As a Presbyterian pastor, I believe in “liberty of conscience.”
This somewhat stodgy phrase simply means that as a pastor, I can only command my fellow Christians to do things that God’s Word commands them to do. So for instance, I can command my fellow Christians to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father,” (Galatians 3:17) but I cannot command my fellow Christians to vote for my preferred candidate.
The crucial word, then, is command. To command someone is to impose an inescapable obligation, even a moral obligation to God Himself.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. If there is any idea that Americans despise, it is the notion of authority. We cannot stand it when someone tells us what to do, how to live, or how to think, especially when they take the moral high ground. We have a visceral reaction to anyone giving commands. And this reaction is as true for those on the Right as it is for those on the Left.
But as Christians, the commands of God are inescapable. And not only are we obligated to obey them, we also know deep down that following them leads to life, not death.
So what are God’s commands to Christians in America during a contentious election year?
Beloved brother/sister in Christ, I can give you four inescapable, good, God-ordained commandments. They come straight from 1 Peter 2:17, “Show proper respect to everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.”
1.) Show proper respect to everyone.
The emphasis here is on people with whom we disagree. What does it mean to show “respect” to someone? Well, it primarily means we must honor someone regardless of how they honor us. In other words, there is a respectful way to disagree, and there is a sinful way. Sadly, surveying social media, I see too many of my fellow Christians with a lack of proper respect for everyone.
2.) Love the family of believers.
The command here is focused on loving our fellow Christians. Beloved brother/sister in Christ, hear me: there are fellow believers who are going to vote for your candidate because of their convictions and there are fellow believers who are not. Knowing this, are we embodying Christian love in the midst of the tension? As Jesus Christ commanded, “…just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. By this all people will know you are my disciples.” (John 13:34,35)
3.) Fear God.
Christian, we are not allowed to fear the government. We are commanded to fear one thing and one thing only: the Lord. As Jesus commanded, we are not to “fear those who can kill the body” but fear Him who can “cast into hell.” (Luke 12:4-7)
4.) Honor the Emperor.
Christian, no matter what happens on November 8th, we are commanded to honor the Emperor. For Peter’s listeners, this meant honoring the Roman Emperor. For us, this means we must honor the President, whoever he/she is. And remember, honoring does not mean agreeing.
So Christian, as you and I interact daily with fellow Christians and non-Christians, what is God commanding us to do?
Show proper respect to everyone.
Love the family of believers.
Honor the Emperor.