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dianoigo blog

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Christadelphians, Politics, and the Common Good



This article offers critical analysis of Christadelphian moral teaching as it pertains to social justice. From the outset I want to make clear that I am not criticising the moral character of Christadelphians. My own experience suggests that most Christadelphians are upstanding, kind-hearted people. There are many Christadelphians active in humanitarian work around the world,1 and other evidences of integrity and virtue in the Christadelphian community.2 Thus, this article does not stake a claim to any moral high ground vis-à-vis Christadelphians. Rather, its focus is on certain points of moral theology.

I say "certain points" because I am not claiming that Christadelphian moral teaching is devoid of truth or value; far from it. If one compares Christadelphian moral teaching with that of wider Christianity, or of the Catholic Church (to which I am now committed), the commonality far outweighs the differences. The existence of objective moral values and the possibility of discerning right from wrong, both instinctively (through the divine gift of conscience) and via divine revelation, are assumed on all sides. Moreover, all would agree, following on the teachings of the Torah as expounded by Jesus, that the foundation of Christian morality is love—love of God and love of one's neighbour as oneself (Mark 12:29-31; Rom. 13:9-10; Gal. 5:14; Jas 2:8). All would agree that the Ten Commandments normatively capture the most fundamental obligations of love of God and neighbour.


If one were to ask, "What distinguishes Christadelphian moral teaching from wider Christian moral teaching?", the most obvious answer would be to list certain activities that most other Christians are comfortable participating in but that Christadelphians eschew, such as:
  • Political activities (including voting and running for political office)
  • Serving in law enforcement
  • Serving in the military
  • Jury duty
  • Bringing a lawsuit (and practicing law, especially criminal law)
  • Taking an oath of allegiance
  • Industrial action as part of a trade union3
  • Participation in public demonstrations4
Most of these activities are explicitly prohibited in the Statement of Faith used by the majority of Christadelphian ecclesias.5 What the above activities have in common is that most of them involve the individual's obligations toward, and influence on, the State and its laws and policies. Thus, to understand why Christadelphians eschew these activities, we must understand Christadelphian teaching about the believer and the State.


A fundamental premise of Christadelphian teaching on this subject is that believers are "aliens and sojourners" (1 Pet. 2:11), "strangers and aliens on earth" (Heb. 11:13). "Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:19-20). Our gaze is fixed on the world to come, not on this world that is "passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31).6 As a Catholic, I affirm these ideas as heartily as I did as a Christadelphian.

Once the "stranger-and-pilgrim" concept is accepted, the logical next question is, "How should believers conduct themselves in relation to the present State and its laws?" Christadelphians point to clear biblical injunctions that believers are obliged to respect the State's authority, obey its laws, and pay taxes to it (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). As our Lord memorably put it, we are to render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's (Mark 12:17). However, our submission to the State and obedience to its laws are not absolute. Christ's disciples are, as Christadelphian writer Jim Cowie states, to meet the obligations imposed by earthly citizenship "except where these contravene the principles and demands of their heavenly citizenship."7 In the words of the apostles, when the laws and orders of human authorities conflict with the commandments of God, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). So far, Christadelphian and Catholic are in full agreement.

The point of divergence lies in whether the aforementioned activities (voting and political action, police service, military service, jury duty, litigation, etc.) are consistent with the believer's alien status in this world. Do such activities fall under "rendering to Caesar," or do they violate our allegiance to God? Christadelphians take the latter view. Believers must not try to bring about political or social change (e.g., by voting or participating in demonstrations).
The disciple's view is much wider than the panorama of his own time or the circumstances of his own life. He does not regard himself as having the right to seek political change or to agitate for social 'justice.' Such right has not been given to him by his Master.8
As an alien in this world, the disciple "lives in the country, but has no part in its affairs."9 Our alien status "compells [sic] us to stand apart from the society in which we live, and avoid involvement in its practises [sic] and organisations."10

