Why Not Voting is Not an Option

As the political election approaches in America, many Christians boldly proclaim that Jesus is King. Such a statement is often coupled with a declaration that they will not be voting, especially given the apparent choices in the presidential election. For perhaps different reasons, Thabiti Anyabwile writes at The Gospel Coalition: “I’m ‘voting’ by not voting.” But is abstaining the obedience to which the Jesus of Scripture has called us? Does it honor him as the King he shows himself to be?

The Lord himself ordained that civil leaders govern (Romans 13:1-7). In Bible history, he specifically commanded people to choose their leaders and gave guidance in the process (Exodus 18:21, Numbers 1:16, Deuteronomy 16:18). Of course, he also calls us to submit to the leaders he has providentially placed over us (1 Peter 2:13-14), and to pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-2). He is no deistic-mediator who remains aloof after demanding submission. Rather, he actively works in politics through the ordinary means of people rolling up their sleeves to work each day in this realm of life.

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), in his famous treatise on civil government, Lex, Rex, opens by observing in his first section that God has established civil powers by his word and by his laws of nature. He deals especially with the question of monarchical forms of government, since he lived in a monarchy, but he does say this of a republic in his third section: “that a republic appoint rulers is not an indifferent, but a moral action, because to set no ruler over themselves I conceive were a breach of the fifth commandment, which commandeth government to be one or other.” Rutherford’s fourth section goes on to argue extensively from Scripture that people, under God, are called to install their civil leaders.

The fifth commandment teaches: “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). This commandment summarizes our duty with respect to all authority in life. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 64-65) expands on this command. It shows that we are required to perform the duties belonging to us in the various structures of authority in which God has placed us, whether we are over others, are equal to them, or are under others. This commandment affirms that God desires leaders and that they must exist in every sphere. Leaders in the civil sphere are not optional.

Jesus rules over and through civil magistrates. As King, he calls people to submit by being involved in appointing their rulers. He calls people to submit to their government, as they are conscientiously able. When their government lawfully calls for citizens to vote, it is Jesus (who has established that government) who calls them to this duty. Rutherford’s principle that we are morally obligated to set rulers over us applies not only generally in a republic, but also to you, the citizen of that republic. If you are not responsible before God to choose leaders in each political race, who is? For citizens of a republic not to vote is a moral choice and is, using the words of Rutherford, “a breach of the fifth commandment.” We deny that Jesus wants civil authority over us if we set no ruler over us. Ultimately, it is a practical denial of the Lordship of Jesus. Each citizen in a republic owes it to Jesus to elect representatives. Christians must avoid sins of omission in political elections just as rigorously as they avoid sins of commission.

This is why the denomination of which I am a member (The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) confesses: “The Christian, when such action involves no disloyalty to Christ, ought to be involved in the selection of and to vote for civil rulers who fear God, love truth and justice, hate evil, and are publicly committed to scriptural principles of civil government” RP Testimony 23:15 (emphasis mine).

We are bound out of loyalty to Christ to participate. And we should expect him to be working as we seek godly candidates, campaign, vote, and serve in office or with those in office. He delights to work through ordinary means. If you cannot vote in good conscience for any of the candidates on the ballot for each office, you can always write-in a name. But, if you must, then it may also be time for self-examination. Have I done all I should have to honor Jesus in preparing for this vote? Have I sought out, supported, and encouraged those qualified to run? As I look at my budget, do I demonstrate that I believe Jesus is King in the process based on my giving to campaigns of prospective leaders? Or, does my budget show that I have valued entertainment, outings to sporting events, luxury foods, and technology more than sacrificing to invest in raising up God-fearing leaders over the land?

Certainly, individuals are called to varying levels of political participation, but if we have committed sins of omission, then the voting booth ought to become a prayer closet in which tears of confession are shed before King Jesus. Then, we must turn around, repent, and seek to see him honored more fully as King in the next election, because ordinary citizens, as well as kings and rulers of the earth, are called to “kiss the Son.” If you have not been faithful this year, what will you do next year, and the year after that, that will be visibly and tangibly different before the eyes of God and fellow man? As we strive to honor Christ in politics, let us pray, invest, work, live, campaign, write, and speak as those who expect to see Jesus at work through the ordinary means he has appointed!

