For those of you following the Malaysian political scene, recent developments have thrust this question into the spotlight.
Should Christians strive (even pray) for a Christian state, or at the very minimum Christian laws?
This is a complex question, and a thorough treatment of it is beyond my capabilities. There are a number of useful resources I’ve heard of which address the issue of Christian engagement in the political sphere, and from what little I’ve read of them, it is safe to conclude that there is no complete consensus throughout church history over this topic.
But a consensus is not necessary to say anything definitive on this issue. In fact, I believe there are several acceptable positions on political engagement. However, there are many more unacceptable positions on the topic, and so the need to establish some rudimentary principles for political engagement is crucial if we are to navigate today’s world as faithful Christians. Though the task is daunting, it cannot be casually dismissed as being beyond us. For even choosing the path of non-engagement is to come down on the issue at one end of the spectrum. It is thus better that we make as informed a choice as is possible, rather than err out of willful ignorance.
At the outset, I want to clearly state that the Bible NEVER advocates the deliberate setting up of a Christian state. The general tenor of the New Testament is that Christians are a persecuted minority, with the chief persecutor almost always being the state. Perhaps this is why there has never been an established consensus on the topic of political engagement. For Christians have not always lived under Roman rule as it was in the first century, or rule of a similar kind. There have been broad stretches of history where the church has had tremendous influence over the political sphere, and even broader stretches of history where the state has used the church to its advantage. There have been periods where separation of church and state was the rule, and other periods where theocracy was the form of rule. In some places, the church is an official national institution; in others, a loose collection of independent local bodies, sometimes tied together across state and national boundaries as a denomination. To complicate things further, most of us no longer live under autocratic rule, but in a democracy of some form, which means that we can take action to actively shape the political sphere if we so desire.
In short, the nature of the state and the church and the relationship between the two has evolved over the centuries, shaped by the dominant cultural and historical forces of the place and period. I think the implication of this is that the responsibility of the Christian will vary in accordance with the political context they find themselves in.
Therefore in thinking about this topic, my primary focus is to figure out what the Bible has to teach on political engagement given our unique Malaysian context and chart as clear a course as possible through the muddy political waters.
This is Part 1 of a series of indeterminate length. Next, I want to think about the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and consider how this ought to shape our perspective of the political sphere.