Contrasting what Christadelphians regard as acceptable vs. unacceptable ways of rendering to Caesar, Cowie states:
we are required to pay taxes to the state... but cannot give an oath of allegiance to serve it. We are required to obey the laws of the state... but cannot play a part in enforcing them. We are commanded to honour the king or rulers of the state... but cannot fight to preserve their rule. We are to respect and obey the powers that be... but cannot become involved in voting them in or out of office.11

In what follows, I offer a counterargument to the above idea that believers' status as aliens and heavenly allegiance precludes them from seeking to enact change by political or legal means. I will not focus on the more specific (and thornier) issue of military service here,12 but broadly on political and legal activities.13

We have already mentioned our Lord's fundamental principle guiding the disciple's relations with the State: "Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" (Mark 12:17). Strictly speaking, this is a false dichotomy: everything belongs to God, including Caesar! However, the unstated qualification is that God has granted Caesar a certain domain of legitimate authority (cf. John 19:11). Why has God done so? It is not merely that God is permitting evildoers to have the upper hand until the end of this age. Paul makes it clear in Romans 13:1-4 that the State's authority has been established by God and is a servant of God with a divinely appointed ministry, namely to preserve and promote the common good.

With this in mind, let us return to an even more fundamental moral truth, also stated by Paul in the same context: that the commandment that sums up all others is "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Rom. 13:8-10). This "second great commandment" (Matt. 22:39) raises two further questions: what is love, and who is my neighbour? Paul describes love's characteristics in 1 Corinthians 13 without giving a definition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, following St. Thomas Aquinas, states that "To love is to will the good of another" (Article 1766). Some such definition is implied by the commandment to love neighbour as self. Each person innately wills and seeks his/her own good; we are asked to extend this goodwill to others (cf. Matt. 7:12).

It was in response to the question, "Who is my neighbour?" that Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The story challenged the questioner's assumptions by depicting a hated Samaritan as the benefactor of the imperiled Jew. Jesus closed by turning the question on its head: not who is my neighbour but who was a neighbour to the man in distress? Thus, we should not be asking where our social obligations stop, but how far we can extend the love God has shown us. The implication is clear: my social obligations extend to everyone, friend or foe, stranger or brother.

I expect that most Christadelphian readers will agree with everything in the last three paragraphs. Here then comes the crucial question. When we look at our community or society—whether local, national, or global—what do we see? If we have grasped Jesus' parable, we should see neighbours by the thousands, millions, and billions. We should see humans made in the image of God, with inherent dignity and worth equal to our own. Consequently, we should discern a neighbourly duty to love everyone in our society. This entails actively seeking the good of everyone. How can one individual possibly do this? The answer is, we can fulfil our neighbourly duty to love everyone by working for the common good, as far as we are able.

How do we do that? Every disciple should seek to use his/her profession to change the world for the better insofar as s/he is able. A teacher educates and inspires young people so that they will grow into good citizens. A truck driver helps to keep society fed and clothed by the efficient movement of goods. And what about a police officer or a lawyer? What about a voter or a demonstrator? We have already noted that the State has been established by God for the purpose of promoting and protecting the common good. Thus, by contributing to the effectiveness of the State and its laws, we are contributing to the common good, and fulfilling the second great commandment that sums up the law of God!

A democracy is a form of government that depends on the diligent and conscientious participation of citizens. A democratic State cannot function without our voices and our votes any more than it can function without our taxes. Paul says that payment of taxes is obligatory for believers, because it enables the State to fulfill its God-given ministry (Rom. 13:6). For believers who are citizens of a democratic country, voting is obligatory for the same reason. There is no question that casting a vote—or any other political activity, such as peaceful demonstration against some social injustice—contributes to the common good when done conscientiously. The same is true of litigation.14 If I neglect to do what I know is good, it is sin (Jas 4:17).

