This weekend, New Zealanders are going to the polls. How should Christians think about the elections?

Let me say from the outset that my aim is not to tell you who to vote for. My heart in writing this article is pastoral. I serve as one of the pastors in a church family that gathers for worship in the Pakuranga electorate of New Zealand. We are a cross-cultural whānau (family), baptised in the name of Jesus, with immigrant roots and connections to Hong Kong, Mainland China and Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Germany, Canada, India, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere. Among our brothers and sisters are those who voted National, Labour and other parties. We have prayed for and served alongside local MPs from both major parties. Some members were first in line to get vaccinated against COVID-19, others were deeply scarred after being ostracised and punished for refusing the vaccine. We have rich and poor, young and old. Some have fled oppressive governments; others aspire to work for government. Some have been politically active here and overseas; others are apathetic towards politics anywhere. We are just like any other family in Christ: diverse in our unity; not perfect, but following a Perfect Saviour.

Something we’ve been trying to do intentionally at church this year is to explore the idea of cultivating a “gospel culture”. Ray Ortlund makes the case as follows: “The family of God is where people should find lots of gospel, lots of safety, and lots of time.”[1] In other words: gospel + safety + time. I pray these are reflections that help you within a context where you’ve heard “…the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), in relationships where you’re safe to speak and admit things honestly and receive sympathy and love, where we allow ourselves sufficient time to rethink deep-seated opinions and convictions that don’t quickly or easily change.

“God’s Big Picture”… politics included

The Bible contains 66 books that tell one big story. What we find in God’s Word though, is that politics runs through the whole Bible. Using Vaughan Roberts’s helpful “God’s Big Picture” paradigm to survey the Scriptures, here’s what we see.

First things first: the pattern of the kingdom. Genesis 1–2 describes creation perfectly ordered, beautifully governed, without sin, sadness – or dirty politics. The first three-party coalition did not arise from the introduction of the mixed-member proportional (MMP) form of government, but from the Triune God of Scripture: One God, three persons, relationally complete, needing nothing. God the Father, the Son (see Col. 1:16), the Spirit (Gen. 1:2), after crafting creation, speaks up: “Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule…” (Gen 1:26) The first command to our first parents and God’s image-bearers was to engage in “co-governance”: stewarding the moana (sea), rangi (skies) and whenua (land) the way our Maker intended.

Sadly, then followed the perished kingdom (Genesis 3). Tempted to doubt God’s good word, sin enters the world through a slithering politician. The serpent splits the vote: the woman doubts, then disobeys the divine Cabinet and eats forbidden fruit. Man follows suit. When God confronts the power couple, it’s all blame-shifting and bluster. “The woman you put here with me – it was her fault!” “The snake You made tricked me!” The first sting of sin’s curse looks like a self-centred squabble. Whether or not there were dinosaurs in Eden, one thing’s for sure: the slogan “in it for you” was first coined after the Fall, with no hope to get the world “back on track”.

On to the promised kingdom (Gen. 12:1–3, 15:5–6). Yes, father Abraham had many sons (and daughters), despite being almost as old as Winston Peters when he was first called into action. What’s also worth remembering however is that God’s big promise to this wandering Aramean—God’s people, God’s place, under God’s rule—was enacted through god-fearing men and women who took part in politics of the Ancient Near East. Some served faithfully through severe affliction – Joseph the Egyptian Prime Minister, for example. Others were less keen – if you thought Judith Collins was a reluctant party leader, spare a thought for Moses. Or suspicious Sarah. Daring Deborah. Doubtful Gideon. Flawed people who “through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised…” (Heb. 11:33), believing the LORD would fulfil what He promised (Gen. 15:6). The “cloud of witnesses” cheering Christians on includes these imperfect rulers, politicians and servants.

The height of Israel’s earthly power, we see the partial kingdom (1 & 2 Samuel, 1 Kings). During this phase of history, it seems like things couldn’t be better. David the warrior King makes Israel great again. Solomon brings shalom, unprecedented peace. His wisdom, political judgement, and foreign policy wins admirers as far off as Sheba. Is this how “all peoples on earth will be blessed”? An earthly theocracy where [insert god/idol here] rules? Many churches and even political parties today would have you think so. Yet the rise and fall of biblical Israel warns us that while humans look at the outward appearance, the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Looks can deceive. Saul seemed impressive but was caught hiding behind the baggage at the wrong time. David ruled well, until he was caught abusing his power in a sex scandal (2 Samuel 11). Solomon starts well, but from the moment you realise that he’s designed his palace to be bigger than God’s temple (1 Kings 6:38–7:1), you start to realise something’s off. The result? Yet another head of state led astray by wealth, wine, and way too many women (1 Kings 11:1–6). Another political scalp. Oh, for a better King.

