The Lesser Magistrate

In this letter, I desire to impress upon you the importance of every election. Too many Christians who love the Lord, who obey his commands, and who love their country sit out local elections. “I’ll vote when it counts,” one might say as they wait for the next “big” election like a presidential or senatorial race. Here’s the problem with this line of reasoning: there are no small elections. Elections have consequences, even the local elections. In fact, having the right local and state representatives is a bulwark against corruption at higher levels of civil government.

During the high-insanity days of 2020, one only had to pay attention to how different states and municipalities managed the COVID pandemic to understand the importance of local and state magistrates. When unelected federal regulators sought to wield unbridled authority, it was up to Governors and local magistrates to stand up to tyrannical overreach. In those states where Governors went along with the program, the only recourse for citizens was disobedience. It was a perfect illustration of what the Reformers John Calvin and John Knox called the doctrine of the lesser magistrates. They used the word doctrine because it was formalized by German pastors, but it essentially states that “when the superior or higher civil authority makes unjust/immoral laws or decrees, the lesser magistrate or lower ranking civil authority has both a right and a duty to refuse obedience to that superior authority. If necessary, the lesser authorities even have the right and obligation to actively resist the superior authority.” (Trewhella, Doctrine, 2.)

The Christian church historically has taught that when the state demands what Christ demands or demands what Christ forbids, Christians are obligated to obey Christ rather than men. (Acts 5:29) The danger, of course, is that disobedience to civil authorities, though sometimes necessary, is fraught with peril and can be destructive. Just think of the French Revolution. Rather than the rebellion of the citizenry, a lesser magistrate, such as a Governor or Mayor, may interpose himself between the tyrant and the people. The lesser magistrate opposes tyranny so that the people don’t take up arms. We see this happen in Scripture. When Pharoah demanded the slaughter of Hebrew boys, the midwives interposed themselves between the Pharoah and the birthmothers and, in doing so, defied the edict of Pharoah in service of a higher authority. (Exodus 1) A civil magistrate is duty bound to protect the person, liberty, and property of those who reside within their jurisdiction. This entails their opposition of any tyrannical law or edict from a higher authority. They cannot plead that they are “just doing their job,” as they enforce unjust laws handed down.

On November 7, 2023 you will be called upon to vote for various mayoral and school board candidates as well as several referendums. You will give an account to the Lord Christ for how you used your vote. As I always say, it is not my job to “stump for Smith.” The church is political, but we are not partisan. We are political because we declare, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” But we do not represent any earthly nation or party. We represent the commands of the King eternal. (1 Tim. 1:17)

But here’s what I want you to pray about: When a federal anti-bullying law requires your school children to erase the distinction between male and female (in the name of love), which school board member will stand up against the tyrant? No, that school board member may not have as much power as a president, but they represent your interests, and they are a line of defense between you and higher magistrates. This is but one example of the importance of down-ballot votes. We need men and women leading with conviction and principle at every level of the civil government.

So, Christian, do not waste this opportunity to cast a vote. Politics is not a savior. But righteousness exalts a nation (Prov. 14:34), and unrighteous leaders make the church’s mission of gospel proclamation difficult. Now, more than ever, we need the right mayors, city council members, school board members, sheriffs, and governors. As you prepare to do your civic duty, pray that the Lord will guide your decisions. Ask other Christians for guidance and information. Pray that the Lord would grant a spirit of repentance upon the citizens of our nation. Pray the Lord would grant the church boldness in these trying times. And ask God to give us lesser magistrates who have the fortitude to stand up for their constituents against the oppression of tyranny.

To learn more on the doctrine of the lesser magistrates, I recommend reading: The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates by Mathew Trewhella

Political, Not Partisan – Matthew 5:14


The text for the sermon today is Matthew 5:14. These are the Words of God:

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.


During the Colonial era of American history, it was customary for pastors to preach sermons just prior to public elections instructing the church in their civic responsibilities. They were called artillery sermons because the custom began with pastors preaching to groups of artillery soldiers who were preparing to elect new officers. The sermon today stands in the same line.

Two days from now, our nation, our states, and even our local municipalities will hold various elections and we all need to go into this election day Biblically, intentionally, and prayerfully. But first, the text.


In Matthew’s gospel account, Jesus is presented as the new Moses; the God-sent deliverer who rescues his people from the bondage of sin. Just as Moses delivered a people who were governed by the law of God, Christ is delivering a people, the church, who are governed by the ethical commands of his kingdom.

