The Christian And His Government
Like you, I hear my share of what’s wrong with government. And it’s not just what’s going on in Washington, sometimes it is just as likely to refer to our state or city. One doesn’t have to look far to find something wrong or policies with which we disagree. Just as quickly I would point out that most of us do want the protections and privileges which are ours as citizens.
The purpose of this article is not to find something else to complain about or a political party to blame. Rather, it is to help us be constructive and Christian in our approach to the authorities over us.
Let’s begin with how our Lord dealt with matters of state when confronted by a group of Pharisees who sought to get Him in trouble. “Should they pay taxes to an emperor who had conquered and taken over God’s people?” Our Lord says it like this within Matthew’s gospel: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”
If our Lord said a simple “no,” He would have been labeled an insurrectionist, and would be in trouble with Roman authorities. If Jesus had said, “yes,” he would have alienated many Jewish Zealots who despised Roman occupation. I think Jesus was teaching a most important principle. There are those things that are more or less political, and those that our eternal. It is incumbent upon his followers to know the difference and to act appropriately.
Leap forward to the founding of our country. James Madison, Father of the Constitution and intimate friend of Thomas Jefferson, wrote in his famous article, “Memorial and Remonstration,” “Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe...”
Now this is a big statement by a founder of our nation and the “father” of its constitution. He is saying, in effect, that for America, the civil arena–the public square–is not for people who subject themselves first to “Caesar,” but to citizens who subject themselves to God.
As Christians we are citizens of two worlds, both that which is to come and the one of our earthly existence. To what, then, is “Caesar” entitled? What a Christian owes his government?
Perhaps the first and most important thing a Christian owes his government is his prayers. Hear Paul’s words to Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority. . .” Note the four synonyms which bring out the richness of his petition. “Entreaties” are supplications, requests made with urgency. Are our prayers serious requests to God or more in the form of complaints about what we do not like? Prayer stands for humble reverence appreciating our place before God. Petitions speak to intercession on behalf of another. It reminds us to pray specifically and by name for our leaders. “Giving thanks” should never be forgotten because no matter how much we may disagree with policies or politicians, we have been incredibly blessed. If you can’t thank Him for all that is going on, you certainly can find something to be grateful for. Is it not possible, considering the corruption and scandal which plagues much of our government, that some could be avoided if we took more seriously our duty to pray for those in power?
The Christian citizen also owes his government his obedience. In Romans 13 Paul admonishes his readers to “be subject to those in authority.” The Apostle Peter said, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man.” Much misunderstanding has existed about the word “ordinance.” Does it mean every single law has the same weight or that the government will always be right? Are Christians to go against conscience and the Bible if a law is passed which is in opposition to those convictions? This is a very sensitive and serious subject. We should understand what Peter meant by choosing that word. It was not a word generally used to apply to a single law. It implied the institution of government. Christians should respect and honor their government except in the most specific ways which are a clear violation of conscience. One example currently in the news has to do with abortion. Even if the government allows it, Christians should not be forced to fund or participate in organizations which support abortion. There are a few other issues which might fall into this category. The purpose of these scriptures is to affirm the necessity of orderliness and civility. Christian citizens are not called to be anarchists. Neither are they called to do harm to others which whom they disagree politically or socially.
The Christian owes his government a vote of his convictions and involvement in the process of government. There is perhaps no more mistaken idea than one which holds that God’s people have no place in political activity. Look at those in the Bible who were involved in every level of political activity.
God told Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation of people. This is politics at its beginning. Joseph was raised by God to become second in command of the most powerful nation of his time. He was in essence if not in title, the Vice President of Egypt! Moses was the "Lawgiver." Most of the laws of Moses are still on the legal books of our day. Daniel by his influence changed a King and his kingdom. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Prophets, spoke against the Politics of their day and called their nation back to God. David was King of Israel, the leader of his nation. “If the process of government is ordained by God then each and every follower of Christ has a responsibility to be involved in the election of Godly people to public office.”
“Simply put -- you can’t separate Politics from the Word of God or the people of God and no earthly government will never be pleasing to God unless Christians are part of it.” You may have heard some politicians say, "Let us take care of the government and you can take care of your religion." But I would ask you how will we take care of our religion if we lose the right to practice it? What good is all of our spirituality if a future government strips away our right for religious freedom in our Land?"
The writer of Proverbs states, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” The United States has a wonderful Constitution but it is worthless if righteous people are not ruling. Paper does not rule – people do. And whether the righteous or wicked rule depends on whether or not righteous people vote.
Finally, the Christian citizen owes his government support. Without question this is one expectation which is sometimes difficult to enjoy. None of us like paying taxes. While we enjoy the benefits of government such as national security, police and fire protection, education and streets, none of us like to pay for them. In particular, we usually have different ideas about the priorities the government places on the funds we are taxed to pay.
Not only did Jesus tell us to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” Paul mentioned this also in Romans. He mentions “tribute” which referred to direct taxes like an income tax, as well as “custom” which usually was an indirect kind of tax like sales tax. It is clear from the Bible that we are obliged to pay our taxes no matter what we feel about them. Certainly it is our right to seek to elect officials who will make policy about taxes and budgets more to our liking.
It is not wrong for a Christian to use every government allowed means to pay the least taxes necessary. No one should want to pay more taxes than legally required. However, the Lord is not pleased with someone who knowingly and intentionally cheats on his taxes. A Christian has no more right to choose which tax laws to obey than which red lights to stop at or which other law to obey or not to obey.
The Christian and his government relations are a matter not only of obedience, but witness. A Christian who does not respect his governing authorities, even when he disagrees politically, is likely to be a person who does not respect other authorities including even the Lord. What we owe our national, state and local leaders on the human level – prayer, obedience, support and respect, we owe to God on an absolute level. It is not uncommon for people to speak ill of leaders and to call on them to change their ways. Unfortunately, these same people are unaware of their own need to repent of ways which are a hindrance to Christian witness. Only when we truly obey and reverence God can we be the Christian citizens we should be.
As we come to celebrate the birthday of our nation this month, I close with these words from Psalm 33: “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth--he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.”