Despite Israel’s failure, God gives his people the hope through the prophesied kingdom. In song and story, proverb and prophecy, the authors of Scripture foretell the Messiah, God’s Chosen King, of whom Isaiah declared that “the government will be on his shoulders” (Is. 9:6), and call God’s people to repent (if you’re disappointed by a bad poll result, spare a thought for God’s verdict on Israel and Judah!). Even when God’s people are humbled, scattered and exiled, God prophesies through Daniel—a man of faith serving in secular government—of a Son of Man who will rule over all kingdoms, dominions and powers (Daniel 7:14).

Fast forward to the present kingdom (Gospels, Acts). Who would have thought that God’s Messiah would be a baby from a backwater town? But this Jesus of Nazareth is who God crowns the King of Kings. The worst of human politics and pride leads to His crucifixion and death, but he rose again to prove that He has the Maker’s mandate to rule and reign over all things. No earthly politician can “resurrect” like Jesus did!

So when we reach our phase of history, the proclaimed kingdom (Acts, Epistles), as Christians we do well to remember how it all started at Pentecost. A religious gathering, a cultural who’s who, but who’s missing? A bunch of Spirit-filled men and women who follow the Way of the Master. Unlike every other political bloc, these people called Christians have always included people from different social classes, genders and ethnicities. Jesus’s earliest followers included people of influence, involved in politics. Think of Simon the Zealot. The Ethiopian official. Lydia the purple cloth seller (a plum vocation for Europe’s first convert to Christ). Erastus the CEO of public works in Corinth (Rom. 16:23). The church at its purest should be a gospel party, that welcomes supporters of different political stripes without aligning herself to any one party, in order to proclaim God’s kingdom.

And what of the future? Will Christ return when a political party brings peace to earth? Or when our world descends into clamour and chaos again? The final visions of Scripture appear terrifying, but thankfully we know how it ends: with the perfect kingdom and the “return of the King”. When Christ returns, all politics will end. As Christians, our blessed hope is found in the Jesus Party. On that “decision night”, every political affiliation will fade into the joy of His glory as young and old, rich and poor, left-leaning and right-leaning voters feast at the table of the King of Kings. Far more important then, than which earthly party you give your two ticks to, is whether you have given the Lord Jesus two ticks. Have you accepted his death on the cross for your sins? Do you believe he was raised for your justification (Rom. 4:25)?

Voting for the King

If this is what the whole Bible says about politics, then how then shall we live? Here’s four brief suggestions from a (still!) undecided voter.

Firstly, no Christian will fit neatly into a secular political party system. Among the political parties that have a realistic chance of getting into parliament under MMP, none of them will completely reflect kingdom values. One party may deliver justice for the poor and the oppressed, yet denigrate the life of the unborn image-bearers among us. Another party might pitch traditional values that align with Christian convictions, while at the same time treat ethnic minorities with disdain. A gospel culture will mean feeling like we don’t fit in completely with one party’s values and beliefs. As Paul reminds the Philippians, our citizenship—or literally, commonwealth—is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).

Secondly, politics is often a matter of wisdom and conscience (Romans 14). As Tim Keller helpfully points out, even if Christians agree on the importance of, say, alleviating the cost of living, how to go about it may look different. Fellow believers will come to different conclusions, sometimes having to make decisions between the “lesser of two evils”. If we’re to live as people who belong to a gospel culture, when it comes to politics we should welcome one another from across the aisle. How? As Christ has welcomed us, for the glory of God (Rom. 15:6).

Thirdly, when electing leaders, remember that integrity and moral character matter. Again, God looks at the heart not just the outward appearance. Granted, the New Zealand election is not an exercise in deciding on spiritual leaders. Yet Christians more than anyone else should be the first to consider a potential Prime Minister or Cabinet Member’s personal character as well as their political convictions. Are they faithful to their spouse? Do they love their children? Are they well-regarded by their neighbours? Does their speech and conduct show integrity? It concerns me when Christians turn a blind eye to serious character flaws in our public officials just to get their political agenda over the line.

Finally, regardless of who wins the election, the Scripture clearly teaches that Christians have a responsibility to pray for our rulers, particularly for the freedom to live and worship peacefully and proclaim Christ’s Kingdom to all (1 Tim. 2:1-4). So whichever “Chris” becomes Prime Minister after this Saturday’s national election, bear his name before the throne of grace. Plead to King Jesus that he would govern New Zealand with wisdom. Entrust him and every other elected representative to the Father. May He through them, as our national anthem yearns for, “make this nation good and great.”

[1] Ray Ortlund, “The Gospel” (9 Marks: Building Healthy Churches), 59.