During the election season it seems that debate is the most popular activity. Politicians are doing it to get into office, friends are doing it online, and enemies are being created by the minute. Politics hit a sensitive spot for many people, and rightfully so. Our politics are important. For the Christian, the way we engage in worldly politics is a matter of much debate. However, the debate hasn't always been between Christian brothers and sisters. It used to be more often between Christians and those of other beliefs.
There was an early Church Father from Alexandria named Origen (184-254 AD). He is one of the most influential theologians in church history and he was considered an expert at textual criticism, biblical interpretation, and philosophical theology. He once entered into a debate with a Greek philosopher named Celsus. One of the matters they debated dealt with politics and how Christians ought to engage in the political realm of this world. Here is a portion of that debate:
Celsus urges us “to help the king with all our might, and to work with him in the preservation of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.” We reply to this saying that we do give help to kings. We give, so to speak, a divine help by “putting on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11). We do this in obedience to the command of the apostle Paul, “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” (1 Ti. 2:1-2). The more someone excels in piety, the more effective help he provides to kings. Yes, it is even more help than that which is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and kill as many of the enemy as they can.
And since we by our prayers conquer all demons who stir up war, lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. In this way we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we practice self-denial and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army—an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God.
Celsus also urges us to “take office in the government of the country, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion.” But we recognize in each kingdom the existence of another kingdom, founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to guide churches [instead of a civil office—ed.]. We reject those who are ambitious of ruling; rather in the church of God we constrain those who because of much modesty have little desire to take a public office. And those who rule over us well are under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God the Word. And if those who govern in the church and are called rulers of the divine nation—that is, the church—rule well, they rule in accordance with the divine commands, and never allow themselves to be led astray by worldly politics.
It is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the church of God—for the salvation of men. And this service is both necessary and right.Christians in the U.S. might read this and say that the political atmosphere is so different from the time of these men that their debate has little application for us but I'd challenge us to consider Origen's claims as timeless and incredibly relevant. Origen is attempting to alter the perception of what "works" in this world and who rules over the reality we live in.
For Christians, we say God, through Christ, rules the world and Origen suggests that we invest in that heavenly kingdom and allow that investment to be the way in which we politically engage the world. Not because we are fleeing the world and her politics but because that's the only true way to engage the world and her politics in a way that draws the world into the peace of God. It is God alone who heals the nations and give us hope. No president, senator, or legislation will do for us what God can do.
As you debate and engage in political activity this election season, I encourage you to consider the words of Origen and seek God's will for how to be faithful in this political haze. Invest in God's kingdom by seeking to pray, sing, and read scripture more than you watch political ads, discuss voting, or read articles about legislation. Give more of yourself to God's kingdom than the worldly one you reside in.