42 Comments

  1. Ron October 17, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    Great article james and I would concur with all of it. I agree that as Christians we must participate in this and every election by casting a vote. The question I have is not of should we vote, rather, how do we vote? Give me your feedback as to what i percieve as a viable option in casting a vote. If I cannot vote for the candidates presented on the ballot, is it Biblical to cast a “blank” vote or make use of the write in option. I will be the first to confess that I am not fully knowlegeable on the voting process, so am seeking to work through things in my mind. I simply cannot ever see myself voting for (ie. giving my support to) candidates that I have serious reservations about. I beleive that it is high time for Christians to put forth righteous candidates that we can support whole heartedly. Perhaps it is time to initiate a new party established soley on Biblical standards and platforms. Am I making any sense?

    • James Faris October 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

      Ron, thanks for the comment. Your question is a good one, but it is also more than I am ready/able to answer well at this moment in this forum. As for the question of casting a blank ballot, I would ask, “what happens if you convince everyone to follow your lead?” Would Jesus be honored by that?

      • Pete Smith October 18, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

        James, if every one followed Ron’s lead and cast a blank ballot, the election would be decided by a vote in the House of Representatives. A blank ballot or “none of the above” is a legitimate vote for it states in essence that the voter is willing to go along with the majority.

  2. TimBloedow October 17, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Chapter 23 of the WCF also says that we are only to vote for Christian leaders. If we have none to vote for, we should not vote. That trumps Rutherford, or any intrepretation of him, that suggests not voting is a violation of the 5th commandment.

    • James Faris October 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

      Tim, I agree that there are many ways to be involved and that we need to think carefully – that’s why I wrote this post. Also, no need for WCF to trump Rutherford. They are in agreement, as I see it.

      • timbloedow October 17, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

        James, I’m clicking the “Download Constitution” button on our RPCNA website and it’s not working. If Rutherford says we should vote no matter what, because of the necessity of participating in the appointment of our CM’s, which is how I understand the way you have presented/interpreted him, and if the Testimony says we must only vote for Christian leaders who are prepared to govern Christianly (which means that we should not even necessarily vote for some Christians), then they are at odds.

        • James Faris October 17, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

          Rutherford wasn’t in a voting society, so he is addressing the moral obligation of appointing leaders of a republic generally – I’m applying the principle in our context. As to the RP Testimony and voting today, do remember that we are not necessarily limited to those names printed on the ballot (at least in the US).

          • timbloedow October 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

            Yes, I learned that about being able to write your own name onto the ballot in the US. At least with the presidential election. No, we can’t do that in any Canadian elections so far as I know.

            It’s also interesting that 99% of comments and conversations I see by Christians on voting, if it’s not explicitly stated, assumes that the primary or exclusive election being discussed is that for president. To me, that shows how centralist – or operationally socialist – so many of us Christians have begun. Even if Americans can’t vote for Prez, there are probably numerous other elections – and as an anti-centralist, I would say probably more important elections – where they can cast a ballot for a Christian.

  3. timbloedow October 17, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    It’s also my contention that most of those who believe it’s essential to vote are people for whom that is their only political act. It is those people who are guilty of sin with their apathy over civil government. There are many ways other than voting through which a person can influence the CM (civil magistracy). One has to take several steps down the road of “good and necessary inferrance” to argue that the particular act of voting in America’s particular form of government is a good and necessary application of the 5th commandment, so I would suggest at the very least holding such a conclusion very loosly.

  4. timbloedow October 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    It’s our Testimony, not the WCF, which stipulates voting only for Christian candidates WHO ARE COMMITTED TO GOVERNING CHRISTIANLY. Apologies for that error.

    When we are comprehenisvely obedient to God’s will in this area, we will put up a Christian candidate who will govern Christianly to every elected position, maybe even regardless of their technical competency, but we will train them towards technical competency as well. But this will only be when we have rediscovered the worldview nature of Christianity as a religion which which recognizes the comprehensive claims of Christ over every area of life.

    Until then, the lack of Christian leadership potential, and our resultant inability to participate at some levels like voting, the way we’d like, is a testimony of God’s judgment against us, would we have eyes to see it, and feel the weight of conviction from this judgment and pursue repentance and reformation to remedy this situation on the ground.

  5. catherinephung October 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    Reblogged this on catherinephung.

  6. Jared Olivetti October 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    James, how would the many, many dissenters in your spiritual heritage have responded to this article? It’s an honest question, not a bait: we come from a long line of principle dissenters– do you think they would have agreed with this? That’s not where we are now, but our underlying theology hasn’t changed (we assume/hope). Does it all come down to the phrase “when it involves no disloyalty to Christ”?

    Thanks for the thoughtful article!

    • James Faris October 18, 2012 at 9:25 am #

      Jared, I’m afraid I can’t speak for the dead! But your
      question is good. The early Covenanters were willing to die for their
      convictions that led them to dissent. Many moved to the new world with great
      hope for new freedom. The American situation was different, and it changed
      from being under the crown, to 1776-1789, to the constitutional era.

