As strangers, pilgrims and exiles we view the state as something that is wholly other or outside the Kingdom realm to which we belong.
We understand why the state was instituted and to some degree we are thankful that it exists. And yet we also are painfully aware of both its limitations and dangers.
This of course is the story of Church history. The struggle to maintain the truth on this point is a long dark chapter with many lives lost and many apostasies, but also a testimony to the glorious truth of the Kingdom's spirituality. It is a tale of slaughtered sheep who are more than conquerors.
We are not to behave as the Gentiles do. We do not seek to be esteemed, rightly understanding the world's accolades are an abomination to God. We seek neither power nor its cousins wealth and fame. For the security the world offers is a false one, and all the world's enticements are but dung to the believer and can never for a moment be equated with the riches that we possess in Christ. If that doesn't stir our hearts then we need to repent, go back and reconsider these matters in greater depth.
The New Testament which is the norm for the Church provides the right interpretation of the Old Testament and teaches us that in this Age of the Kingdom, this Age of the Consummation, we are to live as exiles. We are to lead quiet lives, working with our hands and minding our own business. Our relationship to the rulers is one of respect but permanent separation. We pray for the peace of the city but ultimately that they would simply leave us alone.
This doesn't mean they are wholly evil and that we are to avoid all contact. That's not possible nor is it necessary. Even in the Old Testament the believers would at times accept temporal help from pagan rulers. This is especially true in the Pre-Mosaic period which according to both Christ and Paul is in many ways analogous to our own era.
The rulers can't help us in terms of our spiritual project but they can help when it comes to meeting basic needs. We're not helping them in their project and they aren't helping us in ours. But for the sake of the common peace we can usually coexist. We won't ever be the true believing citizenry they desire but most regimes won't complain about a people who don't agitate, who obey the laws, work and raise their children to do the same. This testimony on many occasions led to the Waldensians being shown mercy by local rulers. Sure they weren't properly orthodox as far as the Papacy was concerned, but from the standpoint of a secular baron, they were good enough people and hardly worthy of persecution.
Romans 13 teaches us that God ordains the powers that be and that we are not to resist his providential arrangements. The state is his providential servant and this can be true of Assyria, Persia, Rome or America. This doesn't mean in any way that God sanctions what they do or their motives for doing it. The state doesn't build the Kingdom. The state is simply a merciful stop-gap that prevents the chaos of sin from overtaking the world. This doesn't mean the state is good or wholly evil.
We are to obey, but all obedience except to God Himself carries some qualification. There are times we are to disobey the state and must do so. But disobedience does not mean political revolt or violence. That is exactly what we're being contrasted with at the end of Romans 12. We behave the one way, trusting in God for vengeance and ultimate vindication. The state serves God's purposes but is not a holy institution. Contrary to the Church, its foundation is the threat of violence. Whether that's based on democratic principles, a constitution, the claims of a nobility or even military dictators, they all rule based on violence. That is the state.
At this point we must consider the relatively modern phenomenon of the vote. How does this fit in?
Most Christians continue to crave political power and view the vote as a means to that end. Others believe it is how we 'render' unto Caesar, that which is his.
I don't think you can make any argument from the Gospel text that Christ had 'citizen' duties like voting in mind. If anything it referred to taxes and a certain level of respect. Caesar's demands are limited. If Caesar conscripts us into doing something that is against our belief system we must refuse. With regard to voting, I don't know if I would go so far as to say its intrinsically sinful but it can hardly be called a moral imperative solely on the basis that Caesar was instituted it.
Voting is voluntary in most countries and therefore we can't argue that we 'must' vote because it's the law. God certainly does not command it and in fact based on what I've already discussed we could begin to make a substantial case against our participation in the franchise.
Would the Jews of the Babylonian exile have voted if they could? It's hypothetical of course but I raise the question to drive us to consider the issue. It seems rather unlikely even a somewhat absurd notion, but I suppose one's views determine the perceived 'mindset' of the exiles. If it seems absurd then it should seem equally so with regard to the Church.
I know there are many who would cite Daniel and Joseph as examples of Christian statesmen but these are inapplicable examples. Daniel was a slave and compelled into political service, and we have virtually no account of his official record. With regard to Joseph I also don't believe his case to be applicable. But if it were I think the implications are more than a little troubling for the Christian America crowd. Joseph it would seem embraced a thoroughgoing pragmatism with regard to his office. He sought the peace of Egypt and ironically under Divine guidance created a political and economic system more reminiscent of a form of communism than anything Christians would wish for in our own day.
We must subject ourselves to the decrees of Providence but the situations of Daniel and Joseph are a far cry from actively seeking political power.
The United States itself is founded on a series of sinful acts that we refer to as the American Revolution. No Biblical case can be made that calls for or vindicates the actions of 1776. Those that attempt this are resting on theological traditions and not sound exegesis. That said, we cannot roll back history nor do we somehow desire to be subjects of the British crown. The past is complete. All we can do is deal with the fallout. That said, in light of our status as exiles, our mandate to refuse power on all fronts and our always qualified command to be subject to the ruling power, one must ask- Why would we as Christians bother with voting at all?