The Christian's heavenly citizenship and sojourner status does not require him/her to stand apart from society. Such a position tends toward indifference to the welfare of our neighbours.15 When believers vote or otherwise participate in affairs of law and State, they are not declaring that their kingdom is of this world, nor naïvely believing that some Christian utopia is achievable in the present age. Rather, they are seeking to shine the light of God's goodness into every dark corner of this world and its misery. To stand aloof from such matters is to hide that light under a bushel (Matt. 5:14-15).16



Another commonly cited Christadelphian reason for not voting is that our vote might go against God's will. Jim Luke makes the argument thus:
With issues such as education, the economy, the family, indigenous and foreign affairs, water, global warming etc., about which we may well have an opinion and preference, we must not forget that these matters belong to the governments of this day and that we are 'strangers and pilgrims' awaiting the coming of the Lord... So rather than becoming anxious about the outcome, we can rest in the knowledge that the Father is in control and that His will will be done. So whoever becomes prime minister and whatever party is voted into power, we will witness God's will being done. We must remain detached from the election and not vote, for we may place our weight behind someone whom God has not chosen if we do.17
This argument reflects a faulty understanding of God's will. Consider the hypothetical scenario of a democratic election featuring two candidates, A (who is clearly good) and B (who is clearly evil). First, I do not know which candidate (if any) God has chosen. If I vote for A, motivated by love of neighbour (seeking the common good), my vote is in accordance with the antecedent will of God, and I do well.18 If the consequent will of God is that candidate B wins, I am still blameless, and my vote for A has not frustrated God's plan. If I suspect that God's consequent will is for B to win, and I therefore vote for B, I have fallen into the error of "doing evil that good may come of it" (Rom. 3:8). If I refrain from voting, this decision still impacts the election (voter turnout swings elections!), and I am neglecting to promote the good and oppose the evil, which is sin (Jas 4:17). Of course, in reality the voter's choice is often murkier than good vs. evil, but the principle is still the same: if we vote according to conscience after due diligence, we do well.

Furthermore, in what area of life besides politics would we consider it rational to do nothing lest we might go against God? Suppose your child comes down with some disease. Maybe God wills that the child recover quickly, but maybe God wills that the child suffer greatly or even die. You don't know which it is. Would you therefore refrain from seeking medical treatment, in case this is contrary to the outcome God wills? Is the morally safe option to do nothing but sit back and "witness God's will being done"? Of course not. You would seek the best treatment possible, and even if the child died you would regard yourself as having done the right thing.

The argument "vote not, lest you vote contrary to God's will" essentially boils down to "Do nothing lest you might offend God." This bears resemblance to the attitude of the "lazy servant" in the Parable of the Talents, who buries his talent in the earth out of fear that he might mess up if he exercises the responsibilities entrusted to him by his master (Matt. 25:14-30).


Have I failed to notice what a dirty and acrimonious business politics is, or how the practice of law is more about greed than justice? Isn't it much better just to stay above the fray and leave everything to God? After all, Scripture instructs us not to place our trust in princes (Psalm 146:3). 

Again, it is precisely because politics and law are so often characterised by dishonesty and corruption that Christian witness is needed in these areas. Are lawyers greedy and opportunistic? Show the world what a just lawyer looks like. Are police officers racially biased and trigger-happy? Show the world how to truly protect and serve. It may not result in utopia, but it will make a difference. To eschew politics and law because there are bad politicians and lawyers is no more defensible than to eschew teaching and truck driving because there are bad teachers and truck drivers. Christians should always retain a healthy suspicion of political power, but to simply eschew politics and leave it to others is not the behaviour that best accords with love of all our neighbours near and far.

Voting in an election in no way suggests a lack of faith. Yes, God is finally in control of all things, and the Christian prays for those in authority regardless of who they are (1 Tim. 2:1-2). However, this does not excuse us from exercising the stewardship that God delegates to his creatures. We trust in God for our material needs, but we still work for a living, realising that our livelihood may be the means by which God provides for us. Faith and action are complementary, not contradictory.


