Why should a student in the Christian Union be concerned with politics? With public contentment with politics at record lows and a strong perception that politics achieves little, students would be forgiven for pursuing an alternative career. With even former MPs speaking openly about the limitations of individual politicians to bring about change, it is little surprise that politics is routinely seen as an irrelevance for the day to day lives of many.
‘The belief that all political careers end in failure is based on the myth that all MPs hope to become Prime Minister. They do not. Happiness is keeping as small a space as possible between hope and achievement. Paradise is when they coincide.’
Comments such as Flynn’s, effectively characterise politics as a choice between failure or muted expectations. When framed like this, it is understandable that students might conclude they cannot be useful in political life, and that Christians serving in politics makes no practical difference.
Such views easily lead to the characterisation of politics as a ‘mucky business’ from which no good can possibly come. Yet, this view is not at all consistent with what the Bible teaches about politics and governance. Far from urging us to flee from this arena, Scripture shows us that governance can be a force for good and that it is important for Christians to make their voice heard and counted in the public square.
Right at the very start of the Bible, God gives the creation mandate to Adam and Eve: to go forth into the world, to be fruitful and increase in number, and to have dominion over creation. In God’s good creation humanity, created in the image of God, were to be His stewards, bringing Him glory as they cultivated and tended to the garden in which they had been placed.
Good governance was always intended to be a part of creation. The will of humanity and the will of God were not to be in opposition to each other, but rather humanity’s will and efforts were to reflect God’s own for the earth to be fruitful.
Tragically, it was not very long before this perfect model collapsed. In choosing to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve inverted the relationship of rule. Rather than the created serving their creator, created expected creation and creator to serve them. Instead of seeking first the glory and will of God, humanity’s selfishness led to the pursuit of their own glory despite the inevitable costs to creation.
We see a glimpse of this in the story of the Tower of Babel. The city of Babel determined to build 'a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth'. Their emphasis on gathering in one place rather than dispersing brought the people into direct contradiction with the creation mandate to bring the whole earth under good stewardship.
Moreover, their efforts to make a name for themselves by reaching the heavens was exposed as the folly it was. Genesis states 'the Lord came down to see the city' – they could not hope by their own efforts to reach the perfect dominion of God!
And so, the story concludes with God confusing their language and putting an end to their plans of self-glorification. If left to their own devices, nothing would stand against the desires of their fallen hearts. It is for good reason that the Apostle Paul would later write in his letter to the Romans: 'For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it'.
As with much of our good world, governance was corrupted by the fall of humanity. Of course, it would be easy to draw a line at this point and conclude that governance was good in Eden, but now it is inherently corrupt and irredeemably fallen.
Some do indeed draw this conclusion and encourage the Church to withdraw from the public square until Christ’s return. This, however, is inconsistent with the whole message of Scripture, in which Jesus our redeemer has reconciled all things to God the Father and made us ambassadors for His kingdom.
The Old Testament speaks consistently of the redeemer to come. Likewise, the Kingdom of Israel presents a picture of God’s good reign in creation, particularly during the high points of the reigns of David and Solomon. Israel’s kings are to lead the people in truth and justice, and her good ones at least, are a picture of Christ and His coming Kingdom.
It is this King Jesus who, having defeated the power of evil through His death and resurrection, brings about a new mandate for His people, the Great Commission:
'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’.
The comparison with the creation mandate of Genesis is striking; God’s authority is reasserted, and humanity is called to go out to the entire world. Furthermore, the command ‘to make disciples’ obviously calls on believers to invite all to place their faith in Christ, but this cannot be divorced from its all-of-life implications – that humanity is redeemed for its stewarding task, thereby seeking the glory and will of God in all that they do.
Christ here claims authority over the whole earth and this clearly extends to the realm of civil authority. Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Colossians when he writes that all things, including powers, thrones, and authorities, were created by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ, and cannot exist apart from Him.
It is for this reason that Jesus, even when on trial before Pontius Pilate, is able to highlight that the very power sentencing Him to death comes not from Rome, nor the crowds before them that night, but they are 'given to you from above'. This is an abounding cry throughout the New Testament: power and authority come from the hand of God. Just have a look at Paul’s letter to the Romans - ‘there is no authority except that which God has established'. Peter would write the same thing in his first letter, despite the brutal persecution Christians in the early Church were facing.
One frequent challenge concerns the occasion in which Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees on whether the Jews should pay the poll tax to Caesar. Jesus’ reply, to ‘give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s’ has found common usage even outside of the Church and has been used to advocate a division between the secular and the sacred.