We could argue that we're seeking the peace of the city. A case could be made on this point but interestingly once again if the Bible does indeed provide precedent it is a posture of pragmatism that ought to guide our thinking. We're not looking for a Christian state. Such a thing is categorically an impossibility. Are we looking for a moral state? On a certain level yes, but our expectations must be pretty low. The standards we look for cannot be covenantal. Really we're just looking for a situation that allows for peace and for us to live our lives and preach the Gospel.
Ultimately what type of political order or even economic system which governs society shouldn't be of great concern to us. Some governments are more evil than others. But if they're all 'other' to us, then it doesn't make that much difference.
Of course if the idea of a Christian state represents a theological error then that idea and those who support it, would be something that we should absolutely oppose with no latitude whatsoever. Our opposition wouldn't be expressed politically other than in terms of rejection. We must absolutely 'not' vote for candidates which promote this idea and if in power we must be vocal in our rejection of their false gospel. At that point we're battling a false gospel and Christian heresy. The political aspect is secondary. We would still pay the tax but actively denounce them as Mystery Babylon. The so-called Christian Candidate is the very person we must not vote for. They automatically represent a dangerous rejection of the Gospel and will harm both society and the Church.
Many think of Eschatology in terms of last times chronology. That's actually the least important aspect. Eschatology defines how we view the Kingdom, what expectations we have and thus how we are to live now. Of the three popular schools of thought, both Post- and Pre-millennialism largely relegate the book of Revelation to either past or future. One's eschatology usually determines which method is employed in the reading of the book of Revelation. The Futurist and Preterist schools of thought both agree that most of Revelation is not actually applicable for today.*
The Idealist or sometimes the Reiterationist school usually associated with Amillennialism acknowledges that the book like what we find in Daniel, is a series of repeating visions from different perspectives and with different emphases. Each vision encapsulates the whole of the age from the First to Second Comings, ending with some kind of manifestation of Christ or the Throne of Judgment.
This reading means that Revelation 13 is fully applicable in our day. The economic ramifications of the Beast system are not something solely related to a future technology, Roman citizenship or even Roman Catholic Church membership. It's something much bigger and historically universal. The Mark itself is simply the contrast of those who are marked by God as we see in Ezekiel. The forehead and the hand represent the mind and our activities. The implication in Revelation 13 is that you have to become 'the world' and embrace the system in order to get along in this life.
This is an ongoing dynamic fully applicable in Europe, Asia or America and at any period in history. The symbolism indicates that Christians who refuse to conform will always be relegated to second-class status, and due to their moral, ethical and thus economic non-conformity will by default be placed at the brink of poverty. Those who refuse to think and act like the Beast will be at the bottom of the social order. They are disenfranchised in every way that term can be utilized. To what extent this is felt both socially and economically and becomes a painful reality depends on the particular context.
But it should be considered normative. There's no room in Revelation 13 for the idea of a Christian state in This Age. The only Christian Nation is Zion, the Kingdom of Heaven which can only appear on the New Earth. We are the ambassadors and envoys but it's not here except in the sense that we are.
But the door is indeed wide open in Revelation 13 and indeed 17 for the idea of an apostate Christendom persecuting Biblically faithful Christians and/or Christians being persecuted in a pagan or secular state. This is the norm.
This reality doesn't make Christianity very attractive to those who are on the outside, and it must be wondered how many would continue to embrace the Christian faith if they understood this to be the case? How many would embrace the Gospel knowing that it meant a life of hardship, rejection, hate and alienation? And yet, that message is plain to see across the pages of the New Testament. If they can't understand that then they certainly won't understand the nature of our sorrowful joy that we experience (2 Cor 6.10). Many have chosen to ignore this message of glorious defeat and antithesis to the world, or wrongly understand these many passages in terms of a political struggle.
"Yes, the opposition hates us while we seek to rule over them and/or oppress them."
Though they'll insist that's not what they are doing, the opposition will tell them otherwise. Either way this is not at all what the New Testament is presenting to us. We aren't Christians because we think godliness is gain but because we believe in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
*I acknowledge there are some Amillennialists who are Preteristic in their reading of Revelation. Usually these Amil's are in reality Crypto-Postmillennial in their application of the system to This Age. There's also the Historicist school which is presently making a comeback. But it also believes that most of Revelation is not applicable. We are apparently living somewhere along their understanding of the linear chronology. The previous chapters are fulfilled and the rest are not yet applicable. Of course no one can agree on any of the symbolic interpretations. There's no way to verify them. Historicism is a deeply flawed system resting on many false theological assumptions. Only the Idealistic Reiterationist Amillennial reading of Revelation can say that the whole book applies to every age of the Church.