In Matthew 4:17 Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And in chapters 5-7 Jesus teaches us what his kingdom is like, who is permitted to enter, and how life in the kingdom operates. We call this the Sermon on the Mount.

As Jesus, the new Moses, delivers his people, they now live in obedience to his commands which draws the attention of the world. They’re like a city on a hill. You can’t miss it.

When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world,” it’s important to know who he’s referring to: his disciples, the church. Not a nation like Israel or America. Not Calvin’s Geneva or Winthrop’s Massachusetts Bay Colony. The church is the light of the World.

What does it mean to be light? Throughout the Old Testament, “light” refers to both righteousness (Psalm 37:6; Isaiah 5:20) as well as revelation (Psalm 43:3; Psalm 119:105; Isaiah 9:2)

Light as Righteousness

Psalm 37:6 – He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.

Isaiah 5:20 – Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.

Light as Revelation

Psalm 43:3 – Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me.

Psalm 119:105 – Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Isaiah 9:2 – The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

We should also note that throughout the Scriptures, “light” has both attractive (Isaiah 6:1-30) as well as repulsive power (John 1:5).

Attractive Power

60 Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
3And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
(Isaiah 60:1-3)

Repulsive Power

5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:5)

Notice where the church is the light: the light of the world. Christ said that as long as he was in the world he was the light of the world (John 9:5), and because the church is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, we are the light of the world.

Finally, notice that the light of the world, which reveals and shows God’s righteousness, which attracts and repels cannot be hidden. He does not say it “must not” but that it “cannot” be hidden.


As we apply the text specifically to our civic duties, we see that the church can’t not be political. Every week we gather and proclaim that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” That statement has political ramifications. If Christ is Lord, the President cannot be Lord. City Councils cannot be Lord. Christians need to stop saying that churches aren’t political. Of course, they are.

We are to preach Christ to every creature, we are to baptize people of all nations, and we are to teach them to obey all that Christ has commanded. That is the charter of our church—so how can that not involve political candidates, laws, and local referendums?

A city set on a hill, calling people out of the kingdoms of this world and into the kingdom of Christ, under the Lordship of Christ—that political reality cannot be hidden.

There is a reason that the Christian church is not allowed to worship freely in totalitarian states. It’s because Christians will not bow to “Dear Leader.” Totalitarian leaders know better than anyone that the church is political.

It’s important to note here that coming under the authority of Christ and his kingdom does not mean we’re working for the dissolution of nations here and now. Augustine taught us that we live with dual citizenship in the city of man and the city of God. Christ has called us to give Caesar submission—it just can’t be ultimate submission.


It’s not the job of the church, as the church, to stump for candidates. We don’t have an American flag on our stage. We don’t put red, white, and blue bunting on the pulpit on July 4th. That’s because the church speaks for and represents a King and Kingdom which transcends all others. We are the light of Christ’s kingdom.

We love our nation because this is where the Lord has providentially placed us. But we never want to conflate the church and our nation. The church calls every tribe tongue and nation to bow the knee to Christ. And we must be careful to protect our ability to speak prophetically to every politician and platform. We are not the errand boy for any political party.


If you don’t like the way the town is being run, or the nation is being led, or the laws being enacted, the taxes being levied, or the wars being started, you can’t sit this out.

This Summer, the Supreme Court struck down Roe. V. Wade. We celebrated that decision at the time as all Christians ought to celebrate it. But this now means that the protection of the unborn has been sent back to congress and duly elected officials.

So, if elected officials write laws that protect the unborn, and you choose not to vote simply because it would take a lot of time out of your Tuesday, you’re going to have a hard time praying with us for the lives of the unborn. You can’t be the answer to a prayer, choose not to answer it, and then pray that God would answer it.


When you wake up Tuesday morning, you need to prepare your heart to vote for a candidate without worshiping that candidate. The line between supporting a candidate and staking your hope on a candidate is thin. Do not put your trust in princes. (Psalm 146:3)

Your vote needs to be made on strategic, rather than emotional terms. If the candidate you vote for wins, count it as a strategic victory, not as synonymous with bringing in the kingdom of Christ.

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly rest in Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

(The ideas and teachings of this sermon have been shaped from sources as wide as Albert Mohler, Doug Wilson, Francis Schaeffer, St. Augustine, Chesterton, and even John Locke.)