  • 1 One can mention Christadelphian charities like Agape in Action, Christadelphian Meal-a-Day, and Williamsburg Christadelphian Foundation, and Christadelphian founders of charities like Marcus McGilvray of WhizzKids United, my good friend and former boss. The passion of Christadelphians in Durban, South Africa for community outreach made a great impression on me.
  • 2 Christadelphians have taken a stand of conscience against military service, sometimes at considerable personal cost. Christadelphians have a special love for the Jewish people, and this has manifested itself in heroic acts such as Christadelphian involvement in the Kindertransport during World War Two, as documented by Christadelphian writer Jason Hensley.
  • 3 This is not disavowed in the Statement of Faith, and there is some diversity of opinion among Christadelphians on the subject, but writings such as C. T. Butler's The Disciple of Christ and Trade Unions come out against it.
  • 4 This is not disavowed in the Statement of Faith, but numerous Christadelphian writers come out against it.
  • 5 See Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, Doctrines to be Rejected 35-36.
  • 6 "[O]n the day we are baptised we say goodbye to the country of our birth. From that point onward, we are citizens of God's kingdom. No longer is our loyalty to Russia or America or England, but to Jesus our king. In a figure of speech, our position becomes that of aliens—people who live in a country but have a different nationality" (David M. Pearce, Christadelphians and the State). Again, "we are 'strangers and pilgrims' awaiting the coming of the Lord and the establishment of his beneficent reign in which all nations will be blessed, and 'all nations shall call him blessed' (Psa 72:17)" (Jim Luke, Christ and Politics, The Lampstand, 13(5) [2007]).
  • 7 Jim Cowie, Conscientious Objection to Military Service: A Manual Designed to Assist Christadelphian Young People Facing the Prospect of a National Service Call-Up (Hawthorndene, South Australia: Christadelphian Scripture Study Service, 1999), 16.
  • 8 Harry Tennant, Christ and Protest.
  • 9 David M. Pearce, Christadelphians and the State. The full quotation is as follows: "Since we are told by Paul that the government of the country where we live has been set there by God, we cannot take part in revolutions or demonstrations or strikes in an attempt to bring about change. It is important to note that Jesus lived under Roman rule, and suffered with his fellow countrymen from the occupation of his country. Nevertheless, he did nothing to overthrow Roman rule. When Pilate questioned him as to his political status, he insisted that though he was a king, his kingdom did not belong to this world. That is a useful pointer for us – our kingdom is not of this world. It will come, when God is ready. Paul has a similar ruling in the passage we have already looked at : Romans 13 v1,2  ‘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.’ It is for the same reason Christadelphians are not at liberty to vote in elections to appoint government officers, whether in local elections or national ones. We have to adopt the position of aliens. During an election, a person from another country is not allowed to take part in the voting. Hce lives in the country, but has no part in its affairs."
  • 10 Jim Cowie, Conscientious Objection, 4.
  • 11 Cowie, Conscientious Objection, 16-17.
  • 12 The Catholic Church upholds the "just war theory" developed by the Church Fathers, under which war may be justly waged when all of a narrow set of circumstances are met. Within the context of just war theory, soldiers who "carry out their duty honorably" do "truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2310); thus military service does fall under the moral argument of this article. It should be noted that the Catholic Church also defends the right of conscientious objection: "Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2311). I am sympathetic to conscientious objection since I do not believe that most wars waged by nations are either just or oriented to the common good of humanity. I believe that conscientious objection to military service makes sense on humanitarian grounds but am unenthused by Cowie's statement that "Our conscientious objection to military service does not spring from natural feelings of revulsion towards war or a sense of humanitarian compassion" (Conscientious Objection, 3).
  • 13 To name a few examples, these might include voting, participating in nonviolent demonstrations, contributing to political discourse, participating in community forums, serving with election oversight organisations, running for political office, practicing law, bringing litigation, or serving on a jury. Although involvement in labour unions and striking does not necessarily involve the State and its laws, the moral argument contained here easily extends to such issues as well.
  • 14 Litigation should not be framed in terms of financial self-interest; litigation can establish a legal precedent that promotes some justice or eradicates an injustice. Think, for instance, of Brown v. Board of Education in the United States. A litigant who sought to avoid any possibility of financial self-interest could always pledge to donate any damages awarded.
  • 15 Cowie, anticipating this, argues that Christadelphians' detachment from politics does not "bespeak a lack of concern for the distressed state of the world and is inhabitants," because the true Christadelphian eagerly anticipates the end of all human suffering after the return of Christ (Conscientious Objection, 19). However, merely hoping for the eventual resolution of the world's problems is inadequate (see Jas 2:15-16).
  • 16 To say this is not to preach a "social gospel" instead of the gospel of salvation. The Church's primary mission is to save souls, but just as Jesus both healed bodies and instructed minds, so his body the Church must attend to both corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
  • 17 Jim Luke, Christ and Politics. Similarly, Cowie: "Could it not be that we may vote for someone whom God wills not to place in power"? (Conscientious Objection, 19).
  • 18 Theologians distinguish between the antecedent and consequent will of God. As part of his antecedent will, God wills that all humans be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), but this does not mean that all are saved, because this outcome may conflict with other realities willed by God, such as free will. Thus, God's consequent will may be that not all humans are saved. This does not, however, mean that we should refrain from evangelising, in case someone is converted whom God does not intend to save! Coming to politics, God's antecedent will is surely that governments rule justly. In his consequent will, God permits wicked rulers like Pontius Pilate and Hitler, perhaps in order to accomplish some higher purpose (e.g., the atoning death of Jesus), and/or as an act of judgment that respects the free will of the evildoers who put them in power.