Yet this advocates nothing of the sort! As we have read above, all authority, including Caesar’s, belongs to God! Humanity, made in the image of God, was created to govern as God Himself would, and any authority they possess is dependent on Him.
Scripture is clear. Governance itself is not a result of the fall, but an agent for human flourishing. However, like everything else in creation, it is subject to the fall, but also to the redemption of Christ and His coming Kingdom.
Therefore, the Bible doesn’t give us a mandate to withdraw from public life. Rather, it calls on us to pursue God-honouring governance and stewardship as was our original task back in the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, not only are we reinstituted in our governing task, but we are also empowered for this mission by the indwelling of the Spirit.
What does this look like in practical terms for the CU student who finds political life attractive? First and foremost, it means that becoming involved in politics and governance, whether as a legislator, a civil servant, or through other political agencies such as NGOs or think tanks, is a legitimate calling to have as a follower of Christ.
That being so, such students need the support and prayers of their friends as they enter this area of life – they are heading into a difficult mission field and one in which it is easy for the fallen nature of government to change them, more than they can change government.
Likewise, we must remember that the temptation remains to withdraw from public life. This is even more understandable when the Government does not act in our interests, or Christians in public life fall short of their stewarding task. Nevertheless, affirming that governance itself is a good, God-given gift, one in which we Christians can play a part, is an important first step.
We must be careful of course to recognise that this world is still fallen. The early Church faced heavy persecution at the hands of the civil and religious authorities of the day – governance is a tool that can be used for evil. Even when used for good, we must avoid the dangers of an over-realised eschatology that places hope in the governments of this day and age rather than in Christ’s coming perfect and eternal Kingdom.
Despite this warning, this does not mean our efforts are in vain, nor does it make governance worthless. The Church is commanded to pray for our leaders and authorities – even those that make our lives difficult. This calling means that politically minded students can lead their peers in how to pray for the Government, or for the great political issues of the day.
Two instructions given by Jesus are especially helpful when we consider how to engage in political life. In both cases, Jesus has given his followers a commission and is sending them out. For the Christian student who steps out into political life, it is perhaps easy to be excited by the commission, but natural to be fearful of what that means in practical terms, and especially in what to say.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus meets this concern directly and instructs his disciples that when they are brought before rulers and authorities: 'do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.'
This need not be restricted to church leaders defending the gospel publicly; the believer who finds themselves in public life is also there to be Christ’s advocate. His instructions encourage us not to be afraid of the challenges that lie ahead in political life. Instead, we should take comfort in knowing that He will provide all we need if we depend upon Him and His Spirit.
The second instruction more explicitly recognises the challenge of stepping into an uncomfortable environment. In sending out His disciples, Jesus said: 'I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.'
This is an excellent guiding principle for Christians who face political situations – which need not actually be limited to the realm of governance! If governance is the act of taking leadership decisions, then politics is the act of managing the competing ambitions and aspirations of the humans involved in that decision.
Our fallen nature means that where human factors ought not to matter, they sadly do – whether this is the need to keep members of your organisation happy by advocating a policy you are personally not comfortable with, to not being able to speak about everything you are passionate about so that you are better able to advance the aims you are most passionate about.
To fallen humanity, politics can be like playing a game of Monopoly where one of the players is disregarding the rules. What ought to be a free and fair competition can be pitched off course by the cheating player casually appropriating money from the bank!
Jesus’ instruction recognises that he sends us among wolves and into danger. Note that he gives two commands to be held in perfect tension – a shrewdness that means we are alert to schemes and not so easily tripped up by them, while at the same time preserving an innocence that means that we do not ourselves become wolf-like in the process.
Not every student will be called to a life in politics, but everyone can support those students that do have that God-given call by recognising that governance is God’s good gift to humanity. Stepping into the challenging environment of political life is far from easy, and these students need our prayer as well as our support and encouragement.
Whether they are standing to be a sabbatical officer, working for a Member of Parliament, or taking entrance tests for the Civil Service, these students have wonderful opportunities to live and speak for Jesus. With governing institutions shaping more and more of everyday life, it is increasingly vital that Christians are making their voice heard in the public square.
As Baroness Cox, founder of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust and a crossbench member of the House of Lords has said:
'I cannot do everything, but I must not do nothing.'
Politics Network aims to ensure that Christian students are prepared to glorify God as they bring their contribution to the public square.
 Paul Flynn, How to be an MP (2012).
 Genesis 1.
 Genesis 11:4.
 Genesis 11:5.
 Romans 8:20.
 Matthew 28:18-20.
 Colossians 1:15-16.
 John 19:11.
 Romans 13:1.
 Matthew 22:15-22.
 Luke 12:11-12
 Matthew 10:16