by John M. Otis
author of "Danger in the Camp: An Analysis and Refutation of the Heresies of the Federal Vision"and "Preaching and the Victory of the Gospel"
Let me say at the outset that many churches are having a similar debate over whether they are to vote for Trump or not so as to avoid what they perceive to be a national disaster if Hillary is elected.
I want to make this crystal clear from the outset. I consider this an “in house” debate. I will not deride anyone who may take the other side, although I will seek to persuade you to the perspective I believe most faithful to Scripture. The Scripture exhorts “iron sharpening iron” in our dealings with one another. The goal for us all is to honor the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I was a student of Greg Bahnsen in the late 1970’s at Reformed Theological Seminary, he once said that we all have some cobwebs in our brains that periodically need sweeping out. What he meant was that we all probably have some issues that we haven’t squared with Scripture.
The guiding principle for our question is this: What saith Scripture? We must maintain the absolute authority and sufficiency of Scripture in all matters. When we differ as brothers, we need to seek to bring our thinking to the obedience of Christ.
Having said this, I do believe that how a Christian is to vote is no minor issue. My major thesis is: I believe the Scripture gives us the guiding principles to guide us on how to make godly decisions when we vote on civil rulers, and that the Christian should never adopt a pragmatic approach that justifies the choice of a “lesser of two evils.” I Cor. 10:13 tells us that God never presents to a Christian a moral dilemma whereby we must ever choose evil. There is always a way out.
I posted on my Facebook timeline what I called my election day sermon for Facebook. It was simply a reposting of what I wrote in 2012 when Christians were in a dilemma as to who to vote for.
Noah Webster, in the 19th Century gave some very godly advice. Yes, this is the same Noah Webster who first created his 1828 edition of Noah Webster’s dictionary.
The following are three great quotes from the renowned Noah Webster:
The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scripture ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evil men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.
In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide. Regard not the particular sect or denomination of the candidate -- look at his character. It is alleged by men of loose principles, or defective views of the subject, that religion and morality are not necessary or important qualifications for political stations. But the scriptures teach a different doctrine. They direct that rulers should be men who rule in the fear of God, men of truth, hating covetousness. It is to the neglect of this rule that we must ascribe the multiplied frauds, breaches of trust, speculations and embezzlements of public property which astonish even ourselves; which tarnish the character of our country and which disgrace our government. When a citizen gives his vote to a man of known immorality, he abuses his civic responsibility; he not only sacrifices his own responsibility; he sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbor; he betrays the interest of his country.
When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, 'just men who will rule in the fear of God.' The preservation of [our] government depends on the faithful discharge of this Duty; if the citizens neglect their Duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the Laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizen will be violated or disregarded. If [our] government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the Divine Commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the Laws.
Let’s consider some of the biblical arguments advanced by some men who I do respect but with whom I must respectfully disagree with.
One of the common approaches presented by those who think voting for Trump to avoid a disastrous Hillary Clinton presidency is to give various analogies from Scripture that supposedly justify voting for Trump while recognizing that he does not present a credible profession of faith and whose character is contemptible on multiple levels.
One of the common arguments to support voting for Trump is the use of analogy. Allow me to quote from a book I have in my library titled With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies by S. Morris Engel. He has an excellent section of one such informal logic fallacy known as “false analogy.” Here is what he says:
Few techniques of reasoning are so potentially useful- or so potentially dangerous- as analogy. When we reason by analogy we attempt to advance our position by likening an obscure or difficult set of facts to one that is already known and understood and to which it bears a significant resemblance. The fallacy of false analogy arises when the comparison is an erroneous one that distorts the facts in the case being argued. Drawing attention to likeness can be extremely useful so long as the two things being compared resemble each other in important respects and differ only in trifling ways. If, on the contrary, they are alike in unimportant ways, then there is no valid analogy between them and a fallacy of false analogy results. Merely to seize upon some slight similarity as a basis for concluding that what is true of one is also true of the other will usually lead one astray.I believe that any line of argument justifying the legitimacy of casting a vote for Trump commits the informal fallacy of false analogy. I recently read this attempt to use Scripture to justify voting for Trump.
Here were some of the arguments:
1. Scripture declares that because of God’s people sinning, they were exiled and had to submit to a wicked King, namely, Nebuchadnezzar.
