Christians Must Be Conservative, and Conservatives Must Be Christian

Political conservatives are interested in government. One of conservatism’s chief distinctives is commitment to small government: restoring states’ rights, reducing taxes, and deregulating business, for example. Conservatives deplore ever-expanding government intrusion into citizens’ lives. They stand for the Constitution, largely because our Founders believed in limited government.

Jesus Christ, too, is interested in government. We read in Isaiah 9: 6–7:

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace [t]here will be no end, [u]pon the throne of David and over His kingdom, [t]o order it and establish it with judgment and justice [f]rom that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

This Jewish child was the Messiah, our Lord. He’d grow up to be the Savior of the world. The “government will be upon His shoulder.” That is, he will carry the government. Government is the Hebrew word misrah. It means “rule” or “dominion.”  A crucial (but not only) aspect of government is political government. Jesus Christ is the rightful Governor of the world. In fact, if we don’t get his role in government right, we’ll get all other roles wrong. This means that politics, like all else, must be Christian. But what makes a political view Christian? It’s first necessary to shed the silly idea that Christianity is equally compatible with dramatically conflicting political philosophies.

Christians Must Be Conservative

To start bluntly: All biblical Christians (that is, true Christians) must be politically conservative (as we use that term today), and all true conservatives must be Christian. The evangelical Leftists might suffer cardiac arrest at that assertion, but it’s true. This does not mean that liberals or Leftists cannot be regenerate. It’s possible for regenerate people to be untaught, immature, confused or rebellious. It is not possible, however, to be Christian as the Bible assumes Christians will be while embracing political liberalism.

To reiterate: Christians may not legitimately be either conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. The Bible is not fundamentally about politics, but it does imply what we term a political philosophy. That philosophy is simply not compatible with today’s liberalism. This also means that Christianity isn’t reconcilable with the Democratic Party. 

The Christian Left is Leftist, but it is not Christian

The Bible cannot be construed as hospitable to political liberalism. (Not the way we use liberalism today.) You can’t be a true Christian and be a liberal. You can’t support abortion rights and same-sex “marriage” and Obamacare and judicial activism and socialism and still be a biblical Christian. There are churches throughout the world today that support political liberalism. They claim to be Christian. They’re not. Christians must be politically conservative.

Conservatives Must Be Christian

My present concern, however, isn’t with liberalism but with conservatism. I don’t want to suggest merely that Christians must be conservative. I want to argue a more controversial viewpoint. Conservatives must be Christian. You can’t be a true conservative (not for long, anyway) unless you’re Christian, at least in your basic worldview. If your political conservatism isn’t grounded in Christianity, it won’t long survive. If you lack a Christian foundation, your political house will collapse with the first big ideational and existential storm. It’s suicidal to decouple conservatism from Christianity. In other words, our political conservatism should be Christian conservatism, and there shouldn’t be any other kind. There are other kinds, of course.

Varieties of (Non-Christian) Conservatism

Libertarianism

Let’s take libertarianism (some call it anarcho-conservatism). Hard-core libertarians don’t like to be known as conservatives, but most libertarians would be considered big-tent conservatives. Libertarians believe in a dramatically reduced role for the state, or perhaps even no state at all. They believe in laissez-faire (“let do”): they believe the market should be free in an almost absolute sense. They believe in the legalization of all drugs. They believe in the liberty for sexual acts of all kinds between consenting adults. If consistent, they believe in liberty for bestiality. They oppose environmentalism, zoning regulations, and other political interference in the economy. The guiding principle of libertarianism is individual autonomy. The individual and his choice rules.

Conservative Christians find aspects of libertarianism attractive. We agree that the state is way too large. We agree that individual choices should mostly decide in the economy. We agree that government interference leads to tyranny. But we can’t be libertarians. They guiding principle of libertarianism is individual autonomy — the self rules. We Christians have a name for that principle: sin. That was Satan’s appeal in Eden: “Come on, Eve, be your own boss; be your own God. Be a good libertarian.”

It’s strange that some Christians want to be libertarians when the very guiding principle for libertarians is what we know to be sin. Our guiding principle is “Jesus is Lord,” not “Man is God.”

