The Bible doesn’t talk about 21st century politics, so what should we do?

This article is published in partnership with The Methodist Church in Singapore.

Rev Dr Nathanael Goh // April 23, 2024, 4:49 pm


"There is a certain unease, even cynicism, regarding politics. The implication is that noble souls should refrain from involvement," notes Rev Dr Nathanael Goh. "But politics is not a necessary evil. It is the first school for heavenly citizenship." Here's why. Photo by Salya T on Unsplash.

Every Christian aspires to obey God, avoid evil and do good. But some modern day predicaments are not discussed specifically in the Bible. How, then, can we apply biblical principles to our lives?

In this series, The Methodist Church in Singapore shares reflections on its Social Principles which, more than ever before, can help believers live by God’s firm principles in today’s volatile and complex world. 

Here, Rev Dr Nathanael Goh looks at how the Church can respond to political discourses of the day through a biblical lens, by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

What does faith have to do with politics?

An essay about Christianity and politics might, at first glance, evoke a chilling response.

What’s worse, to discover that the essay’s author is a pastor adds an additional layer of intrigue. After all, a well-known acerbic quote, dubiously attributed to the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, is that “politics is the last resort for the scoundrels”.

There is a certain unease, even cynicism, regarding politics. The implication is that noble souls should refrain from involvement in politics, and men of the cloth even more so.

Why would Christians living in procedurally secular societies have a Christian political ethic at all?

Why should a pastor have anything to say to fellow Christians about politics?

Why do Christian social principles even include a sphere of politics? Shouldn’t we eschew to be above the fray – to seek the things above, as it were? Did not our Lord say that His Kingdom is not of this world?

These are but a few of the questions one rightly has upon discovering that The Methodist Church in Singapore’s Social Principles includes reflections on “The Sphere of Politics”.

Three areas are mentioned: Political responsibilities, military service and a world community.

These broad headings deal with a wide range of issues, such as the role of civil society, the right use of power, the separation of Church and State, democratic participation, the work of justice, just war, a global world order, human trafficking, sex tourism, fair trade, refugee crises and more.

Since it would neither be profitable for the reader nor possible to attempt a substantive reflection of even a handful of topics listed, we will focus on why Christians living in procedurally secular societies should have a Christian political ethic at all.

Christ in heaven and on earth

What are the social principles on politics? We might begin by clarifying what they are not.

In an age of expressive individualism, a cherished ideal of modernity (especially in places influenced by the West) is that all religious ethics should be private, and public ethics should be secular.

In this construal, Madonna may be a Kabbalah follower, and Tom Cruise might be a Scientologist, but nobody should really care about either, unless or until they attempt to moralise on public issues.

Since we live in a plural society, individuals should be free to follow their own codes of conduct so long as they don’t offend or harm others. In other words, religion is to politics what an open flame is to dry gunpowder: Potentially explosive.

Does the territorial integrity of the state terminate at the doors of the church?

The social principles, however, are not an attempt to outline a political manifesto.

Still less is it an unwelcome incursion into a hostile realm that it should leave untouched. This assumes that Church and State are two separate spatial boundaries, the borders of which can be clearly delineated. The public square would simply be a place where we debate ideas.

In this way of thinking, social principles are ideas that must be denuded of any Christian content to be granted admission into the political space.

The problem with this is that we can scarcely identify where the church ends, and the state begins. Does the territorial integrity of the state terminate at the doors of the church? Does the church cross a border into another world at the end of every worship service?

Against such a strict, spatial distinction between the two entities of Church and State, Christianity has traditionally thought of the secular as less of a “space” and more of an “era”. The question Christians ask is chronological, not spatial; the question is not “Where are we?” but “What time is it?”

There are many ways to explain this, but the fundamental ground is in the person of Jesus Christ: “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17).

Faithful in this age

Christians know that we live in a time where Jesus Christ is not universally recognised as Lord over all, but we also confess that the time will come when “every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord”. (Philippians 2:10-11).

The story of God’s redemption of the cosmos is not the story of saving souls for eternal life, but how, in the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection, God has announced His plan to reconcile all creation back to Himself.

The biblical story is not some white noise in the background that recedes when the secular story begins. It is rather the story of Creation itself, as it moves in time towards the glorious end for which it was made. And since this is our confession, we who are alive today have no recourse to arbitrarily consign parts of Creation away from His Lordship – as though this world is our immurement from God’s design for Creation.

Christian reflection includes how we are to live and act in this time before the end of all time.

If Jesus is Lord, He is Lord of all – including our political ethics.

This way of thinking is applicable in so many ways, that an entire discipline – Christian ethics – has sprung up from Christian reflection on how we are to live and act in this time before the end of all time.

The Social Principles on the Sphere of Politics, therefore, are simply the way Methodists are attempting to be faithful in this age, even in the political sphere, to the one Scripture tells us is Lord of lords, in this age. In this regard we have a long tradition, for inscribed in the pages of Scripture is the witness of how the people of God have sought to do this in every age.

Wesleyans can also look to historical evidence of political activity such as activism against slavery, hostility to alcoholism, promotion of literacy and education, and the encouragement of the visual arts.

What this means is that the Christian life cannot be reduced to simply opposing or supporting politics, as though politics should have first right of refusal over our moral order. It is always at once filtered through the lens of what it means to love God and our neighbour.

Service to the common good is ennobling because it is service to Christ. Politics is not a necessary evil. It is the first school for heavenly citizenship.

Instead of leaving us cold, therefore, may our social principles help Christians to keep politics strangely warmed.

The Methodist Social Principles on the Sphere of Politics articulate The Methodist Church in Singapore’s response to political discourses that Christians face today. These are not rules, but guidelines drawn from Scriptural and theological foundations as well as Methodist traditions. 

Watch this space for the next social principles article: Are John Wesley’s words to “poor, uneducated” Methodists about community life still relevant today?


The Bible doesn’t talk about tech and AI, so what should we do?

The Bible doesn’t talk about 21st century family struggles, so what should we do?

The Bible doesn’t talk about toxic social environments of today, so what should we do? 

In an age of AI, IVF and NFTs, are Christian social principles still relevant?

About the author

Rev Dr Nathanael Goh

Rev Dr Nathanael Goh is an ordained elder in the Chinese Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Singapore. Nat is Lecturer in Christian ethics at Trinity Theological College where he teaches Christian ethics, sexual ethics, and political theology.