Should Christians Seek to Be Magistrates?

4. John 17:6, 9, 11, 14-18: “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word…. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine…. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are…. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”

These verses, and others we will see, speak of two mutually exclusive groups—a dichotomy. Jesus and His people are one group. The world is the other group. Jesus prays for His people; He does not pray for the world. (Did you think that Jesus was watching over your nation? Think again.) As Jesus was in the world, so are His people in the world. But remember that Jesus was meek and humble and held no worldly power. This is how we are to be in the world. As Jesus was not of the world, so His people are not to be of the world. To be of the world would include having worldly power. As God sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sent His people into the world. Jesus explains what this entails in Mark 16:15: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Our commission is to preach the Gospel, not to hold worldly power.

5. Luke 20:25: “And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.” Again, we see dichotomy. Jesus makes a clear division between earthly and godly power. It must not be supposed that this verse means we can serve both powers, only that we are to render each his due. At another time, Jesus stated, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

6. Romans 13:1-8: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.”

Far from teaching that it is proper for Christians to be magistrates, as some take it, this passage again points out the dichotomy. The ruler is “he” and the Christians are “thee.” He bears the sword; therefore, Christians must be subject. He asks for tribute; the Christians are to pay it. The word “minister” is diakonos. It merely means “servant.” Whether conscious of it or not, the ruler serves God by bearing the sword and keeping law and order. That is his function in the worldly realm. It does not mean he is or should be a Christian.

7. 2 Corinthians 5:20: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” Ambassadors represent another kingdom, not the one in which they live. They do not hold any sort of position in, run for office in, or even vote in the kingdom to which they are sent.

8. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Again we see dichotomy between God’s people and the world. We cannot be separate if we are a part of the world’s system of government.

9. Philippians 3:20: “For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice in the previous verse that Paul wrote this to warn his readers not to become like those “who mind earthly things.” The word “conversation” is from the Greek politeuma, a word from which we get our word “politics.” But our real political arena, our citizenship, is in heaven, not on the earth.

10. Colossians 1:13: “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.”

11. 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” Paul does not say that Christians are to get into a position of authority to make sure that Christians can lead a quiet and peaceable life. He also does not say we are to criticize those who are in authority. He says to pray for those who are already in authority. This is trusting in God to take care of the matter as He sees fit. This is faith in God rather than thinking we need to take matters into our own hands.

12. 2 Timothy 2:4: “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” Paul is giving a principle: If a soldier is going to please those over him, he will not become distracted from his duty. We are to be like this. We have already seen that we are to preach the Gospel. To become involved in politics is to become distracted from our duty and entangled with the affairs of this world.

13. Titus 3:1: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work.” Again, there is a dichotomy between “them”—the Christians—and principalities, powers, and magistrates.

14. Hebrews 11:13-16: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” The Old Testament patriarchs were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. They looked for a heavenly country.

15. 1 Peter 2:9-17: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” We are to submit to and honor the earthly rulers, but we—all Christians living in all worldly nations—are a royal priesthood and a holy nation.

Something else that must be mentioned is the evidence of silence. I have already referred to Mark 16:15: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Jesus said this after His resurrection. It was a commission to his disciples. We read more of this Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Jesus has all power or authority in heaven and in earth. But He did not tell us to try to wield earthly authority by holding civil or governmental positions. He did not tell us to try to establish His kingdom through any political process. He did not tell us to try to make any nation a Christian nation. He did not tell us to politicize Christianity to “get the vote.” He told us to preach (or herald, as the Greek can be translated), to teach, and to baptize.