Constitutionalism

Then there’s Constitutionalism. This is a much better option. These conservatives want to base all politics on the U. S. Constitution. That’s not a bad idea. The Constitution is a towering document in world history. It brings together the best of British conservatism and the experience of the American colonists. It was shaped by Christianity.[1] It’s no wonder that liberals dislike the Constitution as interpreted in its original context. It won’t stand for their views. Liberal judges believe in a “living Constitution.” They must interpret it to say what its framers would never have intended. Why? The dead Constitution, that is, the actual Constitution, would kill their dreams of the elite society. The Constitution is a bulwark against today’s political liberalism.

But the Constitution isn’t a stand-alone solution. The Constitution was designed for a Christian people. On October 11, 1798, John Adams, our second President, declared to the military: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious [he meant Christian] people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”[2] We can’t sever the Constitution from a Christian populace and expect the Constitution to save us. This explains a great dilemma we face as a nation. The Constitution and our historic institutions were intended for a Christian population. But now we have a post-Christendom, secular, pagan population. Yet that population is still living under a Christian-shaped form of government. We’re now at a breaking point. Our ungodly citizenry is chafing under our Christian institutions. We’ve gradually put the new wine of secularism and paganism into the old bottle of the Constitution. The bottle is about to burst. This is why our answer isn’t simply a return to the Constitution, impressive though it is. The Constitution requires a Christian people.

Paleo-conservatism

Finally, consider paleo-conservatism. “Paleo” means old or ancient. This is the view of old-time conservatives like Pat Buchanan and the American Conservative magazine. In some ways, it’s correct. In other ways, it’s incorrect. It stands for moral absolutes. It stands for America First. It stands for strong families. Its foreign policy is non-interventionist. It supports a protectionist economic policy. It opposes the sociopolitical elites. It’s largely shaped by Roman Catholicism. Its guiding principle is tradition: the old ways are the best ways. Many of the old ways are better ways than modern ways. But the old ways can never be our standard. After all, sin is very, very old. In our nation, Southern slavery is an old way, but it’s not a biblical way. Reviving the past isn’t a silver bullet, for the simple reason that we’d be reviving the sins of the past, not just the glories.  For this reason, paleo-conservatism won’t save our nation.

There are other strains of conservatism: neo-cons, crunchy cons, populist conservatives, urban conservatives, and others. All of them have one thing in common: they aren’t Christian. And because they aren’t Christian, we can’t buy into them wholeheartedly, even if we agree with parts of them.

A foundational point is this: we say that Jesus is the answer, but he’s the answer to everything, not just the family and church. He’s the answer to politics. And if this is true, and if our politics isn’t Christian, it denies our Lord, and it will fail.

This doesn’t mean that political parties must have Christian in their name. Some European political parties have Christian in their name, but they’re about as Christian as the American Democratic Party. In other words, they’re anti-Christian. It doesn’t mean that politicians must always be quoting the Bible. It doesn’t mean all party members must be Christian. It doesn’t mean that the church must control politics (it must not). To say that all conservatives must be Christians is simply to say that Christian truth is our guiding principle. Our guiding principle is not human autonomy (libertarianism), or the Constitution (Constitutional conservatism), or the past (paleo-conservatism). Our guiding principle is the bedrock truth of Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, revealed in the Bible.

Why Conservatism Must Be Christian

What are the facets of that guiding principle? I’ll mention five. 

Jesus’ Cosmic Lordship

First, Jesus is Lord of all the universe, including politics. “Jesus is Lord” was the first great creed of Christians.[3] They meant he’s Lord of all. He’s Lord of the individual, the family, the church, business, schools, and, yes, politics. We can’t draw the line at politics. We can’t say, “Jesus, we recognize you as Lord everywhere — except politics. That’s just asking too much.” No, if Jesus is Lord anywhere, he must be Lord everywhere.

The fact that sinners don’t recognize him as Lord doesn’t mean he’s not Lord. One day all people will recognize him as Lord (Phil. 2: 5–11), but he’s still Lord today.

