Thank you, Martin Luther

The word “unconscionable” refers to things that can’t be done in good conscience. This word has been in the political vocabulary for a while now, but the notion itself has direct ties to the Lutheran church, and to October 31. It was on that date that a 35-year-old Martin Luther posted his earth-shaking 95 Theses at the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He didn’t think they would have such a profound effect. Most controversial was Luther’s boldness to propose debate on the policies of certain servants of the Roman church, and to suggest that these policies must be governed ultimately by God’s Word. That’s all he did in the 95 Theses. It may not sound so revolutionary, but it leads us to the word, “unconscionable.”

Fast forward to 1521, when Luther appeared before an imperial diet to give account for what he had been teaching. He wasn’t even given an opportunity to defend himself. He was assumed guilty of heresy, and demanded by the Holy Roman Emperor to recant most of his writings. He refused, saying that his conscience was captive to the Word of God. That lone act of defiance on the basis of a single concience inspired the western world, even influencing the founders of the United States, about 250 years later. There, we see the secular world recognize that every individual has certain innate liberties granted by our creator, and it is the duty of government to protect them for its citizens as well as possible. In the tradition of the Magna Carta and the Mayflower Compact, our government has even protected its individual citizens by limiting itself in the Bill of Rights. Thank you, Martin Luther.

Citizens of the United States are asked to exercise their good judgment and vote for representatives who will govern democratically. We are asked to evaluate the record, the character, and the platform of each candidate for each office, and figure out who would best handle the issues of the day. How should Christians participate?

We should begin by reminding ourselves that earthly governments — even bad ones — are authorized by God to carry out some of His work (Rom. 13). For a Christian, to rebel against his earthly government is to rebel against God. It also should go without saying that Christians are bound by the moral law of God, and so should never participate in fraud, deception, and the like, including some of the “spin” that we hear in politics and the news. Jesus told His disciples, Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”

There are many issues mentioned during campaign season. Some of them are matters of opinion, and Christians can easily disagree with each other. Other issues are matters of judgment, where Christians may disagree, though the principles taught by holy scripture might guide most Christians one way or the other. Still other issues are not really issues of debate for Christians, but dealbreakers or showstoppers that would make a vote for a particular candidate truly unconscionable.

Christian voters have a responsibility before God to educate themselves and vote in good conscience. If a Christian votes for a candidate who wins and then commits some terribly sinful official act, does the Christian share in the office-holder’s guilt before God? Of course not, unless the voter knew when he cast his vote that the candidate would likely do it.

In a democratic republic, the voters bear some responsibility for the people they elect. A scholar at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, who is a German emigrant, recently wrote about the collective shame many Germans bear over the atrocities committed by Hitler and the Nazi party in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s possible that they would not bear this shame if Hitler had siezed power by force, instead of being elected by popular vote. His unconscionable official acts have affected the conscience even of non-religious German people. This seminary scholar believes that future generations of Americans will likewise be ashamed of the hidden atrocities committed now against millions of unborn children.

Shame is when someone thinks he is associated in wrongdoing. Guilt is when someone knows it. Yet both shame and guilt can be called a “bad concience,” and so both require God’s forgiveness. That’s the business of the Church, not the government. If you have any shame or guilt, the only thing to do is confess it to God, and He will forgive you. That’s why Jesus died: to redeem you from sin and the power of death, for a life of free service to Him on earth, and eternal life in heaven.

When those in your household cast a vote this year, join me in thanking God for Martin Luther, and especially for Jesus Christ; and in asking that He guide our consciences by His Word, and bless us with good government on earth.