      After struggles over how to relate to the government, the church held to a
      general position of dissent, though what that meant was rarely clear.
      Obviously, based on their writings when they lived, many would disagree with
      this position. But, they lived then and not now. We are heirs to the
      Covenanters who held that the church should always be reforming…that we
      should be Covenanting with Christ in fresh ways. That means that we will
      change as we study Scripture.

      The church has struggled with this position, and while we have not changed
      our theology, we have changed how the doctrine is applied. In the split with
      the ARP in 1782, I think they walked away with bad doctrine and we walked
      away with bad practice. Our practice did not reform until the second half of
      the twentieth century. We know that in such transitions, there will be many
      who cannot in good conscience embrace such new application. I think that is
      part of the reason for the “no disloyalty to Christ” line. Those who believe
      that because our government does not recognize Christ as king would see any
      support of persons in office as treasonous to Christ – we honor their
      consciences (and others who live in other countries like Japan where the
      political situation is very different). But, that position is not the norm,
      and it is not the position of the church today that involvement with the US
      government is inherently dishonorable to Christ. If we do honor Christ by
      stepping into the ring there are other questions like “does voting for
      candidate A honor Christ” but I think this line in the RPT addresses the
      appropriateness of involvement in the first place. We believe that we ought
      to be involved.

      It seems only consistent to me, that just as much as we once abstained
      altogether, so now with a change in our practice, that we of all men should
      be most involved if participation is one of the tools Jesus wants us
      to use. Again, that doesn’t answer all of the specific questions of
      qualifications, but we confess that we ought to be involved, not just that
      we can be. As for our forebearers, we stand in their lineage, and our
      beliefs are, in part, a fruit of their struggles, and so it is possible that
      they themselves would have arrived at these same conclusions. Had they come
      to these conclusions, I think that the Covenanter spirit would have made
      them “all in.” We’re simply seeking to be faithful to Christ and so were
      they.

      One thing I do believe is that if those dissenting forebearers were alive
      and disagreed with what I’ve written, they would not simply be sitting over
      lattes at the corner coffee shop talking about the doctrine or settling to
      promote the vision by Facebook. These were those who took up arms against
      what they believed to be unlawful government in the old country. Next, they sought to honor
      Christ by emigrating to an unknown land so that they might seek to honor
      Christ in government in a new land. These guys had spiritual moxie. In
      today’s context, I think they might seriously be considering moving to a
      place like Zambia, an explicitly Christian nation, to help model for the
      world how a Christian nation operates. The move would be cheap, relatively
      speaking, and Zambia would certainly benefit from what they would bring in
      experience and knowledge. Worldly possessions and security meant little to
      them in their day compared to the honor of Christ, and it would seem likely
      that if their views had not progressed along the line of the RPCNA, they
      would be willing to sacrifice for the Savior in such ways. And, I’d
      certainly be eagerly reading their blog posts as they would post updates on
      what that model practically looks like.

  7. Michael LeFebvre October 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    Some helpful thoughts on an important question. Thanks for posting this, James. I’m not sure where I stand on some of these issues, but I think our testimony to Christ’s Mediatorial Kingship requires us to think them through carefully. I trust your post will contribute toward such prayerful dialog.

  8. marknen October 17, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

    1. This reading of Rutherford is highly anachronistic.

    2. Secondarily, from a casual reading of Rutherford’s comments, it sounds like he is arguing against anarchism. If I do not vote, a leader will still be installed and therefore Rutherford’s comment, at least on the surface, doesn’t seem to address it.

    • James Faris October 18, 2012 at 9:33 am #

      Mark, Rutherford was writing timeless truths about what a republican government looks like, as I read him. He lived in a monarchy. I agree that he was arguing against anarchism. In a republic, if everyone were to not vote, there would be no one elected and anarchy would reign. By good and necessary consequence, we see that the moral responsibility that Rutherford wrote of in selecting leaders in a republic falls on each person eligible to participate. These are the principles that flow from Rutherford, and I do not think I’m reading anything anachronistically.

  9. reformedcovenanter October 18, 2012 at 2:36 am #

    I am not saying this to be harsh, but this post is one reason why I think we in the RPCI need to break fellowship with the RPCNA in an effort to shame it into repentance for its defections (I do not deny that we have defections as well).