2. Scripture teaches in Romans 13:1 ff that when Nero was the Caesar of Rome, we are called to submit to the civil magistrate as the Servant of God.
3. Because of God’s people sins, they were exiled and God called them to submit for 70 years to pagan kings as His chastening, Habakkuk, Daniel 1-6, Jeremiah 29:7, etc. It was not sinful for Daniel, and his friends to serve pagan kings in this time of exile. Surely it was not easy, but they were faithful to our Lord. This involved much closer contact and commitment of relationship than merely casting a vote for a pagan king. But we cannot say that 2 Chronicles 19:2 and 1 Samuel 2:27-30-36, and 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 means that God’s people may not have association with pagan civil rulers in light of Daniel 1-6, Romans 13:1-7, Paul appealing to Caesar etc.
4. We also see that our Lord God gave King David a choice in choosing the chastening that He would send in 2 Samuel 24:1-12-25 because of his sin. I believe that since we have no godly candidate, it is a plain sign from the Lord of His great displeasure against this nation and the churches that have become apostate for the Lord to judge this nation with the two major candidates that are before us! He in His providence, I believe is giving us the choice between which rod He will use to judge and chasten us further. Jesus is saying to us, take your pick of which rod I will use.
This false analogy is most glaring in this appeal to David choosing his punishment for having sinfully numbered the people. Using Engel’s fine definition we immediately notice that the story of David does not bear any significant resemblance to an appeal to voting for Trump. His analogy does differ in important respects. First, David sinned in numbering the people. He was not trusting in divine providence but in the strength of man. For this fact, God was very angry with David (II Sam.24:1). In fact, David did the numbering despite Joab and the captains of the host insistence not to do this. They obeyed David, and the Lord was angry with David. Here David failed to listen to a multitude of counselors and in so doing brought calamity upon the nation. We know that David realized he had sinned by this action. Verse 10 says, “And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done and now, I beseech thee, O lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.” Note that the pestilence sent by God due to David’s sin led to the death of 70,000 men! (v.15). When David saw the calamity brought upon Israel, David says, “And David spake unto the Lord when he saw the angel that smote the people; and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? Let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house (v.17).” The Lord in response to David’s plea instructs David to offer sacrifices for his sin. David does do this and the plague was stayed from Israel.
Where is the false analogy in using this to justify voting for Trump? First, they are very different on multiple levels. David sinned in his action. Even if there was any resemblance which there isn’t, consider the implication. So, if we are to choose our punishment by voting for the lesser evil, this implies that the Christian voter is acknowledging that he is already sinning by casting the vote. Why do I have to vote this way? I don’t. David acknowledges he greatly sinned in doing this. Hence, if the analogy were true, then the Christian is knowingly acting foolishly and sinfully as David. David pled with the Lord to turn from His anger with the plague. David had to do sacrifices for his foolish act. Are Christian voters to then go and beg God to forgive them for their act of voting in such a dishonorable way? The Christian is NEVER instructed to do something knowingly sinful. If we assume the analogy does apply, then we are led to these totally unacceptable positions. The reality is that the analogy is a true false analogy and does not apply. So, we could say to this line of argumentation of voting for Trump on the basis of II Sam. 24 that we are choosing to sin like David. I don’t think any of us want to go there!
The appeal to Daniel serving in Nebuchadnezzar’s court is likewise a false analogy. The significant difference? Daniel did not vote for Nebuchadnezzar. As I stated earlier, the biblical record shows that Daniel was put in that position by the king. To equate this action with voting for pagan kings is totally guilty of false analogy.
To argue that a Trump presidency is potentially better than a Clinton one based on what we think Trump will do is guilty of allowing the end to justify the means, which is pure pragmatism. First, Trump has demonstrated he is a flip flopper on issues. He is not as pro life as people think. Endorsing a man, which my vote does, on the basis that his administration is less damaging than the other is being pragmatic and adopting the notion that the perceived end does justify the means.
