics. In our day, we often hear people say that when we enter the “public square” we ought to set aside our different religious convictions and possess a “neutral standard” of justice. In their minds, this seems like a guaranteed way to ensure a pluralistic society where people from different walks of life and faith can peacefully coexist together. 
Yet, Psalm 2 (and many other places in Scripture), seem to tell us that kings and rulers have a binary option: submit to the Messiah, or not. There is no such thing as an “unspiritual” neutral domain over which God does not exercise Lordship. This was brought to my attention last week as I was studying 1 Samuel 8 where Israel demands a king. Yahweh didn’t respond by saying, “Keep me out of politics, I only deal with spiritual matters.” No, he viewed Israel’s political ambitions as a spiritual rebellion against Him (1 Sam 8:7). God cares about what a nation does politically.
If politics is the codification of laws and institutions that seek to bring about an orderly and flourishing society, then someone has to decide what ‘justice’ is and how it is administered. Consider what one author has written:
“If God is both creator and comprehensive ruler over all, all justice and righteousness are utterly and irrevocably rooted in his nature and character. There is no neutral standard of righteousness and justice. There are only competitors,” (Jonathan Leeman, Political Church, p. 168).
Here Jonathan Leeman is pointing out that all laws and policies require a moral standard behind them, and if God is who He says He is, then it is His standard that reigns supreme, whether the kings and rulers of the earth recognize it or not. So, this means that when we approach the dozens of complex political and cultural issues of our day, we should not attempt to bracket our Christian convictions out of the equation to arrive at a “neutral” place in the public square. There is no neutral place. The public square is, as Leeman elsewhere states, a “battleground of gods” all vying for supremacy, warring for who gets to define what is right and wrong. The secularist turns to the idols of expressive individualism and self-gratification to inform him on what right/wrong is, while the Christian turns to the God of the Bible. Each person is making a religious argument, even if one would deny it.
So, perhaps the liberal secularist and I have different definitions of what constitutes a person in the womb or what marriage is. Perhaps the conservative secularist and I have different definitions of what justice and mercy looks like to the immigrant, the poor, and the widow. But that doesn’t mean I need to handcuff my convictions because these secularists don’t submit to Christ. It means submit by insisting on Christ’s standards of right and wrong, and then summon them to do the same. I worship the King in submitting to Him in all of life—public square included. 

Having a more expansive view of worship (and politics) doesn’t mean working against a pluralistic society, it doesn’t mean that Christians attempt to govern a state the way the church is governed, but it does mean we take the basic confession of the Christian faith–Christ is King–seriously, political implications and all.

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