    Seriously, does anyone really believe that Samuel Rutherford would have told anyone to vote for either candidate in the presidential election? Even your own Testimony, cited above, precludes voting in this election because it says you are only to vote “when such action involves no disloyalty to Christ”. Voting for either a Mormon idolater or a pluralist pro-abortionist is an act of treason to Christ. Indeed, voting for anyone who pledges to uphold the Constitution of the United States, that covenant with death and agreement with hell, has implicitly denied the royal prerogatives of Jesus Christ. Swearing to uphold the Constitution requires a man to countenance idolatry by its toleration of blasphemy and heresy. Somehow I doubt that Rutherford wanted us to countenance idolatry, blasphemy and heresy.

    • James Faris October 18, 2012 at 9:37 am #

      Perhaps it is because of our different cultures and political processes, but I sense you have misread my post. I did not all all intend to imply that Rutherford would have told anyone to vote for either candidate in the presidential election. Also, it is important to note that the Irish church and the North American church are in different cultures and do have unique applications of the doctrine of the mediatorial kingship of Christ.

    • Barry York October 18, 2012 at 9:42 am #

      Please note that the views of one of our authors does not necessarily represent the views of all the authors of Gentle Reformation or the RPCNA.

      Though I love dearly my brother and fellow pastor James, I have told him privately that I do not agree with this perspective as I believe it comes close to binding conscience by indicating one is sinning by not voting. I also expressed views in an earlier post (http://gentlereformation.org/2012/09/04/a-voting-question/) which I believe offers a different perspective more in line with our historic beliefs.

      Having said that, as this subject and James’ perspective falls within the purview of reasonable discourse, I’m thankful for James’ willingness to post this article and stimulate discussion

      • TimBloedow October 18, 2012 at 11:13 am #

        Responses to several points made:

        #1 – I have been employed by a central gov’t politician (I try to avoid calling it federal gov’t because “federal” properly refers to a (non-centralist) relationship between gov’ts) for well over a decade, so I am very engaged in politics. At any rate, voting is qualitatively different from most other forms of political engagement because the winner has to swear an oath of allegiance and, in representative gov’t, he represents us when he does this, so we are, as it were, standing there with him. So if he has to swear allegiance to something other than Jesus Christ, he’s swearing an anti-Christ oath – that’s our historical Covenanter position – regardless of whether we live in a constitutional monarchy or republic or whatever. What happened to the legacy of Sam Boyle in our denomination?

        #2 – There are differences between the US system and Britain’s, but I’ve seen too many places where – in view of the logic of the arguments and the theology – this point comes across looking more like an excuse to try to do things differently rather than to handle our dissenter doctrine well in America. Maybe there are good arguments against it, but I really don’t think I’ve heard any.

        #3 – When it comes to chapter 23, it’s awkward being a Canadian in the North American synod because we are still part of the British Commonwealth and, I would argue, therefore bound by the National Covenant and Solemn League and Covenant. I tend to think America isn’t though I’ve not come to firm conviction on that. But when Americans do argue that America is diff. from Britain, so has to apply these principles differently, that’s not true for Canada. People may say, oh well it doesn’t matter because we’re not strict subscritionists and these are secondary issues. The crown rights of Christ are not secondary issues. Secondly, the primary idolatry in our day is the messianic state, so doctrine on politcal issues and the civil magistracy is not secondary to having a relevant witness to Christ as distinct from the chief idolatry in our day.

        #4 – We need to avoid unrealisitc theorizing when trying to imagine principles applied in the real world. I can’t imagine any realworld scenario where, in a represenative situation, NOBODY would take advantage of the opportunity to put someone up for election, so there’s no realistic scenario where we’d have noone to vote for in an election. And, just as hard cases make bad law, we shouldn’t be using such unrealistic scenarios to frame our interpretation of Rutherford. Additionally, we need to return to Biblically helpful language I think and remember that civil gov’t is not the only gov’t, so we do not have to assume that lacking a CM will produce anarchy because we will still have church gov’t and parental gov’t operating, and they can take on CM roles in unique situations. We can see that from the organic development of the CM realm in history. Additionally, I don’t think there is any area of our societies where only one level of CM operates so in an extreme situation, if one level of gov’t was temporarily non-existent, other levels would “pick up the slack. But let’s not use hard case unrealistic scenarios in our theorizing.

        #5 – I was extremely blessed and encouraged by the wonderful Christ-glorifying teaching on National Religion by a Free Church of Scotland Continuing pastor from Ayr, Scotland – Gavin Beers – given at their US conference this past summer. I don’t think I found anything I objected to in it, including their commitment to the unamended WCF re. the role of the CM in calling synods, at least the way he explained how it was understood in their day. You can find those talks on his SermonAudio page: http://www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?SpeakerOnly=true&currSection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Gavin%5EBeers .