Then there is the regular argument that a non vote for Trump or for a third party candidate who has no chance of winning is a casting a vote for Clinton by default. The notion that a non vote for Trump is a vote for Clinton is a real example of a logical fallacy. As Engel brings out in his book, there is the fallacy of bifurcation which states – “this is an argument which presumes that a distinction or classification is exclusive and exhaustive, when other alternatives exist. Bifurcation is intimately bound up with confusion over the words either/or. Thinking in extremes can be appealing, unfortunately, for it requires less mental energy than exploring all aspects of a problem. Advertisers often try to cut off our critical thinking about a product by channeling our view of it into an either/or polarity that suits their aim.”
The following comments are a cursory analysis of the opposing line of argument. First, the kings in Israel were not directly chosen by the people. We live in a constitutional republic and have the privilege to choose our civil rulers, so we should allow the principles of Scripture to guide us in that choice.
Submitting to a pagan civil ruler should not be equated with voting for a pagan civil ruler. The analogy breaks down. Submitting to pagan civil rulers is not an absolute in Scripture by any means. John Knox and Samuel Rutherford gave sound biblical arguments for resisting tyrants by lesser magistrates. If we don’t believe this then our war for American independence was then ungodly, which I don’t believe it was ungodly.
One cannot equate Daniel’s rule in Babylon as an analogy for supporting pagan rulers. Daniel did not put Nebuchadnezzar into power. When Nebuchadnezzar asked the three Hebrew young men to violate their duty to Jehovah, all resisted peacefully and were willing to submit to whatever God’s will for their lives. In all these instances God spared the faithful men, not that God always does this per martyrdom by many faithful down through the ages.
Having association with pagan rulers are not principles for selecting biblically qualified civil rulers. Yes, I can by God’providence be sometimes in association with pagan rulers but this doesn’t mean I have a duty to put them in office. We must remember how Daniel came to a position of such power in Babylon. It was a position given to him by Nebuchadnezzar because Daniel, as a prophet, interpreted the king’s dream.
We cannot argue that Daniel being placed into this position by a pagan king equates with the notion of voting for a pagan king. The argument breaks down as a false analogy.
Regarding the typical line of us submitting to kings per Romans 13 such as Nero needs to be carefully scrutinized. The thrust of Romans 13 is that civil rulers are obligated to rule according to God’s law. Only as they do so are they “ministers of God” for good and as a terror to evil doers. Hence, how do we define what is good for a civil ruler? Paul quotes parts of the Ten Commandments (v.9). The thrust of Romans 13 is not a submission to kings no matter what but it is a setting forth of what are the duties of civil rulers. Their duty is to uphold God’s law as the standard for doing good and for punishing evil. Hence, Romans 13 cannot be used to support voting for pagan rulers.
Someone posted on the internet that our choice of candidates (major parties) is the result of decades of the church voting for the lesser of two evils. It is time for the visible church to repent of its unfaithfulness to the known principles of Scripture and beg God to forgive it and pray for His mercies.
What is my duty as a Christian, even in voting? It is to obey God’s revealed will in Scripture. And the Lord has given us direction in this matter. The problem is that we have, as Christians, the inclination to be pragmatic, that the end justifies the means. Let us be faithful to Scripture and let God orchestrate history and not usurp from God what is only His prerogative.
The position I have held to is one consistent with the great preachers of the 18th Century such as William Cooper that I mention in my book Preaching and the Victory of the Gospel. William Cooper’s sermon, The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate was a sermon preached in front of Governor Jonathan Belcher and the two branches of the Massachusetts legislature (the Council and House of Representatives on May 28, 1740). This sermon clearly set forth a biblical view of civil government. In today’s vernacular, this would be viewed as an avid “theonomic” and “postmillennial” sermon.
Several years ago I wrote a book titled Preaching and the Victory of the Gospel. In that I have an appendix titled "Historical Connection between the First Great Awakening and American Independence." In this appendix I have various quotes from William Cooper’s great sermon. By the way, this sermon was so well received that Massachusetts colony used their printing presses to distribute throughout the colony. Yes, this is Massachusetts, but a Massachusetts of 1740 not 2016.
For any who want my appendix to read this great sermon just email me at (email@example.com).
Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to vote in the first place per se. Why must the Christian have to vote for pagans? He doesn’t. He can always choose another candidate. Of course the argument is that- this third party vote is a wasted vote or a vote for Clinton. No vote done out of a Christian’s sense of duty to be faithful to Scripture is a wasted vote! We are called to be faithful and leave the results to God.