In the early church, this meant that Caesar is not Lord. This is why Christians were persecuted.[4] They weren’t persecuted by the Roman Caesars for worshipping Jesus. The Romans worshipped all sorts of deities, the more, the merrier. The Romans didn’t care what god you worshipped, just as long as you recognized Caesar as lord. Christians could never do that. They would obey Caesar, but they would never bow to him as lord. This is why they were torched and thrown to lions, not because they trusted Jesus as their Savior. The issue is always, “Who is Lord?”

Caesar isn’t lord. The Roman senate wasn’t lord. Medieval kings weren’t lord. The Pope isn’t lord. Your pastor isn’t lord. Marxist dictators aren’t lord. Military leaders aren’t lord. Donald Trump isn’t lord. The democratic majority isn’t lord. Jesus alone is Lord. Therefore, a non-Christian politics is a denial of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

God’s Universal Law 

Second, if Jesus is Lord, then God’s moral law, including his moral law in politics, is designed for all people. God’s moral law is revealed in both creation and in his word, the Bible (never separately[5]). Remember: Jesus isn’t Lord over just the family and church. He’s Lord of everything. That means he exercises his jurisdiction over everything. How does he do that? By his word, his law. Paul writes that the entire world is subject to God’s law (Rom. 3:19–20).

In Psalm 2 we read that the kings of earth try to break the bands of Jehovah’s Son. His bands are his law. They rebel against the Son (our Lord), but Jehovah will punish them in his anger if they refuse to repent and submit to the Son. All kings, not just Jewish kings, are bound to obey and enforce God’s law.

This doesn’t mean that all of God’s law is political. Most of it isn’t. Most sins aren’t crimes in the Bible. Most sins aren’t punishable by the state. In fact, God’s laws are many fewer than man’s modern laws. Man multiplies laws to to increase his political control. God’s laws are few and simple. God’s law requires politicians to protect innocent human life, including preborn children. They’re required to protect the family from social destroyers like same-sex “marriage.” They’re required to protect legal property. They’re required to impose capital punishment on those who deprive innocent people of their lives. God’s laws are simple and few.

The Lordship of Jesus Christ, not individual salvation, is always the central issue

Positive law, what we call legislation, must be an application of God’s moral law. Laws penalizing software theft are applications of the 8th commandment. Speed limit laws are applications of the 6th commandment.

None of this means that conservatives are trying to set up a theocracy, as they’re often accused of by an ignorant or slanderous press. Theocracy means God’s rule. The fact is, Jesus Christ already set up a theocracy, whether we like or not. Liberals complain that conservatives want to “take over” politics to force people to become Christian. That’s false. People become Christian by trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Salvation is by grace, not politics. Christianity doesn’t force anybody to become a Christian. It does require a basic law order, however. That’s just what the Founders believed.

Knowledgeable liberals understandably fear Christians in politics for one chief reason: we will slash the size of politics. We believe in getting the federal government out of most all of life. We believe in states’ rights. Even more so, we believe in county rights. And even more, in family and church rights. God’s moral law laws are few and simple. God’s law cuts man’s law — and his politics — down to size. A non-Christian politics refuses to be governed by the only law that God intended for politics — his. 

The Creational Commission

This leads to the third aspect of Christian conservatism: the creational commission of the godly is to take responsible dominion over the rest of creation, including political dominion. This commission was given to man and woman at their creation (Gen. 1:28–30). It was never rescinded. God repeated it to Noah after the Flood (Gen. 9:1–3). God gave man the responsibility of capital punishment (vv. 5–7). Obviously this commission includes (what we call) politics. In Daniel 7:27 we read that when Jesus ascends, this happens:

‘ … [T]he kingdom and dominion, [a]nd the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, [s]hall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, [a]nd all dominions shall serve and obey Him.’ [emphasis supplied]

It’s God’s desire that godly people lead politics. The great commission is this creational commission adapted to our fallen world. We preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, sinners trust him, and he brings the nations under his authority (Mt.28:18–20). This includes his political authority, his civil law.[6]

For too long Christians have abandoned their commission. They’ve seen the gospel as a one-way ticket out of this world into heaven. They’ve believed that the world rightly belongs to the Devil. They’ve been derelict in their obligation to steward the earth for God’s glory. But the facts are these: the Gospel is the Good News that God in Jesus Christ is turning back sin everywhere, “far as the curse is found.” Jesus Christ isn’t saving just us; he’s saving everything.