  10. rpcnacovenanter October 18, 2012 at 3:25 am #

    Pastor Olivetti asked…

    “Does it all come down to the phrase “when it involves no disloyalty to Christ”?”

    As James noted the Testimony says…

    “The Christian, when such action involves no disloyalty to Christ, ought to be involved in the selection of and to vote for civil rulers who fear God, love truth and justice, hate evil, and are publicly committed to scriptural principles of civil government” RP Testimony 23:15 (emphasis mine).”

    Me…

    How are we going to define disloyalty and what degree are we to place on it? Is it a black and white issue?

    I am not sure it comes down to that phrase alone Jared. It seems to involve more than that. If I am not mistaken, it seems that this article is pointing to a responsibility we have as we have responsibilities to participate in means.. I guess we need to understand if God has indeed chosen this means of process by which the United States operates. If so, does He actually expect us to participate in this means? Also, we need to decide if this is a liberty issue or not as St. Paul noted that all things are lawful but not necessarily beneficial.

    We all understand what happens when we neglect the means of grace that God has appointed in His word. We have seen generations of faithful Covenant families thrive when they have faithfully abided in the means of grace. We also know the history of those upon whom the warning passages were fulfilled. Christ has been merciful and yet He has performed as promised in Revelation 2 when He said that He would remove their candlestick.

    St. Paul said that all things were lawful but not all things were beneficial. So I guess that there are things we can do that wouldn’t be considered disloyally but would be considered unbeneficial and liberty issues. (1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23). Is this such an issue?

    Another thing to consider is that the Testimony does give descriptive characterization of whom we are to vote for. If God has appointed a means but hasn’t given us someone who fits the bill of the Testimony does that mean we shouldn’t participate in the means? At what level do we drop out of the process? If the man doesn’t look like John Knox do we just throw up our hands and scream Ichabod? That does seem to the standard some push for. I actually believe that Obama is a step down from Romney when it comes to the Decalogue. Neither man knows the God of Creation. One is just more honest about his idolatry because he is ignorant by way of false religion.

    I know we are placed in a position historically that is pretty comfortable and our Nation has been negligent of self examination before God. I personally believe that not voting is to neglect the means we have been called to participate in. Can it be considered a sin to neglect a means by which God has ordained for us to participate in? Another question is, can we also participate in a means unlawfully and sinfully? At what level do we consider it a sin to vote or participate in that means? I hope I am not confusing the issue even more. If I vote for Romney are you all going to tell me I have sinned?

    I want a Pastor to answer the last question and not a layman.

    It seems to me there is more to this than just a disloyalty issue.

    Thanks for helping me grow in understanding.
    Randy

    • James Faris October 18, 2012 at 9:43 am #

      Randy, please see my reply to Jeff below.

  11. Jeff Kessler October 18, 2012 at 7:17 am #

    James: You seem to have a knack of writing G.R. pieces that hit home at the proper time. I don’t know if this piece will garner more replies than your Super Bowl post, but I knew as soon as I seen the title that it would spark interest. I don’t say this to “put down” other G.R. authors, but to applaud you for your courage.

    The RP testimony clearly instructs voters to only vote for men “committed to scriptural principles of civil government.” To me this is different than instructing to vote only for Christians. Am I making a distinction without a difference?

    There are a few times when a “write in” vote can really matter. I think 2 years ago in Alaska, there was a write in who won the Senate race. It was a 3 way race, a Dem., a tea-party candidate (who won the primary) and an establishment Republican. However, most of the time a write in will get under 1% of the vote. So while technically, it is a vote, how practically is it any difference than not voting?

    • James Faris October 18, 2012 at 9:42 am #

      This is for both Jeff and Randy,

      You have both asked some of the obvious next questions. I committed myself in advance to not try to answer all of these questions in this forum. Not all are black and white, they flow from unique situations, and we need to answer these questions with care. So, it’s going to have to be a post/discussion for another time. That said, we do have the confessional language of the church, and that’s a good place to stand.

      James

      • Jeff Kessler October 18, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

        I can live with that answer. Thank you!

        And thanks for your encouragement for those of us who work for and give money to political campaigns. Driving all over Carroll Co. to deliver Pence for Governor yard signs is not glamorous work. But it can be very rewarding and I’ve met a lot of neat people

    • Barry York October 18, 2012 at 10:20 am #

      Jeff,

      Always appreciate your comments, and the first part of this reply is about the “Gentle” in our name as there have been a few comments about that lately. This is not meant to be defensive but simply explanatory.