Divided Loyalty

I have already touched on the fact that Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters. When one works for a government, that government expects undivided loyalty. In the United States, federal government employees, and many state employees as well, must swear an allegiance to the Constitution. What many may not realize is that this means they are swearing to place the Constitution above all other allegiances, even their allegiance to God. In 1931, in U.S. v. Macintosh, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Macintosh, “When he speaks of putting his allegiance to the will of God above his allegiance to the government, it is evident in the light of his entire statement, that he means to make his own interpretation of the will of God the decisive test…. But, also, we are a nation with the duty to survive; a nation whose…government must go forward upon the assumption, and safely can proceed upon no other, that unqualified allegiance to the nation and submission and obedience to the laws of the land…are not inconsistent with the will of God.” In other words, to swear allegiance to the Constitution is to make the Constitution take precedence over one’s understanding of one’s duty to God. This, of course, is a rejection of the biblical principle found in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

Answers to Some Arguments

In response to my presenting of these facts, I have received the following arguments:

What about 2 Peter 2:10, which says not to despise government?

I certainly agree that we are not to despise government. I have already explained Romans 13:1-8, which tells us to “be subject unto the higher powers.” Simply because we are not to hold a governmental office does not mean we are to despise government.

Isaiah 9:6-7 prophesies of the increase of Jesus Christ’s government. How can we be an active participant if we are hiding from the world and not actively participating?

This question shows no comprehension of what I have presented. Jesus Christ’s government is not the government of any nation. These same verses speak of Jesus ruling “upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom.” David ruling over national Israel was an Old Testament type of Jesus ruling over the true Israel of God under the New Covenant; that is, the authority of Jesus Christ over all believers in all nations. Far from hiding and not actively participating, we believers are to be heralding the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ alone and baptizing and teaching those who believe.

Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). There is no neutrality. If the state is not actively promoting the Christian faith, then it is actively destroying it. And if you are not part of the solution, then you are a part of the problem.

This begs the question of what being for Jesus means. I believe that the evidence I have presented clearly implies that to be for Jesus is to do what He says, which is to believe on Him, love one another, and participate in some way in the Great Commission. To become diverted from this to become involved in politics is to be diverted from being on Jesus’ side to being against Him. It is true that there is no neutrality. The nations of this world, whether they profess to be Christian, neutral (such as the United States), or otherwise are not holy. Why else are they depicted in prophecy as being beasts and as warring against Christ? No nation is excepted from that picture. No nation is shown as standing up for Christ. Should Christians become part of such an unholy alliance? Or should we be a light on a hill that distinctly stands apart from the rest of the world as a clear contrast with all around it (Matthew 5:14-16)?

It is poor Christian stewardship to permit the nation to plunge toward destruction.

Whether or not a nation is plunging toward destruction is debatable. It is God who sets nations up and God who topples them. The Bible tells us to be “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1) and “stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). It never tells us to be stewards of a worldly nation. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians who had a problem with sin within their assembly, “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without [the non-Christians]? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person [who was a member of the Christian assembly]” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). God does not tell Christians to judge the behavior of those outside the ekklēsia or to try to impose morals on them through civil law. He tells us to preach the Gospel, and if anything has a chance of saving a nation (by saving its individuals), it is the Gospel, “for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).


I have presented this article in the format that I have to try to help you to see how I have come to the conclusion that I have. My conclusion is that Christians should not seek to be magistrates or to hold any civil or political office. To do so involves us with the world in a way that makes us of the world rather than just in the world, and this is contrary to the way Jesus prayed His followers would be. Even merely working as a civil servant puts us in a position where we have two masters who demand our full loyalty and allow no higher authority. And political involvement distracts our time, attention, and resources from carrying out the Great Commission.

We are living in a time when a new “Christian” religion is being molded on the image of the political state. This new religion touting morality is being raised up by secular politicians to try to unite all who have the same moral interests under one banner, and under that banner and encouraged by religious leaders to give their time and attention to political action. Thus, they are creating an improvised false Christianity, a new state religion. But it is not the religion of Jesus Christ. It is the religion of man. Remember that what we give our time and attention to is what we worship.

You might also like to read “Christians, Voting, and Politics.”

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Copyright © 2011 Peter Ditzel