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I have heard it said many times that it is the responsibility of Christian to participate in their government, specifically that every Christian has the responsibility to vote. Is there some biblical justification for this belief? I know that the government of the US is dramatically different than what existed in Biblical times, but is there some precedent set forward by scripture that would validate this?

I am wondering about the US system of government specifically, as it is largely based around citizen participation, and as an American.

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No, there is no Biblical imperative for us to participate in government in the way you describe. The New Testament doesn't say much about our relationship with government, because the emphasis is on our membership in Christ. We are to be less concerned with things of the world, and more concerned with the things of God.

Here's what the Bible does say about our relationship to government:

Give to Caesar what is Caesar's

Luke 20:22-25 (ESV)
22  Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23  But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24  “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar's.” 25  He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”

Jesus is saying here that since we do live under the authority of a human government, we ought to honor that authority. This is not an imperative to participate in government, but it is an imperative to obey our government (when it does not conflict with our obedience to God, of course). In this case, Jesus is referring to paying taxes, but I believe that the principle applies to honoring government laws and regulations in general.

Submit to authorities

1 Peter 2:13-15 (ESV)
13  Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14  or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Romans 13:1 (ESV)
13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

Again, we ought to submit to authorities. And again, there is no indication here that we ought to participate in government - only that we ought to submit to it.

Our true citizenship is in heaven

Philippians 3:20 (ESV)
20  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Although we are under the authority of earthly governments, we ought to remember that our true citizenship is in heaven. Participation in earthly government, while acceptable, should not be our focus.

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I especially appreciate the distinction between submitting and participating. –  A. Still May 25 '12 at 20:52
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Was there any way for the Jews to participate in government during Christ's life? Perhaps he never told them to because it wasn't possible. The lack of exhortation does not imply lack of importance. If our government was considering removing our right to practice Christianity, would it not be important enough to focus on? –  JustinY May 29 '12 at 15:11
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@JustinY, if that were the case, I would probably be more inclined to participate more heavily in government (though I'd say enduring through persecution is more important than preventing it). But I still don't think it's the right area to focus on, and I still don't think "every Christian has the responsibility to vote". Whether or not we individually feel we ought to vote, the Church's focus needs to be on the Gospel, growing in conformity to Christ, and bringing others to Christ. –  Eric May 29 '12 at 16:49
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@JustinY, today (at least in the U.S.), when Christians are urged to vote, it's usually for the purpose of legislating Christian values/morality onto the unbelieving population, keeping "one nation under God" in the pledge, etc. Christianity can survive without injecting itself into government, and legislating Christian values does not solve people's sin problem. Only the Gospel can do that. –  Eric May 29 '12 at 16:55
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I like Eric's answer, but I'm going to give a contrarian answer.

In Philippians 4: 8,9, we read:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Christ did not speak on every topic. Peter and Paul did not speak on every topic.

While Paul does not specifically address participation in government in his letter to the Philippians, we can discern from what he did say that we ought to participate in art, literature, and yes, even government so that we can do our part to make these activities true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and excellent.

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I don't know of anything in the Bible that explicitly commands participation in government. While the idea of voting was known at the time -- Rome and parts of Greece were republics during periods that overlapped the Old Testament -- I don't know of any mention of it in the Bible.

On the other hand, the Bible does repeatedly command us to help orphans and widows, to fight injustice, and to defend the oppressed. Sometimes these good things can be done through government. More often government is the source of the evil, and by participating in goverment we can mitigate it. A number of people in the Bible were govenrment officials, like Joseph and Daniel and David, and it's clear they used these positions to further God's work.

So I think that applying general Biblical principles would lead us to the conclusion that Christians should participate in government when there is an opportunity to do good. But I don't know of any specific command.

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"More often government is the source of the evil" - just... seriously? –  Marc Gravell May 25 '12 at 13:10
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@Marc Well, we're off on a tangent here. But have governments ever done any good? Of course. But they've also done a lot of evil. Hitler's government killed about 25 million people. Stalin's killed 22 million. Mao's killed 50 million. Pol Pot's killed 2 million. (Which doesn't sound like as good a score as the others, but remember he only had 8 million to start with, as a percentage of a nation's population I think he's #1.) I don't know of any force in the world that has committed as many murders as governments. I don't have statistics for organized crime but I doubt it comes close. ... –  Jay May 26 '12 at 23:10
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... The Spanish Inquisition killed 3000 to 4000 people over the course of 350+ years. That's horrible, of course, but Stalin would have been disappointed if a DAY went by in which he killed only 4000 people. No murders that can be pinned on a religious group begin to compare with what governments have done. The Ku Klux Klan killed about 1500 people. Amateurs. –  Jay May 26 '12 at 23:19
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That like arguing all people are bad because there are murderers. Rhetorical, but I notice you still don't cite alternatives. Because there are none except individualism and anarchy. –  Marc Gravell May 27 '12 at 8:38
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@Jay: I'm not going to speak for Marc, but I personally see a wide gulf between "government can be a force for evil" and "more often government is the source of the evil." The former recognizes that governments don't often live up to their best intentions; the latter says that most governments harm their citizens. That's the statement that appears in your answer, and it appears to me to be a gross overstatement. –  Bruce Alderman May 29 '12 at 19:43
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Absolutely; for if we don't we become complicit in the results and we can claim no authority to object to the actions of that government's rulers. Sure we can say there's a higher calling and it's heaven but to not participate, even so little as not voting is a poor witness at best; we in essence are throwing our support to the victor whether they're good or bad as the case may be. We must be part of the solution; not part of the problem. God didn't say to sit still, he called us to action.

Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints...." Ephesians 6:10-18

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