      We want to be gentle in the sense of not using pejorative language or having a focus on condemning others. Rather, we want to encourage a gentlemanly discourse on a variety of topics. We do not want to constantly be seeking controversy but neither do we want to shy away from it when it needs to be addressed. I appreciate James addressing a subject that obviously needs to be discussed.

      Now, I’ll take a shot at answering your last question. On the one hand, writing in a candidate that has no hope of winning is not practically different than no vote at all. However, on the other hand, as the law allows us to do it for the purpose of preserving freedom and a person’s conscience, then that is a liberty worth preserving.

  12. digitalink October 18, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, James.

    I think that you have appropriately challenged one major abuse that can come from a dissenter position. Those who do not vote may be sinfully apathetic, not taking seriously the responsibility of lifting up the hand in civil service elections, when given the privilege to participate. I completely agree with your emphasis here, and understand that you are not telling us to vote for either presidential candidate. (I also appreciated above comments re: reducing elections to presidential while neglecting consideration of state/local elections).

    I would like to hear you address another aspect of voting in the US, namely the nature of the US Constitution in relation to our oath-taking. Our historic political dissenting position also addressed the moral nature of Constitutions and oaths of allegiance to and defense of said Constitution. In 1967, when Synod determined that swearing allegiance to the Constitution does not preclude allegiance to a higher power/authority, they still maintained principles of oath-taking that need to be considered in our voting process. As you know, the RPT states:

    23:16 It is sinful for a Christian to take an oath which compromises his supreme allegiance to Jesus Christ. It is also sinful to vote for officials who are required to take an oath which a Christian himself could not take in good conscience. Voting involves the voter in responsibility for any act required of the official as a condition of holding his office. [Deut. 10:20; Isa. 45:22-23; 2 John 1:11; 1 Tim. 5:22.]

    How would you further inform a Christian about voting in the US context in light of the RPT 23:16?

    • James Faris October 18, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

      Shawn – carefully and with many more words than I have time to now type.

  13. Sean McDonald October 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    James,

    I know that questions related to this have already been asked. Regardless,

    “The Christian, when such action involves no disloyalty to Christ, ought to be involved in the selection of and to vote for civil rulers who fear God, love truth and justice, hate evil, and are publicly committed to scriptural principles of civil government.” (Testimony of the RPCNA, 23.15)

    My question concerns the phrase, “when such action involves no disloyalty to Christ.” Under the description you have given of civil government, the quotation you provided from Rutherford, and your interpretation of that Rutherford quote as well as pertinent Scriptures; is this an irrelevant or unnecessary statement in the Testimony? Is it possible for there to be a situation in which voting for a political candidate — even writing in your name for sheriff ;-) — involves disloyalty to Christ?

    I know that the present Testimony centers dissent more on the fitness of individual candidates, rather than on the U.S. Constitution. But assuming our fathers were right, and that there “are moral evils essential to the Constitution of the United States, which render it necessary to refuse allegiance to the whole system;” would that not determine our duty in voting for candidates, who are required by oath to pledge themselves to the Constitution?

  14. kaalvenist October 18, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    I particularly appreciate what the current Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland has to say on this matter. Perhaps a future post could provide some thoughtful interaction with the position of our Ulster brethren:

    “The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland holds that the Church must explain the teaching of the Word on national responsibility, in order that there may be an awareness of the guilt which rests upon a Christ-rejecting, covenant-breaking people. Politicians, too, need to be instructed that they derive their authority from Jesus Christ, that they are obliged to exercise it in complete conformity with His revealed will, and that they will answer to Him for their stewardship at the day of judgment.

    “While fully entitled by the civil law to all the rights of membership in the governing society, Christians, because of their primary allegiance to Christ, ought not to avail themselves of the exercise of those rights when they conflict with His supremacy. In particular, Christians should vote only for candidates for political office who recognise the kingship of Jesus Christ by:—

    “(a) giving evidence of consistent Christian character;

    “(b) promising to frame all their policies in accordance with the Word of God and to resist all pressures of political expediency and party discipline which might compromise such obedience;

    “(c) making an explicit declaration of dissent from everything within their sphere of government which is contrary to the Word of God and pledging themselves to work for public and national recognition of Christ;

    “(d) refusing, where applicable, to take the present oath of allegiance, and making instead an affirmation of loyalty which would specifically safeguard their primary loyalty to Jesus Christ.

    “Covenanters have a most positive contribution to make to national life. They recognise their responsibility to honour and pray for those in government, to submit to the powers that be, to pay taxes and serve the country to the best of their ability. Political dissent is a painful sacrifice, made only because of the demands of a higher loyalty. The position of the Church is an expression, not a denial, of our patriotism. The greatest service which one human being can perform for another is to lead him or her to the Lord Jesus Christ. That is precisely the service which Covenanters wish to perform for their beloved nations.”

