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Heading to the hills?

Sometimes silence amid the political storm is what's really required

Today people go to vote in the European elections. As people cast their ballots, what can we say? Well, not much actually.

After a frenzied campaigning period, polling day itself is rather strange. Generally, electoral rules prohibit broadcasters and other media outlets from reporting on an election campaign or predictions until the polls close. Our plethora of political pundits, who are used to making predictions and giving us their take” on what comes next, are often reduced to awkward descriptions of leaders casting their votes and lists of interesting dogs outside polling stations. 

For the church, there is a more wide-ranging silence, imposed by God and Caesar alike. I’ve written elsewhere about why we don’t want a partisan church: as C.S. Lewis notes, it risks violating the third commandment by taking the name of the Lord in vain. And while they are controversial, laws still exist on the statute book prohibiting spiritual influence” or religious leaders threatening spiritual consequences in connection with how people vote. 

Christians may find this hard to bear. Increasingly in our culture, silence is weakness. Having a take’ – be it a prediction or exhortation to vote one way or the other – is a sign of strength, that you’re significant and should be listened to. But to be silent is to be ignored. Surely, so the argument goes, not just individual Christians but God’s church together ought to speak out. 

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As the secular calendar focuses on the election, in the Christian calendar many of our churches are still looking back to Easter and looking ahead to Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit. We’re remembering those 40 days in which Jesus appeared to His disciples. And we can hear those disciples express a recognisable impatience when they ask in Acts 1:6: Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

In Judea in the first century, politics was deeply theologised. People looked for political deliverance, and for political figures to be their saviours – some throwing in their lot with Herod’s dynasty, others with Rome directly, and still others with violent rebels against both. For many of them, a new political reality was not simply a changing season, it was salvation. We are of course far too sensible and well-educated today to fall into the same trap. Or at least our side is.

Jesus’ disciples must have felt particularly frustrated because they knew they had such good news to share. They had a resurrected Messiah, a Christ who had so clearly been vindicated by God in the way that no rebel leader, pretender king or Roman governor could ever claim. Jesus was Lord and Caesar was not. How could this not lead to political action, to the coming of God’s kingdom on earth? 

Jesus gently rebukes His disciples. He takes the focus off political times and dates, which God has set. Instead, He tells them to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, before being sent as His witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And, instead of waiting for a political restoration, the disciples go to pray, until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. 

But anyone who thinks this means weakness, isolation or heading for the hills, has simply not read the rest of the book of Acts. A chapter later, God will use Peter’s preaching to win over a crowd of 3,000. As for social transformation and helping the poor, these converts will give so sacrificially that there will not be one needy among them, and the apostles themselves will not be able to do all the required administration. As for being a voice, the twelve, and later Paul, will speak before governors, kings, high councils and eventually Caesar himself. Heading for the hills this is not. 

So maybe, as we wait for the outcome of the election and for the takes’ to resume, God wants the church to engage in a different way. Individual Christians may be passionately engaged, standing for election and campaigning. But the church’s calling is to pray, to wait afresh for the Holy Spirit’s prompting, and to proclaim boldly the good news of Jesus. Politicians come and go but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever”. So let’s keep our eyes fixed on Him, whatever the outcome of today’s vote. 

About the author

John began working at the Evangelical Alliance in 2016, focusing on issues of debate in parliament that are relevant to evangelical Christians in the UK. Before this he worked as a research assistant for the Church of England Bishop of Coventry, supporting his work in the House of Lords and his focus on freedom of religion or belief and global reconciliation. He holds a BA in Theology and an MPhil in Judaism and Christianity in the Graeco-Roman world, and he remains very interested in biblical studies and inter-religious dialogue. He also teaches English to speakers of other languages at a class run by his church.

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