Our future home isn’t heaven, but a new earth on which a new heaven descends. We don’t travel up to heaven to live eternally with God. He descends to earth to live with us (Rev. 21:1–4).[7] And Satan doesn’t own the world: “[T]he earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness” (1 Cor. 10:26, 28). Jesus stated that at his first coming, he bound the strong man, Satan, and plundered his house (Mk. 3:27).

Jesus Christ is Lord of the cosmos, and we are God’s deputies in his world. He’s given the world into our hand to steward for his glory. Politics isn’t the principal place to do this, but it is one place to do this.

Tragically, the church has been overrun by cultural retreatism. Christians think they’ve fulfilled their obligation by attending church on Sunday and avoiding gross sins and evangelizing a few sinners and waiting for heaven or the Second Coming. But man and woman live on earth as God’s deputies. Jesus carries the government on his shoulder, but he calls us to lead that government under his authority. Secular progressives and neo-pagans have commandeered politics precisely because Christians have shirked their calling. If we expect to turn back evil in the world, we will do it when more Christians recover their dominion calling. This includes their political calling: more biblical Christians in political office, more Christians voting for Christians and Christian-influenced candidates, more biblically shaped legislation. Politics is a Christian responsibility, not a luxury. A non-Christian politics exempts Christians from their God-imposed requirement of cultural stewardship in politics.

A Plurality of Governments

Fourth, God has established several governments, and politics is simply one among several.[8] When we use the term “government” today, we usually mean the federal government in Washington D.C., or our state government. That’s not the biblical idea. The most important government is self-government under God’s authority. Then there’s family government, church government, school government, business government, and so on. And then, one government among many, is civil (political) government.

Today’s conservatives call these other governments “civil society.”[9] These institutions are buffers between the individual and the state. One of the telltale signs of the Leftists is to demolish all barriers between the individual and Washington D. C. That’s why they want to nationalize everything: education, health care, elderly care, retirement income, and all else. Leftists are elites. They believe they alone are entitled to dictate to everybody else. They alone know what the Good Society is. The family and church represent rival authorities. The family and church compete for citizens’ allegiance. So they must marginalize or eliminate the family and the church. For Leftists, there must be only one government: civil government. Politics is their god.

But Christian conservatives know that God divides up the exercise of his governing authority. There are several governments, not just one. And because God’s government is big (over everything), man’s government must be small. This is why conservatives must support small government. Because God’s government is big. His Son carries the world’s government (over all things) on his shoulders. When Christianity is excluded from politics, political government begins to dwarf all other governments. 

The Earthly Kingdom Victory

Finally, God has promised victory in history for his kingdom, including political victory. Jesus deeply resisted the Jews who wanted to make him king. All they wanted was a leader to overthrow the Romans. They were political revolutionaries. They were crushed for their recalcitrant insurrection in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 68–72. Jesus wasn’t a political revolutionary. He came to earth to be a king, but by dying for our sins and rising from the dead. When he ascended, he assumed his heavenly throne. He now rules the world by his Spirit and his word and people. Paul writes that he will reign until he crushes all enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:21–28). Paul sets the historical sequence: Jesus rises from the dead; then he reigns over earth; then he returns, and he raises all the dead; then he delivers the kingdom to his Father. He’s reigning right now. He will continue to reign until all his enemies are crushed.

The Bible’s eschatology (view of the future) is an eschatology of victory.[10] This doesn’t mean that there won’t be battles. It doesn’t mean that we’ll win every battle. It means that we’re on the winning side. It means that we’ll progressively win.

Here’s a helpful metaphor.[11] After D-Day in WWII, the Allied victory was never in doubt. But there are still many battles to be fought. The war was working toward Allied victory. But many bloody battles lay ahead. The Cross and resurrection were our D-Day. The victory is never in doubt. But there are still plenty of battles, and that includes political battles. But the Devil’s fate is sealed. The victory is the Lord’s.