    Note too that their position regarding the oath of allegiance is that Christians should only vote for those who refuse to take the oath (which I understand is actually a possibility in Britain). I suppose that I would have no problem with a candidate in America who fit these qualifications.

  15. Paul October 18, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    Attention RPCNA folks: Its time for my weekly rant about our history. In 1969, the Associate Presbyterian Church, Seceeders, merged with the RPCNA to form what the ’69 minutes called a ‘new denomination.’ Yes, this was just after the ’67 withdrawal of ‘dissenting.’ The APC did not hold to the RP position on dissent. Seen in that light, our current testimony is about as vague as can be: simultaneously encouraging voting (appeasing the AP brethren), while also arguably suggesting its better if we don’t (for the RP’s). We can blog all we want, but lets be honest, the testimony can — and does– go either way. Where it does NOT go is to permit a vote for a Mormon.

  16. Jason Camery October 19, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    First, let me say that I have enjoyed reading this article and I would like to thank James for posting it. I do however disagree with the title and the thrust of what is trying to be conveyed, as others (above) have pointed out. In simple terms, I agree with this last post Paul has offered in which he states “that our testimony does NOT permit a vote for a Mormon.”
    I cannot help but wonder if we are not missing the bigger picture here? Why has God really provided two non-choices? The right answer is not to tell people to move to a different nation in which it seems to be more Christian than our own! Does not God call us to be watchmen? How about an article about fasting and praying for the country to repent? I know several of the writers on this blog who are talented enough to draft a renewed version of the 1871 Covenant. I would love to present that to the congregations! When you make OT quotes you need to make sure people understand that you are not saying America is Israel but you’re only pointing to the principles that all nations can suffer from.
    Could we be in a similar position?
    Hos 4:16-19 “Since Israel is stubborn Like a stubborn heifer, Can the LORD now pasture them
    Like a lamb in a large field? Ephraim is joined to idols; Let him alone. Their liquor gone,
    They play the harlot continually; Their rulers dearly love shame. The wind wraps them in its wings,
    And they will be ashamed because of their sacrifices.”

    I love Matthew Henry on this passage and I take it as a warning to our nation!

    Hos 4:12-19
    “Spiritual whoredom, or idolatry. They have in them a spirit of whoredoms, a strong inclination to that sin; the bent and bias of their hearts are that way; it is their own iniquity; they are carried out towards it with an unaccountable violence, and this causes them to err. Note, The errors and mistakes of the judgment are commonly owing to the corrupt affections; men therefore have a good opinion of sin, because they have a disposition towards it. And having such erroneous notions of idols, and such passionate motions towards them, no marvel that with such a head and such a heart they have gone a whoring from under their God, v. 12. They ought to have been in subjection to him as their head and husband, to have been under his guidance and command, but they revolted from their allegiance, and put themselves under the guidance and protection of false gods…They themselves should prosper for a while, but their prosperity should help to destroy them. It comes in as a token of God’s wrath (v. 16): The Lord will feed them as a lamb in a large place; they shall have a fat pasture, and a large one, in which they shall be fed to the full, and fed of the best, but it shall be only to prepare them for the slaughter, as a lamb is that is so fed. If they wax fat and kick, they do but wax fat for the butcher. But others make them feed as a lamb on the common, a large place indeed, but where it has short grass and lies exposed. The Shepherd of Israel will turn them both out of his pastures and out of his protection… No means should be used to bring them to repentance (v. 17): “Ephraim is joined to idols, is in love with them and addicted to them, and therefore let him alone, as v. 4, Let no man reprove him. Let him be given up to his own heart’s lusts, and walk in his own counsel; we would have healed him, and he would not be healed, therefore forsake him,” See what their end will be, Deut 32:20 . (from Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)

    • TimBloedow October 19, 2012 at 11:41 am #

      Thank you Jason.

      From one of my earlier comments: “Until then, the lack of Christian leadership potential, and our resultant inability to participate at some levels like voting, the way we’d like, is a testimony of God’s judgment against us, would we have eyes to see it, and feel the weight of conviction from this judgment and pursue repentance and reformation to remedy this situation on the ground.”

  17. Jon Held October 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    James, Thanks so much for addressing the topic of voting and even the broader subject of voter and social preparation leading up to the moment of casting a vote. No doubt there is a great planning void that has occurred when it comes to Christ’s people being active in the entire political process. I think the above poster who pointed out that as citizens we have nearly narrowed down the entire political process to the presidential ballot in November every 4 years shows how lazy our citizens have become. Worse yet when they do show up, even that infrequently, many don’t have a clue about the candidates.