1 comment:

FredCB said...

I have read much of your Blog with interest, having myself been a former Christadelphian for near on 10 years. Since then have moved in various circles. Firstly, a House Fellowship of no denominational connection/affiliation. Then, with Bill Gothard Organisation, promoting Basic Life Principles, and subsequently with the Baptist Church for past 18 years or so. Prior to being involved with Christadelphians, I was a baptised and Confirmed member of the High Church of England. My spiritual journey began when I was around 17 years of age. It started by doing a Correspondence Course with the Seventh Day Adventists, which was completed and awarded with a Diploma Certificate. But, having, from my own Biblical reading, found cause to question whether Seventh Day Adventist were anymore correct than others, I went on to explore Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, H.W Armstrong, Abrahamic Church of God, Rosicrucians and others. All the while forming my own conclusions about what was correct and incorrect theology. Early in the piece, my understanding of the Scriptures, lead me to believe that YAHWEH, the God revealed through the Old Testament was a Unity and not a Trinity as was generally understood and taught. This understanding has carried through until the present day.
I notice that you have moved away from this standpoint and, have fully embraced Roman Catholic theology, something I find hard to fathom, given the degree of research and understanding I have developed on this subject over the years. But that is all another matter.
What has prompted the jotting of this note, is your commentary on the view/position a Christian should take in relation to the matter of politics. I can go along/agree with much of what you have conveyed but overall, it has failed to persuade me to think that I should get entangled in the affairs of this world. As the Apostle Paul said, "we must expect to endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ and that no one engaged in warfare entangles himself in the affairs of this life, that he may please Him who enlisted him as a soldier" (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
One of the real problems I see with the question of getting involved in Voting, is that it makes for a divided household. And no household that is divided can stand (Matthew 12:25) If we; as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, find ourselves voting against each other, out of the misguided belief that we have been lead in prayer to favour certain candidates, then we are in fact saying that God is divided against Himself. As the action of Christians who vote for different parties, indicates that this must be such. Even unbelievers, who observe this type of behaviour, can recognise the terrible contradiction it conveys.
Looking at the political platforms that exist in some countries and Australia (my home Country) is no exception; it would not want to be responsible for voting into power and endorsing the policies for which they stand. Hence, my decision to leave the matter in God's hands and not be found, in effect, trying to move His hand one way or another. Such are my thoughts for what they are worth. I am happy to consider whatever response this thinking may engender. Friendly and cheerful regards, Fred C.B.