In 1 Peter 2:13-17, Peter takes some time to tell persecuted Christians how they are to relate to civil authorities – especially civil authorities they find they have little common ground with. Independence referendum polls are showing it’s going to be a narrow vote, meaning about half of people – possibly half of Scotland’s Christians – are going to be disgruntled with the outcome.
So what does Peter say about how Christians should vote in the Referendum? Rev Gordon Matheson, minister of Sleat and Strath on the Isle of Skye, suggests five things:
Submit to the result for the Lord’s sake
Peter urged Christians to respect the persecuting authorities in much the same way as Paul does in Romans 13. Ultimately, they are appointed by God – a sovereign God who is working out a plan for his own glory, and the salvation of the saints.
There are going to be some Christians who really don’t like the #indyref result. It’s important to therefore avoid bitterness, by walking into the polling booth with a heart resolved to submit to the result, because we love and trust a sovereign God who knows what he is doing.
Live as people who are free
Peter was writing to people who probably didn’t know a lot of freedoms. Some were slaves, but even your average non-Roman had few of the civil liberties we take for granted today. So why does Peter write to them, crushed under the heel of a persecuting government, to live as people who are free?
It’s actually because they were free. They were set apart as a holy priesthood by God. Christians need to grasp this – our unique status in Christ: as Jesus promised, free indeed. The #indyref can be dangerous for Christians, because it offers some sort of liberty (whichever way you see things!). We need to vote remembering this: the greatest liberty we want for our fellow Scots is freedom from sin and death. We can’t go to the ballot box with confusion about this.
Have God’s heart for our nation
Along with living as free people, Peter (curiously) also reminds them that they are to live as servants – or literally, slaves – of God. How are free people also slaves? In Roman culture, the slave was expected to share his master’s goals and objectives. He was, to an extent, an extension of his master’s arm. Christian freedom is actually a freedom to live the counter cultural agenda of the Sermon on the Mount.
One danger for Christians voting in the #indyref is to accept the world’s agenda and priorities. While the whole world sees the debate framed in essentially economic terms, Christians should remember they have counter cultural priorities. When we go to the ballot box we ought to bear in mind that we have been given the heart of a servant of God, and ask ourselves hard questions accordingly.
Honour the Emperor. Fear God.
Peter concludes the section with four people or individuals worth special mention. I’ll come back to the brotherhood of believers last, but note the extraordinary thing he says about the emperor: honour the emperor. That was probably Nero – of fiddle fame, who scapegoated the Christians while he torched Rome. Peter’s point seems to be that the emperor ought to be treated with same honour given to all men. But God alone is to be feared.
For Christians voting in the #indyref, it is alarmingly easy to fall into disparaging remarks of David Cameron and Alistair Darling, or Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. We need to treat them with honour and respect. But also with the right sort of respect: after all, it’s not to them that we will one day have to answer. Our vote shouldn’t be cast to impress people, or to fit in with the approval of peers. Whatever hopes we have for the outcome of the referendum vote, again, God alone is to be feared – for he alone can deliver.
Finally: Love the Brotherhood of Believers
Peter, like other New Testament writers, expresses a common concern for the unity of the Church. Groups under pressure are always likely to implode into angry recrimination and blame. But the chief guard against that is to recall the brotherhood – the family ties – shared by believers.
At risk of cliché, we know the vote is on a knife edge. Scotland is divided. We really don’t know how that will play out over the coming months, but we do know this: Jesus meant for a united Church to be a powerful evangelistic message. If we can go to the ballot box resolved to be united with our brothers in Christ, whatever the outcome, then Scotland will be considerably well served. It’s not about being seen as the broker of reconciliation for the political classes: it’s about being seen as loving people who are themselves reconciled around the risen, loving, Lord Jesus Christ, who died for all his children.
That’s how Christians should vote on tomorrow (Thursday 18 September).
Rev Gordon Matheson is minister of Sleat and Strath Free Church on the Isle of Skye.