The Western church in the last 150 years has developed a desiccating pessimism. It’s given up hope. It’s holing up for rescue. But God won’t rescue us from our dominion responsibility.  He hasn’t called us to escape from evil; he’s called us — like he called his Son on earth — to victory over evil.

The late George H. W. Bush once spoke of a New World Order. Conservatives were suspicious. This sounded just like a dreaded “globalism.” But I can assure you: there is a new world order, and it belongs to Jesus Christ, and no other world order can compete with it. In Daniel 2 we read the prophecy of the four ancient world empires in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Daniel sees a small stone supernaturally hurled and striking the feet of the fourth empire (Rome). That empire collapses and the stone slowly grows to a mountain that fills the earth. Daniel explains this part of the dream (v. 44):

[I]n the days of these kings [that is, the days of the ancient empires, not in our own days] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.

That is Messiah’s kingdom. By the Gospel of Jesus Christ and obedience to his law, the kingdom gradually grows and eventually overwhelms the earth. This kingdom is the final kingdom. It will never be supplanted. It will crush all other kingdoms. “It shall stand forever.”

Never surrender to discouragement. We’ll win because the Lord Jesus Christ will win. But we will not win as long as we suppose that politics is acceptably non-Christian.

Conclusion

If you’re not politically conservative, you can’t be a biblical Christian. Today this also means that can’t support the Democratic Party. Further, if you’re a conservative, you must, if consistent, be a Christian. Every other guiding principle for conservatism will eventually collapse.

To libertarians we say: Free markets without the Triune God lead to lawlessness and a tyrannical state that steps in to squash the anarchy.

To constitutionalists we say: the Constitution is exceptional, but the Constitution cut off from its Christian source won’t survive. Our anti-Christian culture will alter or abandon the Constitution (a good reason, by the way, not to support a new constitutional convention). We must be Christian constitutionalists, not just constitutionalists.

To paleo-conservatives we say: the old ways were often better than the new ways, but neither way is absolute. Reviving old errors is no better than inventing new ones. Our standard is God’s word, not the old ways.

Donald Trump’s theme is MAGA: “Make America Great Again.” It’s a fine motto, just as long as we know what made America great in the first place. It wasn’t our mighty army or natural resources or political philosophy or virtuous citizens. America was great because it was founded on Christian truth. It was not founded as an explicitly Christian commonwealth (since Christianity already suffused the culture), but it was founded on Christian truth. John Quincy Adams, our 6thpresident, and son of John Adams, wrote in a letter on April 27, 1827:

The highest, the transcendent glory of the American Revolution was this — it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the precepts of Christianity. [italics in original][12]

“Righteousness exalts a nation, [b]ut sin is a reproach to any people” (Pr. 14:34).

What is needed today is a bold, thoughtful, effective voice for political conservatism — in other words, for biblical Christianity.


[1] John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997).

[2] William J. Federer, America’s God and Country, Encyclopedia of Quotations (Coppell, Texas: Fame Publishing, 1994), 10.

[3] Oscar Cullmann, The Earliest Christian Confessions (London: Lutterworth Press, 1949), 18–34.

[4] Carl E. Purinton, Christianity and Its Judaic Heritage (New York: The Roland Press, 1961), 246.

[5] There is no “natural law,” as that is expression is commonly understood, a secularized law code specifically excluding Jesus Christ and the Bible. The Son of God is the mediator of creation, and God holds all creation together (Col. 1:15–17; Heb.1:1–3).

[6] Scott J. Hafemann, “The Kingdom of God as the Mission of God,” in For the Fame of God’s Name, Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, eds. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 235–252. “Because of the atoning consequence of the Cross, God is finally fulfilling his mission of revealing his glory through (re-) creating a people who will exercise dominion in his name by keeping his commandments” (248).

[7] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 104–106.

[8] Rousas J. Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity (Fairfax, Virginia: Thoburn Press, 1978), 331–343.

[9] Gertrude Himmelfarb, One Nations, Two Cultures (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), 30–44.

[10] J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971).

[11] Oscar Cullmann, Christ and Time (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950), 84.

[12] “John Quincy Adams to an Autograph Collector, 27 April 1837.” 

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