    It is interesting, however, to read from so many respected pastors of our denomination speaking so highly of the importance of electing Christians as leaders (not rulers). It appears to be the position of the pastors that they and their parishioners should vote for “proper Christian” candidates. But it comes off as disingenuous given my personal experience. You see, as a 52 year old man who has, statistically speaking, spent every Sunday listening to a Christian message from the pulpit I can report with full confidence and accuracy that I have NEVER heard the call from any pulpit for Christians to seek political office. And I have been in the pews where it would be the most likely to be preached. Further, never has a Sunday school class been offered to train Christian men (or women) in the art of “Christian civic involvement.” This I hold to be a universal Christian situation. So who finds shock that “proper Christian” men are not available to receive votes this or any election cycle. Further, who also finds shock that pastors call parishioners to sit out voting. All the while the church claims to be longing for Christian civic leadership.

  18. JNorman November 2, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    Just a question: why when you cite the RPCNA testimony do you underline ought? I would probably underline the part that says “fears God, love truth and justice…committed to scriptural principles…” And so on. But I guess therein lies the disagreement.

    • James Faris November 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

      I appreciate the question…please understand that I am not diminishing the portions about fearing God, etc. I love and hold to those. However, this post was written to remind people that we have a moral obligation to act. For those who do dissent by not voting, I hope that they see that when they dissent from fulfilling one obligation because to do so in a given context would lead them to sin, they must usually work doubly hard to fulfill the original obligation. For instance, if a man is works a job to fulfill the eighth commandment by providing for his family, and yet his employer requires him to break the fourth commandment, he needs to “dissent” from keeping the eighth commandment in that form by leaving that work. However, he still “ought” to keep the eighth commandment. The solution is not to simply dissent from work. He must find other work – maybe two jobs with inconvenient hours – to keep the eighth commandment. It would not do to say, “Well, sit tight and let us preach the gospel trusting that in time, the Lord will change the hearts of employers.” We must act in the realm of our dissent. So, in politics, it is insufficient to dissent and then do nothing – normally extra energy must be exerted. Yet, I rarely hear dissenting Christians talking about how they will work doubly hard in the field of politics in place those times where they must dissent. Most, at present are emphasizing the “ought not”, and this article reminds us that Jesus is King and also tells us to remember what we “ought” to do.

      • Paul November 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

        James, well said. But lets flip that argument on its head. In another place, I asked, has the situation improved in the last 45 years? or Has the ’67 decision of the RP synod to allow voting led to a spiritual improvement in American politics? To my thinking, that would be a ‘no.’ And why? Because precisely what you said. We replaced the vigorous energies toward national reform with simply going to the polls. CAM died. NRA died. And now, an insistence on voting for Christians who are committed to Scriptural principles is breathing its last. Ultimately, do we not find ourselves fighting Erasmus’ battle? Lets end abortion, gay marriage, socialism… but ignore the heart of the issue, the Kingship of Christ over the nations? Luther responded to Erasmus with a call for heart-change- the essence of ‘Bondage of the Will.’ Whitewashing our national morals is not what we are after. NRA, CAM, the original Covenanter objection to the US constitution- all spoke to heart change– confessing Christ the King of the nation.

        So what is that vigorous work we should be doing? Its the essence of the Great Commission. Make disciples of the NATIONS. Preaching and Teaching the Kingship of Christ. Lets face it, the reason the ‘church’ and religious right have virtually no political power any more is because the (broad) church traded the gospel for power over the past 2 decades. We need to return to preaching the Kingship of Christ. To our people. To our brethren in NAPARC. To the evangelical church as a whole. And even in our general call of the gospel. The KING calls YOU to trust in Him. Not, come to Jesus to feel better.

        Now I suppose the question is, can voting and vigorous political exertions co-exist? I suppose so. Just as theoretically Psalms and uninspired songs could co-exist in worship. [could, not should] But history has shown that songs drive out Psalms, and over 45 years we’ve seen that voting drives out real action. We rejoice in the historical victories the dissenters achieved, even having the ear of Lincoln. What have we accomplished in 45 years?

        • TimBloedow November 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

          Also, a focus simply on issues is a focus on the horizontal relationships between man and man. It reveals a humanistic spirit. We need to focus on law AND lordship, horizontal and vertical, bringing God and the Lordship of Christ into the political realm in very real ways, not just as the Guy we pray to as we seek to “baptize” our actions, which is the spirit I see in most Canadian and American political engagement.

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