Jesus didn’t come to set up a government on earth, and his Church’s mission isn’t to set up a utopia through political means. However, it’s an unavoidable fact that Christians live, minister, and perhaps even vote in various political systems. And so, as citizens of a heavenly kingdom and exiles in this temporary one, we are left asking ourselves, “What can or should we work toward in our political systems?”
Presently, Chinese Christians seem to be in the midst of asking this very question. Recently, Christianity Today reported that Chinese Christians are playing a key role in pro-democracy rallies within Hong Kong. Catholics and Protestants are protesting against a recent government decision that says the next leader of Hong Kong must only be chosen from a Beijing-approved list of candidates. (Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, who wrote a separate article for Christianity Today, lays out some of the back-story of Hong Kong and its current political situation.)
But a more pressing question is presented to us in all this: Should Christians be protesting and fighting for such a government when we are citizens of another kingdom?
In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul says to Timothy, “First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” People have often used this passage to launch into how we should be praying for the salvation of our leaders, and there is no doubt that we should be.
However, Paul sets out the goal for his prayers and intercessions for kings and all who are in high positions. He says that the goal is for Christians to live in accordance with their convictions and at peace with the society at large: “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Given the surrounding context, I would also argue that Paul here is telling Christians to pray that they might have peace with the government in order that they may spread the gospel without hindrance.
Now of course the gospel, by God’s power and His sovereignty, can produce fruit no matter what kind of government is in power. No doubt this was the case in China when, after decades of being utterly closed off to Christianity, we saw that God had been working in that land to produce an abundant harvest.
But this passage in 1 Timothy seems to point to the fact that Christians should be praying for, and perhaps even working for, a context in which the gospel can be boldly and peaceably proclaimed to the society at large. That doesn’t mean that we don’t preach when persecution comes, but rather we preach the gospel at all times and pray to God that we would be able to do so without the hindrance of a hostile government.
It doesn’t take long to see that, throughout history and despite being an imperfect system, democracy has provided Christians with the greatest opportunity to preach the gospel without facing direct hostility from our government. So:
- Pray for our brothers and sisters in Hong Kong.
- Pray that God might work in and through their leaders to provide a peace between the government and constituents.
- Pray that they might experience a time of religious freedom so that the gospel might go out to all people.
- In line with that, thank God that we ourselves have enjoyed such freedom and peace with our government.
In Christ, we are no longer citizens of this world. But we have been called to live a “peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way,” for the spread of the gospel and the glory of Jesus Christ.